King Edwin, with all the nobility of his kingdom and a large number of humbler folk, accepted the faith and were washed in the cleansing water of baptism in the eleventh year of his reign, which ws the year of our Lord 627, and about one hundred and eighty years after the first arrival of the English in Britain. The king’s baptism took place at York on Easter Day, the 12th of April, in the church of St Peter the Apostle.This neatly shows the two different ways in which we can use historical documents to reconstruct the past. Namely, relative dating (‘the eleventh year of his reign’, ‘one hundred and eighty years after the first arrival of the English in Britain’) and absolute dating (‘12th of April 627’). Absolute dates are absolute, of course. And relative dating can be used to reconstruct absolute dates. If you can tie relative dates together, which is easy to do in the case of reigns, which are contiguous (i.e. one when reign stops, the next one begins) then you can construct an ‘absolute’ series of dates, anchored on today’s date. Note that ‘absolute’ dates, of course, are merely relative dates anchored in a single date*.
Bede gives us plenty of both types of dating. In nearly all of the chapters he gives the Christian chronology (‘in the year of our lord’), and in the early ones he connects this with the Roman chronology (“Britain remained unknown and unvisited by the Romans until the time of Gaius Julius Caesar, who became consul with Lucius Bibulus 693 years after the founding of Rome, and sixty years before the birth of our Lord”). For the period from the 620s until his birth (in about 673) he simply gives relative dating (‘the glorious reign of Edwin over English and Britons alike lasted seventeen years’).
There is also another piece of evidence locked up in that passage, namely that the date (12 April 627) is recorded so precisely. There are many such examples in his work, and it is evidence of a precise recording system. If such a system existed, the probability of 300 years going ‘missing’ is improbable in the extreme.
Now it could be argued that Bede’s history was a Christian forgery, as Niemitz suggests happened in the case of Charlemagne. But then we have a number of different series of reigns, produced by almost completely independent sources. For example, French kings, English kings, Castilian monarchs, German emperors and other varieties of monarch, and many others. Could the apparently independent sources for these series have been a forgery? Who coordinated it, and why?
There is a discussion of Niemitz here, but it is a sceptic website, and the big problem I have with sceptic websites is that they love to poke fun at silly theories, without adequately explaining what is silly about them. Should we even bother? Yes, because silly people (a group which includes many intelligent and apparently well-educated people) often believe such silly theories, in many cases precisely because of the way that they are dismissed out of hand by 'scientists'. Here we come to another gripe I have against Wikipedia, but that must wait until tomorrow. For a foretaste, have a look at this.
*We can now date terrestrial events relative to the creation of the universe. But this is still a relative date. Assuming that time did not exist before the universe began, does it make sense to say that God could have created the universe a few days earlier? This raises the question of what God was doing before he created the universe, but that is too difficult and extensive a question to discuss here.