The Date of Herod's Death:  The Errors Corrected

    by Murrell Selden             11/15/95  (Revised 12/16/98, 12/22/2011, 12/20/2012)

Introduction

    There has been considerable confusion among scholars as to the date of the death of Herod the Great.  However, this writer believes the matter to be simple.  This writer tries to find the date, assuming the traditional date of Shebat 2 for his death.  The chief problem has been in finding the correct year.  This writer uses the reference information from Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus [as translated by William Whiston, Library of Congress Catalog Number 60-15405, ISBN 0-8254-2951-X (cl) & ISBN 0-8254-2952-8 (pb)].  But, the following has been found:

Every Josephus manuscript dated after 1544 has the same eror 4 B.C. This has forced Christian historians to speculate that Jesus must have been born prior to that, as the Scripture is clear that Herod was alive at the time of Jesus’ birth and for some point afterward.  But recent historical scholarship has discovered that every single manuscript of Josephus’ writings prior to 1544 is in agreement that Herod died in 1 B.C.  This is a very important clue in our discovery of which year Jesus was born.  We are now able to consider the possibility that he was born in 3 B.C. or 2 B.C., just as the ancient church fathers claimed."  

The above is confirmed by one of the scholars, Gerard Getoux who sent me links in a letter in December 2015.


I passed in 2005 a Master2 in Archaeology and History of Ancient World in which I proved that Herod died in 1 BCE ( http://koha.mom.fr/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=487510 ) but unfortunately it was not published, then I passed my PhD in 2007.
I published a book regarding the chronology of Herod's reign entitled Herod the Great and Jesus Chronological Historical and Archaeological Evidence but without peer committee ( http://www.lulu.com/shop/http://www.lulu.com/shop/gerard-gertoux/herod-the-great-and-jesus-chronological-historical-and-archaeological-evidence/paperback/product-22465849.html )  which can be free downloaded on academia.edu( https://www.academia.edu/2518046/ )
B. Mahieu published her PhD thesis in which she proved that Herod died in the period 1 BCE - 1CE
http://www.peeters-leuven.be/boekoverz_print.asp?nr=8981

Best regards,

Gérard Gertoux
Notice  that he "proved Herod died in 1 B.C.E."  I believe this is accurate.

Establishing the Regnal Years for Herod the Great

   My anchor for dating the regnal years for Herod the Great is a well known date, the battle for the Roman Empire at Actium.  At this time there was a major earthquake, and it was in the life of Josephus.  Here is what Josephus tells us at page 320, Book XV, Chapter V, Section 2, as follows:
 

"2.  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 as earthquake in Judea, such a one as had not happened at any other time...."

   Roman history tells us that the date of the decisive battle was September 2nd of 31 B. C., a date which will live in infamy (in reference to another date which is well known in our day, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor).  In any case, it is a very firm anchor date from secular history.  Elsewhere in Josephus, there is a narrative of how Herod had come to the aid of Mark Antony in the Spring of 31 B. C.

Table on the Reign of Herod:  Based Upon the Above Statement
 

Year, B. C. Regnal Years Period Year, B. C. Regnal Years Period
37 1 18 20
36 2 17 Herod began temple 21
35 3 16 22
34 4 15 23
33 5 14 24
32 6 13 25
31     war at Actium 7   anchor year 12 26
30 8 11 27
29 9 10 28
28 10 9 29
27 11 8 30
26 12 7 31
25 13 6 32
24 14 5 33
23 15 B. C. 34   the common error
22 16 3 35
21 17 2 36
20 18 1  B. C.    Herod died 37    since king by Rome
19 19 did not reign - dead 38    died last year

    Is this table correct?  This writer believes it is correct, in reference to the time when the Romans appointed Herod as king.  Observe please this statement from Book XVII, Chapter VIII, Section 1, by Josephus as follows:
 

"When he had done those things, he 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."

    From the above chart and from this statement above by Josephus, it appears clear to me that Herod the Great died in 1 B. C. E.

Confirming Evidence from Eclipses of the Moon  (check out www.astropixels.com) as of 1/10/16.

   Now, as noted at Book XVII, Chapter VI, Section 4, of Josephus, there was an eclipse of the moon. The report said that Herod killed a person named Matthias and deprived another Matthias of the high priest position.  It was a date of a fast before the death of Herod, and there was a lunar eclipse reported.  So, when was this lunar eclipse?  To answer that question, one needs to know that lunar eclipses happen only when there is a full moon and as many times as three in a year (if one at the start, one at the mid-year, and one at the end of the year period).  Here are some lunar eclipses near the times suggested for Herod's death as follows (these were corrected to the NASA values on 12/22/2011 from  http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/lunar.html ):
 

Year of Eclipse First Eclipses That Year Second Eclipses That Year
4 B. C. (or B. C. E.) 3/13 9/5
3 B. C. 1/31  and 3/02 7/27 and 8/26
2 B. C. 1/20 7/17   
1 B. C. 1/10   (best choice) 7/5 and 12/29
1 A. D. (or C. E.) 11/19 12/19
2 A. D. 5/15 11/9

   To see the precise data on these computed  lunar eclipses, go to this link:

 http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/5MCLE/5MCLE-Figs-05.pdf  

    You can do a search on "table of lunar eclipses by NASA" in case the web site changes, as it did at least once.

 

 The translator of the works of Josephus, it appears to me, believed that the lunar eclipse was on a Passover.  So, to check this out, I estimated the Passover dates for the relevant years as follows:

Passovers Near the Birth of Jesus:  4 B.C.E. Through 1 B.C.E.
 

Passover Year  Julian Day Number Date  (Nisan 14)
4 B. C. E. 1,720,061.3      calc value 4/10 of 4 B. C.
3 B. C. E. 1,720,415.66 3/30 of 3 B. C.
2 B. C. E. 1,720,799.56 4/18 of 2 B. C.
1 B. C. E. 1,721,153.93 4/6 of 1 B. C.

     Note that none of the above dates for the Passover matches a lunar eclipse date in the previous chart for lunar eclipses near the time period.   All the lunar eclipses in the first column were before the passover (always after the spring equinox) or months after.

Traditional Date for the Death of Herod the Great

   Shebat 2 is the traditional Jewish date for the death of Herod.  I have no reason to believe it is in error.  Using a calendar computer program, I estimated Shebat 2 as probably January 26 in 1 B. C. E.  That was Julian Day Number 1,721,082.56 (calc).

Conclusion

   Based upon the writings of Josephus (which appear to be mostly accurate), 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.   As shown at http://pmcbags.com/fuzz.html   Jesus was born close to June in 2 B.C.E., so the parents of Jesus had to be in Egypt only about 6 or 7 months. 

Note on Herod's Building of the Temple

  Also, as we are aware that Jesus was in his 30th year when he was baptized, it cannot be that 4 B. C. E. was the date of the death of Herod. At that 30 A.D. Passover it was mentioned at John 2:20-21 that the temple was built in 46 years. If we take a period of 46 years (46x 365.2564 sidereal days per year) we have 16,801.8 days from the Passover (at Julian Day number 1,732,109.50), and that gives the start of the temple at Julian Day number 1,715,307.8. That is 17 B.C. on April 4th (a Monday). This was his 18th year of reign since he had procured Antigonus to be slain (as explained above). But it was his 21st year of reign since he had been proclaimed king by the Romans.