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The chronology of Jesus aims to establish a timeline for the major historical events in the life of Jesus. The Christian gospels were primarily written as theological documents rather than historical chronicles, and their authors showed little interest in an absolute chronology of Jesus. However, it is possible to correlate Jewish and Greco-Roman documents with the New Testament accounts to estimate date ranges for the major events in Jesus' life.
Two methods have been used to estimate the year of birth of Jesus, one based on the accounts of his birth in the gospels, the other by working backwards from his stated age when he began preaching: most scholars, on this basis, assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC. Three details have been used to estimate the year when Jesus began preaching: a mention of his age during a specific year in the reign of Tiberius Caesar, another relating to the date of the building of the Jerusalem Temple, and the death of John the Baptist. Scholars generally estimate that Jesus began preaching, and gathering followers, around 27-29 AD and continued for at least one year, and perhaps as many as three.
Two main approaches have been used to estimate the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. One uses non-Christian sources such as Josephus and Tacitus. Another works backwards from the historically well established trial of Apostle Paul in Achaea to estimate the date of his conversion. Scholars generally agree that Jesus was crucified between 30-36 AD.
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The Christian gospels do not claim to provide an exhaustive list of the events in the life of Jesus.They were written as theological documents in the context of early Christianity rather than historical chronicles and their authors showed little interest in an absolute chronology of Jesus or in synchronizing the episodes of his life with the secular history of the age. One manifestation of the gospels being theological documents rather than historical chronicles is that they devote about one third of their text to just seven days, namely the last week of the life of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Although they provide few details regarding events which can be clearly dated, it is possible to establish some date ranges regarding the major events in his life via correlations with other sources. A number of historical non-Christian documents, such as Jewish and Greco-Roman sources, have been used in historical analyses of the chronology of Jesus. Virtually all modern historians agree that Jesus existed, and regard his baptism and his crucifixion as historical events, and assume that approximate ranges for these events can be estimated.
Using these methods, most scholars assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC, that the preaching of Jesus began around 27-29 AD and lasted one to three years. They calculate the death of Jesus as having taken place between 30 and 36 AD.
The two major approaches to estimating the year of the birth of Jesus involve comparing the canonical gospel accounts with historical sources to arrive at a date range. There are a wide range of more speculative theories which have also been used.
Most mainstream scholars do not see the Luke and Matthew nativity stories as historically factual. For this reason they do not consider them a reliable method for determining the date of birth. Karl Rahner states that the authors of the gospels generally focus on theological elements rather than historical chronologies. However, both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus' birth with the time of Herod the Great. As a result, scholars generally accept a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC. It is generally agreed that Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, placing the birth of Jesus before then.
Matthew 2:1 states that "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king" and implies that Jesus could have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi, before Herod's death. Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus, but places the birth during the Census of Quirinius, ten years later. Scholars have attempted to address the contradiction between the two accounts. Most believe Luke made an error in referring to the census, although traditionally scholars attempted to reconcile the two accounts.
Neither gospel account mentions the time of year during which the events they describe takes place. However, the Gospel of Luke reference to shepherds grazing their sheep in the fields has been taken to imply a birth during the springtime, summer or early fall.
The day of birth of Jesus, celebrated as Christmas, is based on a feast rather than historical analysis. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Lord's Day (Sunday) was the earliest Christian celebration and included a number of theological themes. In the 2nd century, the Resurrection of Jesus became a separate feast as Easter and in the same century Epiphany began to be celebrated in the Churches of the East on 6 January. The festival of the Nativity which later turned into Christmas was a 4th-century feast in the Western Church notably in Rome and North Africa, although it is uncertain exactly where and when it was first celebrated.
The earliest source stating 25 December as the date of birth of Jesus is likely by Hippolytus of Rome, written very early in the 3rd century, based on the assumption that the conception of Jesus took place at the Spring equinox which he placed on March 25, and then added nine months - festivals on that date were then celebrated. John Chrysostom also argued for a 25 December date in the late 4th century, basing his argument on the assumption that the offering of incense in Luke 1:8-11 was the offering of incense by a high priest on Yom Kippur (early October), and, as above, counting fifteen months forward. However, this was very likely a retrospective justification of a choice already made rather than a genuine attempt to derive the correct birth date.
