April 6, 2013

What Year was Jesus' 13th Passover?

The odds are incredibly strong that Archelaus' exile preceded the episode in Luke 2:41-51. That's not speculation. What we have is a statistical coincidence with nearly 100% correlation, which in turn suggests a reasonable probability of actual causation. Allow me to explain.

First, we begin with 7 BC and 6 BC and 5 BC - the years most often suggested by scholars for when Jesus was born. Next we count forward, but remember that three Roman calendar years spread across four Jewish festival calendars. That leads to what we'll call options Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

Here's the Math. (Remember, there is no "year zero".) Option Alpha: If Jesus was born in very early 7 BC, then he turned "1" before Passover of 6 BC and he turned "12" before the Passover of AD 6. Option Beta: If Jesus was born between March/April of 7 BC and March/April of 6 BC, then he turned "1" before Passover of 5 BC and "12" before Passover of AD 7. Option Gamma: If Jesus was born between March/April of 6 BC and March April of 5 BC, then he turned "1" before Passover of 4 BC and "12" before Passover of AD 8. Option Delta: if Jesus was born in mid to late 5 BC, then he turned "1" before Passover of 3 BC and "12" before Passover of AD 9. To sum up, the leading options require Jesus to turn 12 before Passover of AD 6 or 7 or 8 or 9.

Now, Archelaus was called to Rome and sailed there in the middle of AD 6, from whence he was immediately exiled. In three of the four cases above, Jesus' pilgrimage at age 12 did in fact take place *after* Archelaus was exiled. Furthermore, those three cases represent approximately 94% of the 36 months under consideration (those being the 36 months which fall 12 years subsequent to 7, 6 and 5 BC).

Altogether, therefore, unless one is willing to posit that Jesus was born prior to March/April of 7 BC - and almost nobody does - then one must accept that Jesus' 12 year old pilgrimage (if historical) belongs after Archelaus' exile

The only remaining questions are - How long afterward? and Was this merely a coincidence?

Suddenly, this is the proper point at which to begin considering the relevant material in Luke and Matthew's infancy narratives. First, Luke's strong implication is that Mary & Joseph avoided bringing Jesus to Jerusalem until he was twelve. Second, Matthew's direct claim is that Joseph feared Archelaus for Jesus' safety's sake. In the light of the above statistical review, is it now harder to suppose that these points are related, or that they are unrelated?

The obvious hypothesis presents itself immediately without any speculative leaps. It's the suggestion that most succinctly accounts for all evidence. Joseph's fear of Archelaus not only seems to have been historical, it was significant enough that it evidently did not disappear until the Ethnarch of Judea was exiled by Augustus. 

Interestingly, the most basic form of this hypothesis does not necessarily require Joseph to bring Jesus to the very first Passover after Archelaus' exile, although that indeed seems most likely. To be fair, for all that we know, Joseph could have continued to wait a year or two, perhaps making sure that there would be no riots under the new Roman rule. On the other hand, however, the Roman takeover under Governor Quirinius seems to have encountered little resistance, capturing the would-be-revolutionary "Judas of Galilee" while the property registration was still going on (Josephus never says any uprising actually took place, only that the plan to revolt "made much progress" - Loeb). 

By that measure, the stability of Judea should have seemed well in hand before winter of AD 6/7. Still, Joseph does not have to stop being caution just because Quirinius had ruled well for six to nine months. Yet, all in all, it seems more speculative to imagine that Joseph's extreme caution lived on after Archelaus was gone, especially since the Gospel tradition which got passed down was of a particular fear of a particular man, or perhaps of two Herodian rulers. It seems more speculative to concoct an additional reason for Joseph to restrain Jesus in Nazareth for the Passover of 7 AD. By comparison, it seems much less speculative to allow this evidence to declare what it most naturally suggests.

Given the statistical near-certainty that Jesus' 13th Passover occurred not before Archelaus' exile, and given the aspects of tradition which seem so neatly correlated between Luke and Matthew, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Passover episode of Luke 2:41-52 belongs to the year 7 AD. The less likely options, that it belongs to 8 or 9 AD, are more speculative by far.

Working backwards, to conclude, this means that if Jesus was 12 in March/April of 7 AD, that he was born between early Spring of 7 BC and early Spring of 6 BC. This happens to coincide with a very popular time-frame into which most scholars have been dating the Lord's birth for the last several decades. Again, this is highly likely to be not mere coincidence. With no other scenario being demonstrably more plausible, and unless some grave dilemma surfaces about putting Jesus' historical nativity in the above window, BC - Spring 7 to Spring 6 - the most likely and least speculative conclusion available to us is apparent.

Jesus was born in 7/6 BC and attended Passover at age 12 in the year 7 AD.

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