Before Common Era
Common Era (also Current Era or Christian Era), abbreviated as CE, is an alternative naming of the calendar era Anno Domini ("in the year of the/our Lord", abbreviated AD).BCE is the abbreviation for before the Common/Current/Christian Era (an alternative to Before Christ, abbreviated BC). The CE/BCE designation uses the year-numbering system introduced by the 6th-century Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus, who started the Anno Domini designation, intending the beginning of the life of Jesus to be the reference date. Neither notation includes a year zero, and the two notations (CE/BCE and AD/BC) are numerically equivalent; thus "2015 CE" corresponds to "AD 2015", and "400 BCE" corresponds to "400 BC".
The expression "Common Era" can be found as early as 1708 in English, and traced back to Latin usage among European Christians to 1615, as vulgaris aerae, and to 1635 in English as Vulgar Era. At those times, the expressions were all used interchangeably with "Christian Era". The Gregorian calendar and the year-numbering system associated with it is the calendar system with most widespread use in the world today. For decades, it has been the global standard, recognized by international institutions such as the United Nations and the Universal Postal Union.
Use of the CE abbreviation was introduced by Jewish academics in the mid-19th century. Since the later 20th century, use of CE and BCE has been popularized in academic and scientific publications and more generally by authors and publishers wishing to emphasize secularism and/or sensitivity to non-Christians, because it does not explicitly make use of religious titles for Jesus, such as "Christ" and Dominus ("Lord"), which are used in the BC/AD notation, nor does it give implicit expression to the Christian creed that Jesus was the Christ.
Among the reasons given by those who oppose the use of Common Era notation is that it is selective, as other aspects of the Western calendar have origins in various belief systems (e.g., January is named for Janus).Christian critics claim that its propagation is the result of secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism and political correctness and that it disparages Christianity. Secular critics contend that it is a euphemism for the Christian dating system and that non-Christians do not consider the birth of Jesus the beginning of a "common" era.
The year numbering system used with Common Era notation was devised by the Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus in the year 525 to replace the Era of Martyrs system, because he did not wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians. He attempted to number years from an event he referred to as the Incarnation of Jesus.
Dionysius labeled the column of the Easter table in which he introduced the new era "Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi".
Numbering years in this manner became more widespread with its usage by Bede in England in 731. Bede also introduced the practice of dating years before the supposed year of birth of Jesus, and the practice of not using a year zero. In 1422, Portugal became the last Western European country to switch to the system begun by Dionysius.
Use of the term "vulgar era"
The term "Common Era" is traced back in English to its appearance as "Vulgar Era" to distinguish it from the regnal dating systems typically used in national law.
The first use of the Latin equivalent (vulgaris aerae) discovered so far was in a 1615 book by Johannes Kepler. Kepler uses it again in a 1616 table of ephemerides, and again in 1617. A 1635 English edition of that book has the title page in English – so far, the earliest-found usage of Vulgar Era in English. A 1701 book edited by John LeClerc includes "Before Christ according to the Vulgar Æra, 6". A 1716 book in English by Dean Humphrey Prideaux says, "before the beginning of the vulgar æra, by which we now compute the years from his incarnation." A 1796 book uses the term "vulgar era of the nativity".
The first so-far-discovered usage of "Christian Era" is as the Latin phrase aerae christianae on the title page of a 1584 theology book. In 1649, the Latin phrase æræ Christianæ appeared in the title of an English almanac. A 1652 ephemeris is the first instance so-far-found for English usage of "Christian Era".
The English phrase "common Era" appears at least as early as 1708, and in a 1715 book on astronomy is used interchangeably with "Christian Era" and "Vulgar Era". A 1759 history book uses common æra in a generic sense, to refer to the common era of the Jews. The first-so-far found usage of the phrase "before the common era" is in a 1770 work that also uses common era and vulgar era as synonyms, in a translation of a book originally written in German. The 1797 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica uses the terms vulgar era and common era synonymously. In 1835, in his book Living Oracles, Alexander Campbell, wrote: "The vulgar Era, or Anno Domini; the fourth year of Jesus Christ, the first of which was but eight days", and also refers to the common era as a synonym for vulgar era with "the fact that our Lord was born on the 4th year before the vulgar era, called Anno Domini, thus making (for example) the 42d year from his birth to correspond with the 38th of the common era..." The Catholic Encyclopedia (1909) used the terms "Christian, Vulgar or Common Era" interchangeably.
The phrase "common era", in lower case, also appeared in the 19th century in a generic sense, not necessarily to refer to the Christian Era, but to any system of dates in common use throughout a civilization. Thus, "the common era of the Jews", "the common era of the Mahometans", "common era of the world", "the common era of the foundation of Rome". When it did refer to the Christian Era, it was sometimes qualified, e.g., "common era of the Incarnation", "common era of the Nativity", or "common era of the birth of Christ".
An adapted translation of Common Era into pseudo-Latin as Era Vulgaris (in Latin this means Common Mistress) was adopted in the 20th century by some followers of Aleister Crowley, and thus the abbreviation "e.v." or "EV" may sometimes be seen as a replacement for AD.
History of the use of the CE/BCE abbreviation
Although Jews have their own Hebrew calendar, they often use the Gregorian calendar.
As early as 1825, the abbreviation VE (for Vulgar Era) was in use among Jews to denote years in the Western calendar.
Common Era notation has also been in use for Hebrew lessons for "more than a century". Some Jewish academics were already using the CE and BCE abbreviations by the mid-19th century, such as in 1856, when Rabbi and historian Morris Jacob Raphall used the abbreviation in his book Post-Biblical History of The Jews.
The ratio of usage of BCE to BC, CE to AD, Common Era to Anno Domini, and Before Common Era to Before Christ in books has changed dramatically between the years 1800 and 2008, particularly since 1980, with the CE-related variants increasing in usage.
More visible uses of Common Era notation have recently surfaced at major museums in the English-speaking world: 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, and by the Norton Anthology of English Literature. 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.
In 2002, England and Wales introduced the BCE/CE notation system into the official school curriculum.
In June 2006, in the United States, the Kentucky State School Board reversed its decision that would have included the designations BCE and CE as part of state law, leaving education of students about these concepts a matter of discretion at the local level.
Also in 2011, media reports suggested that the BC/AD notation in Australian school textbooks would be replaced by BCE/CE notation. The story became national news and drew opposition from some politicians and church leaders. Weeks after the story broke, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority denied the rumour and stated that the BC/AD notation would remain, with CE and BCE as an optional suggested learning activity.
The use of CE in Jewish scholarship was historically motivated by the desire to avoid the implicit "Our Lord" in the abbreviation AD. Although other aspects of dating systems are based in Christian origins, AD is a direct reference to Jesus as Lord.
Proponents of the Common Era notation assert that the use of BCE/CE shows sensitivity to those who use the same year numbering system as the one that originated with and is currently used by Christians, but who are not themselves Christian.
"[T]he Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians. People of all faiths have taken to using it simply as a matter of convenience. There is so much interaction between people of different faiths and cultures – different civilizations, if you like – that some shared way of reckoning time is a necessity. And so the Christian Era has become the Common Era."
The label Anno Domini as such is arguably inaccurate:
"Scholars generally believe that Christ was born some years before A.D. 1, the historical evidence is too sketchy to allow a definitive dating."
Some oppose the Common Era notation for explicitly religious reasons. Because the BC/AD notation is based on the traditional year of the conception or birth of Jesus, removing reference to him in era notation is offensive to some Christians.
The Southern Baptist Convention supports retaining the BC/AD abbreviations as "a reminder of the preeminence of Christ and His gospel in world history". The Convention has criticized the use of BCE and CE as being the result of "secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness" and encourages its members to "retain the traditional method of dating and avoid this revisionism".
There are also secular concerns. English language expert Kenneth G. Wilson speculated in his style guide that "if we do end by casting aside the A.D./B.C. convention, almost certainly some will argue that we ought to cast aside as well the conventional numbering system [that is, the method of numbering years] itself, given its Christian basis." The short lived French Revolutionary Calendar, for example, began with the first year of the First French Republic and rejected the seven-day week (with its connections to the Book of Genesis) for a ten-day week.
Astrobiologist Duncan Steel argues further that if one is going to replace BC/AD with BCE/CE then one should reject all aspects of the dating system (including time of day, days of the week and months of the year), as they all have origins related to pagan, astrological, Jewish, or Christian beliefs. He rejects secular arguments against Christian-based BC/AD as selective. Steel makes note of the consistency of the Quaker system (now rarely used), which removed all such references.
Priest and writer on interfaith issues Raimon Panikkar contends that using the designation BCE/CE is a "return... to the most bigoted Christian colonialism" towards non-Christians, who do not necessarily consider the time period following the beginning of the calendar to be a "common era".
Some critics assert that the use of identifiers which have common spellings is more ambiguous than the use of identifiers with divergent spellings. Both CE and BCE have in common the letters "CE", which is more likely to cause confusion, they claim, than identifiers with clearly different spelling.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, it was a student's use of BCE/CE notation, inspired by its use within Wikipedia, which prompted the history teacher Andrew Schlafly to found Conservapedia, a cultural conservative wiki. One of its "Conservapedia Commandments" is that users must always apply BC/AD notation, since its sponsors perceive BCE/CE notation to "deny the historical basis" of the dating system.
Conventions in style guides
The abbreviation BCE, just as with BC, always follows the year number. Unlike AD, which traditionally precedes the year number, CE always follows the year number (if context requires that it be written at all). Thus, the current year is written as 2015 in both notations (or, if further clarity is needed, as 2015 CE, or as AD 2015), and the year that Socrates died is represented as 399 BCE (the same year that is represented by 399 BC in the BC/AD notation). The abbreviations are sometimes written with small capital letters, or with periods (e.g., "BCE" or "C.E."). Style guides for academic texts on religion generally prefer BCE/CE to BC/AD.
The terms "Common Era", "Anno Domini", "Before the Common Era", and "Before Christ" in contemporary English can be applied to dates that rely on either the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. Modern dates are understood in the Western world to be in the Gregorian calendar, but for older dates writers can specify the calendar used. Dates in the Gregorian calendar in the Western world have always used the era designated in English as Anno Domini or Common Era.
Similar conventions in other languages
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Several languages other than English also have both religious and non-religious ways of identifying the era used in dates. In some communist states during the Cold War period, usage of non-religious notation was mandated.
- In Angola, the abbreviations "E.C." ("Era Comum", Common Era) and "A.E.C." ("Antes da Era Comum", Before Common Era) is generally used.
- In Arabic, بعد الميلاد (After the Birth) corresponds to CE, while قبل الميلاد (Before the Birth) corresponds to BCE. The "Birth" referenced is that of Jesus. This system is in widespread use in all Arab countries, but is accompanied by the Hijri system. Dates are often given in both in that order. In Saudi Arabia, however, the Hijri system is predominant.
- In the Chinese language, common era (公元, gong yuan) has been predominantly used to refer to the western calendar without any religious connotation.
- In Danish, the terms f.Kr. (før Kristus, before Christ) and e.Kr. (efter Kristus, after Christ) have traditionally been used. They are now in free variation with f.v.t. and e.v.t. (før/efter vor tidsregning, before/after our chronology).
- In Dutch the terms v.Chr. (voor Christus, before Christ) and n.Chr. (na Christus, after Christ) have traditionally been used. There are alternatives v.g.j. and g.j. ([vóór] gangbare/gewone jaartelling, [before] conventional/ordinary chronology), v.o.j. and n.o.j. (vóór/na onze jaartelling, before/after our chronology) and v.d.g.j. and n.d.g.j. (vóór/na de gewone jaartelling, before/after the ordinary chronology), but there is still no generally accepted alternative for the Christian notation. The notation v.Chr./n.Chr. remains generally used by the media and scientists.
- In Finland, the terms eKr. (ennen Kristusta, before Christ) and jKr. (jälkeen Kristuksen, after Christ) were largely used until the 1980s but have been mostly replaced during the last couple of decades with terms eaa. (ennen ajanlaskun alkua, before start of chronology) and jaa. (jälkeen ajanlaskun alun, after start of chronology).
- In Germany, Enlightened Jews in Berlin seem to have already been using "(Before the) Common Era" in the 18th century, while others like Moses Mendelssohn opposed this usage as it would hinder the integration of Jews into German society. The formulation seems to have persisted among German Jews in the 19th century in forms like vor der gewöhnlichen Zeitrechnung (before the common chronology).
- In 1938 Nazi Germany, the use of this convention was also prescribed by the National Socialist Teachers League.
- However, it was soon discovered that many German Jews had been using the convention ever since the 18th century, and they found it ironic to see "Aryans following Jewish example nearly 200 years later".
- The German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) introduced the convention of v. u. Z. (vor unserer Zeitrechnung, before our chronology) and u. Z. (unserer Zeitrechnung, of our chronology) instead of v. Chr. (vor Christus, before Christ) and n. Chr. (nach Christus/Christi Geburt, after Christ/the Nativity of Christ). The use of these terms persists in contemporary German to some extent, differing regionally and ideologically. In Jewish contexts mostly "v. d. Z." ("vor der Zeitenwende") and "n. d. Z." ("nach der Zeitenwende") is used.