The generally assumed date range for when John the Baptist was active, based on the reference to the reign of Tiberius in Luke 3:1-2, is from about 28-29 AD, with Jesus beginning to preach shortly thereafter. As discussed in the section below, based on the reference in John 2:13 to the Temple being in its 46th year of construction, scholarly estimates for Jesus' Temple visit in John 2:20 are around 27-29 AD, when Jesus was "about thirty years of age".
By working backwards from this, it would appear that Jesus was born around 1 BC. However, some scholars have calculated that if the phrase "about 30" is interpreted to mean 32 years old, this could fit a date of birth just within the reign of Herod, who died in 4 BC.
One method for the estimation of the date of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus is based on the Gospel of Luke's specific statement in Luke 3:1-2 about the ministry of John the Baptist which preceded that of Jesus:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the highpriesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
The New Testament presents John the Baptist as the precursor to Jesus and the Baptism of Jesus as marking the beginning of Jesus' ministry. In his sermon in Acts 10:37-38, delivered in the house of Cornelius the centurion, Apostle Peter refers to what had happened "throughout all Judaea, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached" and that Jesus had then gone about "doing good".
Another method for estimating the start of the ministry of Jesus without reliance on the Synoptic gospels is to relate the account in the Gospel of John about the visit of Jesus to Herod's Temple in Jerusalem with historical data about the construction of the Temple.
John 2:13 says that Jesus went to the Temple in Jerusalem around the start of his ministry and in John 2:20 Jesus is told: "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?".
Herod's Temple in Jerusalem was an extensive and long term construction on the Temple Mount, which was never fully completed even by the time it was destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Having built entire cities such as Caesarea Maritima, Herod saw the construction of the Temple as a key, colossal monument. The dedication of the initial temple (sometimes called the inner Temple) followed an 17 or 18 month construction period, just after the visit of Augustus to Syria.
Josephus (Ant 15.11.1) states that the temple's reconstruction was started by Herod in the 18th year of his reign. But there is some uncertainty about how Josephus referred to and computed dates, which event marked the start of Herod's reign, and whether the initial date should refer to the inner Temple, or the subsequent construction. Hence various scholars arrive at slightly different dates for the exact date of the start of the Temple construction, varying by a few years in their final estimation of the date of the Temple visit. Given that it took 46 years of construction, the best scholarly estimate for when Jesus preached is around the year 29CE.
In the Antiquities of the Jews, first century historian Flavius Josephus refers to the imprisonment and execution of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas and that Herodias left her husband to marry Herod Antipas, in defiance of Jewish law.
Scholars view Josephus' accounts of John the Baptist as authentic. His reference to the marriage of Herod and Herodias, which is also mentioned in the gospels, establishes a key connection with the episodes that appear there.
However, although both the gospels and Josephus refer to Herod Antipas killing John the Baptist, they differ on the details and motives, e.g. whether this act was a consequence of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias (as indicated in Matthew 14:4, Mark 6:18), or a pre-emptive measure by Herod which possibly took place before the marriage to quell a possible uprising based on the remarks of John, as Josephus suggests in Ant 18.5.2.
The exact year of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias is subject to debate among scholars. While some scholars place the year of the marriage in the range 27-31AD, others have approximated a date as late as AD 35, although such a late date has much less support. In his analysis of Herod's life, Harold Hoehner estimates that John the Baptist's imprisonment probably occurred around AD 30-31. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia estimates the death of the Baptist to have occurred about AD 31-32.
Josephus stated (Ant 18.5.2) that the AD 36 defeat of Herod Antipas in the conflicts with Aretas IV of Nabatea was widely considered by the Jews of the time as misfortune brought about by Herod's unjust execution of John the Baptist. Given that John the Baptist was executed before the defeat of Herod by Aretas, and based on the scholarly estimates for the approximate date of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias, the last part of the ministry of John the Baptist and hence parts of the ministry of Jesus fall within the historical time span of AD 28-35, with the later year 35 having the least support among scholars.
