Buddhist-Christian Studies 20 (2000) iii-iv
[Access article in PDF]
Aren't we a year late with a "millennium editorial?" "I thought that was last year," most people would probably say. Certain diehards, however, would congratulate us. We have the precision to recognize that because the year "zero," a year between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., was never factored into the calendar we use, the millennium is only now turning. Only with the beginning of the year 2001 have 2000 years passed since the purported birth of Jesus, it is claimed.
Others would point out that historically both claims are probably inaccurate. Empirical historical calculations tend to place the birth of Jesus at about 4 B.C. in the currently used dating system. Evidently, it would be too difficult to recalibrate all the familiar historical dates to take account of this recent calculation of the date of Jesus' birth; at least to our knowledge, no one has made such a proposal. Presumably, those most interested in dating all historical events with reference to Jesus' birth would not accept this recent proposal about the empirical date of Jesus' birth anyway. Those more likely to accept the historians' findings probably realize the inappropriateness, in a religiously plural world, of counting time backwards and forwards to and from Jesus' birth. Thus, we are likely to remain in the incongruous situation of counting time backwards and forwards from the nonexistent year "zero," even though the birth of Jesus, the rationale behind that particular method of numbering years, may have occurred some four years before the diminishing numbers turn into increasing numbers.
Those of us who are involved in and sensitive to a diversity of religious and cultural perspectives recognize the arbitrariness of both claims. A journal dedicated to Buddhist-Christian interchange must acknowledge that this reckoning of the passing of time serves only half its clientele. Whatever may be the date and the hour at which the millennium actually turns, one must nevertheless ask "Whose millennium?" The answer is embarrassingly clear and indicative of European hegemony. Now everyone in the world, at least for public purposes, counts time in accord with the majority religion of European culture, which has spread worldwide through emigration, political conquests, and economic triumphs. While watching the splendid coverage by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of millennial celebrations world-wide, I was especially struck by the irony of Israeli performances near the Dead Sea. Here, in the land where the political and religious events that led to this particular reckoning of time took place, the surviving minority, whose religious calendar would say it is 57__, were celebrating the arrival of a "new millennium" beginning with the year 2000 A.D.
Some of us who regularly teach religious history resort to the lame stopgap of [End Page iii] changing "B.C." to "B.C.E." and "A.D." to "A.C.E." At least those abbreviations are somewhat more neutral. But it never ceases to amaze that many of our Christian students do not know what even the more familiar abbreviations stand for or why "the years go backwards" in the B.C. centuries. Often, even after the implications of these abbreviations are explained to them, they have a hard time recognizing the arbitrariness involved in the simple statement, "this is the year 2000," or the political implications of that statement.
In any and every case of determining what year it is, however, one year turns into the next through the eternal rhythms of the planets and the star that is our sun, not because of any event in human history, religious or cultural. Whatever historical overlay we may put upon those rhythms, the year turns when the earth moves through its complete cycle around the sun once again. The light of the sun reaches its zenith; then its light gradually diminishes until it reaches its nadir, only to turn again, increasing as if in response to lights lit by humans to illumine the darkness and spread cheer and hope among increasingly depressed and frightened people. Along the signposts on that journey from darkness to...