Matthew’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

Easy to forget, the Christmas Nativity story didn’t happen in a single night – it is a time-lapsed compilation of what took place over many weeks, if not months. Two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, are the sources of the Nativity story.[1]

Luke’s account starts just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ending when he was about a month old. Matthew’s account starts later, “Now after Jesus was born…”[2] No longer in a stable, “when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother.”[3]

Herod, King of Judea, was in his Jerusalem palace rather than one of his three other palaces in Herodium, Jericho and Caesarea.[4] Soon he would move to Jericho to live out his final days with a most miserable health condition.[5]

As strange as it may seem to have purveyors of mysticism in the story of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” in some translations appearing as “Magi.”[6] According to the Talmud, magi were from Persia, also known as “fire worshippers” and “Guebers.”[7] Magi had a long history of persecuting the Jews making them well-known, feared and disliked.[8]

Calling upon the King, the Magi were promptly welcomed into his palace. Afterall, magi were highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires known as “king makers,” according to Plato.[9]

Greek Hellenism accepted all religions, especially Zoroastrianism with its magian priests who had a reputation for their ability to read the stars and make accurate predictions.[10] Herod openly embraced Hellenism even incorporating Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple causing great consternation with the Jews.[11]

These king-makers said something most alarming, shocking to King Herod. The Magi announced the reason for their visit and asked:

MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” (NKJV)

Any king, especially Herod, would be distressed when these king-maker Magi said they were looking for a young “King of the Jews.” And, they didn’t use future tense; rather present tense – he was already a king. More disconcerting, the Magi said they had “come to worship Him” which seemed very likely the people might want to do the same.

Word of what the Magi had said leaked out to the people of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly they were also “troubled,” at the very least, because the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always worries the populace. If the child was the foretold Messiah, that speculation certainly stirred the pot more.

Herod’s next action clearly demonstrates he believed the Magi when he “gathered all the chief priests and scribes together asking them where the Christ was to be born.”[12] A change in language is of special note. The Magi inquired about the birth of a “King of the Jews” while Herod’s quote uses the Greek word Christos.

Whether this change in language is attributable to Matthew or if Herod connected the dots concluding the King of the Jews meant the Messiah, it didn’t make any difference. The chief priests and scribes understood what Herod was asking as evidenced by their specific answer.

Jewish chief priests and scribes – the Jewish leadership – reported to Herod that a Ruler was prophesied to be born “In Bethlehem of Judea.” Unambiguous, their answer included a quote from the prophecy of Micah 5:2:

MT 2:5-6 “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Reaction by Herod was telling. For the King, based on the response by the Jewish leadership, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat.

Mention by the Magi that they had seen “his star” initially was not an attention-getting detail overshadowed by the bombshell statement there was another King of the Jews. Now the “star” was important to Herod. Was it a supernatural appearance or is there a scientific explanation?

Regardless, Herod took it at face value that the Magi did, in fact, see “his star.” Undoubtedly, they saw something in the night sky compelling them to travel hundreds of miles “from the East.” But, the Magi they didn’t say when they had seen “his star.” Not needing to know all the details of astronomy, the King realized the time of the star’s appearance would determine the child’s age.

Wanting this single detail, Herod “secretly called the wise men” for one specific purpose – to “determine[d] from them what time the star appeared.”[13] The Magi still hadn’t yet received an answer to their question and agreed to meet with Herod again.

Information from the secret meeting served to be useful to both sides. Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” providing the Magi with the location of the child. Herod was able to determine when the Magi saw “his star” and thus the age of the child.[14]

Cunningly, Herod told the Magi, “when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.” Herod worshiped no one or thing – the trap was set. As for the Magi:

MT 2:9-10 “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”

A second appearance of the “star” is a solid clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain the “star.” An extremely rare series of stellar conjunctions occurred during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC centered around Jupiter. Known as the “king star,” Jupiter came into two extremely close conjunctions 9 months apart with Venus, known as the mother or Queen star.[15]

Jupiter’s movement through the night sky after the second occultation (overlapping/fused) conjunction on June 17, 2 BC, continued its odyssey. Jupiter’s celestial path moved into a retrograde U-turn in the southwestern sky.

