Josephus’ Eclipse Showing Herod’s Death

22 May
Herod's Eclipse

from Google Images

On the night following the day Herod executed two distinguished rabbis and about 40 of their students there was a lunar eclipse. This is the only eclipse Josephus mentions in his works, and he says Herod died shortly afterward (about two weeks). This eclipse could not have been the one that occurred on the Feast of Purim in 4 BC for reasons stated HERE, and as I said there once “you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”[1]. Additionally, the rabbis and their students were executed according to Jewish law.[2] If Herod was careful to act according to Jewish custom, he would not have executed the rabbis contrary to Jewish law on an annual Feast Day (Purim),[3] which is necessarily so, had Herod executed the rabbis immediately before the eclipses of 4 or 5 BC.If this logic is valid, namely that Herod was careful to have the rabbis executed according to the law of the Jews, then we can also eliminate the September 15, 5 BC eclipse, because Herod would have had to conduct the trial and execute the offenders on the eve of the Sabbath. We would also be able to eliminate the January 10, 1 BC eclipse, because that would have Herod conducting a trial and executing the rabbis on the Sabbath day. This leaves only the December 29, 1 BC eclipse to show the trial and death of the rabbis, which also points to the deaths of Antipater and Herod. As can be seen on the December 29th calendar link, the trial and execution was conducted on a Wednesday and the Chanukah festival had already passed by about 11 days.

If one finds problems with the above logic or the calendar used to identify the proper eclipse, there are other reasons why the December 29, 1 BC eclipse should be considered above the others. First, although the December 29th eclipse was partial, and its most dramatic effect was over by about 6 PM, it occurred at a time when many people would see it, especially at Jericho where the rabbis and their students were executed. The September 15th eclipse occurred about 3 hours after sunset, so a lot fewer people would have witnessed it. The January 10th eclipses occurred about 2 hours after midnight, so even fewer people would have witnessed that eclipse. Therefore, the December 29th eclipse, if associated with the deaths of the renowned rabbis would be the most famous eclipse of any other that could be associated with their deaths. In other words, many people would have witnessed the December 29th eclipse firsthand. While the other two might have been missed by most people, the December 29th eclipse would be remembered.

There is also another problem with the September 15th eclipse, in that it involves the deposed high priest, Matthias. After the trial and after the execution, Herod deprived Matthias of the high priesthood and replaced him with his brother-in-law, Joazar, and that very night the eclipse occurred according to Josephus. He further tells us that, while Matthias served as high priest, his relative, Joseph, the son of Ellemus, assisted him in the office of high priest and preformed his duties for him for a single day. This was done, because Matthias had become ceremonially unclean through a dream he had the night before. The day this was done was on the Jewish fast day, Yom Kippur.[4] Why do I say it is Yom Kippur when Josephus does not identify the fast? It is because this incident is identified in the Jewish Talmud[5] and the day is identified as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement.

This Holy Day (Sabbath) occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, and October 11th in the year 5 BC. So, what bearing does this have on the September 15th lunar eclipse? Josephus claims that Matthias was named high priest by Herod to replace Herod’s father-in-law, Simon,[6] and this occurred during the seven month absence of Antipater,[7] who was in Rome at the time of Matthias’ appointment. Since Antipater returned after this seven-month period and was put on trial and executed shortly afterward, this high priest, Matthias, couldn’t have served as high priest for a full year. The only Day of Atonement that occurred during his term as high priest was the one in which his relative served in his place, and according the September 15, 5 BC link, that eclipse occurred before the Day of Atonement fast day by almost four weeks. How could Matthias, who was deposed on the day of the lunar eclipse, be still serving as high priest one month later on October 11th? Therefore the September 15th eclipse must be disqualified as a candidate for Josephus’ eclipse.

This leaves only 1 BC as the year for Josephus’ eclipse. The January 10th eclipse should be disqualified due to it occurring on the evening after the Sabbath. If Herod was going through great pains to try the rabbis according to Jewish law, he wouldn’t have executed them on the Sabbath day, contrary to Jewish law. Moreover, the January 10th eclipse occurred after midnight and wouldn’t have been observed by so many people as the December 29th eclipse, which seems to be Josephus’ eclipse – the only one mentioned in his works.


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

[2] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities 17.9.1 (209)

[3] See the Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin 35a which tells us that neither a trial nor an execution can be conducted on the eve of a Sabbath or a Feast Day, or on any Holy Day Sabbath.

[4] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities 17.6.4 (164-167)

[5] See Babylonian Talmud: Megilla 9b where Joseph son of Ulam (Ellemus) rose to the office of high priest for a single day due the ceremonial uncleanness of the officiating high priest.

[6] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.4.2 (078).

[7] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.4.3 (079-082).

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Posted by on May 22, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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