2. The Silly Saga of "The Millennium"
Just a few years ago, we experienced what was surely one of the most pointless and idiotic episodes in the whole of human history – the silly saga of “The Millennium”!
Firstly, I completely fail to see the point of “celebrating” something which was nothing more than the changing of a purely arbitrary number. But then, that’s just my opinion; everyone is entitled to celebrate whatever they like, however silly or pointless others might consider it. But what really annoyed me was the fact that a substantial fraction of the world’s population – including great numbers of supposedly intelligent and educated people – were unable to understand when their so-called “event” actually happened!
2.1. So when was the Millennium?
On 31 December 1999, hundreds of millions of people throughout the world held parties to celebrate what they believed to be the beginning of the Twenty-First Century and of “the New Millennium”. Even governments spent huge amounts of public money on “official” celebrations.
In my country, our Government squandered an incredible 700 million pounds of public money to build that utterly pointless monstrosity known as the Millennium Dome. ( Thankfully, this has now been sold to a private developer and turned into a sports arena; it’s finally serving a useful purpose! )
And thousands of the world’s wealthier citizens spent huge amounts of money to travel to remote Pacific islands, close to the International Date Line, just so they could supposedly “be the first to see the first dawn of the New Millennium”.
And all of this was done in the wrong year!!! It seems that the vast majority of the world’s population celebrated the “event” a year early – while the real turn of the Millennium came and went with hardly any fuss at all!
At the same time, millions of words of rubbish were published in the media, relating to the so-called “debate” over when the end of the Millennium actually occurred. This was, in fact, just an exaggerated example of something which has happened every 100 years, at the end of a century, for the last several centuries. But this “debate” was even more ridiculous and pointless than the celebrations themselves. Why? Because there was simply nothing to debate!
When a century ( and in this case, a millennium ) ends, and the next begins, is not a matter of opinion – mine or anyone else’s – or a matter open to debate. It’s a simple and indisputable fact, dictated by very simple logic and arithmetic. There is one, and only one, correct answer! In this case, the year 2000 was not the first year of the new century or millennium; it was the last year of the old one. Full stop.
The celebrations should have taken place on 31 December 2000, not 31 December 1999. It was naturally tempting to think that the supposedly momentous “event” occurred at the moment that the year number changed from 1999 to 2000 – but it didn’t. And of course, this was the moment at which the so-called “Millennium Bug” threatened to cause widespread disaster among the world’s computer systems. ( It didn’t happen, thanks to the valiant efforts of a huge number of IT professionals to prevent it, before it was too late. ) But the term “Millennium Bug” was a misnomer; it was more correctly called the “Year 2000 Problem”, or “Y2K Problem”. The problem was directly related to the change of date from 1999 to 2000 – which was a year before the actual end of the century.
Think about it. If you were to count 100 objects, or names in a list, you would start counting at one, not zero, and the hundredth object would be numbered 100. That is, you would count from 1 to 100, not from 0 to 99. ( Unless you’re a particularly sad ‘C’ programmer! Sorry – software engineer’s joke. ) The same applies when children “count to 100” when playing hide and seek – and for any kind of “natural counting” with integer numbers.
So why should the counting of years be any different? It stands to reason; the First Century of the calendar consisted of the years 1 to 100 inclusive, the Second Century of the years 101 to 200 inclusive, and so on. So the Twentieth Century consisted of the years 1901 to 2000 inclusive, and not 1900 to 1999! Just think of its name – the Twentieth Century; twenty centuries equals 2000 years, so the Twentieth Century didn’t end until the end of the 2000th year – not the beginning of it.
Now, had there actually been a year in the calendar numbered “zero”, then it might still be possible to argue about whether the First Century consisted of the years 1 to 100 or zero to 99. But there is in fact no such ambiguity, because there never was a “Year Zero”! In the Christian calendar, the year 1 BC was followed by AD 1 – so the First Century could only have consisted of the years 1 to 100.
The reason for the absence of a “Year Zero” is quite simple. At the time when the calendar was first established, around AD 400, the concept of “zero as a number” had not yet been thought of. That is to say, the concept of zero was used simply to mean “none” or “nothing”; the convention of representing positive and negative numbers along a linear scale, with zero in the middle, had not yet been adopted by mathematicians. This means that, when calculating the number of years between a BC date and an AD date, the result always differs by one from that which would be obtained using standard arithmetic!
So there you have it. As I said, there is nothing to debate.
N.B. A few paragraphs back, I mentioned the misnamed “Millennium Bug”. As a software engineer myself, I’ll mention something here, which I found particularly annoying. Shortly after the “turn of the Millennium”, some ignoramus of a journalist, in a British newspaper, referred to this subject with one of the most idiotic comments I have ever read. He wrote something along the lines of, “The dreaded date came and went, and nothing happened. So what was all the fuss about?” – and then inferred that the several billion dollars which had been spent worldwide to prevent the potential disaster had all been wasted!