From the vantage point of Jerusalem, Jupiter appeared to stop over Bethlehem beginning December 25, 2 BC, lasting until January 2, 1 BC.[16] Minimal nightly movement would have been indistinguishable giving it the illusion of stopping in its position.[17]

Finding the child in Bethlehem was probably not difficult – in a small town, everyone knows what’s what, just ask. Finding Jesus, the Magi “fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented expensive gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Perhaps the most telling details of the Nativity story – Magi had traveled hundreds of miles to find and worship a child they described as the “King of the Jews” presenting him with very expensive gifts. Who would do this, much less for just a child? Considering the Magi’s reputation as “king-makers” and adversaries of the Jews, it was all the more remarkable.

King Herod’s perspective was completely different. So much, in fact, he took dramatic, merciless action to eliminate the threat to his kingdom.

MT 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. The King had undoubtedly believed the Magi concluding they had deceived him whereupon he took the drastic action of commanding all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. A 2-year range to remove any room for error fits Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile.

More than capable of such evil deeds, for Herod there were no bounds. He had killed countless Jews for simply disobeying Jewish law, not to mention killing his brother, three sons, a former Jewish High Priest, and plotted to have all the “principal men” of Judea killed upon his own death.[18]

Oft overlooked is a key critical detail provided by Matthew. The Gospel specifically names Archelaus as the successor to King Herod, a fact completely consistent with secular history.[19]

At least 20 specific details are laid out in a logical sequence in 16 verses, much that is corroborated by history and science. Does this strengthen the credibility to Matthew’s account that sets the stage for presenting the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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REFERENCES:

All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

[1] Matthew 2; Luke 2.
[2] Matthew 2:1.
[3] Matthew 2:11.
[4] Burrell, Barbara; Gleason, Kathryn L.; Netzer, Ehud. “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace. BAS Library. 1993. <https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/19/3/7>  Geva, Hillel.  “Archaeology in Israel:  Jericho – the Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod>  “Herodium-King Herod-s Palace-Fortress.” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2000. < https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/israelexperience/history/pages/herodium%20-%20king%20herod-s%20palace-fortress.aspx>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. William Whitson. Book XV, Chapter XI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. William Whitson. Book I, Chapter XXI.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  “Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. n.d. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/herod>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[6] Matthew 2:1. Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=1>
[7] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[8] Segal, Eliezer. “The Menorah and the Magi.” Sources. 1997. <https://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/Shokel/971219_MagiMenorah.html> Missler, Chuck. “Who Were the Magi?” Idolphin.org.1999. <http://www.ldolphin.org/magi.html>
[9] Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Herodotus. The Histories.  Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79.  Missler. “Who Were the Magi?” Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>   Herodotus. The Histories. Book 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D1>  Polybius. Histories. Book 34, Chapter 2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=34:chapter=2&highlight=magi>  Herodotus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herodotus-Greek-historian>
[13] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.
[10] “Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter VIII; Book XVI, Chapter V; Book XVII, Chapters VI; VIII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXI.  “Hellenism” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>
[12] Matthew 2:4. Greek text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=4>
[13] Matthew 2:7.
[14] Matthew 2:8, 16.
[15] Phillips, Tony.  “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000.  <http://web.archive.org/web/20170516003444/https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” Press Release – Marshall Space Flight Center. SpaceRef.com. 2000. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1819>  Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 4.  Larson, Frederick A. The Star of Bethlehem. 2014. <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. 2009.   <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016111146/http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm>
[16] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Larson. The Star of Bethlehem. “The Starry Dance.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[17] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4.  Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” “The Star of Bethlehem.” Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Society. 2006. <http://web.archive.org/web/20120103020452/http://www.eaas.co.uk/news/star_of_bethlehem.html>   Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Chapter XI; Book XVII, Chapters VI, IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters X, XXVII, XXXIII.
[19] Matthew 2:22.

 

What Do Herod, Astronomy and Judaism Have In Common?

