The Death of King Herod – 4 BC or 1 BC?
Jesus of Nazareth was born during the lifetimes of three historical names referenced in the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke. Herod’s death being the first becomes the lynch pin date used to determine the birth year of Jesus. Not without controversy, it has posed a challenge for believers and detractors alike.
Antiquity had no standardized calendar, as such timelines and dates were linked to well-known historical events. Establishing the date of Herod’s death requires piecing together such clues as the reigns of Tiberius, King Herod and his son; the Battle of Actium; the Jewish religious calendar; astronomical data, etc.
Adding another level of complexity is “inclusive reckoning,” the question of whether a partial year was counted as a full year in historical references. The unsettled question brings to bear a plus or minus factor of a year.
Herod’s death year is commonly calculated by historians using Josephus’ reference in Antiquities to his son, Philip, who began his regional reign, as did his two brothers Herod Antipas and Aristobulus, after King Herod died. The quote from Antiquities based on the original Gutenberg printings establishes the timeline:
“…Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis, and of the nation of Bataneana also thirty-seven years.
Philip died in the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius whose reign began in 14 AD. Adding 20 years lands in 34 AD to establish the year of Philip’s death. Subtracting 37 years of Philip’s rule backdates to the commonly accepted year for King Herod’s death in 4 BC.
Josephus bookends Herod’s final days starting with a lunar eclipse the night he had 40 insurrectionists burned alive and dying just before the Passover that same year meanwhile describing in great detail events that occurred in the interim. Some experts question whether all these things could have occurred in the span of only 4 weeks…
Herod traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho, then to hot springs across the Jordan River, then back to Jericho where he soaked in a vat of oil, all in physician’s attempts to alleviate his gruesome protruding bowels condition. Losing all hope, the King sent letters throughout Judea summoning all principal men to Jericho who arrived before his death.
After a failed suicide attempt, Herod died 5 days later after having his son, Antipater, executed. His funeral in Jericho included international attendees; an elaborate funeral and burial in Herodium which took many days; followed by a 7-day morning period, then a feast for the people of Judea. Could all these things have taken place in just 4 weeks?
Consultant and Biblical hobbyist, David Beyer, compared the 1544 Gutenberg printings of Antiquities to two dozen predated, handwritten manuscripts. He discovered all these handwritten Antiquities manuscripts said that Philip died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year – a discovery that changes the year of Herod’s death to the 2 BC timeframe.
Historian Dr. Gerard Gertoux’s calculation derived similar results. Since Herod was 70 years old when he died, Gertoux determined his death occurred sometime between April, 2 BC, and March, 1 BC.
Another calculation method is based on the Battle of Actium academically recognized as the year 31 BC which Josephus said in Wars of the Jews marked the 7th year of King Herod’s reign thereby backdating to 38 BC. Josephus further recorded that King Herod, like Philip, reigned for 37 years. Simple math places Herod’s death in 1 BC.
One key piece of evidence remains, one that can be verified scientifically. Josephus made reference to a lunar eclipse preceding Herod’s death before he left Jerusalem for the last time.
NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem shows a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse occurred on March 13th, 4 BC, between 1:32am and 3:50am. Passover that year fell on April 10th, just four weeks later.
Lunar eclipse data from NASA also reveals another fact, a potential game-changer. The next lunar eclipse occurred on January 9, 1 BC, a full eclipse that began over Jerusalem at 10:22pm lasting until 3:53am of January 10th. The Passover that year was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.
Time intervals between the two eclipses and the Passovers are the critical difference: 4 weeks vs. 12 ½ weeks. Which year timeline can realistically accommodate all that took place between the eclipse and Passover?
Factor in Beyer’s 2-year discrepancy discovery, Gertoux’s calculation and the Battle of Actium calculation, each landing in the 1-2 BC timeframe, all corroborated by NASA’s full lunar eclipse data for January, 1 BC. It poses the obvious question: did Herod’s death actually occur in 1 BC, not 4 BC? If it did, then Jesus was born was in 2 BC.
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