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]

Setting the scene in Matthew, King Herod 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…but not yet.[5]

As strange as it may seem to have purveyors of mysticism in the Jewish story of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,” translated as “Magi” in some Bibles. [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 Herod at his palace, the Magi were promptly welcomed. After all, Magi were not only highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires for their mysterious abilities, according to Plato, they were also known as “king makers.” [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, such as incorporating Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple, causing great consternation with the Jewish leadership.[11]

These Wise Men 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 newborn “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 leaked out to the people of Jerusalem of what the Magi had said. Not surprisingly they were also “troubled,” at the very least the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always worries a populace. If the child was the foretold Messiah, such speculation certainly stirred the pot even 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 difference 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 meaning Messiah.

Whether this difference in language is attributable to the author of 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 – members of 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 this ruthless King, based on the answer by the Jewish religious experts, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat.

Previous mention by the Magi of observing “his star” was initially not an attention-getting detail. Herod accepted the Magi’s declaration that they had seen “his star,” but this detail was overshadowed by the bombshell announcement there was another King of the Jews.

Upon further contemplation after the Magi’s visit, Herod realized details about the “star” were important – the time of the star’s appearance would determine the child’s age. Undoubtedly, they saw something in the night sky compelling them to travel hundreds of miles “from the East;” however, the Magi they didn’t say when they had seen “his star.” 

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

Information from the secret meeting served to be useful to both parties. Herod “sent them to Bethlehem” thereby providing the Magi with the location of the child. In return, 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 definitive clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain the “star.” In one scenario, an extremely rare series of stellar conjunctions occurred during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC centered around Jupiter.

June 17, 2 BC, nine months after the first Jupiter-Venus very close conjunction, Jupiter, known as the king star, came into an occultation conjunction (overlapping/fused) with Venus, known as the Queen or mother star.[15] Jupiter’s celestial path continued its odyssey and 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 visually indistinguishable giving it the illusion of stopping in its position.[17]

It becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. The King, who had undoubtedly believed the Magi, realized 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. The 2-year range to remove any room for error fits Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile.

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.”

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. 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

When the King realized the Magi were not returning, he commanded that all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. True to the reputation of Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile, the 2-year range covered any room for error.

More than capable of such evil deeds, there were no bounds for Herod. He had tortured people for mere suspicions and killed countless Jews, 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]

King Herod’s drastic action confirmed five points – the King believed the Magi; his royal Jewish council; the Micah prophecy; Christos had been born…and in Bethlehem. Herod died a few months later and oft overlooked is a key critical detail provided by Matthew:  Archelaus is named as the successor to King Herod, a fact consistent with secular history.[19]

At least 20 specific details are laid out in a logical sequence in 22 verses, much that is corroborated by history and science. Does this strengthen the credibility to Matthew’s Gospel account about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated August 31, 2022.

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

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> Bunson, Matthew.  Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Jupiter.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>
[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.

 

The Temple – Significance to the Trial of Jesus

Prosecution by Caiaphas during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth was not going well because no two witnesses could agree on the same accusation as required by Jewish law.[1] Finally two witnesses presented the same accusation:

MK 14:58  “”We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’”” (NASB)[2]

Not quite accurate according to the Gospel accounts of Mark and John.[3] Jesus actually said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”[4] No legitimate Jew would ever think of destroying the Temple – it was the sacred House of God. Rebuilding the Temple in 3 days was a feat that only God could do resulting in the accusation becoming the center point of the trial.

Hours later, the charge persisted at his crucifixion suggesting the mockers had been at the trial. The taunts asked Jesus that if he could destroy and rebuild the Temple in 3 days, why couldn’t he save himself from the cross?[5]

. . . . .

History of the Temple began at Mt. Sinai with Moses. Atop Mt. Sinai, God not only gave Moses the Law, He also made five big promises to the Hebrews all tied to the place. Three of those promises the permanent dwelling place for His Name; the place to observe the Feasts; and the judgment seat of Israel – all involved the future Temple:[6]

Until promises of the place came to fruition, instructions were given to the Hebrews for a temporary mobile structure as the place for God’s Name to dwell, a tent called the Tabernacle.[7] God’s design for the Tabernacle served as the blueprint for the future Temple, its usage and contents.[8]

Centuries later, King David wanted to build the permanent Temple, but God had other plans. The prophet Nathan delivered the message that David’s future son would fulfill the promise given to Moses to build the House of God.[9]

David still chose the future location of the Temple, but the backdrop story is nothing like it would logically seem. The site was a threshing floor owned by the Jebusite Araunah (Ornan) where winds on the high location were perfectly suited for separating grain from chaff.[10]

Wanting to offer a sacrifice to God to atone for his sin resulting in the deaths of thousands of Hebrews, David found Araunah’s threshing floor on high ground to be a suitable place for the sacrifice. Using his own money, the King bought the threshing floor along with all its equipment to use as the fuel for the sacrifice.[11]