King Herod died between a lunar eclipse and the Passover, according to Josephus.[1]Matthew and Luke Gospels say Herod was alive when Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem; Matthew adding the King died before Joseph and Mary along with their child, Jesus, came out of hiding in Egypt.[2]

Establishing the date of the lunar eclipse through the science of astronomy along with the calendar reckoning of the Passover would substantiate the historical account of Josephus, more so corroborate the Gospel accounts and establish the birth year of Jesus of Nazareth.

“But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised a sedition with his companions, alive. And that very night, there was an eclipse of the moon.” [3]

  “…and when the public morning for the king was over…at the feast of unleavened bread, which was now at hand, and is by the Jews called the Passover…”[4] – Josephus

Secular history has long advocated the year of King Herod’s death as 4 BC.[5] That year is reckoned from published copies of Josephus’ Antiquities going back to 1544. The printed copies say one of Herod’s sons, Philip, died in the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius after ruling for 37 years.[6]

Two of Herod’s sons, Antipas and Archelaus, had both laid claim to the throne after the King died.[7] Caesar, a beneficiary of millions from Herod’s will, heard their appeals in Rome.[8] Augustus’ delayed Solomon-esk decision split the kingdom to be ruled by the three sons of Herod rather than a single king – Archelaus to rule over one-half of Judea including Jerusalem, Philip and Antipas to rule over the other half of the kingdom.[9]

Tiberius reigned as Caesar from 14-37 AD taking the reverse calculation of the beginning of Philip’s 37-year rule to 4 BC (14 + 20 = 34 – 20 = 4) , thus the year of Herod’s death.[10] Key to this timeline for historians is a lunar eclipse that coincided with this traditional Antiquities date reckoning.

NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem confirms a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse occurred on March 13, 4 BC, between 1:32am and 3:50am. Slightly less than four weeks later, Passover fell on April 10th.[11]

Upending the 4 BC date reckoning was Biblical hobbyist David Beyer. He traveled to the various libraries around the world holding the older handwritten copies of Antiquities and uncovered that all handwritten copies originally stated Philip died in the 22nd year of the reign of Tiberius. The Antiquities timeline corroborates this discovery where about 6 months after Philip died, Tiberius died, too after ruling for 22 years. Beyer’s discovery adjusts the beginning of Philip’s rule to the years of 2-1 BC, the adjusted time of Herod’s death.

January 9, 1 BC, a full lunar eclipse began over Jerusalem at 10:22pm spanning to 3:53am, January 10th.[12] NASA’s astronomy data produces a potential game-changing fact fully corroborating the adjusted 2-1 BC date reckoning for Herod’s death based on Beyer’s discovery. The Passover in 1 BC was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.[13]

Archeological, historical and astronomy records tracing to 2 BC coincide with other Gospel timeline events. The Silver Anniversary of Caesar Augustus and his Pater Patriae registration decree; archeological discoveries of Quirinius governing in Syria; and the Battle of Actium marking the beginning date of Herod’s reign all land in the 2-1 BC time frame.[14] NASA’s data also shows a rare planetary conjunction formed an extraordinary, elongated star in June, 2 BC.

Aside from the partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC, finding other known secular historical events to corroborate that year’s timeline has proved to be challenging. Attempts to explain the registration decree by Augustus and Quirinius governing in Syria have required complicated, varying explanations.[15] Astronomical  events that might explain “His star” took place in previous years to 4 BC.

One historical factor may tip the scales in favor of the actual year. Josephus described in detail events that transpired between the lunar eclipse and the Passover. A question about the 4 BC timeline – could all these events have taken place in less than four weeks or would the twelve and half weeks in 1 BC be more realistic?

Herod’s loathsome bowel and gangrenous groin condition compelled him to seek therapy in the warm baths of Callirrhoe, a 2-day journey from Jerusalem across the Jordan River. Gaining no relief, he soaked in a full vat of oil at his palace in Jericho.[16] After all treatments failed, Herod welcomed the relief of death.

