Astronomy Tales: Birth & Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth

“Follow the science” has often been heard during the COVID crisis. The same mantra can be applied to the birth and crucifixion dates of the Jesus of Nazareth – the science is astronomy.

No mystical meaning is found in astronomy.[1] Positions of stars and planets follow a predictive path that can be charted past, present and future. Planets move in a rotation path around the Sun whereas stars are stationary, yet both can appear in different places in the sky based on such variables as nightly diurnal motions, planetary rotations, seasons and earthly viewing location.

God Himself pointed out the absoluteness of astronomy when He promised the Messiah would sit on the throne of David:

Jer. 33:20-21 “Thus says the LORD: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne…” (NRSV)

Going back millennia, many have attempted to interpret the meaning of the various cosmic alignments – Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and even Jews. Various cultures have given planet-stars and fixed stars names; assigned them to zodiacs; and even going so far as to worship them as gods.[2]

Astrology is different from astronomy where astrology is the belief that celestial bodies influence a person’s journey in life, but it is not a “science.”[3] Horoscopes, for example, attempt to define a personality, successes, sorrows, challenges – a life’s destiny.

Some have viewed interactions of the heavenly bodies and alignments as signs with earthly significance indicating something is about to happen or has occurred.[4] Persian Zoroastrian teachings of the Magi espoused that every planet has a significance.[5] 

 

BIRTH OF JESUS OF NAZARETH

Magi in Matthew’s account were not motivated by an ancient prophecy or a prophet, an angelic appearance, or any type of divine revelation. Instead, their actions were compelled by an awe-inspiring scene they observed in the night sky.

Evidenced by their actions, the Magi firmly believed in the signs when they saw “his star” compelling them to do several things well-beyond normal. They set out on a risky month’s long journey around the great Arabian Desert to a foreign land in Judea not knowing where their quest would end; sought input from a ruthless Judean king, eventually even defying him; brought expensive gifts for this unknown baby and they planned to worship him.[6]

NASA’s astronomy data can be used to recreate cosmic events seen by the Magi that may have signaled the birth of the “king of the Jews.” Closing out the last 7 years of the BC era, two sets of stellar events occurred during the years 7-5 BC and 3-1 BC. Rare conjunctions, movements and alignments typically witnessed centuries apart, occurred in a very short period of time.

Matthew reported the death of King Herod ending the Nativity account while historian Josephus described in detail events surrounding Herod’s death between a lunar eclipse and the Passover. One common fact to Matthew and Luke:  King Herod was alive when Jesus was born.[7] Secular history focuses on the death date of Herod.

Many have used the 7-5 BC timeline with a partial lunar eclipse to support the secular year of Herod’s death in 4 BC. More recent research points to the King’s death in 1 BC when a full lunar eclipse occurred.

A four-prong approach overlaying secular history accounts, Jewish calendars, the science of astronomy data and Gospel accounts produces two fascinating scenarios for the birth of Jesus and death of Herod. The question is which one, if any, makes the most logical sense?

 

 

CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS OF NAZARETH

Astronomy data can also be used for determining the crucifixion date Jesus of Nazareth, especially when compared with historical accounts and the Gospels. Three sets of information – astronomy data, history, Gospels – are defined separately below and then triangulated into a single assessment.

Astronomy

NASA astronomy data serves as an accurate method to determine the Passover dates as an alternative to unreliable calendars of antiquity. (Calendar conversions of antiquity are unreliable due to variations of Julian and Gregorian calendars.)[8]

Each year for thousands of years, Jewish Nissan 15th, Passover, always occurs on the first full moon after March 20th, easily seen in NASA astronomy data.[9] Full moon dates with these parameters for the years 28-33 AD are:[10]

28 AD:  March 29 (Monday)        31 AD:  April 17 (Tuesday)
29 AD:  March 18 (Friday)          32 AD:  April 14 (Monday)
30 AD:  April 6 (Thursday)          33 AD:  April 3 (Friday)

Often cited for either crucifixion date scenario is a solar eclipse to explain the Gospel reference to darkness from noon until three o’clock.[14] NASA astronomy defines when a solar and a lunar eclipse can occur:

“An eclipse of the Sun can occur only at New Moon, while an eclipse of the Moon can occur only at Full Moon” – NASA astronomy [15]

NASA data shows no solar eclipse occurred over Jerusalem during the Passover periods of either 29 or 33 AD simply because a solar eclipse can only occur during a “new moon” (no visible moon) – impossible during a full moon at Passover.[16] The darkening of the Sun also cannot be explained by a lunar eclipse because no lunar eclipse is visible during daylight hours even if one occurred that night.[17]

History – Roman and Jewish:

“At the death of Herod, Augustus Caesar divided his territories among his sons — Archelaüs, Philip, and Herodes Antipas…” making Tetrarchs of the half-brothers Philip and Antipas.[18] Philip’s reign triggered by the death of King Herod becomes a linchpin for subsequent dating. Josephus stated the Tetrarch ruled for 37 years meaning Philip either died in 33 or 36 AD.[19]

Tiberius Caesar began his rule as Roman Emperor on August 19, 14 AD, upon the death of Caesar Augustus. Tiberius ruled until his own death on March 16, 37 AD when Caligula (Caius) became Emperor.[20]

During his reign, Tiberius appointed only two procurators to Judea, first was Valerius Gratus for the years 15-25 AD. Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea for 10 years from 26-36 AD.[21] Vitellius sent Pilate to Rome in 36 AD to answer to Tiberius for killing Samaritans; however, the Emperor died while Pilate was en-route to Rome.[22]

Ananus was first High Priest of his family, followed by five of his sons and a son-in-law named Caiaphas.[23] Beginning his 10-year tenure in 26 AD, Caiaphas was the high priest until he was removed by Vitellius during a Passover in 36 AD, the same year he removed Pilate as Procurator.[24]

Tetrarch Antipas met Heriodias who was with her husband, Tetrarch Philip, during a trip to Rome. The two devised a plan to divorce their current spouses and remarry each other. The scheme set in motion a chain reaction of historical events – the execution of John the Baptist; an Arab-Jewish war; and Caesar wanting the demise of an Arab King.[25]

John the Baptist is renowned by both Judaism and Islam in addition to Christianity.[26] He publicly criticized the illicit, incestuous marital arrangement which infuriated Herodias.[27] From the perspective of Josephus, Antipas executed John the Baptist for political reasons.[28]

Antipas’ first wife was the daughter of Arab King Aretas. Unbeknownst to Antipas, she found out about his divorce scheme with Herodias and made arrangements to return to her King father. Herodias and Antipas married in 33 AD according to the Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities.[29]

Aretas and Antipas were agitated to war, according to Josephus, “when all of Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army.” Based on this statement, Philip appears to be alive. Historians date the Aretas-Antipas war to 36 AD.

Antipas wrote to Tiberius about his defeat to Aretas which angered Caesar who ordered his Roman Syrian legate, Vitellius, to capture Aretas or “kill him and, and send him his head.”[31] Tiberius soon thereafter died in 37 AD whereupon Vitellius sent his military home because Tiberius’ order was no longer valid.[32]

Philip’s tetrarchy became available when he died and Roman Emperor Caligula gave the tetrachy governance position to Agrippa in 37 AD.[34]

Gospels:

Luke 3:1 “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”(NET)[35]

John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministries about the same time. Unlike the three Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Gospel account of John is essentially written in chronological order.

After his baptism by John the Baptist in Bethany, the Gospel of John chronicled actions taken by Jesus of Nazareth. After being rejected in Nazareth, he moved to Capernaum; chose some of his Disciples in Galilee; attended a wedding in Cana; returned to Capernaum; then traveled to Jerusalem for the first Passover of his ministry.[36]

Approaching the second Passover during his ministry, Jesus refers to John the Baptist in present tense terms although he spoke of his ministry in past tense strongly suggesting John is in prison:  he “was the burning and shining lamp.”[37] Herod Antipas had John the Baptist arrested, but not immediately executed, for publicly criticizing his illicit marital arrangement with Herodias who was infuriated by John’s criticism.[38]

Between the second and third Passovers attended by Jesus, people referred to John the Baptist in the past tense – he is no longer alive.[39] As a reward for a dance performed by his step-daughter, daughter of Philip, identified as Salome by Josephus, Herod Antipas promised anything she wanted.[40] After consulting with Heriodias, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist.[41]

Triangulation:

John the Baptist began his ministry during the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign. Adding 15 years to the beginning the rule of Tiberius in 14 AD equates to 29 AD.

Jesus of Nazareth did not begin his 3-year ministry until after he was baptized by John the Baptist when both were in the initial stages of their ministries that year. This alone eliminates the possibility for the crucifixion year of 29 AD.

Historical accounts from 33-37 AD combined with Biblical accounts support the death of John the Baptist in 32 or 33 AD… Jesus had not yet been executed.

Sending troops in 36 AD to aide Aretas in a war against Antipas, Philip could not have died in 33 AD after a 37-year reign if he began his rule in 4 BC. This, in turn, means King Herod died during the 1 BC scenario for the birth of Jesus.

Caligula, gave the tetrachy of Philip to Agrippa in 37 AD further supporting the scenarios for the death of Herod in 1 BC followed by the 37-year reign of his son, Philip. It is highly unlikely the governorship of a tetrarchy would have been left unfilled for 3-4 years if Philip had died in 33 AD.

Jesus attended three Passovers in Jerusalem, the third and final Passover resulted in his capture, trial and crucifixion. Ruling out 29 AD based on Luke’s historical accounts, NASA data shows the next Friday Passover occurred on April 3, 33 AD. Triangulating history and the Gospels with astronomy, all point to only one date for the crucifixion of Jesus – April 3, 33 AD.

What are the odds that the movement paths of the stars and planets created by God signal the times when Jesus was born and died?

 

Updated August 14, 2022.