Building an altar himself, the King prepared the offering, then fire came down from Heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Moved deeply, David declared “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offerings for Israel.”[12] The threshing floor was on Mt. Moriah where a thousand years earlier Abraham took his only son, Isaac, to be sacrificed.[13]

Temple construction began in the fourth year of King Solomon’s reign and was completed seven years later.[14] Solomon held a public consecration for the permanent dwelling place for the Name of God and prepared a sacrifice on the altar in front of the new Temple.[15] The King proclaimed to God:

2 CH 6:2-11 “I have surely built You an exalted house, and a place for You to dwell in forever.”(NKJV)

Depiction of Solomon’s Temple[16]
Spectacularly in the presence of all the Hebrews, God again sent down fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifice. It left no doubt this was the place for the Temple to serve as the dwelling place for the Name of God.[17] During the night, God appeared to Solomon reminding the King that although He had fulfilled His promises from Mt. Sinai, it was not carte blanche – it came with a stipulation:[18]

2 CH 7:19-20 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.” (NKJV)

After centuries of ignoring warnings from many prophets, the penalty stipulation was enacted – the army of King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the Second Temple was rebuilt under the decree of Persian King Cyrus with continued support from Kings Darius and Artaxerxes.[19]

King Herod enhanced the Second Temple though primarily for his own personal ambitions. He was able to sell the idea to the Jewish leadership by saying he wanted to bring the Temple back to the intended grandeur of King Solomon which had been unaffordable at the time it was rebuilt.[20] The enhanced Second Temple, also called Herod’s Temple by many, became the location of the trial Jesus of Nazareth.[21]

. . . . .

Caiaphas asked Jesus to explain the accusations, but received no answer. As the High Priest, he had to be aware of the prophecy by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah foretelling  the Branch would build the Temple:

Zech 6:12-13 “…Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (NKJV)

Knowing the magnitude of the accusation for the ability to rebuild the Temple in 3 days had divine implications, it was evidenced by the next direct question by the prosecutor. Caiaphus cut straight to the heart of the trial pointedly asking Jesus:

“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”(ISV, NRSV)[22]

Jesus answered, “I AM,” serving as sufficient proof to Caiaphas that he had spoken a blasphemy. The High Priest and the Sanhedrin serving as jurors took actions to have Jesus put to death.[23]

Was the claim by Jesus that he would rebuild the Temple in 3 days a daring metaphoric prediction spoken by the Son of God or was it a delusional claim of a man saying he would physically destroy and rebuild the Temple in three days?

 

Updated August 25, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30. Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Sanhedrin 9a, 30a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law.” Project Genesis. 2007. <http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/crimconfess.html>   
[2] CR Matthew 26:60-61.
[3] Mark 14:59, John 2:19-21.
[4] John 2:19-21. NASB.
[5] Mark 15:29.
[6] Deuteronomy 12:5, 11; 16:6; 17:8-10.
[7] Exodus 25:8-9. Leviticus 9:126:11; Numbers 9:15; Deuteronomy 12:22, 16:2, 6, 26:2; 2 Chronicles 5:2-10; I Kings 8:10.
[8] 1 Kings 6. 2 Chronicles 5-6.
[9] 2 Samuel 7:12-17.
[10] “Threshing.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/plants-and-animals/agriculture-and-horticulture/agriculture-general/threshing>  “Agriculture.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14378-thrashing-floor>
[11] I Chronicles 21:18-26; 2 Samuel 24:18-25. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter XIII.3. <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=Araunah&f=false>  Dolphin, Lambert.  “Mount Moriah, Site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”  TempleMount.org. 1996. <http://www.templemount.org/moriah2.html
[12] I Chronicles 22:1. NKJV.
[13] 2 Chronicles 3:1. CR Genesis 22.  Josephus. Antiquates. Book I, Chapter III.
[14] 1 Kings 6:1, 37-38.  CR 2 Chronicles 3:1-2.
[15] 2 Chronicles 6:1-7.
[16] “The Temple.” The Victor’s Place. photo. Feb. 2. ? <https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrCwOUslAdjzRoASQ0PxQt.;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=The+Temple%2C+Jerusalem&type=yhs-adk_sbnt_appfocus1_sm_ff&param1=20210118&param2=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&param3=searchmanager_%7EUS%7Eappfocus1%7E&param4=%7Efirefox%7E%7E&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&grd=1&ei=UTF-8&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt#id=96&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fvhoagland.files.wordpress.com%2F2021%2F02%2Fdsc00129.jpg&action=click>
[17] 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
[18] 2 Chronicles 7:11-18.
[19] Ezekiel 1:2-3; 6:7,12; 7:12-13, 23, 26.  “Building the Second Temple.” My Jewish Learning. 2019.  <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/second-templer>  Cohney, Shelley. The Jewish Temples: The Second Temple.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-second-temple>
[20] “Herod the Great.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826 -1889. Chapter 1. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>  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>  Spiro Ken. “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great.” Aish.com. 2001. <https://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html>  “Rebuild Herod’s Temple? A Few Israelis Hope.” New York Times. April 9, 1989. <https://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/09/world/rebuild-herod-s-temple-a-few-israelis-hope.html>
[21] Numbers 11:16-17, 24. Ariel, Yisrael. “The Chamber of the Hewn Stone.” The Temple Institute. 2019.  <https://www.templeinstitute.org/illustrated/hewn_stone_description.htm> Ariel. “Blueprints for the Holy Temple.”  <http://www.templeinstitute.org/blueprints-for-the-holy-temple.htm>
[22]2] Mark 14:61.
[23] Matthew 26:62-66; Mark 14:62-65; Luke 22:70-71.

