The Biblical Timeline would not be complete without addressing the times of the most important figure in biblical history; Jesus The Christ. Below is the that timeline as it now stands and you can find the PDF version at the bottom of this page. I’ll add it to the overall timeline PDF when it’s complete.
This timeline represents a magnification of the last years in the overall timeline, and specifically covers the period from 70 BC to 80 AD, a period that is book-ended by the fall of Jerusalem to Pompey in 63 BC and to Titus at the end of the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD. This period begins with Pompey, the general and Roman Triumvir, rising to prominence and ends with Pompeii, the city, being destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius. It contains such characters as Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and the Roman emperors from Augustus to Vespasian and his son Titus. Against this backdrop came The Christ, and the purpose of the Timeline in this case is to aid in understanding the backdrop of world events and personality that existed at this important time.
As this is a website focused on chronology, it’s only fitting that I take a minute to comment on the two greatest questions in the chronology of the life of Christ. Specifically, when was Jesus born, and when did he die? Neither question can be answered with absolute certainty with the information we currently have, but there has been much work done on these two subjects and many opinions rendered. Here I will provide my perspective and the evidence from scripture and elsewhere to support it.
When was Jesus born? Scholarly opinion provides a range of 7 to 4 BC. It’s generally thought to be more likely that he was born in the spring as opposed to late December, but my concern is more with the specific year than the time of year. Scripture records that the birth of Jesus was during the reign of “Herod the King” (Matthew 2:1). While there are several generations of Herods that ruled Judea, Matthew tells us that this one was succeeded by Archelaus and therefore the Herod of Christ’s birth can be none other than Herod The Great. Herod died in March of 4 BC and thus Jesus must have been born before this date. Further, Matthew tells us that Herod ordered the death of all the male children in Bethlehem aged two years and under in an attempt to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16). This suggests that Jesus was perhaps 12 to 18 months old at this time as Herod would certainly have added a margin of safety to his decree based on the information provided by the wise men. Backing this off from the time of Herod’s death places Jesus’ birth, at the latest, in 6 BC or early 5 BC. Jesus could have been born earlier, but not much earlier, as the story implies that not much time passed before Herod’s death. Attempts have been made using astronomy to identify candidates for the star that the wise men observed at the time of Jesus’ birth, and thus fix a date. I expect that this be the subject of a future blog posting, but at this point I haven’t done enough research to comment on the topic. Given the date of Herod’s death and the other facts given above, a range of 7 to 5 BC is likely for Christ’s birth
The biggest controversy around the timing of the birth of Christ centers on the passage in Luke 2:2 on the reason for Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem. Luke states, “This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria”. The problem here is that Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until 6 AD when Herod Archelaus was deposed. This is clearly incompatible with the information given in Matthew. I do not have an answer to this issue, as there is no way to resolve it historically. It has been proposed that the Greek has been mistranslated into English and that a correct translation wold be, “This first census took place before the census of Quirinius”, but otherwise it remains an issue. So who was the governor of Syria when Jesus was born? Well, if we are looking at 7 to 4 BC then it was Quinctillius Varus, a name that is infamous in Roman history. Years later, in 9 AD, Varus would lead two Roman legions to total destruction in the battle of the Teutoberg Wald, causing Augustus to exclaim, “Varus give me back my legions!”.
The second date of interest is that of Christ’s death and resurrection. In this date I have more confidence. The relevant facts are this: Luke (Luke 1:1-3) gives us the precise historical backdrop at the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. Specifically, he dates it to, “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”. We know this to be 30 AD. We know from the scriptural account that Jesus’ crucifixion took place in a year where the Passover fell on a Saturday. This only occurred twice during the period where Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (26-36 AD), specifically in 30 and 33 AD. Given the three year ministry traditionally ascribed to Jesus and the firm date for the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, who preceded him by at least a few months, only the 33 AD date fits all the available information. With this date and the previously discussed range of 7 to 5 BC for His birth, Jesus may have been as old as 40 at the time of His death and resurrection and was likely at least 38. This fits with the account in John 8:67 where the Jews say to Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?”. Were Jesus much younger they would likely have used a lower number.