A Possible Project on the Date of Herod’s Death

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.[64] According to Josephus, Herod died after a lunar eclipse.[65] This is usually identified as the eclipse of March 13, 4 BC.[66] 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.[67]

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!


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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22 Responses to A Possible Project on the Date of Herod’s Death

  1. Vivienne Davies says:

    Just to day seeing ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ DVD again, went onto the Internet to see if I could find out when Herod really died. Came across
    this: ” Based upon the writings of Josephus (..), the anchor date of the war between Antony and Octavius Caesar, and calculations of relevant lunar events, it appears that Herod the Great died on January 26 (Shebat 2) in 1 B. C. E.” according to – Murrell Selden
    Then somehow came across your above article & thought you might be interested!


  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks Vivienne! Looks good.


  3. Ltraut says:

    Larson surely read Craig Chester’s work, The Star of Bethlehem. Much of Larson’s starry dance story is previously described by Chester, an astronomer, years before Larson’s tells it. Chester’s MAJOR contribution to this story should be referenced in the resource list.


  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks for commenting, Ltraut.


  5. Mortan says:

    Antiquities XIV 14:5 states Herod the Great was declared king “on the 184th Olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio the first time.” The 184th Olympiad gives us a range of summer 44-40 BCE with Caius Asinius Pollio and Caius Domitius Calvinus set this at 40 BCE.

    Antiquities XV 5:2 tells us “At this time it was that the fight happened at Actium, between Octavius Caesar and Anthony in the seventh year of the reign of Herod; and then it was also that there was an earthquake in Judea, such a one as had not happened at any other time.” We know from other records that the Battle of Actium was September 2nd, 31 BC which means Herod’s actually reign began six years previously or 37 BC.

    Antiquities XVII 8:1 states “When he had done those things, he (Herod) died, the fifth day after he had caused Antipater to be slain; having reigned, since he procured Antigonus to be slain, thirty-four years; but since he had been declared king by the Romans, thirty-seven.” Well 37-33 is 4 BC and 40-36 is 4 BCE. So Herod died in 4 BCE

    More details can be found at Gary H Turner’s When was Jesus born? article (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gary.h.turner/XmasSept/xmas06.htm)

    As the above show there is simply no way to get 1 BCE from these passage without Enron level accounting.


  6. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you very much for that information, Mortan!


  7. Hehehe, “Enron level accounting,” hmmmm, I got straight A’s in accounting at graduate school (Roosevelt University). How old was Jesus at Luke 3:23? At least 30. He was still 30 at the Passover after winter. He died in 33 C.E. The Bible reports 3 (4 Passovers) for the ministry of Jesus. 33, 32, 31, and 30 C. E. (just a simple count backwards from his death). That means he was still 30 in 30 C.E. So then at the 1st Passover (of his ministry) it was mentioned that the temple of Heriod was built for 46 years (John 2:20), but Jesus was still 30 (or 31 if another birthday). That means that Jesus was 16 or 17 years younger than the temple of Herod. Jews say the temple of Herod was begun in 19 B.C. 19 B.C.- 16 = 3 B.C. But, if 19 B.C., then 19 B.C.-17 = 2 B.C.. If the temple of Herod was begun in 20 B.C., then yes you would get 20 B.C.-16 = 4 B.C. and 20-17= 3 B.C. for the birth of Jesus. Of course, the death of Herod has to be after the birth of Jesus. So, send me email at fuzz@fuzzdepot.com. I will send you a PDF on the comprehensive dating of the death of Herod by Gerard Getoux (however, if you say he is an idiot or any disparaging remark, I will send you nothing, because then you are not worthy).
    Better ask soon, as I am 69 (almost 70) and may die from my various sicknesses.


  8. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for your comment, Murrell.


  9. Daniel says:

    Martin’s book actually is online and is easy to find.


  10. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Yeah, I think I link to it on one of my posts.


  11. Duncan Cameron says:

    Mortan causally throws us the references from Josephus but doesn’t acknowledge the problems especially with the first. The Olympiad he cites ended mid year (end of June), the consuls weren’t appointed until October (though the year may still be referenced by their names), but Herod was still in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost and then made journeys to Masada, towards Petra, to Egypt (where he was “delayed” by Cleopatra, then by ship to Rome (during which voyage he ran into a storm and had to build a new ship). At the earliest we are talking the very end of 40 BC before Herod gets to Rome and likely into 39. Then Mortan’s math keeps leaving out a year – he subtracts only 36 and 33 years. But 40/39-37 is 3/2 BC and Josephus says he died after this – and we don’t know how much after (though certainly less than a year). So 4 BC is far from firm.
    Duncan Cameron


  12. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for your comment, Duncan.


  13. Here is a link to my study of the Kings of Judah: http://home.comcast.net/~murrellg/RuleDoc.htm
    This has two corrections. One is interpretation of the rule of King Saul’s rule, that is was simultaneous with King David for 5 years and his son for 2.5 years. The other is that King Jehoiachin ruled 8-9 years, though until he was taken to Babylon. But this was a the same time that Zedekiah (as puppet King for Nebuchadnezzar). The temple of Solomon was dedicated in 1020 B.C.E. (that is a Jubilee year). Also, incrementing by units of 50, one can find that 1520 B.C.E. was a Jubilee year (when Moses raised his arm against Egypt when Moses was 30). So, the Exodus was 1510 B.C.E.(not a Jubilee year). In Levitcus (? 23) God notes a Jubilee after coming in to the Promised Land (1510-40 years in wilderness=1470 B.C.E. (a Jubilee year). But the one after that is 1420 B.C.E. (just before Joshua dies at 110). So, Joshua was 20 when he came out of Egypt. But the point is this, 20 B.C.E. was a Jubilee year, and the next one was when Jesus was 30 in 29 C.E. (dedication of the temple of his body). This is simply how many Bible dates can be found. Now Jehovah (Jah or Yahweh) used the Bethlehem Star to mark Bible events. So, in the case of Jesus, 8 days after his birth, day of circumscision, was the Bethlehem Star (a conjunction of Venus and Jupitor in 2 B.C.E.). Using that fact, one can verify the Exodus time. How, in 1510 B.C.E., there is a conjunction of Venus and Jupitor at Sivan 6, when the Torah was given. Moreover, when was Moses born? If he was 30 in 1520 B.C.E., then he was born in 1550 B.C.E. Look back there with an astronomy program. Bingo, a conjunction of Venus and Jupitor on Adar 15. So, what? Like Jesus, that is circumscision, so Moses was born 8 days earlier at Adar 7. This agrees with the traditions of the Jews. Similarly, I have found the birthday of Moses, Abram, and Adam. These in turn helped me find the exact year of the Deluge.


  14. Changed some of my websites due to changes by Comcast and updates.
    Bible study links now at http://pmcbags.com/biblestudy.html


  15. Josephus in Wars of the Jews (see http://pmcbags.com/warsjews.html says that it was 167 years from the death of Herod to the conquest of Jerusalem. See this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes
    That was 167 B,C.E. when he conquered, January in 1 C.E. is about 167 years from the conquest by Antiochus. Meaning, Herod did not die in 4 B.C.E. or 2 B.C.E.


  16. Lost Books of the Bible, now an old book, had some good points about Jesus. I have a page on it at http://pmcbags.com/lostbooks.html . Very good information. Think about it. The information does not support Herod’s death in 4 B.C.E. or 2 B.C.E.


  17. Confirmed the date of birth of Moses as noted in the Talmud by the Bethelehem Star Theory that YHWH marked important events in history with a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The Talmud says that Moses was born Adar 7, and I found this by a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter at Adar 15 (8 days after birth) in 1550 B.C.E. The Talmud is probably correct for a long time, but got corrupted in the days of Jesus. The Torah is marked by the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter too on Sivan 6, which the Bible says is when the Torah was given. That is in 1510 B.C.E. These three are witnesses together of the truth of the Bible: the birth of Jesus in 2 B.C.E. on Sivan 6, the birth of Moses, and the giving of the Torah on Sivan 6. But actually, there are many more than 3 witnesses. See http://pmcbags.com/biblestudy.html.

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  18. Here is a letter I wrote today via email on the “Bethelhem Star.”


  19. Updated information on Herod’s death.
    also updated http:/www.fuzzdepot.com


  20. Made a short video on the conception, birth, and Magi visit of Jesus. Mention the error in the Josephus book and papers of academics on the death of Herod. Download Gerard Getoux’s paper on Herod at http://www.academia..edu. Here is the video: https://youtu.be/G81WXPtgQ5o


  21. New web page on birth and conception of King David:


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