Unreal Birth Circumstances – Jesus of Nazareth

 

Circumstances of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are no less than incredible. A three-way confluence of events from locations in Rome, Persia and Nazareth, hundred miles apart from each other and months in the making, culminated in a small town where none of the figures of the story lived.

Two Gospel accounts cover the Nativity story, Matthew and Luke, each complimenting the other with few overlapping details. According to Luke, Caesar Augustus issued a registration decree although the Roman story behind the story is not told.

Caesar Augustus was designated Pater Patrie of the Roman Empire, Father of the County, on February 5, 2 BC, by the Roman Senate. The achievement was one the 35 highlights in The Deeds of Divine Augustus listing the accomplishments of Caesar over his 25 years of rule.[1]

To honor Augustus in 2 BC, planning began for a special registration of the entire Roman Empire including the provinces, not just the typical census for citizens of Rome. Each registrant was expected to swear an oath of allegiance to Augustus.[2]

Logistics to execute this registration decree required considerable planning, time and resources, especially in a era without electricity, computers, phones, etc. Just the minimal time by horse to enact the announcement in far reaching provinces like Syria would take months.[3]

Meanwhile, Magi “from the East” (Persia, by reputation and historical context), according to Matthew, saw stellar and planetary alignments which signaled something exceptional was about to happen – the birth of a King of Judea. Not just any King – what they saw was so awe-inspiring, they were moved to act.

Believing wholeheartedly in their observations, they planned a journey that would cover hundreds of miles by camel in a quest to find this baby King. Much more than just a tribute visit, they intended to present the baby with precious gifts and worship him.

Greek text of Matthew uses the word proskynēsai or proskuneo translated as “worship.” The word means “to do reverence to;” “bow down or bow down before;” “kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one).”[4]

In another concurrent series of events, while the Magi were on their journey to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary were busy going about their daily business. Preparing for the arrival of their new baby, they were planning his birth in Nazareth without any clue what was about to befall them.

Suddenly, everything changed – a praeco announced Augustus’ registration decree that compelled the betrothed couple to do the unthinkable. On short notice, an unplanned 90-mile trek on foot to register for the decree in Bethlehem was required in-spite-of Mary’s imminent childbirth.[5]

No one or thing trumped a decree by a Roman Caesar. Although it is not definitively stated that the decree had a deadline, Rome expected prompt compliance. Evidence of this urgency is seen by the immediate response of Joseph and Mary.

People were required to register in the home town of their family linage. In the case of Joseph and Mary, it was Bethlehem, the home town of King David who lived about a 1000 years earlier.

No doubt Mary would give birth before they returned to Nazareth where Mary should have been with her family and friends. Timing in this scenario is critical – if the praeco had announced the decree about two weeks earlier or later, Jesus would not have been born in Bethlehem.

Weary from the unplanned long trip from Nazareth, Joseph and Mary discovered that lodging accommodations in Bethlehem were full and they had to stay in a stable. As if this situation wasn’t challenging enough, Mary went into labor and was forced to give birth to Jesus using a manger for his crib.

According to Luke, the birth of Jesus was heralded by a host of angels. Shepherds left their flocks in the fields and went to Bethlehem to see this sight.

Not knowing their final destination, the Magi initially headed for Jerusalem, the government center of Judea. The city seemed to be a good place to get information and they went to the palace of Judea’s King Herod to ask him.

Arrival in Jerusalem by the Magi entourage was big news. It was not often that Magi visited Jerusalem being off the major trade routes and it likely caused a stir.[6] Further, the mystic Magi practices embraced by Hellenism were shunned by Judaism yet favored by the King.

Herod immediately granted the Magi access to his palace when the they arrived. The reigning King was informed of the news of the birth of a King of Judea, one with his own star – it was most shocking news.

At that point, Herod did not know any further details. However, it can be surmised that the King figured the Magi obviously knew something profound, both considering their reputation and the fact of their long journey to honor and worship this baby.[7]

After the Magi left the palace, the King summonsed the Jewish chief priests and scribes and asked if they knew where Christos was to be born. No ambiguity surrounded the question, the Jewish religion experts knew exactly what Herod was asking. They cited an ancient prophecy from Jewish prophet Micah who foretold the Messiah was to be born in “Bethlehem in land of Judah.[8]

Now that Herod believed he knew where the Christos was to be born, he planned to exchange that knowledge with the Magi to learn the exact location of the baby. The King secretly hailed the Magi to return back to the palace where they unwittingly agreed to the deal.

After leaving the palace, “his Star” reappeared at some point to the Magi and then stood over Bethlehem. The Magi were extremely excited and it corroborated the information given to them from Herod. Still not exactly sure of their final destination, they headed South toward the town just a short distance away.

Far off the path of a major trade route, unexpectedly the Magi from Persia arrived in Bethlehem. If their arrival was big news in Jerusalem, image what it was in the much smaller town. The Magi didn’t belong there, but the destination is where their quest took them.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, finding the child would not have been difficult. The Magi found the new family, then presented the newborn with their precious gifts and worshiped him.

Not all the drama was finished. Warned in a dream, according to Matthew, the Magi did not return to Jerusalem to tell Herod where the Christos was located.

Once Herod realized he had been duped, he commanded that all the male babies in the Bethlehem area under 2 years of age to be killed. Actions taken by the King were consistent with his ruthless reputation.

Joseph and Mary with Jesus escaped the King’s horrific murders by hiding in Egypt until Herod died shortly thereafter. Historian Josephus describes in detail events that transpired during the final weeks leading up to the King’s death. Eventually Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth where they raised Jesus and his siblings.

Was it just a coincidence that a 3-way confluence of events culminating in Bethlehem involved a quest by Magi from Persia following only stellar signs; Caesar’s registration decree intended only to honor himself and Rome; and Joseph and Mary who were compelled by the decree to embark on a 90-mile trip from Nazareth when she was about to give birth? Or was it divine plan? 

 

Updated December 29, 2023.

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. 2003. Chapter 13. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015. Academia.edu. 2015. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” 2018. Academia.edu. <http://web.archive.org/web/20220427180241/http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Jachowski, Raymond. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” n.d. <https://www.academia.edu/19833193/The_Death_of_Herod_the_Great_and_the_Latin_Josephus_Re_Examining_the_Twenty_Second_Year_of_Tiberius> “pater patriae.” Nova Roma. 2007. <www.novaroma.org/nr/Pater_Patriae_(Nova_Roma)>  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Reprinted from the Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Augustus. The Deeds of the Devine Augustus. #35.  Augustus, Caesar.  The Deeds of the Devine Augustus (Res gestae divi Augusti). #35. Trans. Thomas Bushnell. 1998. <http://classics.mit.edu/Augustus/deeds.html>  “pater patriae.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/pater-patriae>  confluence logo. Clipground.com. 2019. <https://clipground.com/images/confluence-logo-1.jpg>  Hochhalter, Howard. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.” 2023. video. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGTmwuqznec
[2] Gertoux, Gerard. “Herod the Great and Jesus.” Platner, Samuel Ball. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. 1929. “Forum Augustum.” <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/Europe/Italy/Lazio/Roma/Rome/_Texts/PLATOP*/Forum_Augustum.html#Aedes_Martis_Ultoris>  CR “Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome.” World History Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.worldhistory.org/article/617/temple-of-mars-ultor-rome/>
Orbis. Stanford University. map calculator of the Roman world. n.d. <https://orbis.stanford.edu/> “Census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=census&f=false>  Livius, Titus. The History of Rome. Book 33, #28. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0144:book=33:chapter=28&highlight=crier>  Pliny the Elder.  The Natural History. 1.Dedication C. Plinius Secundus to His Friend Titus Vespasian. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137:book=1:chapter=dedication&highlight=crier#note-link34>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” n.d. Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. “The Registration (Census).” <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/#_ftnref3>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”
[3] Orbis. Stanford University. “Travel Time from Ancient Rome.” Brilliant Maps. 2023. <https://brilliantmaps.com/travel-time-rome/>
[4] Matthew 2:2. BibleHub.com. n.d. lexicon. <https://biblehub.com/lexicon/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2 BibleHub.com. interlinear. n.d. <https://biblehub.com/interlinear/matthew/2-2.htm> Matthew 2:2. NetBible.net. “4352.” n.d. <https://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> “G4352. Greek Dictionary (Lexicon-Concordance). definitions. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/4352.html>
[5] Luke 2:4. Smallwood, E. Mary.  The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 152. <https://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=register&f=false>  Heinrich, Bill. Mysteries of the Messiah. 2016. <https://www.mysteriesofthemessiah.net/2016/01/04-03-09-bethlehem-c-6-5-b-c-the-registration-or-census/>  Smith, William; Wayte, William; Marindin, G.E., Ed. A Dictionary  of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1890. “commentaries, #4;” “census.” <https://books.google.com/books?id=Cu89AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&lpg=PA403&dq=greek+word+for+census&source=bl&ots=LM1MjmCiJt&sig=1_yjJgyNxcCcSWZvf0QK69IJuMw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjx0oPA04DYAhXo6YMKHebvAEwQ6AEIejAK#v=onepage&q=register&f=false>  Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”  Tarwacka, Anna. “The consequences of avoiding census in Roman law.” 2013. <https://www.academia.edu/5525859/The_consequences_of_avoiding_census_in_Roman_law>
[6] Matthew 2:3.  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>
[7] Plato. Republic. Book 9, Section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>  “Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – a Hebrew Magi?” TheOdds.website. 2018, revised 2023. <https://theodds.website/daniel-chief-of-wise-men-a-hebrew-magi/>
[8] Matthew 2:4-6. Hochhalter. “The Star of Kings and the Magi.”

