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

REFERENCES:

[1] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapters VI, XIX Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  CR Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[2] Matthew 2; Luke 1.  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.

King Herod’s Death Year Controversy

 

King Herod’s death occurred shortly after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth making it the lynch pin date to determine his birth year. Referenced in the Nativity accounts of both Matthew and Luke, Jesus of Nazareth was born during the lifetimes of three historical personages – Augustus, Herod and Quirinius.[1]

Standardized calendars during Antiquity do not exist; instead, timelines and dates are linked to well-known historical events. Establishing the date of Herod’s death requires piecing together such clues as the reigns of Tiberius, King Herod and his sons; the Battle of Actium; the Jewish religious calendar; astronomy data, Josephus’ accounts, etc.

Adding another level of complexity is “inclusive reckoning,” the question of whether a partial year was counted as a full year in historical references. The unsettled question instills a plus or minus factor of at least a year.[2]

King Herod

Herod’s death is marked by bookend events of a lunar eclipse and the Passover that Spring based on printed copies of the Antiquities of the Jews by historian Josephus. He wrote that Philip began his regional Judean reign in the “twentieth year of Tiberius” when his father died, then ruled for 37 years.[3]

“…Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis, and of the nation of Bataneana also thirty-seven years.” – Josephus[4]

Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, then adding 20 years lands in 34 AD to establish the year of Philip’s death. Subtracting 37 years of Philip’s rule backdates to 3 BC. Since a partial lunar eclipse occurred on March 13th, 4 BC, this year becomes the commonly accepted secular year for King Herod’s death.[5]

King Herod’s death year controversy begins with some experts the questioning the timeline between the eclipse and Passover – could all these events have occurred in the span of just 4 weeks if Herod died in 4 BC…

Eclipse to Passover Events

A gripping scene in Jerusalem begins with rumors that Herod had died. Incited insurrectionists removed the long-hated sacrilege of Rome’s golden eagle insignia Herod had mounted over the entrance gate.[6]

Unfortunately for the insurrectionists, the King was not yet dead. In response, Herod had the High Priest removed from office and 40 insurrectionists burned alive.[7] That very night was marked by a lunar eclipse and Josephus describes in detail the events that took place before the upcoming Passover.

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

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

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

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

Echoing screams throughout the halls of the palace were misinterpreted that Herod had died touching off a great wailing lamentation. Antipater, Herod’s imprisoned eldest son, believed a twist of fate had now posited the kingdom into his grasp.

Antipater promised his jailer fortunes to release him immediately. Instead, the jailer informed Herod who became enraged, beat his head and ordered his son to be promptly executed.[11]

Herod died 5 days later after Antipater’s execution.[12] News of the King’s death spread across Judea and to other nations.

International dignitaries and top military personnel including centurions, captains and officers; and full regiments of the Thracians, Germans, Galatians and Gauls all outfitted in full battle gear traveled to the King’s funeral in Jericho. Meanwhile, a funeral bier was built of gold embroidered by “very precious stones of a great variety” and lined with purple material “of various contexture.”

After the funeral, an elaborate procession to Herodium for the King’s interment took many more days. Following the King’s burial was a 7-day morning period, then a feast was given for the people of Judea before the Passover.[13]

Death year calculations

Consultant and Biblical hobbyist, David Beyer, compared the 1544 Gutenberg printings of Antiquities used to determine the 4 BC date to two dozen older, handwritten manuscripts predating Gutenberg. He discovered all older handwritten Antiquities manuscripts said that Philip died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year.[14] This discovery changes the traditional secular year of Herod’s death to the 2-1 BC timeframe.

Josephus’ own accounts in Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews each back-up Beyer. In Antiquities, Josephus states in another entry 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.[15]

Wars marked the Battle of Actium in the 7th year of Herod’s reign. The Battle of Actium is academically recognized as occurring in the year 31 BC. Josephus wrote that Herod served for 37 years. Simple math backdates the beginning of Herod’s reign to 38 BC who then reigned 37 years thereby again placing Herod’s death in 1 BC.

Agrippa traveled to Rome a year before the death of Tiberius in 36 AD. After saying to Caligula (Caius/Gaius) in a carriage ride that he wished Tiberius would die, the carriage driver told Tiberius who the had Agrippa thrown into prison. Six months later with Tiberius’ death his successor, Caligula, gave Philip’s tetrarchy to Agrippa in 37 AD.[16] Once again, the year of Herod’s death reckons to 1 BC.

