Geographical sites:

  • Jericho (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #687917)
    Pleiades_icon Hierichous settlement Geocontext: Jericho WBK
    Description: An ancient site in the Jordan valley with occupation beginning ca. 11,000 years BP. The tell of Hierichous (Jericho) has more than 20 settlement horizons, ranging from Natufian Hunter-Gatherers to modern.
  • Iudaea (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #687934)
    Pleiades_icon Iudaea region Description: Iudaea was an historical region of the Levant located in the mountainous southern part of the Land of Palestine, roughly corresponding to the southern West Bank. The region's name derives from the biblical tribe of Judah and the associated Kingdom of Judah (ca. 934 until 586 BC).


Text #4293

Josephus. The Complete Works
[Joseph. AJ. 17.6.4. Translated by William Whiston. Christian Classics Ethereal Library p. 928]



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.1

  1. This eclipse of the moon (which is the only eclipse of either of the luminaries mentioned by our Josephus in any of his writings) is of the greatest consequence for the determination of the time for the death of Herod and Antipater, and for the birth and entire chronology of Jesus Christ. It happened March 13th, in the year of the Julian period 4710, and the 4th year before the Christian era. See its calculation by the rules of astronomy, at the end of the Astronomical Lectures, edit. Lat. p. 451, 452. [OF]

Text #4294

Martin. The Star of Bethlehem
[Ch. 8 ]

[…] because of a reference in Josephus that King Herod died not long after an eclipse of the Moon and before a springtime Passover of the Jews. This eclipse has become an important chronological benchmark in reckoning the year of Herod’s death. […]

[…] astronomers in the last century told theologians that an eclipse of the Moon occurred during the evening of March 13, 4 B.C.E. (and could be seen in Palestine), this eclipse is the one that theologians accepted as the one referred to by Josephus. They particularly preferred this eclipse because Josephus also said Herod died before a springtime Passover. Since March 13, 4 B.C.E. was just one month before the Passover, they felt justified in placing all historical events associated with Herod’s death and his funeral within that twenty-nine day period. […] A close examination of the records provided by Josephus unearth formidable problems in accepting this eclipse. […]

Date Solar Eclipses Visible in Palestine
7 B.C. No eclipses
6 B.C. No eclipses
5 B.C. March 23. Total eclipse. Central at 8:30 pm (elapsed time between eclipse and Passover: twenty-nine days).
5 B.C. September 15. Total eclipse. Central at 10:30 pm (elapsed time between eclipse and Passover: seven months).
4 B.C. March 13. Partial eclipse. Central at 2:20 am (elapsed time between eclipse and Passover: twenty-nine days
3 B.C. No eclipses
2 B.C. No eclipses
1 B.C. January 10. Total eclipse. Central at 1:00 am (elapsed time between eclipse and Passover: twelve and a half weeks ).

What the modern historian needs to do is to catalogue the events that occurred from the day of the lunar eclipse until Herod died, then add on the time that elapsed for his funeral and burial, and then count the period from Herod’s burial to the springtime Passover which found Archelaus (the son of Herod) reigning in Jerusalem. The events are well recorded by Josephus. […] this interval of time can be generally determined without difficulty. […] If one were conservative in estimating the interval of time between the lunar eclipse (which occurred just after the two rabbis were executed) and the arrival of the springtime Passover, one has to allow (at a bare minimum) ten weeks. But, to be reasonable, one has to admit that a few days more would make the historical scenario fit better. It would allow for a more comfortable timetable. The interval of time was probably near twelve weeks. […] the eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C.E. cannot be the one mentioned by Josephus because it is impossible to compress those historical and ritualistic requirements into a period of twenty-nine days!

The eclipse of Josephus had to have been that of January 10, 1 B.C.E. All the events mentioned by Josephus fit quite comfortably with this eclipse, and only with this eclipse…

There is a Jewish document called the Megillath Taanith (Scroll of Fasting, though it records festival days too) which was composed, initially, not long after the destruction of Jerusalem in C.E. 70. This scroll mentions two semi-festival days during which no mourning was permitted. One is Kislev 7. The month of Kislev corresponds in most years with our December. The other commemorative day was Schebat 2. This month answers to our late January or early February. No one knows why these two days of feasting are commemorated yet they must have been days of joy ordained before the destruction of Jerusalem in C.E. 70. What did they honor?