Letters were sent by Herod summoning “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation” to his palace in Jericho [17] Surmising the people would all rejoice at his death, the king had the “principal men” locked inside the Jericho hippodrome and gave orders to have them killed with darts as soon as he died.[18]

The cruel nature of Herod worsened – to ensure that the whole nation would fall into deep mourning, he also plotted to kill one member of each family in Judea.[19] Diverting his attention from this connivance, a letter from Caesar temporarily uplifted his spirits.[20] Acme, Herod’s wicked daughter-in-law, had been executed in Rome and Caesar granted the King permission to either banish or execute her husband, Herod’s own hated son, Antipater.

Hastening the anticipated relief of death, Herod attempted suicide. His cousin happened upon the act, intervened and began screaming which echoed through the halls of the palace. Antipater, thinking Herod had died, tried to bribe the jailer for his release; the jailer instead told Herod who then had Antipater immediately executed.[20]

Five days after Antipater’s execution, Herod succumbed to his wretched fatal condition.[22] All these things occurred after the lunar eclipse preceding Herod’s death. What transpired next before the upcoming Passover would have taken even more weeks.

Fortunately for the principle men of Judea locked in the Hippodrome, Herod’s order to kill them after he died was not carried out. Salome, Herod’s sister, and her husband told the guards the king had changed his mind before he died.

Many traveled to the funeral in Jericho from throughout Judea including 500 domestic servants and freed men; from other countries were foreign dignitaries and militaries.[23] Slowly, the funeral procession lasted for many days to Herod’s final resting place in Herodium 30 miles away.[24]

Archelaus afterwards extended the mourning period to seven days followed by giving a feast for all the people.[25] Soon thereafter, chaos and sedition broke out in the days approaching the Passover with passions still simmering from Herod’s horrific executions of the Jewish insurrectionists several weeks earlier. Archelaus dispatched military forces to quell the unrest resulting in the death of 3000 rebels.

Finally the Passover festival after Herod’s death arrived. During the tumultuous Passover celebration, Archelaus along with his family, sailed away to Rome to escape the threatening chaos.[26]

A partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC followed by the Passover less than 4 weeks later vs. a full lunar eclipse in 1 BC with the Passover 12½ later – Josephus, NASA and the Passover – which one is the most realistic to determine the death of Herod which then defines the birth year of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapters VI, XIX Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  CR Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[2] Matthew 2; Luke 1.
[3] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.4
[4] Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter 1.2-3
[5] Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 34, no 2, pp 526-531. 1983.  RedatedKings.com. n.d.  <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf>  Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 13. 2003. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11%3E%20%3Chttp://web.archive.org/web/20170111193244/http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm>  Schurer, Emil.  A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1. pp 400, 416. <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.6; V.4.  Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. 1998.   <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false>
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter II.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter VIII.
[9] Matthew 14:3; Mark 6; Luke 3:1.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapters IX, XI.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapters II, VI.
[10] “Tiberius.” BBC. 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/tiberius.shtml> Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. p. 358. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.6-8, 10. 
[11] Espenak, Fred. “Javascript Lunar Eclipse Explorer.” NASA Eclipse Website. n.d.  Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>  Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.” Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page. n.d.  <http://www.observadores-cometas.com/cometas/Star/Passover.html>
[12] Espenak. “Javascript Lunar Eclipse Explorer.”  NASA Eclipse Website. n.d.  Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  Espenak. “NASA TP-2009-214172.” n.d.  <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/5MCLEmap/-0099-0000/LE0000-01-10T.gif>
[13] Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page.
[14] Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” 2018. Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII. Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter XIX.  “Augustus.”  UNRV History |The Roman Empire. United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php;
[15] Davis, John D. “Quirinius” (Quirinus), cwui-rin’i-us, Publius Sulpicious.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. IX: Petri – Reuchlin. 1953. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc09/htm/iv.vi.xii.htm>  Ramsay, William M.  “Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?” Chapter 11. 2010. <http://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/index.html> Schaff, Philip. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. Chapter 2. 1890.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1 June 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html> Sieffert, F. “Census.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. II:  Basilica – Chambers. 1952. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.vi.ccxxx.htm>
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI. Josephus.  Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.   “Callirrhoe.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3933-callirrhoe>  “Map of New Testament Israel.”  Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[21] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[22] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[23] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[24] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII, * footnote.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.  “Highways and Roads of Palestine.” Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/herodium.html>
[25] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I.
[26] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I-II.

