Posts Tagged ‘calendars’

Happy Conspiratorial New Year

Posted in General on December 30th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Happy New Year–but it is not the year you think!

Anno DominiAccording to the most charitable calculation, our A.D. chronology is off by at least four years. The mistake dates back to the early sixth century. Until then, even the Church was using the pagan calendar. That chronology was based on the legendary founding of Rome; as a cross-reference, it also cited whichever sycophant or relative of the emperor was serving as a Roman consul. For example, if you check the Vatican archives, the notarized date for the Nicene Creed should read “in the 1,078th year of Rome and the term of Sextus Anicus Paulinus.” (Who? Exactly. The Emperor wouldn’t have trusted him, otherwise.)

Western Civilization obviously needed a shorter and less pagan date. In the 1278th year of Rome (alias A.D. 525), the Church finally converted its calendar. The new chronology, based upon the birth of Jesus, was calculated by a Byzantine monk named Dionysius Exiguus. Dionysius is not the most trustworthy name for a mathematician or a monk. In fairness, however, the poor guy was working with Roman numerals. (MCCLXXVII minus DXXV =…) It is amazing that his chronology was wrong by only four years.

He reckoned that Jesus was born in the 753rd year of Rome; that year was christened Anno Domini I. Unfortunately Dionysius had not bothered to check his answer with the New Testament or any of the Roman histories available at the local Byzantine library. The Bible is quite specific that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, Rome’s designated thug of Judea. But Herod died in the 750th year of Rome, four years before Dionysius’ timetable would have permitted it. So by A.D. 1 Jesus was hardly an infant; he may have been halfway to His Bar Mitzvah. The Church apparently caught the error, because Dionysius was not made a saint. Yet, it never corrected that mistake. The Church seems to be quite ecumenical about arithmetic.

Ironically, the Reformation never publicized the mistake, either. Consider how the Protestants initially rejected the Gregorian Calendar, preferring the less accurate but un-Catholic Julian calendar. They could have taunted the Church, “We may be 11 days off but you Papists are wrong by four years.” Yet, the followers of Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and John Knox were surprisingly silent. You would expect them to wish you a dour but mathematically precise New Year.

No, all of Christendom went along with the cover-up. The secret was confined to faculty lounges. Then Johannes Kepler broke the silence. In 1613-14 the mathematician published his exposé De Vero Anno quo Aeternus Dei Filius Humanam Naturam in Utero Benedictae Virginis Mariae Assumpsit. Of course, the only people who even understood the title were college professors and Jesuits, and it was no secret to them. His book was not worth burning, even in Spain. Kepler would have to become famous for astronomy.

Since then, historians mention the chronological error as a point of pedantic pride. They are indisputably right and best ignored. In this case, the truth would be messy. The four-year discrepancy is rooted in our world. If Anno Domini is not a standard of history, it is a matter of faith for many, and a matter of convenience for all.

Happy New Year!

Posted in General on September 13th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

It is the Jewish New Year. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mel Gibson haven’t wished us away yet.

The stereotype of Jewish intelligence is clearly refuted by our ridiculous calendar. Any attempt at explanation would induce complete befuddlement and possible psychosis. The Jewish calendar is probably just another of God’s zany torments of His Chosen People.

God commanded Abraham to slay his son Isaac. The faithful Abraham prepared to make the sacrifice, But an angel stayed Abraham’s hand. The angel said, “Spare your son, and observe this calendar instead.” And Abraham begged, “Really, it would be easier to kill the boy.”

If the Jewish calendar can’t be intelligible, at least it could be cute. Look what the Chinese have done with a menagerie of symbols. The year of the dragon, the snake…

In fact, we could simply translate the Chinese zodiac into its Jewish equivalents.

The Rat=MBAs and personal injury lawyers

The Ox=Jews in bathing suits in Florida

The Tiger=Hadassah chairlady/family tyrant (Ayn Rand)

The Rabbit=Most of us in gym class

The Dragon=Jewish American Princess

The Snake=Neo-Conservatives

The Horse=Shiksa in-law towering over her husband (Mrs. Henry Kissinger)

The Goat=long-suffering schlemiel who insists on telling you everything that’s wrong with his business and his health.