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 events that took place over many weeks, if not months. Two Gospels, Luke and Matthew, provide the accounts of the Nativity story.[1]

Luke’s account starts just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth with an angelic birth announcement that Mary would give birth, even though she was a virgin, by way of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. Marking the time in history with Augustus, Quirinius and Herod, it ends with baby Jesus being presented to God at the Temple.[2]

Matthew’s account starts with the angelic pregnancy announcement to Joseph that Mary would give birth to the Son of God. Next chapter jumps to the arrival of the wise men translated as “Magi” in some Bibles.[3]

Talmud references to Magi include other names they were known by: “fire worshippers” and “Guebers” from Persia.[4] Having a long history of persecuting the Jews, the Magi were well-known, feared and disliked.[5]

Magian priests, on the other hand, were highly regarded in the former Persian and Greek Empires for their mysterious abilities. Among them, they had a reputation for reading the stars and making accurate predictions.[6]

Plato and historian Strabo referred to the Magi as “king makers,” a reputation that had to be known to Herod. Greek Hellenism, prevalent in the Jewish culture, accepted all religions including Zoroastrianism, the main religion of the Magi.[7]

Openly embracing Hellenism, Herod incorporated Greek inscriptions and architectural features in the enhanced Jewish Temple. Causing great consternation to Jewish fundamentalists and their eventual execution, the event marked the beginning of the end for Herod.[8]

Setting the scene in Matthew, King Herod of Judea was in his Jerusalem palace rather than one of his other palaces in Herodium, Jericho and Caesarea.[9] Soon he would move to Jericho to live out his final days with a most miserable health condition…but not yet.[10]

As strange as it may seem, purveyors of mysticism were introduced by Matthew into the Jewish Nativity story of Jesus. Calling upon Herod at his palace, the Magi were promptly welcomed.

Shockingly, these Wise Men said something most alarming to King Herod. Revealing the reason for their visit, the Magi asked a question:

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.” Future tense was not used, rather present tense – he was already a king.

More disconcerting, the Magi said they had “come to worship Him” and it probably 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 and not surprisingly, they were also “troubled.”

At the very least, the rumor mill presented an air of uncertainty which always tends to worry 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.”[11] Change in language is of special note:  the Magi inquired about the birth of a “King of the Jews” while Herod’s quote uses the Greek word Christos meaning Messiah.

Whether this difference in language is attributable to the author of Matthew or if Herod concluded the King of the Jews meant the Messiah, it didn’t make any difference. Chief priests and scribes understood exactly 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 the quote from the prophecy of Micah 5:1/2.

MT 2:5-6 “…So they said to him, ‘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.”’”(NKJV)

Previous mention of seeing ”his star” was initially not an attention-getting detail to the King. Believing the Magi’s declaration, this detail had been overshadowed by the bombshell announcement that there was another King of the Jews.

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

Actions by Herod in the remainder of the account are telling. For this ruthless King with a reputation of murdering anyone who might be a threat, there was only one course of action – eliminate the threat. Every step taken from that point forward focused on this outcome.

Secretly Herod called the wise men to second meeting with the intent to determine from them what time the star appeared.[12] Not having received an answer to their initial question, the Magi agreed to meet with Herod again.

Information from the second meeting served to be useful to both parties. Answering the original question of the Magi regarding the location of the child, Herod “sent them to Bethlehem.” In return, Herod was generally able to determine when the Magi saw “his star” and thus the age of the child.[13]

Worshiping no one or thing, Herod set the trap. Cunningly, Herod said to the Magi, “when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

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.”(NKJV)

After the follow-up meeting with Herod, the Magi saw a second appearance of the “star,” a definitive clue that opens the door for the science of astronomy to plausibly explain it. In a very rare scenario during an 18-month period in 3-2 BC, an extremely rare series of conjunctions occurred in the cosmos centered around Jupiter.

June 17, 2 BC, about 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. Much bigger and brighter, the two brightest stars in the sky formed one star.[14]

Jupiter entered a retrograde and appeared in the South over Bethlehem. Finding the child in Bethlehem was probably not difficult – in a small town, everyone knows what’s what, just ask. Finding Jesus in a house, the Magi “fell down and worshiped Him.” And when they had opened their treasures, they presented expensive gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”[15]

Now it becomes clear why Herod wanted to determine the age of the child. Realizing he had been deceived when the Magi avoided him, true to the reputation of Herod’s ruthless, cruel profile, he commanded all the children 2 years old and younger in the districts of Bethlehem to be killed. 

