Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse

Letters to the Editor debate dates of Herod’s death and Jesus’ birth

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2015.—Ed.


 
Giotto_adoration-of-the-magi

Giotto, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1306.

Both Luke and Matthew mention Jesus’ birth as occurring during Herod’s reign (Luke 1:5; Matthew 2:1). Josephus relates Herod’s death to a lunar eclipse. This is generally regarded as a reference to a lunar eclipse in 4 B.C. Therefore it is often said that Jesus was born in 4 B.C.

But physics professor John A. Cramer, in a letter to BAR, has pointed out that there was another lunar eclipse visible in Judea—in fact, two—in 1 B.C., which would place Herod’s death—and Jesus’ birth—at the turn of the era. Below, read letters published in the Q&C section of BAR debating the dates of Herod’s death, Jesus’ birth and to which lunar eclipse Josephus was referring.


 
When Was Jesus Born?
Q&C, BAR, July/August 2013

Let me add a footnote to Suzanne Singer’s report on the final journey of Herod the Great (Strata, BAR, March/April 2013): She gives the standard date of his death as 4 B.C. [Jesus’ birth is often dated to 4 B.C. based on the fact that both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus’ birth with Herod’s reign—Ed.] Readers may be interested to learn there is reason to reconsider the date of Herod’s death.

This date is based on Josephus’s remark in Antiquities 17.6.4 that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod died. This is traditionally ascribed to the eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C.

Unfortunately, this eclipse was visible only very late that night in Judea and was additionally a minor and only partial eclipse.

There were no lunar eclipses visible in Judea thereafter until two occurred in the year 1 B.C. Of these two, the one on December 29, just two days before the change of eras, gets my vote since it was the one most likely to be seen and remembered. That then dates the death of Herod the Great into the first year of the current era, four years after the usual date.

Perhaps the much-maligned monk who calculated the change of era was not quite so far off as has been supposed.

John A. Cramer
Professor of Physics
Oglethorpe University
Atlanta, Georgia

In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?

When Was Jesus Born? When Did Herod Die?
Q&C, BAR, January/February 2014

Professor John A. Cramer argues that Herod the Great most likely died shortly after the lunar eclipse of December 29, 1 B.C., rather than that of March 13, 4 B.C., which, as Cramer points out, is the eclipse traditionally associated with Josephus’s description in Jewish Antiquities 17.6.4 (Queries & Comments, “When Was Jesus Born?” BAR, July/August 2013) and which is used as a basis to reckon Jesus’ birth shortly before 4 B.C. Professor Cramer’s argument was made in the 19th century by scholars such as Édouard Caspari and Florian Riess.

There are three principal reasons why the 4 B.C. date has prevailed over 1 B.C. These reasons were articulated by Emil Schürer in A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, also published in the 19th century. First, Josephus informs us that Herod died shortly before a Passover (Antiquities 17.9.3, The Jewish War 2.1.3), making a lunar eclipse in March (the time of the 4 B.C. eclipse) much more likely than one in December.

Second, Josephus writes that Herod reigned for 37 years from the time of his appointment in 40 B.C. and 34 years from his conquest of Jerusalem in 37 B.C. (Antiquities 17.8.1, War 1.33.8). Using so-called inclusive counting, this, too, places Herod’s death in 4 B.C.

Third, we know that the reign over Samaria and Judea of Herod’s son and successor Archelaus began in 4 B.C., based on the fact that he was deposed by Caesar in A.U.C. (Anno Urbis Conditae [in the year the city was founded]) 759, or A.D. 6, in the tenth year of his reign (Dio Cassius, Roman History 55.27.6; Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.2). Counting backward his reign began in 4 B.C. In addition, from Herod the Great’s son and successor Herod Antipas, who ruled over Galilee until 39 B.C., who ordered the execution of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14–29) and who had a supporting role in Jesus’ trial (Luke 23:7–12), we have coins that make reference to the 43rd year of his rule, placing its beginning in 4 B.C. at the latest (see Morten Hørning Jensen, “Antipas—The Herod Jesus Knew,” BAR, September/October 2012).

Thus, Schürer concluded that “Herod died at Jericho in B.C. 4, unwept by those of his own house, and hated by all the people.”

Jeroen H.C. Tempelman
New York, New York

——————

John A. Cramer responds:

Trying to date the death of Herod the Great is attended by considerable uncertainty, and I do not mean to claim I know the right answer. Mr. Tempelman does a good job of pointing out arguments in favor of a 4 B.C. date following the arguments advanced long ago by Emil Schürer. The difficulty is that we have a fair amount of information, but it is equivocal.

The key information comes, of course, from Josephus who brackets the death by “a fast” and the Passover. He says that on the night of the fast there was a lunar eclipse—the only eclipse mentioned in the entire corpus of his work. Correlation of Josephus with the Talmud and Mishnah indicate the fast was probably Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month (mid-September to mid-October) and Passover on the 15th day of the first month (March or April) of the religious calendar. Josephus does not indicate when within that time interval the death occurred.

Only four lunar eclipses occurred in the likely time frame: September 15, 5 B.C., March 12–13, 4 B.C., January 10, 1 B.C. and December 29, 1 B.C. The first eclipse fits Yom Kippur, almost too early, but possible. It was a total eclipse that became noticeable several hours after sundown, but it is widely regarded as too early to fit other information on the date. The favorite 4 B.C. eclipse seems too far from Yom Kippur and much too close to Passover. This was a partial eclipse that commenced after midnight. It hardly seems a candidate for being remembered and noted by Josephus. The 1 B.C. dates require either that the fast was not Yom Kippur or that the calendar was rejiggered for some reason. The January 10 eclipse was total but commenced shortly before midnight on a winter night. Lastly, in the December 29 eclipse the moon rose at 53 percent eclipse and its most visible aspect was over by 6 p.m. It is the most likely of the four to have been noted and commented on.

None of the four candidates fits perfectly to all the requirements. I like the earliest and the latest of them as the most likely. The most often preferred candidate, the 4 B.C. eclipse, is, in my view, far and away the least likely one.
 


 
If Jesus was born in Bethlehem, why is he called a Nazorean and a Galilean throughout the New Testament? Learn more >>
 


 
A Different Fast
Q&C, BAR, May/June 2014

John Cramer responds to Mr. Tempelman’s letter to the editor (“Queries and Comments,” BAR, January/February 2014) that Herod’s death occurred between a “fast” and Passover. Mr. Cramer acknowledges that the fast of Yom Kippur fits the eclipse but doesn’t fit the time frame of occurring near Passover. There is, however, another fast that occurs exactly one month before Passover: the Fast of Esther! The day before Purim is a fast day commemorating Queen Esther’s command for all Jews to fast before she approached the king. Purim fell on March 12–13, 4 B.C. So there was an eclipse and a fast on March 12–13, 4 B.C., one month before Passover, which would fit Josephus’s statement bracketing Herod’s death by a fast and Passover.

Suzanne Nadaf
Brooklyn, New York

——————

John A. Cramer responds:

This suggestion seems plausible and, if I recall correctly, someone has already raised it. The consensus, if such exists, seems, however, to be that the fast really should be the fast of Yom Kippur, but resolving that issue requires expertise to which I make no claim. Too many possibilities and too little hard information probably leave the precise date forever open.
 


 
When Did Herod Die? And When Was Jesus Born?
Q&C, BAR, September/October 2014

Regarding the date of the death of Herod the Great, the question of which lunar eclipse and which Jewish fast the historian Josephus was referring to must be considered in light of other data that Josephus reported. Professor John Cramer’s suggestion that an eclipse in 1 B.C.E. would place Herod’s death in that year, rather than the generally accepted 4 B.C.E., cannot be reconciled with other historical facts recorded by Josephus.

As is well known, Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded him as the ruler of Judea, as reported by Josephus (Antiquities 8:459). Josephus also recorded that Archelaus reigned over Judea and Samaria for ten years, and that in his tenth year, due to complaints against him from both Jews and Samaritans, he was deposed by Caesar Augustus and banished to Vienna (Antiquities 8:531). Quirinius, the legate or governor of Syria, was assigned by the emperor to travel to Jerusalem and liquidate the estate of Archelaus, as well as to conduct a registration of persons and property in Archelaus’s former realm. This occurred immediately after Archelaus was deposed and was specifically dated by Josephus to the 37th year after Caesar’s victory over Mark Anthony at Actium (Antiquities 9:23). The Battle of Actium is a well-known event in Roman history that took place in the Ionian Sea off the shore of Greece on September 2 of the year 31 B.C.E. Counting 37 years forward from 31 B.C.E. yields a date of 6 C.E. for the tenth year of Archelaus, at which time he was deposed and Quirinus came to Judea. And counting back ten years from that event yields a date of 4 B.C.E. for the year in which Herod died. (The beginning and ending years are both included in this count, since regnal years for both Augustus and the Herodians were so figured.)

