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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[2] Eduljee, K. E. “Zoroastrian-Persian Influence on Greek Philosophy and Sciences.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/zoroastrian-influence-on-greek.html>  Eduljee, K. E. “Astrology & Zoroastrianism,” Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/astrology-zoroastrianism.html>
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[4] Matthew 12:39; 16:4; John 3:2; 20:30; Acts 2:22. Quran Surah 3:41; 19:10. <http://search-the-quran.com/search/Yahya> “signs.” Oxford Learners Dictionaries. 2022. <https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/sign_1?q=signs>
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[7] Mathew 2:1-10; Luke 1:5.
[8] Beattie, M. J. Church of God Study Forum. “Hebrew Calendar.” n.d. <http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar> “Easter Sunday/Jewish Passover Calculator.” WebSpace Science. JavaScript calculator. n.d. <https://webspace.science.uu.nl/~gent0113/easter/easter_text2a.htm> “Jewish holiday calendars & Hebrew date converter.” Hebcal. n.d. <https://www.hebcal.com/converter?hd=16&hm=Nisan&hy=3793&h2g=1> “Hebrew Calendar Converter.” Calculators. 2022. <https://calcuworld.com/calendar-calculators/hebrew-calendar-converter> April 33 AD. TimeandDate.com. calendar. <https://www.messianic-torah-truth-seeker.org/AD-33-3793/PDF-AD-33-3793.pdf>  “How Accurate is the Calendar at this Website?” Church of God Study Forum. n.d. <http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/about>
[9] Leviticus 23:4-7; Numbers 28:16-25. Moss, Aron. “Why Is Passover on a Full Moon?” Chabad.org. <https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/4250850/jewish/Why-Is-Passover-on-a-Full-Moon.htm> Bikos, Konstantin. “The Jewish Calendar.” TimeAndDate.com. n.d. <https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/jewish-calendar.html>  Cohen, Michael M. “Passover, full moon and fulfillment.” The Jerusalem Post. 2019. <https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Culture/Passover-The-full-moon-and-fulfillment-586511>  “Determining the Dates for Easter and Passover.” RayFowler.org. n.d. <http://www.rayfowler.org/writings/articles/determining-the-dates-for-easter-and-passover>  Beattie. “Hebrew Calendar.”  Fairchild, Mary. Learn Religions. “What Is the Paschal Full Moon?. n.d. <https://www.learnreligions.com/paschal-full-moon-700617>  “Lunar Eclipses from 0001 to 0100 Jerusalem, ISRAEL” National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Javascrip  2007. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>
[10] Espanek, Fred. “Phases of the Moon: 0001 to 0100 Universal Time (UT).” Astropixels.com. n.d. <http://astropixels.com/ephemeris/phasescat/phases0001.html> Calendars for 28-33 AD. TimeandDate. 2022. <https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/custom.html?year=27&country=1&hol=0&cdt=31&holm=1&df=1>
[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>
[12] The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Paneas or Caesarea Philippi or Neronias (Banyas) Syria.” <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=paneas&highlight=tetrarch>[13] “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2007. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> “Easter Sunday/Jewish Passover Calculator.” WebSpace Science.  Beattie, M. J. Church of God Study Forum. “Hebrew Calendar.“ Jewish holiday calendars & Hebrew date converter.” Hebcal.  “Hebrew Calendar Converter.” Calculators. April 33 AD. TimeandDate.com.
[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.

 

Cleopas – An Eyewitness Resurrection Encounter

Eyewitness statements carry significant weight both in ancient and modern law as well as in the eyes of God.[1] The Law of Moses handed down by God defined that two eyewitnesses were required to establish a fact.[3]

Luke’s investigative Gospel contains one of the greatest eyewitness statements of anyone who encountered Jesus.[3] The eyewitness statement of Cleopas is quoted in Luke chapter 24.

Cleopas and his traveling partner, possibly his wife, were walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday.[4] They were joined on the road by a stranger who asked what they were so intently discussing?

