The ‘mistake’ was made by a sixth century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus or in English Dennis the Small, the Pope suggests in the book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives’, published on Wednesday.
“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in the book. “The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”
In fact, many historians share the Pope’s opinion and suggest that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC.
The doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking, The Telegraph writes.
Dennis the Small, who was born in Eastern Europe, is considered to be the “inventor” of the modern calendar and the concept of the Anno Domini era.
The monk drew up the new system aiming to distance it from the calendar used at the time, which was based on the years since the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Diocletian persecuted Christians, so there was good reason to expunge him from the new dating system in favour of one inspired by the birth of Christ, The Telegraph suggests.
Dennis’s calendar became widely accepted in Europe as it was approved and adopted by the Venerable Bede, the historian-monk.
However, it’s unclear how Dennis calculated the year of Jesus’s birth and the Pope’s claim that he made a mistake is a view shared by many scholars.
The monk appears to conduct his calculations basing on vague references to Christ’s age at the start of his ministry and the fact that he was baptised in the reign of the emperor Tiberius.
John Barton, Professor of the Interpretation of the Holy Scripture at Oriel College, Oxford University, said most academics agreed with the pontiff that the used was wrong and that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly believed, probably between 6BC and 4BC.
“There is no reference to when he was born in the Bible – all we know is that he was born in the reign of Herod the Great, who died before 1AD,” he told reporters.
“It’s been surmised for a very long time that Jesus was born before 1AD – no one knows for sure.”
The idea that Christ was born on Dec 25 also has no basis in historical fact. “We don’t even know which season he was born in. The whole idea of celebrating his birth during the darkest part of the year is probably linked to pagan traditions and the winter solstice.”
By the way, in the new book the Pope also touches upon other themes and says that contrary to the traditional Nativity scene, there were no oxen or other animals at Christ’s birth.
“There is no mention of animals in the Gospels,” he wrote in the third and last volume of his biography of Jesus Christ. “No one will give up the oxen and the donkey in their Nativity scenes.”