CCNet 130/2001 - 5 December 2001
(1) PLANETARY SOCIETY NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR SHOEMAKER NEO GRANTS
Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(2) THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM
Mark Kidger <email@example.com>
(3) ESCHATOLOGY AND CHRONOLOGY
Clark Whelton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(4) NOT A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT
Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>
(5) SEASONS IN SPACE? AMAZING!
Malcolm Miller <email@example.com>
(6) AND FINALLY: AUSTRALIAN TEACHER BANNED FOR NOT BELIEVING IN SANTA
Xtramsn.co.nz, 4 December 2001
(1) PLANETARY SOCIETY NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR SHOEMAKER NEO GRANTS
>From Ron Baalke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Planetary Society Now Accepting Applications for the next round of Shoemaker
by Melanie Melton
December 3 , 2001
The Planetary Society is now accepting applications for the next round of
Shoemaker Near Earth Object (NEO) grants.
Those amateur or professional astronomers interested in studying Near Earth
Objects can apply for the grant by filling out an application form and
sending it to The Planetary Society by March 31, 2002.
The application form can by found here:
The Shoemaker NEO grant program was established by the Society in 1997, in
an effort to advance the study of Near Earth Objects. Grant recipients in
the past have been both individuals and groups, amateur and professional
astronomers, all interested in studying asteroids and comets in Earth's
For this round of grants, the Society's international advisory group
reviewing the proposals will be considering three different categories:
Observation Programs, NEO Research Programs, and International Collaboration
in NEO Observations.
With several asteroid detection programs in place at major observatories
around the country, there has been a dramatic increase in asteroid detection
within the last year, creating a long list of objects in need of follow-up
observations. As a result, special consideration will be given to observers
interested in conducting follow-up NEO observations, especially those
capable of detecting objects fainter than magnitude V= 19.5 or so.
* For more information about the Shoemaker NEO Grant Program:
* For NEO Grant Guidelines:
* For the application form:
* LETTERS TO THE MODERATOR *
(2) THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM
>From Mark Kidger <email@example.com>
I would like to make a slightly delayed response to two recent submissions
on the Star of Bethlehem: from the Bible Society (November 29th) and from
Scott Raeburn (December 3rd)
Readers in the U.K. and (I guess) those with access to the BBC by satellite
may be interested to hear that the next BBC "Sky at Night" to be broadcast
on Sunday December 9th will feature a debate between Patrick Moore, David
Hughes and myself on the Star of Bethlehem. As we defends
radically different views (Patrick that it was a Cyrillid meteor stream or
two bright bolides, David that it was the 7BC Jupiter-Saturn triple
conjunction and myself that it was the 5BC object that was probably a nova),
this may be an interesting meeting of minds.
The chronology of Biblical events is complicated and even more so when there
are mistakes and false clues in the evidence.
Scott Raeburn is correct when he says that Dionisius missed the year zero.
This is often referred to as the Year 0K problem (zero, not "oh"). Even
though we say that this was a mistake by Dionisius, it was not his fault
that there is no Roman numeral for zero and the Romans did apparently not
use this number. What he misses is the second and more important dating
error, which Dionisius made, namely that when counting the reigns of Roman
Emperors he included Augustus Caesar correctly but forgot that Augustus had
also reigned for 4 years under the name of Octavian. Together the two errors
add up to the famous 5-year error in the Christian calendar.
If we assume that Dionisius was correct, apart from these two known errors,
then we shift the date of the Nativity back to 5BC. This is consonant with
the accepted range of dates that the Bible Society submission states from
Curiously, I have never seen any suggestion that Dionisius had additional
errors in his work that would cast 5BC into doubt as a date. Given that
there is very good evidence that King Herod died in late March or early
April 4BC if there were no other errors in Dionisius's work we have a
pleasing agreement in the dates.
So why is there further doubt? Part of it is for historical reasons. Luke's
Gospel opens its description of the Nativity with a series of statements
that are described generally as "contextual clues" to the dating of the
Nativity. One of these states that Quirinius was Governor of Syria at the
time. We know that Quirinius was not Governor of Syria until 6AD, thus this
clue caused some consternation as it contradicts Dionisius's chronology
completely. David Hughes gave a possible explanation in a seminal review (1)
in which he notes that Quirinius was Governor's Legate in Syria from 6-5BC
under the Governor Saturninus and thus Luke's text may be an error.