Incredulous, Cleopas asked, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”[5] The man asked, “What things?”[6]

Answering the question, Cleopas provided a succinct witness statement of events to the stranger. He began by identifying a man known as Jesus of Nazareth whose powers caused people to recognize him as a prophet. Summarizing the events that had transpired over the Passover weekend, Cleopas said:[7]

LK 24:19-23 “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” (NKJV)

Resurrection accounts of all four Gospels are corroborated by the statement of Cleopas – Matthew, Mark and Luke predicting Jesus would rise again on the third day and of angels greeting Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna and Mary the mother of James at the empty tomb; and Luke and John account descriptions of two Disciples, Peter and John, verifying that the tomb was empty as reported by the women from Galilee.[8]

Cleopas had expressed hope that Jesus would be the one who would redeem Israel. Now it was the third day after the crucifixion and his hope was renewed by the reliable reports of a resurrection. Yet, to his knowledge, no one had yet seen the resurrected Jesus.

Most translations of the Greek word anoetos quote the stranger responding to Cleopas by referring to him as a fool or foolish. Anoetos is derived from the Greek word noeo with the primary meaning “to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding.”[9] The antonym primary definition of anoetos is “not understood, unintelligent” while the secondary definition is “not understanding, unwise, foolish.”[10]

In essence, the response from the unidentified man was bemoaning the lack of understanding by people of the prophesies concerning the Messiah. The man continued by asking, “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”[11]

Most significantly, the man did not dispute the statement of Cleopas indicating his acceptance that the account was accurate. Had the account been inaccurate, it would be expected that a man with full knowledge of the events would correct or dispute the statement if he knew it was incorrect – the statement of Cleopas was not disputed.

Instead, beginning with Moses and the prophets who followed, the stranger interpreted the prophecies written in the Scriptures.[12] Still, the couple still did not connect the dots that they were talking to the resurrected Jesus. Why should they?

Consider the circumstances – they were not one of the chosen Disciples; they were outside of Jerusalem; most of what they knew was second-hand information; and no one to their knowledge had seen the resurrected Jesus who had been crucified and buried. It was probably not even conceivable to them that the identity of the stranger who joined them was the resurrected Jesus.

Getting late in the day, the concerned pair invited the man to their home in Emmaus. He accepted their offer and stayed during supper preparations. When they sat down to eat the meal, the man blessed the food, broke the bread and served it. “At this point their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Then he vanished out of their sight.”[13]

Something that the man said when he prayed caused the Cleopas pair to realize that the identity of the stranger in their midst was, in fact, the resurrected Jesus.[14] What did Jesus say? His words are not recorded in the Gospels; however, their recognition of Jesus was confirmed when he simply vanished right before their eyes.

Did the Cleopas pair believe they had just encountered Jesus? Their actions provide a very strong clue. The pair took on the challenges of an immediate walk back to Jerusalem – a 7-mile trek by foot near sunset on a hilly, unpaved road.[15]

Arriving back in Jerusalem at the location of the eleven Disciples and other followers, they learned “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!”[16] Cleopas told them about their encounter consistent with his previous statement that it was not until Jesus prayed before their meal that they recognized him.

Comparing and sharing their experiences, there was more to come… “Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you.’”[17] Neither Cleopas nor his partner disputed that it was the same person they had encountered previously in Emmaus who was now standing before them again in the room in Jerusalem.

First Jesus showed the group the healed crucifixion wounds in his hands and feet suggesting that they touch them to see for themselves that he was flesh and bone. Further, to prove he was real and not just an apparition, Jesus ate some fish.

