An example of why abolishing AD and BC causes problems

A report in the Daily Mail at the weekend highlighted a fresh stage in the step-by-step campaign by the establishment to replace AD and BC with the Jewish-originated CE and BCE. 

The BBC’s religious and ethics department says the changes are necessary to avoid offending non-Christians.

It states: ‘As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.

In line with modern practice, BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) are used as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/AD.’

The report has been attacked for being “untrue”, although the authenticity of the statement does not appear to be in dispute.  Nor is the creeping introduction of this novelty denied either — indeed it has been apparent to most of us for years.  The attacks, therefore, are merely an attempt to quiet media criticism.

But today I came across an example of how this nonsense is causing confusion.

In  Laina Farhat-Holzman, Strange Birds from Zoroaster’s Nest: An Overview of Revealed Religions, (2003), p.201, there is a summary of Mary Boyce’s discussion of Zoroastrian sources.  In this I read:

None of this [the Zoroastrian scripture] was committed to writing until the Avestan alphabet was designed for this purpose in the 5th century B.C.

Fortunately I had just been reading a useful book on modern research on Zoroastrianism, and this felt wrong.  And I found Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the study of Zoroastrianism, University of Chicago Press (1990) p.1, which stated:

All their religious works were handed down orally: it was not until probably the fifth century A.C. that they were at last committed to writing, in the ‘Avestan’ alphabet, especially invented for the purpose.

Had Dr Boyce stuck to AD and BC, this error could hardly have arisen.  Thank you, University of Chicago Press, for causing an unnecessary confusion.

17 Responses to “An example of why abolishing AD and BC causes problems”


  1. Ryan C

    This politically correct change never really made sense to me. The dates still center on the reign of Jesus (as ancient dating systems begin with the reign of important kingly figures) whether you admit it with abbreviations or not. If they want a truly secular dating system, they need to change the numbers as well. Something like the star-date system in Star Trek, maybe. :)

  2. Roger Pearse

    Remember that they did experiment with “BP” — “before the present” — although the uselessness of that should be apparent to us all.

  3. Ryan C

    I don’t remember that (it may have been just before my present).

  4. DIVVS·IVLIVS

    I don’t see an error here or a source of confusion: “B.C.” in Farhat-Holzman means “before Christ”; “A.C.” in Boyce stands for ante Christum [natum], i.e. “before [the birth of] Christ”. It’s one and the same thing. Farhat-Holzman only anglicized it, because AC is viewed as a sign of a strong Christian conviction.

  5. Roger Pearse

    And … it’s got you too!

    Luckily Boyce gives an abbreviation on p.viii, that AC = “after the birth of Christ”. Her text indicates that the Avestan texts were only written down in the Sassanid period. Few of us would know this; hence the confusion.

  6. DIVVS·IVLIVS

    Dang! Indeed it’s got me! Glad to have substantiated the severity of the error. ;)

    But honestly, giving the explanation “AC = after the birth of Christ” doesn’t let Boyce off the hook. Why did she use it in the first place? It has a very specific and traditional meaning. Weird.

    As for the BCE/CE vs. BC/AD discussion: Mary Beard has reported on her blog that the BBC hasn’t “banned” BC/AD. Instead BCE/CE is to be used where it’s more appropriate, e.g. in articles/reports on Muslim topics etc.

    Personally I’m schizophrenic about this. I’ve published in German, Spanish and English, and depending on the magazine, on the country, I always had to change it according to their guidelines, when I enter an article for review. I haven’t decided which I prefer. It’s kinda hard. However, I do like Annan’s statement, which I just found in the Wikipedia:

    The 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.

    If you read it like this, the change from BC/AD to BCE/CE is not a sign of de-christianization, but evidence for the success and sustainability of Christian culture worldwide. But as I said, it’s hard for me to decide.

  7. Roger Pearse

    Heh! AC is *so* obscure in the anglophone world.

