Friday, December 11, 2015

When was Jesus born?

'TIS THE SEASON: The Year Jesus Was Born (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench).
Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time in the history of what was already a troubled and turbulent land. Although these events are familiar to scholars, they are not at all well known by non-specialists. This is unfortunate, because memories of this crisis certainly shaped memories and perceptions for decades afterwards, and conditioned attitudes during Jesus’s lifetime. If we don’t understand those conflicts, we are missing the prehistory of the earliest Jesus Movement.

Lots of interesting historical background to 4 BCE follows. But was Jesus actually born in that year? Who knows? The sources do not commend themselves as offering reliable information for that kind of question. I have discussed the question here.