What Year Did Jesus Die?

From Discovery News by Jennifer Viegas: (Author of the research, not the journalist, added this site.)

Jesus, as described in the New Testament, was most likely crucified on Friday April 3, 33 A.D.

The latest investigation, reported in the journal International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea.

Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and an early first century seismic event that happened sometime between 26 A.D. and 36 A.D.

The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said.

“The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision,” he said. But the year has been in question.

In terms of textual clues to the date of the crucifixion, Williams quoted a Nature paper authored by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. Williams summarized their work as follows:

  • All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV,44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from 26-36 AD.
  • All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
  • All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
  • The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan; right before the start of the Passover meal.
  • John’s gospel differs from the synoptics; apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan.

When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday April 3, 33 A.D. being the best match, according to the researchers.

In terms of the earthquake data alone, Williams and his team acknowledge that the seismic activity associated with the crucifixion could refer to “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.”

“If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory,” they write.

Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion – darkness.

Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 PM after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a dust storm, he believes.

Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the early first century Jerusalem region earthquake.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://frankviola.org Frank Viola

    Harold Hoener has been arguing for the A.D. 33 date for years. But Ben Witherington (and others) have been confident that the A.D. 30 date is correct. What say you, Scot?

  • Maxwell Mooney

    I love how the Biblical historical record is constantly given back burner in terms of verifying other data. The Biblical historical record has almost always been consistent (I’m thinking Hittites, darkness over land, the life and person of Christ, Babylonians, etc.) in accurately recording ancient Near East history, but it’s never utilized as a source really until some other contemporary source verifies it.

    “an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 A.D. that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments of Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.”

    As in- we can trust other contemporary sources to disprove/prove the Bible, but we can’t use the Bible to prove/disprove contemporary sources. It’s a huge double standard that doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Mark Edward

    Maxwell, I agree. Even if the Biblical books are biased (what ancient document isn’t?), they’re still historical documents. (To get a bit off topic, it reminds me of how the Jesus Seminar arbitrarily places more credibility on non-canonical ‘gospels’ than the canonical ones.)

  • http://rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    satire ON

    It is so good to know at last from those geologists that Christ was crucified on Friday, April 3, 33 A.D. because that means (a) his nativity took place at exactly the fullness time at the beginning of 1 A.D. and not some crazy date like 5 or 6 B.C. when a conjugation or whatever it was of planets in the sky was mistaken for the Star of Bethlehem and (b) our calendar, in spite of what Pope Gregory did to it, is not screwed up at all. I can’t wait for their next big announcement telling us that God said “Let there be light” on a Wednesday afternoon in 4004 B.C.

    satire OFF

  • Patrick

    Here’s a factor to consider.

    Nasa’s database sees a huge star( conjunction of saturn,jupiter and regulus) on December 25th that appears to stop over Bethlehem, Israel( if you’re over there that is). In 2 BC. You can watch a film on this called, “The Star of Bethlehem”.
    Then, on April 3, 33 AD, there is a total eclipse of the sun.

    Taken with this data however inexact it is, April 3, 33 AD sure seems a reasonable thought.

    There is no total eclipse in 30 AD and there needs to be one on the day Christ was murdered.

  • MD

    this dvd claims (with widespread support) that a lunar eclipse occurred on april 3, 33 ad:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Star-Bethlehem-Frederick-Larson/dp/B002RBHDFK/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    here is a clip of associated text:

    “The answer to that question fixes the date of the crucifixion with precision. Beyond reasonable doubt, in fact, because a “blood moon” has a specific meaning. In ancient literature, not only the Bible, it means a lunar eclipse. Why bloody? Because when the moon is in eclipse it is in the Earth’s shadow. It receives no direct light from the sun, but is lit only by the dim light refracted and red-shifted by the Earth’s atmosphere. The moon in eclipse does glow a dull red, as you know if you have seen it.
    This matters, because with Kepler’s equations we can determine exactly when historical eclipses occurred. Perhaps it will not surprise you to learn that only one Passover lunar eclipse was visible from Jerusalem while Pilate was in office. It occurred on April 3, 33 AD, the Day of the Cross.”

    I’m interested in what other readers know about this dvd/information.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I find this a bit interesting.

    But to the folks who take this seriously, you need to consider one thing.

    One of the most basic concepts in science is the idea of significant digits. I don’t want to look it up, so I will see if I can recite the definition I learned decades ago. Significant digits means that a number is only as accurate as the least number of significant digits of the numbers used to derive the number.

    In our case here, to derive this date, it would only be as good as the accuracy of all the information used to derive it. Heck, we are still tweaking leap years and leap centuries, and can’t even vouch for the place our president was born, according to some, but you expect that we could get within a particular day of something that happened that long ago? No way.

    In this case the data only show that the event is likely within about a 3 year period of this date, at best.

  • Larry Barber

    Patrick, it is not possible for their to have been a solar eclipse during the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The timing of the Passover is determined by the phase of the moon, and it was a full moon, or shortly after one at the time. The moon was on the wrong side of the earth to be able to eclipse the sun.

  • MD

    DRT-
    the accuracy of the very date is relatively unimportant to me. i do find it interesting, however, to learn all of the information that can be gathered when researching the date.
    take a look at it sometime by searching on “date of crucifixion.”
    also, a friend presented me with an opportunity to watch her dvd. one of the things that impressed me is that the researcher claims to own software that is used by nasa to plot locations of planets, stars etc, and which software can look forward and backward. it is the researcher’s claim that the software can show the eclipse of the moon on a date related to the observance of the passover.
    am i going to use this as “evidence” to try to convince someone of the “truth” of all this? no. but at the same time there is a lot of info to consider.

  • Tim C.

    Important:

    The author of the study has a blog where he clarifies that the Discovery story was not a fair description of his findings. He found earthquakes that could be compatable with this date, but not at all specific. Scot, you should update your story too. Here is the specific section of the author’s blog where he addresses this: http://www.crucifixionquake.info/

    “Recently an article titled “Quake Reveals Day of Jesus’ Crucifixion” came out about a peer reviewed scientific journal article I wrote with two co-authors. This article went viral on the internet and was translated into many languages. The title of the article is completely wrong and inaccurate. I am asking Discovery to issue a retraction and to work with me to produce an article that accurately describes the research article.”

    and on another discussion board the author wrote:

    I am the primary author of the research article discussed in this article. We DID NOT determine the date of the crucifixion. This article grossly mischaracterizes our research. We dated an earthquake in Judea to have occurred between 26 and 36 AD based purely on what we saw in the sediments. I created a site to explain this research to the general public. It is http://www.crucifixionquake.info.

    http://www.rationalskepticism.org/christianity/quake-reveals-day-of-jesus-crucifixion-researchers-believe-t31667.html

  • Percival

    Why are we so sure it was on a Friday? Weren’t there other Sabbaths associated with holy days like Passover? The timing of the Passover meal and the final week are unclear to me.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    MD#9, I am with you. The least interesting thing about researching the date is the date you come up with. There is tremendous value in the pursuit since it leads us to examine that fabric of our world, and that is never boring or irrelevant.

  • Dave T.

    I’ve liked the 30 A.D. date better over the years, but I’m not completely convinced one way or the other. I am curious what you think Scot.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X