Ancient History

Teaching History why use Bce and Ce instead of Bc and Ad

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As a devout Christian, and a person who cares as little as possible about being politically correct, I startle some of my students when I use C.E. instead of A.D, and B.C.E. instead of B.C.

I often ask my students what they think B.C. stands for. They universally shout "Before Christ." "Excellent; that is correct. Then what does A.D. stand for?"
"After Death." But this time they are less sure.

Okay, if Christ was born on a certain day, the day before Jesus was born was Dec. 31, 1 B.C. The day after Jesus died is Jan. 1, A.D. 1. So, what do we call the 33 years of Jesus' life? Silence.

You see, A.D. stands for Anno Domine, or In the Year of Our Lord. So the day before Jesus is born is Dec. 31, B.C. 1. The day Jesus was born is Jan. 1, 1 A.D. A.D. comes after the year, B.C. goes before.

Now comes the real problem. How do we know that Jesus was born on January First, 1 A.D? Who decided that? We are most certainly wrong about that date. First of all, Jesus was very likely born in the Spring, not the winter. Winter was chosen because of a Roman festival celebrating the birth of a new solar year, a solstice. Remember that the shepherds were out tending their flocks in the field? Not in the winter, they weren't.

And the year? Well, no two scholars are in agreement about when Jesus was born, or when he died. We know for sure he died in the Spring, and that he was resurrected on the Sunday following Passover. But what year? Possible dates range from 8 B.C.E. to 12 C.E. So try saying that one. Jesus Christ was born in 8 B.C, or Jesus was born eight years before Jesus was born.

Then there's the problem of Before Christ and Anno Domine. Why English and then Latin? Why not make it both English? It simply confuses people, and isn't accurate anyway.

So, why do I not strongly object to the fact that B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) remove Christ from the equation. Oh, that's simple. It is because I am a devout Christian that it doesn't bother me. Common Era begins with the Christians changing the world. B.C.E. refers to that time before Christians changed the world. Christ is still at the heart of it. We could easily call it Before the Christian Era. When I write B.C.E. on the board, am I being dishonest when I know in my heart that it refers to the life of Christ as the central and most meaningful event in all of history? What other event could it possibly refer to?

The Muslim lunar calendar (a more disturbingly nonsensical way of accruing dates does not exist) refers to the lie of Muhammed as the central date in their history. Our solar calendar, which strives to make the calendar year match the solar year so we can all know when to go out and plant beets, is based on the life of Jesus. If I slip up and say Before the Christian Era instead of Common Era, no one objects, because we all know that it is Christ upon whom we base our history. Anyone who might object will quickly forgive my faux pas because it is simply a conflation of the B.C. and the B.C.E, but they understand that I am not a religious nutjob, because I understand the silliness of B.C. and A.D.

So, all in all, I use Common Era terminology for several reasons: 1) It is clear, precise, and logical. 2) It is still based on the premise that the life of Christ is still the central defining event in Western Civilization. 3) The Western calendar and system of dating should preeminently be useful as a tool for the calculation of solar years and not a archaic artifact of dogma.

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