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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Dates (2)

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DATES.—The chronological sequence of the Gospels is quite as important as that of the Epistles to the student of the beginnings of Christianity, and forms an essential branch of the study of the development of our Lord’s revelation and His Messianic consciousness. The difficulties in the way of forming an exact time-table of the dates in the Gospels are due (1) to the indifference of the early Christians, as citizens of the heavenly city, to the great events that were taking place in the world around them; (2) to their lack of means of ascertaining these events, and their obliviousness of the important bearing they might have on the evidences of the faith; (3) to the fact that, the early Christian traditions being recorded in the interest of religion and not of history, the writers confined their attention to a few events, which were arranged as much according to subject-matter as to time sequence. The result is that there are many gaps which can be only approximately filled up by strict inference from casual remarks. The author of the Third Gospel is the only one to give parallel dates of secular history in the manner of a true historian, and to profess to relate things ‘in order’ (καθεξῆς, Luke 1:3). There are many inferences as to time to be drawn from statements in Mt., but they are of an accidental character. St. John marks points of time of significance in his own and in his Master’s life, but his purpose is to trace the development of the drama of the Master’s passion, not to suggest its chronological relation to the history of the world.

The early Fathers, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Africanus, and Hippolytus, were the first to attempt to arrange the events of the Gospel in chronological sequence. But these attempts are not always to be relied upon, owing to the difficulties of ascertaining many of the dates of secular history, to which reference has already been made, and which were still further increased in their case by the different ways of reckoning the years of reigning monarchs and of calculating time in the different eras. For example, Luke 3:1 ‘in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius’ may be reckoned from Augustus’ death, Aug. 19 a.d. 14, or from the time when Tiberius was associated with Augustus in the empire by special law; but that law, again, is variously dated, being identified by some with the grant of the tribunicia potestas for life in a.d. 13, but assigned by Mommsen (after Velleius Paterculus, ii. 121) to a.d. 11. So that we have to choose between a.d. 29, 28, and 26. Furthermore, the Roman calendar began on Jan. 1, so that the imperial year might be adjusted to the civil year (1) by counting the fractional year as a whole, and by commencing a second imperial year on the first New Year’s Day of each reign,—Lightfoot (Ignatius, ii. 398) mentions the practice of Trajan and his successors of beginning a second year of tribunicia potestas on the annual inauguration day of new tribunes next after their accession,—or (2) by omitting the fractional year altogether, and calculating the emperor’s reign from a fixed date, like Eusebius, who seems to commence each emperor’s reign from the September following his accession (see art. ‘Chronology’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible i. 418). The Julian reform of the Roman calendar, by which the year b.c. 46 was made to contain 445 days, in order to bring the civil year into line with the solar year, adds to the complications.

Furthermore, the Jewish calendar bristles with problems. Originally the Paschal full moon was settled by observation, but that became impossible when the people were spread over distant lands, and was also hindered by atmospheric causes; and, in any case, the beginning of the month was determined not by the astronomical new moon, but by the time when the crescent became visible, about 30 hours afterwards, the first sunset after that event marking the beginning of the new month. A fresh difficulty was created by the 13th month, Veadar, which was intercalated whenever the barley was not within a fortnight of being ripe at the end of the month Adar; but this was forbidden in sabbatical years, and two intercalary years could not be successive. The lunar year was correlated with the solar by the rule that the Paschal full moon immediately followed the spring equinox. There were also various calculations of the equinox, Hippolytus placing it on March 18, Anatolius on March 19, the Alexandrians on March 21.

And with regard to chronology in general it is to be noted that in the East the year almost always began with September. The Jewish civil year began in Tishri (Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] ); the religious and regal in Nisan (April) (Josephus Ant. i. iii. 3), the order of months beginning with the latter, that of the years with the former. The Alexandrian year began on Aug. 29; the era of the Greeks started from Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] b.c. 312, the Olympiads from July b.c. 776. In the Christian era, also called the Dionysian after Dionysius Exiguus of the 6th cent., 753 a.u.c. = 1 b.c., and 754 a.u.c. = 1 a.d.

The points of chronology in our Lord’s life which have to be settled before any table of dates can be drawn up are (1) date of nativity, (2) age at baptism, (3) length of ministry, (4) date of crucifixion. While no one of these can be verified with anything like precision, it is certain that the accepted chronology, based on the calculations of Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th cent., is erroneous.

Dionysius started, seemingly, from Luke 3:1, the 15th year of Tiherius, placed the public ministry of our Lord one year later, and counted back 30 years, on the strength of Luke 3:23. This gave 754 a.u.c. for the year of Christ’s birth. Following Hippolytus, he fixed on Dec. 25 in that year, and, according to the usual method for reckoning the years of monarchs, counted the whole year 754 as 1 a.d. (see Ideler, Handbuch, ii. 383 f.). That his views need correction will be proved in the course of this article.

1. Date of Nativity.—This may be fixed somewhat approximately by its relation to (a) the date of Herod’s death (Matthew 2:1-22), (b) the enrolment under Quirinius (Luke 2:1), and by (c) Patristic testimony.

(a) Herod’s death, the terminus ad quem of the Nativity, is generally settled by the Jewish chronology in Ant. and BJ, in which are found indications of the dates of Herod’s accession and death, and of the dates of his predecessor Antigonus, and of his immediate successors, Archelaus, Herod Philip, and Herod Antipas. For notice of Herod’s death see Ant. xvii. viii. 1, ‘having reigned, since he had procured the death of Antigonus, 34 years, but, since he had been declared king by the Romans, 37 years.’ The death of Antigonus is noted in Ant. xiv. xvi. 4. ‘This destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Canidius Gallus were consuls at Rome, Olym. 185, in the 3rd month, on the solemnity of the fast, like a periodical return of the misfortunes which overtook the Jews under Pompey, by whom they were taken on the same day 27 years before.’ The consuls mentioned held office b.c. 37, and 27 years from b.c. 63 (consulship of Cicero and Antonius), when Pompey took Jerusalem (Ant. xiv. iv. 3), allowing for the three intercalary months of b.c. 46, gives practically the same date, b.c. 37, for the confirmation of Herod in his kingdom. Herod’s death might therefore be placed in the month Nisan (see below) b.c. 4 (Sivan 25 b.c. 37 to Nisan b.c. 4, according to the method of counting reigns, being 34 years).

Of Herod’s successors (1) Archelaus, ethnarch of Judaea, was banished in the consulship of Lepidus and Arruntius (a.d. 6), in the 10th year of his reign (Ant. xvii. xiii. 2), or in the 9th (BJ ii. vii. 3), and therefore would have come to the throne b.c. 4, being probably banished before he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his accession. (2) Herod Philip died in the 20th year of Tiberius, having been tetrarch of Trachonitis and Gaulanitis 37 years (Ant. xviii. iv. 6), and would have commenced his reign b.c. 4–3.

There are two move data to help us to fix the year of Herod’s death: the eclipse of the moon which preceded his last illness (Ant. xvii. vi. 4), and the Passover which followed soon after (xvii. ix. 3). The lunar eclipses visible in Palestine during b.c. 5–3 were those of March 23 b.c. 5, Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 15 b.c. 5, March 12 b.c. 4. As it is quite possible that the final scene of Herod’s life and his obsequies did not cover more than one month, we might, with Ideler and Wurm, fix on the eclipse of March 12 b.c. 4 (Wieseler, Chron. Syn. p. 56), which is also indicated by the Passover that immediately followed. b.c. 4, Herod’s death, would therefore be the terminus ad quem of the Nativity.

But how long before b.c. 4 Jesus was born cannot decisively be said. The age of the Innocents, ἁπὸ διετοῦς καὶ κατωτέρω (Matthew 2:16), would give b.c. 6 as the superior limit and b.c. 5 as the inferior, as this clause is qualified by the diligent investigation of Herod (κατὰ τὸν χρόνον δν ἡκρίβωσε παρὰ τῶν μάγων). This massacre, quite in keeping with the growing cruelty and suspicion of Herod, who had recently procured the murder of his two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, was secretly carried out and seemingly of small extent, not being mentioned by Josephus, and being apparently limited to children to whom the star which the Magi saw in the east, at least six months before, might have reference. Although Matthew 2:11 τὸ παιδίον does not suggest an infant babe, the stay of the Holy Family in Bethlehem, where the Magi found them, cannot have been long, the presentation in the Temple following 40 days after the Nativity. b.c. 6–5 would then be approximately the date of the Nativity.

Of the star in the east it cannot be said with truth that ‘the star shines only in the legend’ (von Soden in Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Chronology’), for the appearance of a striking sidereal phenomenon between the years b.c. 7 and b.c. 4 has been proved by Kepler and verified by Ideler and Pritchard. Kepler suggested that a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the zodiacal sign of the Pisces, similar to that which took place in Dec. 1603, took place in b.c. 7. But this would be too early for the star that stood over Bethlehem. Wieseler (l. c. p. 67) therefore, elaborating another suggestion of Kepler, held that a brilliant evanescent star, similar to that which appeared in Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 1606 between Jupiter and Saturo, and waned in March 1604, may have appeared then. The Chinese tables mention such an appearance in b.c. 4. Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah) suggests that the conjunction in b.c. 7 first aroused the attention of the Magi, and that the evanescent star of b.c. 4 stood over Bethlehem. Two Jewish traditions, one that the star of the Messiah should be seen two years before His birth, and the other that the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Pisces portended something of importance for the Jewish nation, might be mentioned. The former is found in the Midrashim, the latter in Abarbanel’s Com. on Daniel (15th cent.). While no theory could be established on such a basis as this appearance, yet it may support a theory founded on more certain data. If the coming of the Magi took place shortly after the death of Herod’s sons Alexander and Aristobulus (b.c. 7) and the mission of Antipater, his heir, to Rome (s.c. 6), their question, ‘Where is he that is born king of the Jews?’ would, indeed, be startling to Herod.

