November 29, 2009

Dating the Crucifixion, Despite Lunar Details

(Original Subtitle:  "Possible Friday Passovers")  I reviewed Beckwith's limitations here, recently. Today, I only want to show that the lack of an officialized Metonic Cycle does not cause total chaos for historical investigation, even on Beckwith's most dubious estimations.

First, let's tighten the scope. Pontius Pilate ruled Judea from mid-26 until mid-36 AD. Jesus' baptism dates to 28 or 29 AD. Jesus' public ministry ran between 2 and 4 years. Saul of Tarsus met Jesus Christ on the road in early 34. Challenge any of those points if you dare, but accepting them all leaves four possible years for the crucifixion.

Granting that Passover Night is still going to fall on or within one day of the full moon, in March or April, the options for the Passover Night between 30 and 33 AD are as follows:

30 AD: March 8th, Wednesday (+) or April 6th, Thursday (+)
31 AD: March 27th, Tuesday (+) or April 25th, Wednesday (+)
32 AD: March 15th, Saturday (+) or April 14th, Monday (+)
33 AD: March 5th, Thursday (+) or April 3rd, Friday (+)

All dates as found on the Julian Calendar; Source: Time and Date AS (Stavanger, Norway)

At first glance, we have four of eight full moons that fall within one day of Friday. Now, we begin to eliminate. First, we note that 31 AD is completely out. Second, we note that March 5th and 8th are almost certainly too early for the Sadducees to have scheduled in advance, as they would have been in the lucrative habit of doing. This leaves three years to reckon with.

The year 30 AD only works if we posit a two year ministry for Jesus, which is extremely implausible. The year 32 AD is very doubtful because either moon date was viable, and the Sadducees would have been much more prudent event planners to select the April moon many months in advance.

That leaves April 3rd of 33 AD, with a Passover Feast on Friday, suggesting that the careful night sky observers really must have been doing their jobs well - as they most likely should have been. Perfectionists can protest all they want, but the balance of evidence and all our best reasoned considerations very strongly suggest that this year is the start of chronology for Jesus Christ's ministry.

Working backwards, Luke's date on the Lord's baptism (28 or 29) is best fixed by determining whether Jesus' ministry was more likely three or four years in length. On that note, search this site for "28 AD", and also review my post on Chronology of the Gospels.

I should so be charging you people money for all this. ;-)

Note: Obviously, these are not absolute, airtight arguments. Historical ones rarely are. However, I contend these are good arguments, presenting the most likely conclusions. They are probably correct. Anyone willing to proceed with historical reconstruction of Christ's public life should begin here. But any faith-based scholarship which refuses to start somewhere, or which prefers an ahistorical view for some reason, is being an irresponsible caretaker of scripture's facticity. IMHO. History is what it is. Reconstruction is worth what it's worth. Let's work with it.


Unknown said...

To the 'latter-day' chroniclers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) exactitude was not a consideration... only that a 'Good News' story be presented (never letting the 'facts' get in the way of their intentions, -read 'agenda'). [Jewish] history be damned, -chronology too...

No Jew, during the infamous "crucifixion" of 'the descendant of David and Jewish messiah', ever knew or saw or even heard of "Christ"... until After Saul of Tarsus, -aka the Apostle and eventual Saint Paul's epiphany. And even 'Paul' does not acknowledge or refer to "Christ" in the mortal or corporal sense of that word. "Christ" is an immaculately conceived (Greek) Idea and Ideal. Was "Christ" "born in the days of Herod the Great" (according to Matthew) i.e. prior to 4 B.C. -as Herod died in that year... or, "in the days of the Census or Taxation when Cyrenius or Quirinius was governor of Syria" (6-7 A.D.) as is according to Luke?

Although Judas the Galilean "rose up an insurrection... in 6-7 A.D." according to Josephus... it did not end until the wealthy and educated Jews scattered themselves abroad, the temple at Jerusalem was razed to the ground and, the Jewish nation was utterly destroyed... in 70 A.D. (Not a word about the chaos and mayhem swirling all around the principal men in the Holy Gospels 'in those days'...)

Appearing as if from out of nowhere, *Jesus Barabbas, stood on the stage of ecclesiastical history's most dramatic and celebrated hour, like a potted plant of poison ivy, said nothing whatsoever to anybody (nobody said anything to Him), nevertheless, is chosen to be released from prison (because of a supposed 'custom'... never before or since exercised), -while, at the same time, demand the crucifixion of 'the descendant of David and Jewish messiah' (generally ASSUMED to be "Jesus Christ"... who hadn't even been invented yet).

