The Venerable Bede has much to answer for …

In these days when political correctness matters, as does equality, non-discrimination and sensitivity about giving offence, we refer to dates as being either BCE – before the common era, or CE – in the common era. Previously of course, in the days when the Christian Church called many of the shots across much of the world, the convention was to speak about BC – before Christ, or AD – anno domini, in the year of the Lord. This convention, however, didn’t begin in 1 AD.  

It began in the 8th century, and was the brainchild of the Venerable Bede, a Dominican monk from the Monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria in north-east England. He used this new system of dating for the first time in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”. 

Unfortunately, he’s also responsible for the fact that there’s no year 0 in the calendar, even though 0 had been on the go since around 3 BC. This meant the first ‘decade’ wasn’t one, being only 9 years long, and his grasp of maths doesn’t seem to have foreseen the arguments this would later fuel when there’s a change from one millennium to the next.

Another little glitch has to do with the birth date of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus was born while Herod was still King of Judea, he wasn’t born in 1 AD. Herod died in 4 BC, which means that Christ was born before Christ, by 4 or 5 years. If the Venerable Bede is looking down from above, I hope his saintly face can manage a smile.

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