Consistently with what he had told Cleopas and his partner on the road home to Emmaus, Jesus affirmed to the group that what had happened to him was predicted by Moses, the prophets and in the Psalms. “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day …” this time adding “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”[18]

Gospel accounts are in sync, consistent and corroborated by the Cleopas eyewitness statement. Does his eyewitness statement of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection events ring true?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Ketubah.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 9a, 30a, 32a-b, 49b, 56a-b. 1935-1948. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html> Foster, Brittany. LegalDepot. “Witnesses in a Legal Document.” 2018. <https://www.lawdepot.com/blog/witnesses-in-a-legal-document>  “A Notary Official Signature.” American Association of Notaries. 2019. <https://www.notarypublicstamps.com/articles/a-notary-official-signature>
[2] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30.
[3] “Cleopas, Why You Should Know Him.” Yeshua in Context. 2010. <http://www.yeshuaincontext.com/2010/10/cleopas-why-you-should-know-him>
[4] “Clopas.” Abarim Publications. 2021. <https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Clopas.html>  “Cleophas.” Catholic Encyclopedia. 2020. <https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04048b.htm> Jones, Victoria Emily. “The Unnamed Emmaus Disciple:  Mary, wife of Cleopas?” Art & Theology. 2017. <https://artandtheology.org/2017/04/28/the-unnamed-emmaus-disciple-mary-wife-of-cleopas>
[5] Luke 24:18. NRSV.
[6] Luke 24:19.
[7] Luke 24:19-24, 31.
[8] Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:3. CR Matthew 27:62-63; Mark 8:31-32, 9:31; Luke 18:31.
[9] “noeo <3539>.” NetBible.org. 2021. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=3539> “G3539> Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/3539.html>
[10] Luke 24:25.  “anoetos <453>.” NetBible.org. 2021. <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=453>  “G0453.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0453.html>
[11] Luke 24:26. NASB.
[12] Luke 24:27, 32.
[13] Luke 24:31. NET.
[14] Luke 24:31, 35.
[15] Luke 24:33. “Topography of Jerusalem Looking from the South.” Generation Word. 2005. <http://www.generationword.com/nt_maps/136_topography_of_jerusalem.jpg>
[16] Luke 24:34.  NET, NASB.
[17] Luke 24:36. NKJV.
[18] Luke 24:46. NASB. Luke 24:47. NSRV.

The Arabian Desert – Two Routes to Bethlehem?

Matthew’s Nativity account of the wise men, the Magi, reveals their quest to find the newborn King of the Jews took them first to Jerusalem, then on the Bethlehem. After being warned not to return home the way they came, the Magi took a different route back to their homeland was there a second route?

Arabian Desert, Persia

Magi were well-known by reputation for their origins in Persia east of Judea hundreds of miles away. Facing them were the hardships and challenges posed by the great Arabian Desert.[1]

Marco Polo, famed thirteenth century explorer, wrote in 1298 of his travels to the Province of Persia searching for information about the Magi.[2] Writing of a city called Saba, Polo wrote that he first visited the burial place of the “magi who came to adore Christ in Bethlehem.”

Today the city is known as Saveh located about 50 miles southwest of Tehran, Iran.[3] From Saba, Marco Polo’s pursuit to find the location where the Magi had lived took him on a 3-day trek to the castle of “Palasata, which means the castle of fire-worshippers,” a same name for Magi found in the Talmud.[4]

Visiting with the residents of the Palasata castle, they told the story of three renowned Magi whose home towns were given as Dyava, Saba and the castle of Palasata. While Matthew’s account neither discloses the number of Magi nor that they were kings, Marco Polo recounts being told of “three offerings” made by three kings:[5]

“…anciently, three kings of that country went to adore a certain king who was newly born, and carried with them three offerings, namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh:  gold, that they might know if he were an earthly king; frankincense, that they might know if he were God; and myrrh, that they might know if he were a mortal man.” Maro Polo  [6]

Parthian Empire’s trade routes 2nd BC – 1st AD

Travel from Persia to Judea offered only two realistic route choices when confronted with the Arabian Desert, one of the largest, if not the largest desert in the world. One option was a route around the northern edges of the Arabian Desert. The other option was the longer southern route through the desert by way of Petra south of the Dead Sea.

Shorter of the two trade routes to Jerusalem, the initial destination of the Magi, was approximately 700 miles.[7] The route coursed from Seleucia near present day Baghdad; north through the populous area east of the Euphrates River; on to Edessa in southeast Turkey; turned west to Damascus, Syria; then turned south following the ancient King’s Highway paralleling the east side of the Jordan River.

Trade route spurs West off the King’s Highway across the Jordan River were limited to only three. When traveling from the North, the first two were not logical choices for a Jerusalem destination. The last crossing opportunity was to ford the Jordan just above the Dead Sea heading west by Jericho, then onward to Jerusalem.

King Herod’s winter palace was located in Jericho where he would soon travel during his final days.[8] The crossing point of the Jordan near Jericho was the same place where the Israelites entered into land of Abraham after their wonderings in the Sinai wilderness.[9]

Erza 7:9 mentions how a similar journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took four months. On the timeline of history, Ezra was written after the Hebrew’s release from Babylonian captivity thought still under the rule of the Persian Empire in the late 300 BC era.[10]

Scrolling forward a century to the last quarter of the 200s BC, trade routes had been established by the Parthian Empire making travel relatively much faster.[11] Commonly referred to as “caravan routes,” these trade routes were busy – the interstate highways of the day dotted with trading posts making them the best practical means for land travel.[12]

First, the Magi traveled to Jerusalem where they sought guidance from ruler of the land, King Herod. Jerusalem was not located on the common caravan routes making it a newsworthy event where everyone seemed to be aware of their arrival in the city .[13]

Aside from their unusual arrival, perhaps attention was also garnered by their conspicuous caravan of camels; their foreign grandiose attire; or that they were regarded as kings from Persia.[14] Nevertheless, it is obvious the Magi were recognized on the highest social hierarchy as King Herod who granted the Magi immediate access to his palace.

After consulting with Jewish religious experts, Herod directed the Magi to go to Bethlehem in exchange for revealing the exact location of the child after they found him. Bethlehem was only 5 miles to the south of Jerusalem accessible directly by a north-south road. Matthew’s account then provides a key detail:

MT 2:12 “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (NIV)

Consensus agreement to avoid King Herod presented a costly logistical challenge requiring full agreement of the Magi. Herod would assuredly know if the Magi were back in the City of Jerusalem and undoubtedly he would know if they were passing by the much smaller Jericho where area local contacts of the King’s winter palace were certain to inform him.

A return route back to Persia avoiding Jerusalem and Jericho left only one other option across the Arabian Desert the southern Parthian loop. It was a much longer trek, some 100 miles longer at around 800 miles.

South of the Dead (Salt) Sea, the King’s Highway routed to Petra, then East on the southern Parthian route across the Arabian Desert to central Persia. The catch was how to reach it from Bethlehem.[15]

Access to the southern Parthian trade route was literally at the doorstep of the Magi. The Central Ridge route ran south out of Bethlehem to Hebron; connected to the Spice Route which passed under the Dead Sea; and then joined the King’s Highway south to Petra.[16] The other less traveled minor route spurs off the Central Ridge Road may have shortened the southward path with the trade-off being a more difficult passage, fewer trading posts, and greater risks.

Bethlehem to Petra trade routes. Copied with permission: Biblewalks.com.

Many secular historical accounts confirm the origins of the Magi – who they were, their reputation, from where they came. Two well-known geographically established caravan trade routes involving the Arabian Desert existed from Persia to Judea.

Do these historical accounts corroborate and add credibility to Gospel account of Matthew and the Nativity of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

 

 

 

 