In the Antiquities of the Jews (written about 93 AD) Josephus, states (Ant 18.3) that Jesus was crucified on the orders of Pilate. Most scholars agree that while this reference includes some later Christian interpolations, it originally included a reference to the execution of Jesus under Pilate.
In the second century the Roman historian Tacitus in The Annals (c. 116 AD), described the persecution of Christians by Nero and stated (Annals 15.44) that Jesus had been executed on the orders of Pilate, a reference generally considered genuine, and of value as an independent source.
In the Gospel of Luke, while Jesus is in Pilate's court, Pilate realizes that Jesus is a Galilean and thus is under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Given that Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, Pilate decided to send Jesus to Herod to be tried.
This episode is only described in the Gospel of Luke (23:7-15). While some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this episode, given that it is unique to the Gospel of Luke, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states that it fits well with the theme of the gospel.
Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, was born before 20 BC and was exiled in the summer of 39 AD following a lengthy intrigue involving Caligula and Agrippa I, the grandson of his father. Although this episode provides a wider range date for the death of Jesus, it is in concord with the other estimates in that it indicates that Jesus' death took place before 39 AD.
Another approach to estimating an upper bound for the year of death of Jesus is the estimation of the date of Conversion of Paul the Apostle which the New Testament accounts place some time after the death of Jesus. Paul's conversion is discussed in both the Letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians (15:3-8), Paul refers to his conversion. The Acts of the Apostles includes three separate references to his conversion experience, in Acts 9, Acts 22 and Acts 26.
Estimating the year of Paul's conversion relies on working backwards from his trial before Junius Gallio in Achaea Greece (Acts 18:12-17) around 51-52 AD, a date which gained historical credibility early in the 20th century following the discovery of four stone fragments as part of the Delphi Inscriptions, at Delphi across the Gulf from Corinth.
Most historians estimate that Gallio (brother of Seneca the Younger) became proconsul between the spring of 51 AD and the summer of 52 AD, and that his position ended no later than 53 AD. However, the trial of Paul is generally assumed to be in the earlier part of Gallio's tenure, based on the reference (Acts 18:2) to his meeting in Corinth with Priscilla and Aquila, who had been recently expelled from Rome based on Emperor Claudius' expulsion of some Jews from Rome, which is dated to 49-50 AD.
According to the New Testament, Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth, approximately seventeen years after his conversion. Galatians 2:1-10 states that Paul went back to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion, and various missions (at times with Barnabas) such as those in Acts 11:25-26 and 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 appear in the Book of Acts. The generally accepted scholarly estimate for the date of conversion of Paul is 33-36 AD, placing the death of Jesus before this date range.
One possible approach to dating the death of Jesus is by using astronomical evidence to establish the dates of Passover. The difficulty here is that the Jewish calendar was based not on astronomical calculation but on observation. It is possible to establish whether the moon was visible on a particular day but not whether it was actually sighted., As E. P. Sanders has pointed out, we cannot recreate local atmospheric conditions of two thousand years ago: "the synoptic chronology cannot be confirmed by astronomy, but neither can it be disproved". Nevertheless, some writers such as astronomer Colin Humphreys have attempted to confirm the crucifixion date using this method, obtaining 3 April 33 or 1 April 33.
In 1733, Isaac Newton estimated the date of the crucifixion by calculating the relative visibility of the crescent of the new moon and concluded that it must have taken place on 23 April, AD 34. He narrowed the possible years to AD 33 and 34 and selected the latter by using a 'postponement rule' from the Hebrew calendar.
Later scientists used similar methods, with the version developed by J. K. Fotheringham becoming a standard by the middle of the 20th century. Fotheringham narrowed the possible dates to 7 April, AD 30 and 3 April, AD 33 and favoured the latter date on the basis of its coincidence with a lunar eclipse. In 1990 astronomer Bradley E. Schaefer, following a similar method, arrived at the same date. J. P. Pratt came to the same conclusion, pointing out that the "postponement rule" used by Newton was not in use at the time.
