The Canadian museum currently displaying an ancient box purported to be the ossuary of Jesus’ brother James is no longer using the Christian designations of B.C. and A.D. to mark the calendar, opting instead for more “modern and palatable” terms.

Royal Ontario Museum abandons Christian dating system for James ossuary

After a long internal debate, the Royal Ontario Museum has decided to change “anno Domini” – Latin for “in the year of our Lord” – to C.E., referring to the “common era.” It’s also shelving B.C. – “before Christ” – in favor of B.C.E. – “before the common era.”

According to the National Post of Canada, the intent of the change “is just to be more inclusive” in how years are described.

”A lot of people accept the reality of Jesus as a historical figure but don’t accept him as Christ, and to use the words ‘before Christ’ is really quite ethnocentric of European Christians,” Dan Rahimi, the museum’s director of collections management told the Post. “And to use ‘the year of our Lord’ is also quite insensitive to huge populations in Toronto who have other lords.”

The first exhibit to feature the new nomenclature is the James ossuary, a stone box believed to have contained the bones of James, brother of Jesus, the namesake of the dating system the museum is abandoning.

The ossuary is described in its display as dating between 50 and 70 C.E. A footnote explains that the two systems are identical, and the common-era style has been adopted because it is “current.”

The switch comes as the museum’s champion of the traditional style, paleozoologist Hans-Dieter Sues, leaves his post as director of collections and research.

Over the objections of most other curators, who fought for the common-era style, Sues mandated that the tradition not change, according to a museum spokesman. This week, Sues starts a new job as associate director for science and collections at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

For at least 10 years, curators have been pushing for a change to the common-era style in publicity material, according to the head of publicity, Francisco Alvarez.

“The only reason they haven’t is because Dr. Sues preferred not to,” Alvarez told the Post. “He’s now gone. … So, starting really with the ossuary, it’s the first time that I’m aware of that we’re consistently using B.C.E. and C.E. over A.D. and B.C. I think that for a while, we’ll still need to always explain what it means, because people will tend to see it as a typo if they don’t already know the term.”

From his new office in Pittsburgh, Sues said that, in his experience, people often get “royally confused” when faced with the common-era style. “We have all grown up with B.C. and A.D.,” he said, according to the Post report.

Sues concedes the term is not of universal appeal, but said the politically correct solution is just as divisive. There is nothing particularly common about an era defined by the birth of Jesus, he said. Indeed, when the term was introduced centuries ago, “common” was meant to be synonymous with “Christian.”

“I would also argue that the new nomenclature doesn’t make any sense, because in non-Christian traditions, they have very different calendars,” Sues said.

“Even the Jewish calendar is quite different from our Christian, Gregorian calendar. Any major religion you can name outside Christianity has its own chronology.”

Even the date of Jesus’ own birth has been disputed for centuries, with many scholars asserting it took place between 4 and 7 B.C., in the autumn months.

Rahimi said he made a failed bid to change the style ten years ago when he was head of exhibits, and Sues nixed his second attempt two years ago.

There is a debate in academic circles as to whether the common-era system matches perfectly to the Christian system, which lacks a year zero. At stake is a difference of one year in dates before 1 A.D.

In marking calendar years, the terms C.E. and B.C.E. are often used in academic texts, especially in anthropology, where it’s the accepted style.

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