Charting the dates and lives of the Herods concerning the birth of Christ and making sense of the differences between competing histories.
Herod the Great was a living character described by the Bible narrators about the birth of Christ,1 therefore the reign dates of this leader and his family are of particular value.
However, there are different timeframes in the significant historical sources, especially between the first century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus and several ancient church accounts. This work aims to define what Josephus and the church authorities wrote on the subject, compare the dates, find common patterns, and, hopefully, reconcile the differences.
The original writers of the Gospels never related time in relation to the Herod dynasty. This omission was likely done on purpose because the Gospels were for a universal audience that viewed the Herod family as minor players in a big act. Neither did the Christian writers want to parallel the Herods with time because they were so cruel and barbarous. This action would be too honorific.
Table of Contents
Josephus’ Account of the Herods
Here is a chart to visually demonstrate Josephus’ dating. An explanation and analysis is given afterwards:
|Name||Start Date||End Date||Total Reign|
|Herod the Great||37 B.C.||3 B.C.||34 years|
|Archelaus||3 B.C.||7 A.D.||10 years|
|Philip||3 B.C.||34 A.D.||37 years|
|Herod the Tetrarch||3 B.C.||38 A.D.||41 years|
|Agrippa I||39 A.D.||44 A.D.||5 years|
|Agrippa II||Not Sure||Not Sure||–|
An explanation of Josephus’ calculations.
Josephus wrote the most detailed accounts of the Herods, starting with the rise of Herod the Great’s father, and then installation of Herod as the de facto leader of the Jews and about his later posterity. No other ancient manuscript available today contains the same amount of details as his. He dated the inception of Herod with this statement:
And thus did this man [Herod] receive the kingdom, having obtained it on the hundred and eighty-fourth Olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio [the first time]2
The 184th Olympiad would traditionally date anywhere from 44/43 to 41/40 BC. However, the mentioning of Caius Domitius Calvinus and Caius Asinius Pollio, who were consuls together at Rome during the year of 40 BC only, strengthens Josephus’s command that Herod leadership began in 40 BC.3
Josephus believed that the Romans and the Jews had two different concepts of measuring time. To rule out any uncertainty, he had to address both groups. He knew that the Jewish people did not recognize the 40 BC installation date by Rome. It was a common belief by the Jews that rulership only began with the death of their leader.
He remedied this problem by addressing both issues. Josephus claimed that Herod lived 37 years after the Romans had declared him King 4 and 34 years after the death of Antigonus, the last Jewish leader.
He documented the fall of Jerusalem and the death of Antigonus at 37 BC: “The destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls at Rome, on the hundred and eighty-fifth Olympiad, on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast”5
The fall of Jerusalem and Antigonus’ politicized death are both substantiated in other external works. The fast reference is unknown as to what it means, though Josephus intended it to target a specific date. The Olympiad puts the destruction of Jerusalem anywhere between 40 and 36 BC, but the mentioning of the consuls explicitly dated it at 37 BC.
Herod’s death calculates to 3 BC. This date occurs whether 37 years from Herod’s installment by Rome at 40 BC or 34 years from the death of Antigonus at 37 BC. This date forces historians to place Christ’s birth before 3 BC. Not 2 BC or later stated by many ancient Christian writers.
Josephus wrote clearly about the dynasty of the Herods, the length of time each one served, and the critical politics that surrounded their offices.
But in the tenth year of Archelaus’s government… [Caesar] banished him, and appointed Vienna, a city of Gaul, to be the place of his habitation.6
Archelaus reigned, according to Josephus, from approximately 3 BC to 7 AD.
He also stated that Archelaus inherited the whole Herodian empire, but due to his ruthlessness and an appeal to Caesar by some dignitaries, it was never completely fulfilled. Instead, Caesar decided that Archelaus would rule half of what Herod the Great occupied, “But for the other half, he divided it into two parts, and gave it to two other of Herod’s sons, to Philip and to Antipas, that Antipas who disputed with Archelaus for the whole kingdom.”7
Philip’s 37-year reign then was from approximately 3 BC to 34 AD. The following supports this calculation: “…Philip, Herod’s brother,8 departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius.”9
Josephus did not give Antipas a clear end-date, known by two other names: Herod and Herod the Tetrarch. It is easy to suggest that Josephus believed the start to be 3 BC, and judging from some clues in his book, Antiquity of the Jews, Book XVIII: VII,10 his end rule to be the first or second year of Caligula, who banished him and handed over the tetrarchy to a nephew, Agrippa. His reign likely lasted 41 years from 3 BC to 38 AD.
Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, received fortune instead of prison bars at Tiberius’s death due to the rise of his friend Caligula to the throne. He initially received Philip’s and Lysinias’ tetrarchs in 38 or 39 AD, then acquired Herod the Tetrarch’s territory from Caligula. He was finally granted the whole kingdom of Herod the Great by the emperor Claudius. Three years into the reign of Claudius, Agrippa died.11 This would make a five or six-year rule from 38 or 39 AD to 44 AD.
The whole kingdom should naturally go to Agrippa’s son, Agrippa II, but Emperor Claudius denied it due to Agrippa II’s young age.12 The Tetrarchy of Philip was later given to Agrippa II and a bit more13 by Claudius and then Claudius’ successor Nero slightly enlarged his estate.14
Josephus was very scant on information concerning Herod the Tetrarch and Lysinias. He does not give any information on how they received their respective tetrarchies, nor does he reference Lysinias as being a relative of the Herod family.
The Christian Chronographies on the Herodian Dates
We shall now turn to the ancient Christian chronologies. They all demonstrate later dates on Herod the Great and the majority of his posterity. A comparison between these and Josephus attempts to answer the question, why are they different?
Julius Africanus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, and later the Chronicon Paschale represent historical chronologies heavily influenced by the interpretation of an ancient Biblical prophecy found in the Book of Daniel.
A notable exception is the Venerable Bede, the 8th-century chronographer. His portrait is covered later on in this article.
Daniel was a Jewish prophet that lived around the 6th century BC. He had a dream about the future of Israel. God spoke to him and concluded the requirement of 70 weeks for the restoration of Israel to everlasting righteousness.15 The term 70 weeks is controversial, and a ubiquitous meaning in scholarly, orthodox, or fundamentalist camps has never occurred.
This ambiguity never stopped ancients from using it as a calendar device.
The ancient chronographers came up with various numbers to figure out the 70 weeks. Some have calculated 70 weeks meant 475 years, while others have 483 or 490, depending on how they interpreted the vision. Whatever number they used became their basis and influenced how they organized their dating system.
Many documents relating to historical events between 521 BC to 70 AD owe its existence to this.
Tertullian stretched some historical facts to make it work. For example, He dated Darius the Great first office at 437 BC rather than the recognized 521 BC.
From their concern on correlating this dream with actual timed events, one can find ancient publications highly focused on identifying the actual dates of the Herods with the life of Christ.
The chronological work of Julius Africanus never became authoritative due to his Daniel calculations’ perceived flaws. Later Church writers did not reference Tertullian’s claims. The work of Eusebius, which is now only known to us from the liberal usage by Jerome, became the standard. The following is Jerome’s account based on Eusebius’ earlier work.
The Life of Herods According to Jerome
Jerome lived in Bethlehem during the fourth-century. He is considered a theological and historical literary giant. His writings combined elements of the sacred and vulgar, and also synthesized Greek, Hebrew and Latin works.
|Name||Start Date||End Date||Total Reign|
|Herod the Great||33/32 B.C.||3/4 A.D.||36 years|
|Herod the Tetrarch||–||–||–|
|Agrippa I||37/38 A.D.||44/45 A.D.||7 years|
|Agrippa II||44/45 A.D.||70/71 A.D.||26 Years|
A Commentary on Jerome’s Herodian Dynasty Calculations.
Jerome and many of the Church fathers were not greatly concerned about historical correctness to dating accuracy of the Herods. Their main emphasis was to align Daniel’s prophecy within a historical framework.
Jerome argued that the period Daniel prophesied began from the rebuilding of the Temple at the 65th Olympiad or 520/519 BC and ended at the last successive High Priest in Olympiad 186.4 (33/32 BC).