Another approach involves the reference in the Synoptic Gospels to a period of darkness over the whole world  on the day of the crucifixion, beginning around noon ("the sixth hour") and continuing until 3 o'clock ("the ninth hour"). Although modern scholars view this as a literary device common among ancient writers rather than a description of an actual event, some writers have attempted to identify a datable astronomical phenomenon which this could have referred to.
It could not have been a solar eclipse, since this could not take place during the crucifixion at Passover: solar eclipses only occur during the new moon phase, and the 14th of Nisan always corresponds to a full moon. Moreover, a solar eclipse takes about an hour for the moon to cover the sun, with total coverage lasting no more than four to six minutes. In 1983, astronomers Humphreys and Waddington argued that the reference was actually to a lunar eclipse, which can last a few hours, with total coverage lasting about an hour. Their argument depends on speculation that the Luke Gospel reference to the sun being darkened was a 'scribal error', a claim which historian David Henige describes as 'undefended' and 'indefensible'. Astronomer Bradley Schaefer points out that the eclipsed moon would not have been visible by the time the moon had risen.
In the account in the Synoptic Gospels the Last Supper takes place on the first night of Passover, defined in the Torah as occurring after the daylight of the 14 of Nisan. However, in the Gospel of John the trial of Jesus takes place before the Jewish leaders had eaten the Passover meal and the sentencing takes place on the day of Preparation of the Passover. John's account places the crucifixion on 14 Nisan, since the law mandated the lamb had to be sacrificed between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm and eaten before midnight on that day. This understanding fits well with Old Testament typology, in which Jesus entered Jerusalem to identify himself as the Paschal lamb on Nisan 10 was crucified and died at 3:00 in the afternoon of Nisan 14, at the same time the High Priest would have sacrificed the Paschal lamb, and rose before dawn the morning of Nisan 16, as a type of offering of the First Fruits.
It is problematic to reconcile the chronology presented by John with the Synoptic passages and the tradition that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, placing the crucifixion instead on Nisan 15. Some scholars have attempted to explain the contradiction by postulating differences in how post-exilic Jews reckoned time: for Jesus and his disciples, the Passover could have begun at dawn Thursday, while for traditional Jews (following Leviticus 23:5), it would not have begun until dusk that same day.
The estimation of the hour of death of Jesus based on the New Testament accounts has been the subject of debate among scholars. Mark's passion narrative has three hour segments: in the early part Jesus is before Pilate, the Crucifixion takes place at the third hour (9am) in Mark 15:25, darkness appears at the six hour (noon) and Jesus' death at the ninth hour (3pm). However, in John 19:14 Jesus is still before Pilate at the sixth hour.
Some scholars have presented arguments to reconcile the accounts, although Raymond E. Brown, reviewing these, concluded that they can not be easily reconciled. Some have argued that the modern precision of marking the time of day should not be read back into the gospel accounts, written at a time when no standardization of timepieces, or exact recording of hours and minutes was available. Andreas Köstenberger argues that in the first century time was often estimated to the closest three-hour mark, and that the intention of the author of the Mark Gospel was to provide the setting for the three hours of darkness while the Gospel of John seeks to stress the length of the proceedings, starting in the 'early morning'"
William Barclay has argued that the portrayal of the death of Jesus in the John Gospel is a literary construct, presenting the crucifixion as taking place at the time on the day of Passover when the sacrificial lamb would be killed, and thus portraying Jesus as the Lamb of God.
Other approaches to the chronology of Jesus have been suggested over the centuries, e.g. Maximus the Confessor, Eusebius, and Cassiodorus asserted that the death of Jesus occurred in 31 AD. The 3rd/4th century Roman historian Lactantius states that Jesus was crucified on a particular day in 29 AD, but that did not correspond to a full moon.
Some commentators have attempted to establish the date of birth by identifying the Star of Bethlehem with some known astronomical or astrological phenomenon. There are many possible phenomena and none seems to match the Gospel account exactly, although new authors continue to offer potential candidates.
There is almost universal agreement that Jesus lived
some judgements are so probable as to be certain; for example, Jesus really existed