From AP via the Lexington Herald-Ledger:
Posted on Mon, Jun. 19, 2006
New perplexity for U.S. schools: Should years be B.C. or B.C.E.
RICHARD N. OSTLING
Forget public schools' religious wars about intelligent design and evolution, students' religious songs and artwork, after-school Bible clubs, graduation prayers and gay sensitivity training.
The latest fuss involves letters.
The staff of Kentucky's education department proposed guidelines this year that would eliminate the conventional designations of years as B.C. ("Before Christ") or A.D. ("Anno Domini," meaning "the year of the Lord").
The proposed secular substitutes to shun references to the birth of Jesus Christ were B.C.E. ("Before the Common Era") and C.E. ("Common Era").
Several other states have shifted to that nonsectarian style in history curriculums, since it's preferred by Jews and increasingly observed by secular scholars. Biblical Archaeological Review publishes Christian, Jewish and secular authors and lets each decide which designation to follow.
The American Family Association has campaigned for Congress to make B.C. and A.D. America's official system and defend "the birth of Christ as the dividing point of history."
In Kentucky, after some uproar, the state's Board of Education approved an April compromise to list both options: "B.C./B.C.E." or "A.D./C.E." That alphabet soup didn't satisfy cultural traditionalists, whose complaints were supported by Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
The conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky accused the board of "capitulation to the winds of political correctness." The group said "in recent years we have seen more and more attempts to hide the influence of religion in our history. Our schools should not be in the business of hiding things from students."
The former president of Kentucky's Baptist convention, Hershel York, said "this is one more event in a full frontal assault on western and Christian values."
But the director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, Nancy Jo Kemper, saw no reason to fret and found it "absurd" to claim that Christianity is under assault. Schools were simply adopting initials that are increasingly "used in the secular world and in academic circles," she said.
The board reconsidered matters at its mid-June meeting and decided to remove "B.C.E." and "C.E." from date references in Kentucky's official "Program of Studies," though teachers are free to note this option in the classroom.
The same issue flared several years ago when some Roman Catholic publications adopted the B.C.E./C.E. scheme.
The conservative New Oxford Review found the nonsectarian substitution rather silly. "One is left wondering just what happened between B.C.E. and C.E. to flip history into a new epoch. Something must have happened. What was it? And why are certain people so determined to keep mum about it? ... What is common about the 'Common Era'?"
The calculation of Jesus' birth year originated in 525 with the monk Dionysius Exiguus ("Denis the Little") but didn't become popular in Europe until the eighth century through the influence of the Venerable Bede, an English theologian.
An odd aspect of the calculation is that Jesus Christ was born "before Christ." That is, today's experts agree that Dionysius erred and Jesus wasn't born in A.D. 1 but before that. (Denis used no zero year.)
The Bible offers these clues:
Luke's Gospel says John the Baptist began preaching in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, which began in A.D. 14, and an unspecified time later Jesus began preaching when he "was about 30 years of age" (Luke 3:1, 23). That sets the general period but not the year.
Matthew and Luke report that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still king. By most reckonings, Herod died in what we now call 4 B.C. or 5 B.C.; some put it later though still "Before Christ."
But historical writers avoid other dating systems, following the explicitly Christian years or the same numbers under the "Common" euphemism.
_Judaism reckons time from the traditional creation of the world (or in some interpretations, of humanity) by which this is the year 5766.
_Islam divides history from Muhammad's hijra (flight) from Mecca to Medina, according to which this is the year 1427. The faith's lunar calendar has shorter years than those on the solar Jewish and Christian calendars.