I said earlier this month that I would do a little research project on the date of Herod the Great’s death (see here). I became interested in this topic because I watched a documentary entitled The Star of Bethlehem, in which a lawyer named Frederick Larson argued that the star of Bethlehem was an astronomical phenomenon that appeared in 2 B.C.E. The apparent problem with this date is that the Gospel of Matthew says that the star of Bethlehem appeared during the reign of Herod the Great, and many scholars maintain that Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E. Larson contends, however, that Herod died in 1 B.C.E., and that the belief that Herod died in 4 B.C.E. is due to a copy error that was made in Josephus’ work in 1544.
While some of Larson’s critics contend that Larson bases this insight on an un-named scholar, making the insight (in their eyes) quite tenuous, Larson on his web site offers scholarly documentation for his claim. Today, I read a 2009 article that Larson cited: Andrew Steinmann’s “When Did Herod the Great Reign?”, which appeared in Novum Testamentum Volume 51, Number 1, pages 1-29. Steinmann addresses such issues as the basis that scholars had for dating Herod’s death to 4 B.C.E., the problems with that date, and the copy-error that was made in 1544.
To be honest, I do not want to do a full-fledged study of this issue, for it does not interest me that much. I will, however, do a series about Steinmann’s article, and I would like to note that some of Steinmann’s points overlapped with what I read elsewhere. I will not cover every single point that Steinmann made, for there was a lot of mathematical calculation in his article, and I don’t want to get bogged down in that (though I do think that Steinmann’s calculations are important in terms of this issue). Rather, I will blog about Steinmann’s points that interested me. I also cannot promise that my posts for this series will appear every single day until the series is completed, but I will write on this topic when I have the time and the energy.
Here we go! According to Steinmann, many scholars believe that Josephus’ information on the reigns of Herod’s sons indicate that they took office in 4 B.C.E., which (for them) means that Herod died in that year, since the sons could only succeed Herod after his death. Steinmann states the following, and, in my quotation, I have taken the liberty of inserting Steinmann’s citations of Josephus (which, in the article, are in footnotes) into the text of Steinmann’s article:
“…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.”
Steinmann (like Larson) believes that Jesus was born in 2 B.C.E., and that Herod the Great died in 1 B.C.E. So how does Steinmann deal with the reigns of Herod’s sons? Essentially, Steinmann argues that Herod’s sons reigned (in some form) while Herod was still alive. Steinmann cites Josephus’ Jewish War 1.625, 631-632 and Antiquities 16-17 to argue that Herod made his son Antipater a de facto co-regent, and, indeed, Herod in War 1.625 does yield royal authority to Antipater while he (Herod) is still alive. But, a little more than two years before the death of Herod, Antipater got in trouble because he murdered his uncle Pheroras, the tetrarch of Galilee. Herod then appointed Archelaus as his successor, and, according to War 2.26, there was a claim that Archelaus had reigned for some time before he went to Rome for Augustus to confirm his authority. According to Steinmann, this may imply that Archelaus was a co-regent before the death of Herod, and Steinmann proposes that Archelaus chose to date the beginning of his reign to the time when Herod appointed him—-in 4 B.C.E., a little over two years before Herod died.
Meanwhile, Galilee lacked a tetrarch, since Antipater killed him a little over two years before Herod’s death. According to Steinmann, Herod may have moved to fill that vacuum by appointing his son Herod Antipas the tetrarch of Galilee. Or Antipas could have reckoned the beginning of his reign to the time that the previous tetrarch was killed, in an attempt to bolster his own (Antipas’) legitimacy. In any case, Steinmann argues, Antipas could have reckoned his rulership over Galilee as commencing in 4 B.C.E., even with Herod the Great being alive at the time.
Then there is the reign of Herod Philip over Gaulanitis. This is where the copy-error enters the picture. But I will discuss that in my next post for this series.