These reports, and the chronology derived from them, provide compelling evidence for the generally accepted date of Herod’s death in the spring of 4 B.C.E., shortly after the lunar eclipse of March 13, regardless of the fact that eclipses also occurred in other years.

Jeffrey R. Chadwick
Jerusalem Center Professor of Archaeology and Near Eastern Studies
Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah
 


 
Read Lawrence Mykytiuk’s BAR article “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible” >>
 


 
There’s More Evidence from Josephus
Q&C, BAR, January/February 2015

In the letter to the editor in BAR, September/October 2014, Jeffrey Chadwick gives the argument for the death of Herod in 4 B.C. [used for determining the date of Jesus’ birth]. For over a century, this has been part of the standard reasoning for the 4 B.C. of Jesus’ birth. However, it does not come to grips with all of the data from Josephus. Elsewhere I have written about this. [An excerpt by Professor Steinmann can be read below.—Ed.]

One cannot simply and positively assert that a few short statements by Josephus about the lengths of reigns of his sons can be used to prove that Herod died in 4 B.C. Instead, one needs critically to sift through all of the evidence embedded in Josephus’s discussion as well as evidence external to Josephus to make a case for the year of Herod’s death.

Andrew Steinmann
Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew
University Marshal
Concordia University Chicago
Chicago, Illinois

——————

Read an excerpt from Andrew E. Steinmann’s book From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), pp. 235–238 [footnotes removed]; see also his article “When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum 51 (2009), pp. 1–29.

Originally Herod had named his son Antipater to be his heir and had groomed Antipater to take over upon his death. However, a little over two years before Herod’s death Antipater had his uncle, Herod’s younger brother Pheroras murdered. Pheroras had been tetrarch of Galilee under Herod. Antipater’s plot was discovered, and Archelaus was named Herod’s successor in place of Antipater. Seven months passed before Antipater, who was in Rome, was informed that he had been charged with murder. Late in the next year he would be placed on trial before Varus, governor of Syria. Eventually Herod received permission from Rome to execute Antipater. During his last year Herod wrote a will disinheriting Archelaus and granting the kingdom to Antipas. In a later will, however, he once again left the kingdom to Archelaus. Following his death his kingdom would eventually be split into three parts among Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip.

Josephus is careful to note that during his last year Herod was forbidden by Augustus from naming his sons as his successors. However, in several passages Josephus also notes that Herod bestowed royalty and its honors on his sons. At Antipater’s trial Josephus quotes Herod as testifying that he had yielded up royal authority to Antipater. He also quotes Antipater claiming that he was already a king because Herod had made him a king.

When Archelaus replaced Antipater as Herod’s heir apparent some two years before Herod’s death, Antipater may have been given the same prerogatives as Archelaus had previously enjoyed. After Herod’s death Archelaus went to Rome to have his authority confirmed by Augustus. His enemies charged him with seemingly contradictory indictments: that Archelaus had already exercised royal authority for some time and that Herod did not appoint Archelaus as his heir until he was demented and dying. These are not as contradictory as they seem, however. Herod initially named Archelaus his heir, and at this point Archelaus may have assumed royal authority under his father. Then Herod revoked his will, naming Antipas his heir. Ultimately, when he was ill and dying, Herod once again named Archelaus his heir. Thus, Archelaus may not have legally been king until after Herod’s death in early 1 B.C., but may have chosen to reckon his reign from a little over two years earlier in late 4 B.C. when he first replaced Antipater as Herod’s heir.

Since Antipas would eventually rule Galilee, it is entirely possible that under Herod he already had been given jurisdiction over Galilee in the wake of Pheroras’ death. This may explain why Herod briefly named Antipas as his heir in the year before his death. Since Antipas may have assumed the jurisdiction over Galilee upon Pheroras’ death sometime in 4 B.C., like Archelaus, he also may have reckoned his reign from that time, even though he was not officially named tetrarch of Galilee by the Romans until after Herod’s death.

Philip also appears to have exercised a measure of royal authority before Herod’s death in 1 B.C. Philip refounded the cities of Julias and Caesarea Philippi (Paneas). Julias was apparently named after Augustus’ daughter, who was arrested for adultery and treason in 2 B.C. Apparently Julias was refounded before that date. As for Caesarea Philippi, the date of its refounding was used to date an era, and the first year of the era was 3 B.C. Apparently Philip chose to antedate his reign to 4 B.C., which apparently was the time when Herod first entrusted him with supervision of Gaulanitis.

