The turn of the new secular/Gregorian calendar year can be symbolic in many ways. One of the least known is that January 1st marks the occasion of…Jesus’s Bris! That’s correct; Jesus’s birthday, widely accepted amongst scholars as being historically sometime in the Spring, was adjusted to have significance in the larger, Roman Empire. His mythical birthday was timed to veneer a new layer of meaning upon the Winter Solstice. It was also rearranged perfectly (if you count the days from his birth according to our Jewish way of acknowledging a day, sundown to sundown) to create an eight-day interval between his “birth” and the beginning of the calendar so that new meaning was also laid upon January 1st as well. After all, Jesus and all his followers were Jews. It was important for them to celebrate his Bris!
This added, Christian connotation of January 1 lends credence to the formal use of the initials “A.D.” after the notation of a year. We live in the year 2018 A. D., anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord”, taken from the full phrase, “anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi”, “in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”. A.D. does not mean “After Death” as so many interpret it. It is understandably confusing though, because the letters “B.C.”, referring to the time before Jesus lived, do indeed stand for the English words “Before Christ”. In that light, it is still off the mark to understand “A.D.” as after death because that would leave no years for Jesus to live!
“A.D.” not only refers to the time in which Jesus was physically alive, it also acknowledges that Jesus did not die and has taken the form of the Holy Ghost until he “returns”, according to Christian theology. For Jews (and Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and many others), it is difficult for us to use the terminology of “B.C.” and “A.D.” As a result, many of us use the broader, more universal expressions “B.C.E.” and “C.E.”, “before the Common Era” and “after the Common Era” respectively.
As Americans, we have just passed through the weeks of the American year in which it is most evident that Christmas, if not Christianity, in its most general sense, is the “default” for our country. Even though the nomenclature of “A.D.” certainly isn’t used nearly as much as “B.C.”, coming to grips with the reality that one religion’s way of marking time and that their way is recognized as the “Common”, it is still not completely comfortable. After all, Christianity divides time into two large eras, the second of those beginning with the day in which its adherents mark the advent of God in human form.
How am I, a Jewish American, supposed to maneuver myself in and around the “Christian year” 2018 A.D. and the Jewish year 5779? Should I worry about it? No one uses the letters “A.D.” pejoratively any more. After all, the world wasn’t created 5779 years ago, even though Jewish tradition insists on it. With homage to the band “Chicago” we might ask, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”
No one does, or should be granted a monopoly on what time it is, what times are more significant than others and whether or not God is more or less present in certain periods of time. In our era, in our period of time, that is filled with such divisiveness, ugliness, walls, bigotry, hate crimes, a dramatic resurgence in anti-Semitism, a constant rise in Islamophobia and with xenophobia at a fever pitch among some of us, it is ironic that something as innocent as the way in which we count the years should become emblematic of our state of affairs. The only way in which America will continue to work is when everyone’s calendars, customs, ceremonies, perspectives and reasons for living here or desiring to come here are considered “common”. We all belong to a large commonality to which we all contribute and from which we all benefit. The reasons for people coming to this country are no different now than they’ve ever been – they are fleeing violence, possible or probable death at the hands of others, and economic despair with no opportunities for improvement.
Walls between periods of time are arbitrary and supersessionist. Walls between people are also arbitrary and they are also elitist, and they represent the antithesis of any era in which God is present.