Herod’s Eclipse & the Birth of Yeshua

The_Nativity_ReynoldsChristian scholars often point to the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, when trying to determine the year of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth. Josephus’ book Antiquities of the Jews, thought not considered Scripture, is full of interesting chronological details which add context to that era. One of the more famous passages from Josephus’ works concerns an eclipse of the moon and the subsequent death of Herod. Since Matthew 2 & Luke 1 indicate that Yeshua’s birth proceeded the death of Herod it is worth considering Josephus’ account to see if it provides any chronological insights. The following is an excerpt from Ant. 17:167-191.

Antiquities of the Jews 17:167-191
167
But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon. {c}  168 But now Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God’s judgment upon him for his sins; for a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly; ……….. 191 When he had done these things, he died, the fifth day after he had caused Antipater to be slain; having reigned, since he had procured Antigonus to be slain, thirty-four years; but since he had been declared king by the Romans, thirty-seven. {b} A man he was of great barbarity toward all men equally, and a slave to his passion; but above the consideration of what was right;….

Murder_of_the_Innocents_Gui

The  passage goes on to describe Herod’s funeral preparations, his funeral, and a revolt of the Jewish people during Passover. All of these events provide clues which help us limit the possible year of Herod’s death and by development of that information the latest possible date for Yeshua’s birth. Josephus in Ant. 14 describes the ascendancy of Herod to the throne in Jerusalem (about 40 BC). According to Ant. 17 above, Herod ruled for 37 years from the point he was declared “king” by the Romans. Conservatively, this places the death of Herod in the year 4-3 BC. The following chart illustrates Josephus’ chronology of Herod.
Click on Image to enlarge:
Herods_Chronology_Josephus_1000

A couple of important points to remember when looking at the chart:
1. The Roman A.U.C. (Anno Urbis Conditae) was the dating system in use at the time. (Not BC/AD) The A.U.C. year began and ended in spring.(March/April) For example if Herod died in 750 A.U.C. this year would run from spring of 4 BC to the spring of 3 BC.
2. Josephus gives two dates for the begining of Archelaus’ rule. This should be read in conjunction with Dio Cassius XV, 27.

 

Now if Josephus dated the death of Herod to sometime in the years 4 or 3 BC then the eclipse he mentioned must have proceed this date by an amount of time adequate to fulfill all the events which transpired between the eclipse and the following Passover. The partial eclipse of March 13, 4 BC seems to best fulfill the above evidence. In the following chart I have proposed what I believe to be a reasonable minimum and maximum timeline for the events mentioned by Josephus.

(Click on image to enlarge:)

Herod's Final Days
As you can see Joseophus gave quite an outline of events leading up to and immediately following the death of Herod.  The question before us now is; can the events described above reasonably fit into the period of time between the eclipse of 4 BC and the following Passover? In the first chart below I have laid out what I believe is a reasonable rendering of the evidence in relation to a Biblical reckoning of time as well as the our modern calendar.

One other piece of important chronological information related to Herod’s death is worth noting here. The Megillath Ta’anith, also called the Scroll of Fasting, which was written during the 1st century indicates that Herod died on the 1st Shevat. (Megillath Taanith  xi, 1 – Warsh Edition)  In the chart below (left) you will see this date noted relative to the other chronological information. (Please click on (left lower) image to enlarge)

Herod_Eclipse_4BC

In conclusion I believe the eclipse mentioned by Josephus is the astronomical event which occurred on March 13, 4 BC. Following this eclipse Herod’s illness progressed and resulted in his death early in the year 3 BC. Shortly thereafter the Jewish people revolted during the Passover of 3 BC. This evidence adds weight to the Biblical evidence developed in The Messiah Factors (Part 1 & 2) which shows that Yeshua was conceived in the winter of 5 BC and was born nine months later in the fall of 4 BC. For more on the month of Yeshua’s birth see my article The Course of Abijah.

