What About the Reigns of Herod’s Sons?

26 May
Israel Museum

from Google Images

Many scholars have used the length of the reigns of Herod’s sons, which information can be found in Josephus’ histories, to configure Herod’s death to March 13, 4 BC. However, since the eclipse that occurred at the Feast of Purim in 4 BC cannot be used to point to Herod’s death, due to the impossible time restraints involved between it and the Passover (28 to 29 days),[1] we must rethink why the reigns of Herod’s sons point to the year 4 BC, because, as I have said several times in this series, once “you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”[2]

Archelaus was removed from office by Rome and exiled in 6 AD, which was during the 10th year of his reign, according to Josephus.[3] This places an apparent beginning of Archelaus’ reign to 4 BC, which we already know to be impossible for Herod’s death. Therefore, while I don’t dispute Josephus’ figures, there must be a reasonable explanation for the 4 BC dating.

Herod Philip died in 34 AD after reigning 37 years over Trachonitis, Gaulanitis and the Batanean nation. Philip’s reign is also counted from 4 BC. In fact, some scholars claim that Philip refounded the city of Bethsaida and named it Julias, after Augustus Caesar’s daughter. If this is true, for other scholars say Philip named the city after Julius Caesar, then Philip would have had to have refounded Julias sometime before she was exiled by her father for adultery. Therefore a 3 BC date is put forth, showing that Philip had to have been ruling at least by that time.

Finally, Herod’s third son to receive part of his kingdom was Herod Antipas who ruled over Galilee and Perea. However, after Antipas lost his kingdom to Herod Agrippa, his nephew, Josephus doesn’t offer any information concerning the length of his reign. Nevertheless, Antipas received his government at the same time as his brothers, Archelaus and Philip, so there is little doubt that he would not begin his reign in a different year than theirs. How then can the 4 BC dating for beginning of the reigns of Herod’s sons be reconciled with a 1 AD date for the death of Herod the Great?

Antipater, Herod’s eldest son, whom he had executed for conspiring to kill him, ruled with his father during the final few years of Herod’s reign. In fact, Josephus claims that Antipater was co-ruler with no less power than his father, Herod the Great:

“Now he (Antipater) ruled the nation jointly with his father, being already no less than a king, and he was the more trusted and firmly depended on…” [JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.1.1 (003) – parenthesis mine]

“He was amazed that Antipater despite his hopes should dare to attempt such a thing, for he had designated him in writing to succeed him as ruler and even while his father lived he was in no way less than him in splendor, power or authority, having a yearly income of fifty talents and another thirty talents for his journey to Rome…” [JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.5.3 (096) – emphasis mine]

Many ancient nations practiced antedating when referring to the time of the beginning of their government. This was done for political reasons, often to show continuity to a favorable time or even to expunge the time of a dishonored official. In the case of Antipater, he was accused and found guilty of seeking to assassinate his father. Moreover, he was responsible for lying to Herod about his brothers, so why wouldn’t they wish to expunge his name from history, if that were the reason for their antedating their reigns to 4 BC?

Nevertheless, there is a greater reason for Herod’s sons to wish to antedate their reigns. Herod had been accused after his death of being mad by some of his relatives.[4] If it could be concluded that Herod was insane at the time of the rewriting of his will to include Archelaus, Philip and Antipas, what right would they have to their governments? In fact, Josephus tells us that Archelaus, Philip and Antipas also reigned jointly with their father to some degree.[5] Even Antipater complained that his brothers were being trained to govern as kings, which put his own hopes in jeopardy.[6] Thus, it can be seen as very reasonable that the length of Herod’s sons’ reigns do not point to Herod’s death. Rather, they point to a time when Herod’s sanity was undisputed, to when the young men first exercised the power of government.


[1] See my study When Did Herod Die?

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

[3] That is Archelaus had not yet reigned for 10 years (9 years plus) see JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.13.2.

[4] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.9.5 (238) and 17.9.6 (244).

[5] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.9.6 (245).

[6] JOSEPHUS: Antiquities of the Jews 17.4.1 (066)

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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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