The rule of the high priests comes to an end, and Herodes, a foreigner, became King of the Jews for 37 years.16
520 to 33 BC is 487 years. What the 487 signifies, and why the symbolic religious numbers of 490 or 483? The reasons are not known.
According to Jerome, the first appointment of Herod by Augustus as King of Judea was a formal recognition in 35 BC. In 33 BC, when Herod killed all the remnants of the Hyrcanian dynasty, he gained ultimate control and was not only ceremonially King but de facto. The term King of the Jews became his title. The significance of Jerome’s second 33/32 BC date displays two factors. The emphasis on the destruction of the Hyrcanian dynasty and the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy.
In trying to match the Daniel prophecy with the incarnation of Christ, we learn Jerome or Eusebius or both believed that Herod the Great reigned 33/32 BC to 3/4 AD.
There is a dating problem between Jerome’s Chronological Tables and Josephus’ account. Both agree that Herod reigned 37 years, but they disagree on the start and death date. Josephus believed that Herod the Great’s reign began when Rome appointed him in 40 BC, and that Antigonus, the last bloodline Jewish King died at 37 BC.
If these dates are used as a baseline and compared to the Chronological Tables, they do not match.
The Chronological Tables boldly state that the 37 years should begin 33/32 BC at the death of the last traditional Jewish High Priest called Hyrcanus. This difference was surprising to find a contradiction with Josephus, as Jerome and Eusebius were aware of his writings and even quoted him. For example, Jerome thought it essential to note Josephus in his Chronological Tables, “In these days Flavius Josephus writes the twenty books of the Antiquities.”17 He dated the time of Josephus’ publication at 93 AD. Perhaps he did not agree with Josephus’ chronology, or the Josephus manuscript he read from was different from ours. It is odd why the ancient Christian authors never acknowledged a difference in dating between the accounts.
The discrepancy is puzzling.
The Chronicon Paschale
Chronicon Paschale (the Paschal Chronicle), also called Chronicum Alexandrinum, Constantinopolitanum, or Fasti Siculi), is the common name of a seventh-century Greek Christian chronicle of the world. Its name comes from its system of chronology based on the Christian paschal cycle; its Greek author named it Epitome of the ages from Adam the first man to the 20th year of the reign of the most August Heraclius.18
|Name||Start Date||End Date||Total Reign|
|Herod the Great||34 B.C.||3 B.C.||37 years|
|Archelaus||4 A.D.||13 A.D.||9 years|
|Herod the Tetrarch||14 A.D.||42 A.D.||28 years|
A Commentary on Chronicon Paschale’s Herodian dynasty calculations
The Chronicon Paschale discarded Jerome’s assertion that Daniel’s prophecy had ended at 33 BC with the death of the last Hyrcanian leader, and instead, it was at the death of the last Hasmonean priest, Alexander Jannaeus in 74 BC.
The anointed leaders lasted from Cyrus the King of the Persians up until Janneaus Alexander, for 483 years, which is 69 “sevens” of years, which were foretold by Daniel in this way.19
According to this table, the first year of Augustus Caesar’s reign was 42 BC. Therefore the start reign of Herod was 34 BC if calculating from the start reign of Augustus. Another option is 35/34 BC based on the Olympiads (Olympiad 186.2 ). “In the 8th year of Augustus Caesar, the Romans gave the kingdom of Judaea to Herodes the son of Antipar and of Cypris, an Arabian woman. Herodes killed Hyrcanus and bestowed the high priesthood not according to the traditional succession, but to some insignificant men.”20
The Chronicon Paschale then follows with the statement, “Herodes was king of the Jews for 37 years. In his 35th year, Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem in Judea”.21 This passage had an earlier illustration that Herod was installed in the “8th year of Augustus Caesar”,22 which subtracted from 42 BC, according to the Chronicon Paschale, would make Herod the Great’s rule from 34 BC to 3 AD and the birth of Christ at 1 AD.
The Venerable Bede
Bede was an eighth-century monk who lived in the Kingdom of Northumbria (northern England, south-east Scotland). He had a comprehensive set of skills from music, astronomy, theology, to natural studies. He is best known for his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum — The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He had a particular interest in calendar systems and is one of the best sources on the subject.
|Name||Start Date||End Date||Total Reign|
|Herod the Great||35 B.C.||1 A.D.||36 years|
|Archelaus||1 A.D.||10 A.D.||9 years|
|Herod the Tetrarch||10 A.D.||34 A.D.||24 years|
A Commentary on the Venerable Bede’s Herodian Dynasty Calculations.
The Venerable Bede’s chronology of the Herods published in his De Tempore Ratione noted that Herod the Great received his title in 35 BC and reigned for 36 years:
Lacking in the 11th year of Augustus a principle leader in Judaea, Herod has no relation to go with, since indeed is the son of Antipatri of Ascalon and of Cyprid of Arabia, he assumed the leadership of Judaea under the Romans, which he held fast for 36 years.23
The text here relates the difficulty that Herod had in becoming a recognized King, as he was not a Jew by lineage, and his title was forced upon the Jewish nation by Rome. One must note that there was no reference to the high priest’s death as a reference point similar to what previous Christian authorities had done. The following statement clarified Herod’s death year, “In the 47th year of Augustus, Herod with a disease of intercuris24 water, and worms gushing all over the body, miserably and worthily died.”
He further wrote:
. . .Archelaus, he reigned 9 years, that is, until the end of Augustus himself. But certainly at this time does not carry on beyond for the ferocity of the Jews against him in the accusations before Augustus, he was exiled to Vienna, a city of the Gauls and for the purpose of reducing the power of the kingship of the Jews, for the arrogance had to be subdued, tetrarchies were made for the four brothers instead of him; Herod, Antipar, Lysias25 and Philip, of which Philip and Herod who was first called Antipas, the tetrarchies were also allotted from the living Archelaus.
This information would make the time of Archelaus reign from 1 – 10 AD.
The text concerning the tetrarchy is confusing. Bede suggests that the tetrarchy, which means divided by four, was given immediately to the four brothers from Archelaus, but if one reads further, especially the last sentence, Philip and Herod Antipas (later known as Herod the Tetrarch) received their allotment sooner.
This data contradicts Josephus. Josephus believed the area of Judea, including Jerusalem, became a Roman protectorate and was never restored to the Herods again. Bede did not include this analysis.
Then Bede proceeded to state, “Herod the Tetrarch26 holds on as leader of the Jews for 24 years”.27 Bede defined Herod the Tetrarch’s reign from 10 AD to 34 AD.
The dates given by Bede have been adjusted to correlate with his view that the Church’s conception of 1 AD was wrong and believed the real 1 AD started at our 2 BC. For more information see Bede on the Problem of 1 AD
Hippolyti Thebani, otherwise known in English as Hippolyti of Thebes, is an elusive one to describe. The EJ Brill website describes him this way:
6th-9th century. Greece. Author of a universal chronicle (Χρονικόν) in Greek prose, which survives only in fragments. The only clues to the date of composition are doctrinal information apparently known to the author, which places him not earlier than the sixth century, and the manuscript tradition, which begins in the ninth. As he apparently was not familiar with Egyptian geography, we conclude that the Thebes in his toponym is Thebes in Greece (Boeotia).28
|Name||Start Date||End Date||Total Reign|
|Herod the Great||–||–||–|
|Herod the Tetrarch||4 A.D.||34 A.D.||30 years|
|Agrippa I||34 A.D.||41 A.D.||7 years|
|Agrippa II||41 A.D.||67 A.D.||26 years|
A Commentary on Hippolyti Thebani’s Herodian dynasty calculations
For in the fifteenth year of the year of Tiberius was the Divine crucifixion and the Creator of Life was made alive from the dead. And thus Antipas, the son of Herod reigned for 24 years [The Latin reads 23 years]. This is clearly the Herod who struck down the Forerunner [John the Baptist], and on the occasion of the passion of the divine in Jerusalem, he took audience and judged the Lord. And he reigned for another five years after the Creator of Life rose from the dead. He was sent into exile with Herodias to Vienne. After him, Agrippas reigned, a descendant of Herod, the son of Aristobulus, from Miriam, of the son of the first Herod. For this Agrippa, also of Herodian descent, is the one who put to death Jacob Zebedaiah. And he wished to put to death Peter the leader of the Apostles so that he would be accepted by the Jews. For he reigned seven years. And after him, Agrippa II reigned, under whom Paul was judicially examined along with Festus, 26 years.29
He based all his calculations on Tiberius Caesar’s emperorship, whom we know began his reign in AD 14. The crucifixion of Christ would then have happened at AD 29. This result is an awkward date, as Jesus’ baptism was in the same year, based on the fact that the author Luke said He was baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar and the Apostle John wrote that He lived on earth three Passovers after this.30 Hippolyti then wrote that Herod Antipas reigned 24 years before the crucifixion, which would make the beginning of his reign at 4 or 5 AD. He added that Antipas reigned 5 years after the crucifixion, which would make the end of his rule be 34 AD, while most historians mark his end at 39 AD.
The start and end-date of Herod the Tetrarch have an 11-year discrepancy between Josephus and himself.
Hippolyti also left Archelaus totally out of his history. He may have rightly argued that his rulership was not crucial to his chronology and that Herod the Tetrarch was the central figure in the Biblical narrative.
There is something unusual between the Greek and Latin parallel text in Migne Patrologia. The Greek states that Antipas reigned 24 years before the crucifixion, and the Latin reads 23. Why? Was the Latin translator aware that there was some error or some history that we do not have today that he had to correct the text? Should he not have added years than decrease them? A reply to this question is not available as we do not have an alternate version.31
This problem may follow a transcription error.
Agrippas I then reigned for seven years after him, which would make his rule from 34/35 to 41/42 AD. The chronology of seven years is correct with most historians. Still, many note his rule was from 37-44 AD, not Hippolyti’s calculation as above,32 though it is very close.
After Agrippa I’s reign came to Agrippa II, many historians tend to date his rulership to begin six years after Agrippa I’s reign, 50-100 AD. Josephus explained the six-year lapse to wait for the young Agrippa II, who was then only 17, to mature. The Romans reduced this region to a province during this interval.33
Hippolyti does not give a six-year interval at all and begins his reign directly after Agrippa I’s.
Hippolyti puts his reign from 41 to 67 AD. A total of 26 years compared to 50 years by many historians. The end date, according to Hippolyti, is likely according to Jewish, not Roman calculations. If using Josephus’ previous Jewish example where he dated Herod the Great’s reign from the fall of Jerusalem, then Agrippa II would be dated to end according to the fall of Jerusalem. Agrippa II lost his power when the revolt began in AD 67.
Dating According to a Lunar Eclipse
Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon, according to Josephus34 and modern history has used this passage, along with Whiston’s commentary, to define the death date of Herod. William Whiston, who translated Josephus into English and his edition is ubiquitous in the English world, boldly asserted:
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.” 35
Whiston attempted to champion a point not intended by Josephus. Josephus did not write about the eclipse as a date identifier but as a solemn sign of a significant event. Josephus’ dating by Olympiads and the regnal system is sufficient, making a lunar eclipse unnecessary for dating.
Whiston’s conclusion is questionable.
His statement brings up a disputed topic. A previous iteration of this article stated that there were no known eclipses according to NASA’s 2008 or so website for the period surrounding Herod’s death.36 Now NASA has refined its website, and there are many possibilities—4 BC being one of them.37
There are several choices in this era for eclipses in and around Jerusalem. Writers for the Biblical Archaeology Society generally agree on the 4 BC date, but it is not unanimous. John A. Cramer Professor of Physics, Oglethorpe University votes for the 1 BC date, while a Jeffrey R. Chadwick at Brigham Young University believes all the Josephus data, including the eclipse, puts Herod the Great’s death at 4 BC. Over at the Concordia University of Chicago, Andrew Steinman surmises that both internal data from Josephus and external ones give an edge to 4 BC.38
The math does not make sense. Josephus clearly stated that Herod lived until 3 BC. Whiston’s attempt to date Herod’s death at 4 BC contradict Josephus’ account.
For more information on the death of Herod and the lunar eclipse, the following links may be of assistance:
- The Lunar Eclipse of Josephus
- Yet Another Eclipse for Herod. both of these support a 1 BC date
- The NASA website for lunar eclipses.
- Wikipedias lists the the Lunar Eclipses in an easy to use form.
- When Was Jesus Born? is a well written approach from a religious viewpoint.
The assumption throughout this essay has been that Josephus and his extensive use of Roman sources is the definitive guide to dating the year of the birth of Christ and that Christian tradition has based much of its dating presuppositions on faulty logic with the Daniel prophecy. However, Jewish tradition surprisingly supports the historic Christian position.
Both the Talmud Babli and the much later Otzar Midrashim, which is a re-composition of Midrashim texts, succinctly confirm this.
Abodah Zarah 9.1 (עבודה זרה ) reads:
מלכות פרס בפני הבית שלשים וארבע שנה מלכות יון בפני הבית מאה ושמונים שנה מלכות חשמונאי בפני הבית מאה ושלש מלכות בית הורדוס מאה 39
Persian rule lasted thirty-four years after the building of the Temple, Greece ruled one hundred eighty years during the existence of the Temple, the Hasmonean rule lasted one hundred three years during Temple times, the House of Herod ruled one hundred three years. Thence onward, one should go on counting the years as from the Destruction of the Temple.40
Most importantly, the writer stated that the house of Herod reigned 103 years. This timeframe was found not only in Abodah Zarah, but also Otzar Midrashim The Diaspora Chapter 5, and again in Chapter 25. It appears that the different chapters have different authors as the details of other events do not remain consistent, but the dates of the Herod dynasty are the same. It was clear from both Abodah Zarah and the Otzar Midrashim The Diaspora that the dates were relevant to the Temple’s destruction. If one subtracts the 103 years of the dynasty of the Herodian dynasty from the currently accepted date of AD 70 of the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus and Vespasian, then King Herod’s rule would have begun in 33 BC. There are no records in the Talmud that give the length of Herod the Great’s rule, though if one adds either the traditional 34 or 37-year numbers for Herod’s reign, this will make Herod’s death at either 1 or 4 AD.
One could argue that this 103-year date was sheer conjecture from the Jewish sages. The sages abandoned good math for an important theological statement relating to their perception of Daniel’s prophecy. It also could be argued that Abodah Zarah, being published in the sixth century or later, was contaminated by Christian influences or forced to render the dates under severe Church censorship.41
Julius Eisenstein may provide a clue that the 103-year date is a valid entry. The text in his 1915 collection of minor Midrashims called Otzar Midrashim (אוצר מדרשים) continued to leave the 103 year-phrase with no change. If there were an awareness of the 103 years as a later insertion, it would have been corrected or addressed by the time of Eisenstein’s work.
If one calculates up all the Herods together that Josephus documented, the sum adds up to 107 years – 4 years off from the Talmud.
The 4-year differential adds to the mystery of dating anything relative to the first century.
The research so far has succeeded in one of its two aims. The first goal was to establish what dates Josephus and the Church leaders selected in their chronologies.
The final analysis, however, fails to resolve why the two parties differ. The Church leaders knew and well-respected Josephus’ works, but on historically mapping the dates around the 80 or so years surrounding the birth of Christ, differ considerably. None of the Church fathers make mention of the difference and try to resolve the disparity.
While examining these calendars, along with others not listed here, many, if not most, ancient histories have a 4–10-year discrepancy in their accounts. A comparison between the accounts demonstrates the 4–10-year window never appears in the same place. It is not easy to find any pattern.
One possibility is that the histories did not agree on converting older lunar-based accounts into their solar calendars. The lunar year was shorter by about 11 days a year. Over 165 years, the lunar calendar is off by 5 years. For example, starting a history at 200 BC and tracing the history over 165 years, the solar date would be 35 BC and the lunar date would be 30 BC.42 It may be that every account has reconciled the lunar-solar calendar problem at different points in their histories. There is no substantiation for this theory, but it is a possibility that has to be looked into further.
A second possible solution is in understanding the complete work of the medieval Church writing called the Chronicon Paschale. The Chronicon Paschale has a historical record that dates epochs earlier than the time of Christ. It also includes a parallel Roman consular list. The comparing of the Chronicon’s consular list with a Roman-based one, especially the Fasti Consulares and the Varronian Chronology may uncover the difference between Josephus and other accounts.