Additional support for Philip having been officially appointed tetrarch after the death of his father in 1 B.C. may be found in numismatics. A number of coins issued by Philip during his reign are known. The earliest bear the date “year 5,” which would correspond to A.D. 1. This fits well with Philip serving as administrator under his father from 4–1 B.C. He counted those as the first four years of his reign, but since he was not officially recognized by Rome as an independent client ruler, he had no authority to issue coins during those years. However, he was in position to issue coinage soon after being named tetrarch sometime in 1 B.C., and the first coins appear the next year, A.D. 1, antedating his reign to 4 B.C. While the numismatic evidence is not conclusive proof of Herod’s death in 1 B.C., it is highly suggestive.

Given the explicit statements of Josephus about the authority and honor Herod had granted his sons during the last years of his life, we can understand why all three of his successors decided to antedate their reigns to the time when they were granted a measure of royal authority while their father was still alive. Although they were not officially recognized by Rome as ethnarch or tetrarchs until after Herod’s death, they nevertheless appear to have reckoned their reigns from about 4 B.C.
 


 
“Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse” was originally published on January 7, 2015.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

How December 25 Became Christmas: Andrew McGowan’s full article from the December 2002 issue of Bible Review

Christmas Stories in Christian Apocrypha by Tony Burke

Who Was Jesus’ Biological Father?

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

Tour Showcases Remains of Herod’s Jerusalem Palace—Possible Site of the Trial of Jesus

Herod Antipas in the Bible and Beyond

An Eclipse of Biblical Proportions

A Comet Gives Birth to an Empire by Sarah K. Yeomans
 


 

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  • Phil says

    Back to the comments made by Suzanne Nadaf and James Cramer above regarding the reference to the Fast and Yom Kippur. Don’t forget that Yom Kippur, also called Yom Keruah was a GREAT day of fasting and was known as such. Similar to our use of the term Turkey Day reminds us of Thanksgiving, so was Yom Keruah known as the Fast. Acts 27:9, “Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them.”

  • Daniel says

    Erogated dates containing the Third Array for datum midnight A.D. 01/01/01:

    Practical dates — as elucidated by me in Aug/Sept 2017 posts for this study: December 29 1 BC, lunar eclipse → NASA. 2. Midnight A.D./CE 01/01/01, birth of Jesus Christ → Dionysius Exiguus. 3. Death of Herod the Great, March A.D. 1. → Josephus.

    Calibration dates — as set to Janiform × A.D. 1. birth of Jesus Christ.
    Calendars in concert with A.D. 1/1 CE : Seleucid 311th year or 311 A.G. [year of the Greeks]; 4th year of the 194th Olympiad; A.U.C. [founding of Rome] 754; 43rd year in the reign of Augustus.

    1. 2 BC/BCE; A.G. 309, Augustus published a decree that those families within the Roman world should enroll in their towns → The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, The Arabic Infancy Gospel of the Saviour; Orosius, Historiarum Adversum Paganos, Book 6 Ch. 22.

    In the lustrum year of 2 BC/BCE [calculated via lustrum year A.D. 14 → Suet. Twelve Caesars: Aug. 97; Tib. 21.] Augustus in his honorary Censor’s role, published a decree that those families within the Roman world should enroll in their towns → The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ; The Arabic Infancy Gospel of the Saviour; Orosius, Historiarum Adversum Paganos, Book 6 Ch. 22.
    This decree for the count/census of 2 BC/BCE is the Breviarium totius Imperii, sourced to the 12th of May 2 BC during the dedication of the Forum Augustum. The uppermost function of Augustus’ forum with the Temple of the Avenging Mars was as the foreign office for the administration of the provinces → Suetonius, Twelve Caesars Aug. 29; Cass. Dio, Roman History LVI:33 2/3.
    Bethlehem of Judea, a provincial town of the Roman Empire, was set down to be visited by the census commissioners sent from Rome to the provinces, [the procedure to produce an uncorrupt list of citizens → Florus and Suidas], during the days proximate to A.D 1/Jesus’ birth, as a census of the provinces took two or more years. [Drusus’ census of Gaul, took from 13 BC to 10 BC.]

    Mary by her knowledge of the holy books, [Micah Ch. 5:2], considered the call to register for Roman citizenship opportune, and so traveled to Bethlehem with Joseph and kin, even though she was due to give birth.

    2. 1. BC/BCE December 29. An eclipse of the moon occurred shortly before the death of Herod, that being near the time of Jesus’ birth. This eclipse was chronicled by Josephus as being on a fast day. Monday and Thursday were Jewish fast days of that era,[ Didache; Ta’an 12a]. Dec 29 1 BC was a Thursday. [Thursday as per irrefragable computations from the current day in which you are reading this, with intercalary days]. Patently, this eclipse was observed by the populace, for fasting was over at dusk when the first stars were sought, at the very time of the eclipse, [NASA], the reason that Josephus has chosen to chronicle this eclipse.

    3. A.D. 1/1 CE, first week of January. During this choir of days Quirinius (Cyrenius) [Luke 2] began to officiate as an administrator for Syria under the rule of Gaius Caesar, who was Governor of the East including Syria, from 1 BC to A.D. 4 [Suetonius].
    Quirinius along with Marcus Lollius were at the time of Jesus’ birth in the East acting as guardians and counsellors to Gaius and Lucius.
    Marcus Lollius was an experienced governor of the East. Quirinius was a former governor to the rank of proconsul of Cyrenaica.
    During the first few days of January, after the formalization of the A.D.1 treaty with Parthia on the Euphrates, Lollius died and Quirinius was at hand to act as Quaestor and Councellor for Gaius in the administration of the East, including Syria.

    4. A.D. 1 May. Gaius had returned to Rome and he consulted with Augustus who asked him about Archelaus who was there at the time seeking official approval from Augustus Caesar to rule, after the death of his father Herod the Great in March A.D. 1 → Josephus, War 2; Antiquities 17.

    5. A.D. 1 September, Gaius had returned to the East and was documented in that locality → Aulus Gellius Book XV section 7.

    Herod’s death is analysed falsely via numismatics to 4 BC. Herod’s sons were given rule by their father at that time, and so they antedated their reigns on coinage to that date on the death of their father, in A.D. 1. → Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17, Ch.8.

    Numismatics show coins issued by tetrarchs Archelaus, Antipas and Philip aren’t found to be struck before A.D.1. Coins minted in Ceasarea Philippi through the authority of Rome that were struck in A.D. 1 [CY 34] and A.D. 4 [RY 37] of Herod IV Philip are found to be the first issued by any of the sons of Herod the Great. Under Roman law [pater familias], only after Herod’s death could Rome grant official recognition to his sons’ rule.

    Official coinage issuance was controlled by Rome, thereby the first issue in A.D. 1 of one of his successors, witnesses the year of death for Herod the Great.

    Daniel/MungaCH2.

  • Alexander says

    First, there is no “fast” mentioned in connection with the lunar eclipse. There is an implication that the incident concerning the golden eagle being pulled down occurred in the vicinity of Yom Kippur due to Matthias’ replacement for a single day. The high priesthood had been taken away from Simeon, son of Boethus, and given to Matthias, son of Theophilus, during Antipater’s seven-month absence (Joseph AJ 17.78, 17.72). This same Matthias was replaced for a single day by Joseph, son of Ellemus, on the Day of Atonement, and was later deprived of the high priesthood altogether at some point before Herod died prior to the Passover (Joseph AJ 17.164-166; Tal. Yoma 12b, Horayoth 12b; Joseph AJ 17.167, 17.213). However, Josephus never explicitly states that there was a fast on or near any lunar eclipse.

    Secondly, The starting points for Herod’s reign are definitively determinable by a handful of irrefutable facts.

    We know that Herod traveled to Samosata in 38 BCE to aid Antony in his campaign against Antiochus (App. B Civ. 5.93, 95; Dio Cass. 49.22.1-49.23.1; Plut. Ant. 34.1-4; Cass. Dio 49.21, 49.22.1-2, 49.23.1; Plut. Ant. 34; Val. Max. 6.9.9; Plin. HN 7.135; Gell. NA 15.4; Joseph AJ 14.439-447; Joseph AJ 14.434; Dio Cass. 49.23.1; Ov. Fast. 6.465; Acta Triumphorum, CIL 1²). Once Antiochus surrendered, Herod returned to Judaea that same year, arriving in the winter of 38/37 BCE (Joseph AJ 14.447, 461; Joseph BJ 1.321). He began his siege of Jerusalem shortly thereafter, in the month of Shebat, as soon as the rigor of winter had passed (Joseph AJ 14.465-466). Jerusalem was then taken in Sivan, the third month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year, in late spring of 37 BCE (Knowing that the five-month siege of Jerusalem ended in “the third month” of 37 BCE, or Sivan, this siege began at some point in Shebat of 37 BCE).