"Jesus Barabbas", written in the original Gospel according or attributed to Matthew (27:17), -but that His name (Jesus) was removed or omitted from the Latin translation (around 390 c. e.) and most of the subsequent 'translations' thereafter... leaving us latter-day people with only 'Barabbas' instead.

'Barabbas' is not a proper name or surname (anymore so than is "Christ"), -rather, it is an Aramaic appellation... it is what He (Jesus) was called, -it means: Bar = Son + Abba = Father (as in 'the Father of us all' or, 'God', if you will).

Described in the Holy Gospels as "a notorious robber, murderer and insurrectionist"... yet, nobody has ever heard or written of Him... (go figure).

"Insurrection"... What 'insurrection'???

Yes, the Dates in the Holy Gospels are skewed... so is everything else.

Roland -a reluctant iconoclast.

(barabbas126 at

Bill Heroman said...

Roland, at least some of your facts need checking. I'd suggest you read through Josephus more carefully.

Aside from that, you should know I have no interest in defending the Gospels' veracity. My starting point on this blog is to assume the claims of the New Testament are accurate. I'm non-critical about the sources, but critical about our apprehension of their meaning.

Again, I'm not out to argue with anyone who doesn't believe this. If you can accept the NT material for the sake of argument, you're welcome to challenge everything else here as harshly as you like.

I enjoy a good argument. Please forgive me if I have no interest in the one you seem to be after. :-)

Eddie said...

Hi Bill,
I am curious how you figured the dates of the Passovers in the years you mention. Also, are you speaking of the Passover Feast Day, the Sabbath Holy Day and day the Passover lamb was eaten, the 15th of the first month, or the day the Passover was killed, the 14th , also called the Passover Day in Leviticus 23. If memory serves, the NT calls the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread the Passover Feast Day at times. I think by the 1st century CE the Jews referred to the spring festival days as the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread interchangeably.

I also wonder why you believe the crucifixion was on Friday. Is it because of church tradition, or does your understanding arise from your own studies? I realize I am in the minority on this one, but the Scriptures seem to show Jesus had to be crucified on Wednesday. I worship in a church that celebrates the day as you do. I think it is wrong doctrine, but it isn’t the Gospel, if you know what I mean. I don’t feel as free in my Christian fellowship to express differences, as I do on a blog like this one, but if you feel my question is out of line, I’ll understand and won’t pursue anything more and no offense will be taken.

Thank you for any consideration you offer my comment.


Bill Heroman said...

Hi, Eddie. First of all, since Jewish "days" begin at sunset, we're looking for two "days" on the same "day". The "preparation day" would be the daylight hours before sunset and the Passover meal would take place after sunset. *[ideally on the night of the full moon, but possibly one night earlier or later - if the calendar setters were 'slightly off' that particular year (or month)]*

Clear as mud? ;-)

Short version: The annual Passover meal was traditionally on the night of the full moon.

The rest - about what night Jesus ate and what day he was crucified - is more complicated. The Friday view has a lot of weight behind it, and I have some sympathy for the Thursday view, but none whatsoever for the Wednesday view.

Harold Hoehner, Jack Finegan and Roger Beckwith are the ones to read if you want all the details.

Nice to meet you, brother. For future reference, there are no "out of bounds" questions on this blog. Just keep it PG. ;-)

Out of curiosity, and for conversations' sake, do you prefer the Wednesday view because of Matthew 12:40, or is there a different argument you find more convincing?

Eddie said...

Hi Bill,
I wasn’t expecting a reply so soon! :-)

The "preparation day" would be the daylight hours before sunset and the Passover meal would take place after sunset.

Yes, I understand how the Jewish calendar reckons its days. What I was asking had to do with your annual Passover dates (March 8th, 27th, 15th, and 5th respectively). Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Do your dates refer to the Passover day—the 14th of the month in the Jewish Calendar or the First Day of Unleavened Bread, the 15th of the 1st month and a Holy Day Sabbath?

The rest - about what night Jesus ate and what day he was crucified - is more complicated. The Friday view has a lot of weight behind it,

Just about every commentary I pick up concludes the day of the crucifixion is Friday. Yes, I agree—a lot of weight. But, is it true?

and I have some sympathy for the Thursday view, but none whatsoever for the Wednesday view.

A brother I had a lot of respect for who died a few years back also held a Thursday viewpoint. I have read articles by others with this viewpoint as well, but I don’t agree with it. I think it runs into the same errors (according to my pov) that the Friday crucifixion does.

