The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era (Oxford Early Christian Studies)
Alden A. Mosshammer
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The system of numbering the years A.D. (Anni Domini, Years of the Lord) originated with Dionysius Exiguus. Dionysius drafted a 95-year table of dates for Easter beginning with the year 532 A.D. Why Dionysius chose the year that he did to number as '1' has been a source of controversy and speculation for almost 1500 years. According to the Gospel of Luke (3.1; 3.23), Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the emperor Tiberius and was about 30 years old at the time. The 15th year of Tiberius was A.D. 29. If Jesus was 30 years old in A.D. 29, then he was born in the year that we call 2 B.C. Most ancient authorities dated the Nativity accordingly.
Alden Mosshammer provides the first comprehensive study of early Christian methods for calculating the date of Easter to have appeared in English in more than one hundred years. He offers an entirely new history of those methods, both Latin and Greek, from the earliest such calculations in the late second century until the emergence of the Byzantine era in the seventh century. From this history, Mosshammer draws the fresh hypothesis that Dionysius did not calculate or otherwise invent a new date for the birth of Jesus, instead adopting a date that was already well established in the Greek church. Mosshammer offers compelling new conclusions on the origins of the Christian era, drawing upon evidence found in the fragments of Julius Africanus, of Panodorus of Alexandria, and in the traditions of the Armenian church.
Ptolemy worked with the so-called Egyptian ‘mobile year’ of 365 days, with no leap-year intercalation. During the 285 years between the two observations, the calendar had lost 71 days with respect to the solar year. Monarchs do not come to power or die exactly at the beginning of a calendar year. In practice, therefore, the compilers of lists either antedated the Wrst year of a ruler to the beginning of the calendar year during which he came to power or postdated it to the beginning of the next
would therefore have corresponded to 5504 bc. Eusebius declined to try to summarize human history beginning with Adam. He did state, to satisfy the curiosity of his reader, that there were 942 years counted backward from the birth of Abraham to the Flood and 2242 years from the Flood to Adam. Since he also said elsewhere that there are 2015 years from Abraham to the Nativity, the total is 5199.39 Later Greek authors reverted to the 5500 years of Hippolytus and Africanus, but with modiWcations as
with the question of how Dionysius derived his equation between the 248th year from Diocletian and the year 532 from Christ. In investigating that history, I found it diYcult to understand the basis upon which many oft-repeated scholarly claims have been made. I came to the conclusion Wnally that the evidence has been misinterpreted and that much of the history of the Easter calculations of the early Christian church must be rewritten. What began as a study of the origins of the Christian era has
after the Paschal festival on xiv Pauni, Indict. i, Januarius and Justus being Consuls, the governor Zenius of Italy being the Praefect of Egypt, Epact xxv; Gods, i. (Translation by Archibald Robinson, LNPNF, Series II, iv. 497.) There are some discrepancies between the Index as the Syriac translation preserves it and the actual collection of letters. In particular, the Index states there are no letters for the years 340/1 and 341/2. The Syriac collection includes those letters, although the
systems. The earliest such list has the names of the Roman consuls from Antoninus Pius and Camerinus (ad 138) to Modestus and Arintheus (ad 372). Since the list ends in 372 and we know that Theon was working at that period, scholars have attributed the document to him and refer to it as the Fasti Theonis Alexandrini.12 There are two columns of running numbers. The Wrst is headed ‘Years from Alexander’ and numbered from 461 to 695. The second is headed ‘Years from Augustus’ and numbered 167 to