    We also know that Herod’s first year of reign from his conquest of Jerusalem is counted ex post facto to the spring of 37 BCE, as evidenced by his seventh year falling in the spring of 31 BCE (Joseph BJ 1.370). Despite any counting methods that may be employed by various authors, whether Nisan to Nisan, Tishri to Tishri, or even January to January, it holds true nonetheless that if the spring of 31 BCE is his seventh year, then the spring of 32 BCE is his sixth year, the spring of 33 BCE is his fifth year, and so on, making the spring of 37 BCE his first year.

    We can further determine by this information that Herod’s reign from the time the Romans declared him king is counted from Nisan to Nisan in the spring. His fourth year of this enumeration has to coincide with his first year from his conquest of Jerusalem, which we know deduces to the spring of 37 BCE. Since the winter preceding the siege of Jerusalem in Shebat of 37 BCE is stated as his third year from his Roman appointment (Joseph AJ 14.465), and it was his fourth year in Sivan of 37 BCE at the conclusion of the siege according to the regnal parallel, we can say with confidence that the transition from one regnal year to the next occurred in the spring. And with Herod’s fourth year from the time the Romans declared him king established as beginning in the spring of 37 BCE, his first year, by deduction, is counted from 40 BCE, reckoned ex post facto to the spring of that year.

    These facts are in perfect agreement with Josephus, who tells us that Herod was made king by the Romans in [August of] 40 BCE, during the 184th Olympiad, when Caius Domithis Calvinus was consul for the second time and Caius Asinius Pollio the first time (Joseph AJ 14.389), and that Herod then captured Jerusalem in June of 37 BCE, during the 185th Olympiad, when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls (Joseph AJ 14.487-488, 14.66), which was twenty-seven years, inclusively, from the time that Pompey captured Jerusalem in June of 63 BCE, during the 179th Olympiad, when Caius Antonius and Marcus Tullius Cicero were consuls.

    By these facts, the starting points for his two lengths of reign are unquestionably and unambiguously 40 BCE and 37 BCE respectively, as is further corroborated by other datable events (Joseph AJ 15.121, 15.317, 15.299, 302, 15.354; Joseph BJ 1.370; Dio Cass. 50.4, 50.10.1, 50.11-15, 50.31.6, 51.1.1, 53.28.1, 53.29.3-8, 54.7.4-6; Fasti Amiternini and Fasti Antiates Ministrorum, Inscr. Ital. 13.1 132.26; Vell. Pat. 2.84.1. Parallels to Herod’s reign include the battle of Actium in 31 BCE, the expedition into Arabia-Felix in 24 BCE, and Caesar coming into Syria in 20 BCE). In which case, a total reign of thirty-seven and thirty-four years from 40 BCE and 37 BCE, no matter how ingenuously one attempts to count it, simply cannot equate to 1 BCE by any stretch of the imagination. Early 2 BCE is the closest that can be accomplished, though it requires using accession years and modern counting methods, which are both improper. With Herod’s third year from his Roman appointment being in the winter of 38/37 BCE, and his seventh year from his conquest of Jerusalem falling in the spring of 31 BCE, an accession year method of counting is blatantly incorrect, as is progressive counting rather than inclusive.

    The third point I’d like to make is that it shows poor scholarship to refer to inclusive counting as “so-called.” That IS how they counted in the first century. Evidence of it is readily available in any Roman calendar still extant. There are also examples of it in Acts 10:1-33, where Cornelius says four days had passed when it had been only three by modern, non-inclusive counting.

    If I were you, I wouldn’t put much stock in this 1 BCE death of Herod notion. It doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  • Emeq says

    There is and error which occurs in the section: “John A. Cramer responds”.
    The key information comes, of course, from Josephus who brackets the death by “a fast” and the Passover. He says that on the night of the fast there was a lunar eclipse—the only eclipse mentioned in the entire corpus of his work. Correlation of Josephus with the Talmud and Mishnah indicate the fast was probably Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month (mid-September to mid-October) and Passover on the 15th day of the first month (March or April) of the religious calendar. Josephus does not indicate when within that time interval the death occurred.

