Wise Men HeaderDate of Christ's Birth.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

1: Clues from Herod's death.

Matthew tell us that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was king of Judea.
For more in on the life of King Herod go to this link.
Here we will concentrate only on the time of his death. It has always been thought that he was king between 40 BC to 4 BC although he did not do any actual ruling until 37 BC. If the death of Herod in 4 BC is true, then Jesus could not have been born after that date. How do we know that Herod died in 4 BC? Josephus, the historian tells us quite a bit about Herod the Great including details about his death. Apparently he died of a particularly nasty medical condition a little while after an incident involving the execution of several hot headed young intellects and a high preist during a fast day.

But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon. - Antiquities 17:6:4

(Josephus is probably linking the eclipse and the execution because during an eclipse of the moon, the moon turns red, the colour of blood. ) What we need therefore is an eclipse taking place the night after a Jewish fast day. Now a lunar eclipse always happens at a full moon which is always on the 14th day of a Jewish month. The only fast on the 13th day of a Jewish month is the 'Esther Fast' which takes place during the Purim festival. This occurs during the last Jewish month of the year, known as 'Adar'.

There are 2 possible eclipses in the period 7 BC to AD 6
eclipse.jpg - 7671 Bytes A total eclipse on the 23rd March 5 BC at 7:45 pm
A partial eclipse on the 13th March 4 BC at 2:41 am.

Now the Jewish New Year is always the nearest new moon to the 21st March. This is worked out by observation and therefore can never be calculated exactly but nominally I calculate them as the 10th March 5 BC and 29th March 4 BC. Even if I'm out by a few days, only the eclipse occuring on the 13th March 4 BC could have taken place in Adar.
According to Josephus Herod died before the Passover of that year (Ant. 17.9.3) (although Whiston believed that reference was the year after) This would have taken place on the 11th April 4 BC. Obviously the Magi met King Herod only after Jesus had been born. Even if we say that Herod met the wise men just before his death and that Jesus was only 18 month old that puts his birth date towards the middle of 6 BC at the very latest.

Taking all the information together we are reaching a concensus of between the end quarter of 7 BC and the end quarter of 6 BC. If we want to synthesize a date for Christ's Birth then given all the information with all the guesswork and uncertainties we would have very precarious a date of 4th October 7BC.
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