Historian expert Gerard Gertoux’s use of a different calculation method arrived at similar results. Since Herod was 70-years old when he died, Gertoux determined his death occurred sometime between April, 2 BC, and March, 1 BC.[17]

Changing the date of Herod’s death to 1 BC poses a second question – what about the lunar eclipse referenced by Josephus marking the final days of King Herod? NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem reveals that on January 9-10, 1 BC, a full lunar eclipse occurred. Passover that year was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later allowing eight additional weeks for the events described by Josephus to occur.[18]

By comparison, NASA data for Jerusalem shows only a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse occurred on March 13th, 4 BC, used to support the secular 4 BC timeline.[19] Passover that year fell on April 10th, four weeks later.[20]

Question

Historical records and archeological discoveries along with astronomy data point to the death of Herod in the 1-2 BC time frame. Did Herod’s death actually occur in 1 BC or the traditionally accepted year of 4 BC?

 

Updated July 23, 2023.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2. Luke 2.
[2] Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.” pp 3-4.  Maier, Paul L. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications. 1999. Dissertation 5, Appendix #38.  Google Books. n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=kyaoIb6k2ccC&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20complete%20works%20of%20josephus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false >  Ramsay. Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11 & end note. 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
[3] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapter XII; Book XVIII, Chapters V.  Bunson, Matthew. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Galilee; Judaea.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>  Jachowski. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.”
[4] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.6.
[5] Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 349 footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>  Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies. 1983. Vol. 34, no 2, pp 526-531, <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf>  Schurer, Emil.  A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 1890. Volume 1, pp 464-465, footnote 165.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>  Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter  4. <http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm
[6] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapters VI – IX. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI, VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. “Tulul Abul Alayiq (Herodian Jericho) – Jericho.”  This Week in Palestine. Issue No. 102, October 2006. <http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=1948&ed=132&edid=132>  “Callirrhoe.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3933-callirrhoe>  “Map of New Testament Israel.”  Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[12] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII, Chapter VI-VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[13] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapters VII-VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 450, footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>; “Highways and Roads of Palestine.” 2017. Map. Bible-history.com. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.”  A partial translation from “La Fecha de Muerte de Herodes y La Estrella de Belén.” 1999. Astrology of the New Centaurs. <;href=”http://www.expreso.co.cr/centaurs/steiner/herod.html”>  Smallwood, E. Mary. The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 104, footnote 158. <http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>; Reinhold, Roy A. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.” Codes in the Bible. 2001. <http://www.ad2004.com/Biblecodes/articles/yeshuabirth5.html “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” 1998. p 88. Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. Ed. Jerry Vardaman.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015 Academia.edu. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod/a>
[14] Beyer. “Josephus Reexamined.” pp 86-87, 90-93, 95-96.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.1, 6.  Wolfram, Chuck.  “The Herodian Dynasty.” 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20151013221102/http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cwolfram/herod Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. 2nd Ed. 2003. Chapter 13. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge.  <://web.archive.org/web/20170917115234/http://www.askelm.com/star/star015.htm> Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.6-8, 10.  Jachowski. Academa.Edu. “The Death of Herod the Great and the Latin Josephus: Re-Examining the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.”
[15] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2; Chapter VI.5.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.8.
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.10. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.6.  “Augustus.” UNRV History |The Roman Empire. United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php>  “Did Caesar and Cleopatra really have a son?” The Ancient Standard. 2010. <http://ancientstandard.com/2010/12/03/did-caesar-and-cleopatra-really-have-a-son
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter V, Book XVII, Chapters VI – Chapter VIII.  Josephus.  Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. “Actium (31 BCE).”  Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/battle/actium-31-bce> “King Herod the Great.” Livius.org. 2017. <http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great01.html>  “The Actium Project.” New World Encyclopedia. The University of South Florida and the Greek Ministry of Culture. Dir. William M. Murray.  Research Project. 1997.  <http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~murray/actium/brochure.html>  Chesser, Preston. “The Battle of Actium.” Ohio State University. 2002. <http://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/battle-actium>  Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.” pp 6, 9, 11.  “HEROD I. (surnamed the Great).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7598-herod-i>  Villalba i Varneda, Pere. The Historical Method of Flavius Josephus. 1986. p14.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=kdUUAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA14&ots=2ek7SgCy2c&dq=josephus%2C%20battle%20of%20actium%2C%20herod&pg=PA14#v=onepage&q=josephus,%20battle%20of%20actium,%20herod&f=false>  Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.” Pages 14, 140.  “World History 50-0 BC.”  HistoryCentral.com.   MultiEducator, Inc.  n.d. <http://www.historycentral.com/dates/50bc.html>
[18] Espenak. NASA Eclipse Website. Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  Espenak, Fred.  “Six Millennium Catalog of Phases of the Moon.” NASA Eclipse Website. n.d. “Phase years Table:  -0099 – 0000.” <https://archive.is/UsEwe> Kidger, Mark R. “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  <http://www.observadores-cometas.com/cometas/Star/Passover.html> Reinhold. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.”
[19] Espenak, Fred.  NASA Lunar Eclipse Website. 2007. Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel; Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html
[20] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13. Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”

