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Why do we count years from the date of Creation? I intend two sub-questions here, of which the second is far more interesting, so please answer it:

  1. Whence did this tradition originate?
  2. Why do we continue doing it when it is so problematic, that is, nonstraightforward? The answers linked discuss how a "day" in Biblical Creation is most often understood as a figurative interval that actually corresponds to a much longer period. Obviously, as Biblical history progresses, the time-scale quickly shifts to be in line with a modern one. Still, isn't it misleading to imply that we are literally 5772 years from the date of Creation?
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Incidentally, the reason I liked the question initially upon reading the heading is because I thought it was primarily about #1 vis a vis the old tradition of counting years from significant events (years of a king's reign, for example, or Christianity and Islam's traditions of counting from their significant "starting" points); following that tradition it might make the most sense to count from Yetziath Mitzrayim. –  Seth J May 29 '12 at 15:07
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@SethJ that would be an interesting question - why we count from the first man instead of the first Jew. –  yoel May 29 '12 at 15:11
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@yoel, I was thinking of the Kuzari when I wrote my comment, but yours is an interesting twist as well. –  Seth J May 29 '12 at 15:16
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@yoel The Kuzari tells a story of how a king summoned emissaries of the three monotheistic religions and asked them to make their case and he would convert. The Christian and Muslim both started with, "In the beginning, G-d created the world..." The Jew started with, "G-d took us out of Egypt." The king asked him, "Wait, what about creating the world?" The Jew responded, "Well that's a given. You asked about Judaism." –  Seth J May 29 '12 at 15:20
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@SethJ got it - I knew the premise, but it's interesting, and maybe it's an answer to the question - the creation of the world is just the most basic and obvious starting point. –  yoel May 29 '12 at 15:22
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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your first question is a duplicate of When did we start counting the Year since Creation?

In answer to your second question, I have no source, but I would be shocked if the answer was more complex than that the originators of this counting system simply believed (as many still do, myself included) that it was completely accurate.

I suppose that those rabbis that don't believe it to be accurate could have switched to a system based on something more concrete yet still significant, like the Exodus, the Giving of the Torah, or better yet, the Beis Hamikdash. The reason this hasn't happened is most likely because that would simply overcomplicate things, when all rabbinic writings already use the other system. There is no benefit to switching to a more accurately dated system, when all systems are relative, and the one in use is simply based on an arbitrary (ITO) point in time.

Edit: As DoubleAA points out, there are rabbis who are attempting to change the system, although their lack of success at becoming the prevalent standard (so far) is likely due to the reason outlined in the above paragraph.

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The tradition of counting from the creation of the world (anno mundi, or AM, vs. anno domini, or AD) comes from various texts of the Middle Ages. Counting from the creation of the world was common through the eighteenth century in many general histories as well, though the Enlightenment tradition critiqued such historical views (such as AM and organizing the history of the world into the four kingdoms of Daniel) as antiquated and unhelpful. This is tied to a broader reconceptualization of the landscape of history with the rise of the concept of the century.

This trend can be seen, for example, in texts such as the Sefer Ha-Qabbalah (Ibn Daud), who wanted to show the long and unbroken chain of the Jewish tradition. Thus, the counting of years from the creation of the world is inherently part of religious polemics.

First, against the Karaites, Ibn Daud wanted to demonstrate that the Jewish oral tradition (the Talmud) came from Moses.

Second, against the Christians, Jews in Europe (not ibn Daud) wanted to demonstrate that a Christian proof for the divinity of Jesus -- a messianic calculation, that the date of Jesus' birth was in the year 6,000 AM, similar to the many Jewish predictions of the messiah -- was incorrect because the Christians had calculated the calendar incorrectly.

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Can you edit into the answer a source for your claims, particularly your claims of what ibn Daud wanted? Otherwise, we have only your word for it, and, no offense, but most of us don't know you. –  msh210 Jul 30 '12 at 6:43
    
I've read Sefer Ha-Qabbalah. There is no online source I can point to. Regarding the Christian Polemic, see Yisrael Yuval's work. –  Jason Jul 30 '12 at 6:44
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@msh210 He cited the book, no? You want him to cite a summary? –  Double AA Jul 30 '12 at 6:46
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Sorry it is not clear. I will update it. –  Jason Jul 30 '12 at 7:05
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@Jason, I meant no criticism: I was only asking you to edit in any citation you may have. Clearly, someone saying "I have no source" or "I once heard from X" has no further citation, so there's no point in asking for one. –  msh210 Jul 30 '12 at 7:18
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In this question, Destruction of the world after 1000 years of Moshiach?, Shmuel Brin in the course of his answer says,

Regarding the seventh millenium, the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 97a) that "Six thousand years the world will exist and for one it will be destroyed".

and there are other references in answers as to what will happen after 6000 years.

Therefore we need to know where we are up to in that process and so must count years from the date of Creation.

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Why do we need to know how far along we are? –  msh210 Jun 4 '12 at 15:35
    
@msh210 Fair question. No good answer other than to be informed and have perspective. –  Avrohom Yitzchok Jun 4 '12 at 16:31
    
To plan our investments wisely? Why invest now if the world will end tomorrow? –  Jim Thio Sep 6 '12 at 9:19
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Rav Yaaqov Medan wrote this article about using the Exodus from Egypt as the reference point for years on 5/11/315. That's right: he wrote it on the 5th of Shevat in the year 3315 AE (After the Exodus). He claims to use that notation for all of his "dating in memoranda that he sends to academics, legalists and government officials with whom he comes into contact, and never has any one of them raised any objection." You'll notice that his Wikipedia page lists his birth year as 3263.

So it seems that as of today, 10/3/324, at least some people are pushing for change.

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@IsaacMoses Maybe we should adopt this as the Mi.Yodeya standard! :) –  Double AA May 31 '12 at 5:17
    
That date has just as many problems as the creation of the world date! (From creation to Exodus it's easy to count the years, from Exodus forwards it's very difficult!) I have however seen some use the current year as 67, as in 67 years since we reconqured Israel. –  avi Jul 30 '12 at 6:11
    
@avi Depends if you understand the creation date to include or exclude sheshet yemei vereishit. –  Double AA Jul 30 '12 at 6:13
    
The official calendar is from the date Adam left the Garden I believe. The "6 days" are actually all pre-calendar. –  avi Jul 30 '12 at 6:15
    
@avi I don't know how you can prove one way or another. Certainly the OP doesn't seem to assume as much. –  Double AA Jul 30 '12 at 6:16
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