A second problem is the famous census. Three are known, the closest in date
being one that was ordered in 8BC. An 8BC order to census is inconsistent
with a 5BC Nativity (3 years to carry out Augustus's order seems excessive
in a Roman Empire with excellent communications between the provinces and
Rome) and would appear to support a date for the Nativity around 7BC. It
also contradicts the statement that the census coincided with Quirinius's
What seems to be less well known though is the fact that the 8BC call to
census was for Roman citizens, which Joseph most certainly was not. This
region was a Roman Protectorate with a certain degree of autonomy and its
people were not granted the privilege of Roman citizenship. Why would a Jew
be required to respond to a census exclusively for Roman citizens? The most
likely explanation is that the 8BC call to census was not the one that was
referred to by Luke. Similarly, Luke's statement that "the whole world" was
called to census is also inconsistent with the 8BC Romans-only census,
although this may simply be typical Roman hyperbole.
In other words, the confusion between sources and clues is one reason why
few people will give a single date with confidence as being the year of the
Nativity. In these circumstances I am personally happy to believe Dionisius.
Incidentally, "Exiguus" was his own way of paying tribute to an earlier
Dionisius from the 4th Century who Dionisius Exiguus considered to be
greater than himself so, rather than being "Dennis the Short"; a better
translation is "The Lesser Dennis".
As far as the date of the year was concerned, many different versions have
been given for the date of the Nativity. Dionisius was writing more than 500
years later and it seems very unlikely that he had any special knowledge or
insight into the problem that has since been lost. Dionisius was actually
using a date that had been established at least 200 years earlier according
to Finnegan (2).
In fact, there are other very good reasons to disbelieve the December 25th
date. The contextual reason is the description of shepherds watching their
flocks by night on the hills. The hills around Bethlehem suffer from
moderately cold and wet winters and in some years heavy snow may fall. It is
unlikely that the biblical shepherds would have kept their flocks in the
open at this time of year - more probably they would have been under cover
as pointed out by Keller (3) or, at very least, taken to low-level winter
pastures. Similarly, there would be no real need for all-night vigils at
most times of year. When the shepherds would have maintained all-night
vigils would be in spring, at lambing time, to aid ewes in distress. This
implies March, April and possibly early May. Humphreys (4) goes even further
and suggests that the biblical description of Jesus as "the holy lamb of
God" suggests that the Nativity may have occurred in the day that the
Passover lambs were selected (sunset of April 14th to sunset of 15th 5BC).
A second strong reason to disbelieve the December 25th date is that this
probably is a christianisation of a long established pagan festival. The
feast of Saturnalia, that celebrated the passing of the shortest day, was a
long established tradition. Curiously, many of its elements correspond to
our modern Christmas traditions (e.g. the giving and receiving of presents,
decoration of houses with green branches, a surfeit of eating and drinking
and processions). As Saturnalia was a popular public holiday the early
Christian church preferred to adapt it and make it into a Christian
celebration than to make the highly unpopular move to abolish it. Saturnalia
was thus transformed into the second most important date in the new
Christian calendar that Dionisius Exiguus was charged with organising.
In other words, December 25th was just an expedient date and became
enshrined in the modern western calendar, but there is no special reason for
believing that it was the true date of the Nativity and many for believing
otherwise. There are much better reasons for accepting a date around April
5BC, even if we do not accept in full the reasoning of Humphreys. If this is
true, the millennium was actually some time in April 1996.
Chronology is extremely important as it provides important clues as to the
possible nature of the Star of Bethlehem. Probably the most important
"modern" study of the Star was carried out by Sinnott (5). This study though
was enormously complicated by the uncertainty of the chronology that was
available, leading to the need to search a range of almost 20 years. This
led Sinnott to select the June 17th 2BC conjunction of Jupiter and Venus (it
has since been shown that from Western Europe an occultation of Jupiter by
Venus would have occurred) as his candidate for the Star. Although this
theory was very popular for many years and has recently been revived Martin
(6), modern biblical chronology is usually regarded as ruling it out and
thus only by questioning this chronology does the Jupiter-Venus become a
candidate Star of Bethlehem.
By greatly reducing the possible range of dates for the Star of Bethlehem
the task of finding plausible explanations is greatly simplified, although
the sad truth is that we may never ever be able to prove which of the
competing theories is the correct one.
