So, in the file of ridiculous arguments for the existence of Jesus, there is this one:
“You say it’s the year 2018, so you know that Jesus existed because that’s counting the years since he was born.”
It’s amazing to me how little Christians know about how things work. It’s like watching a two-year old pretend to drive by vigorously moving the steering wheel back and forth. It doesn’t work that way. So let’s back up a bit and explain how calendars work.
If you were standing around Jerusalem in the year (now recognized as) CE 5, nobody would have called it that. Think about this for a minute. If Jesus Christ decided to finally fulfill his prophesy and came back TODAY, we wouldn’t say “yay, it’s year 1 again!”. No, we would say that he came in the year 2018. This is the current convention. And just in case any Christians are reading this, convention means the way we have agreed to do something because that way we don’t get confused.
So back to CE 5, nobody called it that. At the time, every different culture around the world had a different calendar, and sometimes different groups in the same region used different calendars. Emperors frequently gave their name to a calendar, so during the 12th year of Caesar’s rule, it could be said it was year 12 of Caesar. Sometimes a ruler would continue the calendar as long as it was the same dynasty, which meant a single calendar could continue on for a couple of generations at least. Most likely, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were using two calendars. Locally, they used the Hebrew calendar, and for regional affairs they would have used whichever Roman calendar was being used.
But certainly, they didn’t call it “the year of our lord 5”, because nobody used that calendar yet. So when did they start counting Jesus’ birth on the calendar? Was it the year he died, and they started calling it CE 33 or something? Nope. Did Paul and the apostles start the current calendar in the mid to late first century, calling it year 86 or something? Nope. Did the gospel writers decide to hammer a year down in 125? Nope. Did the council of Nicea say they met in 325? Nope.
It wasn’t until what we now call 525 CE that a calendar was developed “counting” since the birth of Jesus. The man credited with this system, Dionysius Exigus, didn’t really explain how he figured out that it had been 525 years, but he was nice enough to let us know that the previous year was Diocletian 247 of the Julian calendar. Everything that happened before 525 CE was not called the year we now label it with, since the date was only retroactively applied. So no, we haven’t been “counting up” since the birth of Jesus.
Additionally, although us modern westerners just assume this calendar, it isn’t even the calendar used by the majority of humans. In the Hebrew calendar, it is currently 5778. The Persian calendar, used in several central and western Asian countries, date the current year as 1397. Going by the Muslim Lunar Hirji calendar, it is now 1439. By the Buddhist Nirvana calendar, it’s 2562. And if we go by the Hindu calendar, it’s 5120.
So why is 2018 so prevalent worldwide? Because England and the US. We’ve pretty much ruled the world for the past few hundred years, so international business tends to follow our conventions. English is the international language, the dollar is the international currency, and our calendar is the universal calendar.
But let’s remember that in Iraq, it’s still 1439. If we use the Christian argument, then the Iraqi calendar proves the veracity of Muhammad claims, right? Of course not. And now that we’ve had an introduction to calendars, you can see just how silly it is and why.
And since we’re talking about how crazy and arbitrary calendars are, here’s another puzzle. We know that the prefix sep- means seven, oct- means eight, no- means nine, and dec- means ten. So why is September the 9th month, October the 10th, November the 11th, and December the 12th? Because a mere 266 years ago, March was the first month of the year!
In 1752, British parliament changed the calendar to make January the beginning of the year. Fun fact, since George Washington was born in February, his birth year was (the last month of) 1731 until he was 21. Then, retroactively applying the new calendar system, his birthday for our convention changed to the second month of 1732.
Calendars throughout the ages have gone through lots and lots of modifications. In 46 BCE, the year was 445 days long to adjust the calendar to the new Julian system. The Hebrew calendar adds a whole extra month every few years. Months got longer. The beginning of the year is different in all the calendars. As noted, new emperors frequently started the count back to 1. Leap-days were added. So while it’s nice that we have a system that is fairly universal and consistent now, it would be unwise to think that our current understanding of the timeline of history is static.
So, it is true that the year 2018 is a reference to the year some people think Jesus was born. However, almost everything else about our calendar has nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with other gods.
January is named after the Roman god Janus. Februa is a pagan festival of purification. March gets it’s name from Mars, the Roman god of war. April comes from the Greek Aphrodite (later adopted by the Romans as Venus.) May is the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia. June, Juno. July is named after Julius Caesar, although until he died it was called Quintilis meaning the fifth month. Remember, the months shifted in 1752. August, like July, is named after a Roman emperor (Augustus Caesar.) Also like July, it was originally one of the numbered months, Sextilis (6th) until renamed in 8 BCE. As previously noted, September through December just mean that numbered month.
And what about our days of the week? Sunday and Monday are named after the Anglo-Saxon worship of the sun and moon, respectively. Tuesday through Friday are all named after Nordic gods. Tuesday for Tyr (or Tiw), Wednesday for Odin (woden), Thursday for Thor, and Friday for Freya. Saturday is the only day we currently use that has retained it’s Roman name, for the god Saturn. And let’s not forget that these are just the convention in English. In other languages, names of days may originate from other gods as well.
But no, when we say “Thursday”, we are not invoking Thor. We don’t believe in Thor. We don’t worship Thor. We don’t assume that because Thursday is still what we call that day that it lends any credibility to any claim about Thor. We just use it because IT’S WHAT WE ALL UNDERSTAND AND SO IT’S EASIER TO JUST LEAVE IT.
In exactly the same way, 2018 is easier to just leave as the date. It would be a pain in the ass to change every calendar in the world to, say, YS 375 (the year of science plus 375) in honor of the birth of Issac Newton. Sure, Issac Newton is a real person and actually changed the world, whereas Jesus is made up and made the world more violent. But it would still be a pain in the ass. So we’ll leave it as 2018.
The Spartan Atheist