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The Daniel 9:24-27 Project

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And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. – Ezra 6:14, NASB

Preface: An Apologetic for My Approach

As I’ve worked through The Daniel 9:24–27 Project over the past year, I’ve faced a number of challenges. One has been to get my facts as correct as possible, allowing the plain sense of the Bible, supplemented by the plain sense of extrabiblical historical sources, to form the foundation of my research. Only after this was first done have I evaluated what scholarly sources had to say, lest the latter take precedence over Scripture. One should always try to understand the Word of God primarily in dependence on the Holy Spirit, not the words of men, as the Scripture says: “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Ps 119:99).  

Another major challenge has been to balance two competing ministry objectives: to reach out to both the person in the pew on one hand, and those Christians immersed in the world of scholarship on the other. ABR desires to minister to both groups, but there is a tension involved. Academics expect, and in many cases demand, that certain “industry standard” protocols be followed in how the study of Scripture and related areas are approached. The regular Christian, though, is more concerned with laying firm hold on the full revelation of God in language he or she can understand, as free from obfuscating theological jargon as possible, so long as the evidence is well-grounded in careful analysis that is faithful to the Scriptures.

I have been told by some that this research should rely exclusively on academic sources in this project, diligently footnoted and adhering to scholarly norms, to avoid having academics dismiss the work without giving it serious consideration. Yet, I want a general audience, especially millennials quite at home on the Internet but unfamiliar with technical theological terms such as “pericope” or “terminus a quo,” to be able to check my work using sources that are readily accessible. In trying to straddle both worlds, my approach has been to include Internet-based resources that have been vetted for scholarly soundness, resources that either include footnoted citations of their own or directly quote such sources in the body of their work. I am not interested in merely tossing out blog links which give little more than the undocumented opinions of their owners—opinions often delivered with a tone of finality that dares one to disagree with them.

The readers of the ABR website and Bible and Spade deserve the most careful and prayerful research we can give them. To those inclined to dismiss the research in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project because it is not presented in a scholarly journal or academic book, I ask you, check my references, and see if they hold up to scrutiny. Check the references given in cited Internet resources. Weigh my logic and biblical exegesis for validity. To the man in the pew and on the street I ask, check the links, and then dig a bit deeper. You may not agree with every point I make, but I trust you will see I do not arrive at the conclusions I share with you without first performing my own due diligence, and that with a prayerful attitude that the Holy Spirit would illuminate me.

The “Artaxerxes Assumption” Challenge

In this article we will discuss why the decree of Daniel 9:25 must be identified with one issued by the Persian king Artaxerxes I, known also as Longimanus, in his seventh regnal year. We will tackle this complex subject primarily by addressing critiques aimed at the so-called “Artaxerxes Assumption” by William Struse, an author and prolific blogger who has posted a considerable amount of material on this subject on his website, “The 13th Enumeration” (www.the13thenumeration.com).

Essential Background from Daniel

We set the stage for this study with the words of Daniel 9:25 (NASB):

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks…

This verse speaks of a “decree”—the Hebrew word dabar, which could also have been translated “word” or “command.” This decree is said to be “issued” (Heb. mowtsa', rendered by the KJV as “going forth”), indicating it was a declaration that could be publicly known through the edicts of the three kings given in Ezra 6:14. It would encompass the restoring and rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, not restricted only to the restoration of the Temple burned by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.

The Hebrew term translated “weeks” by many Bible versions is the word shabuwa`, meaning “hebdomads” or “periods of seven.” In view are not literal weeks of seven days, but periods of seven years. The prophecy stipulates that, from the “going forth” of the correct decree, seven hebdomads—49 years—plus an additional 62 hebdomads—434 years—would pass before “an anointed one” (the literal rendering of the Hebrew text) would come to the Jews. The total elapsed time until the arrival of this anointed one would be 483 years after the key decree was issued.

An Overview of the Achaemenid Kings

Another necessary preliminary is to give an overview of the key Persian kings covered in this study, members of the Achaemenid dynasty who ruled from the end of the Babylonian exile into the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. The following dates were drawn largely from John Walton, Chronological Charts of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978, p. 72), with some dates modified in the light of more recent research reflected in the Ancient History Encyclopedia at https://www.ancient.eu/:

Cyrus the Great, 539–530 BC (authorized return under Zerubbabel and Jeshua)
Cambyses II, 530–522 BC
Pseudo-Smerdis (Gaumata/Bardiya, seven month rule in 522 BC)
Darius I, 522–486 BC (Temple essentially completed under him, Ezra 5–6)
Xerxes l, 486–465 BC (the Ahasuerus of Esther 1–9)
Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), 465–423 BC

In this compilation the last year of one king’s reign overlaps with the first year of the next. The starting year for each king is his accession year—the portion of a year from when he began ruling until the beginning of the month from which his first regnal year was reckoned. This month varied among different countries, generally either the spring month of Nisan or the fall month of Tishri.

Reckoning the Regnal Years

Some dates in the chronology adopted here diverge slightly from those often encountered in the literature, in particular the date of Ezra’s return to Jerusalem after the exile. Many modern authorities agree with Jack Finegan, who in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology (rev. ed), §459, uses Babylonian/Persian spring-to-spring reckoning of regnal years to place the return of Ezra in the spring of 458 BC. However, more recent research by Horn and Wood, discussed below, strongly indicates that Ezra and Nehemiah used fall-to-fall reckoning for regnal years, placing his return in the spring of 457 BC. The Handbook’s failure to interact with that more recent scholarship is a major drawback in an otherwise exemplary standard reference work.

That a fall-to-fall regnal year was observed in Ezra and Nehemiah is indicated by Scripture itself. First, in Esther 3:7 we are told: “In the first month, which is the month Nisan…until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.” This informs us that in the time of Esther, during the reign of the Achaemenid ruler Ahasuerus, Nisan was the first month of the Jewish civil calendar. We expect the same to hold true when Ezra and Nehemiah lived under another Achaemenid ruler, especially since God told the Jews in Exodus 12:2 that Nisan was to be the first month of the year for them.

A second biblical evidence for this is found by comparing two passages in Nehemiah:

The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in Susa the capitol… (Neh 1:1)

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes… (Neh 2:1)

The shared context of these two passages indicates both deal with events in the 20th regnal year of King Artaxerxes. The first reference speaks of Chislev, Month 9 of the Jewish civil year, while the second, later reference takes place in Nisan, Month 1. How can both Month 9 and Month 1 fall within Artaxerxes’ 20th regnal year? Let us think in terms of fiscal years. A fiscal year running from the beginning of July (Month 7), 2018 through June (Month 6), 2019 includes within it the intervening months of September (Month 9), 2018 and January (Month 1), 2019. Hence, the “later” month of September is included with the “earlier” month of January as part of the same fiscal year. What is happening in Nehemiah 1–2 is similar. We have a regnal year that runs from the start of Tishri (Month 7) of one year through Elul (Month 6) of the next. This regnal year thus encompasses both Month 9 of one year and Month 1 of the next. For both Month 9 and Month 1 to fall within a regnal year, that regnal year must span Month 7 (Tishri) through Month 6 (Elul)—a fall-to-fall calendar. If the reckoning of regnal years was spring-to-spring, it would instead have begun with Month 1, Nisan, of regnal year 20 and run until the end of Month 12, Adar, of the following year. In that case, Month 1 in Nehemiah 2:1 would have had to be in the 21st regnal year of Artaxerxes, not his 20th. The only way we can take Scripture at face value is if fall-to-fall regnal year reckoning was followed in Ezra and Nehemiah.

This conclusion is supported by many references. At the risk of overkill, because this issue is very important for precise dating, I will share several of them:

1. In an article at https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1953/06/research-the-seventh-year-of-artaxerxes-i from the June, 1953 issue of Ministry Magazine, Vol. XXVI, No. 6, Siegfried H. Horn showed how Artaxerxes' first regnal year must be set to start in Tishri, 464 BC, requiring Ezra’s journey to have taken place in the spring of 457 BC:

The establishment of the correct date hinges on two key problems. The first one was to prove that the Jews of Nehemiah's time reckoned the years of the Persian kings according to their own civil calendar, and that Nehemiah's use of a fall-to-fall civil calendar was not an error. The second problem was to find the exact time of Artaxerxes' accession.

A recently discovered Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine...proves thus the existence of a fall-to-fall calendar among the Jews in Egypt during the fifth century B.C. Since this was in complete agreement with the practice of Nehemiah in Palestine, it is only reasonable to conclude that Ezra, Nehemiah's contemporary and colaborer, counted the years of the Persian king according to a fall-to-fall calendar.

The solution for the second problem is given by a tablet from Ur, the first one that has ever been found giving us a date in the death year of Xerxes. This document reveals that in Ur on December 17, 465 B.C., Xerxes was still believed to be alive. However, two weeks later the news of his son's accession had already reached Egypt as we know from the above-mentioned Aramaic papyrus. These two documents allow us therefore to date the accession of Artaxerxes very accurately in December, 465.

The Jews, using the accession-year method, therefore dated all documents from December, 465 B.C., to the next fall in 464 B.C. in Artaxerxes' accession year, and began to reckon his first year from the fall of 464.

These two discoveries—the papyrus from Darius II's third year and the Ur Tablet—show us thus that the date reached by the early computations was correct, and that the Jews reckoned the seventh year of Artaxerxes I from the fall of 458 B.C. to the fall of 457. The four month journey of Ezra took place therefore from the spring to the early summer in 457 B.C., and the king's decree went into effect afterward.

2. The excellent “Dating the Journeys of Ezra and Nehemiah” web page at http://www.biblechronologytimeline.com/biblechronologytimeline6b.html offers an extremely detailed and thoroughly footnoted look at the issues. I give here one summary quote:

In the Jewish civil-calendar reckoning the 7th year of Artaxerxes was 458/57, fall to fall, according to the more exact evidence as we have it now from the Babylonian tablets and the Jewish papyri from Egypt. This places Ezra’s return in the summer of 457 B.C. and Nehemiah’s in the 20th year in 444.

The bibliography on this website cites nine scholarly works undergirding these conclusions, including Siegfried H. Horn and Lynn H. Wood, The Chronology of Ezra 7, 2nd ed., rev. (Washington: Review and Herald, 1970). That work is described as “the most important reference work for the reader of this article who wishes a more thorough treatment of these points.” It constitutes an essential update to Finegan’s Handbook.

3. Lastly, well-respected scholar William Shea, in the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 2/1 (1991): 115–138 (excerpted online at https://adventistbiblicalresearch.org/materials/prophecy/when-did-seventy-weeks-daniel-924-begin), similarly concludes:

As the text stands, and this is the basis upon which scholars should draw their conclusions, these dates in Nehemiah 1, 2 present the strongest possible evidence that Nehemiah used a fall-to-fall calendar, and, that therefore, it is most reasonable to conclude that his contemporary colleague Ezra did too… This means that “the seventh year of Artaxerxes” in Ezra 7 is 457 B.C. rather than 458 B.C. as would be suggested if he had been using a spring calendar.

These references set forth the scholarly basis for using fall-to-fall dating for the regnal years in Ezra and Nehemiah that are adopted in this article, as well as in the further studies of Daniel 9 which will follow. They require us to place the first regnal year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 464/463 BC, his seventh year in 458/457 BC, and his twentieth year in 445/444 BC. Therefore, we have Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem in the summer of 457 BC set on a firmly established biblical foundation—assuming that the Artaxerxes Assumption is correct.

The Essence of the Artaxerxes Assumption

William Struse’s “Artaxerxes Assumption” critique, as originally formulated, claimed that modern dating of the decree of Daniel 9:25 is based on scripturally-uncorroborated assertions made by two very influential biblical scholars, Sir Robert Anderson and George Rawlinson. As Struse expresses it (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2013/03/16/the-artaxerxes-assumption/):

Around the turn of the twentieth century, a Scotland Yard investigator named Sir Robert Anderson (of Jack the Ripper fame) wrote a book on the prophecy of Daniel 9 called The Coming Prince… Anderson stretched the Biblical chronology of Ezra and Nehemiah by 58 years in order to fulfill his interpretation of the prophecy of 70 weeks… Anderson assumed the “Artaxerxes” of Nehemiah and Ezra was Artaxerxes Longimanus. Unfortunately, he did not base this assumption upon any Biblical evidence but instead upon a single unsubstantiated opinion of the Christian historian, Rawlinson, in his translation of Herodotus, vol. 4, p. 217. That quote as taken from Anderson’s The Coming Prince is as follows:

Artaxerxes I. reigned forty years, from 465 to 425 [sic]. He is mentioned by Herodotus once (6. 98), by Thucydides frequently. Both writers were his contemporaries. There is every reason to believe that he was the king who sent Ezra and Nehemiah to Jerusalem, and sanctioned the restoration of the fortifications”… (emphasis original).

Struse regards as wholly inadequate Anderson’s justification that Artaxerxes I was a contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra, namely, Rawlinson’s “there is every reason to believe.” He says, “how can a belief about Daniel’s 70 weeks be an established ‘fact’ when the ‘foundational resource’ is based upon an assumption with no reasonable basis in Biblical chronology?” He concludes, “In closing, I would like to encourage those of you interested in Bible prophecy to check out the Biblical chronological evidence, before you make your own unfounded ‘Artaxerxes Assumption’.” That is precisely what we are doing in this study.

Reformulating the Artaxerxes Assumption Critique

In a later posting, “Eliashib, Artaxerxes, & Sir Robert Anderson”
(http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/), Struse backtracked significantly from his original claims:

As many of you know, I’ve often claimed that the sum total of Sir Robert Anderson’s evidence for his Artaxerxes Assumption is a quote by Rawlinson regarding Artaxerxes’, Ezra’s, & Nehemiah’s place in the 2nd temple era. Well, it turns out, due to sloppy research on my part, this is not an accurate statement.

He goes on to clarify why he issued this mea culpa:

The above statement is not entirely correct. Anderson does in fact provide some evidence to support his Artaxerxes Assumption. That evidence is found in Appendix 2 of his book, The Coming Prince.

Struse then quotes Anderson’s Appendix 2. Here is a key excerpt:

He [the “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14] must, therefore, be either Longimanus or Memnon [sic], for no other king after Darius Hystaspes reigned thirty-two years, and it is certain Nehemiah’s mission was not so late as the twentieth of Artaxerxes Mnemon, viz, B.C. 385. This appears…because Eliashib, who was high priest when Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, was grandson of Jeshua, who was high priest in the first year of Cyrus (Nehemiah 3:1; 12:10; Ezra 2:2; 3:2); and from the first year of Cyrus (B.C. 536), to the twentieth of Artaxerxes Longimanus (B.C. 445), was ninety-one years, leaving room for precisely three generations.

By making this significant admission, Struse confesses that there was a biblical basis underlying Anderson’s views after all. His honesty in admitting this is downright refreshing; we wish all who had written books or articles, and then later found they had made an error, would follow his example. Too often, once an author has put a particular view of a subject into the public eye and become identified with it, there is no retreating from that position. So his willingness to issue this correction is truly praiseworthy.

Nevertheless, as of this writing it is apparently still a bridge too far for Mr. Struse to entirely give up on the idea that “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 is another name for Darius the Great. Though initially admitting that the foundation on which he had built his case against the Artaxerxes Assumption was faulty, he then amends it to say it was just not “entirely” correct; in other words, it was still partly right. He still wishes to truncate the chronology of the start of Daniel’s 70th Week by about 58 years, but needs another basis for doing so rather than blaming Anderson for neglecting to cite Scripture. As discussed below, he believes he finds it in details connected with the high priest Eliashib.

Inspecting the Foundation

Let us now examine the foundation on which Struse has built his case against Artaxerxes I Longimanus. We will do this by first identifying key assumptions he makes, then look for principles based on surrounding context by which to evaluate them. I identified three foundational assumptions in his articles:

1. Name sequences in genealogies identify fathers and their immediate sons. On this basis it is claimed from Ezra 7:1 that Seraiah, the last high priest before the exile, was the father of Ezra and brother of Jehozadak. We can call this the Seraiah Assumption.

2. The reign of Darius I of Persia sets the historical context into which everything in Ezra 4 through 6 must be placed. Therefore, the “Artaxerxes” mentioned in 4:7 and 6:14, as well as the “Ahasuerus” of 4:6, must be contextually understood as titles for Darius. We can call this the Darius Assumption.

3. Identical names in different genealogy lists can be used to construct a reliable historical chronology. Finding the names of people who arrived in Judea with Zerubbabel and Jeshua repeated in the time of Nehemiah and Eliashib indicates they are the same individuals, requiring Eliashib to overlap with the reign of Darius rather than Artaxerxes. We can call this the Eliashib Assumption.

As those who have followed my studies for a while know, I approach Scripture from a plain-sense perspective: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense” (David L. Cooper, cf. https://www.bibletruths.org/the-golden-rule-of-interpretation/). This has apparently been laid to heart by Mr. Struse as well. However, there is a corollary to this principle: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text” (Donald A. Carson, cited at http://www.fallacyfiles.org/quotcont.html#Note2). The “plain sense” of the Word of God is the sense which takes into account the entire context in which it is found—not just the immediate context, but also the greater surrounding context, including other books of Scripture (the Bible is, after all, a single, unified, inspired Book whose Author is God, though He used many penmen with their own writing styles). As a practical example of special pertinence to this study, throughout the book of Esther the king is called Ahasuerus. Therefore, when that name is encountered in Ezra 4:6, we should default to understanding it as referring to the same king, and preferentially seek a context-driven way to accommodate that understanding.

Addressing the Seraiah Assumption

Since they influence the date we assign to the decree referred to in Daniel 9:25, we turn now to look in more detail at the three foundational assumptions on which Mr. Struse bases his case that Artaxerxes Longimanus could not have been a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah. The apparent difficulties Struse and others see fall away when certain overarching contextual/interpretive principles are taken into account.

The Seraiah Assumption: Ezra the Son of Seraiah

The Seraiah Assumption is drawn from the genealogy given in Ezra 7:1–2, 6:

Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub…This Ezra went up from Babylon…(emphasis added).

This verse is the proof text for claiming that Ezra was a son of the last high priest before the exile, Seraiah. Struse states this plainly in his article at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/: “Seraiah the last high priest of Solomon’s temple was killed in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar (roughly 584 BC). He had at least two sons: Jehozadak and Ezra (priest and scribe)” (emphasis added).

We know Seraiah was a high priest and when he died from 2 Kings 25:18, 20–21 (cf. also Jer 52:24–27):

Then the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest, with the three officers of the temple… Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. Then the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath…

The genealogy of this Seraiah (there are others by that name in Scripture, it was not uncommon) is first given in 1 Chronicles 6:14–15:

Azariah became the father of Seraiah, and Seraiah became the father of Jehozadak; and Jehozadak went along when the LORD carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar (emphasis added).

These verses place Seraiah’s death just before the exile in 587 BC. (This date for the exile is supported by Rodger Young’s article, “When Did Jerusalem Fall?”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47/1 [March 2004], online at http://www.rcyoung.org/articles/jerusalem.pdf.) Taken together, 1 Chronicles 6:14–15 and Ezra 7:1 appear at first glance to indicate two things: (1), that Ezra’s father was Seraiah, the last pre-exilic high priest, making Ezra a younger brother of the exiled Jehozadak (also written as Jozadak, cf. Ezra 3:2, 3:8, 5:2, 10:18, and Neh 12:26); and (2), that Ezra traveled to Jerusalem when a Persian king called Artaxerxes was ruling. It is chronologically impossible for Ezra to have been born before the exile in 587 BC, yet still overlap in time with Artaxerxes Longimanus, who did not take the Persian throne until 464 BC, over 120 years after Seraiah died; therefore Struse and others feel obliged to understand “Artaxerxes” as someone other than Longimanus.

Genealogical Lists Can be Incomplete

However, it is essential to realize that genealogies in Scripture often do not include every name in a family tree. Names of certain individuals are sometimes left out when their mention does not further the writer’s purpose. The possibility of missing ancestors is demonstrated in Ezra 7, where we are presented with this genealogy:

1Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, there went up Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth…

A superficial comparison of 1 Chronicles 6:14–15 with Ezra 7:1 might lead some to think Ezra was one of the exiles taken to Babylon in 587 BC, but this does not take the full picture into account. By focusing on “Ezra son of Seraiah, son of Azariah” in Ezra 7:1 to claim the existence of an Artaxerxes Assumption, another assumption is being made: that Seraiah ben- (“son of”) Azariah was the literal father of Ezra. This assumption is not nearly as firmly grounded as the English translation may make it seem, for the Hebrew prefix ben- (which the KJV archaically renders “begat”) encompasses not only direct father-son relationships but also ancestor-descendant relationships, where some intervening names between two significant people are left unmentioned.

We could illustrate this by many examples, but just a couple will make the point. One is clearly seen, though not discussed in any detail by him, in a chart created by Mr. Struse in his article, “Who is the Artaxerxes in Your Prophecy?” at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/. There he compares the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 6:3–15 and Ezra 7:

chart of Ezra's genealogyNote the six names left out of Ezra’s lineage in the right column. Ezra 7:3 says, “son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth…” The smooth transition from one name to the next would lead the casual reader to conclude there was a direct father-son relationship between Meraioth and Azariah, but as the old song says, “it ain’t necessarily so.” The comparison of the two genealogical lists makes it quite clear that the “begats” here must be understood as depicting an ancestor/descendant relationship, not father/son. It does not honor Scripture as the Word of God to insist the English translation of Ezra 7:1 mandates a father/son relationship, when other factors indicate otherwise…and in the relationship between Seraiah and Ezra, they do. As will be pointed out below, there are too many unlikely age-related issues associated with rigidly insisting Seraiah was Ezra’s father, which are much more gracefully handled by the missing-names theory than the Darius-is-Artaxerxes theory. Since Ezra—or perhaps a compiler, we can call him the Chronicler, who brought his records together with those of Nehemiah, since they form one book in the Hebrew version—has skipped over some names at 7:3, the many difficulties brought to light in this study should make us suspect he did the same in 7:1, leaving out an unknown number of people between Seraiah and Ezra because they were unimportant to his objective.

We also must not ignore the fact that in the chart, Ezra is not included in the genealogy given in 1 Chronicles 6:3–15. He was added in parenthesis at the top left column of the chart without biblical warrant for doing so. His addition reflects Struse’s personal confidence in his Seraiah Assumption-based interpretation of the data, not the data itself. We are obliged to draw a clear distinction between fact and interpretation if we are going to properly understand the implications of these Scriptures.

As an aside, we should note that the time between Seraiah and Ezra was a favorable one for a gap in Ezra’s genealogy, due to the impact of the exile itself. The resulting disruption of Jewish society, with the temporary cessation of Temple worship and dislocation of its central place in Jewish life, makes that period a reasonable one for individuals to “go missing” in the genealogies. The disruption of Temple-centered record-keeping bureaucracy may have played a role.

Furthermore, it is not as if Ezra 7:3 is the only example of missing names in genealogies around this time in history, a single textual aberration that can be glossed over and ignored. Another example of skipping at least a generation, yet still calling someone a “son,” can be seen in the case of “Zechariah the son of Iddo” (Ezra 5:1 and 6:14). In Zechariah 1:1 and 1:7 we get clarification that Iddo was the paternal grandfather of Zechariah, not his father: “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo...” Other examples could be given, but these should be sufficient to demonstrate that raising this matter of skipped names in biblical genealogies is not just a desperate ploy to rescue the Artaxerxes Assumption from its critics, but a true issue of biblical exegesis to which we must be sensitive.

In view of these examples, we should not be too quick to assume that Ezra the priest and scribe was the literal son of Seraiah the pre-exilic high priest. We must look at the entire picture painted by Scripture. That fuller picture indicates the very high likelihood of a gap in the genealogy presented in Ezra 7:1, just as in 7:3. There is no excuse for us to not consider missing names in the genealogy of Ezra as a valid, biblical explanation for the indications that a long period of time passed between the start of the exile and the arrival of Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. When we look at additional factors below—especially the evidence of unnamed governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, and the fact that three generations are spanned from the high priests Jeshua to Eliashib—it appears several ancestors between Seraiah and Ezra were skipped over. If the likelihood of this is accepted, the seeming problem of excessive ages when “Artaxerxes” is regarded as Artaxerxes I Longimanus vanishes. The objective of the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah was apparently to trace the genealogy of Ezra to a significant ancestor to cement his priestly credentials, not give us a comprehensive family tree.

Reconciling the Ages

Let’s examine the age-related problems raised by the Seraiah Assumption. It assumes Ezra was born to the high priest Seraiah ben-Azariah before the exile began. If true, how old might Ezra have been at the exile? Think for a moment about Seraiah’s son Jehozadak, one of the 587 BC exiles. When Scripture discusses the first group of returnees to Jerusalem during the days of Cyrus, we find that Zerubbabel, the governor, is consistently portrayed as accompanied in leadership by the high priest Jeshua/Joshua, cf. Ezra 3:2, 3:8, 4:3, 5:2, Neh 12:1 (there were no vowels in the original Hebrew, so these names refer to the same person). In the books of Haggai and Zechariah (Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4; Zec 6:11) we further learn that this Jeshua was the son—or possibly descendant—of Jehozadak. For Jeshua to have served as high priest when he entered Jerusalem in 536 BC he likely would have been at least age 30, the minimum age for Levitical service in the tent of meeting given in Numbers 4:2–3:

Take a census of the descendants of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their families, by their fathers' households, from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tent of meeting.

Jeshua would thus have been born not later than 566 BC. Supposing further that he was the first-born son of Jehozadak (a requirement for inheriting the position of high priest passed down from his grandfather Seraiah), he was likely born when Jehozadak was about 30. This supposition would have Jehozadak born around 596 BC. The exile having taken place in 587 BC, this would have made Jehozadak a 9-year-old boy at that time. Since according to the Seraiah Assumption Ezra was a brother of Jehozadak, we can imagine he was about 5 years old when he was deported to Babylon in 587 BC. By the time the first returnees under Zerubbabel (not including Ezra) arrived in Jerusalem in 536 BC, Ezra would have been about 56 years old. Then to fit the Artaxerxes Assumption chronology he would have had to wait about 80 years, until 457 BC, before finally traveling to Judea. Let’s calculate…he would have been about 136 years old! And this if he was only 5 when he was exiled—he might have been older.

To get around this obvious problem, Struse proposed the Darius Assumption to truncate the timeline by 58 years and get Ezra serving at what he considers a reasonable age. In contrast, under the Artaxerxes Assumption, once the demand that Ezra was a son of Seraiah is set aside, no timeline truncation or second-guessing the meaning of “Artaxerxes” is required. Ezra was not born until late in the reign of Darius (522–486 BC) or early in the reign of Xerxes, so he would have been at least 25 (Num 8:24) when he went to Jerusalem in 457 BC. In all events he must have been a fairly young man, for Ezra 7:10 tells us: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” He was a man with a God-ordained mission who wanted to get started ASAP.

What do the Scholars Say?

But before we continue…what do the scholars say? I have not been able to find any unambiguous support for Struse’s three foundational assumptions in the scholarly literature. One I reviewed was the material on 1 Chronicles by Roddy Braun in Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 14 (Dallas: Word, Inc., 1986). In his discussion about 1 Chronicles 5:27, Braun observes:

The Jehozadak who stands at the end of the genealogy [in 1 Chr 6:14] as the son of Seraiah would then be identical with the Jehozadak named as the father of Joshua [Jeshua], the high priest of the return, whose career is coupled with that of Zerubbabel (cf. Hag 1:1; Ezra 3:2, etc.) and who obviously did not meet the fate of his father upon the fall of Jerusalem. Ezra would then need to be understood either as a (younger?) brother of Jehozadak, although of course the usual chronologies of the period would not permit this, or a later descendant of the same Seraiah, or a descendant of a later Seraiah of the same line (bracketed comments added).

In this way Braun evenhandedly lays out all the options. The comment that “the usual chronologies of the period would not permit this” seems to be referring to listing a son other than the first-born who would inherit the high priesthood. Braun then goes on:

Finally, the Ezra 7 list begins with Ezra, whose relationship to the priestly line is secured through attachment directly to Seraiah, without intervening generations. Such a construction would appear to make Ezra the priest of the return!...

Braun thus sees the mention of Seraiah as only for the purpose of connecting Ezra to the priestly line. The exclamation mark clearly implies he thinks it incredulous for Ezra to have been the priest of the return, and expects that unspecified “intervening generations” stand between him and Seraiah.

A second scholar of note is Jacob M. Myers. In his Anchor Yale Bible volume, Ezra-Nehemiah: Introduction, translation and notes (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), in the section covering Ezra 7:1–28, he writes in the “Comment”:

“After these things” marks the connecting link between events taking place at the time of the building of the second temple and those related here, which center about Ezra and his work. Though references are doubtless hidden elsewhere, we are in the dark about what took place during the interval. It all depends on the date assigned to the coming of Ezra. If he arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus (ca. 458 B.C.) this would be the first dated material after 515 B.C. (emphasis added).

Myers is thus intimating two linked ideas: first, that Ezra was not the direct son of Seraiah—indeed, he may not even have been born by the time of the first return in 536 BC; and second, that an unspecified yet significant period of time elapsed between the time of Darius I covered in Ezra 5–6, and the arrival of Ezra in chapter 7. Then, under the heading “Ezra and his mission, 7:1–10,” he goes on:

These verses constitute, in reality, an introduction to what follows. The pedigree of Ezra is given along with other details connected with his mission. It was during the reign of Artaxerxes—but which Artaxerxes is not specified, though it has been assumed frequently that it was the first king bearing that name (465–424 B.C.). However, that is by no means certain as indicated in the Introduction.

This is the issue foremost in the mind of Struse: the seeming lack of certainty about the identity of this “Artaxerxes,” and the sense that nothing more than some vacuous “assumption” undergirds it. However, in the section headed The Period of Ezra in his Introduction, Myers elaborates:

It is, of course, certain that Ezra did his work in the reign of Artaxerxes but which Artaxerxes? There were three kings of Persia bearing that name (Longimanus, 465–425 B.C., Mnemon, 405–359, and Ochus, 359–339). As the text now stands, it simply says that Ezra came to Jerusalem in the seventh year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:7, 8). If Artaxerxes I is intended the date would be 458 B.C….

Notice that Myers does not include Darius I as a possible “Artaxerxes” candidate. He then writes plainly:

Ezra was both a priest and a scribe. As such he was reckoned with the Aaron-Zadokite line (cf. 7:2) as related in 1 Chron 6:3–15 (5:29–41H). Ezra’s father could not have been the Seraiah who was the father of Jehozadak, though he could have borne that name. Seraiah could have been a direct ancestor of Ezra, which appears more likely…(emphasis added).

We thus see that both Braun and Myers reject the idea that Seraiah was the literal father of Ezra. He is viewed as an ancestor of Ezra, with intervening, unspecified individuals (and time!) standing between the two.

One more scholarly resource is a transcript of a 1947 Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research lecture by Rev. John Stafford Wright, “The Date of Ezra’s Coming to Jerusalem” (https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_ezra_wright.html). On pp. 5–6 he notes:

There were three kings with the name of Artaxerxes [Darius not included], but external evidence indicates which of the three was Nehemiah's patron. For the Elephantine papyri show that in 408 B.C. Sanballat was an old man, whose work as governor of Samaria was to all intents and purposes in the hands of his two sons (Sachau, Pap. i. 29). This means that the Artaxerxes in whose reign Nehemiah lived must have been Artaxerxes 1 (464–424 B.C.), since Sanballat was then obviously in the prime of life. It would be impossible to identify the reigning king with Artaxerxes II or III [or Darius, either]. Therefore, in making Ezra overlap Nehemiah, the Chronicler intended to place Ezra also in the same reign. Thus Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. [457 Horn and Wood], i.e. the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (Ezr. vii. 7) and Nehemiah in 445 B.C. [444 Horn and Wood], i.e. the twentieth year of the same reign (Ne. ii. 1) (brackets and emphasis added).

The above citation of Sachau’s work on the Elephantine Papyri brought to my attention The Aramaic Papyri of Elephantine in English, online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3155527?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents. On p. 435 it affirms Wright’s observations where it says:

Since his [Johanan’s] grandfather, Eliashib, was high priest in Nehemiah’s day, this enables us to date Nehemiah’s activity with almost perfect certainty in the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (465–424) (brackets added).

Returning to Wright, he also points out (pp. 6–7):

The only other reference to Ezra in the narrative of Nehemiah is in xii. 36, where, in a record of the dedication of the wall that is ostensibly from the memoirs of Nehemiah, it is said of a part of the procession, “Ezra the scribe was before them.” This single reference, meager though it is, would be sufficient to establish the fact that Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries, if it were not for the suspicion that here the Chronicler has himself composed the account or added this clause. The most that we can say of this reference for the moment is that it confirms the fact still further that the author or compiler of the Book believed that Ezra was the contemporary of Nehemiah, and that therefore he, like Nehemiah, came to Jerusalem during the reign of Artaxerxes I (emphasis added).

He concludes on page 28: “And since the Chronicler's order can be shown to be consistent both with itself and with external history, it is only reasonable to take the view that Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. [457] and Nehemiah in 445 B.C. [444]” (emphasis and brackets added). This conclusion is a powerful counterpoint to the view that Ezra arrived in the seventh regnal year of Darius I, the summer of 514 BC.

The bottom line is that, so far as these three scholars are concerned, Seraiah was an ancestor of Ezra, but not his father. Unspecified generations have been left out of the Ezra 7:1 genealogy for Ezra to have been young enough to have journeyed to Judea during the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. This is a major strike against the Seraiah Assumption, though perhaps not a fatal one on its own. Let’s evaluate the rest of the assumptions.

Dealing with the Darius Assumption

We saw above that, given the Seraiah Assumption parameters we used, if Ezra had stayed behind in Babylon until the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus’ reign—458/457 BC—he would have been about 136 years old. Frankly, this is ridiculous. Even imagining God working a miracle to stretch out Ezra’s lifespan that long, for a 136-year-old man taking a rigorous overland journey lasting four full months (Ezra 7:9), followed by a multi-year ministry filled with stressful challenges, stretches credulity to the breaking point. (And are we to imagine he led a procession around the completed wall of Jerusalem while leaning on a staff?) Faced with this incomprehensible situation, one of two things must be done to get around it: we can propose there are names missing between Seraiah and Ezra in the Ezra 7:1 genealogy as discussed above, or we can bring Ezra to Jerusalem much sooner than the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. The latter is the choice Struse adopted, which brings us to consider the Darius Assumption.

“Artaxerxes” and “Ahasuerus” are Titles for Darius I

The Darius Assumption is inextricably linked with the Seraiah Assumption, entering into how Ezra 4 and 6:1, 7b, 14b, 15 are interpreted. In his various articles Struse typically refers to Darius I as “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes,” a label reflecting his personal opinion on how to understand Ezra 6:14. It ultimately boils down to his being unable to reconcile Ezra, when reckoned as the son of Seraiah, with a ministry in the time of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. He resolves the conundrum by requiring “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7 and 6:14 to be a title for Darius. He also views the “Ahasuerus” in Ezra 4:6 as another title for this king.

“Artaxerxes” a Throne Name, not a Title

The gist of the Darius Assumption is that Darius I, known also as Darius the Great, could be referred to by the title “Artaxerxes.” This idea arises mainly from a particular interpretation of Ezra 6:14 which will be looked at later, but its roots lie earlier, in Ezra 4. In an article posted at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/, Struse writes:

It is important to understand that the term Artaxerxes is not a name; it is merely a title given to Persian kings, much like “Caesar” in Rome centuries later. In Ezra 4:7, the Persian Artaxerxes who ordered construction of the temple to stop was likely Smerdis, the Magian usurper, with his decree given at some point between the first year of Cyrus and the second year of Darius. But he is not necessarily the only Artaxerxes named in Scripture. As we will explore more fully in the coming articles, Darius ‘the Great’ was also known historically as Artaxerxes. For the present, just keep in mind that Artaxerxes is a title. We must allow the Bible’s chronological context to identify him.

Calling Artaxerxes a title like “Caesar,” however, is incorrect. It is actually a throne name, which has a different significance. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/throne%20name), a throne name is defined as “the official name taken by a ruler and especially an ancient Egyptian pharaoh on ascending the throne.” Specifically about Artaxerxes, the Encyclopaedia Iranica (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/artaxerxes-throne-name-of-several-persian-kings-of-the-achaemenid-dynasty) observes: “ARTAXERXES, throne name of several Persian kings of the Achaemenid dynasty.” The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Artaxerxes) notes: “[Artaxerxes] was borne by three kings of the Achaemenian dynasty of ancient Persia; though, so long as its meaning was understood, it can have been adopted by the kings only after their accession to the throne” [i.e., it was a throne name] (brackets and emphasis added). Recall also that Jacob Myers informed us that the three kings of Persia bearing that name were Longimanus, Mnemon and Ochus. I am unaware of a single authority who claims that Darius should be included. The point to take away is that “Artaxerxes” was a name replacement adopted by a king when he took the throne, not a title. A throne name is like the way Popes take on a new name when elected to that office. Newly elected Popes set aside their birth names and are henceforth known by the new one. A throne name is not the same thing as a title for their position, which is “Pope.” The very fact that the Scriptures refer to “King Artaxerxes” also illustrates this distinction between title and throne name, for if “Artaxerxes” was just a Persian term for “king,” he was in effect being called “King King.” That makes no sense.

The “Ahasuerus” of Ezra 4

Let’s now carefully read a condensed version of the NASB translation of Ezra 4:

1Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel… 4Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, 5and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.

We are told in verses 4–5 that the people of the land sought to hinder the rebuilding of the Temple by hiring “counselors” against them—influential people like lawyers and politicians—“all the days of Cyrus…until the reign of Darius.” This gives us an apparent chronological context for the passage, but we must keep on reading…

6Now in the reign of Ahasuerus [the ESV Study Bible notes this is Xerxes I, 486–464 BC], in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem (brackets and emphasis added).

Now we abruptly encounter the name “Ahasuerus.” William Shea, in “Esther and History” (https://www.andrews.edu/library/car/cardigital/Periodicals/AUSS/1976-1/1976-1-27.pdf), note 4, p. 228, gives us the following information:

On linguistic grounds, it is no longer possible to maintain that Ahasuerus of Esther could have been Artaxerxes instead of Xerxes. The names of these two kings are now attested in seven languages from the ancient world, and it is unlikely they could have been confused, as is evident from the following table:

 Greek:  Xerxes   Artaxerxes
 Old Persian:  Xšayārša  Arta-xšaça
 Elamite:  Ikšerša  Irta-kšašša
 Aramaic:  šy’rš  ’Arta-ḥšaste’ (-śte’)
 Hebrew:  ’Aḥašweroš  ’Arta-ḥšaste’
 Akkadian:  (a)ḫši’aršu  Arta-kšatsu
 Egyptian:  šy3rš  3rt-ḫšsš

Sources: Greek, Herodotus, The Histories (cf. 6:98 for Artaxerxes); Old Persian, R. G. Kent, Old Persian (New Haven, 1953), pp. 171, 182; Elamite, R. T. Hallock, Persepolis Fortification Tablets (Chicago, 1969), pp. 701, 704; Aramaic, A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (London, 1923), Nos. 2, 6, and passim; Hebrew, Ezra 4:6, 7:l f.; Akkadian, G. G. Cameron, “Darius and Xerxes in Babylonia,” AJSL 58 (1941): 322; Egyptian, G. Posener, La première domination perse en Égypte (Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, Bibliothèque d’Étude, 11, 1936), p. 163.

We conclude therefore that Artaxerxes and Ahasuerus were different people. And from F.D. Nichol, in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (online at https://archive.org/stream/SdaBibleCommentary1980/SdaBc-3%20%2815%29%20Ezra_djvu.txt), we get this confirmation that “Ahasuerus” was a personal name that went through translation transformations:

The Ahasuerus of Esther (ch. 1:1; etc.) is generally identified with the king whom the Greeks called Xerxes. The Hebrew Achashwerosh is a much closer transliteration of the Persian Khshayârshâ or the Babylonian from Achshiyarshu than is the Greek Xerxes. It should not be forgotten that the vowels did not come into the Hebrew Bible manuscripts until about the 7th century AD. Hence, the Hebrew author of Esther reproduced only the consonants of Khshayârshâ and wrote ’Chshwrwsh…The spelling of the name Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 is the same as in Esther, and linguistically fits, of all known Persian kings, only the name of Xerxes.

A. Philip Brown II, in “The Chronological Relation of Ezra and Nehemiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Apr–Jun 2005) (https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-2-temporal-ordering-ezra-part-ii), whose excellent work we will look further at below, adds:

Contrary to older commentators’ frequent citation of the “well-known fact” that Persian kings had multiple names, no extant archeological or inscriptional evidence equates Cambyses with Ahasuerus or Artaxerxes with Pseudo-Smerdis, or uses Artaxerxes as a general title for Persian monarchs. From a philological standpoint, H. H. Schaeder’s analysis of vwrwvja and vsvjtra establishes beyond reasonable doubt that Ahasuerus and Artachshashta are in fact the Aramaic names for Xerxes and Artaxerxes (emphasis added).

Thus, we must conclude that Ahasuerus was a personal name that was modified by passing through different languages. Ahasuerus was neither a throne name nor a title. But despite the seemingly solid identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes, doesn’t the context restrict itself to events between Cyrus and Darius? If we look at the list of Achaemenid rulers given near the beginning of this article, we see Xerxes did not rule until after Darius I. This break from chronological order tempts some to abandon plain-sense interpretation principles, and look instead for other ways to understand the passage. One is by overlooking or dismissing the etymology behind the name, instead suggesting “Ahasuerus” was not the personal name for Xerxes resulting after some translational gymnastics, but a title for some other king who lived between Cyrus and Darius, perhaps Cambyses or Smerdis. The problem shared by both of these suggestions is that they ignore a patently obvious fact: all through the book of Esther we encounter the name “Ahasuerus” where it refers to Xerxes. Shouldn’t the Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 likewise be Xerxes? To hold this view is simply recognizing that Scripture really has one Author, God, who we rightly expect to be self-consistent. Since He inspired the writers of Scripture, shouldn’t we be looking for a way to accommodate the plain-sense implication of this—that the Ahasuerus of Esther was also the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6—rather than arguing against it?

To maintain the revised, shortened chronology he has constructed around the Seraiah Assumption, Mr. Struse must restrict Nehemiah and Ezra to the reign of Darius the Great. He attempts to accommodate Ahasuerus by focusing on a very brief parenthetical remark in Nehemiah 2:6, “the queen sitting beside him.” He says, in agreement with the old Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary, that this was probably Queen Esther, otherwise why would this detail have been mentioned? But the flip side of this is, since Esther was famous, if she was the queen in question in Nehemiah 2:6, why is she not explicitly named? As far as I am aware, there is neither manuscript evidence of past attempts by scribes to supply her name here, at least as a marginal gloss, nor anything in apocryphal literature supporting this identification. If one surveys the several commentaries at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/nehemiah/2-6.htm, the majority identify this queen with Damaspia, the wife of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. Nehemiah 2:6 is a very tenuous basis indeed for applying the name “Ahasuerus” in Esther as a title for Darius I.

At http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/03/19/queen-of-127-provinces/, Struse also attempts to find support for his thesis by tying the extensive empire of this Ahasuerus, said to have “reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces,” specifically to Darius rather than Xerxes. But his case is insufficient for two reasons. First, as the son of Darius we would expect that, barring any rebellions and military setbacks, the extent of Xerxes’ empire—at least near the beginning of his reign—would have been as extensive as that of his father. But moreover, the Daiva Inscription, translated at https://www.livius.org/sources/content/achaemenid-royal-inscriptions/xph/, confirms from archaeology the extent of the empire under Xerxes, given in his own words:

King Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahuramazda these are the countries of which I was king apart from Persia. I had lordship over them. They bore me tribute. What was said to them by me, that they did. My law, that held them: Media, Elam…India…and the Nubians [Ethiopia].

To summarize this point, there are excellent reasons why “Ahasuerus” in Ezra 4:6 must be understood not as a title applicable to multiple kings, but as the personal name of the one king we find in the book of Esther—Xerxes. The only issue is the perception of some that the surrounding chronological context appears to clash with that identification. We will see later that this erroneous perception is cleared up by a more thorough examination of the surrounding context.

For now, let’s return to the text of Ezra 4 and look at verse 7. Here we have a similar situation to that in verse 6, with another king seemingly named outside of his proper chronological context:

7And in the days of Artaxerxes [identified in the ESV Study Bible as Artaxerxes I Longimanus, 464–423 BC], Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his colleagues wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the text of the letter was written in Aramaic and translated from Aramaic. 12“…let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13Now let it be known to the king, that if that city is rebuilt and the walls are finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and it will damage the revenue of the kings (brackets and emphasis added).

Just as in the case of Ahasuerus in verse 6, it is alleged that Artaxerxes in verse 7 is a title for Darius the Great.  But why would the same king bear two different titles? That this is Struse’s understanding is clear from this statement in his “Queen of 127 Provinces” article: “The common thread of all the above references is that Darius ‘the Great’, also known as Artaxerxes or Ahasuerus…” (emphasis added). Why would Ezra 4:6–7 mention the same king twice, by different names, in back-to-back verses that bear every indication of talking about different people? I cannot follow this logic, and feel constrained to search for a better solution. By suggesting that both Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are titles for Darius I, Struse has expanded the identifying terms as necessary to maintain his theory. But a theory that cannot be falsified is one that cannot be proven, either.

Continuing Ezra 4, we jump ahead to the response of King Artaxerxes to the Samaritans’ complaints:

17Then the king sent an answer to Rehum the commander, to Shimshai the scribe, and to the rest of their colleagues who live in Samaria and in the rest of the provinces beyond the River: “Peace. And now 18the document which you sent to us has been translated and read before me. 19A decree has been issued by me, and a search has been made and it has been discovered that that city has risen up against the kings in past days, that rebellion and revolt have been perpetrated in it, 20that mighty kings have ruled over Jerusalem, governing all the provinces beyond the River, and that tribute, custom and toll were paid to them. 21So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me...” 24Then work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased… (emphasis added).

Notice the response of Artaxerxes is first to check out the facts of this allegation. He tracks down the history of past dealings with the Jews in his archives. Contrary to the bald accusation of the Samaritans that allowing the rebuilding of the city must necessarily cause his income to suffer, Artaxerxes confirms that “tribute, custom and toll were paid” to “mighty kings” of the past, so their smear was not quite true. Artaxerxes thus gives a balanced reply, instructing the Samaritan leaders to put a stop to any construction of Jerusalem “until a decree is issued by me.” He seems to have wanted to carefully manage things to avoid mistakes made by some of his predecessors. Hence, city construction is forbidden (not Temple construction, which had been explicitly authorized), pending a forthcoming decree allowing it to move forward. But nevertheless, since the Samaritans used armed force to bring the work on city building to a temporary halt, continued supplemental work on the Temple complex ceased as well.

[Addendum, 5/4/19: The above interpretation of "mighty kings" as referring to previous Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian kings rather than Jewish kings is my own, but is not without precedent. Charles Fensham, in his volume on The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1982), in the section on Ezra 4:17-22, approvingly cites K. Galling, Die Bücher der Chronik, Esra, Nehemia in ATD 12 (Göttingen: 1954) to the same effect.]

The Thematic Context of Ezra 4:6–23

Now we come to the conclusion of Ezra 4:24b: “…and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” These words are the contextual key to the chapter. They directly connect verse 24 with verse 5, “all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The intervening verses 6 through 23 of Ezra 4 therefore constitute a parenthetical sidebar set between verses 5 and 24, continuing the theme of Samaritan-led opposition but now expressing it in their efforts to stymie the Jews in rebuilding the city instead of the Temple. The word “now” which leads off 4:6 has almost the sense of our expression “by the way…”—it introduces a jump to a tangential topic, which nevertheless has some relationship to what had already been discussed.

At http://www.cogwriter.com/jesus-ministry-dates.htm, Paul Kroll agrees that Ezra 4:6–23 functions as an expansion on the theme of problems faced by the Jews with the people of the land, a theme Ezra extends beyond the time of Darius (ALL CAPS and brackets original, other emphasis added):

In Ezra 4:6–23, THE SUMMARY of all the problems the Jews had is recorded. However, this is an inset in the chain of events. The account of the problems with building the temple during the reign of Darius I ENDS at verse five and resumes in verse 24!

“And hired counsellors against them...all the days of Cyrus [538–529] king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius [the first] king of Persia [521–485]: …Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius [the first] king of Persia” (verses 5, 24).

It was at this time—around 520 B.C. that the books of Haggai and Zechariah were written (Ezra 5:1). The matter finally came to Darius I concerning the temple—and he ordered the construction to continue (Ezra 6:11–12). Again, this decree was to build the house of God—not Jerusalem. It is the restoration of the temple.

“And the elders of the Jews…builded, and finished it [the temple], according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus [538–529], and Darius [the first, 521–485], and Artaxerxes [the first, 464–423] king of Persia.

“And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius [the first, 516–515] the king.”

The Jews began to build the temple during the reign of Cyrus but accomplished nothing until the beginning of the second year of Darius I [520–519]; Four years later in his sixth year, in 515 B.C.—the temple was finished.

Later, after the temple was completed, Artaxerxes I (464–423) included as part of his decree to rebuild Jerusalem a clause to procure any further materials necessary to beautify the temple (Ezra 7:16).

Now we must retrace our steps to pick up the account of Ezra 4:6–23. This gave the summary of problems the Jews encountered.

We saw that the temple—except for finishing touches—was completed in the sixth year of Darius I.

Now the account continues. It takes us past the completion of the temple.

“And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they unto him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6).

This is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. He is generally regarded as the Xerxes of Greek history (485–464).

The narrative then continues:

“And in the days of Artaxerxes [the first, 464–423] wrote Bishlam, Mithredath,... Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us are come unto Jerusalem, BUILDING THE REBELLIOUS AND THE BAD CITY, and have set up the walls thereof,... Then sent the king an answer... Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this CITY be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me” (Ezra 4:7, 12, 17, 21).

This was probably near the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes I. Notice that this concerned the building of the city—Jerusalem! Artaxerxes commanded that the city and wall should not be built—until he sent another commandment. How clear that this “other commandment” he sent is the one we read about in Ezra 7—the one sent by Artaxerxes in his seventh year! How clear that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 is the one who reigned from 464–423 B.C.

We see that, although the overall context is chronologically arranged, the parenthetical inset includes details that extend beyond the Cyrus/Darius “bookends”; yet from the perspective of the Chronicler who brought together the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, and who knows the end of the matter before he ever sets quill to parchment, the later problems have enough in common with the Temple-building difficulties to warrant their mention here. He begins in 4:1–5 by laying out the problems caused by the Samaritans in getting the Temple completed, then in effect adds in 4:6, “By the way, these guys also caused problems later on...” From his historian’s after-the-events perspective, he knows that the policies of Xerxes and, at the start of his reign, Artaxerxes I Longimanus did nothing to solve the problem of Samaritan obstructionism. An exclusive focus on Cyrus and Darius as chronological delimiters overlooks this contextually harmonious solution.

To summarize this point, to understand Ezra 4:6–23 “contextually” does not require a strictly chronological approach. The mentions of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are deliberate anachronisms introduced by the Spirit-inspired compiler of the records of Ezra-Nehemiah that would have been self-evident to his history-informed audience. There is no need to reinterpret the translated name of Ahasuerus or the throne name of Artaxerxes as forced references to Darius the Great. These names can be understood just as given elsewhere in Scripture, where they refer to Xerxes I and his son Artaxerxes Longimanus respectively. The plain sense is the right sense, and supports our contention that the Seraiah Assumption is the wrong way to approach the genealogy of Ezra in Ezra 7:1.

Ezra 6:14 and the Waw Explicativum

Ezra 6:14 is another verse where the desire to avoid anachronistically introducing Artaxerxes I Longimanus into the narrative has given rise to creative ways of getting around it. One is a particular grammatical argument centered on the Hebrew letter waw. Prefixed to another word, waw is generally translated as a simple connective, “and.” There are places, however, where it can be used as what grammarians term a waw explicativum, where it equates the two items it joins and takes the translation “even.” Applying this understanding to Ezra 6:14b yields:

And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, even Artaxerxes king of Persia (KJV, emphasis added).

By this understanding, Darius is equated with “Artaxerxes.” Mr. Struse is quite insistent that this is the way this waw must be understood; in one place (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/08/who-is-the-artaxerxes-in-your-prophecy/) he writes,

The error [of translating Ezra 6:14b as “and Artaxerxes”] is actually found in the English translation of the passage. It stems from presuppositional bias and the erroneous use of the Hebrew letter waw. In order to show that Ezra lived during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus, as they presupposed, the translators used the letter waw to form a conjunction instead of a hendiadys (two words with one meaning), as the context would dictate.

With all due respect to Mr. Struse, it is fair to say that 99% of people without any skin in the game would expect the well-trained professional scholars and translators of the various English versions of the Bible, particularly those who uphold it as the Word of God and take their responsibility to handle it carefully with utmost seriousness, to be in a good position to tell us what “the context would dictate.” To assert “presuppositional bias” and “erroneous use of the Hebrew letter” carries little weight when coming from someone without specialized training. He then goes on:

Since there is no reasonable contextual basis to assume that the Artaxerxes of Ezra 6:14 was another Persian king who helped finish the temple by the sixth year of Darius—especially a future one!—the translators should have used waw to form a hendiadys, not to denote two different people. Their decision to use the waw in this way was premised upon the necessity to show that Ezra was a contemporary of Artaxerxes Longimanus so that their messianic expectations concerning Daniel 9 could be satisfied. There is simply no other reason to add another Persian king to the chronology of Ezra 6:14–15, especially one who lived nearly sixty years after the events described were completed (emphasis added).

Unless he has actually been in touch with some English Bible translators, I doubt Mr. Struse is in a position to know about any premises or messianic expectations which may have influenced their work. Since we have just seen in our detailed examination of Ezra 4 that there is a “reasonable contextual basis” for the Artaxerxes of Ezra 4:7 being Longimanus, there is reason to add a third king to the chronology of Ezra 6:14–15: it is in keeping with a thematic approach to the passage, like we saw in Ezra 4. How this applies to Ezra 6:14 is discussed by Dr. A. Philip Brown II, whose work we will examine later.

Concluding from the Seraiah Assumption that Ezra’s journey to Jerusalem must have taken place in the seventh year of “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes of Persia,” Struse insists that his view is the only “reasonable” way of looking at the biblical data, and one who disagrees with it “hopelessly tortures the text” and “creates numerous interpretational inconsistencies”:

In summary, by every reasonable measure of biblical interpretation, Ezra was a contemporary of Darius ‘the Great’, and in fact the most reasonable reading of Ezra 6:13–15 supports this. Trying to stretch Ezra’s chronology to the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus hopelessly tortures the text and creates numerous interpretational inconsistencies which cannot be overcome with any reasonable rendering of the Bible’s chronological record (emphasis added).

Yet, in marked contrast to the certainty expressed above, the translation “even” is not part of any generally accepted English translation of the Bible (cf. the discussion of Anstey below), nor is it given as an alternative translation in the margin notes of any of 15 different English Bibles I checked. Rather, it reflects one individual’s grammar judgment call that hinges on the doubtful validity of the Seraiah Assumption. If the matter was so certain, we would think at least a single English translation would have made a marginal comment about the possibility, but we search for such in vain. This single word change of “and” to “even” is used to justify placing the journey of Ezra to Jerusalem not in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus, but in the seventh regnal year of Darius the Great, i.e., 515/514 BC. Taking this approach would make Ezra, accepting via the Seraiah Assumption that he was 56 at the time of the first return under Zerubbabel in the summer of 536 BC, 78 years old when he arrived in Jerusalem in the summer of 514 BC. Though by this assumption Ezra was no spring chicken at his arrival, it sounds possible when contrasted with the alternative, so it is easy to see why this “what if” scenario might be an attractive idea.

But there is a major difficulty in reconciling this proposal with the biblical text, apart from both its statistical unlikelihood and its unwarranted assumption that Ezra was the literal son of Seraiah. One is obliged to ask why the writer of the book of Ezra would have even bothered to introduce the name “Artaxerxes” into the narrative at Ezra 6:14, when this king had been uniformly referred to as “Darius” several times earlier in the book (4:5, 4:24, 5:5, 5:6, 5:7, 6:1, and 6:12). If “Darius” and “Artaxerxes” were indeed one and the same person, waiting until this late point in the narrative to introduce an additional designation for Darius does nothing but confuse the reader. Once one comes to terms with the fact there is nothing unbiblical about Seraiah being just an ancestor of Ezra, there is nothing to justify introducing a new label for him. Were it not for the genealogy in Ezra 7:1 seemingly implying that Seraiah ben-Azariah might have been Ezra’s father, one would normally expect “Artaxerxes the king of Persia” in Ezra 6:14 to refer to an entirely different man than Darius on a purely context-driven basis. This is a significant issue which the waw explicativum proposal above fails to address.

David Austin’s Perspective on the Waw Explicativum

Another writer, David Austin, has taken a similar approach to that of Struse on Ezra 6:14. (Others besides Austin and Struse have adopted this perspective as well; as far back as 1913 Martin Anstey, in The Romance of Bible Chronology, online at https://archive.org/stream/romanceofbiblech01anst/romanceofbiblech01anst_djvu.txt p. 269, asserted that “Darius Hystaspes = Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 and Nehemiah.”) Austin likewise treats the final waw in Ezra 6:14 as an explicative use translated “even,” thereby making “Darius” and “Artaxerxes” synonymous. In an article in the Journal of Creation 22(2): 46–52, August 2008 (online at https://creation.com/darius-is-artaxerxes), Austin uses this approach to rule out Artaxerxes I Longimanus as “Artaxerxes king of Persia”:

Only two kings, therefore, up to the completion of the house of God (Cyrus and Darius Hystaspis), could and did receive the commendation of Ezra 6:14. They “builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel”. Yet three kings are seemingly found in Ezra 6:14. This apparent discrepancy is quite simply explained by translating “and Artaxerxes King of Persia” as “even Artaxerxes King of Persia”.

This is precisely the point made by Struse above. Austin then justifies this choice:

Is it correct to translate “and” as “even”? [Floyd Nolen] Jones does not think so and states that [Martin] Anstey “altered” the verse. Moreover, he says that “having pursued the matter further by consulting over twenty versions at Ezra 6:14, it is noted that not one translator or team of translators rendered the ‘waw’ (vav) beginning the Hebrew word for Artaxerxes as ‘even’” (brackets and emphasis added).

This observation about how the waw is treated in English translations is undeniably true, but Austin basically shrugs and responds, “So what?” He continues:

The answer to this statement is that if it is impossible for three kings to receive “commendation”, then we must find a meaning of “waw” that agrees with the biblical historical record. We must interpret according to context and the type of “waw” involved and not to the number of translations.

I agree that simply going by numbers of translations that take a certain approach is not a slam-dunk answer (although it must be admitted that the odds are on the side of the overwhelming majority!). The real problem I see with Austin’s statement is that it focuses full attention upon only a single way to deal with Ezra 6:14, to the exclusion of any other possible solutions. He cannot prove that his chosen “type of ‘waw’” is the correct one, it is merely theoretically possible. He justifies his choice, as Struse does, by claiming to be interpreting the passage “according to context.” But as illustrated by our examination of Ezra 4 above, his context is too limited. It needs to be expanded beyond the immediate chronological context of Ezra 6:14, to include proper regard for the writer’s thematic context. When this is done, it provides the third “commended” king of Persia—Artaxerxes I Longimanus—that Austin could not find under the constraints of his purely chronological approach.

To conclude the case made by Austin, he cites a lexicon to propose the same use of waw as Struse, though labeled differently as “explanatory”:

In Bagster’s Analytical Hebrew and Chaldean Lexicon “and” as a connective particle has eight principal uses. No. 8 says: “… exegetical (i.e. explanatory, interpretive) = even, where properly the relative may be expressed instead. See Gen. 49:25—from the God of Thy father, even He, or who will help Thee.” On the basis of the “explanatory” use of No. 8, a correct translation of Ezra 6:14b would then be: Cyrus and Darius, even (or who is) Artaxerxes, King of Persia.

Bagster, however, did not specifically cite Ezra 6:14b as an example of such an “explanatory” use. It is Austin’s personal opinion, not that of the professional lexicographers. So again, Austin has offered no proof for his thesis, he merely raises a possibility and runs with it.

Philip Brown’s Solution to the Waw Explicativum

Now we turn to discuss the argument that has most influenced by own perceptions on this issue. In “Chronological Anomalies in Ezra,” an extremely insightful article published in Bibliotheca Sacra 162 (Jan–Mar 2005), pp. 68–84, posted online at https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-1-temporal-ordering-ezra-part-i#P972_100126, A. Philip Brown II showed how the writer of Ezra-Nehemiah took a thematic approach to his subject in Ezra 6 rather than a chronological one. Just as in Ezra 4:6–23, he brings up Artaxerxes out of chronological order, in an anachronistic way. This theme-centric approach is the one we should bring to Ezra 6:14 as well, as Brown explains:

The unexpected and anachronistic appearance of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 momentarily jolts the reader back into the time of Ezra, immediately raising two questions: why is Artaxerxes mentioned in conjunction with Cyrus and Darius when they had both died before he was born; and why does the narrator imply that Artaxerxes was a co-contributor to the building of the temple when he had nothing to do with the actual building of the temple? The complete homogeneity of the textual evidence for this verse renders speculations about editorial activity needless. Instead, recognition that Ezra purposely relates things out of order should prompt a search for his purpose for including this reference at this point in the narrative (emphasis added).

We are to understand that the writer presents the commandment of God in Ezra 6:14 as a single overarching decree, yet manifested through the individual edicts issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. This one decree of God—the word is a singular noun—is not completely unfolded until Artaxerxes contributes his part, notwithstanding that it is somewhat removed in time from the earlier contributions of Cyrus and Darius. Brown again explains:

Ezra’s use of anachrony signals that thematic development is again overriding chronological presentation. The inclusion of Artaxerxes’ name in 6:14 brings into one compass all the Persian kings who contributed to the temple—from initial rebuilding to final beautification—and unites the entire preceding narrative around one of the narrative’s theological centerpoints: Yahweh’s sovereign control of history. Again, Ezra’s thematic treatment serves both narrative development and his theological purpose. In terms of narrative development, this verse summarizes all that has transpired in the process of rebuilding the temple and anticipates, by mentioning Artaxerxes, what is yet to come. Theologically, the syntax of 6:14 is significant. Ezra explicitly attributes the successful completion of the temple project to the command of God first and then to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. This order of presentation forges a causal-chronological link between the decree of God and the separate decrees of these three kings. God’s command effects Cyrus’s, Darius’s, and Artaxerxes’ commands. The singular form [<u@f=] subsumes the three commands into one,86 implying that the Persian decrees were merely extensions of the sovereign will of God. His was the command, and they were its publishers (emphasis added).

Whereas Struse and Austin, by what ultimately boils down to a subjective choice, view the final waw of Ezra 6:14 as indicating “Artaxerxes” refers to Darius, Brown offers an objective basis: the grammatically-significant singular noun encompassing the work of all three kings. In his footnote #86 he explains that it is the first waw in the verse, not the last, which is a waw explicativum:

If one regards the waw on <ufmw [“command”] as a waw explicativum, this would strengthen this conclusion: in other words, “from the command of God, even the command [of] Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes, king of Persia” (6:14) (emphasis added).

Doing this equates the command of God with the three-fold human command (singular!) of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. That Brown’s view of the waw explicativum is possible does not necessarily make it so, of course, but it does show that Struse and Austin are not being equitable in the way they evaluate the translation possibilities. Fair-mindedness towards the data requires that they not insist their preferred view of this grammar question is the only one possible.

Before moving on, one more point can be made: since Ezra 6:14 tells us the one command of God had three kings involved in its outworking, we cannot say the decree of Daniel 9:25 had fully “gone forth” until Artaxerxes Longimanus added his contribution. We have to wait until Artaxerxes’ reign to find Daniel’s prophesied decree.

“After These Things”

Having discussed the chronological anomaly above, Brown moves on to another which shows that the author of Ezra-Nehemiah displays a penchant for first telling where he is going, then explaining how he gets there. He thus diverges from a strictly chronological approach, as already seen in Ezra 4. The phrase leading off Ezra 7:1, “after these things,” alerts us that Ezra’s arrival was sometime after the Temple-completion events described at the close of Ezra 6—but it does not tell us how long after those events it took place. An unspecified period of time is in view. Struse, seeing in the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra 6:14 a reference to Darius the Great, is inclined to have Ezra travel to Jerusalem the very next year after the Temple was finished, such that he arrived in “the seventh year of king Artaxerxes” (Ezra 7:7–8), which he equates with the seventh year of Darius I. But this is by no means upheld by the text—and it begs the question of why, if Ezra was 56 when Zerubbabel’s group left for Jerusalem, he did not join them at that time, but waited until he was in his late 70s to make the trip. Brown takes up this subject:

The magnitude of the chronological challenges associated with “after these things” in 7:1 has so overshadowed Ezra’s rearrangement of the dates associated with his own return that most scholars and commentators have given it no notice. Contrary to normal history-telling practice, Ezra’s temporal notations mark his journey’s end before they mark its beginning. Ezra begins with the ending date. “That Ezra went up from Babel…and he entered Jerusalem in the fifth month—it was the seventh year of the king” (7:6, 8). The next verse then specifies when he began: “For on the first day of the first month was the beginning of the going up from Babel…” (7:9). This end-before-beginning arrangement holds true for the entire second return episode. The reader knows the day, month, and year that Ezra and the people arrive in Jerusalem before he is told anything of the journey’s background, preparations, or the potential hazards that may intervene.

This shows us a style quirk of the author, in that he deals with matters not from a strictly chronological approach, but a thematic one. He first gives a big chronological picture—an overview that takes his final destination into account ahead of time—then proceeds to fill in the details:

Having given the ending and beginning dates, Ezra spends most of his time narrating the antecedents to the journey: Artaxerxes’ grant (7:12–26), the gathering of the people (8:1–14), the search for Levites (8:15–20), the prayer for protection (8:21–23), and the care of the temple vessels (8:24–30). The events of the nearly four-month-long journey are entirely omitted, except for one comment to reinforce his theological point: “And the hand of our God was upon us, and he delivered us from the palm of the enemy and ambusher along the road” (8:31). Interestingly, Ezra does not return again to the dates with which he began. Having said when the exiles arrived (7:8–9), he merely states that they arrive and how long they rest after the arrival (8:32).

When we take this writing style into account, it undermines the whole basis for insisting that context demands keeping every single thing Ezra writes in strictly chronological order. Thus, there is no need to view the final waw of 6:14 as a waw explicativum that equates Darius with “Artaxerxes king of Persia.” The writer is simply displaying a distinctive theme-centered writing style which prompts him to bring Artaxerxes I Longimanus into the picture, because what he contributed was part-and-parcel with the actions of Cyrus and Darius in the human outworking of God’s command.

We must be very careful not to allow a favored theory to unduly influence how we interpret “after these things.” Consider: Darius is not mentioned once in the book of Ezra following “after these things” in 7:1. This is a bit strange when we realize he reigned for another 29 years after his sixth regnal year, until 486 BC. After the frequent earlier mentions of Darius up to the end of chapter 6, if Ezra indeed arrived in Jerusalem during Darius’ seventh year as Struse maintains, and Darius had 28 more years as king of Persia still ahead of him, why don’t we hear anything more about Ezra in conjunction with “Darius” in the rest of the book? As pointed out earlier, what possible reason would there have been to change what had been the consistent approach of referring to him as “Darius” up to this time? Why introduce the name “Artaxerxes” into the narrative at Ezra 6:14, when “Darius” had been unvaryingly used since Ezra 4:5? After 6:14 we have several verses where Ezra and “Artaxerxes” are mentioned together (Ezra 7:1, 7:11, 7:12, 7:21), but not once do we find Ezra mentioned alongside “Darius.” Combine that observation with the likelihood that “Ezra ben-Seraiah” should be understood as “Ezra the descendant of Seraiah,” and it appears the phrase “after these things” serves as the transition point where two separate historical records—those of Darius I and Artaxerxes I Longimanus—were brought together by the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah. Combining the material this way resulted in the reign of Xerxes/Ahasuerus, the period of Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai, being entirely skipped over after Ezra 6. That material was covered instead in the book of Esther, except for the isolated mention of Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6.

The obvious context-based conclusion from the discontinued mentions of “Darius” after Ezra 6:14 is that Darius died before Ezra arrived. If the Lord meant for us to understand “after these things” to refer to the seventh regnal year of Darius, why would He not have said so plainly? After all, elsewhere in the nearby context He already had the compiler of Ezra-Nehemiah unambiguously refer to the second and sixth years “of Darius,” so writing “in the seventh year of Darius” would perfectly fit that style. There is no discernible reason why the inspired writer would not have been equally plain-spoken about the seventh year of Darius, if that is indeed what was meant. By having him pen the ambiguous words “after these things” in Ezra 7:1, God has led the writer of this Scripture to veil its precise timing, yet simultaneously imply rather strongly that more than a single year had passed since the closing events of Ezra 6. We are told that Ezra’s arrival was during the reign of “Artaxerxes king of Persia”—the exact same expression used at the end of Ezra 6:14, after which we hear no more about Darius. This intimates that verse was not merely looking at events in chronological order (during Darius’ sixth year), but was anachronistically looking forward to a more distant future event because it fit the theme of what he was relating: a recounting of all the Persian kings who played a positive role in fulfilling “the command of the God of Israel” in Ezra 6:14.

One can also draw from Ezra 6:16, 20 a corroborating inference that significant time passed between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7: “And the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy…For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were pure.” At the time of the dedication of the Temple prior to Ezra’s arrival, all of the priests and Levites were “pure,” and able to minister without reproach. Contrast that statement with what we learn in Ezra 9:1:

Now when these things [setting up for Temple worship right after Ezra’s arrival] had been completed, the princes approached me [Ezra], saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites.”

This alerts us that at some point between the completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year and Ezra’s arrival, the priests and Levites no longer met the standard of purity portrayed in Ezra 6:16, 20. The implication is that in the intervening time intermarriage with the local pagans had begun. The problem of taking foreign wives was a development that must have taken some years to unfold—a gradual secularism crept in as the passion for holiness seen in the pioneering returnees was diminished as succeeding generations were born in Judea. This was not something that could reasonably have taken place in a single year, between the sixth and seventh years of Darius. It implies that “after these things” required the passing of sufficient time for corruption to take root and begin spreading like leaven, even amongst those who should have been the leaders in resisting it—the priests and Levites.

Examining the Eliashib Assumption

Do Chronology Lists Make Eliashib a Contemporary of Darius?

Now we move on to examine the Eliashib Assumption. It arises from Struse’s attempt to replace his broken original foundation, the supposed Artaxerxes Assumption made by Anderson, with a new one that will still support the case he had already built earlier. Again in ultimate dependence on the Seraiah Assumption, at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2018/04/07/eliashib-artaxerxes-sir-robert-anderson/ he presents a “Sudoku puzzle” model to make the case that the high priest Eliashib was a contemporary of “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes.” Key to this approach is that some names found in lists of the early arrivals under Zerubbabel and Jeshua are also found in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, and from this he concludes that in at least some cases, these are the exact same individuals. This assumption provides another rationale for truncating the timeline from Zerubbabel to Nehemiah by 58 years so Eliashib fits into it, again necessitating understanding “Artaxerxes” as someone other than Longimanus.

The Problem of Name Repetition: The Phenomenon of Papponymy

However, this reasoning overlooks the demonstrable fact that many names in Scripture are used repeatedly, so reliable chronologies cannot be constructed on that basis alone. Struse attempts to use the repetition of certain names of priests, Levites and gatekeepers (KJV: porters) seen in the different genealogies as evidence that the same individuals lived during the times of both Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, and concludes that these two governors were much closer in time to each other than the Artaxerxes Assumption allows. So close, in fact, that Struse typically calls Darius I “Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes,” taking “Artaxerxes” not as a throne name but as a title that could be applied to multiple Persian kings, and drastically shortening the timeline between the high priests Jeshua and Eliashib (an acknowledged contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra) so the latter served during the reign of Darius I rather than Artaxerxes I.

However, this approach fails to take into account the likelihood of multi-generational repetition of various common Jewish names. Some—notably Jeshua, Seraiah, Azariah, Meshullam and Shallum—demonstrate the phenomenon of papponymy, where a man’s name skips a generation and shows up again in a grandson. This phenomenon means keying on name repetitions alone is not a reliable way to construct a chronology. There is also the ambiguity raised by the repeated use of culturally common names among unrelated people. Anyone who has paid any attention to genealogies in Scripture has noticed that the same names are used for many different individuals. One such is Shallum. Struse makes an equivalence between the gatekeeper Shallum mentioned in 1 Chronicles 9:17 with another gatekeeper of the same name in Ezra 10:24. In his article at http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/2016/09/22/who-was-sir-robert-andersons-artaxerxes/, he uses that observation as the basis for the following claim:

Notice that in 1 Chronicles above, we are told that Shallum was the chief porter. In Ezra 10 we learn that Shallum the porter was one of the men of Jerusalem who had taken a non-Hebrew wife from among the inhabitants of the land. Shallum, along with the rest of the inhabitants of the land, agreed to put away their strange wives at the prompting of Ezra. According to the text, this all took place in the seventh and eighth years of Artaxerxes… What this means chronologically is that the same Shallum the chief porter, Akkub, and Talmon who came up to Jerusalem in 536 BC were still alive in the seventh year of a Persian Artaxerxes… the above verses show that Shallum, Akkub, and Talmon most reasonably fit in the chronological context of the Second Temple as contemporaries of Darius ‘the Great’ Artaxerxes. By no reasonable biblical criteria could they have been alive by the seventh year of Artaxerxes Longimanus…

This supposed name equivalence is one of Struse’s reasons for excising 58 years from Anderson’s timeline and linking the throne name “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 with Darius I. But this strategy for maintaining the Seraiah Assumption fails on closer inspection. While in 1 Chronicles 9:17 the Shallum of the first post-exile generation is matched up with fellow gatekeepers Akkub, Talmon and Ahiman, in Ezra 10:24 (during the third post-exile generation by the Artaxerxes Assumption) the other gatekeepers are given as Telem and Uri. If Akkub, Talmon and Ahiman were indeed still alive with Shallum in the seventh year of “Artaxerxes,” why don’t they get mentioned in Ezra 10:24? This difference in the lists should make us question whether this Shallum in the same man in both places. Papponymy is a more likely explanation.

Besides, if we do a search through Scripture for the name Shallum, we find it is the name of many individuals from obviously different genealogical lines: Shallum the son of Tikvah (2 Kgs 22:14), Shallum the son of Sismai (1 Chr 2:41), Shallum the son of Josiah (1 Chr 3:15), Shallum the son of Shaul (1 Chr 4:25), Shallum the son of Zadok (1 Chr 6:12), Shallum the son of Naphtali (1 Chr 7:13), Shallum the son of Kore (1 Chr 9:19),  Shallum the son of Tokhath (2 Chr 34:22), Shallum the son of Bani (Ezra 10:42), Shallum the son of Hallohesh (Neh 3:12), and Shallum the son of Col-hozeh (Neh 3:15). All of these different “Shallums” demonstrate that name, like “William” and “Robert” in our day, was a favored boy’s name. The point is clear: since “Shallum” was so common, it is impossible to use name matching alone to claim that a man living in the days of Zerubbabel was still alive when Nehemiah was governor, requiring a drastic truncating of Anderson’s timeline that forces Ezra and Nehemiah to overlap with Darius I.

For good measure, here is another particularly telling example of the name-matching problem, where we find names repeating multiple times in a single family line in 1 Chronicles 6:

7Meraioth became the father of Amariah [1],

and Amariah [1] became the father of Ahitub [1], 8and Ahitub [1] became the father of Zadok [1], and Zadok [1] became the father of Ahimaaz,

9and Ahimaaz became the father of Azariah [1], and Azariah [1] became the father of Johanan, 10and Johanan became the father of Azariah [2] (it was he who served as the priest in the house which Solomon built in Jerusalem), 11and Azariah [2] became the father of Amariah [2],

and Amariah [2] became the father of Ahitub [2], 12and Ahitub [2] became the father of Zadok [2], and Zadok [2] became the father of Shallum,

13and Shallum became the father of Hilkiah, and Hilkiah became the father of Azariah [3], 14and Azariah [3] became the father of Seraiah, and Seraiah became the father of Jehozadak; 15and Jehozadak went along when the LORD carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar.

Here we have three different Azariahs, two Amariahs, two Ahitubs, and two Zadoks. Even more potentially confusing is the sequence Amariah > Ahitub > Zadok repeats twice (indented above), in different generations! This family really loved those names! The only way to tell those two three-name sequences were different individuals is by noticing the different names of the sons of the two Zadoks, or the different names of the fathers of the two Amariahs. If Ahimaaz and Shallum had not been listed as sons of two different Zadoks, or Meraioth and Azariah as the fathers of two different Amariahs, there would have been no way of knowing that entirely different individuals were involved in those three-name sequences.

With such examples before us, how can we possibly use name matching alone to claim that Sir Robert Anderson erred in understanding “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 6:14 as Artaxerxes I Longimanus? Confronted with biblical evidence that using the same names in multiple generations was a common thing, we cannot simply find the same names in different lists of priests, Levites or gatekeepers, and claim that this repetition proves they were the same person. The only way to tell if a given name refers to the same person is by context and tying in at least some other names in an ancestral line.

A Framework of the High Priests

These problems forced me to conclude the best way to take genealogical evidence from Scripture into account would be to place individuals into a framework built around the tenures of the high priests. We can set up that general framework from the information given in Nehemiah 12:10–11:

Jeshua became the father of Joiakim, and Joiakim became the father of Eliashib, and Eliashib became the father of Joiada, and Joiada became the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan became the father of Jaddua.

With no evidence of missing names, this list gives us six generations of direct father-to-son relationships, all of whom were high priests, making Eliashib the grandson of Jeshua. Eliashib can be securely placed as a contemporary with Nehemiah by his involvement in rebuilding the city wall:

Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel (Neh 3:1).

What are the timeline implications of Eliashib as the grandson of Jeshua and wall-building contemporary of Nehemiah? Following is an idealized guesstimate based on a generation of 30 years and an average lifespan of 75, with high priests serving until their deaths, when their first-born sons inherited the high priesthood:

- Seraiah, the last pre-exilic high priest, fathered Jehozadak at age 30
- Seraiah was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at age 40, and Jehozadak exiled at age 10, in 587 BC (1 Chr 6:14–15, 2 Kgs 25:18, 21)
- Jehozadak fathered Jeshua in exile at age 30 in 567 BC
- Jeshua fathered Joiakim in exile at age 30 in 537 BC
- Jeshua and his family went to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in 536 BC
- Joiakim fathered Eliashib at age 30 in 507 BC
- Jeshua died at age 75 and Joiakim became high priest in 492 BC
- Eliashib fathered Joiada at age 30 in 477 BC
- Joiakim died at age 75 and Eliashib became high priest in 462 BC
- Joiada fathered Jonathan at age 30 in 447 BC
- Eliashib died at age 75 and Joiada became high priest in 432 BC

Since under the Artaxerxes Assumption Nehemiah’s arrival in the 20th year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus would have taken place in 444 BC, the above guesstimate fits pretty well with it—Eliashib would have been Nehemiah’s contemporary, in the 18th year of his high priesthood. If we try to place Nehemiah’s arrival instead into the 20th year of Darius I, though (assuming “Artaxerxes” was a title for Darius, following Struse and Austin), he gets there in 501 BC. This will definitely not work—Eliashib would only have been about six years old by the time Nehemiah arrived! So on the basis of this minimal analysis, the Artaxerxes Assumption is upheld while the Seraiah Assumption fails the test.

The Known Knowns

Let us see whether this theoretical guesstimate can be sustained by information derived from Scripture. We will begin by setting forth some “known knowns” and reasonable inferences, not unlike Struse’s “Sudoku puzzle” model.

a. Zerubbabel was the governor who came to Jerusalem in 536 BC—Ezra 2:2, 3:8, etc. He served until at least the sixth year (515 BC) of Darius I (522–486 BC) (Zec 4:9, Ezra 6:15), when the temple was completed. He was probably a mature man of proven leadership ability to have been made governor, so we may expect him to have been in the prime of life, perhaps his mid-40s, when he immigrated to Judea.

b. Jeshua was a descendant of the last pre-exile high priest, Seraiah, through the latter’s son Jehozadak. Scripture tells us priests began to serve as young as age 25 (Num 8:24–26), so he was probably younger than Zerubbabel and lived beyond the latter’s death, or at least his term as governor. Jeshua was a contemporary of Zerubbabel, Cyrus and Cambyses, with some overlap into the reign of Darius.

c. There were other governors (plural) between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah: “But the former governors who were before me [Nehemiah] laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God” (Neh 5:15). When the context is taken into account, it is clear that Nehemiah is referring to governors who were his immediate predecessors sometime since the return in 536 BC. Moreover, since it seems quite unlikely that Zerubbabel—so instrumental in getting the Temple completed, and so praised by God in Haggai 2:21–23 and Zechariah 4:6–10—would have leveraged his position for personal gain, the plural “governors” means there were at least two unspecified governors of Judea between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. (In “The Governors of Judah under the Persians,” Tyndale Bulletin 39 [1988], pp. 59–82, online at https://legacy.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/Library/TynBull_1988_39_03_Williamson_GovernorsOfJudahPersian.pdf, H.G.M. Williamson suggests that one was named Elnathan, but this is unclear.) Accommodating two or more governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah would require the passage of an unknown period of time. The rise of the “nobles and rulers” (Neh 5:7) who took advantage of the people, prompting their outcry in Nehemiah 5:1–6, is consistent with this. We thus should understand that Zerubbabel either died or was replaced not long after the Temple was completed, when a new and less scrupulous series of governors arose and took advantage of their position until Nehemiah came along to put a stop to it.

d. How Nehemiah, a Jewish foreigner, could have risen to the greatly trusted position of cupbearer to the king of Persia needs to be explained by placing it in an historical context. There is nothing known to history that could explain how he came to this position if it was during the reign of Darius. Under Cyrus and Darius, the Jews were recipients of mercy extended by a benevolent sovereign to a subjugated people, but neither more nor less than other peoples previously conquered and deported by the Babylonians. What could have changed things to allow Nehemiah to rise to such a high position? The events portrayed in the book of Esther. They resulted not only in a Jewish queen over the Persians, but in Ahasuerus (Xerxes) making Mordecai “great in the king's house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for the man Mordecai became greater and greater” (Est 9:4). “The full account of the greatness of Mordecai” was recorded in “the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia,” and “Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Ahasuerus” (Est 10:2–3). This is arguably the key reason Nehemiah had an open door to become the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, and means Nehemiah’s elevation to a high position did not take place until after the death of Darius. Finally, since Ezra 4:6–7 contrasts Ahasuerus (Xerxes) and Artaxerxes as different people, we are obliged to place Nehemiah as a contemporary with the latter, so he does not become governor until sometime after Xerxes’ death in 465 BC.

e. Since we find the high priest Eliashib helping to build the Jerusalem wall (Neh 3:1, 20), we know without doubt that Eliashib was a contemporary of Nehemiah and Ezra. Since we are also told Joiakim was high priest between Jeshua and Eliashib (Neh 12:10–11), Joiakim was a contemporary of the unknown governors between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah. And since we hear no more about Zerubbabel after the sixth year of Darius, yet know Darius reigned for another 29 years after that, it is safe to say the unnamed governors overlapped with the latter part of Darius’ rule and through most of the reign of Xerxes. Hence, we conclude that Joiakim was a contemporary of Xerxes with possible overlap with the latter years of Darius, therefore Eliashib was a contemporary of Artaxerxes I Longimanus with possible overlap with the latter years of Xerxes.

Putting the above clues together and reckoning on high priests serving an average of 35–40 years, Jeshua was high priest from Cyrus into roughly the first third of Darius’ reign. Then Joiakim was high priest spanning the rest of Darius’ rule through the bulk of the reign of Xerxes. Finally, Eliashib, grandson of Jeshua, was high priest from the closing years of Xerxes through most of the reign of Artaxerxes I Longimanus.

f. Ezra was a priest at the same time Nehemiah and Eliashib served (he went before the celebratory procession around the completed city wall, Neh 12:36). We see him arriving in Jerusalem in 457 BC when he was at his earliest serving age of 25 years old. With mandatory retirement at age 50 (Num 8:24–26), we estimate he was a priest for about 25 years, most of it during the tenure of Eliashib and Nehemiah, to ca. 432 BC. This means it was impossible for Ezra to have been in Jerusalem during the time of Darius (died 486 BC), and highly unlikely for him to have arrived during the reign of Xerxes (when Joiakim was high priest) either.

g. “Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me” (Neh 13:28). Sanballat and his cronies Tobiah and Geshem led the Samaritan opposition to Nehemiah. We saw above that the Elephantine Papyri mention Sanballat alive but obviously an older man in 408 BC, and we must place Nehemiah on a timeline appropriately in reference to him. Putting Nehemiah into the days of Darius will not work. This event corresponds with Nehemiah’s second journey to Jerusalem, when he had to deal with various compromises with the native Samaritans that crept back in after his return to Artaxerxes in 432 BC. These included Nehemiah’s adversary Tobiah being given living quarters within the Temple compound.

These observations are summarized in the following timeline. Each red dot marks ten years. We know Zerubbabel led the first returnees to Jerusalem in 536 BC, and the Elephantine Aramaic Papyri report that Sanballat, a chief adversary of Nehemiah at his arrival, was still living in 408 BC. These provide endpoints and approximate overlaps of contemporary kings, governors, high priests and leaders of the Samaritan opposition.

DANIEL9 TimelineOfAchaemenids 190417

Artaxerxes’ Seventh Year Decree Covered Both City and Temple

We began this article with the quotation from Daniel 9:25 that a particular decree was key in dating the coming of the Messiah. Here it is again:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks… (emphasis added)

We have also seen that the outworking of God’s command in Ezra 6:14 is finished by a decree issued by Artaxerxes I Longimanus:

And they finished building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decree of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

Having constructed a strong case above that the “Artaxerxes” who completed the fulfillment of God’s decree was Artaxerxes I Longimanus, we are looking for some decree during his reign (465–423 BC) that includes rebuilding Jerusalem. If we do a search in the NASB, we find Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes all issued various decrees which were aspects of the outworking of God’s command.

Cyrus: Cyrus made the first decree, which was restricted to rebuilding the Temple: “However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to rebuild this house of God” (Ezra 5:13; cf. 2 Chron 36:22–23, Ezra 1:1–4). Practically from the outset of its issuance, however, the Samaritan opposition materialized, as described in Ezra 4:1–5: “Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel…Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.”

Darius: Whereas Cyrus, Cambyses and Smerdis apparently ignored what was going on in the far-off Province Beyond the River, Darius did not. First he issued a decree to locate in the official archives the earlier one by Cyrus authorizing rebuilding of the Temple: “Then King Darius issued a decree, and search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. In Ecbatana in the fortress, which is in the province of Media, a scroll was found…” (Ezra 6:1–2). On finding it, Darius issued a warning against any who would interfere with the completion of Cyrus’ earlier decree (“Leave this work on the house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site,” Ezra 6:7). Then he followed up by issuing a second decree to promote the Temple’s completion (“Moreover, I issue a decree concerning what you are to do for these elders of Judah in the rebuilding of this house of God…” Ezra 6:8–10). Finally, he issued a third decree authorizing dire consequences on any who would attempt to disrupt the Temple rebuilding efforts (Ezra 6:11–12). The effect of these three decrees was the functional completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year (“This temple was completed on the third day of the month Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius,” Ezra 6:15).

Artaxerxes: After the Temple was functionally completed, the Samaritans, seeing that Darius was not sympathetic to their aims and any further interference with ongoing Temple supplemental construction carried a death penalty, instead focused their opposition on the Jews’ efforts to get the city rebuilt—essentially anything not specifically Temple-related. Apparently not trusting the Jew-friendly Darius to put a stop to ongoing yet never-authorized city rebuilding efforts (wall and foundation repairs in particular, Ezra 4:12) after the Temple was essentially done, they seem to have bided their time until Darius died. Then, as Ezra 4:6 relates, “in the reign of Ahasuerus [Xerxes], in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” There is no indication Xerxes gave any heed to this missive. After Xerxes’ murder in 465 BC and the ascension of Artaxerxes I to the throne, they tried again: “…let it be known to the king that the Jews who came up from you have come to us at Jerusalem; they are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations” (Ezra 4:12, emphasis added). Artaxerxes seems to have taken his governing responsibilities more seriously than his predecessor, for Ezra 4:19–21 informs us this letter spurred him to issue a decree authorizing a record search (Ezra 6:1), which confirmed the Samaritans’ allegations of past rebellious behavior by the Jews in Jerusalem. He concludes in verse 21, “So, now issue a decree to make these men stop work, that this city may not be rebuilt until a decree is issued by me” (emphasis added). Notice it is city construction that is forbidden, not Temple construction, which had been explicitly authorized previously. The possibility is also raised that city construction permission would be forthcoming later. But nevertheless, since the Samaritans used armed force to bring the work of the Jews on city-building projects to a halt, continued Temple-related work ceased as well (Ezra 4:24). So, the first decree of Artaxerxes did not fulfill Daniel 9:25, it basically just maintained the status quo as far as the Persians were concerned, though in Jewish eyes it was seen as a setback.

What about Artaxerxes’ second decree, issued in his seventh year to Ezra? In Ezra 7:11, 17–18 we read:

Now this is the copy of the decree which King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe… “with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem. Whatever seems good to you and to your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do according to the will of your God” (emphasis added).

The first stipulation has specific reference to Temple supplies, but the second is basically a carte blanche gift—use the money however your God wants! Of the several decrees issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, this is the only decree which provided resources not specifically restricted to Temple-related matters, but could be used at Ezra’s discretion. Moreover, it follows on the heels of what Artaxerxes had written earlier, that there would be no city construction “until a decree is issued by me.” It provided funds in gold and silver which were not earmarked exclusively for the Temple, and could thus be used for city construction projects. Moreover, Ezra 7:25–26 authorizes the setting up of civil magistrates and judges, with the outlay of funds necessary to accomplish this. Surely this included constructing a place for them to do their work. Appointing such magistrates also effectively establishes municipal government, surely something that can be categorized as a city development expense.

To make it yet more clear that the decree of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus was the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25, consider Nehemiah in the 20th year of Artaxerxes. He is portrayed in Nehemiah 1–2 as despondent that the city had no defensive walls or gates to protect it. Why did he care? A city wall is only needed if there is first a city to protect. In Nehemiah 1:2 he asks his brother Hanani not about the Temple, but about the city of Jerusalem. This indicates he had good reason to believe the rebuilding of the city had progressed by that time. That expectation, as well as the depth of his emotional response to the bad news, is best attributed to his understanding that such rebuilding had already been permitted by some royal decree subsequent to that issued for Temple rebuilding in Darius’ second year. The only possibility is the decree of Artaxerxes’ seventh year. As a member of the royal court, Nehemiah must have been aware that Artaxerxes had forbidden city construction earlier in his reign until he issued a decree specifically authorizing it (Ezra 4:21). Nehemiah’s response to Hanani’s news must be predicated on that promised decree having already been issued. The permission—not a “decree,” see below—in Artaxerxes’ 20th year, which allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls and repair the city gates, cannot be the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25, since it offers no explanation for Nehemiah’s question of Hanani or extreme response to his bad report.

In the interest of completeness, it must be pointed out that some have proposed the prophecy of Daniel 9:25 finds fulfillment in a “decree” made by Artaxerxes in his 20th year, when Nehemiah was sent to effect the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. One example is presented at https://www.preceptaustin.org/daniel_925. But if we read through Nehemiah 1 and 2, these chapters actually only tell us that Nehemiah was given a leave of absence from his service as cupbearer to the king, and empowered with letters to pass borders and requisition construction materials (Neh 2:6–8). Nothing resembling the official policy-making edicts of Cyrus’ first year, Darius’ second, and Artaxerxes’ seventh was issued in connection with this journey. It is most accurate to say that Artaxerxes merely gave Nehemiah leave to make sure that the decree already issued in his seventh year was followed up on. There was no new decree, only letters written to help Nehemiah implement the already-existing seventh year decree. It is unrealistic to believe no further building/development efforts were made by the Jews from the completion of the Temple in Darius’ sixth year in 515 BC until Nehemiah arrived 70 years later in 444 BC. They must have been attempted, but were stymied by the Samaritan opposition until Nehemiah’s arrival.

Conclusions

This examination of the decrees issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes makes it clear that only one can be regarded as fulfilling the requirements of Daniel 9:25, namely, that of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus. With his first regnal year beginning Tishri 1, 464 BC, his seventh year began in the fall of 458 BC. Since we know that Ezra departed for Judea on the first of Nisan in the spring of 457 BC (Ezra 7:9) and his journey took a full four months, he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, Av, the summer of 457 BC. We will discuss the ramifications of this for the date of the coming of the Messiah in a future article.

Answering Struse’s Six Biblical Challenges

With these persuasive indications that significant time passed between the finishing of the Temple and Ezra’s arrival, we close with answers to the six “Biblical Challenges to the Artaxerxes Assumption” (http://www.the13thenumeration.com/Blog13/category/artaxerxes-assumption-challenge/) that Mr. Struse says any truly biblical solution must answer. They are:

1. The statement of Ezra 6:13–15 and the identity of “Artaxerxes”
2. The identities of the “Artaxerxes” of Ezra 4:7, 8:1; Nehemiah 2:1
3. The age of Ezra whose father died in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar
4. The age of the priests and Levites of Nehemiah 10 and 12
5. Nehemiah 12:26 and the age of the second temple porters of Neh 11:19 and 12:25–27
6. The chronological flow of Ezra 6 and 7

In the light of the above research, I offer these answers built on the good work of others:

1. In Ezra 6:13–15 the phrase should be best translated, “the command of the God of Israel, even the decree of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes.” This verse lumps together the various edicts of the three kings into a single, multi-phased event that constitutes the command of God, where the word translated “even” is a waw explicativum that describes the human outworking of that command. This translation takes into account that the “decree” of the three kings is a singular noun, explicitly connecting it with the singular command of God. Xerxes, the king between Darius and Artaxerxes, is skipped over in this passage because the writer of Ezra-Nehemiah adopts a thematic approach to writing here that focuses only on the kings involved in the fulfillment of God’s command.

2. Ezra 4:6–23 constitutes a sidebar that elaborates on how the “people of the land” continued to frustrate the Jews’ efforts to build the city beyond the second year of Darius the Great, just as they hindered the Temple rebuilding efforts earlier. It further develops the theme of Samaritan opposition between the time of Cyrus and the second year of Darius, described in Ezra 4:1–5 and returned to in 4:24. The “Ahasuerus” of 4:6 was Xerxes, and the “Artaxerxes” in Ezra 4:7, 8:1 and Nehemiah 2:1 were all Artaxerxes I Longimanus.

3. Seraiah, the high priest who was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar at the start of the exile, was not the father of Ezra the priest and scribe, but his ancestor. Ezra was actually not born until near the end of the reign of Darius or start of Xerxes’ rule, making him a young priest when he traveled to Jerusalem in 457 BC. There are names missing between Seraiah and Ezra in the genealogy given in Ezra 7:1, just as in Ezra 7:3 between Meraioth and Azariah. Such missing names are also indicated by the passing of three generations of high priests (Jeshua, Joiakim and Eliashib) between Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, the plural “governors” before Nehemiah’s arrival in Nehemiah 5:15, and the gradual development of the foreign wives problem described in Ezra 9:1–2 between the Temple’s completion and Ezra’s arrival.

4. The priests and Levites of Nehemiah 10 are from the third post-exilic generation, when Ezra read the Law to the people when Nehemiah was governor and Eliashib was high priest, while those listed in Nehemiah 12:1–9 were from the original post-exilic generation under Zerubbabel and Jeshua. The name repetitions must be attributed to papponymy and the use of culturally common names—identical names, but not identical individuals.

5. Nehemiah 12:26 is a summary statement that looks back as far as the Joiakim-era priests listed in 12:12–21 and Levites in 12:22, but also includes in its scope people who served in the time of Eliashib. Verse 12:26 does not just refer to the gatekeepers mentioned in 12:25b; it brings together two separate “days of” periods, one referring to those registered during the days of the second-generation high priest Joiakim, the other to those registered in the days of the third-generation high priest Eliashib (Neh 12:22) when Nehemiah and Ezra were serving. The priests registered in “the days of Darius the Persian” in 12:22b corresponds with those who served during the time of Joiakim referred to in 12:26, since Joiakim overlapped somewhat with Darius after the death of Jeshua. Nehemiah and Ezra could not have served during the days of Joiakim, since we know that their contemporary Eliashib served as a wall builder with Nehemiah (Neh 3:1), while Ezra led the celebratory procession around the wall when it was completed (Neh 12:36). As for the Second Temple gatekeepers (KJV porters), their names are subject to papponymy and the use of culturally common names like the previous point, so we cannot rely on them for chronology.

6. Ezra 6 and 7 are disconnected in time. The phrase “after these things” in Ezra 7:1 is a transition point, where records from the time the Second Temple was completed in the sixth year of Darius are joined together with records dealing with Ezra during the reign of Artaxerxes. About 58 years covered by the reigns of Darius and Ahasuerus/Xerxes are skipped over in silence.

In the next article in this series, I plan to discuss the relationship between the sabbatical year cycles and Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem following the decree of the seventh year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus.

Appreciation is expressed to Dr. Dennis Wright (Dallas, TX) for reviewing this article. Any errors or oversights, of course, are my own.

DANIEL9 DanielBanner

In seeking the birth date of Christ, we must go with what is written in Scripture
and recorded in reliable history, rather than following the traditions of men.

Introduction

In an earlier article, “The First Year of Herod the Great’s Reign,” I wrote:

If Luke, arguably the most historically picky of the New Testament writers, did not pinpoint the year for us, nor did any of the other inspired apostles who knew Him (and His mother Mary) best, we have no objective criterion for dating Christ’s birth, only old theologians’ tales. We must conclude, therefore, that early Church tradition gives us no clear year for the Savior’s birth....

In the succeeding article, “When Did Herod the Great Die? Part 1," I made the similar remark:

Although we would love to be able to use the Scriptures to securely anchor the birth of Christ to a particular year, in God’s wisdom He has chosen to paint a picture with broad stokes only, leaving out many details scholars still endeavor to fill in. But for our purposes we only need to know one thing: Jesus was born sometime during the last few years of the reign of Herod the Great.

Having progressed further in my biblical chronology studies since writing those lines, I now find I need to amend my opinion somewhat. I still believe that Church tradition alone gives us “no clear year for the Savior’s birth,” and am still of the opinion that we cannot conclusively nail down the specific date from it. However, it seems to me that it is not true that all we have to go on for the date of His birth are “old theologians’ tales.” I have just recently realized that certain objective biblical criteria do exist for dating the birth of Christ, and can be used to restrict our options to a very narrow range of possibilities—perhaps even pinpointing a specfic date. See what you think, as I retrace my steps of exploration for you.

One last point before we get underway. Many believers are very sensitive to the fact that December 25 can be connected with the Roman worship of the Sun at the Saturnalia, and for that reason their consciences will not permit them to celebrate Christmas. We respect that. This study, though, is not focused on the question of whether the cultural holiday of Christmas should be celebrated or not, but whether the Scriptures present a God-inspired, internally consistent picture that allows us to draw defensible conclusions about the date of the Savior’s birth. We do not address here the broader question of whether Christmas should be observed at all:

Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord… (Romans 14:4–6a, NASB, as are all other Scripture quotations in this paper).

The Implications of Herod’s Death

Let us first be reminded that this ongoing study, now running for about ten months, has made a solidly supported case for Herod's death taking place just after Nisan 1 in the spring, two weeks before Passover, in 4 BC. We will not rehash that evidence here; see the ABR website for those articles. Its significance for this particular study is that it restricts all possible dates for the birth of Christ to the years before 4 BC. And more narrowly yet, when the implications of the slaughter of the Bethlehem innocents two years old and under are accounted for, it points to the birth of Jesus taking place around 6 BC. Thus, the date of Herod’s death sets the stage for the workable options.

The Census of Quirinius

Since Luke 2:2 tells us that Mary and Joseph were forced to go to Bethlehem for a census at the time Jesus was born, knowing when that happened would be very helpful. However, determining when it took place is a complex matter defying an easy solution. My understanding has been influenced by the recent work of Daryn Graham (The Reformed Theological Review 73:3 [December, 2014], “Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ,” online at https://www.academia.edu/attachments/56722230/download_file?st=MTU0NDU0MjAwNyw3NS44OC45NC4xMjYsMTI4OTg2MDU%3D&s=profile). He builds upon a number of earlier scholarly proposals, all of which aim to reconcile Luke 2:2 with the known historical reality that a controversial census took place in 6 AD, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. The studies taken into account by Graham’s work include, amongst others, those of John H. Rhodes (“Josephus Misdated the Census of Quirinius,” JETS 54.1 [March 2011], 69–82); John M. Rist (“Luke 2:2: Making Sense of the Date of Jesus’ Birth,” JTS 56.2 [2005], 489–491); and William M. Ramsay (The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915], 292–300, online at https://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/chapter_11_quirinius_the_governor.htm). Jack Finegan also addressed the matter in his Handbook of Biblical Chronology, rev. ed., §519–526.

Of critical importance is that Tertullian had written in Adversus Marcion, 4.19.10, that Jesus was born when Saturninus was governor of Syria (9–6 BC per Finegan, Handbook, rev. ed., §519, which reflects his earlier—and we believe correct—opinion that Herod died in 4 BC): “Also it is well known that a census had just been taken in Judaea by Sentius Saturninus, and they might have inquired of his ancestry in those records.” Graham observes (cited footnotes and comments added in brackets):

This census began, according to the Roman historian, Cassius Dio [54.35], in 11 BC, when Augustus alone [on his own initiative] decreed that he and the Roman Senate were to register themselves. Then, as an extension of this decree, in 8 BC, Augustus, once again alone—just as Luke’s Gospel testifies regarding its census [Luke 2:1, "a decree went out from Caesar Augustus"]—went an extra step and decreed that all Roman citizens be registered. As Augustus’ own epitaph-cum-autobiography, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti [8], states:

With consular imperium I conducted a lustrum (census) alone when Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinius were consuls [i.e. 8 BC], in which lustrum were counted 4,233,000 heads of Roman citizens.

The fact that the 11 BC and this 8 BC happened to be closely related is made clear by the fact that in his Res Gestae, there is no mention made by the emperor of any other census that he decreed alone. They were the one enterprise.

Unlike the later 6 AD census, which was performed for taxation purposes (and resulted in civil unrest in Judea, so it was long remembered), this first census—or better, registration—headed up by Quirinius at Augustus’ behest, was performed to obtain head counts and, according to some scholars, administer oaths of loyalty to the emperor. Finegan (Handbook, rev. ed., §524) agrees that “there could have been other kinds of Roman ‘enrollment’ which were not subject to taxation.” It appears to have been implemented uneventfully, save for the inconvenience of forcing people to travel to their ancestral towns.

Since Luke’s precise expression in 2:2 says this first census took place while Quirinius was “governing” Syria—the word is the participle of hegemon, essentially meaning “leader,” and describes his actions rather than ascribing the title of “governor” to him—the likelihood is that at this time Quirinius was serving as Augustus’ authoritative personal representative in Syria, rather than as governor of the province. There were two distinct positions of authority in Syria at this time, the imperial representative—a procurator, such as Pontius Pilate was (Finegan, Handbook, rev. ed., §522, who cites Justin Martyr, Apology 1.34)—and the governor proper. Quirinius held both positions at different times.

A great deal more could be said, but for now I simply want to draw the reader’s attention to the time period which keeps coming up in relation to the first census headed by Quirinius: the years 8–6 BC. Keeping in mind that the Magi gave Herod information that prompted him to kill all the Bethlehem boys “from two years old and under” (Mt 2:16, probably meaning between the ages of one and two), plus they visited Herod at Jerusalem rather than at his winter quarters at Jericho, this visit probably took place in the summer or early fall of 5 BC (we have to allow for their travel time to and from Persia while avoiding the hardships of a winter journey). Add between one and two years to that, and early spring in 6 BC seems to be a good fit for Quirinius’ census.

Another insight derived from Glenn Kay’s website, http://messianicfellowship.50webs.com/yeshuabirth1.html, points to the same general time:

The Roman and Judean rulers knew that taking a census in winter would have been impractical and unpopular. Generally a census would take place after the harvest season, around September or October, when it would not seriously affect the economy, the weather was good and the roads were still dry enough to allow easy travel…Luke's account of the census argues strongly against a December date for Messiah's birth. For such an agrarian society, an autumn post-harvest census was much more likely.

Although the above article is trying to marshal arguments in favor of a fall date for Christ’s birth, and for that reason focuses on the harvest season, the very same logic can be applied to a spring pre-planting census. This consideration would likewise fit with Quirinius implementing his census in the early spring of 6 BC, near the end of Saturninus’ term as governor of Syria, but before the Nisan religious festivals began and created scheduling conflicts.

God’s “Appointed Times”

When I first planned on writing this article about two months ago, my best guess for when the Lord was born was around Hanukkah. My reasoning was that, despite an apparent connection with efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to co-opt the pagan celebration of the Saturnalia, December 25th not only had a long history of Church observance, it was also in very close proximity to Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights. That Jewish festival could readily be connected with the coming of the One who said, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12, 9:5). It was an appealing connotation.

At the same time, the idea that Christ could have been born on the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, also called the Feast of Booths) likewise had considerable appeal. This is a particularly popular opinion amongst Messianic Jews; see, for example, http://messianicfellowship.50webs.com/yeshuabirth1.html. The connection is made with John 1:14, which literally says in the Greek, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” That imagery is also quite attractive to those who are partial to seeing analogies and symbolism between the life of Christ and the characteristics of Jewish holy days.

Nevertheless, it became clear that there was a fundamental difficulty in equating several such favored dates with the birth of Christ. It lay in the fact that the only possibilities where we can reasonably imagine God intended to make such connections, were with events He Himself had set up. In Leviticus 23, the Lord refers to such events as His “appointed times” (Heb. מוֹעֵד, mow`ed), and goes on to list several of them:

Shabbat—The Sabbath day (Lev. 23:3)
Pesach—Passover (Nisan 14, Lev. 23:5)
Feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15–21, Lev. 23:6)
Shavuot—Feast of Weeks/Pentecost/First Fruits (one varying day in Sivan, Lev. 23:10 ff)
Rosh Hashanah—Feast of Trumpets (Tishri 1, Lev. 23:24)
Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement (Tishri 10, Lev. 23:27)
Sukkot—Feast of Booths/Tabernacles (Tishri 15–21, Lev. 23:34)

Note that Hanukkah is not on the list. This should not surprise us, since it was a man-created celebration of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees. There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate God commanded Hanukkah to be memorialized due to having prophetic significance, so it is presumptuous to think He would have imbued it with a special type/antitype relationship with the life of the Messiah.

Likewise not on the Leviticus list is the first day of the Jewish religious calendar, Nisan 1, known as Rosh Chodashim, “the head of the months.” When God declared in Exodus 12:2, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,” He did not single out the first day of Nisan as warranting special observance as an “appointed time.” Nevertheless, God Himself chose it later as the date when the Tabernacle was first set up: “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” (Exodus 40:2). That passage comes to a climax at verse 34: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” Nisan 1 was thus a truly significant date in Jewish history, the date when God first tabernacled with man.

The Pilgrimage Festivals

Deuteronomy 16:16 tells us,

Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.

These three feasts are also known, respectively, as the Passover (the Feast of Unleavened Bread, observed on the Jewish dates of Nisan 15–21), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, early in the month of Sivan), and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot, Tishri 15–21). We observe in this verse that these occasions, known as the three pilgrimage festivals, were to be observed specifically in Jerusalem (“the place which He chooses”). No other place would do. Therefore, it was not possible for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem during the Feast of Tabernacles, because Joseph, as an observant Jew, would have had to be in Jerusalem that week. It is as simple as that. Proposing that the Feast of Tabernacles corresponded with the birth of Jesus for reasons rooted in typology or analogy is a non-starter, because Joseph would not have gone to Bethlehem at that time, nor would the Romans have purposely riled up the Jews by forcing them to gather for a census when one of their major festivals took place.

There is another thing to realize about the Feast of Booths. It is a fall festival, variously taking place in September or October, with symbolism tied to the Second Coming of Christ, not His First Coming; the spring festivals symbolize the latter. Moreover, the true sense of God “tabernacling” with man is fulfilled not in the imagery of a sukkah tent—a temporary dwelling used by farmers during harvesting—but in the mishkan, the tabernacle tent that covered the Holy of Holies wherein the Shekinah glory of God dwelt. And this mishkan was completed on Nisan 1 in the spring (Exodus 40:2), not on Tishri 1 in the fall. The clear implication is that we should seek a fulfillment of the imagery of Christ tabernacling with us (John 1:14) in an event taking place in the spring month of Nisan. (I am indebted to Messianic Jewish rabbi Jonathan Cahn for this insight. A friend introduced me to Cahn’s ideas in a YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptlsXtTf6n0. Some of Cahn's observations can be faulted, but the video drove me to examine for myself whether the things he claimed were true. I discovered that many do hold up to scrutiny.)

Therefore, with no need to debate the validity of their symbolic interpretations, we can immediately set aside both Hanukkah and the Feast of Tabernacles from further consideration (as well as the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Shavuot, the other two pilgrimage festivals). We turn instead to developing a chronology of Christ's birth based on several texts from Scripture and some extrabiblical sources that preserve important historical clues.

“There were Shepherds Staying Out in the Fields…”

Many have proposed the shepherds of Luke 2:8 were out in the fields at night because it was lambing season, with the implication that it was early spring. However, although in America a single spring lambing season is the norm, the same does not hold true in Israel. The flocks there stay out in the open all year round if weather permits, or are given shelter during the coldest months and driven into the fields in early spring to graze until fall.

H. Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Animal Breeding at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an unbiased expert on these matters, wrote a very informative article at http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/p8550e/P8550E01.htm about the Awassi, an outstanding breed of sheep found widely in the Near East:

Awassi sheepAwassi ewe and lamb (H. Epstein)

The Awassi is the most numerous and widespread breed of sheep in south-west Asia…The flocks of the Bedouin and of the majority of fellahin (peasant agricul­turists) are kept in the open, day and night, throughout the year…However, the hardiness of the Awassi may break down during a succession of rainy days during the cold season…Stationary Awassi flocks owned by fellahin are commonly grazed in the neighbourhood of the villages…In the Syrian Arab Republic, flocks belonging to fellahin are usually taken by shepherds to mountain pastures in the spring. They return to the villages for the winter when temperatures at high altitudes are very low and the mountains are covered with snow [which could happen in the Judean hill country]…Bedouin and fellahin shepherds know nothing of tent or house but live entirely in the open together with the flocks under their care. They are working 365 days a year, from 13 to 16 hours a day. Their work includes shepherding, watching at night…In Iraq, the principal lambing season of Awassi ewes is in November, and in Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Israel in December-January…(emphasis and brackets added).

It is therefore erroneous to attribute the shepherds’ nighttime vigil described by Luke as due to lambing season. Another website, http://messianicfellowship.50webs.com/yeshuabirth1.html, similarly reports:

Israeli meteorologists tracked December weather patterns for many years and concluded that the climate in Israel has been essentially constant for at least the last 2,000 years. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible states that, "broadly speaking, weather phenomena and climatic conditions as pictured in the Bible correspond with conditions as observed today" (R.B.Y. Scott, Vol. 3, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1962, p. 625).

The temperature in the area of Bethlehem in December averages around 44 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) but can drop to well below freezing, especially at night. Describing the weather there, Sara Ruhin, chief of the Israeli weather service, noted in a 1990 press release that the area has three months of frost: December with 29 F. [minus 1.6 C.]; January with 30 F. [minus 1.1 C.] and February with 32 F. [0 C.].

Snow is common for two or three days in Jerusalem and nearby Bethlehem in December and January. These were the winter months of increased precipitation in Messiah's time, when the roads became practically unusable and people stayed mostly indoors.

This is important evidence to disprove a December date for Messiah's birth. Note that, at the time of Messiah's birth, the shepherds tended their flocks in the fields at night. “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields,” wrote one Gospel writer, “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). A common practice of shepherds was keeping their flocks in the field from April to October, but in the cold and rainy winter months they took their flocks back home and sheltered them (emphasis added).

The Companion Bible, Appendix 179 says:

Shepherds and their flocks would not be found “abiding” (Gr. agrauleo) in the open fields at night in December (Tebeth), for the paramount reason that there would be no pasturage at that time. It was the custom then (as now) to withdraw the flocks during the month Marchesven (Oct.–Nov.) from the open districts and house them for the winter.

This information indicates the shepherds could have been out in the fields with the sheep at night by Nisan 1, from mid-March to early April (cf. https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/rosh-chodesh-nisan), but not earlier in the winter.

“…Keeping Watch Over Their Flock by Night…”

Not only were the flocks staying outside in the open fields after the spring warm-up began, the shepherds at this time were keeping active watch over them at night. This detail also is understood by many interpreters to imply lambing season, but it need not. As mentioned above, Epstein puts the lambing season in Israel from December to January, during the time when the highland sheep would probably not have been in open pasture. The flocks’ need for protection at night goes beyond lambing season, since they would need to be guarded from predators, perhaps even from thieves if they were quartered close to town. It may be that in the providence of God, He had Luke record the detail of nighttime watching so we might know that Jesus was born after sundown. Since the Jews reckoned their days as beginning in the evening at sunset, the Messiah was born shortly after a new calendar day had begun.

The Time of the Magi’s Star*

Now we turn our thoughts to the timing of the Star of Bethlehem. Let us first refresh our minds about the natal story as given by Matthew:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him”…Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared…and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was…And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way...Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi (Mt 2:1–16, abridged).

By far the most vigorously marketed theory of the Star is that put forth by Ernest L. Martin, published as The Star that Astonished the World. The Internet website version is at http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm. Since we have already presented a detailed critique of Martin’s 3/2 BC timetable for the birth of Christ elsewhere in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project series (see http://65.61.14.143/tag/daniel%209.aspx), we consider his thesis fundamentally flawed. His 1 BC date for Herod’s death renders his birth year for Christ wrong, therefore his time for the Star must be wrong as well. Thus, we will not devote time to Martin’s ideas here.

What are the other options? Various websites have offered differing proposals for the type of astronomical phenomenon it was—a star, a planet, a conjunction of planets or stars, a comet, a meteor, and a supernova have all been suggested, as well as different years. How is one to narrow it down?

The crux of the matter was identified by Jonathan Cahn in a video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptlsXtTf6n0. It is this: How did the Magi come to identify the Star specifically with a king of the Jews (Mt 2:2)? Cahn apparently drew his information—but neglected to credit the source, at least in the video—from Michael R. Molnar, “The Magi’s Star from the Perspective of Ancient Astrological Practices” (QJRAS [1995] 36, 109–126, online at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1995QJRAS..36..109M&link_type=ARTICLE). The theme of Molnar’s paper is succinctly put on page 119: “The Magi’s Star had to be Jupiter drawn within Aries in an event that was dramatic from the perspective of an ancient astrologer.” In the Summary at the beginning of his paper (p. 109), he also states:

The Magi’s star is proposed to have been a pair of auspicious lunar occultations [hidings] of Jupiter that signified to ancient astrologers the birth of a king. These events occurred in the zodiacal sign of Aries that symbolized Herod’s kingdom during this era. The birth of Christ probably corresponded to the first lunar occultation on 6 BC March 20, that exhibited astrological attributes found in imperial [royal] horoscopes (emphasis and brackets added).

Molnar also discusses a second occultation several weeks later on April 17, after the Moon had passed around to the other side of the Earth, when the phenomenon changed from one taking place around dusk in the western sky, to one occurring after dawn in the east. We will only concern ourselves with the March 20 event, because Molnar apparently did not realize that the second occultation of Jupiter in 6 BC cannot be reconciled with the two-year delay between the Magi’s sighting and their report to Herod about it. Another reason to look closely at the March 20, 6 BC occultation is its rarity: in an email to the Cambridge Conference discussion list posted at http://defendgaia.org/bobk/ccc/cc120501.html, Mark Kidger wrote:

Molnar's theory is important in that the event that he describes is genuinely very rare. I have checked all lunar occultations of Jupiter from 200BC to 1BC, some 390 in all, finding to my considerable surprise that only in 136BC and in 6BC did occultations take place in Aries.

Before continuing, we pause to note Cahn’s comment in his video: “Now we know astrology is wrong, bad, have nothing to do with it, but God is sovereign, and back then astrology and astronomy were basically the same.” By considering Molnar’s research as offering a possibly valid insight, we are not for a moment excusing what we think of as astrology today—the idea that our fate is controlled by the stars, an idea anathema to our omnipotent God. We are only recognizing the potential that God Himself, in this case, was using something, though corrupted by evil, for good. After all, God did say in Genesis that He made "the two great lights"—the Sun and Moon—and also the stars, to function as signs (Genesis 1:14–16). We have to find some way to accommodate this biblical fact in our thinking about it.

Now, Jupiter was known as the planet that, in the astrological symbolism of the Magi, signified a king, while Aries was the constellation connected with the land of Judea. Molnar states (p. 111):

The connection between Aries and Herod’s realm is discussed in the Tetrabiblos of Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria (c. AD 100–178). Astrologers had compiled lists of countries that were said to be controlled by certain zodiacal signs. According to Ptolemy, Aries ruled “Coele Syria, Palestine, Idumaea, and Judaea” which comprised Herod’s kingdom.

Hence, the Magi read in the heavens, a “king of the Jews.” And not just any king, but an exceptionally significant one due to the astrologically noteworthy occultation (a kind of conjunction) of Jupiter by the Moon as Jupiter entered the constellation Aries. Molnar observes on page 120:

On 6 BC March 20 (March 18 Gregorian Calendar) 1 min after sunset in Jerusalem the Moon occulted [had a conjunction with] Jupiter while in Aries. Mars was also present in Aries about 7½° above the Moon and Jupiter. The occultation ended half an hour later almost on the horizon. Although this significant astrological event was hidden by the bright sky, the evidence is that the astrologers had mathematical skills to indicate that there was an occultation (emphasis and brackets added).

DANIEL9 JupiterOcculted 181217

A possible issue with Molnar’s thesis is the idea that a bright sky would have prevented the March 20 occultation from being visible. He apparently drew this conclusion with Jerusalem in mind. Since the Magi’s homeland was in Persia further to the east, however, the sun would have set earlier there, so that brightness might not have been a problem. Could this be checked?

At http://www.astro.rug.nl/~vdkruit/jea3/homepage/Bethlehem.pdf, Dr. Piet van der Kruit published a slide show (in Dutch) that looked at numerous options for the identity of the Star. Slide 76, presented as part of his discussion of Molnar’s ideas, illustrates (reproduced at right) the position of Jupiter relative to the Moon as viewed from Jerusalem. This prompted me to contact Dr. van der Kruit to ask if the conjunction would have been visible to the Magi back home in Persia as well. He kindly answered me the same day (personal communication, 12/21/18):

Central Persia (or Iran) is essentially at the same geographic latitude as Jerusalem. So, in general terms the configurations would look the same at the same local time. Also setting of the Sun, Moon, planets and other celestial objects occurs at roughly the same local time. But in Persia, being to the east, the local time is ahead of that of Jerusalem, meaning that the setting of the Sun, Moon, planets and other celestial objects occurs earlier in real time. I estimate the distance some 2000 km, which at geographical latitude 30 degrees corresponds to a difference in real time of roughly 1.3 hours. This means that the occultation happened well after the Moon and Jupiter had set in Persia and were below the horizon and invisible.

It thus appears doubtful that the Magi would have seen the actual occultation take place in real time in Persia. But by the same token, Jupiter would have been a more visible evening star to them. Matthew 2:2 has the Magi saying, “we saw his star in the east,” and this they could have done. They could have seen Jupiter entering Aries and approaching a new or very thin crescent Moon before the conjunction, with the conjunction being predicted from the known position of the Moon relative to Jupiter rather than actually being seen. It would have been the fact of the conjunction, rather than the real-time sighting of it taking place, that would have imparted extraordinary astrological significance to the event.

Now, understanding that the Magi were from Persia (where they were heirs of the divinely revealed insights of Daniel), they were looking west to see Jupiter enter Aries after dusk. Doesn’t this conflict with “we have seen his star in the east”? The solution lies in also reading Matthew 2:1, to give a little more context. That verse tells us, “magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” “From the east” thus refers to the homeland of the Magi which was east of Jerusalem, not the location of the star in the sky. If we apply this context-dependent understanding to 2:2, the Magi were saying: “We saw his star when we were back home in Persia east of here, and have come west to worship him.” They would have had opportunity to see this phenomenon around dusk as they looked to their west. Suggesting, as Molnar does, that the text is talking about the "heliacal rising" of Jupiter due east some time after the Sun was already shining in the sky, is to read technical astronomy into a non-astronomical text. “In the east” needs to be understood contextually as referring to the Magi’s homeland relative to Judea.

A summary of Molnar’s findings aimed at a popular audience can be found online at http://movies2.nytimes.com/library/national/science/122199sci-archaeo-jupiter.html. Also, in a February 1998 NASA Astrophysics Data System article (The Observatory, vol. 118, pp. 22-24, online at http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1998Obs...118...22D&link_type=ARTICLE), M.M. Dworetsky and S.J. Fossey reported that they confirmed Molnar’s conclusions using Dance of the Planets and SkyMap software.

[Addendum, 12/22/18: I obtained a copy of the free astronomy program Stellarium. After getting a basic feel for it, I somewhat arbitrarily chose Persepolis, Iran, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire ruled by Cyrus, as a possible home base of the Magi. Then I set the date for dusk on March 20, 6 BC (strangely, the software includes a year 0, so the year had to be set to -5), and the view due west from Persepolis. I was able to confirm for myself that there was an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries after sunset. Here is a screen capture from Stellarium of that information. One can see Jupiter and the Moon almost meeting on the horizon.]

DANIEL9 AriesConstellation 181217

For the moment, we will just keep in the back of our minds this detail: Molnar says that the Star was an occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries, which took place around dusk on March 20, 6 BC. Both the year and the early spring timing is consistent with the other data we have turned up.

The Significance of Abijah’s Division

The story of the events leading up to the birth of John the Baptist, as given in Luke 1, is critical to our analysis. Here is an abridged version of this passage:

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth…Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense…And an angel of the Lord appeared to him…the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John”…When the days of his priestly service were ended, he went back home. After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant… (Luke 1:5–24, emphasis added).

Pay close attention to the fact that John’s father Zacharias served at the Temple during the division of Abjah, with the conception of John the Baptist following very soon after (though precisely how soon is not specified). When, exactly, was that time of service? There are unfortunately many analyses in the literature on how to understand the timing of Abijah’s division, with all depending on one’s prior assumptions about how the divisions served in sequence over time. We will return to discuss this in detail after a short digression to ruminate on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

The Travels of Mary

Luke goes on to provide information on the timing of the birth of Jesus relative to John’s conception and birth in verses 1:26–60:

Now in the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her…“behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus…And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now [already] in her sixth month…” Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”…And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home. Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son…“he shall be called John” (brackets and emphasis added).

From Gabriel’s announcement we learn that Elizabeth had already entered her sixth month of pregnancy before the eternally pre-existent Messiah began forming His human body, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), within the virgin’s womb. Mary’s pregnancy was later revealed by the Holy Spirit to Elizabeth, who could not possibly have known beforehand about it. This passage thus lets us know, since Mary was in her third of nine months when she left Elizabeth, that John would be born six months before Jesus. It also clarifies that Elizabeth had entered her sixth month prior to Mary’s conception, but we do not know exactly what week of that sixth month it was. It could have been any time from Elizabeth’s 23rd to 27th week. So we need to allow for a little flexibility to cover this unknown when we propose a timeline.

When did Mary go to visit Elizabeth? Insights into the likely timing may be gleaned from the impact of the normal climate cycle on her journey. First, her apparently solitary visit would not be expected to have taken place in the chill, rain and possible snow of winter, particularly in the hill country (Luke 1:39), but during the dry summer months when travel was easiest. (If we suppose Jesus' birth to have taken place around the Feast of Tabernacles, this would have placed Mary's visit to Elizabeth in the middle of the coldest and wettest part of winter, an unlikely trip for a woman traveling alone in the Judean highlands.) So we may expect Mary’s visit to have occurred sometime between late March and late October. But then, the Jewish religious calendar, with its various festivals that required attendance at Jerusalem (by the men, yes—but let's be honest, whenever possible the women would likely accompany their men), would have had a practical impact as well. They would have narrowed the travel window further, so that Mary’s trip most likely took place during the gap between the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot (late May/early June—see https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/shavuot) and the Feast of Trumpets at the start of Tishri (mid-September/early October—see https://www.hebcal.com/holidays/rosh-hashana). This would probably place Mary’s visit, and thus Jesus’ conception, during a three-month period between June and September. So, as far as Mary’s travel considerations have any bearing on it, Jesus’ conception was most probably around late May to mid-June. Since for other reasons we are working with the hypothesis that Jesus was born in 6 BC, His conception would have taken place in 7 BC. We thus propose it occurred shortly after she presumably returned with Joseph from the one-day Shavuot celebration, which was on June 7 that year. We thus place Mary’s visit to Elizabeth a week later, say June 14. Tishri 1 was on September 24 that year, so we do have a three-month window between the festivals to accommodate Mary’s visit.

There is one other detail we can draw out from this story if we read it closely. Did you notice that Mary left Elizabeth just before John’s birth? If she had arrived during Elizabeth’s sixth month and departed after staying “about three months,” John was practically a full-term baby when Mary left. Why did she not extend her visit just a little longer to see John born? Given the natural affinity of women to be involved in the birth events of close friends and relatives, her departure time seems rather awkward, to say the least. Earlier, I had supposed that she wanted to get home before winter's rains arrived, but there is a better explanation: the impending arrival of the Feast of Trumpets on Tishri 1 (Rosh Hashanah). Mary would understandably have wished to be back home with Joseph for this significant holy day. Thus, I suggest she may have departed Elizabeth's a short time before Tishri 1. That being September 24, 7 BC, we propose she left Elizabeth’s about a week earlier, say September 17. All told, her three-month visit with Elizabeth spanned June 14 through September 17, 7 BC—a visit of “about three months.”

This raises the possibility that John could have been born on Tishri 1. We know that John was born six months before Jesus. If John was born on Tishri 1—the original Jewish New Year, before God changed the calendar to instead begin with Nisan 1—Jesus could have been born on Nisan 1, Rosh Chodashim, as was suggested by Jonathan Cahn.

Hmmm…it is a tantalizing idea. It remains to be seen if other details are consistent with it. Let’s keep this suggestion in mind as this study continues to unfold. These considerations have a bearing on narrowing down the precise week when Abijah’s division served in the period of 6-8 BC. We want the selected week to be free of any conflicts with Mary’s travel requirements, and if possible, to explain her unusual departure from Elizabeth right before the birth of John.

Figuring Out the Priestly Cycles

Now we come to the area which took by far the most effort in this study. If we can pinpoint the week when the division of Abijah was serving when Zacharias had his encounter with Gabriel, we would surmount a major hurdle in figuring out when the Savior was probably born. We first need to pull together some background information.

1 Chronicles 24: The 24 Divisions of Priests

We first turn to 1 Chronicles 24:1–18. That passage presents us with the order in which the priestly divisions served in the Temple, and is really stark in its simplicity:

Now the divisions of the descendants of Aaron…they were divided by lot…
Now the first lot came out for Jehoiarib, the second for Jedaiah,
the third for Harim, the fourth for Seorim,
the fifth for Malchijah, the sixth for Mijamin,
the seventh for Hakkoz, the eighth for Abijah,
the ninth for Jeshua, the tenth for Shecaniah,
the eleventh for Eliashib, the twelfth for Jakim,
the thirteenth for Huppah, the fourteenth for Jeshebeab,
the fifteenth for Bilgah, the sixteenth for Immer,
the seventeenth for Hezir, the eighteenth for Happizzez,
the nineteenth for Pethahiah, the twentieth for Jehezkel,
the twenty-first for Jachin, the twenty-second for Gamul,
the twenty-third for Delaiah, the twenty-fourth for Maaziah.

Here we have the biblically-sanctioned service sequence for the 24 divisions of priests. Two in particular, highlighted in bold, are noteworthy. The first in the sequence was Jehoiarib, while the eighth was Abijah. We know the latter’s division was on duty when Zacharias saw Gabriel in the Temple, but we also need to know when, exactly, at least one division served in order to place Abijah’s service to a timeline. Can such an anchor point be found?

Talmud Ta’anit 29a: Finding an Anchor Point

Thankfully, God does not leave us hanging, and the answer is yes! But it is not in Scripture that we find it, but in history recorded in the Talmud, in Ta’anit 29a:

The Sages said: When the Temple was destroyed for the first time [in 587 BC], that day was the Ninth of Av; and it was the conclusion of Shabbat; and it was the year after a Sabbatical Year; and it was the week of the priestly watch of Jehoiarib; and the Levites were singing the song and standing on their platform. And what song were they singing? They were singing the verse: “And He brought upon them their own iniquity, and He will cut them off in their own evil” (Psalms 94:23). And they did not manage to recite the end of the verse: “The Lord our God will cut them off,” before gentiles came and conquered them. And likewise, the same happened when the Second Temple was destroyed (https://www.sefaria.org/Taanit.29a, emphasis and brackets added).

For completeness we point out that there seem to be conflicts between the Scriptures, Josephus and the Mishnah on how to relate the ninth and tenth of Av to the start of the Temple’s burning. This issue is discussed at length by Kenneth Doig at http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC07.htm. Briefly we will just say here that, since we take Scripture as inerrant, we go with what Jeremiah 52:12–13 states about the intentional burning of the First Temple:

Now on the tenth day of the fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard, who was in the service of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the LORD, the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; even every large house he burned with fire.

This fits with Josephus’ comment in Wars 6.4.5: “as for that house [the Second Temple], God had long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages: it was the tenth day of the month Lous [Ab], upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon” (emphasis and brackets added).

Thus, Jeremiah and Josephus speak with one voice that both destructions are properly placed on Sunday, Av 10, in the week of Jehoiarib’s service. The rabbinical sages, being much closer in time to the AD 70 destruction, appear to have extrapolated the accurately-remembered start of the later destruction’s burning—an accident caused by the Roman soldiers on Av 9 as that Sabbath was coming to a close (not after it, but near its end, approaching sunset on Saturday)—to the similar event in 587 BC, which was actually done on Av 10.

Josephus: The Start and End of Each Priestly Cycle

Josephus also helps us in two other passages to understand how the Sabbath-to-Sabbath service of each priestly division was implemented:

But David…having first numbered the Levites…divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the Priests from them, he found of these Priests twenty four courses: sixteen of the house of Eleazar, and eight of that of Ithamar: and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath (Ant. 7.14.4, emphasis added).

To this we add information from Against Apion 2:8, indicating that the service specifically began after midday of the first Sabbath in the cycle, and ended before midday of the following Sabbath:

…yet do they [the priests] officiate on certain days only. And when those days are over, other priests succeed in the performance of their sacrifices; and assemble together at midday; and receive the keys of the temple…(emphasis added).

These passages tell us that Jehoiarib’s schedule in AD 70 would have him on duty, using Julian dating, from midday Saturday, August 4 (Av 9) until midday Saturday morning, August 11 (Av 16). This week is our anchor point for evaluating the chronology of the birth of John the Baptist.

Continuous Cycles or Annually Reset?

Another question that different interpreters have handled variously has to be addressed now: how were the cycles implemented? We have two basic options. One is that, once started on some unknown Nisan 1 with Jehoiarib, the priestly cycles operated continuously. This would result in Jehoiarib being displaced from the week of Nisan 1 in future years. Others suggest the priestly cycle reset every year, with Jehoiarib always serving the week of Nisan 1. Which is right?

The 1 Chronicles 24 passage given above is so straightforward, with one name following the next without missing a beat or adding any extra information, it seemingly demands that a regular, ongoing rotation of the 24 Levitical families is meant, without any resets or interruptions to its continual linear sequence. All that matters is the sequence of names. The text does not consider important exactly when in the year a division would serve, nor does it mention how often each would serve in a single year. (We know each division served at least twice each year, but the text does not even tell us that simple fact, leaving us to deduce that we are to tack on another 24-division sequence as soon as the earlier one has completed). The absence of even such basic guidance implies there were no restrictions on the cyclical continuity of the sequences. Cycle after cycle would repeat ad infinitum as long as political realities permitted. Whether any given week was part of a standard calendar month or an intercalary addition (like a leap year, to bring the calendar back into synchrony with the equinoxes and the growing season, see below) would make no difference. If there was a week to be filled by priestly service, the next division in the sequence would answer the call.

R.T. Beckwith, in “St. Luke, the Date of Christmas and the Priestly Courses at Qumran,” RQ 9 (1977), raises a dissenting voice against this apparently straightforward understanding of the division cycles. Beckwith concludes that the priestly divisions at Qumran began anew each year, with Jehoiarib always serving on the New Year of Tishri 1. However, this suggestion clashes with a fact that we have observed repeatedly in this ongoing study, that there is abundant evidence that the Jews used Nisan 1 as their New Year after the Babylonian exile, not Tishri 1. Jack Finegan (Handbook, rev. ed., §246) observes that at the start of one six-year priestly cycle, one papyrus fragment from the Qumran caves says the family of Gamul, not Jehoiarib, began that year’s cycle on Nisan 1. This actually supports the understanding, contra Beckwith, that the priestly rotations did not reset each year with Jehoiarib covering Nisan 1. That this single reference happens to place Jehoiarib’s service on Tishri 1 can be viewed as a coincidence of that particular year, not a prescription for Tishri 1 being the change point every year. In the end, which way one comes down on Beckwith depends on the prior assumptions one brings to his work. It is inconclusive—but, after all, it is talking about the idiosyncratic Qumran sect, not the Jerusalem-centered priestly courses we are concerned with. Thus, we regard it as an unhelpful rabbit-trail we will henceforth ignore.

Therefore, each year presents 52 weekly slots to be filled by a division. With 24 slots constituting one full priestly cycle, two cycles could be completely filled each year, totaling 48 weeks. This would leave four weeks remaining, to be filled according to the 1 Chronicles 24 sequence. After the first year, whenever it was, subsequent years would start with a priest other than Jehoiarib serving during the week containing Nisan 1, as the four extra weeks in the year had their offsetting effect on the sequence of priests.

Priestly Service on the Pilgrimage Festivals

An additional question is how to relate the priestly cycle to the combined service of all 24 divisions on the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned earlier. “On the three pilgrim festivals, all the 24 mishmarot [divisions] officiated together” (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/mishmarot-ma-amadot, cf. Mishnah Sukkah 5:7–8). The question is, were these periods of combined service interruptions to the normal sequence given in 1 Chronicles 24, or did they merely involve reinforcements joining the regularly-scheduled division to handle the unusually large crowds at those times?

It appears the latter is the case, otherwise the 1 Chronicles 24 schedule is no longer the continuous linear sequence of service times it presents itself as. We agree with Finegan (Handbook, rev. ed., §241) that maintaining this regular sequence requires viewing the extra 23 divisions at the pilgrimage festivals as reinforcements to handle the larger crowds at Jerusalem, but the week the festival lands in is still reckoned as that of the normal sequence division. Thus, a complete priestly cycle remains as Scripture puts it, a cycle of 24 weeks. After all, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot, was only observed for a single day, not a week. We might look at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles as whole-week festivals that could perhaps interrupt the order of 24 week-long divisions, but Shavuot cannot be viewed this way. It is the exception that proves the rule.

Therefore, in what follows we will place every division in its biblically-sanctioned weekly slot in a continuous, uninterrupted sequence, and on the three pilgrimage festivals view the attendance of the other divisions as supplemental manpower to help the regularly assigned division deal with the overflowing crowds.

Accounting for the Added Intercalary Months

To construct a timeline of priestly cycles extending back from Jehoiarib in AD 70 to Abijah around 6 to 8 BC, we also must account for weeks added to the Jewish calendar when it was periodically corrected with intercalary months. These were required on a regular basis to prevent the agricultural seasons from getting out of sync with the calendar over time. This involved adding the extra month of Adar II (discussed in detail at https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Rosh_Chodesh/Adar/adar.html) according to the so-called Metonic cycle. Even though, in the biblical period, the Jews used visual sighting of the first lunar crescent to set the start of months (Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1) rather than a calculated calendar, it is not as if they were taken by surprise by the need to add an extra month to any particular year. They would have known there were extra weeks coming up well ahead of time and would have planned for them. The 19-year Metonic cycle of intercalations had been known since the Greek astronomer Meton devised it around 432 BC, and the Jewish people were familiar with it from the time of Alexander on. We may be confident that the sages would have had the foresight to account for such added weeks in determining when the priestly divisions would serve.

In our search for the course of Abijah during which Zacharias had his angelic encounter, we will use the calendars published at http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=70. They have already done the hard work of applying all the needed 19-year Metonic cycle intercalations to the Jewish calendar, and then synchronized it with the corresponding Julian dates. For the period we are interested in, from the fall of the Temple in AD 70 back to 8 BC, this strategy takes into account all of the weeks the Jews added to accommodate their intercalations. All we then must do is tie the weekly 1 Chronicles 24 priestly cycles into it. (Those who wish to delve further into the intricacies of calendar calculations are encouraged to investigate the information at https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Mathematics_of_the_Jewish_Calendar/The_recurrence_period_of_the_calendar.)

A major advantage to this approach is that it eliminates the need for us to sweat the details of how, exactly, intercalation was done by the Jews. Nor is there any reason to concern ourselves with the eye-glazing intricacies of intercalations for the Qumran calendar as Beckwith did, mentioned above. Although Jack Finegan (Handbook, rev. ed., §244-249) devotes some time to presenting Qumran calendar matters, we can ignore that material for our purposes, since our key date for tracking the priestly cycles—Jehoiarib's service beginning the evening of Av 9, 70 BC—is predicated on the calendar norms used by the priests at Jerusalem. Whatever the sect at Qumran might have done with their calendar is nothing more than a matter of scholarly curiosity. In writing this I am not disparaging the prodigious, detailed work various scholars have poured into their Qumran calendar studies, only pointing out that it does not apply to the task at hand.

We also acknowledge there were interruptions in the faithful observance of the priestly cycles at times in Jewish history (as pointed out by Doig at http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC07.htm), but these do not concern us either. Only the years from Herod the Great to Titus are pertinent, and they were a period of stability for Jewish religious practice at the Temple. There are no gaps to account for when the regular progression of the priestly cycles might have been interrupted during that period.

Pinpointing When Abijah’s Division Served

Having now finished laying the groundwork, without further ado we are ready to figure out when Abijah’s division served.

Jehoiarib’s division was on duty in AD 70 from August 4–11 (Av 9 [evening]–Av 16 [morning]). This being Division 1 of 24, it means the division that had served the previous week, July 28–August 4 (Av 2 [evening]–Av 9 [morning]), was Division 24, Maaziah. We continue to follow this pattern back in time, Delaiah > Gamul > Jachin > etc., week after week, in unvarying and predictable sequence. We take into account all intercalary months, plugging the priestly divisions into every added Adar II as needed, without disturbing their regular sequence. We add 23 divisions of reinforcements on each of the three pilgrimage festivals, while keeping the weeks of those festivals locked to the division whose sequence it was. It’s pretty straightforward, once all the research was done to find explicit justification for how to handle the priestly cycles. More often than not, the various attempts of various scholars to contribute “fresh, unique insights” did nothing but confuse the issue.

A great deal of time was spend keying into a spreadsheet the Sabbath dates (both Julian and Jewish), which were also division start dates, for every year from AD 70 down to 8 BC. The calendars at http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=70 were a tremendous help in accomplishing this. Then the proper division was applied to every week. Cycle numbers were also added, to more easily identify what block of 24 divisions was being referred to. If the cycle starting with Jehoiarib the week of Av 9 in AD 70 (August 4) is designated Cycle 1, then Cycle 2, again starting with Jehoiarib, would have started 24 weeks earlier on Shebet 18, AD 70 (February 17). Continuing blocks of 24 divisions back in time eventually brings us to the start of Cycle 168, where we find Jehoiarib serving the week of Tishri 6, 8 BC (October 11).

Now, since our interest is in finding a date for the division of Abijah that fits smoothly with all of the accumulated information laid out above, I flagged dates when Abijah’s division served between 8 and 6 BC. These included Heshvan 25, 8 BC (November 29); Iyar 17, 7 BC (May 16); Heshvan 8, 7 BC (October 31); Nisan 29, 6 BC (April 17); and Tishri 20, 6 BC (October 2). This gives us several candidates for Zacharias’ week of service. I then compared those candidates to other criteria looked at previously, especially the following events and the significance attached to them:

Slaughter of the innocents – over a year before fall of 5 BC, spring of 6 BC works
Quirinius census – while Saturninus was governor, early 6 BC
Mary visits Elizabeth – shortly after last spring festival, Shavuot
Mary leaves Elizabeth – just before John’s birth, due to Rosh Hashanah (Tishri 1)
Jesus born six months after John – consistent with Nisan 1
Tabernacle completed on Nisan 1 – Jesus born that date by “tabernacling” analogy
Star of Bethlehem – occultation of Jupiter in Aries on March 20, 6 BC
The shepherds in the fields – probably after mid-March in the highlands

Looking these over, we see that the spring/March/Nisan timeframe comes up repeatedly, plus there is the precise proposed Star of Bethlehem date, March 20, 6 BC. The astronomer, Molnar, nowhere says anything about Jewish dates, and seems not to have considered their significance. There’s not a whisper about Nisan, Tishri, or anything of the sort in his article. We should not be surprised at this, for after all, he is a scientist, not a theologian. But if we check that date against a Jewish calendar, what do we find? In 6 BC, March 20 landed on Nisan 1.

This is a rather stunning discovery, so our attention is immediately narrowed down to looking for a week compatible with it for Abijah’s service. If we provisionally take Nisan 1, 6 BC as the birth date of Jesus, counting back 40 weeks, a full-term pregnancy for Mary, takes us to Elizabeth’s sixth month. There is nothing in Scripture I am aware of that allows us to specify precisely when within that sixth month Mary showed up at Elizabeth’s door, so we allow for some ambiguity here. Let us be generous and say, since the sixth month of pregnancy is generally regarded as weeks 23–27, Mary’s conception could have taken place anytime during that sixth month, so we will count back an additional 27 weeks. This would bring us to the approximate date John was conceived. Then there is another unknown, the amount of time from when Zacharias’ service (Abijah’s division) began until John’s conception. The Jewish custom of niddah, ritual purity separation during menstruation, may come into the picture here as well, since Elizabeth would probably have (unexpectedly!) started menstruating again while Zacharias was away on duty. To accommodate this possibility, let us add another week.

All told, then, based on pregnancy considerations alone, we are looking at the passing of about 68 weeks between the birth of Christ and the week of Zacharias’ service. What week do we get if we suppose Jesus was born on Nisan 1, 6 BC, and go back 68 weeks? The week of Heshvan 25–Kislev 3, 8 BC (November 29–December 6), when Abijah’s division was on duty.

Let us further analyze this scenario from the perspective of Mary’s travels. We proposed that she did not leave for Elizabeth's until after the spring festival season had completed. (This would be consistent with the grace of God, for it would spare Mary the need to travel in the cold and wet of winter, which would have been the case if Jesus had been born during the Feast of Tabernacles.) After staying for three months with Elizabeth, she returned home without waiting to see John born because of the impending Feast of Trumpets, Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1. In 7 BC Shavuot, the pilgrimage Feast of Weeks, was on Sivan 10 (June 7), squarely in the middle of Elizabeth’s sixth month on the proposed chart that follows. So this works out just fine. And at the other end of her visit, we proposed that she left shortly before Tishri 1, just before John’s birth. In 7 BC, Rosh Hashanah just happened to take place during the 40th week of John’s conception! Yes, Mary’s travels fit this date, too. I do not think it would be a coincidence if God, thinking of type/antitype significance with His date choices, chose to have John born exactly on Tishri 1 as the forerunner for Jesus who was born on Nisan 1. This degree of precision is not provable from the records we have, though. Holding it is a matter of faith, but one I personally am comfortable with.

DANIEL9 ChristBirthChartSmall 181217

(The full version of this chart, with all priestly divisions given from AD 70 to 8 BC, can be seen HERE. Charts last updated 12/27/2018.)

Conclusions

In this study we have demonstrated very strong support for the idea that Jesus the Messiah was born on the Sabbath-opening evening of Nisan 1, 6 BC. It was a night when Persian astronomers could see the astrologically significant phenomenon of Jupiter, the “king” star, being occulted by the Moon as it entered Aries, the constellation signifying Judea. Nisan 1 was the date that God first tabernacled with the Israelites at Sinai, so it was a fitting day for Him to also “tabernacle” with mankind in the person of His Son. This early spring date would likewise accommodate Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem for a 6 BC census, without conflicting with required attendance at a pilgrimage festival. The weather was improving by that time, so the required journey from Nazareth was not a great hardship, and it was also possible for the shepherds to keep their flocks outside in the fields and watch over them by night. Six months earlier, John the Baptist would have been born, right after Mary had to leave Elizabeth, after going to visit her once Shavuot was out of the way. And finally, six months earlier yet, Zacharias was serving in the Temple as part of the regular service of the division of Abijah, between November 29 and December 6, 8 BC.

In the end, this researcher now feels quite satisfied that, against all expectations, it is possible to say with a great deal of assurance that we can identify when the Savior was born. The year was 6 BC, and it happened the Sabbath night of Nisan 1. The way all of the various factors fit together is a powerful indication that there is indeed an all-powerful God who involves Himself in human affairs, who loves us so much that He sent His Son into the world to die for sin on our behalf. It is also a testimony of the truth of the inspiration of Scripture. We can trust it as His very Word to men.

As far as The Daniel 9:24–27 Project is concerned, what we take away from this particular study is yet another confirmation that the timetable we have been developing is correct. Its support for a 6 BC date for the Lord’s birth reaffirms, once again, that Christ was born about two years before Herod the Great’s death in the spring of 4 BC. In turn, we can have confidence in our earlier analysis that places His Crucifixion on Passover, Nisan 14, AD 30. His baptism would have been in the fall of AD 27. We will later find this date to be of critical importance when we examine in detail the text of Daniel 9.

*This section updated 12/21/2018.

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Addressing Some Other Objections to Herod's Death in 4 BC

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at several historical evidences which indicate the death of Herod the Great took place shortly before Passover in 4 BC. They included the practical effects of closing the Mediterranean to sea traffic during the storm-prone winter months from November into early March; the vandalizing of Herod’s golden eagle over the Temple and the resulting trial at Jericho, closely followed by a lunar eclipse; and the fact that all the events involved in the closing weeks of Herod’s life that Josephus reports can be reasonably fit into the period between that eclipse and the Passover in 4 BC.

We now conclude this study of the death date of Herod by looking at a few additional ideas raised by a few commentators against the 4 BC theory: some points raised by Ernest L. Martin regarding the sheloshim mourning period observed by Archelaus in the aftermath of Herod’s death; perceived problems in accounting for the observation of Purim right after the trial at Jericho; and how the reigns of the sons of Herod impact how we view the date of Herod’s death.

The Sheloshim Mourning Period

In addition to his points covered in the previous article, Ernest L. Martin also presented an argument against 4 BC based on the sheloshim, the extended mourning period that followed the basic seven-day shivah. As Douglas Johnson observed (“‘And They Went Eight Stades toward Herodeion,’” Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan, p. 99):

In another futile attempt to overturn the evidence for Herod’s death in 4 B.C., Martin has introduced the issue of sheloshim. He is, unfortunately, confused about this Jewish practice, which cannot be used to argue successfully for a lengthy funeral or mourning period for Herod. Martin is in error when he says, “The twenty-five or so days it required to carry the bier to the Herodian would have taken up most of Sheloshim.” Rather, sheloshim is a thirty-day period of mourning for the dead observed by Jews, containing an initial seven-day period called shivah, “counted from the time of the burial”—not death.

Does this then mean that thirty days of mourning must be fitted between Herod’s burial and the following Passover? Not at all, since Passover always cancels a sheloshim period. “If the shivah had been completed, then the incoming festival canceled the entire sheloshim period.” Josephus’s funeral accounts fit this practice, for he records that Archelaus mourned Herod seven days (shivah), then put an end to mourning (Antiquities 17:200; Jewish War 2:1). Passover immediately followed. Thus, sheloshim is not an issue at all.

To this may be added the information given at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11191-mourning. It all indicates that no real problem exists in fitting the events leading up to the death and funeral of Herod the Great between the eclipse of March 13 and the following Passover. And despite the eclipse being merely partial rather than a full-orbed, magnificent display, and notwithstanding its occurrence soon after midnight instead of the early hours of the evening when more people might view and recall it, the fact that so many indicators support the March 13, 4 BC eclipse as that of Herod’s last days points to the truth of Arthur Conan Doyle’s well-known dictum: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It is impossible to reconcile the total eclipse candidates of 5 and 1 BC with the way Josephus' details fit smoothly together when taken at face value, and viewed with an acknowledgement of Jewish inclusive time reckoning. The bottom line is this: the late-night partial eclipse of 4 BC must be the right one.

A Problem with Purim?

Martin also spends some time arguing against the March 13, 4 BC date from the perspective of the celebration of Purim. In 4 BC the first day of Purim coincided with March 13, the same date as our eclipse. Not one to eschew hyperbole when it promotes his point, Martin says this is “a difficulty of major proportions” (http://askelm.com/star/star011.htm) for a March 13, 4 BC eclipse; nay, “it is devastating to it.” He asserts there are several reasons why Herod would not have killed the perpetrators of the golden eagle affair on that day, but they ultimately boil down to one key, false premise: that the trial and executions took place fully after sunset on March 13th, so that they were on Adar 14, Purim proper.

Remember, the Jewish days began at sunset, not midnight. If the trial was completed and executions started before sunset on March 12, they would have taken place on Adar 13, the day before Purim. Though the actual burning of the perpetrators may have extended some hours into Purim itself after sunset, who was going to raise a voice of opposition to the determined Herod after the trial ended and the executions began? As for using the Fast of Esther on March 12 as an argument against the trial taking place that day, in a comment at  http://www.billheroman.com/2009/11/eclipse-of-purim-4-bc.html, Paul Tanner, citing “The Origin of Ta’anit Esther” by Mitchell First (Association for Jewish Studies Review Vol. 34, No. 2 [Nov. 2010], pp. 309–351), observed that this fast did not become a part of the Jewish calendar until long after the first century. Thus, this supposed “holy day” would have had no impact on the trial on March 12 of 4 BC, nor on the executions that immediately followed it.

The Reigns of the Sons of Herod

Changing gears now, we turn to consider what the reigns of the sons of Herod can tell us about the year he died. W.E. Filmer (“The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” The Journal of Theological Studies 17.2 [October 1966], pp. 283–298), whose arguments we looked at in detail in the preceding installment in this study, saw support for his 1 BC date for Herod’s death in the chronological details Josephus gave about Herod’s sons. Before making his case, he admitted (p. 296):

One of the chief reasons for supposing that Herod died in 4 B.C. is that his sons who succeeded him appear to have begun their reigns in that year. Thus Archelaus, ruler of Judea and Samaria, was banished in A.D. 6/7 after a reign of ten years; Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, who died in A.D. 39 or 40, reigned, according to coin evidence, forty-three years, while Philip, tetrarch of Iturea, died in the 20th year of Tiberius, A.D. 33/34, after a reign of thirty-seven years.

Absolutely, the plain sense of Josephus does indicate 4 BC was the year Herod’s sons took over from their father, clearly indicating that was the year he died. Andrew E. Steinmann (“When Did Herod the Great Reign,” Novum Testamentum 51 [2009], pp. 1–29), who adopted and elaborates on Filmer’s view, similarly confessed (p. 2):

In addition to these reasons, the reigns of Herod’s sons and successors also appear to indicate that he died in 4 BCE. Archelaus was banished in 6 CE after a reign of ten years over Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Herod Antipas lost the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea in the second year of Gaius (38/39 CE) after a reign of forty-three years according to numismatic evidence. Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius (33/34 CE) after a reign of thirty-seven years over Gaulanitis. All of these point to their taking office in 4 BCE.

Except for the points about Herod Philip, these admissions largely follow from the case presented by Emil Schürer in his classic History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, note 165, pp. 464–467:

The chronology of two successors of Herod, Archelaus and Antipas, requires B.C. 4 = A.U.C. 750, as the year of Herod’s death.

(a) Archelaus. He was, according to Dio Cassius, lv. 27 [55.27.6], deposed by Augustus in the year A.U.C. 759 [AD 6], during the consulship of Aemilius Lepidus and L. Arruntius, in the tenth year of his reign. So also says Josephus in Antiq. xvii.13.2, and in Life, 1, where the earlier statement of the Wars of the Jews, ii. 7. 3, that this occurred “in the ninth year of his reign,” is corrected. Hence his reign began in A.U.C. 750.

(b) Antipas. He was deposed by Caligula in the summer of A.D. 39 = A.U.C. 792 (see under § 17b). Since we still have coins of his bearing date the forty-third year of his reign, the year of the beginning of his reign must at latest have been A.U.C. 750.

All these facts therefore yield this result, that Herod died in the year B.C. 4 = A.U.C. 750, shortly before the Passover (bracketed clarifications added).

That general information should make it clear that the plain sense of Josephus’ records indicates Herod’s sons, Archelaus, Antipater and Philip, all began their reigns in 4 BC after the death of their father that spring. And yet, Filmer and those following him choose to ignore this obvious internal consistency, choosing instead to suppose errors in Josephus and reinterpreting him from that assumption. Therefore, we will now look more closely at some details related to the above summary statements, to better judge if there are objective grounds for their dissent from what Steinmann labels the “Schürer consensus.”

Herod Philip: Beyer and the Alleged 1544 Copy Error

Though not addressed by Schürer for some reason, matters connected with the life of Herod’s son Philip enter significantly into the discussion of when Herod died. One of Filmer’s attacks on a 4 BC death date for Herod centers on the existence of some manuscripts of Antiquities 18.4.6 which, instead of placing the death of Philip in the 20th year of Tiberius, put it in the 22nd year. This two-year difference, in Filmer’s estimate, is evidence in favor of dating Herod’s death to 1 BC.

In his Josephus Reexamined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius, David W. Beyer takes this idea and runs with it, asserting that early manuscripts of Antiquities favor the 22nd year reading:

A central argument offered by scholars supporting 4 B.C. as the year of Herod’s death focuses on the dating of his son Philip’s reign. Modem editions of Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews unanimously state that Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius, that is, in A.D. 34, after ruling thirty-seven years. Therefore: A.D. 34 - 37 years = 4 B.C.

The logic seems concise and irrefutable. Nevertheless, it is flawed by a contaminated evidentiary source. The discovery of this contamination and its subsequent impact on Herodian chronology is our initial focus here (emphasis original).

Beyer’s criticisms of a 4 BC death for Herod hinge on variant manuscripts of Antiquities 18.4.6, which in Whiston’s edition reads, “About this time it was that Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius: after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulanitis, and of the nation of the Bataneans also, thirty seven years.” As James Bradford Pate (http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/search/label/Date%20of%20Herod’s%20Death) summarizes:

Beyer’s point was that no edition of Josephus (specifically, Antiquities 18.106) prior to 1544 said that Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius after a reign of thirty-seven years. Rather, all but three of the pre-1544 editions said that Herod Philip died in the twenty-second year of Tiberius (and I do not know what those three editions said, only that they did not claim that Herod Philip died in the twentieth year of Tiberius) (emphasis original).

This information matters because if, as the accepted text of Antiquities gives it, Philip died in Tiberius’ 20th year—generally taken to be AD 33—and ruled for 37 years, his accession to the tetrarchy took place in 4 BC. This was, of course, the year we have been advocating for Herod’s death. But if Philip instead died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, it throws this synchronization in doubt.

To cut to the chase, Beyer’s criticisms were effectively addressed by Pate at https://jamesbradfordpate.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-alleged-1544-copy-error/. In particular, he points out that atheist Richard Carrier leveled a devastating critique at Beyer’s thesis (https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html, the section on “Was Herod Alive in 2 B.C.?”):

Beyer examined only manuscripts in the British Museum and the Library of Congress--yet the best manuscripts are in France and Italy--one of which is the oldest, Codex Ambrosianae F 128, inscribed in the 11th century (the oldest manuscript Beyer examined was 12th century); and another is the most reliable: Codex Vaticanus Graecus 984, transcribed in 1354; both confirming a reading of ‘twentieth,’ and thus invalidating all his conclusions from the start. [A]ll scholarly editions agree: the word for ‘twentieth’ (eikostô) exists in all extant Greek manuscripts worth considering. Where does the reading ‘twenty-second’ come from? A single manuscript tradition of a Latin translation (which reads vicesimo secundo). Beyer’s case completely falls apart here. The Latin translations of Josephus are notoriously inferior, and are never held to be more accurate than extant Greek manuscripts, much less all of them. Indeed, this is well proven here: whereas the Latin has 22 for the year of Tiberius, it also has 32, or even in some editions 35, as the year of Philip, not the 37 that Finegan’s argument requires. Thus, clearly the Latin translator has botched all the numbers in this passage. Any manuscripts that Beyer examined were no doubt either from these inferior Latin manuscripts, or Greek translations from these Latin manuscripts. Therefore, there is no basis whatever for adopting ‘twenty second’ as the correct reading (emphasis original).

The takeaway is that Beyer’s argument against 4 BC as the date of Herod’s death based on considerations connected with Herod Philip is quite unpersuasive. It is ironic that atheist Carrier’s objective is to use careful analysis of Josephus and a text-critical approach to undermine claims for the infallibility of Scripture, which supposedly buttress the 1 BC case. In actuality, however, he is just helping us identify spurious arguments for erroneously dating Herod’s death to 1 BC. Skimming off the dross this way helps the truth rise to the top. The inspiration and infallibility of Scripture are in no way challenged if we discard the 1 BC hypothesis for Herod’s death.

Archelaus and Antipas

Equally weak, asserts Carrier, are efforts like those of Filmer, Steinmann, and Finegan (in his revised edition) to argue against the evidence for Herod’s 4 BC death based on suppositions regarding backdating the reigns of his other two surviving sons. Here is how Carrier addresses this:

For example, it is a fact that all three regnal dates of Herod’s successors match a coronation date of 4 B.C. (§ 516). This includes Archelaus, whose dates are also corroborated by Cassius Dio (55.27.6), and Josephus does not have Archelaus declared king until Herod dies (Jewish War 1.670), but has Archelaus deposed in 6 A.D. after 10 years rule [Ant. 17.13.2] …which also puts Herod’s death in 4 B.C. (or shortly before). And then there is Antipas, whose dates are confirmed in extant coinage, according to Finegan himself. Finegan tries to suggest against this evidence that all three of these kings were made co-regents with Herod in 4 B.C. until his death in 1 B.C., a claim that is groundless and prima facie absurd. With Antipater, that would make five kings ruling simultaneously! It is inconceivable that Josephus would not mention such a remarkable action. Indeed, the political atmosphere of heated tensions and indecision about who would inherit makes such a massive coregency profoundly unthinkable for Herod--his coregency with Antipater (the only one Josephus mentions) was already such a disaster that Herod had him executed a week before he himself died, and the other three were only assigned their territories by Herod’s will and confirmed by Augustus after Herod’s death. Josephus is absolutely clear on this. And it is the only logical way things could have happened (emphasis and bracketed note added).

Incidentally, the Dio 55.27.6 citation, where “Herod” refers to Archelaus, reads:

Herod of Palestine, who was accused by his brothers of some wrongdoing or other, was banished beyond the Alps and a portion of the domain was confiscated to the state.

Dio’s information is presented in yearly fashion, seen in the repeated mention of the consuls in office from time to time. This allows us to confidently date the above information to AD 6—the consulship of Aemilius Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius (as Finegan agrees on page 84 of the revised edition of his Handbook of Biblical Chronology). Thus, we have solid, straightforward evidence attested by multiple ancient sources that in 4 BC, ten inclusively-reckoned years back from AD 6, Archelaus inherited the kingdom according to Herod’s final will written only days before his death:

And now Herod altered his testament, upon the alteration of his mind. For he appointed Antipas, to whom he had before left the Kingdom, to be tetrarch of Galilee and Perea: and granted the Kingdom to Archelaus (Ant. 17.8.1, emphasis added).

If it is only at this late point in his life that Herod “granted the Kingdom to Archaelaus,” who in his previous will had been disinherited just as surely as his brother Philip had been, what excuse is there for engaging in complex reading between the lines to suggest there had been backdating of the reigns of Herod’s sons from 1 BC to 4 BC? Only someone with an agenda to defend would suggest such a thing. And the fact that Archelaus is depicted in Antiquities 17.9.1–3 as urgently pursuing Caesar’s approval for taking over the kingdom, even competing with his brother Antipas (Ant. 17.9.4) for this approval very shortly after Herod’s death, is further evidence against any such coregency manipulations.

As regards Antipas, in a previous article, The First Year of Herod the Great's Reign, it was noted:

It should also be observed that Steinmann deals with coin matters very carefully, pointing to the “year three” notation as evidence Herod dated his reign from his Roman appointment, yet in the case of Herod’s son Antipas going to great pains to argue against the numismatic evidence:

Antipas lost the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea in the second year of Gaius (38/39 CE) and the latest coins minted under his authority are dated to his forty-third year. This means that he claimed to have begun his reign in 5/4 BCE. Why would Archelaus and Antipas claim to have reigned from 4 BCE if Herod did not die in that year? Is this not proof that Herod must have died in 4 BCE and not 1 BCE? (p. 20).

It would seem so on the surface, but Steinmann then goes on to argue at length (devoting five pages to this), on a conjectural basis with considerable reading between the lines, that Herod actually did not die in 4 BC, and the evidence of the coins is misleading in this case.

This is the coin evidence to which Carrier alludes above. If we approach this data without a bias, surely we must conclude that the prima facie evidence is very strongly in favor of Herod dying in 4 BC.

Conclusions

At http://www.billheroman.com/2012/05/, Bill Heroman quotes footnote 18 from John P. Meier’s famous Historical Jesus series, A Marginal Jew. It is so clear and concise, I want to repeat it here as an appropriate summary of this article:

The attempts by a few historians to prove that Herod the Great died in some other year [than 4 BC] have not met with general acceptance. For example, W. E. Filmer (“The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” JTS 17 [1966] 283–98) uses contorted arguments in an attempt to establish that Herod died instead in 1 B.C. As Timothy D. Barnes points out very well (“The Date of Herod’s Death”, JTS 19 [1968] 204–9), Filmer’s thesis collides with two major pieces of evidence: (1) Herod’s successors all reckoned their reigns as beginning in 5–4 B.C. (2) The synchronisms with events datable in the wider context of the history of the Roman Empire—synchronisms made possible by Josephus’ narrative of the circumstances attending Herod’s death—make 1 B.C. almost impossible to sustain. Barnes goes on to suggest that perhaps December of 5 B.C. may be a better candidate for the date of Herod’s death than March/April of 4 B.C. As is the case with other alternatives, this innovation has not met with general approval.

