The Story of BC and AD

The Hebrew calendar, still in use, is based on a concept known as Anno Mundi („in the year of the world“) which dates events from the beginning of the creation of the earth as calculated through scripture. Ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt based their calendars on the reigns of kings or the cycles of the seasons as set by the gods. The ancient Greeks did not use the BC/AD system at all. Instead, they often dated events based on the Olympic Games, which were held every four years.

Early Christians also used the Anno Mundi calendar as well as the Roman calendar introduced by Julius Caesar and later modified by Pope Gregory XIII which is still in use today.

Our modern dating system was invented in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus who used the concept of Anno Domini („in the year of our Lord“) in an attempt to stabilize the date of the celebration of Easter and bring the eastern and western churches into agreement on a single day.

Dionysius wanted to replace the system devised in the Diocletian era that had been used in older Easter tables to establish the date of the death of Christ because that emperor was a brutal tyrant who persecuted Christians. Dionysius’ system was not widely used until the 9th century.

The only problem with this system was that no one really knew when Jesus of Nazareth was born (if he was born at all). Dionysius himself makes no claims at dating that event definitively. He seems to have arrived at his calculations through a reliance on scripture and known history of the time to create a Christian calendar which would be acceptable to both the western and eastern churches

To denote the years before the birth of Christ, the term a.C.n. was used as an abbreviation of „ante Christum Natum“, which is Latin for „before the birth of Christ“.

BC is only used in English as am abbreviation of “Before Christ”. Non-English speaking countries tend to use a local language term: in French, avant J.C. (before Jesus Christ); in German, v. Chr. , (vor Christus), AC in Spanish (antes de Cristo), in Swedish f.Kr. (before Christ).

In the 17th century, the terms CE (for Common Era) and BCE (for Before the Common Era) came into use in scholarly publications read by people of all faiths and cultures in an effort to be inclusive.

However, in recent years, a persistent criticism has been leveled against the use of the BCE/CE system in dating historical events. Fundamentalist Christians describe it as an attempt to „remove Christ from the calendar“ in keeping with the „subversive“ effects of political correctness. Some of those who oppose the use of the „common era“ designation also seem to feel that the use of BC/AD is actually stipulated by the Bible or in some way carries biblical authority. This is pure bull: There is no biblical authority for BC/AD; it was created over 500 years after the events described in the Christian New Testament and not widely adopted until centuries later.

The use of BC/AD to distinguish time periods in English came later following the publication of The Ecclesiastical History of the English People in the year 731 by Bede. The designations of BC/AD actually appeared in earlier works but Bede’s book popularized them and, afterwards, other writers followed suit.

This was hardly a universally accepted designation, however, and would not become widespread until the reign of Charlemagne (800-814 CE) who instituted the system to standardize dating throughout Europe. However, the Anno Domini calendar system was not accepted by everywhere and certainly not in other parts of the world.

In the 17th century the term „vulgar era“ first appears as a replacement for Anno Domini in the writings of the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630 CE). It was used by writers interchangeably with „after the time of Christ“ or „in the common era“ which eventually came to be written simply as „common era“.

Jewish and Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist scholars retained their own calendars but refer to events using the Gregorian Calendar as BCE and CE without compromising their own beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. Since the BCE/CE designations corresponded to the Christian BC/AD, Christians could correspond back just as clearly.

BCE/CE continues to be used because it is more accurate than BC/AD. Dionysius had no understanding of the concept of zero and neither did Bede. The calendar they dated events from, therefore, is inaccurate. The year 1 AD would follow 1 BC without a starting point for the new chronology of events.

Since there was no way to undo Dionysius‘ dating system, the claim that events were dated from Jesus‘ birth was changed to claim an event happening a certain number of years after Christian tradition supposed Jesus of Nazareth to have been born.

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