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It wasn't on December 25 or in Bethlehem

A colleague writes to complain about a point of AP style: the insistence that A.D. should precede rather than follow a year, which he finds outrageously archaic.

It is the traditional usage. A.D. is an abbreviation for "in the year of the Lord,", so it is placed as it would occur in conversation: "in the year of the Lord 2013." B.C. follows the year, because one would say "44 [years] before Christ." And it's a usage that I enforce, reluctantly. 

I would much prefer the academic C.E. and B.C.E. for Common Era and Before Common Era

Take your hands away from the keyboard. Before you start carrying on about your fantasy that Christians are persecuted in the United States, I am not suggesting the use of C.E. and B.C.E. simply from political correctitude about the multitudes of non-Christian and non-religious citizens among us. There's more. 

For one thing, in addition of Bishop Ussher's quaint belief that the universe was created on an October morning in 4004 B.C., the Church got the date of the birth of Jesus wrong. Contemporary scholarship puts the birth of Jesus at somewhere around 6 B.C. to 4 B.C.

And (perhaps you already knew?) it wasn't on December 25. The early Christians stole the date from the Roman solstice festival of the Sol invictus, the Unconquered Sun, while they were appropriating and incorporating other pagan practices. And further (you already knew this, too?), Jesus was probably born in Nazareth, where his parents lived. The birth in Bethlehem is a story cooked up to serve various theological purposes, such as a prophecy in the Book of Micah.*

All the same, I expect that, increasing secularization notwithstanding, we are going to have A.D. and B.C. with us for some time to come. C.E. and B.C.E. bear the stink of academia, and the public at large seems to have lost what little regard for learning it ever entertained, and the AP Stylebook is apt to retain the usage out of inertia, a physical property for which it has the deepest respect. 


*A census that requires you to go to the place where you were born? Why the hell would Rome have wanted that? Rome wanted to know where you were

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