(b) The enrolment under Quirinius (Luke 2:2 αὔτη ἠ ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρἰας Κυρηνίου, ‘this enrolment took place for the first time when Quirinius was governor of Syria’; cf. ὅτε πρῶτον ἐκέλευσαν ἀπογραφὰς γενέσθαι [Strom, i. 147]). A Roman census took place in a.d. 6, after the deposition of Archelaus, and caused the revolt of Judas of Gamala (Ant. xviii. i. 1), who in consequence became the founder of the Zealot party, which resisted Gentile taxation and authority. This taxing (xviii. ii. 1) was concluded in the 37th year of Caesar’s victory at Actium (a.d. 7). To this enrolment the author of Acts 5:36 refers. But it cannot be the enrolment of Luke 2:2. And Josephus should not be accused of having ascribed to a.d. 7 what took place in b.c. 6–5, as the census he mentions was made after and in consequence of the removal of Archelaus. Mommsen and Zumpt suggest that Quirinius held office twice in Syria. And his, indeed, might be the name wanting in a mutilated inscription, describing an official who was twice governor of Syria under Augustus. But Saturninus was governor b.c. 9–7, and Varus b.c. 7–4, being in power after Herod’s death; so that no place can be found for the rule of Quirinius before b.c. 4, the terminus ad quem of our Lord’s birth. He may have come, b.c. 3–2, and completed a census begun by his predecessor. And there is also the possibility of his having received an extraordinary military command by the side of Varus. The Annals of Tacitus (ii. 30, iii. 22, 48) describe him as a keen and zealous soldier (impiger militiae et acribus ministeriis), who had obtained a triumph for having stormed some fortresses of the Homonadenses in Cilicia, but who was distinctly unpopular on account of his friendship with Tiberius, his sordid life and ‘dangerous old age.’ Such an officer would have been a most useful agent for Augustus in preparing the document called by Suetonius (Aug. 28) the rationarium imperii, which contained a full description of the ‘subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes direct and indirect’ (regna, provinciae, tributa aut vectigalia, Tac. Ann. i. 11), made out by the emperor himself, especially as Varus was slack, and inclined to favour Archelaus. Certain riots mentioned in Josephus (Ant. xvii. ii. 4), in which the Pharisees appear, may have been due to the census. Justin Martyr (Apol. i. 34, 46; Dial, circa (about) Tryph. 78) appeals to the ἀπογραφαὴ made in the time of Quirinius, whom he styles ‘the first ἐπίτροπος or procurator in Judaea.’ For until Palestine became a Roman province in a.d. 6 there could be no procurator in the strict sense of the term. Previous to that, if Q. did hold office, it would be as a military officer of Syria, and so he might be well described by the vague ἡγεμονεύοντος, although the word is also applied (Luke 3:1) to Pilate, whom Tacitus styled procurator (Ann. xv. 44). With regard to the census, of which no mention is made in contemporary history, it is to be noted that there is evidence that periodic enrolments, ἀπογραφαί, were made in Egypt (Class. Rev., Mar. 1893). Prof. Ramsay (Was Christ born at Bethlehem?) builds on these. It is quite possible that a series of periodical enrolments in a cycle of 14 years were initiated by Augustus, an indefatigable statistician, in other parts of the empire, and that the first of these may have taken place in the days of Herod, who would have carried it out according to Jewish tastes, and so without much disturbance (unless the riots of Ant. xvii. ii. 4, BJ i. xxxiii. 2 might be connected with it), whereas the later census was conducted according to Roman ideas, and provoked a rebellion. If this be true, the first census would occur b.c. 7–5, just where it would be required. Some hold that it is possible that St. Luke made a mistake in the name Quirinius (C. H. Turner), and also in the census (von Soden).

(c) Patristic testimony, as represented by Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Hippolytus, and perhaps based upon Luke 2:2, favours a date between b.c. 3 and b.c. 2. Irenaeus wrote, ‘Our Lord was born about the 41st year (b.c. 3, reckoning from the death of Julius Caesar b.c. 44) of the empire of Augustus’ (Haer. iii. 21. 3). Clement stated, ‘Our Lord was born in the 28th year (b.c. 3, counting from battle of Actium, b.c. 31) of the reign of Augustus, when first they ordered the enrolments to be made’ (Strom, i. 147). Hippolytus said, in his Com. on Daniel, ‘Our Lord was born on Wednesday, Dec. 25, in the 42nd (b.c. 2) year of the reign of Augustus.’

