I talked here about The Star of Bethlehem, a documentary in which lawyer Frederick A. Larson argues that the star of Bethlehem occurred in 2 B.C.E. I wrote:
” But is this not problematic, since Josephus documents that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., and Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great? Larson says that this is due to a copy error that was made in Josephus’ works in 1544, and Larson cites scholarly articles on his web site to document this.”
I admitted later on in the post that I have not done a lot of research on the date of Herod the Great’s death. I have simply assumed that he died in 4 B.C.E., for that has been what I have seen in the scholarly works that I have read. But, as I continue to read up on the Internet about this topic, I’m developing a desire to do a little bit of not-too-time-consuming research on it, as well as to blog about what I read—-for the benefit both of myself and also people who are interested in this issue.
What has sparked my interest in this topic is a critique of Larson that I read on Hugh Ross’ Reasons to Believe web site (see here). There, astrophysicist Dr. Jeffrey Zweerink states the following concern:
“Most historians place Herod’s death in 4 BC, yet Larson argues for a date of 1 BC (based on research from an unidentified scholar who claims that a ‘printing or copying error’ around AD 1544 ‘propagated widely’ the 4 BC date). Larson’s model rests crucially on the later date for Herod’s death, placing the model on questionable footing at best.” Later on, Zweerink says: “This date is based on research from an unnamed scholar, possibly Dr. Craig Chester. Most historians, however, place Herod’s death in 4 BC.”
On the DVD itself, Larson does not refer to specific scholars to support his claim about the date of Herod’s death, but (if my memory is correct) he did appeal to a study of Josephus’ earliest manuscripts that are held by the British Library in London and the American Library of Congress (as he does on his web site). Larson does provide specific documentation on his web site, however. He refers to an article by Andrew Steinmann, “When Did Herod the Great Reign?”, which appeared in Novum Testamentum Volume 51, Number 1, pages 1-29. He also cited (and strongly recommended) Ernest L. Martin’s The Star That Astonished the World. Another work that he cited was David W. Beyer’s “Josephus Re-Examined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberias”, which was in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, ed. E. Jerry Vardaman (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998). But my question is this: Do these sources say what Larson says that they say? I don’t plan to track down the works by Martin and Beyer, for I’d have to request the books from my school’s library, and there are other books that I would like to request from there—-books that relate to my more pressing projects. But I do have immediate access to Steinmann’s Novum Testamentum article, and I may take a look at that.
Zweerink speculates that Larson got his idea about the date of Herod’s death from Dr. Craig Chester, an astronomer. I think that Larson did read Chester’s address to Hillsdale College on the star of Bethlehem (see here to read that), for the documentary showed him reading something that looked like Hillsdale’s publication, Imprimis, which I used to receive. But, echoing Ernest Martin, Chester does not talk about manuscript evidence for Josephus or a copying error in 1544, but rather he argues on other grounds that Herod died after 4 B.C.E.
Then there is what wikipedia says (see here): “The Gospel of Matthew clearly describes the birth of Jesus as taking place when Herod was king. According to Josephus, Herod died after a lunar eclipse. This is usually identified as the eclipse of March 13, 4 BC. The narrative implies that Jesus was born sometime between the first appearance of the star and the appearance of the Magi at Herod’s court. As the king is said to have ordered the execution of boys two years of age and younger, the star must have made its first appearance within the previous two years. Modern scholars usually date the birth of Jesus as 6–4 BC.”
Wikipedia cites Josephus’ Antiquities 17:7:4 and also scholarly articles for its claims: Timothy David Barnes, “The Date of Herod’s Death,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 19 (1968), 204–19; and P. M. Bernegger, “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.,” Journal of Theological Studies ns 34 (1983), 526–31.
The lunar eclipse is obviously a significant issue in attempts to determine when Herod died, for Chester interacts with that issue at great length himself.
So here are some things that I may read and blog about. I don’t know when I’ll begin doing this, however, for I have some stuff on my plate over the next couple of days (i.e., my weekly quiet time on Psalms, etc.). But stay tuned!