- In Hebrew, the most common term used to refer to BCE/CE is simply לספירה (according to the count) for CE, and לפני הספירה (before the count) for BCE. An alternative term, expressing an ideological (sometimes religious) approach aimed at distancing oneself from the source of the count, is למניינם (according to their count). The later is sometimes added after the former, especially in the case of BCE (e.g., שנת 150 לפני הספירה למנינם), due to technical linguistic reasons.
- In Hungary, similarly to the Bulgarian case, i. e. (időszámításunk előtt, before our era) and i. sz. (időszámításunk szerint, according to our era) are still widely used instead of traditional Kr. e. (Krisztus előtt, Before Christ) and Kr. u. (Krisztus után, After Christ), which were unofficially reinstituted after the Communist period.
- In Indonesia, the terms SM. (Sebelum Masehi, before Masehi, from Arabic word of Masih, referred to Jesus) and M. (Masehi, after Masehi) were generally used.
- In Italy, "e.v." ("Era Volgare" from Latin expression "Aera Vulgaris") and p.e.v. ("Prima dell'Era Volgare", before vulgar era) may be used (both in small fonts), but the historical A.C./D.C. (Avanti Cristo/Dopo Cristo, before Christ/after Christ) are much more frequent.
- In Japanese, years reckoned by the Western calendar as opposed to the Japanese Imperial eras are indicated by, for example, 西暦2013年, where 西暦 (seireki) literally means "Western calendar" which carries no religious connotation, aside from the fact that Christianity is a Western religion. 紀元前 (kigenzen) is used to mean "before the common era (BCE)." "A.D.", and less commonly, "C.E.", are also occasionally seen, but the typical Japanese person would not care about the religious connotations.
- In Korean, 기원전(紀元前, giwonjeon), which means "preceding the [Western] era", is used to indicate years BCE. 서기(西紀, seogi), "Western era", short for 서력기원(西暦紀元, seoryeokgiwon), meaning "[from] the origin year of the Western calendar", is used to indicate years CE. Christians use 주후 (juhu), meaning "after [the birth of] the Lord", as a shorthand calque of Anno Domini.
- In Poland the only term generally used is naszej ery/przed naszą erą (of our era/before our era). The terms przed Chrystusem/po Chrystusie (before Christ/after Christ) and roku Pańskiego (year of the Lord) are possible but almost never used in contemporary Poland.
- In Romania, throughout most of the communist period, the preferred standard was to use the secularised î. e. n. (înaintea erei noastre, before our era) and e. n. (era noastră, our era). After the downfall of communism in the Romanian Revolution, the original convention using î. Hr. (înainte de Hristos, before Christ) and d. Hr. (după Hristos, after Christ) has become more widespread. Alternatively, î. Cr. and d. Cr. are used, mainly due to an alternative spelling of Hristos (Christ) as Cristos, the latter being preferred by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches.
- In Russia, the terms до н.э. (до нашей эры, before our era) and н.э. (нашей эры, our era) are often used. Their use was nearly universal during the Soviet rule, and while their use in mass media has to some extent been replaced by their Christian equivalents, the BCE/CE terms remain the strongly preferred version in scientific literature, business magazines and other "serious" texts.
- In Spanish, EC (Era Común) is used for CE, while AEC (antes de la Era Común) is equivalent to BCE.
- In Swedish the terms f.Kr. (före Kristus, before Christ) and e.Kr. (efter Kristus, after Christ) have traditionally been used. They are seldomly replaced by f.v.t. and e.v.t. (före/enligt vår tidräkning, before/according to our chronology).
- In Turkish, the terms M.Ö. (Milattan Önce, before the birth (of Jesus)) and M.S. (Milattan Sonra, after the birth (of Jesus)) are commonly used. İ.Ö. (İsa'dan Önce, before Jesus) and İ.S. (İsa'dan Sonra, after Jesus) can also be seen in academic writing.
- In Welsh, OC can be expanded to equivalents of both AD (Oed Crist) and CE (Oes Cyffredin); for dates before the Common Era, CC (traditionally, Cyn Crist) is used exclusively, as Cyn yr Oes Cyffredin would abbreviate to a mild obscenity.
- Ante Christum Natum
- Before present
- Calendar era
- Calendar reform
- Human Era
- List of calendars