Chronology of Jesus

Chronology of Jesus

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The chronology of Jesus aims to establish a historical order for some of the events of the life of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 in the four canonical gospels. The Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

 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 the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

 with non-Christian sources such as Jewish and Greco-Roman documents to estimate specific date ranges for the major events in Jesus' life.

Two independent approaches can be used to estimate the year of birth of Jesus, one based on the nativity accounts in the gospels, the other by working backwards from the date of the start of his ministry
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

. Most scholars assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC.

Three independent approaches to estimate the dates of the ministry of Jesus are: first, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, second: the date of the building of the Jerusalem Temple and third, the date of the death of John the Baptist. Scholars generally estimate that the ministry of Jesus began around 27-29 AD and lasted at least one year, and perhaps three years, or more.

Diverse approaches have been used to estimate the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. One approach uses the attestations of non-Christian sources such as Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 and Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

. Another method works backwards from the historically well established trial of Apostle Paul in Achaea
Achaea
Achaea is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of West Greece. It is situated in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. The capital is Patras. The population exceeds 300,000 since 2001.-Geography:...

 to estimate the date of his conversion. Two independent astronomical methods have also been used, suggesting the same date, i.e. April 3rd, 33 AD. Scholars generally assume that Jesus died between 30-36 AD.

Context and overview


The Christian gospels were written as theological documents 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. The gospels were primarily written for the purpose of indoctrination in the context of early Christianity
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

 with the chronological timelines as a secondary consideration. 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 the gospels do not provide enough details regarding exact dates, it is possible to draw from them a general picture of the life story of Jesus, and establish some date ranges regarding the major events in his life via correlations with non-Christian sources. A number of historical non-Christian documents, such as Jewish and Greco-Roman sources, have been used in historical analyses of the existence of Jesus and his chronology. Most critical historians agree that Jesus existed, regard events such as his baptism
Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

 and his crucifixion
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

 as historical, and assume that approximate ranges for some of these events can be estimated. However, as stated in John 21:25 the gospels do not claim to provide an exhaustive list of the events in the life of Jesus.

The year of birth of Jesus can be estimated using two independent approaches: one based on the nativity accounts in the gospels of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel According to Matthew is one of the four canonical gospels, one of the three synoptic gospels, and the first book of the New Testament. It tells of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth...

 and Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

, the other by working backwards from the date of the start of his ministry
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

, when according to the Gospel of Luke he was about thirty years old. Most scholars assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC.

Three independent approaches have been used to estimate the dates of the ministry of Jesus. One method relies on Luke 3:1-2's statement that the ministry of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 (which preceded that of Jesus) started in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Another approach is to correlate John 2:20's statement about the Jerusalem Temple being in construction for 46 years with the date of the building of the Temple. A third method uses the date of the death of John the Baptist based on the writings of Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

, and correlates it to Matthew 14:4. Scholars generally estimate that the ministry of Jesus began around 27-29 AD and lasted one to three years.

A number for approaches have been used to estimate the date of the crucifixion of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

. One approach uses the attestations of non-Christian sources such as Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 and Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

. Another approach works backwards from the historically well established trial of Apostle Paul in Corinth to estimate the date of his conversion, given that in the New Testament accounts Jesus' death takes place before this conversion.

Two independent astronomical methods have also been used, suggesting the same date. One method goes back to Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

's calculation of the relative visibility of the crescent of the new moon between the Hebrew
Hebrew calendar
The Hebrew calendar , or Jewish calendar, is a lunisolar calendar used today predominantly for Jewish religious observances. It determines the dates for Jewish holidays and the appropriate public reading of Torah portions, yahrzeits , and daily Psalm reading, among many ceremonial uses...

 and Julian calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

s. The other method uses a lunar eclipse
Lunar eclipse
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth so that the Earth blocks the Sun's rays from striking the Moon. This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. Hence, a lunar eclipse can only occur the night of a...

 model and independently arrives at the same date, i.e. April 3rd, 33 AD. Scholars generally assume that Jesus died between 30-36 AD.

Year of birth estimates


The two major, and independent, approaches to estimating the year of the birth of Jesus combine the accounts given in some of the Canonical gospels with non-biblical historical data to arrive at a date range, as discussed in the two sub-sections below. There are a wide range of more speculative theories, and some are discussed at the end of this article in the "other theories" section.

Nativity accounts: Luke and Matthew



The "nativity-based" approach to estimating the year of birth of Jesus relies on the analysis of the nativity
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 accounts (that only appear in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew) along with other corresponding historical data.

Luke or Matthew do not mention a date or time of year for the birth of Jesus and Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner, SJ was a German Jesuit and theologian who, alongside Bernard Lonergan and Hans Urs von Balthasar, is considered one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century...