The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod

 

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find the newborn King of the Jews.[1] They knew to start searching somewhere in Judea and it made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.

Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. The first words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:

MT 2:2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (NASB, NKJV)

No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew their conclusion was true saying:

MT 2:2 “For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.” (NKJV)

Now the second shock wave – they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction of what they had observed – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.

All of Jerusalem was “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”[2] Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. Maybe, too, it was their unusual arrival by a conspicuous caravan of camels; their foreign grandiose attire; or they were regarded as kings from Persia.[3]

News from the Magi certainly shook things up undoubtedly getting the attention of everyone in the palace. Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends not to mention that throughout history palaces of kings and queens notoriously have been unable to hold their secrets. Herod’s family was no exception, scandalously known for their loose lips.

Good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. A newborn king of the Jews – who was his father if it wasn’t Herod? A child worthy of worship by the reputed king-makers? Could he even be the promised Messiah? Now this was newsworthy!

Word about a new king undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Regardless, it would still be years before this new king would begin his reign.

For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod, this whole affair, whether true or not, would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a real threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.[4]

Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after the Magi left the palace, the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.”[5] Not just a select few – the King was leaving no stone unturned.

Making it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation, he asked the Jewish religious experts to determine “where the Christ was to be born.”[6] It was not a question of if … it was a 2-fold conclusion.

Herod used the Greek word, Christos, translated as Christ, the Messiah, and asked where he was to be born? The consensus response of these Jewish religion experts: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah.[7]

Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.

Matthew does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know when it had occurred. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.

Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded by Matthew in the response from the chief priests and scribes. As religious experts, they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel.[8] Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not, regardless the King believed the Magi.

One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation:  when did this star appear? This one detail was now important – this information would establish a timeline.

Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since word was all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, the secrecy of the second meeting strongly suggests the King had something to hide.

Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. He could use this information as leverage to learn when the star had appeared. During this second meeting, Herod got the information he wanted and the Magi got the information they were seeking.

One other thing Herod wanted… the Magi were asked to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship the new king. It was a well-known fact, Herod worshiped no one or thing.

In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may have intended to inform Herod of the child’s whereabouts until they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. The revelation was contrary to the deal with the King.

Returning home by another route the Magi avoided Jerusalem. Herod soon realized he had been duped and became enraged, then ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance ascertained from the Magi.

King Herod was more than capable of such cruelty. Among many murders, he had killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather, her two sons and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife.[9] His cruelty extended even to his death bed when he summoned all the principal men of Judea to Jericho, locked them in the hippodrome, and gave orders to have them killed just to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.[10]

Does Herod’s reactions ring true to the Magi’s declaration that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?

 

Updated August 18, 2023.

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  “Trade Routes.” Smithsonian|The National Museum of American History. n.d. <http://web.archive.org /web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  “46178 -wisemen-magi-jesusbirth.” KFAX AM 1100. photo. n.d. <https://media.swncdn.com/cms/CW/46178-wisemen-magi-jesusbirth.1200w.tn.jpg>
[2] Net.bible.org. Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “tarasso <5015>”  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1990.
[3] Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XV, Ch.VII-VIII; Book XVI, Ch. VIII, XI, IX, XIII, XVI. Book XVII, Ch. I, V. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XVIII, XXII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII. 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> 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>
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Ch. 1; Book XV, Ch. 1, 3, 6, 7; Book XVI, Ch.VII, VIII, X; Book XVII, Ch. IV, VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXVI, XXII, XXIV, XXVI, XXX, XXXI. “Herod the Great.” 2017. Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[6] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R. “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Ch. III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Ch. XI; Book XVII, Ch. IX.
Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII, XXVII, XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Ch. VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXXIII.