When Was Jesus Born? A Response to a Recent Proposal


birth of Christ, Christianity, Early Christianity


etermining an exact date (year, month, and day) for many events from antiquity is fraught with difficulties and challenges. Though modern society tends to implicitly associate “important” events with a specific date (or dates), like September 11, 2001, or December 7, 1941, ancient societies did not always feel compelled to remember such events by reference to the actual date on which they occurred. Therefore, even good primary sources from antiquity will not always describe a particular event by reference to the exact date that it actually happened. On the other hand, some ancient societies did at times keep rather specific chronological or calendrical records that can be converted into our modern system of reckoning, thereby allowing us to assign a specific date to a particular event. But because we possess very little documentation from the ancient world, and the survival of such records is largely the result of happenstance, our chronological reconstructions of various events are more often than not quite spotty. As a result of these challenges, many events from antiquity can be dated only approximately (within a few years or even decades) or relatively (ante quem/post quem—before or after another more securely established event). While this means there are genuine historical limitations involved in precise chronological reconstructions of antiquity, this does not mean that all efforts to date events from antiquity are totally futile.

Original Publication Citation

“When Was Jesus Born? A Response to a Recent Proposal.” BYU Studies 51.3 (2012): 53–81. (co-authored with Thomas A. Wayment)

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



BYU Studies




Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor