Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Year Of Jesus' Death

AP: I invited a friend and esteemed colleague in the field of philology to contribute a post on my personal blog a while ago. His name is José Montserrat Torrents, truly a world renowned scholar. The subject of the post was the year of Jesus' death. His answer is very important to the discussion and, given its importance, I've provided a translation of the post here for our English-speaking audience. It begins below:

Three Latin authors and one Greek author fix Jesus' death in the year A.D. 29, without any confusion. The sources are as follows:
1. Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos 8: (sc. Tiberii) quinto decimo anno imperii passus est Christus, annos habens quasi 30 cum pateretur (Translated: "In the fifteenth year of the reign (of Tiberius) Christ suffered passion; he was around the age of thirty when he suffered passion") . . . Quae passio... perfecta est sub Tiberio Caesare, coss. Rubellio Gemino et Fufio Gemino, mense martio, temporibus Paschae, die VIII Kalendarum Aprilium, die prima Azymorum (Translated: "This passion took place under Tiberius Caesar, during the consulship of Rubelio Geminus and Rufus Geminus, in March, on the eighth day of April on the Roman calendar, the first day of Unleavened Bread").  
2. Lactantius, The Death of the Persecutors 2.1: "During the final years of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as we read, our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified by the Jews, on March 23, during the consulate of the two Gemini." 
3. Sulpicius Severus, Chronicle II 27.5: "During the reign of this one [Herod Antipas], in the eighteenth year, the Lord was crucified, under the consulship of Rufus Geminus and Rubelio Geminus." 
4. Acts of Pilate (Greek), Prologue: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, emperor of the Romans; in the nineteenth year of Herod, king of Galilee; on the eight day of the calends of April, which is March 25; during the consulship of Rufus and Rubelio; in the fourth year of the Olympiad 202; when Joseph the son of Caiaphas was high priest." 
Now for some observations.

First, there is some confusion in these texts about the reigns of Tiberius and Herod Antipas, and on the exact day of the Passion (Epiphanius summarized the various option in Panarion H 50.1); but there is no confusion about the consulship of the two Gemini (i.e., L. Rubellius Geminus and C. Fufius Geminus). According to the Consular Fasti and Annals of Tacitus (V 1), they entered this role in A.D. 29. Accordingly, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus, followed by the Acts of Pilate, categorically affirm that Jesus was executed in A.D. 29.

Second, the priority of the two consuls and their names differ in the documents. Tacitus: Rubellio et Fufio consulibus, quorum utrique Geminus cognomentum erat (Anales V 1); Fasti Capitolini: Rubellio et Fufio; Chronicle (= Fasti Siculi, siglo VII): Rufo et Rubellino. Tertullian mentions the order in the Annals and the Fasti Capitolini. Sulpicius Severus mentions them in the order of Fasti Siculi, but with the correct names. The Acts of Pilate adopts the order of Fasti Siculi and the names are entered incorrectly.

Third, the Gospel of Luke (3:1) places the beginning of the preaching of John the Baptist in the fifteenth year of Tiberius, which corresponds to A.D. 28/29 in the Latin calculations and A.D. 27/28 according to the oriental calculations. Neither calculations account for the death of Jesus on Easter of A.D. 29,  leaving him with only a very brief public life. Tertullian, a fine analyst of Luke against Marcion, could not ignore this fact. nor could he ignore Lactantius and Sulpicius Severus. However, they fix the date of the passion at A.D. 29. It seems that they had a secure source (Lactantius says "as we read") and they argued the data by bypassing an explanation of the discrepancy with the Gospels

Fourth, Tertullian knew Tacitus. However, in the work preserved by Tacitus, the only chronological fact about Jesus' death is vague: during the rule of Pontius Pilate (Annals XV 44), i.e., between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36. The precise reference to A.D. 29 could have been found by Tertullian  in book V of the Annals, which opens with the consulships of the two Gemini in the year A.D. 29. But, as is known, in this part of book V of the Annals is a vast lagoon. We do not know if this place provided Tacitus his data about the death of Jesus. It is a mere possibility, but dutifully explains the unusual dating of Tertullian.

Fifth, Lactantius undoubtedly depends on Tertullian, although the expression "as we read" could refer to the same hypothetical African source: book V of the Annals of Tacitus.

Sixth, with Sulpicius Severus we are on somewhat more stable ground. Indeed, Sulpicius had the Annals of Tacitus before him, and he literally cites them with respect to the fire of Rome and the persecution of Nero (ulpicius Severus, Chronicles II 29.1-2). He is the only author of antiquity that echoes this extraordinary passage from Tacitus. Sulpicius certainly provided the full text of book V of the Annals, and it is possible to read in it a review of the execution of Christ by Pontius Pilate under the consuls of Rubelio Geminus and Rufus Geminus. The fact that order is reversed in the text of Tacitus does not invalidate this assumption, as he quoted them by their correct names.

Seventh, Orosius knew Tacitus and sometimes quotes him literally. But he places the death of Jesus in the seventeenth year of Tiberius, that is, according to the Latin calculations A.D. 31 (History VII 13), without mention of the consuls.

And eighth, no Greek Christian author of the first four centuries mentions the consuls of the year A.D. 29 in connection to the death of Jesus. It is an exclusive feature of the Latin tradition, probably found in non-Christian documents (records or histories). The prologue of the Acts of Pilate, drawn up in the fifth century (the body of the text is earlier), probably depends on a distorted Latin tradition, as it alters the names of the consuls.

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