A specific theological conflict opens up a third possibility. Many of the Church writers wrote a chronological history to align with the prophecy given by a prophet named Daniel in 580 BC. This prophecy is obscure, but the fulfillment was perceived to happen in one of three possibilities. Near the arrival or passion of Christ, Jerusalem’s destruction, or a mixture of these and other elements. The Church fathers were not so much concerned about historical correctness regarding the accuracy of the Herods, but their main emphasis was to align Daniel’s prophecy within a historical framework.
The attempt to explain the difference because of the theological influence of Daniel’s vision in Christian writings appeared tenable, but the Talmud weakened such an argument.
Another answer is that of perspective. Maybe the ancient Christian chronographers never recognized the Church’s authoritative stance that Christ only lived 30 years before His passion, but in reality, held onto the idea that it was 33 years. This difference would mean most ancient Christian chronologies understood 1 AD to be our 2 BC. If this was true, modern historians should always calculate this variance in all their citations.
The goal of this foray was to find out if a comparative literature study would solve the 4–10-year variance in historical chronographies between each other on the lives of the Herods. It is a good start but incomplete. More data is required.
For More Information:
- The Venerable Bede on the Problem of 1 AD
- For a full range of articles on Christian calendars, especially as it relates to the birth of Christ, see: Christian Calendar Systems
- Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse
- See Matthew chapter 2
- Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. William Whiston trans. USA: Hendrickson Publishers. 1982. Book XIV:XIV:5, p. 366
- http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_consuls_endofrepublic.htm, and The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dio’s Rome, Vol. III, by Cassius Dio, [-15], http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/0/1/6/10162/10162.txt
- William Whiston trans. AOJ Book VII: VIII:1, p. 366
- William Whiston trans. AOJ Book XIV: XVI:4, pg. 313
- IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVII: XIII:2, pg. 375
- IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVII:XI:4, pg. 373
- What exactly he means here by “Herod’s brother” is not altogether clear, though I think it is referring to Herod Antipas.
- IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII:IV:6, pg. 381
- IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII:VI:11: Josephus accounts that Agrippa left from Rome back to Judea in the 2nd year of Caligula. The events of Herod the Tetrarch’s banishment occur shortly after that. AOJ Book XVIII: VII:1 suggests that it may have happened in the first or second year of Caligula, but it is not specified.
- Inheriting Philips kingdom, IBID Whiston, AOJ Book XVIII: VI:4, pg. 363; Receiving Herod the Tetrarchs territory, AOJ XVIII: VII:2, pg. 388; Received the whole Kingdom through Claudius, XIX: V:1, pg. 409. Three years into the reign of Claudius, AOJ XIX: VII:2, pg. 412 and 413
- IBID Whiston, AOJ XIX: VIII:2, pg. 412, and 413.
- IBID Whiston, AOJ XX: VII:1, pg. 420
- IBID Whiston, AOJ XX: VIII:4, pg. 421. Nero gave him a “certain part of Galilee, Tiberius, and Taricheae, and ordered them to submit to his jurisdiction. He gave him also Julias, a city of Perea, with fourteen villages that lay about it.”
- Daniel 9:24
- http://attalus.org/translate/jerome2.html. St. Jerome ( Hieronymus ): Chronological Tables
- http://www.attalus.org/translate/paschal.html: See Olympiad 201.4
- http://www.attalus.org/translate/paschal.html: See Olympiad 186.2
- IBID http://www.attalus.org/translate/paschal.html: See Olympiad 186.2
- IBID http://www.attalus.org/translate/paschal.html http://www.attalus.org/translate/paschal.html
- Bede, De Temporum Ratione, MPL. Vol. 90, pg. 544. Translation is mine
- I am assuming here ‘intercuris acquae’ means infection, but cannot be sure. I cannot find a meaning for intercuris, and the copy I am working from is very faint, and I may have even misspelled it.
- Most modern scholars believe Lysias, Tetrarch of Abiline, to be incorrect and exclude him from any official designation.
- Why Bede calls Antipas “Herod the Tetrarch” and not “Herod Antipas” as commonly used today, is not known. One can only surmise, but perhaps because Bede believed there were perceived gaps in the Herodian chronology, and to be safe, he leaves this title ambiguous.
