[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Matthew Stallard stallard at ohio.edu
Thu Oct 1 18:24:25 EDT 2009

When the sixth century (ah hum C.E.) monk Dionysius Exiguus calculated the 
chronology upon which the current model of era reckoning is based, he 
grounded his measurements upon the year he THOUGHT Jesus to have been born. 
Today, there is no general academic consensus about the calendar year 
during which the historic Jesus was born. Some would put the date at 4 
B.C.E. and others as late as 2 C.E. For this reason, many Christians prefer 
"common era," not because it excludes Christ, but because it does not 
accurately reflect the (as yet unknown) year of his birth. I don't see the 
use of C.E as a disparaging of Jesus.

There is, of course, no zero year. Year dates are ordinal numbers. Ancient 
peoples, including the Romans, and the Jews, had no concept of zero. To 
them, everything began counting from one. In modern mathematics, we 
conceive of everything as starting from nothing, or zero.  Since the Common 
Era did not begin with the year zero but began with 1 C.E., and the 
calendar for the years before the Common Era did not count back from a zero 
year but began with 1 B.C.E., the figure used for the year in any date is 
in reality an ordinal number. That is, 2009 C.E. really represents 2008 
full years since the beginning of the Common Era, and the date October 1, 
2009, represents 2008 years plus a half year since the beginning of the 
Common Era. The same applies to B.C.E. dates.

As to the use of "Christ" or "Jesus," it seems that the theological context 
would be important to consider. Khristos seems to emphasize the position of 
the subject in the outworking of the divine purpose. It describes the 
redeeming function (if one sees "anointed one" as an equivalent with the 
Hebrew mashiach). "Jesus" as a term draws attention to his humanity. The 
shift in emphases occurs throughout the NT. At times the definite article 
is used (the Christ at Matthew 16:16). Sometimes we have "Jesus Christ" but 
other times we find the more titular "Christ Jesus" in the Greek text (e.g. 
1Thessalonians 2:14).

Best to all,

Matthew Stallard, Ph.D.
Ohio University
Department of English
305 Ellis Hall
Athens, OH 45701
stallard at ohio.edu

--On Thursday, October 01, 2009 5:06 PM -0400 Gregory Machacek 
<Gregory.Machacek at marist.edu> wrote:

> *Christians* might well be offended by the phrasing "Common Era," (even
> though the calendar continues to take its zero point from Christ)--because
> from their historical viewpoint what was ushered in at that moment was
> precisely an *Uncommon* Era of human existence!
> Just sayin!
> Greg Machacek
> Professor of English
> Marist College
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