Updated September 4, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2:1, 12. “Arabian Desert.” New World Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Arabian_Desert>  “Arabian Desert.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Arabian-Desert>
[2] Polo, Marco.  The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  1818.  Ed. Ernest Rhys. 1908 Edition.  Chapter XI. p 50. <http://archive.org/stream/marcopolo00polouoft#page/50/mode/2up> “Marco Polo.” Bibliography.com. 2020 <https://www.biography.com/explorer/marco-polo>  
“Marco Polo and his travels.” Silk-Road.com. n.d. <http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml
[3] Saveh, Iran (untitled). Bing.com/maps. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=caeb94c6-d007-42ed-a5c8-19628ce0cebc&cp=35.411126~50.908664&lvl=9&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027> Hartinger, J. A. “Saba and Sabeans.” Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 13. 1912.  NewAdvent.org. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13285c.htm>
[4] Strabo. Geography. Chapter III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>Stillwell, Richard, et. al. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. “Hatra Iraq.” n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=hatra&highlight=caravan> 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>
[5] Matthew 2:11.
[6] Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  p 50.
[7] II Kings 25:1-17; Jeremiah 52:3-30. Middle East. Bing.com. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=a2a3d404-6095-4abc-9ac8-b6d695d42293&cp=34.13455~41.097873&lvl=7&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027>  “Atlas of Iran Maps.” IranPoliticsClub.net. Chapter 4. March, 2000. <http://www.iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “Spice Ways.”  Israel Antiquities Authority.  Map.  n.d.  2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “Trade Routes of Palestine.” Bible Odyssey. Map. 2019. <https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/map-gallery/v/map-trade_routes-g-01>
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVII. Chapter VI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Geva, Hillel. “Archaeology in Israel: Jericho – The Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod> “Herodian Jericho.” Oxford Bible Studies Online. 2020. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t393/e57>
[9] Numbers 20:19, 22:1; Deuteronomy 32:48, 34:1-4; Joshua 3:14-17. “Roads in Israel.” Bible History Online. Map.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/maps/ancient-roads-in-israel.html>
[10] “Ezra and Nehemiah, Books of.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ezra-and-nehemiah-books-of> “Ezra.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ezra-Hebrew-religious-leader>
[11] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” MetMuseum.org. 2020. <https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm> “Map of Roman & Parthian Trade Routes.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2020. <https://www.ancient.eu/image/11763/map-of-roman–parthian-trade-routes>  Hopkins, Edward C. D. “History of Parthia.”  Parthia.com. 2008. <http://www.parthia.com/parthia_history.htm>  “Parthian Empire.” Iran Chamber Society. 2020. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[12] Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Bernice or Pernicide Portum (Madinet el-Haras) Egypt.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=berenice-1&highlight=caravan>  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Beroea (Aleppo) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=beroea&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Dura Europos Syria.”  The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=dura-europos&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Palmyra (Tadmor) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=palmyra&highlight=caravan> “Trade Routes/” National Museum of American History. n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  “Chapter 4. Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” “Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” Iran Politics Club. n.d. <http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “Roads in Israel – 1st Century AD.” Bible-History.com. Map. n.d. <https://www.bible-history.com/maps/first-century-roads-israel2.jpg>
[13] Matthew 2:3.
[14] Strabo. Geography. Chapters II-III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi> <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>  Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=1:chapter=prologue&highlight=magi>  Stillwell, Richard et. al. “Gaza Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=gaza&highlight=caravan>
[15] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. 4.451. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0148:book=4:section=451&highlight=petra>
[16] “Major Trade Routes.” Bibarch.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bibarch.com/images/Map-Regions.jpg> Ancient Israel trade routes (untitled).  BibleWalks.com. Map. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20190414151021/https://biblewalks.com/Photos72/IncenseRoute.JPG> “Ancient Palestine.” The History of Israel. Map. n.d. <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/images/AncientRoadsandCities2.jpg>  “Old Testament Map & History.” The History of Israel.  “Ancient Palestine.” Map. n.d.  <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/old-testament-map.html> ;   “The Geographical, Historical, & Spiritual Significance of Shechem.” Bible.org. 2020. <https://bible.org/article/geographical-historical-spiritual-significance-shechem> “Spice Ways.” Israel Antiquities Authority. Map. n.d. Mnemotrix Systems, Inc. 2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “The Urantia Papers’ First Century Palestine.” The Urantia Book Fellowship. Map. n.d. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20070820230158/http://www.urantiabook.org/graphics/gifmap1.htm>  “Eastern Desert.” Pinterest.com. Map. n.d. <https://i.pinimg.com/originals/cb/8e/5c/cb8e5cdfa8e96c2fdc1eb3c884cc5f75.jpg> Last accessed 19 Dec. 2021.  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Petra (Selah) Jordan.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=petra-2&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Elusa (El-Khalasa) Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites.. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=elusa-2&highlight=caravan>