King Herod’s Death Year – 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.[1] Herod’s death occurred shortly after the birth of Jesus making it the lynch pin date used to determine the birth year of Jesus. Not without controversy, the death year of Herod 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.[2]

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 Antipas and Aristobulus, after the King  died.[3]

“…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. – Josephus [4]

Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, then 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.[5]

Josephus bookends Herod’s final days starting with a lunar eclipse the night he had 40 insurrectionists burned alive and dying just before the following Passover that same year meanwhile describing in great detail events that occurred in the interim.[6] Some experts question whether all these things could have occurred in the span of only 4 weeks…

Drama of Herod’s final days is better than most movie scripts. A gripping scene in Jerusalem begins with rumors that Herod had died inciting insurrectionists to remove the long-hated sacrilege of Rome’s golden eagle insignia Herod had mounted over the Temple’s main gate.

Unfortunately for the insurrectionists, the King was not yet dead. Herod had the High Priest removed from office and 40 insurrectionists burned alive.[7] That very night was marked by a lunar eclipse.

Herod’s loathsome protruding bowels and gangrenous groin condition worsened. His physicians recommended therapy in the warm baths of Callirrhoe, a 2-day journey from Jerusalem across the Jordan River. Gaining no relief from the warm springs, his physicians recommended soaking in a full vat of oil at his palace in Jericho.[8]

Treatments failed and Herod welcomed the relief that death would bring. Preparing for his own death for one final glorious chapter in his life, the King sent letters throughout Judea summoning all “principal men” to Jericho:

“all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him…a great number that came, because the whole nation was called, and all men heard of this call, and death was the penalty of such as should despise the epistles.”[9]

Misery soon overcame the King who decided to hasten the inevitable by suicide with a kitchen carving knife. His cousin saw what was about to happen, grabbed the King’s hand and began screaming.[10]

Echoing screams throughout the halls of the palace were misinterpreted that Herod had died touching off a great wailing lamentation. The imprisoned Antipater, believing a twist of fate had now posited the kingdom into his grasp, promised his jailer fortunes to release him immediately. Instead, the jailer informed Herod who became enraged, beat his head and ordered Antipater to be promptly executed.[11]

Herod died 5 days later after Antipater’s execution.[12]News of the King’s death spread across Judea and to other nations. Meanwhile, a funeral bier was built of gold embroidered by “very precious stones of a great variety” and lined with purple material “of various contexture.”

International dignitaries and top military personnel including centurions, captains and officers; and full regiments of the Thracians, Germans, Galatians and Gauls all outfitted in full battle gear traveled to the King’s funeral in Jericho. 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.[13]

Consultant and Biblical hobbyist, David Beyer, compared the 1544 Gutenberg printings of Antiquities to two dozen predated, handwritten manuscripts. He discovered all handwritten Antiquities manuscripts said that Philip died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year. The Antiquities timeline  backs up this discovery where Tiberius died about 6 months after Philip after serving as Caesar for 22 years.[14] The discovery that changes the traditional 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.[15]

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.[16] Simple math places Herod’s death in 1 BC.

NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem shows a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse did occur on March 13th, 4 BC.[17] Passover that year fell on April 10th, just four weeks later.[18]&Interestingly, however, is that a full lunar eclipse appeared over Jerusalem January 9-10, 1 BC, and the Passover was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.[19]

