7 April A.D. 30: is today the anniversary of the Lord’s Crucifixion?

From rogueclassicism:

ante diem vii idus apriles
ludi Megalesia (day 4)
30 A.D. — crucifixion of Jesus (one reckoning according to the astronomical estimates)
303 A.D. — martyrdom of Calliopus at Pompeiopolis
310 A.D. — martyrdom of Peleusius at Alexandria

 

Hmmm…

That reference takes us to the US Naval Observatory:

The commonly accepted reading of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) indicates that the Crucifixion of Jesus occurred on Nisan 15. This is based on the assumption that the Last Supper was a Passover meal on the evening that began Nisan 15. In the Gospel of John, however, the Crucifixion seems to be on Nisan 14, the Day of Preparation, when the Passover lambs were slain. This is consistent with the Talmud, which records the Crucifixion on the day before Passover. All four Gospels agree that the event occurred on the day before the Jewish Sabbath, i.e., before nightfall on a Friday. None of the sources specifies the year, though they agree that Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judaea. This places the event in the period A.D. 26-36 (on the Julian Calendar). From these pieces of evidence, people have speculated for centuries about the exact year of the Crucifixion.

The problem seems simple: find a Nisan 15 (or 14, if that is preferred) that ended on a Friday evening during the period A.D. 26-36. In fact, only one element of the problem is really simple. A Friday in New Testament times is just a large multiple of seven from a Friday today. Difficulties arise in determining the beginning of Nisan. Unfortunately, the Hebrew calendar of the first century A.D. is not adequately documented and must be reconstructed from fragmentary evidence.

In the Hebrew calendar of that era, months began with the first sighting of the crescent Moon following astronomical New Moon, with the evening of the sighting beginning day 1 of the month. Sightings of the lunar crescent are subject to local weather conditions and the ability of the observer. Because of these problems, a special committee of the Sanhedrin made official decisions about when to begin each month. We do not know the details of their work. However, the committee most likely judged the validity of reported sightings against predicted dates of New Moons and estimates of when the lunar crescent would become visible. If there was a stretch of bad weather, they might have ordered the month to begin 30 days following the previous beginning of the month. An occasional error of a day is quite likely. Before many months passed, however, a valid sighting would prevent accumulation of errors.

The calendar committee also had to decide when to add (intercalate) a thirteenth month into the calendar year. Since lunar months (from New Moon to New Moon) last approximately 29.5 days, a lunar year of 12 lunar months is about 354 days, which is 11 days shorter than the cycle of the seasons. To keep Nisan in the spring, a thirteenth month needs to be added about every three years. We do not know specifically how these intercalations were made. We do know that the decisions were not based exclusively on an observed or calculated date of the vernal equinox (the time at which the apparent longitude of the Sun is zero degrees). From the Bible and the Talmud we learn that the state of animal and plant life was considered, since lambs had to be mature enough for slaughter on the Day of Preparation (Nisan 14) and fruit had to be ripe enough for presentation on Nisan 16. Surviving records from the second century A.D. reveal a period when intercalations were neglected, making Nisan occur quite early. To correct this, consecutive years had thirteen months. We do not know how accurately the calendar was maintained in the first century.

All this points to the fact that tables of equinoxes and Moon phases cannot alone resolve the problem. Recent studies (listed below) have tried to account for the complex problems of lunar visibility. Although both studies mention the difficulties in reconstructing the Hebrew calendar of that period, both conclude by assuming that the calendar was maintained in what we today would consider good order.

The most commonly proposed dates for the Crucifixion are April 7, A.D. 30, and April 3, A.D. 33 (on the Julian Calendar). Humphreys and Waddington conclude that the latter date is correct. Schaefer decides that their conclusion is reasonable. A definitive solution will require an independent record of the event on a fully documented calendar.

 

 

 

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17 Responses to 7 April A.D. 30: is today the anniversary of the Lord’s Crucifixion?

  1. cordelia says:

    oy, i’ve got a headache now.

  2. Antiquarian says:

    Go Navy! LOL.

  3. Jeff Pinyan says:

    The whole issue about “was the Last Supper on Passover or not?” gives me a headache every time. I can never grasp the chronology correctly. I’ve heard that Jesus held the Passover with his disciples early (thus Luke 22:15 wherein Jesus speaks of his eagerness). I’ve never gotten a straight answer.

