There are 22 thoughts on “When Was Christ Born?”.

  1. “Pratt is a Latter-day Saint, and while I find his research interesting, he seems to have preconceived ideas that guide his conclusions, and there are a number of problems with some of his reasoning that cannot be discussed here.”

    I find his research to be pretty fascinating, and the “gold standard” for this stuff. If there’s a good rebuttal, let’s hear it. Otherwise, it seems like you’re just copping out here: “His research is popular and widely read, but I’m going to ignore it anyway because…reasons.”

  2. Hi John,
    The “Era of Alexander” that you refer to in the Syriac Christian sources is identical with the Seleucid Era that began in 312 BC. There was a looseness of terminology about this era, sometimes calling it the “year of the Greeks” or the “year of Alexander”, meaning of his successor Seleucus, who continued Macedonian rule in the East. If so, then even these sources give a date for Christ’s birth that is in the same ballpark, i.e. 3-2 BC. Enjoyed the article. Glen

  3. Hi John.
    I enjoyed your article. I found it after reading another non LDS article on the same subject. I found myself comparing much of the two. I think it might be of benefit to review and might add some more evidence and good information to the discussion here. The dates of events mentioned therein were very significant such as Dec 25th and September 11th. I hope it will be of benefit to you and others who are seeking truth in this matter. Scholars, Apostles, and Experts are not infallible and opinion and belief are just that, opinion and belief. Possible this will further illuminate or resonate with you. http://www.versebyverse.org/doctrine/birthofchrist.html

    Thanks,
    Mike

  4. Really liked the article, and had a suggestion/question from a possibly different angle. I’ve read (and searched) all the footnotes and these Comments, but if I raise something that is duplicative here, I apologize for having missed it.

    To my understanding, Jesus began his ministry (as described by Luke 4) by quoting from his favorite writer, Isaiah:

    Isaiah 61
    1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
    2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord …. [Luke 4:19 indicates Jesus stopped reading at this point.]

    I could be mistaken, but I’ve always thought this “acceptable year of the Lord” meant a Jubilee, which Israel was (I believe) still celebrating at that time every 49-50 years.

    If Jesus began his ministry at about age 30, couldn’t you consult with careful Jewish sources to learn when the likely Jubilee was, and then deduct ~30 years to learn the approximate date of Jesus’ birth?

    Thanks!

  5. John, your latest comment about the Nephite and Gregorian calendars is totally irrelevant. In your initial article you claim that the Book of Mormon says that Christ died 34 years after his birth. In my first comment I showed that based on the internal Book of Mormon chronology that your statement is incorrect and the maximum age that Christ could be at his crucifixion according to this Book of Mormon chronology was 33 years and 4 days. I never specified or implied any particular known calendar system and only indicated the possibility of a new “Book of Mormon” calendar system having a new staring day in place of an old “Book of Mormon” calendar system. It doesn’t matter what they used. My only source is the Book of Mormon itself and the internal chronology it specifies.

  6. It amazes me how many people, including historians and other scholars, do not understand simple calendar mathematics. Simply put, the Book of Mormon says that Christ was no more than 33 year and 4 days old when he was crucified. If you think of a child born on 12/31/2014, how old will it be on 01/04/2016? Yes, 1 complete year and 3 days, not counting it being in the 4th day. We celebrate our Xth birthday at the end of X complete years. Now in the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 8:5, we read; “And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm such an one as never had been known in all the land.” In other words, 33 complete years and 3 complete days had passed away and they were in the 4th day of the first month of the new year. We know that this storm occurred when Christ was crucified. We don’t know for sure when they started counting the first day of the year for this new calendar system but we at least know the year. Therefore, based on the Book of Mormon, Christ was no more than 33 years and 4 days and was possibly less depending on when they set the first day of their new calendar system. (See 3 Nephi 2: 6-8). We know from reading 3 Nephi 1:1-9 that they were a ways into the year of the old calendar system when the sign of Christ’s birth was given. So if the Nephite believers set the first day at their new calendar to the day or next day after the sign of Christ’s birth then the Book of Mormon is saying that Christ was 33 years old at his crucifixion with his death occurring on or within a few days of his birth day. Now, if they did not reset the first day of their new calendar to the day when the sign was given, then the Book of Mormon is saying that Christ was 32 years old and within several weeks to several months of his 33rd birthday.

