Home > Astronomical History, Conjunction, Ephemeris Program, Lunar Eclipse > 12/22/2022 – Ephemeris – Hunting for the Star of Bethlehem: When did Herod the Great Die – Part 2

12/22/2022 – Ephemeris – Hunting for the Star of Bethlehem: When did Herod the Great Die – Part 2

December 22, 2022

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, December 22nd. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:05, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:17. The Moon, 1 day before new, will rise at 8:56 tomorrow morning.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was born in the last years of the reign of Herod the Great, and the Jewish historian Josephus puts Herod’s death shortly after an eclipse of the Moon. There may have been an error in the Josephus history that has been propagated since the middle of the 16th century, that when corrected shifts the eclipse in question forward three years to 1 BCE. The conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn of 7 BCE would be four years too early. Under this scenario, Jesus would have been born in the spring of 2 BCE, the time of year when shepherds would indeed be out at night with their flocks, because this was lambing season. What the Magi would have seen was, on two occasions, the planets Venus and Jupiter appear to merge into a single star.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT –5 hours). They may be different for your location.


Timeline of events surrounding the Nativity

This is a timeline I developed of the events surrounding the Birth of Jesus. On the top line in yellow are the two eclipses of the Moon that occurred in the time period we’re interested in: 4 BCE and 1 BCE. One of then was the eclipse Josephus mentions that occurred shortly before the death of Herod the Great, who was alive to greet the Magi, who came to Jerusalem seeking the newborn King of the Jews. The second line highlights 3 and 2 BCE that the early Christian writers Irenaeus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria based Jesus’ birth year to Roman events which can be pegged to the Roman Calendar which has a direct relationship to our own calendar. The next line contains hits based on the Crucifixion of Jesus at age 33, where the Last Supper was a Seder on the first day of Passover. The next line with C and P are two censuses of Augustus in our time period. The next to the last line shows the relation of the triple conjunction in 7 BCE with Jesus’ birth and Herod’s death. The bottom line related the two Venus-Jupiter conjunctions with Jesus’ birth and Herod’s death.

Where the lunar eclipse of March 13 of 4 BCE was a slight partial eclipse. The lunar eclipse of January 10 of 1 BCE was total, which occurred three or four months before Passover. Herod’s death and the chaos that ensued, according to Josephus, before Passover also means the March 13, 4 BCE eclipse, occurring 1 month before Passover does not provide the length of time for all these events to transpire:

  • Josephus mentions an eclipse of the moon.
  • Herod went beyond the river Jordan to the warm baths at Callirrhoe by the Dead Sea.
  • He knew he was near death as the treatments failed, so he returned to Jericho.
  • Before he did, he had his soldiers paid a bonus.
  • He ordered all the principal men of the Jews to meet with him under penalty of death. Those who did come, were imprisoned at the Hippodrome to be killed upon his death.
  • Herod then attempted suicide.
  • Herod’s son Antipater attempted to take the throne, and was executed.
  • Five days later, Herod died.
  • Herod had bequeathed the kingdom to another son, Archlaus, who then organized the funeral for Herod.
  • The funeral procession could have taken up to 25 days.
  • Then there were 7 days of mourning after that.
  • Archlaus sent his generals to Caesar on his behalf to have him declared King.
  • The people were beginning to demand lighter taxes and the release of those whom Herod had imprisoned.
  • At that point, Josephus mentioned that Passover was approaching.
  • Finally, it was Passover.

Obviously, all these events could not be squeezed into one 29 to 30 lunar month in 4 BCE. Defenders of the 4 BCE death of Herod would say that the Passover mentioned was the next year’s Passover, giving 12 or 13 months for the events to occur. In that case, why mention Passover at all?

Missing from the timeline above is Luke’s mention of Quirinius being Governor of Syria. However, there is a problem. Luke states the at the time of Jesus’ birth that Quirinius was Governor of Syria. The problem is that he wasn’t Governor of Syria until 6 and 7 CE, at least 8 years after the events of the Nativity. And the question of who was Governor of Syria wouldn’t have mattered until 6 CE, when Judea actually became part of the Province of Syria. In the period we’re looking at, Quintilius Varus was Syria’s governor. Could the two names be switched due to a copyist error? Anyway, this was before Judea became part of Syria, so it wouldn’t have mattered who was governor of Syria when Jesus was born. Luke’s account is not much help in dating the year of Jesus’ birth.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish up with the two conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus against the stars of Leo, which was the celestial sign of Judah and the land of Judea.

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