Thursday, October 1, 2009

BC/AD vs. BCE/CE: Pitre + Wrong = Right

[Correction: Michael Barber was not the author of the post over at the Sacred Page - it was Brant Pitre! Whoops. Apologies to both.]

Robert Cargill's article in The Bible and Interpretation has triggered discussion on whether one should use BC/AD or BCE/CE, as Cargill argues.

Brant Pitre offers what I take to be an insightful criticism of the BCE/CE label:

The primary reason is that "B.C.E." and "C.E." are vacuous: they don't mean
anything. What actually is the "common era"? Can anyone actually tell me what is
"common" about the years 1-the present? And what was it that happened "before
the common era" so as to make it, well, 'un-common'?
It seems to mean the terminological shift is nothing but a rather facile attempt to take a dating
system which clearly places the Incarnation at the center of human history and
secularize it. But the attempt ultimately fails, since whether you use
B.C.E/C.E. or B.C./A.D., the Incarnation is still at the center of the system.
There's no other identifiable historical event that marks the transition from
one age to the other, whatever one concludes about the chronological controversy
regarding exact calendar date of Jesus' birth.

Pitre goes on to add: "If others find this confession of faith in the Incarnation offensive, then it seems to me that the consistent thing to do would be to create entirely different system, a secular system of dating that is based on some other event--rather than cloaking a Christocentric calendar in secular clothes."

Interestingly, N.T. Wrong makes a similar argument (as cited by Mark Goodacre):

By using ‘C.E.’ and B.C.E.’, we universalize a peculiar tradition. We make it
out to be ‘common’ or ‘natural’, not requiring any special marking or
qualification. As a consequence of the fact of Western power, the Gregorian
calendar has been adopted as the most-used calendar in the world, and so does
have some degree of ‘commonality’ in day-to-day use. But the change from A.D. to
C.E. (and from B.C. to B.C.E.) obscures the particular Christian basis of this
‘common’ calendar, misrepresenting it as ‘normal’ - as somehow transcending
historical particularities. By contrast, the other calendars are made out to be
the only ‘localized’ and ‘particular’ calendars. While the Christian calendar is
‘naturalized’ by its designation as ‘common’, other calendars (Jewish, Persian,
Islamic, Chinese, Hindu, Ethiopian, Thai, etc) are ‘artificial’ and
‘contingent’.Stop this neo-colonialism! Use A.D. and B.C. again!! The specific
marking of these older terms, which refers to the Christian concept of ‘Christ’,
may well be offensive to some people. But this offence is substantial and
systemic, not removeable by changing the name of the year which is dated from
the birth of Christ. The hegemony of the Western calendar is a fact, and just
one of the many effects of Western power in the world today — a minor but not
insignificant fact, given the universal importance of local calendars in shaping
culture. To obscure the Western calendar’s particularity by making it into a
false universal is a double injustice – both the initial violence of changing
local calendars, and then its covering up with the misleading term “common”.
This is ideology at work.

What does all this mean? I think I just proved that Brant Pitre is N. T. Wrong.


  1. Well played. Well played, indeed.

  2. Fat chance. He's not remotely as intellectually sophisticated as Wrong ;-)

    I think I'll call it BJ and AJ, or even A(apoproximately)BJ and AAJ in view of the grumbling over BCE and CE.

    steph l f

  3. Did you mean intellectually sophistic?

  4. Ha! No typo, no. More widely learned and intellectually sophisticated than any biblioblogger by far... :-)


  5. i told you i'd seen those comments before..... ;-)
    but who am i to go tracking down the identity of anonymous persons??? ;-)