London - The Christian calendar is based on a blunder by a sixth-century monk who was several years out in his calculation of Jesus’s birth date, the Pope has claimed.
Benedict XVI blames the “mistake” on Dionysius Exiguus, known as Dennis the Small, who is credited with inventing the modern calendar based on the Anno Domini (AD) era.
The Pope’s views are revealed in the final instalment of his three-volume work on the life of Jesus, published on Wednesday.
“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” he writes.
“The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.”
Academics have long disputed when Jesus was born – with many believing it was before 1AD, probably between 6BC and 4BC – but the Pontiff’s intervention is certain to fuel the debate.
The leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is also likely to raise eyebrows with his claim in the book that donkeys or other animals do not have a place in the traditional nativity scene.
St Peter’s Square in the heart of the Vatican regularly has a large Christmas scene with an array of animals, but the Pope is certain their inclusion is historically inaccurate.
“In the gospels there is no mention of animals,” he writes.
He believes they were probably a Hebrew invention of the seventh century BC, as outlined in the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk considered by some to predict the nativity.
Despite debunking it, the Pope, 85, says the tradition is here to stay: “No nativity scene will give up its ox and donkey.”
He also says angels never sang to shepherds to proclaim Christ’s birth, as celebrated in the carol Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
He writes that they delivered the news by speaking, although “Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song”.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives hit bookshops in 50 countries on Wednesday, with more than a million copies planned for the initial print run.
In it, the Pope interprets the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which describe the months just before and after Jesus’s birth. - Daily Mail