Historical records, archeological discoveries and astronomy data each land in the 1-2 BC timeframe  corroborating the Matthew and Luke accounts. Did Herod’s death actually occur in 1 BC, not the traditionally accepted year of 4 BC?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2. Luke 2.
[2] Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.”  Pages 3-4.  Maier, Paul L. The New Complete Works of Josephus.   Trans. William Whiston.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications. 1999.  Dissertation 5, Appendix #38.  Google Books.  n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=kyaoIb6k2ccC&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20complete%20works%20of%20josephus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false >  Ramsay. Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11 & end note.
[3] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapter XII; Book XVIII, Chapters V.
[4] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.
[5] Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 349 footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>  Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies. 1983. Vol. 34, no 2, pp 526-531, <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf>  Schurer, Emil.  A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 1890. Volume 1, pp 464-465, footnote 165.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>  Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter  4. <http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm
[6] Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapters VI – IX.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  Google Books. n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI, VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI. Josephus.  Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. “Tulul Abul Alayiq (Herodian Jericho) – Jericho.”  This Week in Palestine. Issue No. 102, October 2006.  <http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=1948&ed=132&edid=132>  “Callirrhoe.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3933-callirrhoe>  “Map of New Testament Israel.”  Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[12] Josephus.  Antiquities.  Book XVII, Chapter VI-VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[13] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapters VII-VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 450, footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>; “Highways and Roads of Palestine.” 2017. Map. Bible-history.com. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.”  A partial translation from “La Fecha de Muerte de Herodes y La Estrella de Belén.” 1999.  Astrology of the New Centaurs.  <http://www.expreso.co.cr/centaurs/steiner/herod.html Smallwood, E. Mary. The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 104, footnote 158. <http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>; Reinhold, Roy A. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.” Codes in the Bible. 2001. <http://www.ad2004.com/Biblecodes/articles/yeshuabirth5.html Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” 1998. p 88. Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. Ed. Jerry Vardaman.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015 Academia.edu. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod/a>
[14] Beyer.  “Josephus Reexamined.” pp 86-87, 90-93, 95-96.  Wolfram, Chuck.  “The Herodian Dynasty.” 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20151013221102/http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cwolfram/herod Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. 2nd Ed. 2003. Chapter 13. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge.  <://web.archive.org/web/20170917115234/http://www.askelm.com/star/star015.htm> Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.6-8, 10.
[15] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter V, Book XVII, Chapters VI – Chapter VIII.  Josephus.  Wars.  Book I, Chapter XXXIII.  “Actium (31 BCE).”  Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/battle/actium-31-bce> “King Herod the Great.” Livius.org. 2017. <http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great01.html>  “The Actium Project.” New World Encyclopedia. The University of South Florida and the Greek Ministry of Culture. Dir. William M. Murray.  Research Project. 1997.  <http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~murray/actium/brochure.html>  Chesser, Preston. “The Battle of Actium.” Ohio State University. 2002. <http://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/battle-actium>  Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.” pp 6, 9, 11.  “HEROD I. (surnamed the Great).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7598-herod-i>  Villalba i Varneda, Pere. The Historical Method of Flavius Josephus. 1986. p14.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=kdUUAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA14&ots=2ek7SgCy2c&dq=josephus%2C%20battle%20of%20actium%2C%20herod&pg=PA14#v=onepage&q=josephus,%20battle%20of%20actium,%20herod&f=false>  Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.” Pages 14, 140.  “World History 50-0 BC.”  HistoryCentral.com.   MultiEducator, Inc.  n.d. <http://www.historycentral.com/dates/50bc.html>
[16] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII. Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter XIX.  “Augustus.” UNRV History |The Roman Empire. United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php>  “Did Caesar and Cleopatra really have a son?” The Ancient Standard. 2010. <http://ancientstandard.com/2010/12/03/did-caesar-and-cleopatra-really-have-a-son>
[17] Espenak, Fred.  NASA Lunar Eclipse Website. 2007.  Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel; Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html
[18] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem.  Chapter 13. Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”
[19] Espenak. NASA Eclipse Website. Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  Espenak, Fred.  “Six Millennium Catalog of Phases of the Moon.” NASA Eclipse Website. n.d. “Phase years Table:  -0099 – 0000.” <https://archive.is/UsEwe> Kidger, Mark R. “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  <http://www.observadores-cometas.com/cometas/Star/Passover.html> Reinhold. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.”