29 January 2019

Just checking ...

I was recently offered a comment which stated that the enumeration of years as BCE and CE (rather than BC and AD) is of Jewish origin. I was not aware of this narrative, and I have comment on hold.. I will return to consideration of it when readers have instructed me, giving references!

16 comments:

bedwere said...

A friend of mine uses BCE and CE, but meaning (Before) Christian Era.

William Arthurs said...

This could have been a promising lead, in that it is quite specific and therefore straightforward to check:

The first use of "common era" in English dates to the 1708 publication of The History of the Works of the Learned or An Impartial Account of Books Lately Printed in all Parts of Europe with a Particular Relation of the State of Learning in Each Country printed for one H. Rhodes in London. The phrase appears in a sentence from page 513 which mentions "the fourth century of the common era".

As Dr Routh said, it's always good practice to verify your references. That phrase does not appear on p. 513 of The History of the Works of the Learned, nor do I find it on any other page.

I am getting the whiff of internet disinformation on this subject, as there usually is over bones of contention !

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Fathers. ABS thinks that B.C.E. is to be assumed to be intended to be attached to any official document promulgated in Rome since 1965.

B. C. E. = Best Council Ever.

bob said...

Having the greatest contempt for Wikipaedia it does however give this link to an 1856 Jewish book which has it...

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=r7CbDH5hTe8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=CE+BCE&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=CE%20BCE&f=false

ccc said...

I found an old New York Times article that mentions this....

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/17/magazine/bc-ad-or-bce-ce.html

Steve Perisho said...

For what very little it may be worth (given that I have not looked beyond this for any real scholarship), the first example of the use of the abbreviation "C.E." (actually "C.Æ.") currently given by the OED is this one, from Lindo's Jewish calendar of 1838 (hopefully you can get in): https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hxi6j4;view=1up;seq=5.

But then the dates in the OED are always being pushed back, and I am speaking only of the abbreviation anyway.

Michael Ostling (https://isearch.asu.edu/profile/2746836), writing in History today in 2009, claimed that Kepler used the phrase "anno aerae nostrae vulgaris" in 1615, and that uses of the English phrase (?) "common era" can be found in the 18th century. So undoubtedly there is a much more complicated story here than even Ostling lets on.

Indeed, I've just searched both Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the first of which would cover only the British Isles (i.e. not the rest of Christian Europe), I believe. The earliest hit in the former I came up with was a reference to "the common aera of the Christians" by the Huguenot Jean Daillé in 1675. The earliest hit in the latter (if I've searched it effectively) comes from the Rev. John Savage, writing in 1702: "He was the first that made use of the Date or common Æra of Christ in his Decrees".

What is more, I doubt that either EEBO or ECCO contain everything that has been digitized in recent decades.

Steve Perisho said...

Mr. Arthurs: It's there on p. 513 of vol. 10, which was published in 1708: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hxj9tg;view=1up;seq=535 (I realize that those outside of the US may have trouble with that link).

Steve Perisho said...

For what very little it may be worth (given that I have not looked beyond this for any real scholarship), the first example of the use of the abbreviation "C.E." (actually "C.Æ.") currently given by the OED is this one, from Lindo's Jewish calendar of 1838 (hopefully you can get in): https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hxi6j4;view=1up;seq=5.

But then the dates in the OED are always being pushed back, and I am speaking only of the abbreviation anyway.

Michael Ostling (https://isearch.asu.edu/profile/2746836), writing in History today in 2009, claimed that Kepler used the phrase "anno aerae nostrae vulgaris" in 1615, and that uses of the English phrase (?) "common era" can be found in the 18th century. So undoubtedly there is a much more complicated story here than even Ostling lets on.

Indeed, I've just searched both Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the first of which would cover only the British Isles (i.e. not the rest of Christian Europe), I believe. The earliest hit in the former I came up with was a reference to "the common aera of the Christians" by the Huguenot Jean Daillé in 1675. The earliest hit in the latter (if I've searched it effectively) comes from the Rev. John Savage, writing in 1702: "He was the first that made use of the Date or common Æra of Christ in his Decrees".

What is more, I doubt that either EEBO or ECCO contain everything that has been digitized in recent decades.

Arthur L. Gallagher said...

The terms CE and BCE are offensive, and are an attempt to deny The Christ, and the origin of the dividing line between the two eras.

In fact, they have been officially condemned, but I do not have the citation.

orate fratman said...