    But the BBC’s stance is disingenuous. “where it’s more appropriate” — in a country that uses nothing but AD and BC is simply an excuse to introduce something on the national broadcaster that no-one actually uses, and accustom people to its use. Then the next step — how we have seen this, words and music, so many times before — will be to claim “increasing support”, and “neutrality” for their own preferred solution. And then, inevitably, AD and BC will disappear.

    The stuff about CE not marking de-christianization is merely rubbish designed to confuse those who would otherwise be opposed to this innovation, unfortunately.

    What we have here is a sustained campaign to change, without a vote, something that no-one in this country objects to. I don’t think we need waste time on the various forms of deception that those behind the campaign choose to put out.

  8. DIVVS·IVLIVS

    It seems to be the overall tendency in English-speaking countries, yes. The Indians use their own calendar in their country; the Muslim calendar, with specific reference to the Prophet Muhammad, is used in all Arab states (to my knowledge), and for calculations in other Islamic countries; and many other calendars are used at least for religious calculations worldwide, incl. the Hebrew calendar, which is still an official civil calendar in Israel, at least on paper. It raises the question, why we should give up our own Julian-Christian heritage incl. the specific references to natus Christi. After all, it will always remain at the core of the calendar, mark the changeover, whether you call it BCE-to-CE or BC-to-AD.

  9. Jona Lendering

    I think it is not completely fair, dear Roger, to blame the Chicago U.P. for a mistake made by Laina Farhat-Holzman. She should have read more carefully, and ought to have checked the abbreviations if she did not understand it.

    Boyce cannot be blamed either, as she was not a Christian but a Zoroastrian, and was writing for an audience in which there must have been many Zoroastrians.

    So, I respectfully disagree, and add my kindest regards from Ankara.

  10. Roger Pearse

    Um. But to use a convention different from that used by every one of your contemporaries is to court misunderstanding. For a press to allow that is to be responsible, surely, for the consequences.

  11. Jona Lendering

    Yes, you would be right if “every one of our contemporaries” would indeed use a certain system. But among Jews, it is quite common to use the BCE/CE system; Muslims use the AH system; in Iran, where many of the Zoroastrians live, three calendars are being used. Boyce and the CUP have addressed this situation and added an explanation. The problem is that Laina Farhat-Holzman did not read the explanation.

    I think the real problem is that people no longer read books in their entirety. They swallow the bits they think they can use, and leave the rest unread.

  12. Roger Pearse

    This is a bit of a strange comment. We’re not discussing what Moslems use, nor Zoroastrians. We’re discussing what is used in Britain now. It is not CE / BCE.

  13. Marcus Pailing

    The problem is that we teach BC/AD in English schools – as far as I know, there isn’t a single school that teaches BCE/CE instead. For example, I teach in a Leicestershire school where ‘Christian’ students are definitely in a minority, and more than 55% of the students are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. We teach BC and AD, and every one of our students understands exactly what we’re talking about (and not a single one of them is offended, either).

  14. Roger Pearse

    Well, I’m not sure that it’s a *problem* (!) that we teach AD and BC in schools — because that reflects the usage of the country. But yes, who in the world got all excited about the supposed religious aspect of AD and BC? No-one, that I ever knew.

  15. Jona

    There’s currently an interesting debate at RAT about this subject: http://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat.html?func=view&catid=13&id=297888

    It has managed to stay clear about the evident pitfalls.

  16. Daku

    I still continue to use BC/AD on my website and will not change it. I refuse to be forced to change something that has been used by tradition for so long just because some politically correct idiots have nothing better to do than to spend their time wondering what else they can change in order to avoid offending people. We’ve already lost the original texts of Noddy and Big Ears, original texts from books by Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens etc. We’ve already seen books banned from schools because of single words written 200 years ago which have a different meaning today. We’ve been forced by politicians to call countries by different names because the invaders of those countries have renamed them (Myanmar is just one example, Sri Lanka is another) and I’ll be damned if I am going to change the dating system I have used all my life.
    Apart from that, what about the German, French and Italian dating systems – are they going to be forced to change too ? What will n.Ch. and v.Ch. become ?
    Bloody ridiculous…

  17. Roger Pearse

    Agree entirely. Who died and made these people pope?