response to comments about my recent bce/ce vs. bc/ad essay

Calendar_ad_ce

many blogger/scholars have responded with some quite pertinent comments about my recent essay entitled, ‘why christians should adopt the bce/ce dating system‘ i have listed comments and objections from others below. in the comments that follow, i wish to respond briefly to some of these comments.

i appreciate the many thoughtful, sometimes humorous responses to my essay. you bring up many good points to which i should like to briefly respond.

first, it is important to remember that my audience was quite specific: ‘christians.’ the point of my essay was to convince christians (namely, evangelicals and conservatives) that utilizing the bce/ce system in scholarship, the classroom, or in daily usage does not make them any less of a christian. the point of my essay was not to convince muslims or jews that they should adopt the bce/ce labeling system; they will accept or reject this system as they already do (some use bc/ad, some use bce/ce, some use the jewish date, the islamic date, and many post both side by side). my essay was a call to christians to accept the scientific and scholarly norm (bce/ce) and stop rejecting science as something that is contrary to religion (a polarity dawkins attempts to force upon the world).

second, i wrote the essay as an opinion piece, and not as an exhaustive article. you are correct that there are many additional internal discrepancies within the gospels, specifically within the gospel of luke. the fact that many scholars favor matthew’s chronology because of luke’s internal chronological problems (luke tends to favor a geographic arrangement of items throughout his gospel as opposed to the less problematic chronology of mark and matthew) is not new. there is also the ‘not even 50 years old’ reference in john 8:57 that some have used in an attempt to date jesus’ birth.

third, as i said in comments to chris heard, dawkins persists in using bc/ad because it fuels his argument that the world is saturated with (read: corrupted by) religious motifs and thoughts. he utilizes the bc/ad system so that he can point and say, ‘see, even our calendar labels are infected with religion.’ it’s a rhetorical device.

fourth, i understand that the concept of ‘zero’ was not developed until much later (~9th c. ce) during the islamic period (another relative dating label). but the absence of a well-developed concept of zero does not fix the math. while we may not blame the ‘skipping’ of the year zero on those who knew not of it as a numerical concept, the fact remains that the year zero is absent in dionysius’ calculations. as i tell my freshmen, just because you didn’t know an important fact doesn’t make your subsequent misinformed result true.

fifth, my conclusion is one of simplicity. the fact remains we still do not possess a calendar that accurately reflects the movements of the sun, earth, and moon in accurate relation to one another. we must still make corrections, have months with odd numbers of days, have leap years, etc.

we still use an antiquated calendar for the same reason we still all are still not on the metric system or do not drive fuel efficient, non-fossil fuel vehicles. truth be told, it would indeed cause a great deal of cornfusion and difficulty to recalculate all of the dates throughout history. it is simpler to eliminate the reference to one specific religion’s principle figure (jesus), and retain our existing dating system, and acknowledge that it was an inaccurate attempt to make the dating of history relative to the birth of jesus, and an obvious result of western/european colonialism. but will those who oppose the use of bce/ce because of its de facto reliance on the albeit miscalculated birth of christ argue that we should continue the use of the bc/ad system simply because it is unapologetically religious? since when is honest sectarianism and insistence on a particular religion’s understanding of time better than an attempt to bring the world together, especially on issues that should not be tied to religion (like a calendar)?

i’d love to see efforts to remedy many of the ills of european colonialism. however, until such a time that we decide to undo all european colonialist efforts, such as adopting the gall-peters projection map (whose adoption and european reaction is captured in this classic west wing clip), using a timekeeping system based upon some system other than greenwich mean time, based in london, england, adopting the metric system, and acknowledging that europe really isn’t a continent (as defined by: ‘large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water’) but is only a separate continent because europeans named the continents and wanted to distinguish itself from asia, and when south america stops speaking spanish and portuguese (languages of european expansion), when africa stops speaking english and french (other languages of european expansion), and when they stop serving 4:00pm tea at the albright institute in east jerusalem, then we can and should address the practice of calendar reform and re-dating of history to a truly global ‘common’ event, such as the impending meltdown of the earth. then, and only then can we, like amos, date items relative to ‘two years before the polar meltdown’ (or earthquake, whichever comes first ;-)

until such a time as this, i suggest we leave the post-colonial excuses for failing to act aside, focus upon the internal chronological problems within the bible, and as scholars and scientists, encourage all who will listen to adopt the bce/ce system, gently reminding them that using the bce/ce calender labels makes them no less of christians than does using a calendar that praises the moon (‘monday’/’moon day,’ cf. spanish ‘lunes’ from ‘luna’), praises the roman emperor augustus (‘august’) and perhaps the roman goddess juno (‘june’), and the nordic god thor (‘thursday’/‘thor’s day’).

switching to bce/ce is the simplest way to carry on, honor our neighbors, and cause the least amount of chaos.

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for the response. I’m honoured to have a tag of my own on your blog! :) I like some of the points you make – although since I first hung a Peters projection map of the world on my wall more than 30 years ago, you might assume that I would.

    I’m still not convinced, however. In some contexts (talking to nearly anyone who isn’t engaged in mainly biblical – and some other historical – studies) BC / AD is the only system that doesn’t require an explanation. I’d be happier, as I said in comments on my blog, if the C in BCE/CE stood more clearly for Christian. Yes, I know technically the dates don’t work out, but I still feel “Common” is an imperialistic claim.

    Fair point on Dawkins’ rhetoric, though. No doubt he longs for the day when I date this comment to the year 200 AD (for after Darwin). Everything else was, of course, Before Charles.

  2. […] Now, in response, Bob Cargill replies: […]

  3. after darwin/before charles – well played. ;-)

    i take it you read this from earlier in the year?

  4. Fwiw, in the grade seven religion text I teach with — written by the Canadian council of catholic bishops — the timeline of the bible is all bce/ce (!)

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