BC or BCE?

While we were editing the June 2009 History special issue of Pragati, one of the questions that came up was the notation to represent dates: should it be BC or BCE.? Since Pragati follows the Economist style guide, BC was chosen. Though you see BCE a lot more than BC, I have listened to a lecture series from UC Berkeley where the instructor justified using BCE whereas another instructor from UC San Diego justified the use of BC.

The issue with terminology like BC and AD is that it is connected to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Robert Cargill of UCLA argues that Christians should switch to BCE/CE system since it would actually help them

Insisting that the world use a calendar based upon the birth of Jesus only exacerbates the internal biblical inconsistencies of dating the birth of Jesus. Therefore, it would be better for all people — Christians and non-Christians alike — to adopt the BCE/CE system of dating. While it was originally supposedly based upon the date of Jesus ‘birth, it in fact was not, but is rather loosely tied to events in the Roman Empire during that time that we can arbitrarily refer to as the beginning of a modern, common era. The BC/AD system no more accurately reflects the reality of Jesus’ life than does Monty Python’s The Life of Brian [Why Christians Should Adopt the BCE/CE Dating System]

The BC/AD system is wrong when it is connected to the birth of Jesus because he was not born in the year 0, or 1 BC or 1 AD; he was born either 4 or 6 or 7 years before 0. But does writing BCE instead of BC remove Jesus? Even though the words Before Common Era may not be as explicit as Before Christ, he is still lurking around in those dates. It is also not clear how switching to BCE will remove the internal biblical inconsistencies like if he was born during the reign of Herod the Great or Quirinius. One thing is sure: it is better to say Jesus was born in 6 BCE rather than 6 years Before Christ.

Though there are some academics who still use BC, the BCE/CE system is gaining acceptance.

The Smithsonian Institution prefers Common Era usage, though individual museums are not required to use it. Furthermore, several style guides now prefer or mandate its usage.Even some style guides for Christian churches prefer its use: for example, the Episcopal Diocese Maryland Church News. In the United States, the usage of the BCE/CE notation in textbooks is growing. Some publications have moved over to using it exclusively. For example, the 2007 World Almanac was the first edition to switch over to the BCE/CE usage, ending a 138-year usage of the traditional BC/AD dating notation. It is used by the College Board in its history tests, by the Norton Anthology of English Literature, and by the United States Naval Observatory. Others have taken a different approach. The US-based History Channel uses BCE/CE notation in articles on non-Christian religious topics such as Jerusalem and Judaism. [Common Era]

If that doesn’t convince you, even Jehovah’s Witnesses – the folks who don’t believe in evolution– have switched. Shouldn’t you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *