The Five Most Common Fallacies about the Life of Jesus

by Anthony Le Donne

Life of Jesus1) Jesus was born in the year “Zero” or “1 AD”.

This fallacy comes to us from Dionysius Exiguus in (what we now call the year 525 of the current era). In adding the number of years of successive Roman officials from the founding of Rome to his own time, Dionysius miscalculated the beginning of the “Anno Domini” dating system. He calculated that Jesus was born 525 years before the date of his study.

It seems that most scholars prefer to follow Matthew and Luke concerning the role of Herod the Great in this episode of history. If Herod was involved in some way, he would have had to have been alive (or so I am told). Herod, by almost everyone’s watch, died in what we would now call 4 BCE. So the short answer is that we don’t know when Jesus was born, but it was probably not when Dionysius said it was. Most scholars give a date circa 4 BCE. There never was a year zero—Dionysius conceived of the calendar with 1 BC followed immediately by 1 AD. I should point out something that is seldom acknowledged: Dionysius’ magnificent legacy should not be overshadowed by an error of arithmetic. Math is for suckers anyway—ask my daughter.

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2) Jesus had a three year teaching ministry.

Again, we just don’t know exact dates. The notion of a three year career for Jesus comes from taking the festivals in the Fourth Gospel (John) to be representative of a literal chronology. Every John scholar will tell you that a literal chronology cannot be assumed here.** Now, as Chris has recently reminded me, there is really no reason to privilege a Synoptic (Matt, Mark, and Luke) chronology over and against John. Even so, the best answer is that we do not have an answer.

**NB: the phrase cannot be assumed means what it says. The first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club.

3) Jesus wanted to change Judaism into Christianity.

Jesus never heard the word “Christianity”. He probably never heard the word “Christ”—much less in its titular form (yes, I said “titular form” – stop giggling). Jesus was not a Christian and he never hoped that his disciples would become Christians. This concept just wasn’t on his radar. Now, there is some debate (and it is a very interesting debate) as to whether Jesus sought to “reform” Judaism. Please keep in mind that “reform” does not mean what we Protestants think it means…


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