A Lunar Eclipse Links Astronomy, Herod & Judaism

King Herod was sanctioned by Caesar Augustus to rule Judea. Herod died between a lunar eclipse and the Jewish Passover while Augustus was still ruling Rome, according to Josephus. Gospels Matthew and Luke report that Herod was alive when Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. Matthew added that Herod died prompting Joseph and Mary along with their child, Jesus, to come 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. Moreover, identifying the end of King Herod’s rule would 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]

Upon the death of Augustus, Tiberius reigned as Caesar from 14-37 AD. The secular year of 4 BC for determining Herod’s death uses the reverse calculation for the beginning of Philip’s 37-year rule (14 + 20 = 34 – 37 = 4).[7] 

Upending the 4 BC date reckoning was Biblical hobbyist David Beyer. He traveled to the various libraries around the world that held older handwritten copies of Antiquities and discovered that all handwritten copies originally stated Philip died in the 22 nd year of the reign of Tiberius. Beyer’s discovery adjusts the beginning of Philip’s rule to the years of 2-1 BC for the time of Herod’s death.

Key to the timeline for secular historians is a lunar eclipse that coincided with this traditional Antiquities date reckoning. NASA’s astronomy lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem confirms a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse occurred on March 13, 4 BC, between 1:32 am and 3:50 am. Slightly less than four weeks later, Passover fell on April 10th.[8]

A potential game-changing fact supporting Beyer’s discovery for the 2-1 BC adjusted timeline for Herod’s death is NASA’s astronomy data. January 9, 1 BC, there was a full lunar eclipse that began over Jerusalem at 10:22 pm spanning to 3:53 am, January 10.[9] The Passover in 1 BC was observed on April 6, twelve and half weeks later.[10]

Archeological, historical and astronomy records tracing to 2 BC coincide with other historical 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.[11] NASA’s data also shows a rare planetary occultation conjunction that 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 secular year’s timeline has proven to be challenging. Attempts to explain the registration decree by Augustus and Quirinius governing in Syria have required complicated, varying explanations.[12] Astronomical events that might explain “His star” took place in previous years prior to 4 BC.

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

Sometime after the lunar eclipse, 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 back at his palace in Jericho.[13] 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.[14] Upon his death, Herod plotted to have them killed with darts after he died.[15] To ensure that the whole nation would fall into deep mourning, he also plotted to have one member of each family in Judea killed to ensure deep mourning.[16]

Diverting Herod’s attention from this connivance, a letter from Caesar temporarily uplifted his spirits.[17] It said 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.

Herod attempted suicide, but was thwarted by his cousin who happened upon the act. The King’s jailed son, Antipater, mistook the cousin’s loud screaming thinking Herod had died and tried to bribe the jailer to be released. Instead, the jailer told the King and Antipater was immediately executed.[18] Five days after Antipater’s execution, Herod succumbed to his wretched fatal condition.[19]

Many traveled to Herod’s funeral in Jericho from throughout Judea including 500 domestic servants and freed men and from other countries that included foreign dignitaries and militaries.[20] Slowly, the funeral procession lasted for many days to Herod’s final resting place in Herodium 30 miles away.[21]

Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons, extended the mourning period to seven days followed by giving a feast for all the people in Judea.[22] When the Passover festival arrived, Archelaus took the opportunity to sail away to Rome with his family to escape the threatening chaos that bubbled up from Herod having executed 40 insurrectionists the night of the lunar eclipse.[23]

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 weeks later. Herod’s death period described by Josephus and the date of the Jewish Passover are defined by NASA lunar eclipse data – which scenario for the death of Herod best defines the birth year of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated September 14, 2022.

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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] “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.
[8] 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
[9] 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
[10] Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page.
[11] 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
[12] 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
[13] 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
[14] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[15] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[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.
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[21] 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
[22] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I.
[23] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I-II.