 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
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

.

Herod the Great
Herod the Great
Herod , also known as Herod the Great , was a Roman client king of Judea. His epithet of "the Great" is widely disputed as he is described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis." He is also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including his...

, is generally believed to have died around 4 BC, implying that the birth of Jesus was not after that year. Matthew 2:1 states that: "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king" and Luke 1:5 mentions the reign of Herod shortly before the birth of Jesus. Matthew also suggests that Jesus may have been as much as two years old at the time of the visit of the Magi
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

 and hence even older at the time of Herod's death.

Many scholars see a contradiction in that Luke places the birth of Jesus during the Census of Quirinius
Census of Quirinius
The Census of Quirinius refers to the enrollment of the Roman Provinces of Syria and Iudaea for tax purposes taken in the year 6/7 during the reign of Emperor Augustus , when Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria, after the banishment of Herod Archelaus from the Tetrarchy of...

, which took place in 6 AD, although Luke states the conception took place during the reign of King Herod — about 10 years earlier. Most scholars believe that Luke made an error in referring to the census but other scholars have attempted to reconcile its account with Matthew, ranging from a grammatical approach to the translation of the Greek word prote used in Luke to be read as "registration before Quirinius was governor of Syria" to archeological arguments and references to Tertullian
Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 that indicate that a "two step census" was performed, involving an early registration.
Most scholars generally assume a date of birth between 6 and 4 BC. Other scholars assume that Jesus was born sometime between 7–2 BC.

Working backwards from the ministry



The ministry-based approach to estimating the year of birth of Jesus is independent of the nativity accounts and works backwards from the start of his ministry, based on the statement in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at that time.

The section below discusses three independent approaches to estimating the dates of the ministry of Jesus: first by using the "fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius" in Luke 3:1-2, second via the reference in the dispute of Jesus and the Pharisees
Pharisees
The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought among Jews during the Second Temple period beginning under the Hasmonean dynasty in the wake of...

 in John 2:20 ("Forty and six years was this temple in building, and you want to raise it up in three days?") and third by the reference of Flavius Josephus to the imprisonment and execution (Ant 18.5.2) of John the baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 by Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater , known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century AD ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch...

.

The third reference (i.e. the execution of the Baptist in Matthew 14:6-12) relates to a time when Jesus had already started his ministry but the other two references relate to the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

The generally assumed date range for the start of the ministry of John he Baptist based on the reference to the reign of Tiberius in Luke 3:1-2 are about 28-29 AD, with the ministry of Jesus following it shortly thereafter. As discussed in the section below, based on the reference in John 2:13 to the Temple being in its 46th years 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 the start of his ministry, some scholars estimate the year 28 AD to be roughly the 32nd birthday of Jesus and his year of birth to be around 6-4 BC.

Reign of Tiberius and the Gospel of Luke



One method for the estimation of the date of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus
Ministry of Jesus
In the Christian gospels, the Ministry of Jesus begins with his Baptism in the countryside of Judea, near the River Jordan and ends in Jerusalem, following the Last Supper with his disciples. The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was "about 30 years of age" at the start of his ministry...

 is based on the Gospel of Luke's specific statement in Luke 3:1-2 about the ministry of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 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.


There are, however, two approaches to determining when the reign of Tiberius Caesar started. The traditional approach is that of assuming that the the reign of Tiberius started when he became co-regent in 11AD, placing the start of the ministry of John the Baptist around 26 AD. However, some scholars assume it to be upon the death of his predecessor Augustus Caesar in 14 AD, implying that the ministry of John the Baptist began in 29 AD.

The New Testament presents John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

's ministry as the pre-cursor to that of Jesus and the Baptism of Jesus
Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Jesus Christ's public ministry. This event is recorded in the Canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In John 1:29-33 rather than a direct narrative, the Baptist bears witness to the episode...

 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 gives an overview of the ministry of Jesus, and 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".

The generally assumed dates for the start of the ministry of John the baptist based on this reference in the Gospel of Luke are about 28-29 AD, with the ministry of Jesus following it shortly thereafter.

Jerusalem Temple and the Gospel of John


A method for estimating the start of the ministry of Jesus, without reliance on the Synoptic gospels
Synoptic Gospels
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be...

 is to relate the information in the Gospel of John
Gospel of John
The Gospel According to John , commonly referred to as the Gospel of John or simply John, and often referred to in New Testament scholarship as the Fourth Gospel, is an account of the public ministry of Jesus...

 (2:13 and 2:20) about the visit of Jesus to Herod's Temple in Jerusalem with historical data outside the gospels about dates of the construction of the Temple.