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”