With regard to the month and day of the Nativity, no data exist to enable us to determine them at all. Farrar (Life of Christ, p. 9) inferred from the presence of the shepherds in the fields that it was during winter, but Lewin (Fasti Sacri, pp. 23, 115) argues for August 1 as the approximate date. The date of the Annunciation is given in Luke 1:26 as ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ—‘in the sixth month,’ which is generally referred to Luke 1:36 οὖτος μὴν ἔκτος ἐστὶν αὐτῇ, κ.τ.λ., ‘this month is sixth with her,’ but which may with equal probability refer to the sixth month of the Jewish calendar, Elul, or to both dates, both terms of six months running concurrently. The date of the service of the course of Abia, the eighth in order (1 Chronicles 24:10), for the year 748 a.u.c. (b.c. 6) has been calculated from the fact that the course in waiting on Ab 9 a.d. 70, when Jerusalem was taken, was the first, Jehoiarib (Taanith on ‘Fasting,’ p. 29a; BJ vi. iv.). This would give courses of Abia for 748 a.u.c., b.c. 6, April 18–24, and (24 weeks later) October 3–9. Six months from the latter date would give a day in March as the date of the Annunciation and a date in December for the Nativity; but six months from the former date would give Elul, or the sixth month of the Jewish year, beginning about Sept. [Note: Septuagint.] 19, for the Annunciation, and the third month, Sivan or June, for the Incarnation. Elul was the month of the constellation Virgo, who holds in her hand the spica Virginis, which may be ‘the offspring of a Virgin.’ The fourth month belongs to Cancer, among two stars of which is a group called ‘The Manger.’

Patristic tradition.—Hippolytus is the first to give Dec. 25 for the date of the Nativity. On his chair in the library of St. John Lateran in Rome his celebrated table is given. The second year of the cycle has April 2, γένεσις Χριστοῦ, evidently the conception, the calculation being made on the strength of Luke 1:36, which seems to imply an interval of 6 months between the conception of our Lord and that of the Baptist, and on the popular presumption that Gabriel appeared to Zacharias on the great Day of the Atonement, the 10th day of the seventh month. This would bring the conception of our Lord to the 14th day of the first month, or the Passover full moon. Hippolytus afterwards, in his Com. on Daniel, in order to allow for two additional years in our Lord’s life, altered the date April 2 to March 25, on which the Church has always celebrated the conception, and consequently the Nativity was assigned to Dec. 25. Edersheim (The Temple, p. 293) suggests the influence of the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, held on the 25th of Chislev.

2. The Baptism of Jesus might be settled, but not very approximately, by (1) the statement (Luke 3:23) that He was ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα ἀρχόμενος (at the beginning of His ministry); (2) the date of the Baptist’s preaching, Luke 3:1 ‘Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness’; and (3) by the retort of the Jews in John 2:20 ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building.’

(1) This is an elastic expression, which gave the Valentinian Gnostics a basis for their belief that Jesus was in His 30th year when He came to His baptism (Haer, ii. 25. 5). But as Irenaenus, in his reference to John 8:57 ‘Thou art not yet fifty years old,’ pointed out, 40, not 30, is the perfect age of a master (cf. Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Aboda Zara); and on the strength of this statement the presbyters in Asia Minor, who misled Irenaeus, ascribed an age of 40 or 50 years to Jesus. Again, while the maximum age of a Levite was 50 years, the minimum varied between 20 (1 Chronicles 23:24; 1 Chronicles 23:27, where the change is ascribed to David), 25 (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:47 LXX Septuagint), and 30 (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:47 Heb.). This latitude, added to the general sense of ὡσεί (‘about’) and the vague ἁρχόμενος, which is omitted in Syriac Sin. [Note: Sinaitic.] , makes this indication of our Lord’s age indefinite, and capable of meaning either two years over or under 30.

(2) The preaching of the Baptist is the terminus a quo of the baptism of Jesus, and is assigned to the 15th year of Tiberius. Dating that reign from the death of Augustus, Aug. 19 a.d. 14, the 15th year corresponds with a.d. 28–29. B. Weiss and Beyschlag, however, count from a.d. 12, when Tiberius was made co-regent with Augustus. W. M. Ramsay has pointed out that on July 1 a.d. 71, during the life of the Evangelist, Titus was similarly associated in the empire with Vespasian, which would give a.d. 26–27 as the first year of the Baptist’s work. This would agree with the office of Pilate, who could hardly have arrived much sooner than a.d. 27, as he held office for 10 years, and was on his way to Rome in a.d. 37, when Tiberius died (Ant. xviii. iv. 2). We might, therefore, if it is permitted to follow Weiss and Beyschlag, fix on a.d. 27–28 for our Lord’s baptism.