                                *   *   *

I should note here that scholars have proposed a total of four eclipses which for various reasons might fulfill the record mentioned in Ant. 17. They are as follows:

1.Sept. 15, 5 B.C.
2. March 13, 4 B.C.
3. Jan. 10, 1 B.C.
4. Dec. 29, 1 B.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special Offer:
Subscribe to my blog and you’ll receive a complimentary copy of the first book in my new series on the Messianic symbolism of the Bible:
The 13th Enumeration: Key to the Bibles Messianic Symbolism

 


 

 

5 thoughts on “Herod’s Eclipse & the Birth of Yeshua

  1. Rebecca

    Hello William,
    I came across your blog today and have been devouring many of your articles all morning, fascinating topics! I am sorry that I have not heard of your books before today, but I have added “The 13th Enumeration” to my Amazon wish list and look forward to reading it.

    Have you read “The Star of Bethlehem: The Star That Astonished the World” by Ernest L. Martin? He used chronological information found in scripture (the twenty-four priestly courses and events connected with the birth of Yeshua in Matthew and Luke) plus Revelation 12, along with historical and astronomical evidence to prove that Yeshuas’ birth occurred exactly on September 11, 3 B.C. between 6:15 pm and 7:49 pm EST on the Gregorian calendar, or the first of Tishri on the Jewish calendar.
    His book was first published in 1996.

    It is posted free online:
    http://www.askelm.com/star/

    Here he proposes and seems to support that the eclipse mentioned by Josephus was that of January 10, 1 B.C.E.:
    Astronomy and the Death of King Herod
    http://www.askelm.com/star/star010.htm

    I thought you might find his research interesting.
    Blessings to you and yours!

    Reply
    1. William Struse Post author

      Hi Rebecca,

      Happy to hear you are finding some of the information useful. I’ve not read Mr. Martin’s work, it does indeed sounds interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Warm regards,
      William

      Reply
    1. William Struse Post author

      Hi Lawrence,

      I appreciate you taking the time to post but right now I just don’t have the time to dig into Gene’s work. I work full time and I’m also I’m in the middle of a writing project which is taking nearly all of my free study time. I hope you understand.

      Warm regards,
      William

      Reply
      1. Lawrence

        Just reading this now.

        I’m not working, but still seem busy at times, but get little done.

        Appreciate your website and posting my comments.

        Understand your time limitations. Gene worked full time on chronology for many years.

        I have spent fair amount of time on chronology since day before Thanksgiving when Devotion appeared in THE WORD IN SEASON. John Horner-Ibler wrote based on Ezekiel 30.20-26: “This dating is so accurate that the reference in today’s reading is specific to April 29,587 BC.”

        I emailed him that date was wrong, but appreciated his focus on chronology. He replied he left details to “experts”.

        I since have email correspondence with Andrew Steinman, professor at Concordia University, Chicago. He is expert who has written book on Bible Chronology. He differs with Gene on Temple Destruction–587 vs 588 BC. He says 588 BC is impossible, but won’t explain why. He is critical of Gene for failing peer review process. He also claims lack of time to review Gene’s work or debate dates.

        I have had other professors with similar responses–rejection without reading.

        Pastor Melody Eastman of Chicago and Chair of Board of Directors for Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago wrote devotion in CHRIST IN OUR HOME based on Nehemiah 8.1-3,5-6,8-10. (I always wonder why they leave out verses like 4 and 7.)

        She writes: “The Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures is not reserved for an elite few to read and understand–and that’s a good thing. Still, it is complex, complicated, and confusing at times. Without guidance, we can easily miss important messages. That’s why gathering with others to study the Bible is so important. As we read, listen, ask questions, and share insights, even the most troubling passages can become gifts, especially as the Lord shapes not only individuals, but also communities, with God’s ways of wisdom.”

        Nehemiah part of lectionary for week which ends with Luke’s Gospel of Jesus, The Eternal Word, reading the Word from Isaiah in his home synagogue on the Sabbath. Priest spoke that in Mass from EWTN this morning.

        I also think of your frequent reference to Berea.

        Some reason I did not get your response. I would say email or twitter message more likely to reach me.

        I was wondering during night how you determined beginning in fall. Gene has First Day of Spring, March 19, 4001 BC. New Moon Nisan after end of Adam’s First Sabbath. Believe Sirius went dark on same day and returned on Summer Solstice. Will have to confirm that which relates to Egyptian Calendar.

        Understand your time limitations. Thanks for posting.

        As a Lutheran I am somewhat confused about theology of rapture etc as it relates to chronology. Think Gene was similar.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *