When Did Herod Die?

19 May

from Google Images

Herod didn’t die in 4 BC as is commonly believed, and I hope to prove that here. I hope to prove it beyond doubt with the information we have from Josephus together with ancient Jewish tradition. Josephus speaks of a lunar eclipse just before Herod’s death. A few hours before the eclipse, Herod executed two beloved rabbis and about 40 of their students for destroying the golden eagle Herod had placed over the eastern gate of the Temple. Had Herod executed these men just before the eclipse in 4 BC, he would have done so on the Feast of Purim. A riot surely would have occurred had he done so. In fact, a sizable revolt did erupt over these things just after Herod’s funeral during the Feast of the Passover, when so many of the pilgrims visiting Jerusalem were stirred up by Jewish zealots. After putting down the revolt, Archelaus left for Rome to formally receive his government from Caesar.

If we were to examine the lunar eclipses that could be observed in and around ancient Jerusalem during the final 7 years of the first century BC, we would discover there were only five: March 23, 5BC (total eclipse); September 15, 5BC (total eclipse); March 13, 4BC (partial eclipse), which, incidentally, is the eclipse many scholars point to when determining the birth of Jesus or the death of Herod; January 10, 1BC, (total eclipse); and the final lunar eclipse occurred on December 29, 1 BC (partial eclipse), which was viewed best from Jericho where the Pharisees were executed.[1]

If Herod died near the eclipse that occurred near the Feast of Purim in 4 BC, there simply would not have been enough time for his burial and the mourning period for kings to occur before the Feast of Passover that year. Notice in Genesis that it took 40 days to embalm Jacob and then the people mourned him for another 30 days for a total of 70 days.[2] After this Joseph asked Pharaoh to permit him to bury his father in the land of Canaan, which he did, and there he concluded his own morning another 7 days (Genesis 50:10). This practice of mourning nationally for 30 days for important dignitaries continued in Israel. The people mourned for Aaron and then for Moses for a full month (cf. Numbers 20:29 and Deuteronomy 34:8).

It must also be kept in mind that Herod didn’t die immediately after the eclipse mentioned by Josephus. He had his son, Antipater, executed perhaps a week or two after the eclipse, and Herod didn’t die until five days after Antipater.[3] The funeral procession itself went from Jericho to the Herodium, a distance of 25 miles. This procession, according to Josephus, was conducted at 8 furlongs per day. With 200 furlongs in 25 miles the procession would have lasted at least 25 days.[4] Furthermore, Josephus records that Archelaus mourned for his father privately for 7 additional days, which he says was according to the law of their fathers.[5] This means that, if Herod died about two weeks after the eclipse mentioned by Josephus, the embalming and national mourning took place for 70 days after that,[6] and Archelaus’ private mourning occurred for 7 additional days for a total of about 91 days. Clearly, this could not fit into the time between the Feast of Purim (14th and 15th of the 12th month) and the Passover (14th of the 1st month) a span of only 28 to 29 days.

After the funeral procession, Archelaus conducted some business affairs before putting all aside to celebrate the Passover with his friends,[7] thus, showing the impossibility of Herod’s death occurring in 4 BC. For the same reasons shown above, neither could Herod have died after the eclipse during the Feast of Purim in 5 BC. This leaves only three other eclipses: the 15th of September, 5 BC, the 10th of January and the 29th of December, both in 1 BC. I’ll discuss those in another blog post. Nevertheless, whatever the problems we may find with these eclipses, it must be recognized that an eclipse during the Feast of Purim is physically impossible to use to point to Herod’s death no matter which year might be chosen. Once “you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”[8]. Therefore, one of the other three remaining eclipses MUST be Josephus’ eclipse – the only eclipse he used to date anything in his works.


[1] Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient Near East, by M. Kudlek and E. Mickler, 1971

[2] From the Feast of Purim to the Passover is only 29 days.

[3] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.1 (191).

[4] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.3 (199). 8 furlongs is equal to 1 mile (see HERE). If the procession didn’t proceed on the Sabbath, it would have taken at least 28 days (minimum of 3 Sabbaths in 25 days).

[5] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.4 (200); Wars of the Jews 2.1.1 (001).

[6] See the mummification process HERE.

[7] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.8.4 (205).

[8] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: in the person of Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four; Chap. 6, p. 111 (1880).

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Posted by on May 19, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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