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[11] Matthew 26:17-20; Mark 14:12-17, Luke 22:7-16, John 19:14. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein. Sanhedrin 43a; footnote #34; “Glossary” > “Baraitha” and “Tanna, Tana.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.htmlSoncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Epstein. “Introduction to Seder Nezikin.”  Visotzky, Rabbi Burton L. Sage Tales – Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud. 2011. p153. <https://books.google.com/books?id=pMJYU2DTZ4UC&pg=PA153&lpg=PA153&dq=Talmud+exception+for+Jesus+of+Nazareth&source=bl&ots=ir-xCPF6a0&sig=_Nx3mW86y5dgWQWtuQmV-VidP6w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwimzZi8yNvZAhXH44MKHf5AAEsQ6AEIXjAG#v=onepage&q=Talmud%20exception%20for%20Jesus%20of%20Nazareth&f=false> Talmud. “Sanhedrin 43a.” n.d. <https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.43a?lang=bi>
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[14] Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44.
[15] “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com.
[xvi] Espenak, Fred. National aeronautics and Space Administration. “Solar Eclipses of Historical Interest.” Java script. 2009. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEhistory.html> Espenak, Fred. National aeronautics and Space .Administration. “Total Solar Eclipse of 0033 March 19.” Chart. 2009. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEhistory/SEplot/SE0033Mar19T.pdf>  “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com.
[17] Espenak, Fred. NASA Eclipse Website. “Lunar Eclipses from -0099 to 0000 Jerusalem, Israel.” n.d <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>
[18] Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. “Iudaei.” 1898. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=iudaei-harpers&highlight=antipas>  CR Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. Book XVII, Chapter XI.4; Book XVIII, Chapter II.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=fal >  Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. Book II, Chapter IX.1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter IV.6; Chapter V.1. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.1. Strabo. Geography. Hamilton, H.C., Ed. Book 16, Chapter 2, footnotes 125, 128.  <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=16:chapter=2&highlight=antipas>
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2. Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.6.  Grant, Michael. Encyclopædia Britannica. “Augustus.” 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Augustus-Roman-emperor> Pohl, Frederik. Encyclopædia Britannica. “Tiberius.” 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tiberius> “Tiberius.” Wasson, Donald L. World History Encyclopedia. 19 July 2012  <https://www.worldhistory.org/Tiberius>
[21] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XIII. 2, 5; Book XVIII, Chapters II.2; VI.1-2, 5-7, 10. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter 9.5.  Tacitus. Annals. Books II, XV.  Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius).  Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Tiberius, #50, 51, 52. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/home.html> “Valerius Gratus.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/valerius-gratusdeg>
[22] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter IV.1-2.
[23] “High Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2007. < https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7689-high-priest>
[24] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters I1.2; IV.3; V.3; Book XIX, Chapter VI.2. “High Priest.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Jewish Palestine at the time of Jesus.” Britannica Encyclopedia. 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/Jewish-Palestine-at-the-time-of-Jesus#ref748553>  “Pontius Pilate.” Biography. 2021. <https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/pontius-pilate>  Pilate, Pontius.” Encyclopedia.com. 2022. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/biblical-proper-names-biographies/pontius-pilate>  “Tiberius.” World History Encyclopedia. <https://www.worldhistory.org/Tiberius> <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/Jewish-Palestine-at-the-time-of-Jesus#ref748553>  Smith, Mark. History News Network. “The Real Story of Pontius Pilate? It’s Complicated.” 2022. <https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168311>  Larson, Rick. The Star of Bethlehem. 2022. <https://bethlehemstar.com/the-day-of-the-cross/pilate-and-sejanus>
[25] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II.3, V.1.
[26] Quran 3:19:2-7, 6:85; 19:7. <https://bible-history.com/links/aretas-1067>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.
[27] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4.  A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Ed. William Smith. “Salo’me.” 1848. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0104:entry=salome-bio-4&highlight=tetrarch> A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. “Hero’des I. or Hero’d the Great or Hero’des Magnus.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0104:entry=herodes-i-bio-1&highlight=tetrarch>  CR Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:19-20; Luke 3:19-20. CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4.
[28] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.2.
[29] Peck, Harry Thurston. Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. 1898. #3. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0062:entry=herodes-harpers&highlight=antipas>  CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.
[30] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.  “Herod Antipas.” Britannica Encyclopedia. 2022. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herod-Antipas> “Aretas.” Bible History. 2022. <https://bible-history.com/links/aretas-1067>
[31] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1.
[32] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.1-3.
[3] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI. 10.
[34] Strabo. Geography. Chapter V. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=12:chapter=5&highlight=tetrarch>  “Tetrarcha.” A Dictionary of Green and Roman Antiquities. 1890. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0063:entry=tetrarcha-cn&highlight=tetrarch>
[35] CR Matthew 14:1, 3-4, 5, 6; Mark 6:14-20, 21; Luke 3:19; 4:16-30; 7:24-30; 8:3; 9:7, 9, 13.31; 23:7, 9, 11, 12, 15; John 1:28-34.  CR Acts 4:27; 12:4, 6, 11, 19, 21, 23; 13;1; 23:8, 35.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter John 1:28-34. XI.4; Book XVIII, Chapter V.1 Josephus. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter IX.1; Book III, Chapter X.7.
[36] John 1:35-47; 2:1-13. CR Matthew 4:13; 13:53-58. Mark 6:1-4.
[7] John 5:35.  CR Matthew 4:12; 11:2-7; John 5:32-33, 7:18-25.
[38] Matthew 14:5; Mark 6:19-20; Luke 3:19-20. CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter V.4. “Hero’des I. or Hero’d the Great or Hero’des Magnus.”
[39] John 10:40-41; 11:54-12:18.
[40] A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.“Salo’me.”
[41] Matthew 14:6-11; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 3:19-20; Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter V.

 

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