When Did Jesus Die? (Year)

Or when was he born, because the two questions are not unrelated.

The Gospels do not date the year of the crucifixion. Perhaps it was common knowledge, perhaps they expected the parousia soon enough to make it superfluous, or perhaps no one in the various communities hosting the evangelists ever knew, or could remember. In any case, if no year is given, then there’s not going to be much in the way of theological implication.

This, however, has not stopped anyone from trying to find the year of his death. The relevant information is two-fold:

1) The dating of the crucifixion to 14 Nisan on a Thursday / Friday is the most important piece of information. Due to a lack of cooperation on the part of the sun and the moon, this does not yield a unique date.

2) Certain facts about Jesus’ ministry, e.g., that he was an adult male, about 30 years of age (Lk 3:23), but not more than 50 years old (Jn 8:57), and that his ministry probably lasted more than one year.

When did the 14th of Nisan fall on a Thursday night / Friday combination? Possibly in 27 AD, 30 AD, or 33 AD.

The first date, 27 AD is not as likely, because it may be that the 14th of Nisan was a Wednesday night / Thursday affair that year.

When was Jesus born?

In Matthew, the dating is rudimentary. Herod is king. Herod may have died in March / April of 4 BC. Or he may not. That’s one issue.

Then there’s the star and the Magi, but Mogget will leave that to the capable hands of others with far more information, or with Magic 8 Balls.

In Luke, there’s a reference to Herod in 1:5. Mary’s pregnancy began about six months after Elizabeth’s, which means that Jesus was born about 15 or 16 months later. If Herod died in 4 BC, this fixes a “last plausible date” for Jesus’ birth at around 3 BC, not really in conflict with Matthew’s date.

But there’s also a reference to a census ordered by Augustus, further specified as the first census under Quirinius as governor of Syria (2:1-2).

Augustus reigned from 42/44 BC to AD 14 or so. So far so good, except for the fact that Augustus never ordered a census of the whole world, nor did Romans usually send folks back to their ancestral homelands for this purpose. Then again, maybe they did it in Palestine, because the Romans were pretty good about local sensitivities in many instances.

And there’s more. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius became the legate of Syria in AD 6 and conducted a census of Judea, but not Galilee, in AD 6/7. That’s about ten years off. So what to do, what to do?

1) Fiddle with the dates of Herod’s reign. Too hard – too well known.

2) Fiddle with the census.

Was there another census, earlier than Quirinius? Did Quirinius serve as legate twice? Hm. Herod is the problem here. He was not one to let somebody else in on the gravy train (census = taxes). The census of AD 6/7 was conducted because Herod’s son Archelaus had been tossed out!

3) Toss out the dating reference in Lk 2:1-2 and proceed with that in Lk 3:1, 23.

That makes Jesus about 30 years old in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius (AD 27-28), and agrees with a birth date in 4/3 BC, and with the common dating of Herod’s reign.

So then, following some black magic by various undoubtedly atheistic astronomers, we have some options:

  • If Jesus died on 14 Nisan, AD 33, he was almost 40 years old, and would have had a public ministry of more than four years. The historical date would be 5 April.
  • If Jesus died on 14 Nisan AD 30, he was probably 36 years old and his ministry was a little shorter than two years. The historical date would be 9 April.
  • And now unless someone has questions, Mogget will slink back behind the NT again. To reload.

    5 Replies to “When Did Jesus Die? (Year)”

    1. This was an enlightening series. Thanks for some information to think about. I’ve always been intrigued by all these (April) dates. Jesus was born on the 6th, Buddah’s birthday is set at April 8, Mohammad’s birthday is set as April 11. Jesus died on April 5 or 9. What’s with all these April dates?

    2. You are most welcome. I didn’t know that Muhammed and Buddha were also said to be born in April. Perhaps someone else knows more? Or knows to what extent those dates are historically retrievable?

    3. With regard specifically to lemmings, the more compelling insight might be derived from the month in which they die…

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