    • We do not know for sure which calendar the Nephites used. It was unlikely to be our Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582, which has 365 days with an additional day added to February in “leap year.” I also do not believe they followed the “year” based on the 260-day Venus cycle observed by their Mesoamerican neighbors. The ancient Israelites observed the lunar year of 354 days, but periodically added a 13th month to ensure that the agricultural festivals occurred in the correct season. For them, the month began with the new moon (one of the Hebrew words for month being hodesh, deriving from hadash, “new.” This made festivals like Passover and Tabernacles fall during the full moon.

  7. Thank you, Professor Tvedtnes, for such a fascinating article!

    FWIW, I’ve recently been reading articles on the astronomical observations recorded during the first decade BC. You might be interested to know that in the year 7 BC there wasn’t just one conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn; there were three (though none were in the early Spring). Each rose in Pisces, with the first in late May, the second in late September, and the third in early December. In 6 BC there were more conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn with Mars joining them in early February and early March. All of these spectacular signs were followed by a great star or comet (recorded by the Chinese Han Dynasty) rising in Capricorn sometime between March 10 and April 7 in 5 BC, and lasting for “more than 70 consecutive days,” whereupon visibility was apparently lost due to the advent of monsoon season.

    Something interesting I noted about this star/comet: When it first appeared, it was apparently visible in China at dawn, just over the horizon. If that celestial object was bright enough to be visible to the Chinese in some amount of daylight, how bright must it have been on the other side of the world when it was night? Could it perhaps be bright enough to make it appear dusk throughout the night?

    Also, as noted by others here, the Book of Mormon suggests that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead when he was 34 years old. The two dates commonly accepted for the crucifixion are Thursday, April 7, 30 AD and Friday, April 3, 33 AD. If we accept the date in 30 AD (which appears to be favored by most scholars), that would be 34 years from Christ’s birth, if that occurred in 5 BC.

    AND, for those quoting Elder Bednar’s recent address, not only is the Gregorian date of April 6, 5 BC, a possible time for the Chinese star/comet to have appeared (and it would have been pretty spectacular; April 6 was a New Moon that year), 34 years later April 6 would also be the Last Supper on Wednesday evening, followed by the beginning of the Atonement in Gethsemane.

    Just one more note… Though no one knows precisely when the jubilees were celebrated, 5 BC is one of the possible Jubilee years. That might add some insight as to why Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem (for Luke’s census) and then stayed there until the Wise Men came. Maybe they redeemed a portion of their ancestral homeland in accordance with Leviticus 25?

    • Spencer,
      I believe you are referring to the galactic supernova along the ecliptic, in Capricorn, which lasted for 70 days, from Mar – May in 5 BC (Williams #52). Some scholars suggest that this alerted the magi in Babylonia or Persia and that they began their four or five-month trek to the Holy Land during that time (cf. Ezekiel 33:21, Ezra 7:9; Finegan, Light from the Ancient Past, 595)..

      There is another nova (or comet) in Aquila, north of the ecliptic, on April 24 the following year (Williams #53). The richness of celestial phenomena at that time is remarkable.

    • You wrote, “If that celestial object was bright enough to be visible to the Chinese in some amount of daylight, how bright must it have been on the other side of the world when it was night?” Actually, it could not have been seen on the other side of the world until the earth rotated enough to bring that part into the same region where China was at the time the Chinese made their observation, when it would be at the same time of day.

