Sunday, March 8, 2015

The 600 Year Prophecy of the Birth of Christ (Howlers # 26 )

The Book of Mormon locates the birth of Christ too late in the world's history to harmonize with the Bible, claiming that Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah's reign, (1st Book of Nephi, chap. 1) and that Christ's birth was six hundred years from that epoch.

William Sheldon, Mormonism Examined (1876), 9.

The chronology of the Book of Mormon is quite at fault when compared with the dates now accepted by biblical scholars. The Book of Mormon places the departure of Lehi from Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4), the years that follow are carefully counted from that date . . . . Now scholars are agreed that the first year of Zedekiah was in 597-596 B.C., and counting 600 years from that time would date the birth of Christ in the year 4-5 A.D. But the date best attested for the birth of Christ is 6 B.C.

Paul Jones, The Bible and the Book of Mormon (1912), 5.

Smith was unaware that Zedekiah must be dated at 597 B.C. instead of the 600 B.C. date the Book of Mormon assigns him. He was unaware that the birth of Christ must now be placed some time prior to 4 B.C., . . .  so he wove into his fabric of the book a modern chronological error. The error was Dionysius Exiguus', who set up the present system of dating time from the birth of Christ in the sixth century A.D. He mistakenly equated A.D. 1 with the Roman year 754 (A.U.C.), whereas Herod the Great had died four years earlier in the Roman year 750 (A.U.C.); or in 4 B.C. by our present dating system. The only way scholars can correct this error is to date the actual birth of Christ prior to 4 B.C., yielding less than 593 years between Zedekiah and the birth of Jesus.

Wesley Walters, Examiner, Independence, Missouri, 17 September, 1977.

In his work, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John Sorenson wrote:

Both by prophecy (1 Nephi 10:4; 19:8; 2 Nephi 25:19) and by Nephite historical reckoning (3 Nephi 1:1) the American scripture allots “600 years” for the interval between Lehi’s departure in Zedekiah’s first year and the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet secular historical records allow no more than about 593 years (597 B.C. to 4 B.C.) between these events.

Sorenson notes that among the Maya, whose calendar is the one we know best, there were at least three ways in which years were calculated. One of these was the tun a year consisting of 360 days.

Suppose the Nephites used the same system of counting time as the Maya. The prophesied “six hundred years” in that reckoning would constitute precisely one and one half baktuns (thirty katuns), a neat total of 216.000 days. But this count of 600 tun “years” would be about 3,156 days shorter than the total using our sidereal year today (approximately 365 days, 6 hours, 9 minutes, and 9.54 seconds long). In other words, “600 years” by the Maya tun method of calculating time would turn out 8.64 years shorter than “600 years” than today’s conventional sense. If we mark off 600 tun years from Zedekiah’s first year, 597-596 B.C., 216,000 brings us into the year overlapping 5-4 B.C., an acceptable date for Christ’s birth. . . .

If the Nephite “year” had been the same as our present year of 365+ days, then the Book of Mormon prophecies and its history as well would be in error, for from Zedekiah to Christ’s birth is in fact not 600 but closer to 592 of our solar years. But if we suppose that the Nephites used the method of calculating time that was standard in southern Mesoamerica, where ther Nephite lands must lie, then 600 of the 360-day tun years used there matches rather neatly the apparent interval from Zedekiah to Christ. Not only is the “problem” eliminated, but we obtain an important perspective of the Nephites’ use of the calendar system that prevailed in their geographical and cultural setting
(John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 1985, 272-274).

In a more recent and very careful evaluation of the historical evidence Thomas Wayment concluded that most likely, “his birth took place between the spring and winter of 5 B.C.” (Thomas A. Wayment, “The Birth and Death Dates of Jesus Christ,” in Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment, eds., The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, From Bethlehem Through the Sermon on the Mount (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 394; See also Lincoln H. Blumell and Thomas A. Wayment, “When Was Jesus Born? A Response to a Recent Proposal,” BYU Studies 51/3 [2012]: 53-81).

Critics of the Book of Mormon felt that the issue of the six hundred year prophecy was important enough to dismiss the Book of Mormon as fiction, yet subsequent research suggests that it fits rather nicely into what we know about Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chronology. Those who have never given the matter of the Book of Mormon much attention, or are prone to dismiss it out of hand, may wonder, if Joseph Smith wrote it, how he happened to get this and other significant points right. They might also give prayerful and serious consideration to the proposition that the Book of Mormon may be exactly what it purports to be.

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