(3) John 2:20 τεσσαράκοντα καὶ ἓξ ἓτεσιν ᾠκοδομήθη ὁ ναὸς οὖτος (cf. Ezra 5:16 ᾠκοδομήθη καὶ οὐκ ἑτελέσθη). The Jews do not refer, therefore, to the completion of the restoration, which took place much later (Ant. xx. ix. 7). This work was begun in the 18th year of Herod (Ant. xv. xi. 1, reckoning from b.c. 37, death of Antigonus), in the 15th (BJ i. xxi. 1, reckoning from b.c. 40). This gives b.c. 19–18, from which to a.d. 28 is 46 years. The Passover of a.d. 28 would be a likely date for the events of John 2:14-25. The time of John 1:19 to John 2:12 has yet to be settled. Prof. Sanday (art. ‘Jesus Christ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ii. 609) gives the time as ‘Winter, a.d. 26.’ Now there are certain indications of the time of year in which our Lord was baptized which show that His visit to the Baptist may have synchronized with the preparations for the Passover in the month Adar (cf. John 11:55 ‘And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and many went out of the country up to Jerusalem before the passover to purify themselves’), while His sojourn and fast in the wilderness, of which St. Matthew and St. Luke give details, may have been due not only to a desire to be alone to reflect upon His mission, but also to the feeling of the necessity of a great self-restraint in order to check the urgings of His Messianic consciousness to manifest Himself to the Passover crowds in His connexion with His country as its Redeemer, with the Temple as the Son of God and its Priest, and with the world as its King. It was on His return from the desert that He was pointed out by the Baptist, when the marks of the recent struggle and fasting on His brow would have given additional point to the Baptist’s remark, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), which has a true Passover ring (cf. ‘Christ our passover [or Paschal lamb, τὸ πάσχα] was sacrificed for us,’ 1 Corinthians 5:7). Passover time would also account for the presence of so many Galilaeans in Judaea, while the atmosphere of the scenes of the baptism of Jesus and of His interviews with His first disciples in John 1 is spring, the budding life of the year, in the buoyant sunshine when men’s hearts are most ready for a change of life. Nathanael, an Israelite without the guile of Jacob, at the feast exclusively for Israelites, is meditating under a fig tree, most likely on the story of Jacob. Passover seems a favourite time for baptism. It was after the Passover of John 2:13 that Jesus and His disciples baptized in Judaea, while John was baptizing in aenon near to Salim (John 3:22 f.). And it is most improbable that Jesus would have stayed away from the Passover.

On the other side may be urged the fact that Bethabara, for which the best MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] , אABC, read ‘Bethany,’ has been identified by Conder with a ford called Aburah, N.E. of Bethshean, ‘a site as near to Cana as any point on the Jordan, and within a day’s journey’ (art. ‘Bethabara’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible). On the other hand, Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Bethany’ follows Sir G. Grove and Sir C. W. Wilson (Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , s.v. ‘Bethnimrah’) in holding that Beth-aimrah on the east of Jordan, opposite to Jericho, is the place meant. Beth-nimrah, now known as Nimrîn, is ‘beyond Jordan,’ τἐραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου (John 1:28; John 3:26); it is well supplied with water, and accessible both from Jericho and Jerusalem, and may have produced the variants ‘Bethahara’ and ‘Bethany.’ Origen advocated Bethabara because he could find no Bethany beyond Jordan. But the variant Βηθαραβα for Βηθαβαρα is found in his text. That variant and the traditional site of our Lord’s baptism, Makhadet Hojla, are strongly against Col. Conder’s suggestion, while tradition connects our Lord’s temptation with the district of Quarantania, named from His 40 days’ fast; and something must be allowed for tradition in such matters. ‘The third day’ of John 2:1 may possibly be counted from John 1:43 ‘On the day after.’ But it is probable, in fact it is to be inferred from His mother’s information of the exhausted wine, that our Lord was not present on the first day of the marriage festivities, which generally extended over a week, and were concluded with a supper (art. ‘Marriage’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible), and it was quite possible for Him and His disciples to have accomplished the journey from the vicinity of Jericho to Nazareth (about 60 miles) in three or four days; so that there is no necessity to select a site for His baptism within one day’s journey of Cana. Again, the favourits time for such marriages was March (Wetzstein in Ztschr. f. Ethnol. v. [1873]). So that we have another indication of the early season of the year, which supports the hypothesis of a baptism at the Passover preceding the Passover of John 2:13, a period of time required for the preparation and selection of the disciples, and for the nursing of their nascent faith by miracles, of which one, a typical sign, as are all the seven signs in the Fourth Gospel, is narrated in John 2:1-12. To this faith referencasis made in v. 11 ‘And his disciples believed in him.’ Nor does the Master’s change of manner (v. 24 ‘But Jesus would not trust himself to them’) suggest the beginning of a mission.

The order in St. Mark’s Gospel is of little service here. For Mark 1:14 (‘Now after that John was put in prison Jesus came into Galilee preaching’) refers to an event, the imprisonment of the Baptist, which was clearly later than John 4:1, and is, therefore, to be taken not as a note of time, but as a general introduction to the Galilaean ministry, which forms the subject of the Second Gospel. The selection of the disciples (Mark 1:16-19), the missionary work of Mark 1:38 ἄγωμεν εἰς τὰς ἐχομένας κωμοπόλεις, a portion of Mark 1-3, and apparently Luke 5:1-11 (the scene with Peter on the lake), may belong to the Galilaean work previous to John 2:13. On this hypothesis, which fills in the awkward gap between the 13th and 14th verses of Mark 1, the baptism of Jesus would fall on the Passover of a.d. 27.

3. Length of the Ministry.—If the date of the beginning of the ministry be approximately fixed, the year of its close will vary according to the estimate we form of its length. Prof. von Soden (Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Chronology’) reduces it to a one year basis, while Prof. Sanday (art. ‘Jesus Christ’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ii. 610) requires nearly 2¼ years for his scheme of our Lord’s ministry. This difference is due to the fact that St. John seems to extend that ministry over three Passovers, while the Synoptists mention but one Passover.

(a) In the Second Gospel there seem to be three data for a chronology. (1) Mark 2:23 mentions ears of corn (τίλλοντες τοὺς στάχυας). As the earliest barley was in April, the latest in June, it is believed that the point of time we have here is Passover, which was of old associated with ‘ears of corn’; the name of the month in which it was held being formerly ’Abib אָבִיב or ‘ear of corn.’ (2) Mark 6:39 describes the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, in the course of which we read that the people were arranged in companies, πρασιαὶ πρασιαί (a phrase suggestive of garden-plots), and seated ἐπὶ τῷ χλωρῷ χόρτῳ, an indication of early spring. (3) Mark 11, final Passover. In these data Turner (‘Chronology of NT’ in Hastings’ B [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ) sees a suggestion of a two years’ ministry. But it is evident that the arrangement of this Gospel is according to subject-matter, not to time. The time relation of the episode of the ears of corn cannot be satisfactorily settled with regard either to the events it precedes or those it follows in the narrative. It is, therefore, quite possible that it preceded the Passover of John 2:13. In St. Luke’s Gospel it occurs shortly after the scene with St. Peter on the Lake (Luke 5:1-11), which must have preceded John 3:22, where Jesus and His disciples go into the land of Judaea and continue baptizing there; and in both the Second and Third Gospels it directly follows the question, ‘Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, and thy disciples fast not?,’ which occasioned the Parable of the Bridegroom and the Children of the Bridechamber, which seemingly but not really corresponds with the discussion in John 3:26 between the disciples of John and a Jew about ‘purifying,’ which evoked from the Baptist the rhapsody on the bride and bridegroom. For the questions are quite different, and belong to distinctly different contexts; that in the Synoptists being caused by the feast of Levi and perhaps indirectly by the feast at Cana of Galilee, while that of the Fourth Gospel arose in connexion with the work in Judaea after the Passover of John 2:13.

No fresh light is thrown on the passage by the disputed point of time ἐν σαββάτῳ δευτεροπρώτῳ, which Wetstein explains as the first Sabbath of the second month, Scaliger as the first Sabbath after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Godet as the first Sabbath of the ecclesiastical year. The ripeness of the wheat suggests the month of Iyyar or May. And it is quite possible to conceive our Lord in that month (called in the old style Ziv (η) or the ‘month of flowers,’ and in the new style ’Iyyar (אִיָר) or ‘the bright and flowering month’) teaching the people in the plain and on the hill to ‘consider the lilies of the field, how they grow’ (Matthew 6:28). It seems not impossible, therefore, to reconstruct the Second Gospel on the basis of a single year following the Passover of John 2:13, with a year or greater part of a year previous to that Passover.

(b) St. Luke’s Gospel is divisible into two parts. The second (Luke 9:50 to Luke 19:28 containing matter peculiar to him), being devoted to the doings and teachings of the Master as the days of His assumption were being fulfilled (Luke 9:51), seems to restrict the Lord’s ministry to a single year, ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Luke 4:19; cf. Isaiah 61:2). The reference to ‘three years’ in the parable of the Fig-tree (Isaiah 13:7), which suggested to many (Bengel among others) the beginning of a third year of ministry, is a vague expression to which Luke 13:32 (‘to-day and to-morrow, and on the third day’) might be a parallel. In Luke 4:14 to Luk_9:50 there is but one apparent reference to any work outside the Galilaean, Ἰουδαίας (א BCL) of Luke 4:44 being a variant for Γαλιλαίας. But ‘Judaea’ in the days of St. Luke included all Palestine (cf. Isaiah 23:5).

(c) The Fourth Gospel has seven notes of time between the Baptism and the Crucifixion:

(1) John 2:13; John 2:23 ‘And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem … And he was in Jerusalem at the passover during the feast.’

(2) John 4:35 ‘Say ye not, There are yet four months (τετράμηνος), and then cometh harvest? behold. I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and consider (θεάσασθε) the fields that they are white already to harvest.’

(3) John 5:1 ‘After these things there was a [or the] feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.’

(4) John 6:4 ‘Now [the passover, το τάσχα, uncertain] the feast of the Jews was high.’

(5) John 7:2 ‘Now the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand.’

(6) John 10:22 ‘Then the dedication took place in Jerusalem.’

(7) John 12:1 ‘Jesus then, six days before the passover, came to Bethany.’

John 4:35 (α) οὐχ ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἕτι τετράμηνός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ θερισμὁς ἔρχεται; (β) ἰδού, λέγω ὑμῖνὅτι λευκαὶ εἰσιν πρὸς θερισμόν, is a difficult note of time. The simplest interpretation is to take a literally of a harvest still remote, and β spiritually of a harvest already ripening. Origen, however, held that it was already the middle or end of harvest when these things happened (in Joan. tom. xiii. 39, 41); but it is evident that our Lord made no long delay in Judaea after the unpleasantness that had occurred between His disciples and John’s, and it would not be long before the popular Baptist, with his great following, would hear of his greater Rival (John 3:26), or before the Pharisees would note the falling off of the Baptist’s followers. The fact that the impression His works in Jerusalem had made on the Galilaeans was still fresh (John 4:45), and that He did not tarry more than two days, possibly only one (μετὰ δὲ τὰς δύο ἡμέρας, John 4:43), among the kindly and believing Samaritans, and that He was wearied with the journey (John 4:6), points to no long interval between John 2:13 and John 4:45 and to no leisurely mode of travelling. Again, the word ἕτι has a touch of reality, which suggests the natural interpretation of τετράμηνος against those who would read the passage proverbially: ‘Is it not a saying that there are four months between sowing and reaping?’ There is nothing, however, to prevent one taking the lateness of the Galilaean harvest into account, and reading the passage thus: ‘Say ye not, ye men of Galilee, where the harvest is later than in Judaea, where Jeroboam held his feast of ingathering on the 15th day of the eighth month (1 Kings 12:32) instead of on the 15th day of the seventh (Leviticus 23:34), that harvest is yet four months off?’ If these words were spoken towards the end of Nisan, the four months referred to would be Nisan (March–April, end), Iyyar (April–May), Sivan (May–June), and Thammuz (June–July, beginning). This would be in keeping with the fact that the harvest naturally varied not only with season, but also with elevation, etc., and that, while it commenced in the lowlands of the Jordan Valley in April, it ended on sub-alpine Lebanon in August (see art. ‘Wheat’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible).

John 5:1 ‘And there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem’ (with alternative readings, ἑορτή and ἡ ἑορτή, the latter being supported by the Alexandrian type of text, doubtless through the influence of Eusebius, who maintained a three years’ ministry with four Passovers). What this feast was cannot definitely be said. Irenaeus regarded it as a Passover. The early Greek Church identified it with Pentecost. Westcott (ad loc.) suggests Trumpets (September), as ‘many of the main thoughts of the discourse—Creation, Judgment, and Law—find a remarkable illustration in the thoughts of the festival.’ But Exodus 19:1 states that it was in the third month (i.e. after Passover) that the Law was given on Sinai. This would correspond with Pentecost, which is described in the later Jewish liturgy as ‘the day of the giving of the Law’ (Saalschütz, Das Mos. Recht, p. 42a), and by Maimonides (Moreh neb. iii. 41) as ‘dies ille quo lex data fuit.’ Furthermore, the strict regulations and calculations of the Sabbaths of the harvest period between Nisan 16 and Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, add point to the controversy concerning the Sabbath day (John 5:10-18). The voluntary nature of the cure, a contrast with the signs of John 2:11. and John 4:54 performed by request, suggests that this act was in accordance with the Pentecostal regulations of Deuteronomy 16:10, a free-will offering of His own hand, and according to Leviticus 23:22 the gleaning of His harvest for the poor.

There is a useful indication of time in John 5:33-36, where the Baptist, whose popularity is waning in John 4:1, and whose utterance in John 3:28-36 seems to contain a presentiment of doom—‘He must increase, but I must decrease’—is referred to as a lamp that no longer shines. ‘He was the burning and shining lamp, and ye were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.’ It is probable that Herod Antipas, who was jealous and suspicious of the Baptist’s influence (Ant. xviii. v. 1), seized the opportunity of his decreasing popularity to have him betrayed (παραδοθῆναι, Mark 1:14) and arrested. The report of that arrest may have reached our Lord on His journey through Samaria to Galilee (John 4). If so, the Synoptic statements of Mark 1:14, Matthew 4:12, regarding His work in Galilee as connected with the imprisonment of the Baptist would be suitably introduced by the healing of the nobleman’s son at Capernaum (John 4:46-51).

The interval allowed by the Synoptists between the arrest and the death of the Baptist, in which room is found for an extended work of Jesus in Galilee (Capernaum especially, Matthew 11:1-30), for the Baptist’s mission to Jesus (Matthew 11:3), and for Herod’s procrastination with the Baptist, whom he feared, tried to keep safe, and for whom he did many things (Mark 6:20), is also allowed in the Fourth Gospel. In it Jesus is represented as walking in Galilee (John 7:1-10) before the Feast of Tabernacles, nearly five months (Sivan 8–Tishri 15) after the Feast of Pentecost (John 5:1), but not afterwards,—a fact which is in agreement with the Synoptic account (Luke 9:10, Matthew 14:13, Mark 6:31), which describes our Lord withdrawing from the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas to Bethsaida Julias, Caesarea Philippi, and other districts of Herod Philip—the best of all the Herods—in consequence of the former’s identification of Him with the Baptist, whom he had beheaded (Mark 6:14).