Out of curiosity, and for conversations' sake, do you prefer the Wednesday view because of Matthew 12:40, or is there a different argument you find more convincing?

While I do consider Matthew 12:40 a strong Scripture supporting a Wednesday crucifixion, it is not the only one. If one would compare Luke’s and Marks account of the burial and what occurs immediately afterward, it seems unmistakable that two Sabbaths occurred during that fateful week with a day between them that normal activity could be done. John 19:42 says they laid Jesus’ body in Joseph’s tomb, because it was nearby. The Sabbath had almost arrived and something had to be done. Mark 15:46-47 shows both Mary’s watched as he was laid in the tomb.

When we come to Luke 23:53-54 we see that the Sabbath began shortly after the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb, and Luke 23:55 records the women observing the burial just as Mark 15:46-47 does. But, Luke 23:56 notes these same women prepared spices for the burial and rested the Sabbath day according to the commandment, that is, one of the 10 Commandments, speaking of the 7th day Sabbath, not necessarily the Holy Day Sabbath, which could occur on any of the week days, depending upon the year (the exception is Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks, which was always on Sunday—beginning, of course on Saturday at sundown).

Now, one might say that the women bought the spices during the day of the crucifixion and prepared them and returned to the site of the crucifixion, but the narratives seem to show the women in shock and observing everything that went on that day. Moreover, when we look at Mark 16:1 we see another surprise, in that the women bought the spices after the Sabbath was past. Now, I am ready to believe in a Friday crucifixion, if someone can show me how in the world these women could buy the spices after the Sabbath (Mark 16:1) but prepare the spices before the Sabbath and rest according to the commandment (Luke 23:56) without having more than one Sabbath that week with a third day in between those Sabbaths, when these women could carry on their labor and purchase things in the marketplace.

Thanks for your friendly reply and for the three authors you mentioned. Please don’t forget to let me know exactly which Jewish festival your dates refer to, and how did you come by these dates. Was it through personal research, a calendar on the internet or perhaps the result of another author’s study? I am very curious, especially about the 31 AD date—for obvious reasons! :-)

God bless,


Bill Heroman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Heroman said...

Thanks for sharing all that, Eddie. It sounds like you've probably studied the days of the Passover Week in much more detail than I have. In all honesty, I've spent far more attention to everything else but the Passion Week. I guess mainly because I'd rather build where there is no foundation.

All I can tell you in reply, apart from referring to those three authors again, is what's already in the post up above. For the purposes of this blog, I was content to look at the full moons on (links, above).

I know we need more precision than that - for instance, were the moons on those dates before dawn or after - but my point in drafting this particular post was mainly to illustrate that Beckwith's general skepticism is actually reducible to a limited number of potential "moons".


New topic: a question for you to consider...

If it were possible to determine the length and beginning of Jesus' ministry through other factors, the year of his crucifixion would (theoretically) be determined for us, and we'd then have to deal with the question of what day Passover fell on in that year. Have you or has anyone you've read ever thought of that? ;-)

As I said, I spend most of my time looking at years. But the more I work through the challenge of making things less circular, the more likely it is that I'll eventually do my own work through the difficult area of Jesus' final week.

Thanks for your time and interest, dear brother. As you said, chronology is "not exactly the gospel", but I do enjoy searching for the true facts.

I'll hope you'll stop by here more often. :-)

Eddie said...

Hi Bill,
Thanks for your post. I didn’t mean to take you off the subject, but I was curious about what you thought, concerning the crucifixion.

If it were possible to determine the length and beginning of Jesus' ministry through other factors, the year of his crucifixion would (theoretically) be determined for us, and we'd then have to deal with the question of what day Passover fell on in that year.

It is my understanding that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is fixed with the facts given in Luke 3:1. His ministry began in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, and the Gospel accounts point to the autumn. The apostles were in the fields getting a snack and the Pharisees complained to Jesus that they were harvesting on the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-2). Tiberius, if memory serves, counted the anniversary of his reign from the 7th month and his 15th year began in the autumn of 27 CE.

As for the length of Jesus’ ministry, it was 3 ½ years. Three Passovers are mentioned in the book of John, the 1st in John 2, the 2nd in John 6 and the 4th in John 12. The 3rd is a bit of a problem but it is found by comparing the Gospel of John and the Synoptics using Luke as the skeleton to build upon. I don’t wish to presume too much, but if you would like the study, I can direct you to a blog that shows it in detail.

That’s all for now, God bless and Good night,


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