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.”(NKJV)

More than capable of such evil deeds, there were no bounds for Herod’s diabolical behavior. Torturing people for mere suspicions, Herod 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.[16]

King Herod’s drastic action confirmed five points the King believed:  the Magi’s declaration; the Jewish religious experts, the Micah prophecy; Christos had been born…and in Bethlehem.

Oft overlooked is a key critical detail provided by Matthew after King Herod died. Archelaus, King Herod’s son, became his successor, a fact that is consistent with secular history.[17]

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 December 20, 2023.

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REFERENCES:

All Bible quotes are from the New King James Version.

[1]  McLeay, Simon. StPeters. “The Nativity According to Matthew.” image. 2018. <https://www.stpeters.org.nz/media/_home_slide_image/th-18-12-02-the-nativity-matthew.jpg
[2] Luke 1:5; 2.
[3] Matthew 2:1. Netbible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=1>
[4] 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>  Cicero, M. Tullius. Divination. 44 BC. 1.46. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D46> Cicero. Divinations. 1.2.
[5] 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>
[6] “Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>
[7] 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 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126>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>  Strabo. Geography. Book 11.9 n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20221018120345/https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0198:book=11:chapter=9&highlight=magi>  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> 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>  Bunson, Matthew. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Idumaea.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624> “Herod the Great Biography.” TheFamousPeople. image. n.d. <https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/herod-the-great-37596.php> 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.
[8] 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>
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.
[10] 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>
[11] Matthew 2:4. Greek text. NetBible.org. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=4>
[12] Matthew 2:7.
[13] Matthew 2:8, 16.
[14] 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>
[15] Matthew 2:11. NKJV. Larson, Frederick A. The Star of Bethlehem. 2014. <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now> “Retrograde.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2023. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/human-body-systems-2237111>
[16] 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.
[17] Matthew 2:22.

The Eclipse that Links Astronomy, Herod & Judaism

 

King Herod was officially designated by Caesar Augustus and then sanctioned by the Roman Senate to rule Judea. Herod died between a lunar eclipse and the Jewish Passover while Augustus was still ruling Rome, according to Josephus.[1]

Gospels Matthew and Luke report that Herod was alive when Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. Matthew added that Joseph and Mary with Jesus escaped Herod’s wrath by hiding in Egypt until the King died soon thereafter.[2]

Establishing the date of the lunar eclipse through the science of astronomy along with Jewish Passover dates would substantiate the historical account of Josephus. Moreover, identifying the end of King Herod’s rule would corroborate the Gospel accounts and also potentially 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. These 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 AD – 37 = 4 BC).[7]

Upending the 4 BC date reckoning was Biblical hobbyist David Beyer. He traveled to various libraries around the world that held older handwritten copies of Antiquities and discovered that all handwritten copies originally stated Philip died in the 22nd year of the reign of Tiberius.

Beyer’s discovery adjusts the beginning of Philip’s rule to the years of 2-1 BC, thus the time of Herod’s death. His discovery is also consistent with Josephus’ two other statements in Antiquities and Wars that Tiberius died after serving as Caesar “twenty-two years, five months and three days,” historically dating to early 36 AD placing Herod’s death in 1 BC.[8]

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.[9]

NASA’s astronomy data provides a game-changing fact that supports Beyer’s discovery. 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.[10] The Passover in 1 BC was observed on April 6, twelve and half weeks later.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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?

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.[14] After all treatments failed, Herod welcomed the relief of death.

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.[15] Five days after Antipater’s execution, Herod succumbed to his wretched fatal condition.[16]

Many traveled to Herod’s funeral in Jericho from throughout Judea and from other countries that included foreign dignitaries and militaries.[17] Slowly advancing, the funeral procession lasted for many days to Herod’s final resting place in Herodium 30 miles away.[18]

One of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, extended the mourning period to seven days followed by giving a feast for all the people in Judea.[19] When the Passover festival occurred days later, 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.[20]

A lunar eclipse is the basis of both scenarios. 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.

Factoring in the NASA lunar eclipse data with the account of Josephus and the Jewish Passover, did Herod die in 4 BC or 1 BC?

 

Updated October 13, 2023.

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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.  Total Lunar Eclipse. Pilot&Today. image. 2014. <https://cdn.steamboatpilot.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2017/06/TotalLunarEclipse_122110.jpg>  
[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>  Jachowski, Raymond. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” n.d. <https://www.academia.edu/19833193/The_Death_of_Herod_the_Great_and_the_Latin_Josephus_Re_Examining_the_Twenty_Second_Year_of_Tiberius
[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]Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2; Chapter VI.5.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.8.
[9] 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
[10] 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
[11] Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page.
[12] 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
[13] 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
[15] 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
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[18] 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>
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I.
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I-II.