ap. Iren, loc. cit.; Clementine Homilies, xvii. 19; Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 145, vi. 279; Julius Africanus, ap. Routh, Rell. Sacr. ii. 240, 306; Hippolytus, Paschal Cycle and Chronicle; Origen, in Levit. Hom. ix. 5, de Principiis, iv. 5) becomes more difficult to account for the farther it is removed from the actual facts.
5. The date of the Crucifixion.
(a) The Roman Governor.—Pontius Pilate was on his way back to Rome, after ten years of office, when Tiberius died on the 16th March A.D. 37 (Josephus, Ant. XVIII. ii. 2, iv. 2). Luke xiii. 1, xxiii. 12, show that he was not a newcomer at the time of the Crucifixion. For the Crucifixion “under Pontius Pilate” the Passover of A.D. 28 is therefore the earliest possible and the Passover of A.D. 36 the latest.
(b) The Jewish High-Priest.—Caiaphas was appointed before Pilate’s arrival, and was deposed at a Passover apparently not later than that of the year of Herod Philip’s death, A.D. 34 (Josephus, Ant. XVIII. ii. 2, iv. 3-v. 3). The Crucifixion at some previous Passover would then fall not later than A.D. 33.
(c) The Day of the Week.—The Resurrection on “the first day of the week” (Sunday) was “on the third day” after the Crucifixion; and that “the third day” implies an interval of only two days hardly needed to be shown, but has been shown to demonstration in Field’s Notes on the Translation of the New Testament (on Matt. xvi. 21). The Crucifixion was therefore on a Friday in some year between A.D. 28 and 33 inclusive.
(d) The Day of the Jewish Month Nisan.—The Passover was kept at the full moon of the lunar month Nisan, the first of the Jewish ecclesiastical year; the Paschal lambs were slain on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan, and the Passover was eaten after sunset the same day—which, however, as the Jewish day began at sunset, was by their reckoning the early hours of the 15th Nisan; the first fruits (of the barley harvest) were solemnly offered on the 16th. The synoptic Gospels appear to place the Crucifixion on the 15th, since they speak of the Last Supper as a Passover; St John’s Gospel, on the other hand (xiii. 1, 29, xviii. 28), distinctly implies that the feast had not yet taken place, and thus makes the Crucifixion fall on the 14th. Early Christian tradition is unanimous on this side; either the 14th is mentioned, or the Crucifixion is made the antitype of the slaughter of the Paschal Lamb (and the Resurrection of the first fruits), in the following authorities anterior to A.D. 235: St Paul, 1 Cor. v. 7, xv. 20; Quartodecimans of Asia Minor, who observed the Christian Pascha on the “14th,” no matter on what day of the week it fell; Claudius Apollinaris, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, all three quoted in the Paschal Chronicle; Irenaeus (apparently) iv. x. 1 [xx. 1]; [Tertullian] adv. Judaeos, 8; Africanus, in Routh, Rell. Sacr. ii. 297. The Crucifixion, then, should be placed rather on the 14th than on the 15th of Nisan.
These four lines of inquiry have shown that the Crucifixion fell on Friday, Nisan 14 (rather than 15), in one of the six years 28-33 A.D.; and therefore, if it is possible to discover (i.) exactly which moon or month was reckoned each year as the moon or month of Nisan, and (ii.) exactly on what day that particular moon or month was reckoned as beginning, it will, of course, be possible to tell in which of these years Nisan 14 fell on a Friday. To neither question can an answer be given in terms so precise as to exclude some latitude, but to both with sufficient exactness to rule out at once three of the six years. (i.) The difficulty with regard to the month is to know how the commencement of the Jewish year was fixed—in what years an extra month was intercalated before Nisan. If the Paschal full moon was, as in later Christian times, the first after the spring equinox, the difficulty would be reduced to the question on what day the equinox was reckoned. If, on the other hand, it was, as in ancient Jewish times, the first after the earliest ears of the barley harvest would be ripe, it would have varied with the forwardness or backwardness of the season from year to year. (ii.) The difficulty with regard to the day is, quite similarly, to know what precise relation the first day of the Jewish month bore to the astronomical new moon. In later Christian times the Paschal month was calculated from the astronomical new moon; in earlier Jewish times all months were reckoned to begin at the first sunset when the new moon was visible, which in the most favourable circumstances would be some hours, and in the most unfavourable three days, later than the astronomical new moon.
Direct material for answering the question when and how far astronomical calculations replaced simple observations as the basis of the Jewish calendar is not forthcoming. Jewish traditions represented the Sanhedrin as retaining to the end its plenary power over the calendar, and as still fixing the first day of every month and the first month of every year. But as it is quite inconceivable that the Jews of the Dispersion should not have known beforehand at what full moon they were to present themselves at Jerusalem for the Passover, it must be assumed as true in fact, whether or no it was true in theory, that the old empirical methods must have been qualified, at least partially, by permanent, that is in effect by astronomical rules. Exactly what modifications were first made in the system under which each month began by simple observation of the new moon we do not know, and opinions are not agreed as to the historical value of the rabbinical traditions; but probably the first step in the direction of astronomical precision would be the rule that no month could consist of less than twenty-nine or more than thirty days—to which appears to have been added, but at what date is uncertain, the further rule that Adar, the month preceding Nisan, was always to be limited to twenty-nine. In the same way the beginning of the Jewish year according to the state of the harvest was supplanted by some more fixed relation to the solar year. But this relation was not, it would seem, regulated by the date, real or supposed, of the equinox. Christian controversialists from Anatolius of Laodicea (A.D. 277) onwards accused the Jews of disregarding the (Christian) equinoctial limit, and of sometimes placing the Paschal full moon before it; and it is possible that in the time of Christ the 14th of Nisan might have fallen as far back as the 17th of March. In the following table the first column gives the terminus paschalis, or 14th of the Paschal moon, according to the Christian calendar; the second gives the 14th, reckoned from the time of the astronomical new moon of Nisan; the third the 14th, reckoned from the probable first appearance of the new moon at sunset. Alternative moons are given for A.D. 29, according as the full moon falling about the 18th of March is or is not reckoned the proper Paschal moon.
|Sat. Mar. 27
Th. Mar. 17
F. Ap. 15
Tu. Ap. 4
Sat. Mar. 24
Sat. Ap. 12
W. Ap. 1
Ap. 3 or 4
It will be seen at once that Friday cannot have fallen on Nisan 14th in any of the three years A.D. 28, 31 and 32. The choice is narrowed down to A.D. 29, Friday, 18th March (Friday, 15th April, would no doubt be too early even for the 14th of Nisan); A.D. 30, Friday 7th April; and A.D. 33, Friday, 3rd April.
(e) The Civil Year (consuls, or regnal years of Tiberius) in early Christian tradition. It is not a priori improbable that the year of the central event from which the Christian Church dated her own existence should have been noted in the apostolic age and handed down to the memory of succeeding generations; and the evidence does go some way to suggest that we have in favour of A.D. 29, the consulate of the two Gemini (15th or 16th year of Tiberius), a body of tradition independent of the Gospels and ancient, if not primitive, in origin.
The earliest witness, indeed, who can be cited for a definite date for the crucifixion gave not 29, but 33 A.D. The pagan chronicler, Phlegon, writing in the reign of Hadrian, noted under Olympiad 202.4 (= A.D. 32-33), besides a great earthquake in Bithynia, an eclipse so remarkable that it became night
- If the Passover celebration could be anticipated by one day in a private Jewish family (and we know perhaps too little of Jewish rules in the time of Christ to be able to exclude this possibility), the evidence of the synoptic Gospels would no longer conflict with that of St John.