Fixing the Date of Herod’s Death-Part 3

24 Dec

The third eclipse under our consideration for the one to which Josephus referred, occurred on September 15th in 5 BCE. However, although it allows enough time for all the events to take place that surrounded Herod’s death, it must be excluded for another reason. Josephus recorded that on the day of the execution the high priest, Matthias, was deprived of his office, because the sedition occurred within the Temple compound. Therefore, Herod gave the office of high priest to Matthias’ brother-in-law.[i] That is, Matthias was removed from office on the day of the eclipse according to Josephus. If the eclipse that occurred just prior to Herod’s death was the one that occurred on September 15th, another inconsistency would arise. Josephus records:

“Now it happened, that during the time of the high priesthood of this Matthias, there was another person made high priest for a single day, that very day which the Jews observed as a fast. The occasion was this: This Matthias the high priest, on the night before that day when the fast was to be celebrated, seemed, in a dream, to have conversation with his wife; and because he could not officiate himself on that account, Joseph, the son of Ellemus, his kinsman, assisted him in that sacred office.”[ii]

According to the Talmud, this “fast” was the Day of Atonement which occurs in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, occurring in the autumn.[iii] Considering that the tenure of Matthias was only 9 or 10 months,[iv] one could not come to the Day of Atonement counting backwards from the eclipse that occurred on September 15th in 5 BCE, because in that year the Day of Atonement occurred after September 15. This reason alone eliminates this eclipse from consideration as far as Herod’s death is concerned, because, if Herod deprived Matthias of serving on September 15, 5 BCE, Matthias’ tenure would never transpire during a season of Atonement when he would have his kinsman officiate for him due to a dream, because his term was only 9 or 10 months long.

Nevertheless, there is also another discrepancy to consider. Josephus’ statements regarding the length of Herod’s reign[v] would be out of sync with what we can prove to be so, if Herod died near the end of 5 BCE. According to Josephus Herod reigned for 37 years since he was declared king by the Romans and 34 years, since the death of Antigonus, the last reigning Hasmonian ruler.

“Josephus tells us that the battle in which Herod captured Jerusalem took place during a sabbatical year, and that he captured the city on the Day of Atonement. We now have abundant evidence that the occurrence of this sabbatical year when this well-known conquest of Jerusalem occurred was in 36 BCE The Jewish king Antigonus was killed a few months later. Josephus tells us that Herod reigned 34 years after the death of Antigonus. This means that Herod reigned unto 2 to 1 BCE”[vi]

If we use the eclipse that occurred on September 15th in 5 BCE to date Herod’s death, this would mean that he reigned only 31 years after the death of Antigonus instead of 34. Thus, it is impossible for us to consider the eclipse that occurred in 5 BCE.

The only remaining eclipse of the four that could be seen from Palestine during this period of time was that which occurred on January 10th in 1 BCE. There seems to be enough time between it and the Passover to account for all the events that occurred (91 days). The 96 days I mentioned in an earlier post is the result of approximating my calculations. If a the year happened to be a leap year and 13th month were added to the Jewish calendar that year, there would be more than enough even with the rounded calculations. The point is the March 13th and 23rd dates fall far short of allowing the events to occur that we know happened. September 15th is excluded for other reasons. January 10th comes within a week of my hypothetical calculations of 19 days that Herod lived after the eclipse and the 40 days presumed for his embalmment and funeral preparations. The other figures are fairly accurate according to Josephus and similar accounts in Scripture.

Concerning Matthias, if he was deprived of his office on January 10th 1 BCE it was but a mere 3 months back to the Day of Atonement, and this understanding of his misfortune falls well within his 9-10 month tenure as calculated by Alfred Jeremias above, and fully agrees with Josephus’ calculation of the length of Herod’s reign. Herod died near the end of the month of January after the eclipse that occurred on January 10th in 1 BCE.

This concludes my study of fixing Herod’s death. It is a three part study, and if the reader wishes to understand the whole, he or she must read all three posts in this series. Again, let me say that my understanding of this teaching is wholly based upon Dr. Ernest Martin’s work “The Star that Astonished the World.” If I had not read his wonderful book, I would not have this understanding which I post here.

May God richly bless all who regard his word as true and submit their own understanding to the prompting of his Spirit.

[i] Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; Book 17; Chapter 6; Paragraph 4


[ii] Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; Book 17; Chapter 6; Paragraph 4

[iii] Horayoth, 12b; Yoma 12b; Megilla 9b

[iv] See Dr. Ernest L. Martin: The Star That Astonished the World, ISBN 0-945657-87-0 (Second Edition), chapter 9, notation 28 quoting from Alfred Jeremias’ Jerusalem In The Time of Jesus, page 162

[v] Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews; Book 17; Chapter 8; Paragraph 1

[vi] Dr. Ernest L. Martin: The Star That Astonished The World; Appendix 4 – “The Sabbatical Years and Chronology”


Posted by on December 24, 2009 in Christmas, Religion


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2 responses to “Fixing the Date of Herod’s Death-Part 3

  1. Eddie

    May 16, 2018 at 07:53

    Greetings Shari and thank you for your question. I no longer believe some of what Dr. Martin claims about Herod and Jesus. I have found some of the “abundant” proof to be wanting. I have mentioned that my understanding has changed in some of my earlier blogs, but not in all. Where I make this note, I refer the reader to blogs containing my current understanding.

    Concerning the sabbatical years, I am not so much interested in the “proof” as I am interested in what works. If I am able to show what works, then the burden of “proof” lies with the one who disagrees.

    I have Jesus beginning his ministry in a sabbatical year. Sabbatical years begin and end on the Day of Atonement, the 10th day of the 7th month. Jesus began his public ministry on the 1st day of the 7th month in the year 27 AD and the end of the sabbatical year would have come in the fall of 28 AD. The next sabbatical year would have begun in 34 AD, the next in 41 AD and the next in 48 AD, ending in the fall of 49 AD, the year of the famine in Judea and the Jerusalem council of Acts 15–when the saints in Antioch sent their gifts. The next sabbatical year would have begun in 55 AD, ending in 56 AD when Paul brought his offering from Galatia and Europe for the poor at Jerusalem. The next sabbatical year would have begun in 62 AD when Paul was sent to Rome, and the next in 69 AD, ending in 70 AD when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed. The Jews claim Jerusalem fell during a sabbatical year.

    Counting backwards from Jesus’ public ministry, the previous sabbatical year would have been in 20 AD, then 13 AD, then 6 AD, when Jerusalem came under the power of Rome. The previous one to this was in 1 BC, then 8 BC, then 15 BC, 22 BC and 29 BC. The previous sabbatical year to this would have begun in 36 BC, the year Jerusalem fell to Herod and the Roman general Sotius (sp?).

    Check my math and make sure it is correct, but I believe it is. Hope this helps. Lord bless you Shari.

  2. librarygeek

    May 15, 2018 at 12:43

    Hi. Do you know what Ernest Martin’s “abundant evidence” of the date of the sabbatical year when Herod conquered Jerusalem is? If it can be proved conclusively to be 36 BCE, then wouldn’t that enable us to calculate other sabbatical years?

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