    First “Yoseph ben-Matthias (commonly called Flavious Josephus) was born a Jew and was related to the tribe of Levi on his fathers side. At age 29, in 66AD, he was given command of a Jewish garrison in Galilee which the Roman’s deleted; and Joseph Ben-Mathhias became a servant historian of Rome. This happened in large part because he willingly surrendered to the Roman forces and he was educated in biblical law and history. For him to have made an error between the fast of Passover and Yom Kippur (the Holiest Day of the year) would be impossible. Secondly the statement is made that the Passover begins on the 15th of Nissan/Aviv; this is incorrect. The Passover is always held in before evening on the 14th of Nissan/Aviv. Chad haMatzot (The Feast of Matzah/unleavened Bread) begins on the 15th of Nissan/Aviv. Because this two Holy days/seasons are intertwined, they are often inclusively referred to as the the Passover Season or the Feast of Unleavened Bread; but Passover is never said to begin on the 15th of Nissan/Aviv.
    Regarding the eclipses referred to by Josephus the historian. I has been established that one eclipse took place in 4BC and two more took place in 1BC. The fact that only one is spoken of in the writings of Josephus should not be taken to mean only the total eclipse was noteworthy and he was therefore referring to the fast of Yom Kippur, and not the fast of Passover. The important event he is referring to is the fast of Passover and this made the eclipse noteworthy. Josephus would not confuse the spring Holy Day of Passover with the fall Holy Day of Yom Kippur; no observant Jew would make such a blatant mistake.
    The fact that the Birth of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ) took place at some point prior to Herod’s death is apparent since he attempted to have Yeshua killed by ordering the killing of all male children 2 years old and younger in the area of Beyt-Lechem; thus fulfilling prophesy (Jer. 31:15). Narrowing the date of Messiah’s birth can be see in the writings of our sages and rabbi’s from about 1-2 BC. The priests noted events that began at that time which never happened before and continued, uninterrupted, for 40 years.
    These events began during Yom Kippur:
    According to Sefer Torah (Torah Scrolls) and Mishnah, the high priest selected two male goats and cast lots to see which one would be chosen Azazel (scape goat) of HaShem; the lot that came up in his right hand was the lot of HaShem (Yoma 39a). The high priest would then separate a scarlet sash into three cords and tie one to the entrance of the temple. He then placed his hands on the head of the chosen goat [עֲזָאזֵל – Azazel, meaning – entire removal], and prayed; symbolically transferring the sins of the people to the goat (Yoma 3:8). The scapegoat would then be lead into the wilderness and brought to the edge of the cliff were he would afix a second cord near the cliffs edge. The third cord was tied to the neck of the scapegoat and the high priest would then push the scapegoat backwards off the cliff to its death. If the red cord on the cliffs edge, and on the Temple entrance, turned white the people knew HaShem had accepted there offering and there sins were removed.
    The Four Special Events:
    The Talmud records that four events began taking place 40 years before the temple was destroyed (Yoma 39a,b). It further declares that the priests knew the judgement of HaShem, and the end of the Mik’dash (Temple), were immanent because these events. (1) The lot [גּוֹרָל] of Adonai’s goat no longer came up in the priests right hand. [Lev. 16:8] (2) The scarlet cord tied to the entrance of the Temple no longer turned white after the death of the scapegoat. (3) The western most light on the Temple candelabra would no longer stay lit. (It is thought that this light was the shamos (servant) which is used to light the other lights on the candelabra. (4) The Temple doors would open by themselves; this was viewed as an ominous fulfillment of prophecy.
    As Rabban Yohanan Ben-Zakkai said regarding the Mik’dash, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, ‘Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars’ ” (Zechariah 11:1)’ (Sota 6:3).
    The full verse reads:
    “Open your doors Oh Lebanon, that fire may devour your cedars. Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, because the mighty trees are ruined. Wail, O oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has come down. There is the sound of wailing shepherds! For their glory is in ruins. There is the sound of roaring lions! For the pride of the Jordan is in ruins.” 
    How this relates to Yeshua’s birth:
    The Mik’dash was destroyed by fire in 70CE. We know that Yeshua lived approximately 32 years, and for 40 years events involving the Mik’dah took place. Therefore; if we subtract 40 from 70 we get 30. This means Yeshua may have been born in 1 or 2 BC; allowing for the method of messing a year in Judaism. This may will bring use back to the Passover spoken of by Josephus. For there was also a census that took place that year during Passover which is why Yoseph and Miriam had to return to Y’rushalyim (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם – Jerusalem) and Beyt-Lechem that year.

    • Miriam says

      Thank you for mentioning that Yeshua live approx 32 years. This is in accord with the Gospel of John which reports 3 Passovers –one immediately after Yeshua’s baptism, time in the wilderness and the marriage at Cana (John 2:23ff.) One in John 6:4ff and 3rd cited beginning John 11:55, 12:1 and again in 13:1. John time-lines events–see the days cited in John 1 and 2 which give what Yeshua was doing day by day until the 1st Passover.