An early Jewish commentator who probably lived in the 7th century wrote a brief remark to Kislev 7 (December 5th), “The day of Herod’s death.” However, M. Moise Schwab, who studied the information about the scroll very extensively, felt that it was really the second of the days, Schebat 2 (January 28th) that was the actual day commemorating Herod’s death. 1 And interestingly, this latter date fits remarkably well with the January 10th eclipse of Josephus. Herod’s death on this very day would have occurred 18 days after the eclipse. All the information in Josephus about Herod’s activities between the eclipse and his death fits nicely with the chronological facts.

Indeed, even the earlier date of Kislev 7 (December 5th), which the commentator associated with Herod’s death, may have relevance too. Look at what could have happened on that day. This could have been the time when the two rabbis (who were later executed) provoked the young men to tear down the golden eagle from the eastern portal of the temple. Such an occasion could well have inspired some commemorative date in which it was accomplished. In fact, this is the thing that Josephus reports. Those rabbis were, as Josephus states, “two of the most eloquent men among the Jews, and most celebrated interpreters of the Jewish laws, and men well beloved by the people because of the education of their youth; for all those who were studious of virtue frequented their lectures every day.” 2

Now, the Megillath Taanith records an unknown fast day for commemoration. It was Tebeth 9 (January 6th in 1 B.C.E.). This could very well have been the day the rabbis were tried and sentenced. And three days later on Friday, January 9th, the rabbis were burnt alive to correspond with the lunar eclipse that was predicted for that night. … Herod would have died 18 days later on Schebat 2 (January 28th). As mentioned before, this date is one of the undesignated festival days of the Jews mentioned in the Megillath Taanith and that it points to the time of Herod’s death makes good sense. Just before Herod died, he said, “I know that the Jews will celebrate my death by a festival.” 3 And Schebat 2 (as well as Kislev 7 for the tearing down of the eagle and Tebeth 9 for the sentencing of the rabbis) fits the historical timetable perfectly. Also, the events that Josephus said happened between Herod’s death and the next Passover can be chronologically placed in a reasonable way.

Recognizing that the January 10, 1 B.C.E. eclipse is the one mentioned by Josephus has much historical value in another way. Scholars have wondered for years why Josephus referred only to this one eclipse out of the hundreds that occurred over the generations that he covered in his histories. Why single out this one? Indeed, during the reign of Herod there were at least 32 lunar eclipses visible in Palestine (20 partial and 12 total). 37 There must have been special reasons for heralding this single eclipse associated with Herod’s death. And so there were. Other than the historical importance of Herod’s death itself, it should be remembered that it was also the very day following the martyrdom of the two illustrious rabbis whom the whole nation admired and esteemed. This was an important event for commemoration to the Jewish people. … The occasion of the rabbi’s deaths led directly to 3000 Jewish worshippers at the next Passover being slaughtered in the temple precincts.4

This slaughter of the 3000 Jewish worshippers in the temple led directly to a major war between the Jews and the Romans that occupied the whole of the following summer and autumn. Josephus said that this war was no minor skirmish. It was the most significant conflict to occur in Palestine from the time of Pompey in 63 B.C.E. to the Roman/Jewish War of C.E. 66 to 73. 39 In order to subdue this Jewish rebellion, the Romans had to muster their three legions in Syria, plus auxiliary forces (about 20,000 armed men in all), to put down the rebellion that erupted. At the end of the war, 2,000 Jews were crucified and 30,000 sold into slavery. This was a very serious war in Palestine. And what started it? It was the death of the rabbis associated with the eclipse of the Moon near Herod’s death. This is one of the major reasons that that eclipse was long remembered by the Jews.5

Additionally, the testimonies of the majority of the early fathers of the Christian Church place the birth of Jesus from 3 to 1 BC 6

  1. S. Burnaby, The Jewish Calendar, 261. [OF]

  2. Josephus, Antiquities XVII.149. [OF]

  3. Josephus, War, I.660. [OF]

  4. Josephus, Antiquities XVII.218. [OF]

  5. Josephus, Contra Apion I.34.

  6. Indicating not that any historical personage such as Jesus was born in the “what really happened” sense, but that it was understood that Herod died around this time. [nE]

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.