  4. dark_coven says:

    My, my, my. The apostles forgot to include this in the original deposit of faith! They’re becoming careless and entrusted this sort of things to the U.S. Navy instead of Linus and the others LOLZ!! But seriously, I think the exact date is really not so important since it is subjective and relative. Or maybe the apostles are trying to teach us something, aside from the astronomical area of the Triduum. The important thing is that we commemorate “anamnesis” the Passion of Our Lord and His Resurrection. However, for us feeble humans, it’s still quite interesting and intriguing to know when exactly did Our Lord die and rose from the dead.

    Also, I once read that Pope Victor I “nearly” excommunicated the Asian bishops during his time, because the said bishops were following a Johannine tradition of Easter celebration NOT on Sundays but on a specific date like Christmas. Anyway, the Petrine tradition won and at least all Christians subscribed to that. I think the Johannine Easter, once kept by the successors of the apostle John, maybe the exact date wherein Our Lord rose from the dead, though I’m not quite sure.

    Hmmnn…mind boggling :)

    Instavrare Omnia In Christo,

  5. One bit of folklore says it was on March 25, 33 AD the same day as the Annunciation, because of a Jewish belief
    that a prophet would die on the same date as his birth/conception. It is interesting to note
    that the dates of Good Friday and Annunciation do overlap sometimes. (Of course, the whole 33 AD thing depends on whether or not Our Lord was born AD 1 as traditionally assumed or whether that monk was slightly off with
    his figures.) March 25, in medieval legend, was also viewed as the day on which the world was created
    and also the day it would end, and also, of course, it was for a time the first day of the year,
    I think.

  6. Goofy says:

    A solution to the passover date problem is proposed by the Benedictine scholar Bargil Pixner who spent many years in the Holy Land.
    His solution regarding the passover is that there were two passover dates computed. Any unofficial one which he himself used, possibly related to the Essenes, which the synoptics refer to and the official one used by the Temple, to which John refers.

    His proposed crucifixion date is April 11, 30

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bargil_Pixner

  7. Sr. Lorraine says:

    Matthew’s comment is interesting, but I think that the date of the Annunciation was chosen to be 9 months before Christmas. And the date of Christmas is not necessarily the actual date of Christ’s birth.

  8. Ken C says:

    I believe Cdl. Ratzinger in Spirit of the Liturgy posits March 25 as the day of the creation of the world, of the Incarnation and of the Death of Our Lord.

  9. Thomas says:

    I believe in de Civitate Dei, St. Augustine also said March 25.

  10. Prof. Basto says:

    St. Thomas Aquinas’ Pange lingua … Corporis hymn, sung during Holy Thursday’s Mass in Coena Domini seems to assume that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal (thus placing the Crucifixion on Nisan 15th).

    At least that’s what it seems based on the repeated references to the “legality” of the meal in the third stanza:

    In supremæ nocte cœnæ,
    Recumbens cum fratribus
    Observata lege plene
    Cibis in legalibus,
    Cibum turbæ duodenæ
    Se dat suis manibus.

    Also, it would be a most fitting date for the fulfillment of the old rites of the Ancient Convenant and their replacement with the new ones of the New and Everlasting Convenant.

    This brings both the First Reading of the Novus Ordo Mass in Coena Domini and Tantum ergo Sacramentum to mind.

  11. Rob F. says:

    I’m having trouble seeing the contradiction between 14 or 15 Nisan.

    I understand that in the Jewish calendar, a calendar date begins at sundown. Ex 12:6 says that the lamb should be slain the evening of the 14th, which is the evening just as the 14th begins, right? Ex 12:8 says you should eat the lamb that night, which is the night of the 14th, right? So presumably, when Jesus and the Apostles ate the last supper Thursday night, they were eating on the night of the 14th. So that year, the 14th began at sundown on Thursday and ended at sundown on Friday, meaning that the last supper and the crucifixion were on the same date, which spanned Thursday night and Friday morning and afternoon.

    Of course, today Jews celebrate passover on the evening (i.e. the beginning) of the 15th of Nissan. So my Jewish friends would have been celebrating passover on Good Friday night if they had been around back then. Why the discrepancy between Ex 12 and modern practice? Did the discrepancy exist in the first century?

