The Date of Herod's Death: The Errors Corrected
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:
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|
|36||2||17 Herod began temple||21|
|31 war at Actium||7 anchor year||12||26|
|23||15||4 B. C.||34 the common error|
|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:
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).
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.
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.