That then dates the death of Herod the Great into the first year of the current era, four years after the usual date. Cramer argues that Herod the Great most likely died shortly after the lunar eclipse of December 29, 1 B. C., which, as Cramer points out, is the eclipse traditionally associated with Josephus’s description in 17.6.4 (Queries & Comments, “When Was Jesus Born? Correlation of Josephus with the Talmud and Mishnah indicate the fast was probably Yom Kippur. It was a total eclipse that became noticeable several hours after sundown, but it is widely regarded as too early to fit other information on the date. This was a partial eclipse that commenced after midnight. dates require either that the fast was not Yom Kippur or that the calendar was rejiggered for some reason.Perhaps the much-maligned monk who calculated the change of era was not quite so far off as has been supposed. Cramer Professor of Physics Oglethorpe University Atlanta, Georgia When Was Jesus Born? ” BAR, July/August 2013) and which is used as a basis to reckon Jesus’ birth shortly before 4 B. Professor Cramer’s argument was made in the 19th century by scholars such as Édouard Caspari and Florian Riess. Yom Kippur occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month (mid-September to mid-October) and Passover on the 15th day of the first month (March or April) of the religious calendar. It hardly seems a candidate for being remembered and noted by Josephus. The January 10 eclipse was total but commenced shortly before midnight on a winter night.
Josephus does not indicate when within that time interval the death occurred. Lastly, in the December 29 eclipse the moon rose at 53 percent eclipse and its most visible aspect was over by 6 p.m.Only four lunar eclipses occurred in the likely time frame: September 15, 5 B. It is the most likely of the four to have been noted and commented on.None of the four candidates fits perfectly to all the requirements. eclipse, is, in my view, far and away the least likely one.I like the earliest and the latest of them as the most likely. A Different Fast Q&C, BAR, May/June 2014 John Cramer responds to Mr.Both Luke and Matthew mention Jesus’ birth as occurring during Herod’s reign (Luke 1:5; Matthew 2:1). This is generally regarded as a reference to a lunar eclipse in 4 B. Therefore it is often said that Jesus was born in 4 B. C., which would place Herod’s death—and Jesus’ birth—at the turn of the era. This date is based on Josephus’s remark in 17.6.4 that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod died. Using so-called inclusive counting, this, too, places Herod’s death in 4 B. Third, we know that the reign over Samaria and Judea of Herod’s son and successor Archelaus began in 4 B. The difficulty is that we have a fair amount of information, but it is equivocal.
Cramer, in a letter to BAR, has pointed out that there was another lunar eclipse visible in Judea—in fact, two—in 1 B. based on the fact that both Luke and Matthew associate Jesus’ birth with Herod’s reign—Ed.] Readers may be interested to learn there is reason to reconsider the date of Herod’s death. Thus, Schürer concluded that “Herod died at Jericho in B. 4, unwept by those of his own house, and hated by all the people.” Jeroen H. Tempelman New York, New York Trying to date the death of Herod the Great is attended by considerable uncertainty, and I do not mean to claim I know the right answer. Tempelman does a good job of pointing out arguments in favor of a 4 B. date following the arguments advanced long ago by Emil Schürer.Below, read letters published in the Q&C section of BAR debating the dates of Herod’s death, Jesus’ birth and to which lunar eclipse Josephus was referring. Q&C, BAR, July/August 2013 Let me add a footnote to Suzanne Singer’s report on the final journey of Herod the Great (Strata, BAR, March/April 2013): She gives the standard date of his death as 4 B. This is traditionally ascribed to the eclipse of March 13, 4 B. Unfortunately, this eclipse was visible only very late that night in Judea and was additionally a minor and only partial eclipse. These reasons were articulated by Emil Schürer in A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, also published in the 19th century. Second, Josephus writes that Herod reigned for 37 years from the time of his appointment in 40 B. and 34 years from his conquest of Jerusalem in 37 B. C., based on the fact that he was deposed by Caesar in A. The key information comes, of course, from Josephus who brackets the death by “a fast” and the Passover.There were no lunar eclipses visible in Judea thereafter until two occurred in the year 1 B. Of these two, the one on December 29, just two days before the change of eras, gets my vote since it was the one most likely to be seen and remembered. First, Josephus informs us that Herod died shortly before a Passover ( 2.1.3), making a lunar eclipse in March (the time of the 4 B. He says that on the night of the fast there was a lunar eclipse—the only eclipse mentioned in the entire corpus of his work. The first eclipse fits Yom Kippur, almost too early, but possible. eclipse seems too far from Yom Kippur and much too close to Passover.Tempelman’s letter to the editor (“Queries and Comments,” BAR, January/February 2014) that Herod’s death occurred between a “fast” and Passover. Cramer acknowledges that the fast of Yom Kippur fits the eclipse but doesn’t fit the time frame of occurring near Passover. However, it does not come to grips with all of the data from Josephus. [An excerpt by Professor Steinmann can be read below.—Ed.] One cannot simply and positively assert that a few short statements by Josephus about the lengths of reigns of his sons can be used to prove that Herod died in 4 B. Instead, one needs critically to sift through all of the evidence embedded in Josephus’s discussion as well as evidence external to Josephus to make a case for the year of Herod’s death.There is, however, another fast that occurs exactly one month before Passover: the Fast of Esther! So there was an eclipse and a fast on March 12–13, 4 B. For over a century, this has been part of the standard reasoning for the 4 B. Andrew Steinmann Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew University Marshal Concordia University Chicago Chicago, Illinois Originally Herod had named his son Antipater to be his heir and had groomed Antipater to take over upon his death.The day before Purim is a fast day commemorating Queen Esther’s command for all Jews to fast before she approached the king. C., one month before Passover, which would fit Josephus’s statement bracketing Herod’s death by a fast and Passover. (The beginning and ending years are both included in this count, since regnal years for both Augustus and the Herodians were so figured.) These reports, and the chronology derived from them, provide compelling evidence for the generally accepted date of Herod’s death in the spring of 4 B. E., shortly after the lunar eclipse of March 13, regardless of the fact that eclipses also occurred in other years. Chadwick Jerusalem Center Professor of Archaeology and Near Eastern Studies Brigham Young University Provo, Utah There’s More Evidence from Josephus Q&C, BAR, January/February 2015 In the letter to the editor in BAR, September/October 2014, Jeffrey Chadwick gives the argument for the death of Herod in 4 B. However, a little over two years before Herod’s death Antipater had his uncle, Herod’s younger brother Pheroras murdered. Antipater’s plot was discovered, and Archelaus was named Herod’s successor in place of Antipater.