  12. Rob F. says:

    Matthew: I think you are right about 25 March being the traditional date. But I’m not so sure about 33 AD being a traditional year. March 25th was on a Wednesday in 33 AD.

    March 25th fell on a Friday during the Julian years 29 AD and 35 AD. According to the Roman Martyrology for Dec 25th, Christ was born in 3 BC (or arguably 2 BC), given the year “ab urbe condita” mentioned in the Martyrology. That would have made him 30 or 36 years old when he died.

    I’m not so sure that Dionysius Exiguus was trying to put 1 AD in the year Jesus was born. After all, he heard the Martyrology read every year at Prime on Christmas. I think he was more interested in putting 1 AD at the beginning of a four-year leap-year cycle.

    BTW, in 2005 Good Friday was on March 25th. Not only that, but it fell on the 14th of a Metonic lunar month. That’s a pretty rare triple coincidence.

    Sr. Lorraine: If I’m not mistaken, the putative dating of the Annunciation predates the putative dating of Christmas, at least as far as historical records tell us.

  13. JP says:

    Rob F asked: Ex 12:6 says that the lamb should be slain the evening of the 14th, which is the evening just as the 14th begins, right?

    No, it’s the evening as the 14th ends. The Jews were commanded to sacrifice their lambs on the 14th and eat them that very night. Now, when you have thousands and thousands of lambs being brought to Jerusalem so the priests can sacrifice them, if the priests didn’t start sacrificing the lambs until the evening that begins the 14th, then there’s no way they could get the job done in time for all the Jewish families to eat the Passover the same night. To accomplish the task, they had to start a few hours before sundown. But if it’s before the sundown that starts the 14th, then the priests would have started sacrificing on the 13th, which is a violation of the commandment that the lambs be sacrificed on the 14th.

    Therefore the priests began the sacrifices on the afternoon of the 14th, and the Jews then ate the Passover that evening, at the start of Nisan 15. Thus, there is no discrepancy between Ex. 12 and modern Jewish practice — even in the time of Christ, the Jews ate the Passover on the evening that ends Nisan 14 and that begins Nisan 15, for to do otherwise would have required them to violate the commandment of when to sacrifice the Passover.

    Now, as for the timing of the Last Supper, I’m inclined to believe that it was held a day earlier than usual, the evening prior to the time when the rest of the Jews ate the Passover. However, it is a very old opinion (held by Pope Leo the Great and others) that the Last Supper was held at the end of Nisan 14 and Jesus was crucified on the feast day of Nisan 15. But the Gospels indicate the Jewish leaders were very concerned that they kill Jesus before the feast day — if He died on Nisan 15, then they failed in their intentions. In addition, the Jewish leaders and priests are doing things on Good Friday that one would not expect them to do if it were one of the great annual festival days of the Jews — they would be violating the “Sabbath-like” laws of rest that were required on annual festivals, and they would not be attending to their liturgical duties in the Temple.

    In addition, if Good Friday was Nisan 15, then you’d have a feast day followed by the weekly Sabbath, giving the Jews two days in a row when they were no allowed to prepare food. If Nisan 15 were on Friday, the Jews would have had to get all their food for Friday and Saturday prepared by Thursday evening. Back-to-back festival days and Sabbath days would be very burdensome, and would often cause food spoilage, so the rabbis arranged things to ensure that if a festival day were to fall on a Friday, they would postpone the start of a new month one day to make the festival day coincide with the weekly Sabbath. That has long been the Jewish practice — but it’s not known if that practice existed in the time of Jesus. Still, it’s another piece of evidence that suggests Good Friday was not Nisan 15.

  14. Rob F. says:

    JP:

    Thank you very much for your reply.

  15. Melody says:

    A certain part of me hopes this is right, since my birthday is on the 5th. Of course that is pure sentimentality. Interestingly, it was on Holy Thursday the year I born.

  16. Margaret says:

    My head is just…spinning. I have trouble enough knowing what today’s date is, most of the time.

  17. While doing research for a blog post for the Southern Cross, I came across this:

    “For the same reason Crux was visible from Jerusalem at Jesus Christ’s time and was best visible during the spring time (i.e. Good Friday and Easter). The evening after the crucifixion (most probable date April 3, 33 AD) Crux was just above Jerusalem’s southern horizon.”

    The picture in the article is intriguing.