D’ohhh! What exactly did this moron use for brains? It’s surely obvious that “the dreaded date came and went, and nothing happened”, precisely because the aforementioned billions of dollars had been spent, modifying software systems to make them “Y2K compliant”, before it was too late!
2.2. More about the Calendar
There was another aspect of the “Millennium” fiasco, which I found particularly irritating.
Firstly, what was so “significant” or “momentous” about the year 2000 anyway? Answer: apart from a numerical curiosity, absolutely nothing! The Christian Calendar is only one of many calendars in use throughout the world – though it is of course the one which has come to be used as a worldwide standard, for purposes of business and record keeping. But then, the date didn’t even have the significance which it was supposed to have, within the context of Christianity!
In the UK – where practicing churchgoers are a small minority these days – many churches tried to “cash in” on “Millennium fever”, by displaying posters with such slogans as “The Millennium is Christ’s 2000th birthday. Come and worship him here!”
But it wasn’t, was it? It’s common knowledge that the Millennium ( and in this case, whether you celebrated it in the correct year or the wrong one is irrelevant ) was not the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus! Neither the year 1999 nor 2000 corresponded to this anniversary. ( Assuming, that is, that Jesus ever existed at all! I’m willing to accept that a man named Jesus probably did exist, but not that he was anything more than a human being. ) So the churches were deliberately and blatantly distorting their own beliefs and history, for the sake of a bit of cheap publicity!
It’s an accepted historical fact, and accepted by all major churches, that the calendar is in error – and that Jesus ( if he existed at all ) was definitely not born in either the year 1 BC or AD 1, but several years earlier. This isn’t saying anything derogatory about Christianity ( I plan to attack religion elsewhere on this site ); the calendar is a human invention, and humans make mistakes.
How this error came about is well known. The concept of a calendar which counted years from the birth of Jesus wasn’t actually established until around four centuries after his birth, by a monk named Dionysus Exiguus. The biggest problem for Dionysus was that of working out exactly how many years had elapsed since his starting point. In those days, there was no numerical calendar; historians referred to the times of events by descriptions such as “in the fifth year of the reign of King …” So Dionysus calculated the number of years since Jesus’ birth, by adding the lengths of the reigns of various kings and emperors – but as later historians discovered, he overlooked one Roman Emperor, who reigned for only a few years.
This error was well known as early as the 17th Century. When Archbishop James Ussher famously “calculated” the date of the mythical Biblical “Creation”, by adding the ages of characters in the Old Testament, he arrived at an answer of 4004 BC. He determined that the elapsed time between the “Creation” and the birth of Jesus was about 4000 years, then decided that it must have been exactly 4000 years, as he supposed that God liked round numbers! The figure of 4004 BC arose, because Ussher was aware of the error in the calendar, which he believed to be four years.
Incidentally, Ussher also predicted that the End of the World would occur exactly 2000 years after the birth of Jesus – that is, in 1997 ( not 1996; see my comment above about the lack of a “Year Zero” ). As that fateful date approached, there were actually a few lunatics who still believed it; when it didn’t happen, were they relieved or disappointed?
Today, it’s believed that Jesus was probably born in 6 or possibly 7 BC – a hypothesis which is supported by astronomical evidence. One of the few events in that era which can be precisely dated is the death of Herod – because the historians of the time recorded that a lunar eclipse occurred as the king was on his deathbed. Astronomers have calculated that a lunar eclipse occurred on 13 March 4 BC, and that none occurred for several years either side, which would have fitted the description. So we can be pretty certain that Herod died within a few days of that date.
This in turn means – assuming that some parts of the Bible story are a distorted account of real historical events – that Jesus must have been born sometime before that date. And if the story of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” has any historical basis, then he must have been born at least two years earlier, as Herod is said to have ordered the killing of all boys under two years old.
So if Christians wanted to celebrate the actual 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ birth, then they should have done so in 1995!
N.B. As stated earlier, the Christian Calendar is now used as a worldwide standard for business and record keeping purposes, including in non-Christian parts of the world. And even in many so-called “Christian nations”, practicing Christians are now a minority anyway. So many people, especially atheists, believe that it’s no longer appropriate to refer to it as the “Christian Calendar” at all. There is a growing trend to replace the religiously-derived terms “BC” and “AD” ( meaning “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”, or “Year of our Lord” ) with “BCE” ( “Before the Common Era” ) and “CE” ( Common Era ), respectively. This is one of the few examples of “political correctness” with which I thoroughly agree!
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