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New Theory Says Jesus Born in Summer of Year 12 B.C.

December 19, 1985

BETHLEHEM, Occupied West Bank (AP) _ New archaeological evidence indicates Jesus may have been born in late summer or early fall of the year 12 B.C., and the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem was Halley’s comet.

Although the theory would dash traditional Christian beliefs about the timing of Jesus’ birth, Biblical scholar Jim Fleming said at least the location of his birth, near the present-day Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, appears to be correct.

Fleming, a native of East Meadow, N.Y., lectures on historical geography and archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is dean of the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies, a non-profit educational institute.

He founded the non-denominational center 10 years ago to offer Bible courses for Protestant ministers, Roman Catholic priests and lay school teachers.

Scholars in the 4th century used New Testament references to choose Dec. 25, the year 1 A.D. as the birthdate of Jesus.

″But it appears they made a mistake in guessing,″ the 42-year-old Fleming said during a seminar with students and journalists sponsored by the government press office in cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

Fleming said his theory about the timing of Jesus’ birth was based in part on an unpublished work by Jerry Vardaman, professor of archaeology at the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University, in Starkville, Miss.

Modern scholars have found evidence indicating Jesus was born before 1 A.D., including a reference in the Book of Matthew that says King Herod was alive at the time of the Messiah’s birth, Fleming said. Herod is believed to have died in 4 B.C., he said.

In addition, Fleming said, scholars recently have found that the census which the Book of Luke said brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem probably was conducted in 12 B.C.

A tablet known as the Aemilius Secundus inscription, discovered 300 years ago in Beirut, Lebanon, has recently been deciphered, and scholars found that a census was ordered by Quirinius, the governor of Syria, in 12 B.C., Fleming said.

Vardaman, interviewed by telephone, concurred with Fleming’s interpretation of his work. He added that the Aemilius Secundus inscription tablet is now in Italy at the Venice Museum.

The Book of Luke says the census that sent Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was carried out while Quirinius was governor.

According to Luke, the couple traveled from Nazareth, where they lived, to Bethlehem, Joseph’s home town, and it was there that the baby Jesus was born.

Fleming said the traditional Dec. 25 birthdate was probably wrong because of the reference in Luke to shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem being the first to learn a new king had been born.

Fleming said shepherds’ flocks were not permitted on fields after they were plowed in October or November to allow the winter rains to soak into the parched ground.

However, shepherds were encouraged to graze their sheep in late summer and early fall to eat the stubble of sown crops and fertilize the fields, Fleming said.

Thus it is more likely, he said, that Jesus was born sometime between late July and early October.

Fleming added that he believed the Star of Bethlehem was an early visitation of Halley’s comet.

Halley’s comet, which returns every 75 years, was visible in about 12 B.C., according to calculations by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, Calif.

According to the Book of Matthew, the wise men reported the star appearing to them twice, which would fit the appearances of Halley’s comet. The comet is visible for several weeks before it passes behind the sun and then reappears.

Fleming said that the wise men’s impression that the star pointed the way to Bethlehem might have come from the tail of Halley’s comet, Fleming said.

The traditional site of Jesus’ birth is marked by a silver star inside the grotto of the Church of the Nativity. Although the star may not mark the exact location, Fleming said Jesus was probably born near the site of the church.

Archaeological evidence shows the church, first erected in the 4th century, is on the edge of biblical Bethlehem, where an inn could have been located, he said.

Bethlehem today is a mixed Moslem and Christian town of 50,000 on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

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