The unsigned contribution from the Biblical Archaeology Society (CCNet,
November 28th), makes a number of valid and extremely interesting points,
although it falls into some possible errors of appreciation and contains
some extremely serious errors of detail.
The writer takes the 7BC triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn is the
reference point for the Star. This theory has been strongly supported over
the years by Hughes (1) and is one of the most plausible theories. On May
29th, September 29th and December 4th, 7BC the two planets were in
conjunction, with a minimum separation of 58 arcminutes between the two.
This separation was such that the magnitude -2.5 Jupiter and magnitude 0
Saturn would have made an interesting, but not especially spectacular
Where the Biblical Archaeological Society text errs is in its suggestion of
the rarity of such triple conjunctions. Conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn
occur every 20 years approximately and triple conjunctions may occur with a
separation that ranges from 40 years to several centuries. The statement
that "Since 7 B.C.E. a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn has been
observed only twice, in the years 786 and 1583" is simply not correct. Nor
is the assertion that triple conjunctions in Pisces occur only every 800
years. In fact, two triple conjunctions occurred in the 20th century: in
1940 and in 1980/81 and between 1000BC and 1BC there were seven triple
conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn of which no less than three - those of
980/979BC, 861/860BC and 7BC took place in the constellation of Pisces (7).
Sceptics of the triple conjunction theory point out that the previous triple
conjunction in 146/145BC, which took place in Cancer was far more
spectacular, with a minimum separation of just 10 arcminutes between Jupiter
and Saturn. Hughes (1) suggested that the 7BC triple conjunction was
significant because it took place in Pisces and noted the constellation's
historical association with the Jews. If the astrological association with
Pisces is the key to the Star of Bethlehem it is also possible to argue that
the "normal" conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 126BC, which occurred in
Pisces, was far more significant and spectacular because it was just one
event of a series of close conjunctions and planetary massings of Mercury,
Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon that occurred in a small region of sky
between January 25th and April 24th, 126BC (7).
This astrological link with Pisces though has been strongly questioned by
Molnar (8, 9) who casts severe doubt on the idea, pointing out that this
idea dates back only to the 17th century and is of dubious validity. Molnar
suggests that the constellation with links to the Jews in ancient astrology
was Aries and not Pisces. Similarly, Sinnott (5) supports his hypothesis
that the Star was the 2BC conjunction/occultation of Venus and Jupiter in
Leo by suggesting a historical link between this constellation and the Jews.
The triple conjunction theory suffers from other significant problems. Both
Hughes (1) and the aforementioned Biblical Archaeological Society text
suppose that the Magi came from Babylon. Although it is known that Babylon
had advanced astronomy and strong links with Judaism through the enslavement
of many thousands of Jews after the sack of Jerusalem around 586BC, there is
little or no direct evidence to link the Babylonians with a messianic triple
conjunction. A description of the 7BC triple conjunction is found in a
Babylonian almanac preserved on a tablet in the British Museum that is
catalogued as BM 35429. BM 35429 is translated in Sachs & Walker (10). The
tablet makes neither direct reference, nor allusion to the conjunction. A
translation of a small portion of the tablet is, as follows:
"Month VII, the 1st of which will follow the 30th of the previous month.
Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, Venus in Scorpio, Mars in Sagittarius. On the
"Month XI, ... Jupiter and Saturn, and Mars in Pisces, Venus in
Sagittarius. On the 13th Venus will reach Capricorn."
As can be seen from the above extracts, the conjunction seems to have given
rise to no perceptible comment or interest, either in the triple conjunction
(e.g. the text from Month VII reproduced above) or in the planetary massing
that followed it (Month XI).
It seems that in most cases it is assumed with little or no supporting
evidence that the Magi were Babylonian and that everything in the
interpretation of the Star must be based on Babylonian beliefs and culture.
Yet we see above that if the 7BC triple conjunction was so significant to
the Babylonians that it led to a group of Magi leaving Babylon for
Jerusalem, this was not communicated in the almanac of the event. The
description of the 7BC triple conjunction, written by the same astronomers
who would have been responsible for its astrological interpretation is so
low key as to suggest that it excited little or no interest in Babylon. This
does not square with it having been an event of great astrological
importance to the Babylonians or the Magi's star.
The most plausible theory is that the Magi were Persian and not Babylonian
at all. The names of the Magi in the classical version of the Nativity
(Gaspar, Balthasar and Melchior) are not biblical and not even necessarily
even from the early church. Although some sources claim that the names were
given by Origen (10) in the 3rd century and became popular by the 6th
century, Trexler (11) gives a radically different chronology and states that
these names did not appear until the 5th century, long after the death of
Origen, and were not widely used until the end of the first millennium. In
this case the fact that they are Babylonian becomes irrelevant as there is
nothing in this case to link them to the Magi. Greetham (12) points out
that the Magi are also known under various other names such as Hor, Basanter
and Karsudan, or Hormizdah, Yazdegerd, and Perozdh. It is also unknown just
how many Magi there were. The idea that there were three is a relatively
modern embellishment and in frescos from the early Christian church there
are on occasions 2, 4, or even 12 Magi.
There are various reasons for believing that the Magi were Persian. First,
the association that the cited text makes with the Zoroastrian sect of Magi.
In the Apocryphal Gospel of the Infancy, chapter 7:1 states that the Magi
came to Jerusalem:
"according to the prediction of Zoroaster"
A second interesting link is provided by Sinnott (5). He comments that, when
Marco Polo passed through the small Persian village of Saveh, the
inhabitants told him that the Magi had set out from there. This village is
now a small town situated 130-km southwest of Tehran, in modern Iran.
Sinnott also points out that this legend is not unique just to Saveh and
that other towns have similar ones, hence we should take such stories with
rather more than just a grain of salt, unless we can find independent
evidence to support them. However, it is curious to find such a generalised
belief in the region that the Magi had set out from there unless there is
some truth in the legends
A third line of evidence is provided by the fund of paintings and carvings
from the earliest centuries AD. These, however, were made long after the
Nativity and are thus, an unreliable and dangerous ally, as they are heavily
influenced by the prejudices and biases of the time when they were made. But
Hughes (1) points out that these earliest carvings show that Magi wore
Persian dress, wearing trousers rather than the traditional robes. There is
even a legend that such a carving saved the church of the Nativity at
Ravenna on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy from the ravaging Persian
hordes in 614 AD. When the invading army saw the Persian figure within the
church, recognising it as one of their own symbols, they spared the building
from pillage and torching.
Taken individually, these items are probably insignificant but, together
they suggest strongly that the standard dogma of Babylonian Magi is
incorrect and unjustified and that the Magi were Persian. It is thus
dangerous to judge their motives by our knowledge of Babylonian astrology.
Mention is made of Molnar's new and original theory that the Star of
Bethlehem was an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon. Molnar (8, 9) bases his
work in a study of the Antioch coin (13), which shows a ram looking over its
shoulder at a bright star close to a crescent Moon. This he interprets as
being an occultation of Venus by the Moon that took place in Aries. Molnar
suggests that the Star of Bethlehem was one of a series of lunar
occultations of Jupiter in the constellation of Aries between February and
May 6BC. Only the March 20th occultation would have been marginally visible
in the Middle East, with a 14-hour old Moon occulting Jupiter just 12
degrees from the Sun. This event could not have been observed with the naked
eye and would have been challenging to observe even with a small telescope.
Molnar's theory is important in that the event that he describes is
genuinely very rare. I have checked all lunar occultations of Jupiter from
200BC to 1BC, some 390 in all, finding to my considerable surprise that only
in 136BC and in 6BC did occultations take place in Aries.
However, if we widen the search to occultations of the four most visible
planets (Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) we find that they are extremely
frequent. Just between 20BC and 1BC there were no less than 170, of which
six occurred with the Sun below the horizon. On July 13th 17BC there was a
occultation of Jupiter by the waning crescent Moon that was observable of
much of the Middle East. This occultation took place in western Taurus and
would have been very spectacular to the naked eye. Slightly further back in
time, in 46 and 45BC respectively, occultations of Jupiter and Venus
respectively would have been observed from the region and at least the
latter would have been even more prominent than the 17BC event. In other
words, if we remove the astrological association with Aries from the
equation the theory that the Star was the (unobservable) 6BC occultation of
Jupiter becomes much less convincing.
My own preference is of course that the Star itself was a nova, a theory not
even mentioned in the November 28th posting. There is even an interesting
candidate object that was observed in late February or early March 5BC, the
correct time of year and in a year that even agrees with the Dionisian
chronology of the Nativity. This theory was popularised in 1955 by Arthur C.
Clarke in his short story "The Star" (15), although it seems to date back to
Kepler in 1604. In it he assumes the persona of a Jesuit astronomer, working
as a scientist aboard an exploratory space ship of the future. The ships
mission is to enter and explore the Phoenix Nebula; the remnant of an old
massive star which has died, torn apart by a supernova explosion. In his
cabin he tries to reconcile his conscience with his faith, wrestling
uncomfortably with the implications of his discoveries.
We could not tell, before we reached the nebula, how long ago the explosion
took place. Now, from the astronomical evidence and the record in the rocks
of that one surviving planet, I have been able to date it very exactly. I
now know in what year the light of this colossal conflagration reached our
Earth. I know how brilliantly the supernova whose corpse now dwindles behind
our speeding ship once shone in terrestrial skies. I know how it must have
blazed low in the east before Sunrise, like a beacon in that oriental dawn.
There can be no reasonable doubt: the ancient mystery is solved at last.
Although Clarke's star is a supernova and not a classical nova the premise
is basically the same. As someone born and bread just slightly around the
coast from his Minehead home, it would be a special pleasure for me to prove
that his "speculation" was, as so often, correct.
The Star was written for a short story competition run by the British
newspaper The Observer. Much to Clarke's amusement and perplexity, the story
was not worthy of even one of the many consolation prizes of a certificate
of merit. But, when later published in the November 1955
edition of the magazine Infinity Science Fiction, the story was voted the
best science fiction story published in 1955!
For those unfamiliar with the story, I can thoroughly recommend it. Without
wishing to give away its plot, the Jesuit astronomer who is the central
character in the story finds that the nebula that he is investigating is the
remains of the explosion which was, thousands of years previously, observed
as the Star of Bethlehem. This forces him into a crisis of faith because of
the contradictions involved in this discovery. The contradiction is revealed
in the unexpected sting in the tail of this classic work, which I will not
spoil for people interested in reading the story.
The Star was based on an popular article, also by Arthur C. Clarke, which he
had written in 1954. It was called The Star of the Magi and published in
Holiday magazine (16).
Of course it is now known that there were no supernovae close to the date of
the Nativity (17), but a bright nova is a realistic possibility and an
object variously described as a hui-hsing (hairy star) and a po-hsing (bushy
star) in different chronicles is a serious candidate. Although
hui-hsing was generally used for tailed comets and po-hsing for tailless
objects, there is historical precedent for these designations to be used for
bright star-like objects. Chinese observations of Tycho's supernova of 1572
describe it as a Hui-hsing. Despite being observed for over 70 days, the
chinese chronicles make no mention of any movement in the sky, although even
a moderately bright comet would be expected to move considerably in this
time and contemporary chronicles of Comet Halley detail its movement, its
tail length and even its colour; these details are missing for the 5BC
object which was apparently a fixed object. However, due to the "hui-hsing"
designation, Clark and Stephenson (17) make this a Class 2 nova/supernova
candidate (probable nova) rather than Class 1 (certain).
However, like many other theories, a nova has the inconvenience that a
bright nova is a relatively frequent event and thus it is only a *plausible*
candidate due to its proximity to the known date of the Nativity.
This argument can be made strongly about all three of the main candidates
theories. It is the fact that there are question marks over the three
principal theories about the star: the triple conjunction, the occultation
and the 5BC nova (which some authors consider to have been a faint comet
rather than a nova, although the most detailed study yet made of this object
(14) comes out strongly in factor of its nova nature), either because of
their visibility or their astrological interpretation suggests that it is
likely that no single theory is correct.
Astrologically it is argued that the triple conjunction was the most
significant sign. This though stretches biblical chronology to its limits
(few experts seem to date the Nativity as early as 7BC). The nova though was
observed in March 5BC, almost exactly at the moment of our best estimate of
the date of the Nativity and this object would genuinely have been observed
quite low in the east at dawn. In other words, both the date and the
position in the sky (southern Aquila) fit the available evidence both on
date and observability. Hughes (1) pointed out that the traditional
translation of Matthew's Gospel "we have seen his star in the east" is
incorrect and recent translations have revised the phrasing to "at its
rising" or "in the first light of dawn", implying that the Star was observed
at or close to its heliacal rising. A nova that appeared in the dawn sky
would appear to simulate the first sighting of a heliacal rising and has the
additional advantage that by May 5BC it would have been due south at dawn
and could genuinely have led the Magi from Jerusalem, due south to
Bright novae are sufficiently common though for it to be difficult to argue
that a single nova could be the Star of Bethlehem without some additional
factor being involved. It seems reasonable to suggest that the Magi did not
rely on a single sign to make their journey because none was clear enough
and unambiguous enough to be sufficient on its own (the mere fact that we
still debate the Star more than 2000 years after it appears demonstrates
this). The most likely scenario is that the Magi observed the 7BC triple
conjunction and the massing of the planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn that
followed in 6BC (which, contrary to some suggestions, would have been
clearly and spectacularly visible low in the dusk sky) and pondered its
significance, seeing that it referred to the birth of a king, but did not
start their journey until a further sign told them that the king had been
born. This definitive sign would have been the (presumably, given that it
was naked-eye visible from China for more than 2 months until finally lost
from view when the spring monsoon made further observations impossible)
bright nova observed in 5BC. Only when the Magis' interpretation of the
triple conjunction was confirmed by the birth of a new star would they have
made their plans to depart and finally made the long and perilous journey
across mountains and deserts from Persia.
(1) Hughes, D.W.: 1976, "The Star of Bethlehem", Nature, 264, 513
(2) Finnegan, J.: 1964, "Handbook of Bible Chronology", Princeton: Princeton
(3) Keller, W.: 1981, "The Bible as history", 2nd Revised Edition, New York:
(4) Humphreys, C.J.: 1991, "The Star of Bethlehem - a comet in 5BC - and the
date of the birth of Christ", QJRAS, 32, 389
(5) Sinnott, R.W.: 1968, "Thoughts on the Star of Bethlehem", Sky &
Telescope, 36, 384
(6) Martin, E.L.: 1996, "The Star that Astonished the World", Portland: Ask
(7) Kidger, M.R.: 1999, "The Star of Bethlehem - an astronomer's view",
Princeton: Princeton University Press
(8) Molnar, M.R.: 1995, "The Magi's Star from the perspective of ancient
astrological practices", QJRAS, 36, 109
(9) Molnar, M.R.: 1999, "The star of Bethlehem : the legacy of the Magi",
New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press
(10) Origen: c.254, "Contra Celsum"
(11) Trexler, R.C.: 1997, "The Journey of the Magi: Meanings in history of a
Christian story", Princeton: Princeton University Press.
(12) Greetham, Rev. P.: World Wide Web page
(13) Molnar, M.R.: 1992, "The coins of Antioch", Sky & Telescope, 83, 37
(14) Clark, D.H., Parkinson, J.H., & Stephenson, F.R.: 1977, "An
astronomical reappraisal of the Star of Bethlehem - a nova in 5BC), QJRAS,
(15) Clarke, A.C.: 1955, "The Star", published in the collection "The other
side of the sky". New York: Victor Gollancz Science Fiction, 1987
(16) Clarke, A.C.: 1954, "The Star of the Magi", published in the collection
"Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations". London: Corgi Books, 1975
(17) Clark, D.H., & Stephenson, F.R.: 1977, "The Historical Supernovae".
(3) ESCHATOLOGY AND CHRONOLOGY
>From Clark Whelton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Recent discussions of AD chronology in this forum seem to accept the
Christian myths on which AD dating is based.
Religious faith aside, it has not been proven that either Jesus of Nazareth
or "Dionysius Exiguus" are genuine historical figures. Nor has it been
proven that anyone living 1,500 years ago kept track of time by counting
forward from the birth of Jesus.
Early Christians did not use AD dating. They used AM (Annus Mundi) dating,
a timekeeping system that calculated the number of years since the creation
of the world (see Richard Landes' brilliant paper "The Use and Abuse of
Eschatology in the Middle Ages (Louvain, 1989) edited by Verbeke,
Verhelst... A study of apocalyptic expectations and the pattern of Western
chronography 100-800 CE").
Landes wrote, "Within both Christianity and Judaism, (chronological systems)
emerged more or less simultaneously, based on the age of the world (Annus
Mundi = AM). But whereas both the Greek Christians and the Jews established
their current erae mundi in the early centuries of the Common Era (c.