The Monkey=Show biz!

The Rooster=The family’s most egotistical success (usually married to the Horse)

The Dog=The primary reason we remain a minority group (Pug Dog=sometimes rhinoplasty helps)

The Pig=When it comes to table manners, we are never confused with Episcopalians. (But who worries about the right fork when you are devouring pure cholesterol.)

The Ides of March

Posted in On This Day on March 15th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Imagine yourself a tourist in ancient Rome and you wanted to buy 15 postcards (the ones using mosaics were impressive but the postage was exorbitant). Of course, you would tell the shopkeeper, I’d like Ides, please. If he were obliging, he would lift his tunic. Otherwise, he would think you a babbling idiot.

You see, Ides does not mean 15. It rather refers to the full moon by which the old Roman calendar divided the month. The similarity between month and moon is not a coincidence.

Ancient Rome was built on seven hills and an absurd lunar calendar. The Roman year had ten months as well another sixty days in winter that didn’t count. Be fair: if you were stuck using Roman numerals, you’d resort to any short cut, too. Such a slovenly, lackadaisical calendar might suit a small Tiber village or modern Italy, but not a growing empire. The government decided to organize the dead time into two new months: Ianuarius and Februarius.

That improved the bookkeeping but not the accuracy of the calendar. The Roman year was 355 days. As Rome expanded, it was coming into contact with more sophisticated systems. The Greeks had realized that a sun-based calendar was more accurate. Yet, out of self-reverence, for six centuries Rome adhered to its ridiculous calendar.

But that outdated calendar was just one tradition that Julius Caesar intended to end. While in Alexandria, Caesar was seduced by more than just Cleopatra. The city was the think tank of the ancient world. Greek science and Babylonian mathematics had produced a calendar of unequaled precision. Caesar was so impressed that he decided to impose it on the Roman world. And for some reason, people called it the Julian calendar.

(Alexandria’s scientific community also successfully promoted a chronological concept called the “week.” The seven-day period once had been dismissed as just another Jewish idiosyncrasy. But when Alexandria adopted the idea, everyone loved it.)

The Julian calendar went into effect on January 1, 45 B.C. If the Roman traditionalists had any objections, they certainly expressed them on March 15, 44 B.C.

The Politics of Science

Posted in General, On This Day on February 22nd, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

We know that the White House ignores all the evidence of evolution, global warning and gravity. When the truth is inconvenient, and the facts are incriminating, one can find great solace in ignorance. There are times and societies where stupidity is a dogma. For example, in 16th century Spain the Inquisition regarded the practice of reading on a Saturday as suspiciously Jewish. And you know how the Inquisition dealt with suspicions. People can be as flammable as books.

And in our time, General Pinochet had similar suspicions for similar reasons. During his tyranny, Chile’s colleges were discouraged from teaching the Theory of Relativity. Albert Einstein apparently was not a practicing Catholic. (However, Pinochet was quite enthusiastic about the economic ideas of Milton Friedman, but then those people are so good at usury.)

Now lest I be picketed by the Knights of Columbus, I must mention an example of willful ignorance by Protestant liberals. In 1582, the Catholic Church presented an updated and far more accurate version of the calendar. However, Protestant England refused to acknowledge the improvement, as if there were a Jesuit lurking behind every page of the calendar. Of course, naming the calendar for Pope Gregory was not exactly ecumenical either. Rather than give a Catholic credit for anything, England adhered to the old Julian calendar. (Apparently, an inaccurate pagan was preferable to an accurate Catholic.)

Finally, in 1752 Britain begrudgingly adopted the Gregorian Calendar. At least, the American Colonies did not revolt over that; but it was a confusing transistion. For example, George Washington had to adjust the celebration of his birthday. The twenty-year-old thought he had been born on February 11th. According to the new calendar, however, he should have been celebrating on February 22nd.

And most of us will honor him today. The White House may still think that it is February 11th.