The Alleged 1544 Copy Error

I’m continuing my series on the date of Herod the Great’s death.  Frederick Larson argues in The Star of Bethlehem that Herod the Great died in 1 B.C.E., not in 4 B.C.E., and he attributes the widespread scholarly belief in a 4 B.C.E. date for Herod’s death to a 1544 copy error that was made in Josephus’ works.  To support this argument, Larson appeals to a “recent study [that] was made of the earliest manuscripts of Josephus’ writings held by the British Library in London, and the American Library of Congress” (from Larson’s web site).  In this post, I will provide some specifics about this: what the study was, and what the alleged copy-error was.  I will draw from a 2009 article that Larson cites on his web site: Andrew Steinmann’s “When Did Herod the Great Reign?”, which appeared in Novum Testamentum Volume 51, Number 1, pages 1-29.

Yesterday, I quoted Steinmann’s summary of a reason that many scholars date Herod the Great’s death to 4 B.C.E.—-the lengths of the reigns of Herod’s sons, who succeeded Herod.  Here is the quote:

“…the reigns of Herod’s sons and successors also appear to indicate that he died in 4 BCE. Archelaus was banished in 6 CE after a reign often years over Judea, Samaria and Idumea (Antiquities 17.342). Herod Antipas lost the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea in the second year of Gaius (38/39 CE) after a reign of forty-three years according to numismatic evidence (Antiquities 18.252). Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius (33/34 CE) after a reign of thirty-seven years over Gaulanitis (Antiquities 18.106). All of these point to their taking office in 4 BCE.”

But Steinmann does not believe that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., but rather in 1 B.C.E.  So how does Steinmann address the lengths of the reigns of Herod’s sons?  As I said yesterday, Steinmann argues that Archelaus and Herod Antipas ruled (in some fashion) while Herod the Great was still alive.

In this post, I will talk about Herod’s third son, Herod Philip.  This is where the alleged copy-error comes into play.  Steinmann quotes Jack Finnegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology:

“…in 1995 David W. Beyer reported to the Society of Biblical Literature his personal examination in the British Museum of forty-six editions of Josephus’ Antiquities published before 1700 among which twenty-seven texts, all but three published before 1544 read ‘twenty-second year of Tiberius,’ while not a single edition published prior to 1544 read ‘twentieth year of Tiberius.’ Likewise in the Library of Congress five more editions read the ‘twenty-second year,’ while none prior to 1544 records the ‘twentieth year.’ It was also found that the oldest versions of the text give variant lengths of the reign for Philip of 32 and 36 years. But if we allow for a full thirty-seven-year reign, then ‘the twenty-second year of Tiberius’ (35/36 CE) points to 1 BCE (1 year BCE + 36 years CE = 37 years) as the year of the death of Herod.”

Steinmann provides the bibliographical information for Beyer’s report (as does Larson on his web site): David W. Beyer, “Josephus Reexamined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius” (Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 19, 1995).  Steinmann also adds: “Moreover, the Niese edition of Josephus lists ‘twenty-second year’ as the reading in the Latin version of Josephus (produced in the fourth to sixth centuries), and notes that as early as the sixteenth century Joseph Scaliger had proposed this as the correct reading…Niese’s edition is the only widely available critical text of Josephus. Unfortunately, it is based on only a few manuscripts (five in this part of Antiquities). The Latin version is usually characterized as following the Greek original very closely.”

Beyer’s point was that no edition of Josephus (specifically, Antiquities 18.106) prior to 1544 said that Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius after a reign of thirty-seven years.  Rather, all but three of the pre-1544 editions said that Herod Philip died in the twenty-second year of Tiberius (and I do not know what those three editions said, only that they did not claim that Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius).  How does this relate to the date of Herod’s death?  The twentieth year of Tiberius was 33/34 C.E.  Herod Philip reigned for thirty-seven years.  Thirty-seven years earlier than 33 B.C.E. was 4 B.C.E.  If Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius (assumed to be 33 C.E.) and ruled for thirty-seven years, then his reign began in 4 B.C.E., and the assumption is that Herod Philip began his reign right after Herod the Great died, meaning that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  But suppose that Herod Philip died in the twenty-second year of Tiberius?  In that case, Herod Philip began his reign two years later than 4 B.C.E., in 1 B.C.E. (assuming that the twenty-second year of Tiberius was 36 C.E.).  In the 1 B.C.E. scenario, as in the 4 B.C.E. scenario, the assumption is that Herod Philip began his reign after the death of Herod the Great.  (As far as the variants on the length of Philip’s reign are concerned—-that Philip reigned for thirty-two years or thirty-six years—-those place the beginning of Philip’s reign even later than 4 B.C.E. and 1 B.C.E., in the C.E. range.)

Steinmann notes, however, that the “twenty-second year of Tiberius” reading “is not based on any reading in any Greek manuscript of Josephus.”  I interpret that to mean that no Greek manuscript that we have for Antiquities 18.106 supports a 1 B.C.E. date for Herod’s death.  And, if the Flavius Josephus Home Page is correct, we have Greek manuscripts that pre-date 1544:

“The oldest manuscripts of the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek date to the tenth and eleventh centuries…The Jewish Antiquities, because of its length, was transmitted in two parts; the best texts for the first half (Antiquities Books 1 to 10) are Codex Regius Parisinus (fourteenth century) and Codex Oxoniensis (fifteenth century); the best texts for the second half (Antiquities Books 11 to 20) are Codex Palatinus (ninth or tenth century) and Codex Ambrosianus…”

So I think that more work needs to be done before we attribute a 4 B.C.E. date for Herod’s death to a copy error made in 1544.  What do the Greek manuscripts have for Antiquities 18.106, and what is the date of those manuscripts?  I wonder if Beyer interacts with that issue.  I know that the Greek text for Josephus on my BibleWorks is based on the 1890 Niese edition, and it had the twentieth year of Tiberius (the 4 B.C.E. date).  I’m curious: On what manuscripts was the Niese edition basing this?

I am not dogmatic that Antiquities 18.106 absolutely has to say that Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius, as opposed to the twenty-second year.  I’m just leery about how Larson conveyed the issue.  And, interestingly, Steinmann ultimately argues that Herod Philip could have begun his reign in 4 B.C.E. rather than 1 B.C.E., the same way that Steinmann says that Archelaus and Antipas began their reigns—-while Herod the Great was still alive.

UPDATE: I found Beyer’s article online (see here).  I’ll read it and blog about it soon.  Also, here is Steinmann’s article.

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Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 12:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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