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 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 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 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 leading up unto Herod’s death. What transpired next before the 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 executions of the Jewish insurrectionists several weeks earlier. Archelaus dispatched military forces to quell the unrest resulting in the death of 3000 rebels. During the Passover, 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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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.

Herod – Profile of a Cunning and Cruel King

Infamous as King of Judea in the Nativity story, Herod the Great was a threat to the lives of the Magi, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  Was the King really such a villain?

MT 2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king…”

MT 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.” (NKJV)

Hard to believe anyone, especially a king of Judea, would kill all the boys in a Jewish community the age of 2 years and younger. How could a king be so cruel to his own people? One clue might be that Herod was not of Jewish heritage – his father Idumean, his mother Arabian.[1]

Herod’s career began as governor of Galilee in 47 BC appointed by his father, an administrator of Judea under Julius Caesar. Josephus noted people quickly saw Herod’s harsh personality:  “…they saw that he was a violent and bold man, and very desirous of acting tyrannically.”[2]

As governor, he killed so many people in violation of Jewish law, the Sanhedrin put him on trial for murder. High priest Hyrcanus tipped off the defiant Herod that he was about to be found guilty allowing his escape to Damascus.[3]

Aligning himself with Roman rulers, the Procurator of Syria, Sextus Caesar, appointed Herod as a military general “for he sold him that post for money.” Bribery and expensive gifts would be effective to maintaining Roman relationships. Marc Antony “by money” named Herod as tetrarch and such persuasions helped avert a dangerous dalliance with Cleopatra.[4]

With more financial influences, Antony presented Herod to the Roman Senate which voted to make him King of Judea in 40 BC. Authority had to be taken by force in Judea over the course of 3 years with the assistance of Roman Legions provided by Antony.[5]

Politics were a life and death game, one Herod played very adeptly. After Antony’s defeat by Octavius, Herod figured his days were numbered whereupon he boldly presented himself to Octavius in Rome. Acknowledging his loyal friendship to Antony, Herod positioned his loyalty as a quality that would likewise be valuable to Caesar if allowed to pledge him allegiance. The ploy worked and established a lasting relationship for the remainder of Herod’s life.[6]

Allowed more power by Rome than any other king in the provinces, Herod was positioned to acquire great wealth and fame. Wealth was acquired through heavy taxes, from booty of war and at least some illicitly. Josephus wrote that under cover of night, Herod robbed King David’s sepulcher of gold furniture and precious goods (Hycranus had already robbed the money).[7]

Herod is famed for rebuilding the Temple back to the grandeur of Solomon. He also built new cities including Caesarea with a temple dedicated to Caesar and Herodium in honor of himself; buildings in honor of his parents and other Roman friends; palaces, temples, theaters, amphitheaters, market places, aqueducts, harbors, and exercise facilities throughout Judea and beyond including Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Greece.[8]

Rome’s Hellenistic culture was more important to Herod than honoring Jewish laws. The King hosted international games in honor of Caesar every five years with naked competitors and large prizes; Roman-style arena spectacles with wild animals and men; and public displays of trophies of war.

All these things caused great animosity among the Jews. Throwing fuel on the fire, Herod used Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the new Temple. One sacrilege was placing Rome’s golden eagle insignia over the Temple gate leading to a future incident marking the final days of Herod – and another atrocity when 40 insurrectionists were burned alive. [9]

Trusting no one, Herod was ruthless in quelling any possible threats to himself.[10] A favored interrogation method was torture on “the rack” where anyone excepting his family were subject to it. Josephus identified palace eunuchs, body guards, maids, friends of family members, soldiers, and anyone else possibly holding secrets who met a fate on the rack.[11]

Perhaps the biggest threat to Herod actually came from his own family. With 10 wives and children, the palace was constantly in turmoil full of people who bore hatred for one another with rivalries, slanders, lies, backstabbing, and murder conspiracies.[12]

Executions and murders were standard fare. Herod killed the 17-year old brother of his second wife, Mariamne, because he wanted someone else to be high priest. He killed Hyrcanus, her father, former high priest, and old heir to the throne. Mariamne rebuked Herod, his sister Salome and their mother for the murders leading to her own execution from a ginned up false murder conspiracy.[13]

Mariamne’s sons were heirs to the throne stirring more jealousies, slanders and conspiracies by Herod’s first wife and oldest son, Antipater, born before he was king. Convinced Mariamne’s sons were guilty of a murder plot to kill him, Herod tried them in absentia and, without any hard evidence, they were still convicted. Both sons were strangled and others who condemned Herod’s actions were tortured and killed. Days before Herod died, he also executed Antipater.[14]

Unusual for rulers of the era, Herod died a natural death, albeit a most miserable one. Disabled by a gangrenous groin condition where his bowels protruded out of his body, he thought death would be a welcome relief and attempted suicide.

Knowing death was imminent, the King devised the most dastardly plan of his reign. Feeling sorry for himself, Herod summoned all the throughout Judea under threat of death compelling a great number to travel to Jericho.[15]

Surmising they would all rejoice at his death rather than mourn, Herod wanted to deprive them of such mockery and had them locked inside the hippodrome. Before his death announcement was made public, the soldiers were commanded to kill them with darts intended to place all of Judea in a state of mourning. Further, to ensure deep national mourning, one member of each family in Judea was also to be killed.[16]

Such depravity was even too much for his wicked sister, Salome. Upon his death, the plan was aborted and the principal men released after informing the soldiers that Herod had changed his mind at the last moment.[17]

According to Matthew, Herod believed he had been deceived by the Magi and wanted to kill the baby Jesus and slew children up to 2 years old in an attempt to ensure his death. Does the historical profile of Herod strengthen the credibility of Matthew’s Nativity account or diminished it?

 

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

REFERENCES:

[1]Herod the Great.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2017. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great/?> “Edom (ē`dŏm), Idumaea, or Idumea.” The Free Dictionary. 2017. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>
[2] Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XIV, Ch. IX.  William Whitson.  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.  Book I, Chapter X. William Whitson.  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>  “Herod.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2017. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/herod>   “Herod the Great – Governor of Galilee (47-37 B.C.).”   <https://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Idumean>
[3] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIV, Ch. IX; Book XV, Chapter II.  Josephus. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter X. “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016.
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIV, Chapters IV, V, IX, XI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter X.
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XIV, Chapter. XVI, XII-XIV.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters IV, XV – XVII.  “Herod I.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7598-herod-i>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters VI-VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XIX-XX.
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapters XXI, XXV, XXIV.  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  “Herod the Great.” Livius.org.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXI.  “Herod the Great.” Bible History Online. 2016. <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great>  Edersheim, Alfred.   The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. Chapter 1. <http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/default.htm>  Hegg, Tim.  “Separating the Most Holy from the Holy:  The ‘Veil’ in the Tabernacle and First & Second Temples” Torah Resource.  <http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Veil%20ETS%20Paper.pdf>  “Temple of Jerusalem.”  New World Encyclopedia. 2015. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Temple_of_Jerusalem>  “Herod’s Temple.”  Bible-history.com.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/herod_the_great/HERODHerods_Temple.htm>   “Herod.”  Jewish Virtual Library.
[9] 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> “Asia Minor.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2010-asia-minor>
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Chapter 1; Book XVI, Ch. VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVI.
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapters VIII, X; Book XVII, Chapter IV. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXX.
[12] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter I.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XII. XXII.  “Herod the Great.” Livius.org.
[13] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapters III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII.
[14] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVI, Chapter XI; Book XVII, Chapter IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII. XXXIII.
[15] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[17] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.