@ ABS, I'm glad I did not have my coffee yet, or my laughter would have sent it all over my shirt. That is funnier than watching a Vatican II bishop trying to pronounce the phrase "Hypostatic Union."

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. If your readers were to do an Ngram search for BCE at google, the search would yield interesting results.

https://tinyurl.com/y7ma88jn

The NY Times piece in 1997 seems a reasonable response to the querulous question about whether or not to use BCE.

Readers would do well to click in the google books collections appearing beneath the graph.

ABS is of the opinion that Catholics should preserve the Christian habit of using A.D. with the sole exception of Christians being permitted to use BCE when referring to 1962-1965; Bestest Council Ever.

GOR said...

I have not researched the issue and just assumed it was a result of the secularization of the ‘Common Era’. It is frequently found on BBC programs, which may be indicative…

Adam 12 said...

Why not just style them...
Before the Christian Era and...
Christian Era...

Not ideal, of course, but a pushback...

Oliver Nicholson said...

The central problem with CE and BCE is that a very simple typographical error causes the abbreviation to mean the exact opposite of what is intended.
Anyway, as Professor Garth Fowden of Cambridge pointed out in his learned inaugural lecture a few years ago, there is no Common Era, as every religious group has its own era, whether Jewish, Islamic (two there - lunar and solar, the latter used in Persia under the Shah), the Zoroastrian Era of Yazdagerd, the Era of the Greeks (curiously used by writers of Syriac), the Era of the Martyrs (olim 'of Diocletian') used by Copts, the Byzantine Era of the Creation, Eusebius's Year of Abraham and so on....

Jack said...

The late Rabbi Jacob Neusner used BC and CE. I assume he used the latter because using AD would imply that Jesus was Lord, but using the standard for the former would not imply anything offensive to Jews.

Admin and Student said...

Thank you for raising this matter, and thanks to all the informative commenters!
Following up on Steve Perisho's comments, a quick search discovers:

https://www.worldcat.org/title/joannis-keppleri-eclogae-chronicae-ex-epistolis-doctissimorum-aliquot-virorum-suis-mutuis-quibus-examinantur-tempora-nobilissima-1-herodis-herodiadumque-2-baptismi-ministerii-christi-annorum-non-plus-2-14-3-passionis-mortis-et-resurrectionis-dn-n-iesu-christi-anno-aerae-nostrae-vulgaris-31-non-ut-vulgo-33-4-belli-iudaici-quo-funerata-fuit-cum-ierosolymis-templo-synagoga-iudaica-sublatumque-vetus-testamentum-inter-alia-commentarius-in-locum-epiphanii-obscurissimum-de-cyclo-veteri-iudaeorum/oclc/62188677

and

https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_rrkRjuY3p0gC/page/n4
Following up on Oliver Nicholson’s comment, I note Professor Fowden’s Faculty Directory entry includes “Professor Fowden gave his inaugural lecture in the Faculty of Divinity on 4 December 2013. There are video, audio, and print versions available”:
https://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/directory/garth-fowden

I wonder in how far the attested early uses had related abbreviations in use?

Was Kepler’s "anno aerae nostrae vulgaris" ever (commonly) abbreviated 'A.A.N.V.'?

And, was Jean Daillé's "common aera of the Christians" and/or the Rev. John Savage's "common Æra of Christ" ever (commonly) abbreviated (something like) "C.A.C." or "C.E.C."?

And, before or after the 1708 History of the Works of the Learned "common Era" was this ever (commonly) abbreviated "C.E."?
I have not yet availed myself of any of the opportunities to enjoy Professor Fowden’s inaugural lecture, but delight to have read what Reginald L. Poole had to say in Mediaeval Reckonings of Time (London: SPCK, 1921 reprint of 1918 ed.) including (pp. 39-40) that the setting the years “out from the Incarnation of Jesus Christ” by Dionysius Exiguus “calculated from one of the slightly discrepant dates which were computed to indicate the year of our Lord’s birth […] never, in fact, became an Era until it was employed as a chronological note in English charters late in the seventh century, and was adopted by Bede in his ‘Church of the English Race.’
“The Year of Grace, therefore – to use the name familiar in England – is an English invention. From England it travelled to the Continent, probably in company of St. Boniface. It was inserted in documents and annals. Afterwards it was taken up by the Frankish Kings and Emperors; and from their chancery it passed into that of the Popes, for a few years in the tenth century and normally from 1048. It was the only Era in use in the West outside Spain, and it had no serious competitors.”

Patrimony!
A Venerator of the Venerable Bede