  • Daniel says

    Erogated dates containing the Second Array for datum midnight A.D. 01/01/01:

    Practical dates — as elucidated by me in Aug/Sept 2017 posts for this study:

    1. December 29 1 BC, lunar eclipse → NASA. 2. Midnight A.D./CE 01/01/01, birth of Jesus Christ → Dionysius Exiguus. 3. Death of Herod the Great, March A.D. 1. → Josephus.

    Calibration dates — as set to Janiform × A.D. 1. Sunday, January 1 birth of Jesus Christ.

    Second Array:

    1. July A.D. 30 John the Harbinger turns thirty and begins his ministry → Luke 3:3 → Numbers 4:3 4:23 4:47 recounts that priests are consecrated when they are thirty years old and able to begin their ministry.

    2. January A.D. 31 Jesus at thirty years of age is baptized by John → Luke 3:23 → Numbers 4:3 4:23 4:47 recounts that priests are consecrated when they are thirty years old and able to begin their ministry → First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ — Ch. 12, ‘Caiaphas “…he arrived at the end of his thirtieth year, at which time the Father publicly owned him at Jordan…” ‘.

    3. A.D. 31, first year of Jesus Christ’s ministry with the first Jewish Passover → John 2:13.

    4. A.D. 32, second year of Jesus Christ’s ministry with the second Jewish Passover → John 6:4.

    5. A.D. 33, third year of Jesus Christ’s ministry with the third Jewish Passover → John 11:55.

    6. A.D.33 March 28/Nisan 8 Saturday, Jesus came to Bethany.

    7. A.D. 33 March 29/Nisan 9 Sunday, Jesus came to Jerusalem – Palm Sunday.

    8. A.D. 33 April 1/Nisan 12 Wednesday, penultimate supper — ‘ and when supper had ended there was the washing of the disciples’ feet, and then the condemnation went out against the Lord with Judas’ promise to the ruling priests to betray Jesus for money ‘ [that being the reason for the later institution of new fast days Wednesday and Friday] → ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’, Original Didache and Kindred Documents edition by Philip Schaff.

    9. A.D. 33 April 2/Nisan 13 Thursday, Last Supper.

    10. A.D. 33 April 3/Nisan 14 Friday, crucifixion and at 3 pm the death on the cross of The Lord → The Gospel of Peter; Life of Polycarp, Pionius — calendrical comments of Polycarp concerning the Passion day of Nisan 14; Assumption of the Virgin, Syriac version — its introduction has the Seleucid year 344, 3rd day of latter Teshrin and the 3rd day of the week for the year of the Passion. The conterminous A.D. 33, November 3 was Tuesday.

    11. A.D. 33 April 5/Nisan 16 Sunday midnight, resurrection of the Son of Man → Gospel of Nicodemus and the Gospel according to the Hebrews — where the Lord appears to first Nicodemus and then to James the Just, the brother of the Lord.

    Second Array calibration notes:

    When calibrated through Astronomy contingent with the Jewish Passover, the death on the cross of Jesus Christ is apodictically established at 3 pm on Friday April 3 A.D. 33 → Sir Isaac Newton’s calculations for Passover A.D. 33.

    John wrote his Gospel after Matthew, Mark and Luke → Anti- Marcionite Prologues; The Mythological Acts of the Apostles by Agnes Smith Lewis.

    John in order to dispel errant teachings of Christian sects that had developed, wrote a more full account, an explanatory for those who seek the factual records of events determining that Jesus Christ was born 30 years prior to January A.D 31, because Jesus died on the cross during the Passover of A.D. 33, the third Passover of his ministry as a lawful ordained priest.

    Joel 2:31 associated with Acts 2:20 sees Peter recount to the gallery the lunar eclipse ‘ blood moon ‘ that they had observed during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, confirming the signs prophesied of Jesus and so determining that He was both Lord and Christ.

    This lunar eclipse ‘ blood moon ‘ is in NASA’s list of lunar eclipses — dusk 0033 April 03 CE; Pilate observed in his correspondence sent to Tiberius Caesar that there was seen a blood moon eclipse at dusk — ‘…and the moon that was like blood..’; ‘And the moon, which was like blood, did not shine all night long though it was at the full, ‘; ‘…and the moon lost its brightness as though tinged with blood ‘; ‘ and the moon, as if turned into blood ‘; → The Reports of Pilate, Anaphora Pilati.

    The Janiform datum × is witnessed by the † crucifixion date.

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