- IBID Bede, De Temporum Ratione
- MPG: Fragmenta, Vol. 117, Ch. IX, Col. 253
- Some argue that the Book of John suggests three Passovers after Christ’s Baptism, Jn 2:13, Jn 6:4, Jn 11:55ff. This data is a logical route to make.
- MPG: Fragmenta, Vol. 117, Ch. IX, Col. 253
- For this portion of comparisons with standard historical dating of the Herods, I am referring to the dates given in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 pg. 695ff, “Herods” written by H.W. Hoehner.
- William Whiston trans. AOJ Book XIX:IX:2, p. 413
- William Whiston trans. The Works of Josephus, “The Antiquities of the Jews” Book XVII: VI:4, p. 365
- This footnote in Whiston’s publication only appears in its entirety in the 1895 version used by Perseus. My 1982 version, published by Hendrickson, does not have it. The reference Flavius Josephus. The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated by William Whiston, A.M. Auburn and Buffalo. John E. Beardsley. 1895 is found at Perseus website.
- NASA’s 2008 website interface and data were very primitive and easy to misunderstand
- Special thanks to ‘Richard’ for pointing this out
- See Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse for more information.
- Here’s the formula I used for this calculation based on 354.37 days per lunar year and 365.24 days per solar year. 165 (365.25)=x(354.37), x=170.06. 200-170=30
5 thoughts on “A Chronology of the Herods”
Thank you so much for this article. I was looking for something concerning Herod to present to some people. I did read through your entire presentation and found it fascinating. Yours was the only site I found with citations, although there must be more.
I didn’t see any mention of Nehemiah, which I understand, is the dating for the beginning of the Daniel prophecy.
Great detailed work!
Thanks for the comments.
I emailed you this information but you suggested I post this as a comment instead. There are two methods of counting – inclusive and exclusive counting. Look at this table:
BC Year Year of Rule
40 BC 1
39 BC 2
38 BC 3
37 BC 4
36 BC 5
35 BC 6
34 BC 7
33 BC 8
32 BC 9
31 BC 10
30 BC 11
29 BC 12
28 BC 13
27 BC 14
26 BC 15
25 BC 16
24 BC 17
23 BC 18
22 BC 19
21 BC 20
20 BC 21
19 BC 22
18 BC 23
17 BC 24
16 BC 25
15 BC 26
14 BC 27
13 BC 28
12 BC 29
11 BC 30
10 BC 31
9 BC 32
8 BC 33
7 BC 34
6 BC 35
5 BC 36
4 BC 37
You can see the 37th year lines up with 4 BC not 3 BC. This is why many online sources also acknowledge 4 BC as the correct year.
There is enough evidence to show that 4 BC is a viable/possible answer to the year Christ was born, and that is the correct year in my opinion based on all the facts of both his birth year and death year and other surrounding circumstances.
There are other studies online which also are dating it to 4 BC quoting similar information as yours. I am fairly confident it must be 4 BC for lots of reasons which are related to the Biblical calendar also which your study and their study do not address.
You have read my work incorrectly. I do not believe that Josephus’ statements give “an edge” to the 4 BC date for Herod’s death. I have argued consistently that the correct date is later–early 1 BC. The 4BC date is without any strong support. Please see my articles on this, including recent ones written with Rodger Young.
Steinmann, A. E. and Rodger C. Young, “The Case for Antedating in the Reigns of Herod’s Sons,” Bibliotheca Sacra (forthcoming).
Young, Rodger C. and Andrew E. Steinmann, “Consular Years and Sabbatical Years in the Life of Herod the Great,” Bibliotheca Sacra 177 (2020): forthcoming.
Steinmann, A. E. and Rodger C. Young, “Elapsed Times for Herod the Great in Josephus,” Bibliotheca Sacra 177 (2020): forthcoming.
Young, Rodger C. and Andrew E. Steinmann, “Caligula’s Statue for the Jerusalem Temple and Its Relation to the Chronology of Herod the Great,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 62 (2019): 759-774.
Steinmann, A. E. “When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum, 51 (2009): 1–29.
Thank you very much for this information.