With regard to the date of the Baptist’s execution, Keim, Hausrath, Schenkel, and others, on the strength of Joseplms’ account of the defeat of Antipas by Aretas (a.d. 36), in connexion with his narrative of the Baptist’s death, which the Jews regarded as divinely avenged in that battle, have held that the divorce of Herod Antipas’ wife cannot have been long before a.d. 36. But Josephus notes also a dispute about boundaries in Gamalitis (Ant. xviii. v. 1) as subsequent to the divorce of the daughter of Aretas, which he describes as ‘the first occasion’ of the bitterness between him and Herod. And there is nothing in the annals of the Herods to controvert the date a.d. 28 for the scene in the castle of Machaerus as described in the Synoptics. In fact, a.d. 28 would be a more suitable date for the elopement of Herodias, and the description of her daughter Salome as τὸ κοράσιον (Mark 6:22; Mark 6:28), than a.d. 36. Herodias was the sister of Agrippa i., who (Ant. xix. viii. 2) was 54 years old when he died in a.d. 44, and was, therefore, born b.c. 10. Herodias must have been born shortly before or after, as she was betrothed by Herod the Great (Ant. xvii. i. 2), after the death of her father Aristobulus (b.c. 7), when quite a child, to Philip his son by Mariamne ii., daughter of Simon the high priest, whom he married in the 13th year of his reign, circa (about) b.c. 24 (Ant. xv. ix. 3). Herodias would, therefore, be about 37 years old, and her husband 52 in a.d. 28, and her daughter Salome not more than 18, as Herodias was married ‘when arrived at age of puberty’ (Ant. xviii. v. 4). In a.d. 36 she would be 45 years of age, and Salome 26. The former age is, therefore, more probable. The fact that retribution was connected with the defeat in a.d. 36 proves nothing, as retribution is proverbially long delayed.

The fourth point of time is John 6:4. The difficulty in it is the reading τὸ πάσχα. By many it is retained; by others omitted. If it is retained, there are three Passovers mentioned in Jn. (John 2:13, John 6:4, John 12:1), making the ministry extend over two years. But if it is removed, this feast of the Jews becomes identified with the Feast of Tabernacles of John 7:2. And the chronology of the ministry can be reckoned on the basis of a year and several months previous.

John 1:29 to John 2:12. Work in Galilee.

John 2:13. Passover in Jerusalem (Nisan).

John 5:1. Pentecost in Sivan (May–June 1).

John 6:4. Tabernacles in Tishri (September–October).

John 7:2. Tabernacles in Tishri.

John 10:22. Dedication in Chislev (November–December).

John 11:55. Passover in Nisan (March–April).

Hort urges the omission of τὸ τάσχα, which is supported (1) by documentary evidence; (2) by the fact that χόρτος τολύς of John 6:10 apparently = χλωρῶ χόρτῳ of Mark 6:39; (3) by the note (John 7:1), ‘After these things Jesus walked (τεριετατει) in Galilee,’ which implies some interval between the events of chs. 6 and 7, but on the Tabernacles hypothesis sufficient time would not be allowed, as the same feast was ‘near’ in John 6:4 and in John 7:2; and (4) it is said that St. John, who was writing for Christians who had holy associations with Passover and Pentecost but not with Tabernacles, would hardly have spoken of that feast as ‘the Feast’ κατʼ ἐξοχήν. On the other hand, it is more than probable (1) that Irenaeus would have meotioned John 6:4 among the Passovers, it he knew of it, even though ostensibly he was merely recording the Passovers at which our Lord went up to Jerusalem, as his main object was to confute the Gnostics, who held that Jesus suffered a year after His baptism (Haer. ii. 22. 3); (2) that ἓγγς is a vague term allowing for comparative nearness, and our Lord did not hurry Himself for the feast, arriving only in the middle of it (John 7:14); (3) that Origen’s Com. on St. John clearly postulates the omission of a Passover between John 4:35 and John 7:2; (4) that St. John wrote as one familiar with Jewish fasts and feasts, and Josephus (Ant. viii. iv. 1) calls the Feast of Tabernacles ἐορτὴ σφόδρα παρὰ τοϊς Ἑβραίοις ἁγιωτάτη καὶ μεγίστη, and it is in OT sometimes called ‘the Feast’ (1 Kings 8:2; 1 Kings 8:65, Ezekiel 45:25); (5) that the tradition of the Gnostics might have been more easily confuted by frenaeus by a reference to a Passover in John 6:4 than by an attempt to identify the feast of 5:1 with a Passover; (6) that the Alogi, according to Epiphanius (Haer. 51, 22), found in Jn. only a Passover at the beginning and another at the end of His ministry; (7) that the words τὀ τασχα might have easily been suggested by the discourse on the sacrificial feast and the ‘barley’ loaves (ἀρτους κριθινους), which, however, has a nearer reference to the offerings (two leavened loaves of the best wheat, etc.) and customs of Pentecost, which was distinguished by thank-offerings (זָבָח הַחּוֹרָה = εὑχαριστήσας) and festive gatherings for the poor (Leviticus 24:22); (8) that the insertion of a Passover here would break the unity of the plot and interfere with the development of the drama from John 2:13 to John 12:1, creating a gap between chs. 4 and 6 out of all proportion to the other intervals in the Gospel after John 2:13. These reasons are not conclusive, but they are sufficient to prove the possibility of τὁ τάσχα being an early gloss on ἡ ἑορτή.

The interval between the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri, a.d. 28) and the Passover (14 Nisan, a.d. 29) is sufficiently ample to allow


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Dates (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/d/dates-2.html. 1906-1918.

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