THEORIES on the exact date of Christ's death have been debated for centuries, but now two astronomers claim to have pinpointed it to the exact hour.

Liviu Mircea and Tiberiu Oproiu from the Astronomic Observatory Institute in Cluj, Romania, said yesterday that research carried out using a computer programme checked against biblical references showed Christ died at 3pm on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, and rose again on Sunday, April 5, at 4am.

The starting point for their calculations was the New Testament record that Jesus died on the day after the first night with a full moon following the vernal equinox.

Using data gathered on the stars between 26AD and 35AD they established that in those nine years, the first full moon after the vernal equinox was registered twice: Friday April 7, 30AD and April 3, 33AD.

The astronomers said they had been convinced that the date of the crucifixion had been 33AD and not 30AD, because records showed a solar eclipse, as depicted in the Bible at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, occurred in Jerusalem that year.

While experts do not doubt Jesus's existence, almost everything known about him comes from the New Testament. The Bible does not date precisely when he was born or died.

Since he was certainly born before the death of Herod the Great, much has been made of historian Josephus's statement that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon visible from Jericho.

Most chronologists, following the lead of Johann Kepler, the German astronomer, have assumed that the eclipse was that of March 13, in 4 BC. Kepler suggested in 1605 that the Star of Bethlehem, or the ''Christmas Star'', was a conjunction, or close approach, of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars.