"A decree went out from the Emperor Augustus that all the world should be taxed. . .while Quirinius was governor of Syria."
* Luke 2:1
Those lines will be read Sunday evening in millions of churches and homes worldwide as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.
By the calendar, the event took place 1,995 years ago. But the calendar may be wrong; the Nativity may have been years earlier, some experts insist. If so, the third millennium may start in a year or two. Indeed, it may already be under way.
Nobody knows for sure, but a lot of people want to find out. A quarter of a million people snapped up Jacques Duquesne's new book, "Jesus," which tries to establish the date of Christ's birth as 3 B.C. The book is published by Editions Flammarion/Desclee de Brouwer of Paris.
Ernest L. Martin of Portland, Ore., thinks he has found evidence for an earlier birth date in ancient Jewish manuscripts and computer-generated astronomical data. Martin concludes that Jesus was born between May 3, 3 B.C. and Dec. 2, 2 B.C.
That would put the beginning of the third millennium between May 3, 1997 and Dec. 2, 1998, he writes in "The Star that Astonished the World." The book will be published in March by the Associates for Scriptural Knowledge in Portland.
Martin was the head of theology at the old Ambassador University in Pasadena, Calif. He studied first-century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, an expert on the Jewish King Herod, who reigned at the time of Jesus' birth. Then he compares these historical facts with known astronomical events.
According to Josephus, Herod ordered the execution of two rabbis one night during a lunar eclipse. A few days later, Herod executed his son and continued to carry out many government functions before he died the following Jewish Passover.
In 4 B.C., a partial eclipse occurred 29 days before Passover. But Martin argues Herod needed more than 29 days to accomplish everything Josephus said he did.
Martin points to a later eclipse, a major eclipse of the sun, on Jan. 10, in the year 1 B.C.
"That means Herod died sometime in late February, March," Martin said from his office in Pasadena last week.
To support his theory, Martin looks for the Star of Bethlehem. Those who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible believe that the Magi - something like court astrologers from Persia or Arabia - followed a remarkable, moving star to see the young Jesus. …