New Testament Chronology
New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)
The prior chain of evidence led to a last Passover and crucifixion of Jesus in 30 CE. As before, this date must be confirmed independently of previous or following dates. This is typically done by determining the day of the week and the date on the Jewish calendar. This information is then matched up to astronomical calculations to establish the year of His crucifixion. This seemingly straightforward approach has lead to diverse answers. Therefore a careful examination is necessary to determine the possible day and date that Jesus hung on the cross, and this will limit the choices.
Jesus' crucifixion was on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and that day was either Nisan 14 or Nisan 15. The day began at either sunrise or sunset. No other combination of days of the week and month seems possible. It is theoretically possible to find which week day is to go with which month day and whether to reckon by a sunrise or sunset day. This is matched up to an astronomically determined calendar, and the year of Jesus' crucifixion is found.
These astronomical calculations may seem to limit the possible years of Jesus' crucifixion, but the Jews of that period did not calculate their calendar. The Pharisees declared the month beginning the new year when two competent witnesses testified to the Sanhedrin that they had seen the moon at sunset. This was not the new moon, since that is invisible, but the phasis or first evidence of the disc that occurs about eighteen hours later. Thus, the new year would not be declared until a day or two after the true new moon. There might be a one-day delay if the weather obscured the skies for any length of time. The new year, and every month, was declared by observation, not calculation.
In current discussions that give a date for Nisan 1, this is an astronomically calculated date.1 The actual observation of the first crescent of the new moon might have been different. The calendar months consisted of either twenty-nine or thirty days. If the prior month had started thirty days earlier, then a new month would begin, even if the sky was obscured. If the prior month were twenty-nine days, then the actual start of the new month might be delayed until one day after the calculated start of the new month. This condition has been historically established by a check of Babylonian cuneiform business documents that happen to be dated on the thirtieth of a month. Of eighty such documents recorded, 20% of the thirtieth days occurred in months astronomically calculated to be twenty-nine days.2 Thus, about one in five twenty-nine day months would be extended to thirty, and the following month would start a day later by observation. This was related to poor weather obscuring the moon. Such a condition would have continued throughout the years of using a lunar calendar based on observation. Thus, in any year in which the calculated date of Nisan 1 is preceded by a twenty-nine-day month, the actual observed start of the new year may have been one day later. For example, the new year in 27 CE is calculated to have begun on March 28, by either sunrise or sunset reckoning. Also, by either sunrise or sunset reckoning the prior month of Adar is calculated to have been twenty-nine days long. Thus, if on March 28 the moon was obscured by poor weather, then the actual observed start of Nisan 1 and the new year could have been March 29, a day later than calculated.
The limitations to using a calculated calendar are further complicated by the intercalation of a Ve-Adar, or thirteenth month.3 The basis was: "A year may be intercalated on three grounds: on account of the premature state of the corn crops; or that of the fruit-trees; or the lateness of the tukephah (equinox). On the basis of any two of these they may intercalate, but not one only." (Sanhedrin 2:2) Thus, if the spring was late and the barley and fruit not expected to be ripe for the following ceremony of "first fruits," a month might be added and the new year started a month later than calculated by the Vernal Equinox. This would be most likely to affect a year in which the calculated start of the new year was one or two weeks before the equinox. In the years calculated below, 27 to 36 CE, this might affect 28, 31, 33, 34 or 36. An additional custom might limit this, as it was prohibited to add a thirteenth month within or following a Sabbatical year (Sanhedrin 2:9). Sabbatical years fell in 27/28 and 34/35. Then a thirteenth month would have been avoided before the new year in 28, 29, 35 and 36. Probably in 34, and possibly in 31 there was a late intercalation, and the new year would move forward to match the Babylonian calendar. The possible shift of day or date of the new year would not affect the calculation for 30 CE, as the observed new year was de facto the same as that calculated. That is, Nisan 1 followed a thirty-day Adar and fell after the Vernal Equinox.
Since Pontius Pilate was Prefect when Jesus was crucified, it is necessary to consider all years in his term, from 27 to 36 CE.4 In the following chart the new year, Nisan 1, is calculated for both sunrise and sunset reckoning. The Julian date given is for the daylight portion. The Babylonian reckoning is given for comparison. The day of the week is abbreviated in parenthesis.
New Year Calculations for 27 - 36 CE
* = 29-day preceding month; Nisan 1 may begin one day later.
It is now possible to lay out a chart of the possible years for every combination of week days and month days.
Possible Year of Crucifixion
* = New year shifted one day
There are no entries for 29, 32 or 36 CE. The years 27 and 28 are too early, and 34,6 35 and 36 CE7 are too late for the crucifixion of Jesus. There is also no listing for a Wednesday crucifixion on Nisan 14, which is sometimes given as April 25, 31. This was Nisanu 14 on the Babylonian calendar, but Iyyar 14 on the Jewish calendar. It falls a month too late, unless there was a late intercalated Ve-Adar.
The choices narrow to a Wednesday crucifixion on Nisan 15 in 31,
a Thursday crucifixion on Nisan 14 in 30, a Friday crucifixion on Nisan
14 and/or Nisan 15 in 30, and a Friday crucifixion on Nisan 14 in 33. These
possibilities will be discussed in the following chapters.
1. Astronomical calculations are here made from Carl Schoch's tables in S. Langdon & J. K. Fotheringham, The Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1928), adjusted to observation from Jerusalem. Babylonian dates are from R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C. - A.D. 75 (Providence: Brown Univ. Press, 1956).
2. Langdon & Fotheringham, Venus Tablets, 98.
3. R. T. Beckwith, "Cautionary Notes on the Use of Calendars and Astronomy to Determine the Chronology of the Passion," CKC, 189-198.
4. J. Vardaman, "Jesus' Life: A New Chronology," CKC supports the crucifixion on Friday, Nisan 15 in 21 CE. This is based on Jesus' birth in 12 BCE. His ministry then began in 15 CE, based on the fifteenth year of Tiberius being emended to year two. This dating will not be discussed further.
5. C. J. Humphreys & W. G. Waddington, "The Date of the Crucifixion," JASA (March, 1985) have used computer-generated new moon calculations which are about twenty minutes earlier than the times given here. This variation does not affect the dates given.
6. Sir Isaac Newton supported April 23, 34 CE, the Babylonian date. Martin Luther also supported 34 CE as part of a grand scheme explaining Daniel's Seventy Weeks. See J. Barr, "Luther and Biblical Chronology," BJRL 72, 1 (1990), 61.
7. N. Kokkinos, "Crucifixion in A.D. 36: The Keystone for Dating the Birth of Jesus," CKC, 147-148 cites secondary references and claims March 30, 36 CE as Friday, Nisan 14. This was, however, Nisan 13, as Nisan 14 was Saturday, March 31. This calculation is confirmed by Parker and Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, 46, which begins Addaru on March 18, here equivalent to Nisan 1.