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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

MAKING A DATE

I really think the world is a fairly rational, reasonable place... until you think about it. For instance, if I asked you what year it was, you would probably not have a problem coming up with a number. Does it really matter what that number is? Would your life be any different if it were 2012 or 5771 or 1434 or 1934? And would it really bother you if you suddenly realized that all four of those numbers are correct as of this very moment? They are, and yet all four of them are also wrong, for various reasons. Getting nervous yet? Starting to feel the world is a little less reasonable, a little less rational? Allow me to make things worse by suggesting we all synchronize our watches.
If you are a Christian you ought to remember there is a little problem with the notations B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. ( Anno Domini, or After Death) because Jesus Christ was probably not born in the year one. The person to blame for this screw up was a monk named Dionysius, which is Latin for Dennis. He was living where the Danube River dumps into the Black Sea, about the year 525 A.D., except there was no A.D. or B.C., unitl Dennis tried to figure out the future dates for Easter. Now, Christians had orignially defined Easter at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. - whenever that was - as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is usually dated as happening on March 22, except that it actually usually happens on March 21.And now you understand why Dennis wanted to nail down the correct dates for Easter.
Dennis was a pretty smart guy, and he did a really good job with the Easter thing. But in describing his fix for the Easter problem Dennis mentioned, just as an aside, that he was writing 525 years “ since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And since Dennis did not show his work, nor did he define what he meant by incarnation, we have no idea how he came up with that number. But, since he was a smart guy, and was right about the Easter thing, everybody was willing to go along with his date for the birth of Jesus, even though, as I said, it was just an off-hand comment. This is one of the problems with being divinely inspired – just clearing your throat can cause confusion.
Using the date suppplied by Dennis, and modern historical methods , it seems likely that Jesus was born sometime between 2 B.C. and 1 A.D., which must have made it difficult reserving a Chuckie Cheese for his birthday party. Those not willing to simply trust the divine Dennis have come up with two different methods of setting a birthdate. The first uses the direct accounts about the nativity (the Nativity scriptures), which provides an estimate of between 7 and 2 B.C. The second method combines the Gospel of Mathew with the very secular writings of the Jewish survivor Josephus, which produces a birthdate for baby Jesus of sometime between 6 and 4 B.C., meaning Christ could have been six years old and still have been living “Before Christ”. So, most historians have renamed those B.C. years as B.C.E., or Before the Current Era, which is shorthand for “We have all agreed to an arbitrary date because it is easier to go along with a revered mistake that to argue about how to fix it”.  And Lord knows, it is.
If you are worried that Christians seemed to have have lost track of time, you can always turn to the Hebrews, who had already calculated the date for Passover, which  just happened to fall close to Easter, B.C. The Jews, of course, had no problem with Jesus Christ - they just ignored him. And by their calculations the world began on October 7, the year one, 5,771 years ago. The only problem is their days begin at sunset. But this implys that poor Yahwah had to create a second world so that he would have an October 6 to provide him with a sunset, when he then created this world. It seems redundant to me, and I have to wonder whatever happened to those folks whose world ended on October 6 of the year 1. I guess they were using the Mayan calendar.
More than that, today most people, at least since Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Fukushima, believe in atomic decay. And measuring the decay relationships between three different lead isotopes provides an age for our planet of about 4 ½ billion years, which is a lot older than 5,771 years. The nicest thing you can say about Moses' creation story is that it it appears to be a tad inaccurate.
Muslims are not so arrogant as to believe that they can count from the very beginning of time itself, so they just borrowed the Jewish version. In order to avoid admitting this, they created a working calendar, beginning when the Prophet Mohamed fled Mecca. The day he arrived in Medina became the year 1 A.H, or Anno Higerae - in english, “After the Flight”. In Western nomencature this happened in either the year 621 or 622 C.E., making 2012 C.E. either the year 1434  or 1433 A.H. Everything clear, far?
But telling time in the Islamic world gets complicated because their months are strickly lunar and thus have a tendency to wander with regard to the sun. Islam deals with this by migrating their holidays, such as Ramadan, through the year, but slowly, moving only about a week every 19 years. In the age of The Prophet, when an average human was lucky to live past 30, that was not a problem. But public sanitation and moden medicine have complicated things so that the religious beaurocracy have been forced to come up with a justification for their wandering holidays. They now tell the devoted that the calendar meanders because The Prophet wanted it that way. This approach should work as well for Islam as it worked for Catholiticism, right up to the Protestant Reformation.
Hindus begin their day with sunrise, which they call a tisthis. Each Hindu month is 30 tithis long. But an individual tithi is not an individual day, but a measure of when the angle between the sun and the moon reaches 12 degrees. So a specific tisthi could be anything from 20 to 27 hours long. And I guess a day with less than 20 hours in it would be the antithesis.
To a Hindu the universe really began when Prince Krishna was killed by a hunter who mistook his foot for a deer. This tragic mishap occurred at midnight on the first of Prabhava , 5,111 yeas ago, or Chaitra 1, 1879, of the Saka era, both also known as midnight February 18th, 3102 B.C.E. This date was fixed by the Indian government's national reform calendar, issued on March 22, 1957, and honestly, who would want to bother arguing about any of this.
There is then, and there is now, and any calendar is a successful calendar as long as it keeps those two seperate. And really, can't we all just get along?
- 30 - 

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