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This question is a spin-off from On which date was Christ born?

There are differing views on the birth year of Christ, which also affect the dating of the resurrection (as we know Jesus's age on death). Which years are possible, and what are the arguments?

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Why is it relevant? – user unknown Aug 31 '11 at 11:33
@user unknown: It's mainly interesting. The dating of crucifixion and resurrection as well as some others depend on it. It's also something I often hear Christians make statements about, and I'd gladly know what these statements are based on. – dancek Aug 31 '11 at 12:11
Why is the year of cruzification important, whether it should have been in the year 20, 30 or 40? – user unknown Aug 31 '11 at 13:15
@userunkown if it's not important or relevant to you, then leave well enough alone. – Ecommerce Consultant Aug 31 '11 at 21:53
@user unknown if you really want to know why it is relevant, ask it as a question on the stack. – djeikyb Sep 1 '11 at 7:53

3 Answers 3

One theory:

It's not the easiest thing to follow, but has a very interesting hypothesis on the subject. The information is all there, especially in footnotes, but unfortunately it's not presented very clearly on the site itself... they want you to get the video.* The upshot is that the date is most likely 3BC, and maybe 2BC.

You get around the Herod problem because of a recent study that found a typesetting error made in 1544 for the manuscripts used to date Herod's death. It is now believed he died in 1BC, rather than 4BC:

The Bible recounts that Herod learned of the Messiah's birth from astronomers who had seen the Star of Bethlehem. He tried to kill the child, so, obviously, the Bible records that Herod was alive at Jesus' birth. Remember that this mattered to Kepler, because historians of his time apparently inferred from Josephus' history that Herod died in 4 BC (9). Necessarily, Kepler assumed Christ was born before that date, perhaps 5 BC or earlier...

But modern scholarship has deepened our understanding of Josephus' manuscripts. A recent study was made of the earliest manuscripts of Josephus' writings held by the British Library in London, and the American Library of Congress. It revealed a surprise that allows us to target our mathematical telescopes better than could Kepler (10). It turns out that a ... printer typesetting the manuscript of Josephus' Antiquities messed up in the year 1544. Every single Josephus manuscript in these libraries dating from before 1544 supports the inference that Herod passed in 1 BC. Strong recent scholarship confirms that date (11).

* As a side note, the video is well worth your time. It's just a shame that they charge for it; this is something that would be good to see spread more widely.

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Do they have any external source for that last statement? – Andrew Sep 9 '11 at 16:28
@ashansky 11. Andrew Steinmann, "When Did Herod the Great Reign?" Novum Testamentum Volume 51, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1-29 .. and .. Ernest L. Martin, The Star That Astonished the World (Second Edition; Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1996) ISBN 0-94-5657-87-0. – Joel Coehoorn Sep 9 '11 at 16:33
I added a further sentence (with footnote pointer) to the quotation so you can see how the source is used. – Joel Coehoorn Sep 9 '11 at 16:35

Because both the Gospel of Mathew and Luke agree that the birth took place before the death of Herod (who died in 4 BC), historians generally assume Jesus was born around 5 BC or slightly before.

Source: WikiPedia

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I believe that Dr. Richard P. Bucher provides an excellent analysis of this question. Luke 2:1-3 specifically states the purpose of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem (Roman census ordered by Caesar Augustus). And, from extra-biblical sources, we know that Augustus ordered a census in 27 BC, 8 BC, and 14 AD.

So 8 BC seems the most reasonable answer to your question.

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The trick here is that in the ancient world a census of that scale could take a decade or longer to conduct. – Joel Coehoorn Jan 11 '13 at 4:11

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