  8. 3 Nephi 8:1-5 seems to say that, in the new Nephite calendar, which reckoned its start from the undark night that marked Christ’s birth, the destruction marking his death took place on the 4th day of the first month of the thirty fourth year. In other words, Christ died within a few years [Admin comment: years is in the original post, but the logic of the argument suggests that it should read “days.”] of his birthday. Since we know he died during the week of Passover, that seerms to indicate that he was born during the Passover season as well. This does not objectively place the year of his birth or of his death, but it does seem to say that his birth was at that time of year. How close that date was to April 6 in whatever year he was born cannot be determined from this. But in light of the major effects witnessed by the Nephites at the start and end of the Savior’s life, it seems likely that thse two dates would have been given specal attention in their records.

    • When I first saw this article I wondered if Dr. Tvedtnes would talk about the change in the Nephite calender, but he gave it a brief mention but did not say anything more about it.

      I used to think that the passage from the Book of Mormon clearly indicated that Christ died when he was 34 years and four days old, but upon further reflection there is another way of looking at those verses. One possible interpretation is that the Nephites moved the date of their New Year from whenever it was (September perhaps or possibly in April by coincidence) to April. Thus it would be exactly 34 years and four days between the sign of His birth and the sign of His death.

      The other possibility is that the Nephites kept their New Year where it was relative to the seasons and merely changed the numbering on the years. This would mean that there was not exactly 34 years and four days between His birth and His death. As an example, this would be like measuring the numbering of our years from our independence from England in 1776 and saying that the current year is 238, with New Year’s day still on January 1st. But with the first possibility mentioned above we would be in year 237 with New Year’s day on July 4th.

      I don’t know which interpretation is correct, but if Christ was born in late March or early April *and* the Nephite calender year started at about the same time then both interpretations could be a possibility. But if the Nephites’ calender year started in another part of the year then that would seem to indicate that they moved their New Year to the date the sign was given.

      Something to think about.

    • The birth & death of Jesus could indeed occur at around the same time, if we assume that the Nephites counted with solar years.

      However, if (as first suggested by John L. Sorenson) the Nephites used 360-day years, the birth date would be separated from the death date at Passover by 6 months, i.e., at around Jewish New Year & Tabernacles (in Tishri) in the Autumn. The standard Mesoamerican Long Count calendar was a continuous 360-day count, which, by the way, accommodates 600 Long Count years in 592 solar years — the time from the first year of Zedekiah (597-596 B.C.) till just before the death of Herod the Great in early 4 B.C.

      • That’s interesting about the 600 long count years verses 592 solar years.

        I would note though, the Book of Mormon is very specific that the Nephites religiously adhered to the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses is intrinsically tied to the Jewish lunar calendar. Isn’t it more reasonable to believe that the Nephites therefore used the Jewish lunar calendar, at least until Christ’s personal ministration, in order to maintain their faithful observance of the Law of Moses?

        Also, because Tribe Lehi left Jerusalem before the Babylonian exile, their New Year (assuming they maintained the Jewish lunar calendar) would have been Abib (modern “Nissan”) 1, not Rosh Hashanah.

        I used to favor a birth date for the Savior during the Fall festivals, and I recognize that there is evidence favoring that. However, I’ve recently found that the bulk of evidence supports a Springtime birth. (I also agree with Prof. Tvedtnes’ personal view expressed in fn.56, and probably for many of the same reasons.) FWIW, if we allow the Nephites a Jewish lunar calendar, then the birth, death, and resurrection can all occur in the Spring, too.

        • I would be cautious of suggesting that because the Nephites followed the Law of Moses that nothing about their religious/secular observances changed. They were willing to change their mode of counting years twice, so that was something that they didn’t consider to be tied to religious necessity.

          As for the 600 year prophecy, I had once thought that it was a generalization, but when I looked at the year count, the text counts down 600 years. The Nephite recorders noted 600 years (however long a Nephite year was). I do believe that they used a lunar year at least to begin with. The Mesoamerican prevalence of a year that came close to that time might argue for a syncretization to have taken place. Even with lunar years, however, the 600 Nephite years actually fits–just not with solar years.

        • Not so fast, Spencer!!
          Whether we use the solar or lunar year (without intercalation), we end up with the wrong amount of time in 600 “years” to fit the 592 solar years from the first year of Zedekiah to just before the death of Herod the Great in 5 B.C. That is 219,150 days in 600 solar years, but 216,228 days in 600 360-day years (8 years less). 600 “lunar years” is 212,400 days, or 581.52 solar years (18.5 years less) – simply not enough years to fit from Zedekiah to the Birth of Jesus.

          The lunar cycle is 29.5 days per month, thus giving us 354 days a year. That is the short calendar used by the Muslims, and they have no difficulty in observing all their festivals throughout the year. No more than Nephites using a 360-day year, nor Jews using an intercalated lunar-solar calendar. Lunar phase observation may indeed be important, but could certainly be superseded by the far more sophisticated Mesoamerican calendar system. Christians once observed Easter according to lunar observation (along with the Jews), but they no longer do so, and there seems to be no difficulty with such adjustments.

          The calendric complexities inherent in such matters is best dealt with while consulting three “bibles” on the subject:

          Finegan, Jack, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, rev. ed. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998).
          Hoehner, Harold W., Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
          Thiele, Edwin R., The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1994).

          Meantime, please note that Marvin A. Sweeney (Univ. of Miami) finds it likeliest that the biblical New Year fell in the Autumn, including the Day of Atonement and Tabernacles. See his discussion in the Society for Biblical Literature’s Harper’s Bible Dictionary (Harper San Francisco, 1985), 703-704.

          The preponderance of evidence favors an Autumnal birth for Jesus for a host of reasons, including the Christian Christmas liturgy having been taken by early Christians from the Jewish synagogue Autumn festival liturgy (Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge: Liturgical Parallels in Synagogue and Early Church [Schocken, 1970/ KTAV, 1984], 79, 86).

  9. It was interesting that with all the recent intellectual discussion of dating Christ’s death in BYU Studies that Elder Bednar would state in his recent conference address: “Today is April 6. We know by revelation that today is the actual and accurate date of the Savior’s birth.”

      • I dunno if you can distinguishe a personal revelation from a scholarly point of view. A scholarly point of view uses the mind, it doesn’t involve the heart. If you read our scriptures, personal revelation requires two things – mind and heart. You have thought of it and you have felt it in your heart. Elder Berdnar might be saying an opinion, but remember he’s not a dumb idiot apostle, in fact he’s one of the most spiritually intelligent apostles i knew in our day. I doubt if he doesn’t know what you probably knew, bec they probably read a lot too…so upon reading some stuff about Christ birth, instead of anchoring those guesses through human reasoning, research and findings, he had sought it for himself and from the spirit got confirmation, so he was able to say it with assuredness….

  10. On Endnote 60: In reading through the passage in The History of the Church, it seems to me that the numbers once again coincide with generally accepted or traditional calendar dates more than as revealed dates of Christ’s Birth and Death, Passover, or the world’s creation. This statement:
    “it being just 1800 years since the Savior laid down His life that men might have everlasting life, and only three years since the Church had come out of the wilderness, preparatory for the last dispensation.”
    Coming on April 6, 1833, suggests Christ died in the year 33 CE, yet if Christ were born in 6 BCE then he would have died at age 39 which doesn’t work out very well.

    The following sentences:
    “The Saints had great reason to rejoice: they thought upon the time when this world came into existence, and the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy; they thought of the time when Israel ate the ‘Passover,’ as wailing came up for the loss of the firstborn of Egypt; they felt like the shepherds who watched their flocks by night, when the angelic choir sweetly sang the electrifying strain, ‘Peace on earth, good will to man;’ and the solemnities of eternity rested upon them.”
    Do not require the conflation of the dates, only that they used the occasion to reflect on those events. It doesn’t seem necessary to me to assume that the Prophet Joseph, or anybody else, was assuming that all those events happened on that day.
    At least as I read the passage.

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