100-250 CE), Latin Christianity, curiously, made two major revisions in its
dating system during the following six centuries (c. 250-850) before
ultimately abandoning AM entirely in favor of Annus Domini... The pattern
begins with the establishment of a system for dating the age of the world
that situates its own date early in the last five centuries of the 6th
millennium (c. 5600 to 5700 AM). This system then enjoys about two centuries
of universal acceptance among a wide range of ecclesiastical writers,
despite occasional efforts to change it (c. 5700-5900).
Finally, and rather suddenly, it disappears from common usage in its 5900s,
giving way to another dating system that rejuvenates the world by about
three centuries; that is the new system universally adopted in its
Landes shows that by combining eschatological interpretations of two
scriptural passages ("for the Lord, one day is as a thousand years," and "on
the seventh day He rested") early Christians came to believe the world would
end in the year 6000 AM (i.e. the beginning of the "seventh day" when the
Lord would rest). Fear of the year 6000 AM caused Christian scholars to
constantly recalculate and manipulate AM dates in hopes of postponing the
dreaded sixth millennium.
AD dating does not come into general use in Europe until long after the time
period assigned to Bede. Given that documents are easily copied and redated,
I have been trying to find the oldest _original_ AD date inscribed in stone
or metal, i.e. a date not retrocalculated and added to a church or tomb at
a later time. The oldest such date I have found in the UK is 1360. AD dating
in the UK does not seem to have come into general use until the mid-15th
century or later. The Magna Carta, for example, traditionally dated to
1215, does not bear an AD date, instead being dated to the 17th year of King
It is not logical to keep track of time by counting forward from unprovable
events in the past. In my opinion reliable timekeeping begins with the
Gregorian calendar reform. In discussions involving history and chronology,
I prefer to use B2K (before the year 2000) dating. Only by counting backward
from known events can we hope to arrive at an accurate chronology of the
Society for Historical Research
MODERATOR'S NOTE: Reliable timekeeping goes, of course, much further back
than the Gregorian calendar reform as can be seen from the Jewish book Seder
Olam (2nd/3rd century CE) which includes the Rabbinical chronology - from
Adam to the destruction of the second temple (i.e. the time of Jesus) - and
which formed the basis for the dating of the "Era of Creation" (= Annus
Mundi). Equally impressive is the systematic dating system used in Islamic
coinage: http://w3.nai.net/~jroberts/early.htm. BJP
(4) NOT A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT
>From Duncan Steel <D.I.Steel@salford.ac.uk>
In the item from the Toronto Star (CCNet 4/12/01) it was said that:
"During his life (which tragically ended four years ago in a traffic
accident), Shoemaker was the guru of asteroid-impact research"
Our friend Gene was indeed the guru of asteroid-impact research. If I recall
correctly, when he died his life-partner Carolyn said that Gene would have
seen the irony of his end in an impact event.
But it was not a "traffic accident" as it is usually understood: no-one
skipped a red light, or got rear-ended by a drunken driver. Out in the
Tanami Desert, in the Australian Outback, there is no "traffic". Gene and
Carolyn came around a blind corner on a dirt track and, against all the
odds, hit another 4WD coming the other way. Gene, I am sure, would also have
appreciated the irony of such a wildly improbable event occurring. He would
have seen the parallel with the next hugely unlikely, but fatal, asteroid
impact on the Earth.
(5) SEASONS IN SPACE? AMAZING!
>From Malcolm Miller <email@example.com>
A quote from CCNet 129/2001:
"It has been exciting watching the space weather so far," said Dr.
Roger Wiens of Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., head of the team
that operates the instruments. "We've had a rather stormy autumn in space,
which has been great for checking out our instruments."
Funny, that. We've been having spring in the part of space I live in - the
southern hemisphere of planet Earth
(6) AND FINALLY: AUSTRALIAN TEACHER BANNED FOR NOT BELIEVING IN SANTA
>From Xtramsn.co.nz, 4 December 2001
An Australian primary school has banned a teacher after she told a class of
six year olds that Santa Claus does not exist. Angry parents from the Corowa
public school demanded action when some children arrived home in tears after
a reserve teacher, on her first day on the job, told them their parents
brought their presents....
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