The question of Herod’s death is taken up once more in a number of essays in the Chronos, Kairos, Christos volume edited by Verdaman [sic] and Yamauchi. Ernest L. Martin (“The Nativity and Herod’s Death,” 85–92) revives the theory that Herod died in 1 B.C., with Jesus’ birth placed in 3 or 2 B.C. This does not receive support from the other contributors to the volume who address the same issue. Douglas Johnson (“‘And They Went Eight Stades Towards Herodeion,’” 93–99) defends the traditional date of 4 B.C. for Herod’s death, pointing out that Martin has mistranslated a key text concerning Herod’s funeral in Ant. 17.8.3 §199. Harold W. Hoehner (“The Date of the Death of Herod the Great,” 101–11) likewise champions 4 B.C. Paul L. Maier (“The Date of the Nativity and the Chronology of Jesus’ Life,” 113–30) adds still another voice in favor of 4 B.C.... All in all, the scattered attempts to undermine 4 B.C. as the year of Herod’s death must be pronounced a failure (emphasis and bracketed clarification added).

In taking on this study of the ramifications of Herod’s regnal years and death date, a great deal of material, both online and in print, has been consulted. There were also discussions with friends who hold to the Filmer/Steinmann/Finegan/Martin position, and this “iron sharpens iron” experience challenged me to very carefully examine the evidence they believe supports the position that Herod died in 1 BC. I am grateful for the resources they brought to my attention and generously shared with me, for otherwise these articles could not have been written. But in the end, the accumulating data and my detail-focused analysis of it forced me to disagree with their position.

For the reasons set forth in this and the preceding articles, then, the conclusion is that only a 4 BC date for Herod the Great’s death, following a de facto reign that began in 37 BC after the death of Antigonus and lasted for 34 inclusively-counted years, accommodates all of the evidence and does not involve adopting a hyper-skeptical view of the data given by Josephus. And since the birth of Christ appears to have preceded the onset of Herod's last illness, accounting for the age of the slaughtered infants of Bethlehem carries with it certain implications, which we plan to look at next month.

Our goal all along has been to work towards a defensible case for the literal fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 9:24–27. As will be made clear subsequently, for all the details of this prophecy to fit together, a very specific year for the revealing of the Messiah, the Anointed One, is required. By establishing 4 BC as the year of Herod’s death, an AD 33 Crucifixion is shown to be unrealistic, while AD 30 fits very well. A close examination of Scripture itself indicates only an AD 30 Crucifixion date comports with the data given in Acts and Galatians. In turn, an AD 30 Crucifixion supports an AD 27 date for Christ’s baptism by John, followed by the start of His public ministry in early AD 28. The interconnections of the various events are such that if even one does not line up with the rest, the prophecy is hard to defend to a skeptical mind.

But praise God, the details do line up! In future articles in this series we will continue back before Herod’s time, showing how further details demonstrate God’s superintending power and wisdom showcased in the prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27. And God willing, we hope to eventually examine aspects of Daniel’s centuries-spanning prophecy that still remain to be fulfilled.

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Introduction

In the most recent article in The Daniel 9:24–27 Project series (The First Year of Herod the Great's Reign) we looked in detail at when the reign of Herod the Great began. That study examined what two of the main advocates of a 39 BC start for Herod’s reign, W.E. Filmer and Andrew E. Steinmann, had written in defense of their position. After looking at several aspects of their case, we concluded that their approach required ignoring some details, interpreting others inconsistent with a straightforward reading, and proposing errors by Josephus even for events he dated by two mutually-corroborating methods. Particularly troubling was their refusal to regard Antigonus as the full-fledged king of the Jews preceding Herod, viewing him only as a high priest in order to defend their thesis. We concluded that only when we acknowledge that Herod did not truly become king of the Jews until King Antigonus died in the summer of 37 BC are we able to come to valid conclusions about his reign.

With a 37 BC date for the start of Herod’s reign thus set on a firm foundation, we will now look at some events connected with his death. Doing so will help us evaluate the arguments of those who advocate a 1 BC date for Herod’s death, with its ramifications for the dates of Christ’s birth and crucifixion.

The Scriptural Record

Although we would love to be able to use the Scriptures to securely anchor the birth of Christ to a particular year, in God’s wisdom He has chosen to paint a picture with broad stokes only, leaving out many details scholars still endeavor to fill in. But for our purposes we only need to know one thing: Jesus was born sometime during the last few years of the reign of Herod the Great. We can glean that basic information from Matthew 2:1–2, 11–16 (NASB):

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”...After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.... And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod...Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi...

Herod the Great in Josephus

With Scripture telling us relatively little about Herod, we turn now to see what Josephus says about the last months of his life. We take up the story at Antiquities 17.6.1 (Whiston translation). As has been done in the past, for brevity’s sake we will include only those details needed for us to follow the timeline.

[An. 4.] Now Herod’s ambassadors made haste to Rome…. But Herod now fell into a distemper; and made his will, and bequeathed his Kingdom to [Antipas] his youngest son: and this out of that hatred to Archelaus and Philip, which the calumnies of Antipater had raised against them…. And as he despaired of recovering…he resented a sedition which some of the lower sort of men excited against him: the occasion of which was as follows (brackets original).

The situation begins with Herod sending messengers to Rome to obtain Caesar Augustus’ permission to put to death his treacherous, parricidal son, Antipater. (For what it’s worth, Whiston places this event in “An. 4,” that is, 4 BC.) The circumstances leading up to this are discussed earlier in Antiquities 16.5, including Antipater’s ill report about his brothers Archelaus and Philip, leading to their being disinherited. The emissaries’ trip coincided with Josephus’ first mention of Herod’s “distemper,” an illness of such severity that it caused him to make out a will and would soon bring about his death. This passage tells us also that he dealt with a “sedition” against him around the same time.

The Implications of Winter

From this passage we may also draw a few inferences not plainly stated. One is that prior to this, Herod’s health was good enough that he came and went as he pleased. Another is that the sending of emissaries to Rome in haste implies that the winter was coming soon, when sea travel on the Mediterranean would shut down. The winter started in early November, when temperatures began dropping and the rainy season came on, and continued into the month of March. Oded Tammuz (“Mare Clausum? Sailing Seasons in the Mediterranean in Early Antiquity,” Mediterranean History Journal 20: 145–162, online at https://www.academia.edu/3843564/Mare_Clausum_Sailing_Seasons_in_the_Mediterranean_in_Early_Antiquity._Mediterranean_History _Journal_20_145-162) gives details about this, quoting the fourth century AD writer Vegetius:

The violence and roughness of the sea do not permit navigation all year round, but some months are very suitable, some are doubtful, and the rest are impossible for fleets by law of nature.… But from the month of November the winter setting of the Vergiliae (Pleiades) interrupts shipping with frequent storms. So from three days before the Ides of November (i.e. 11th November) until six days before the Ides of March (i.e. 10th March) the seas are closed (emphasis added).

Thus, the shipping season ran roughly from April through October, as the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia puts it (cf. https://www.bible-history.com/isbe/S/SHIPS+AND+BOATS/). Various websites dealing with climate provide details about temperature and rainfall typical of winter weather, such as http://www.levoyageur.net/weather-city-JERUSALEM.html and http://nabataea.net/birthdate.html; they show rainfall increasing and average temperatures dropping beginning in November, at which time Herod would likely move to winter quarters at Jericho. The resumption of sea travel in early March indicates that winter’s edge would also have begun tapering off in Jerusalem by this time, but there would have been no hurry to leave Jericho until the heat began to increase there to less comfortable levels.

The pertinence of this data to our study is that it provides background for evaluating certain details Josephus tells us, helping us fit them into a climate-sensitive timeline. For example, the mention that Herod’s ambassadors “made haste” to Rome hints at the imminent onset of winter and the closure of sea travel, so we may suppose their trip took place in late October, 5 BC. That a reply did not get back to Herod until early spring the following year also fits this timetable. Similarly, as discussed below, it helps us place the golden eagle affair in early March. We also note that because the Magi met with Herod at Jerusalem, when we account for travel time from their homeland (likely Persia, where Daniel's influence was strong), it indicates their visit probably took place in the spring of 6 or 5 BC. We don’t really know, and this is not the place to investigate that fascinating question, but it brings some ideas to mind…

The Golden Eagle Affair

We resume Josephus’ tale in Antiquities 17.6.2–4:

There was one Judas, the son of Saripheus; and Matthias, the son of Margalothus…when they found that the King’s distemper was incurable, excited the young men that they would pull down all those works which the King had erected…. For the King had erected over the great gate of the temple a large golden eagle, of great value.… So these wise men persuaded [their scholars] to pull down the golden eagle...”

And a report being come to them, that the King was dead…in the very middle of the day they got upon the place; they pulled down the eagle, and cut it into pieces with axes: while a great number of the people were in the temple. And now the King’s captain, upon hearing what the undertaking was…came up thither; having a great band of soldiers with him, such as was sufficient to put a stop to the multitude of those who pulled down what was dedicated to God. So he fell upon them unexpectedly...he caught no fewer than forty of the young men…together with the authors of this bold attempt, Judas and Matthias (ben Margalothus)…and led them to the King…. And when the King had ordered them to be bound, he sent them to Jericho, and called together the principal men among the Jews. And when they were come, he made them assemble in the theatre: and because he could not himself stand, he lay upon a couch...

Herod…deprived Matthias (ben Theophilus) of the High Priesthood, as in part an occasion (to blame) of this action (the destruction of the golden eagle); and made Joazar, who was Matthias’s wife’s brother, High Priest in his stead…and (on the same day) burnt the other Matthias (ben Margalothus), who had raised the sedition, with his companions (the young scholars), alive. And that very night (of the day the trials took place at Jericho) there was an eclipse of the moon (brackets original, parentheses added).

Those familiar with Antiquities will immediately notice we have left out a significant portion of 17.6.4 dealing with the high priest Matthias ben Theophilus. This is because that material functions as little more than an interesting aside from the main thrust of the passage, namely, the trial at Jericho concerning the golden eagle’s destruction. For some reason holding him partly to blame for the golden eagle affair, Herod removed the high priest Matthias from office and replaced him with Joazar (in 4 BC—note that year—according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10488-matthias-ben-theophilus). Josephus also throws in details about a one-day interruption of Matthias’ high-priestly service by a relative, Joseph ben Ellemus, mentioning that it took place on a fast day, which is understood by most scholars to have been a Day of Atonement due to its discussion in the Talmud in that context. However, the Ellemus episode has nothing to do with the golden eagle affair, so we should not get sidetracked by it. We need focus only on the golden eagle trial. It took place on a single day at Jericho, many people were burned alive for their involvement, and that night there was a lunar eclipse. Further, since Herod is described as clearly manifesting his last illness—he was too weak to stand upright, and there was even a spurious report that he had died (Ant. 17.16.3)—it is clear this trial took place not long before his death.

That the offenders were promptly taken to Herod and then “sent” to the winter quarters at Jericho indicates one of two things: either winter had not yet arrived and Herod planned to incarcerate them there for a while for a later trial in the winter, or it was already late winter (early March) and Herod was just temporarily in Jerusalem during an interval of decent weather, with plans to return to Jericho shortly. The latter seems to make the best sense, because Herod took the seditionists’ destruction of the eagle as a personal insult, and would not have delayed venting his wrath on them as a delayed trial would require.

From these details we can make the following reconstruction. The high priest Matthias’ missed day of Yom Kippur service was probably October 11, 5 BC. Though his act of appointing a relative to take his place that day was a violation of protocol (explaining why the episode was alluded to in the Talmud, in Tosefta Yoma i.4, Yoma 12b, and Yer. Yoma 38d), it was not the sort of personal affront that would have goaded Herod into quick action, so nothing probably came of it, at least immediately. At some point later, in early March of 4 BC, the golden eagle affair took place, with the accused sent to Jericho to stand trial and the high priest Matthias included in the adjudications.

We note in passing that Ernest L. Martin’s recounting of this affair has misrepresented an important detail (http://askelm.com/star/star011.htm):

The rabbis and the young men who assisted them were finally convicted of high criminal actions (sacrilege and sedition). While most of the young men were given milder sentences, the two rabbis were ordered to be burnt alive (emphasis added).

There is no indication in either Wars or Antiquities that Herod gave any of the rabbinical students who pulled down the golden eagle “milder sentences.” Martin implies that only the two rabbis who stirred up the students were burned alive. What Josephus’ record actually says is that Herod “ordered those that had let themselves down, together with their rabbins, to be burnt alive, but delivered the rest that were caught to the proper officers, to be put to death by them” (Wars 1.33.4). Thus, all who were caught in the act of destroying the golden eagle were put to death, though possibly death specifically by burning was restricted to the worst offenders, the two rabbis and the ringleaders who were lowered on ropes. In all events, Antiquities 17.6.4, the later account rightly regarded as the more accurate of the two, says that the ringleader Matthias ben Margalothus was burned alive “with his companions,” which implies that most of the 40-some bold young men who were caught in the act were slain by fire. So the meting out of capital punishments surely took several hours, what with setting up for the burning, likely burning just a few at a time, and continuing until all the condemned had been put to death. The mourning of the bereaved families of the youths would certainly have continued for hours afterward.

When Was the Lunar Eclipse?

So, when was the lunar eclipse Antiquities mentions took place the night of the trial? The only eclipses we need consider are those within 34 years of the death of Antigonus in the summer of 37 BC: “having reigned since he had procured Antigonus to be slain thirty four years” (Ant. 17.8.1). Since we showed in the past that Josephus repeatedly said in Antiquities (1.3.3, 3.10.5, 11.4.8) that Nisan was the first month of the year for him, the 34th year (inclusively reckoned) would have begun on Nisan 1, 4 BC—March 29th. Therefore, we are only interested in lunar eclipses which took place prior to March 29, 4 BC. We have one in the partial eclipse that took place shortly after midnight on March 13, 4 BC. Other eclipses in close proximity to that were total eclipses on March 23 and September 15 of 5 BC; the total eclipse on January 9, 1 BC that Filmer, Steinmann, Finegan and Martin promote fails to meet the time constraints.

Although its advocates are enthralled by the idea that the eclipse in question was the spectacular total lunar eclipse of 1 BC, their perspective is colored by their desire to have the Crucifixion take place in AD 33, plus their idea that a total eclipse would have been more memorable as a harbinger of doom for those who lost their lives to the flames that night. But viewing an eclipse this way reflects a pagan’s superstitious perspective, not that of believing Jews. The Jew was inculcated from youth with the understanding that the Moon was “for signs and for seasons and for days and years,” a time-keeper placed in the heavens by the Living God, not an object of superstitious awe. Therefore, since this is the only lunar eclipse mentioned in Josephus’ writings, it is a mistake to view it through pagan eyes as an omen, one of supposedly heightened import due to being total. Rather, as seen in Josephus’ penchant for double-dating things to securely anchor them on a timeline, the mention of a lunar eclipse should be viewed as having the same function—to objectively date an event.

That being the case, it does not matter whether the eclipse was partial or full, only that it happened at the right time. If we build on all the facts this study has covered so far, we must say that a 1 BC eclipse is three years too late to reconcile with the straightforward sense of Antiquities. By the same token, the two eclipses of 5 BC are too early to fit into the total picture Josephus paints. His mention of Matthias the high priest’s missed Day of Atonement service only makes sense in its context if it occurred during the last few months of Herod’s life, not a whole year earlier; hence, the eclipse in question must have taken place soon after the Day of Atonement on October 11, 5 BC. Thus, of the options we have discussed, the only eclipse that qualifies is that of March 13, 4 BC.

The objection raised by some against the March 13, 4 BC eclipse that it was “only” partial appears to be grounded in the perception that eclipses were viewed by the Jews as harbingers of doom. But if that were true, why is there no mention of other lunar eclipses in Josephus apart from Antiquities 17.6.4, such as both total eclipses of 5 BC? Surely if the Jews had the fundamentally superstitious view of eclipses that characterized the ancient pagans, there were many opportunities in the long history of Jewish misfortunes to have tied various woes to lunar portents. It appears far more likely that the Jewish mindset saw the Moon as Genesis 1:14 describes it, “for signs and for seasons and for days and years,” rather than as an omen imbued with occult significance. The ancient Jew was quite aware from their revered Scriptures that the source of the numerous misfortunes of their history was a result of departing from the ways of their God. We need not impose on the Jewish mind an essentially pagan perspective.

Yet another complaint against the 4 BC eclipse is that it did not take place until after midnight, when supposedly there would have been very few observers to note it. However, we must keep the full situation in view. Since the perpetrators of the golden eagle affair—the young scholars and their esteemed leaders, Judas and Matthias ben Margalothus—were burned alive that night, it is quite reasonable to assume it was a LONG night! We need not imagine that a single huge fire capable of quickly handling 40+ people at once was built, but multiple smaller ones, and not necessarily all at the same time. Given that it would take some time to set things up after the trial ended, it is no stretch of the imagination to suppose that on this particular night, the fact that the penumbral shadow did not begin shading the moon until just after midnight (see https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html), and the partial eclipse did not really get underway until around 1:30 am in the morning, should not be viewed as a conclusive strike against this date. Besides, there would have been many onlookers, including the leading men of the Jews that Herod had summoned to Jericho, the families of the young men condemned to death, and those with a deep respect for the two revered rabbis. The night would have been a very long, sleepless one for the bereaved families commiserating together for hours afterwards, probably none of whom would have attempted to return to Jerusalem that night, but would have waited until daylight to depart, perhaps camping out under the stars in the hippodrome. All of these considerations would tend to keep the crowd outdoors and wide awake into the wee hours of the morning, when the lunar eclipse was at its height. Thus, notwithstanding its late hour, the circumstances of this particular eclipse meant it did not lack for eyewitnesses.

A Proposed Timeline of Herod’s Final Days

Ernest L. Martin objects to a 4 BC date for Herod’s passing largely on the basis that there was not enough time for all the events between the eclipse and the Passover festival following Herod’s death (Ant. 17.9.3) to take place (http://askelm.com/star/star010.htm). However, his apparent bias in favor of a 1 BC death date leads him to greatly pad his proposed timeline. He makes some assumptions that have little basis in reality, particularly the claim that Herod’s funeral procession moved at a snail’s pace from Jericho to his burial place at Herodium, advancing just a Roman mile a day for 25 days. In his article “‘And They Went Eight Stades toward Herodeion’” (Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan, pp. 96–99), Douglas Johnson persuasively argues that Whiston’s suggestion developed by Martin, that the funeral procession of Herod only advanced eight stades (about one mile) per day, was quite flawed. As Johnson makes clear, only a little reflection on its logistical impossibilities indicates it must refer to an initial public funeral procession out of Jericho of eight stades, followed by the rest of the distance to Herodium covered at the speed of a military march. The entire journey could thus have been completed in a single day.

In short, the difficulty Martin sees is related to a false concept of how much time was required for Herod’s funeral. Ed Rickard discusses this issue in some depth at https://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/birth/lunar_eclipse.html, noting:

Douglas Johnson has demonstrated that Ernest L. Martin, for one, has greatly exaggerated the compression. Martin imagines that Herod’s funeral procession took 25 days to carry his body from Jericho to Herodeion, a distance of 23 miles. Yet, as Johnson shows, the body must have been transported to its burial place within a single day. Martin admits that apart from Herod’s funeral, the remaining events could have occurred within 33 days. If 33, why not 30? It is impossible from our perspective to set dogmatic lower limits. We conclude that Josephus’s account of these events does not forbid placement of Herod’s death after the lunar eclipse in 4 BC.

This is a good observation, but I would like to take it further, from generalities to specifics. If the eclipse of March 13, 4 BC is the correct one, we should be able to construct a reasonable timeline that allows for everything Josephus mentions between the eclipse and funeral to take place. Let us see if this is the case, beginning with Antiquities 17.6.5. We will use the calendar given at http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=-3, although, being a calculated calendar, it is possible the date proposed for the Passover is off a day or two (since it is the visible moon that actually determined the dates of the festivals in the biblical period). Since the Sabbath forbade work or significant travel (a “Sabbath day’s journey,” about 2/3 of a mile, Acts 1:12, was acceptable), any realistic timeline should also not require significant trips from Friday evening through Sunday morning, so we will work around Sabbath days in the following proposal.

But now Herod’s distemper greatly increased upon him, after a severe manner…when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing…also convulsions in all parts of his body.… Yet was he still in hopes of recovering…and went beyond the river Jordan, and bathed himself in the warm baths that were at Callirrhoe…. And when the physicians once thought fit to have him bathed in a vessel full of oil, it was supposed that he was just dying. But upon the lamentable cries of his domesticks, he revived: and having no longer the least hopes of recovering, he…came again to Jericho.

The corresponding passage in Wars 1.33.5 makes better sense:

After this, the distemper seized upon his whole body, and greatly disordered all its parts with various symptoms…Besides which he had a difficulty of breathing…and had a convulsion of all his members…. Yet…hoped for recovery…. Accordingly, he went over Jordan, and made use of those hot baths at Callirrhoe…. And here the physicians thought proper to bathe his whole body in warm oil, by letting it down into a large vessel full of oil; whereupon his eyes failed him, and he came and went as if he was dying; and as a tumult was then made by his servants, at their voice he revived again…. Yet did he after this despair of recovery…. He then returned back and came to Jericho…

The matter of the golden eagle affair having ended, let us suppose that the morning following the lunar eclipse, still Tuesday, March 13, without the trial to distract him from his health woes, Herod’s attention turned inward and focused fully on his pains. Meeting with his doctors that day and getting their treatment recommendation, we may suppose that he made his plans and the day after the lunar eclipse, Wednesday, March 14, he departed early for Callirrhoe. This was less than 20 miles from Jericho (and accessible by boat—see the harbor at https://www.bibleplaces.com/callirhoe/), so we may assume he arrived there by that evening.

Let us now suppose he spent the next three days, March 15–17 (including the Sabbath), trying the hot springs treatment, but with no apparent benefit. This led his doctors to try something different, resulting in the scary experience in the oil bath on the fourth day, Sunday, March 18. That experience convinced Herod that this course of action was not working (he had “no longer the least hopes of recovering”), so he cut short further treatments there and departed for Jericho, getting back no later than the evening of Monday, March 19. Continuing through to the end of Antiquities 17.8.1:

He commanded that all the principal men of the intire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him.… And when they were come, he ordered them to be all shut up in the hippodrome: and sent for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and spake thus to them: “I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains.... He desired therefore, that, as soon as they see he hath given up the ghost…they shall give orders to have those that are in custody shot with their darts....” So they promised him not to transgress his commands…

With his imminent death clear to him, the day after his return from Jericho, on Tuesday, March 20, Herod sent out a summons calling for all of the “principal men” of the Jews to come to him at Jericho. Most, if not all, of these distinguished men were probably Sanhedrin members living in the environs of Jerusalem, less than a day’s journey away, so they could have arrived and been shut into the hippodrome by Friday, March 23, just before the Sabbath began with its travel restrictions. Thereupon Herod instructed his sister Salome and her husband to ensure his death was accompanied by national mourning by making arrangements for the incarcerated to be killed, which of course they agreed to do. We continue the narrative, including Whiston's quaint archaic spellings:

As he was giving these commands to his relations, there came letters from his ambassadors, who had been sent to Rome, unto Cesar…”as to Antipater himself, Cesar left it to Herod…either to banish him, or to take away his life….” When Herod heard this, he was somewhat better…at the power that was given him over his son. But as his pains were become very great…he called for an apple, and a knife…and had a mind to stab himself with it…his first cousin Achiabus prevented him, and held his hand, and cried out loudly. Whereupon a woful lamentation echoed through the palace, and a great tumult was made, as if the King were dead. Upon which Antipater…discoursed with the jaylor about letting him go…. But the jaylor did not only refuse to do what Antipater would have him, but informed the King of his intentions…. Hereupon Herod…sent for some of his guards, and commanded them to kill Antipater without any farther delay...

Still on Friday, March 23, as Herod was making plans with Salome and Alexas, word arrived from Caesar allowing him to put his son Antipater to death. The travel involved would have been at the end of winter, probably using the first available ship south after sea travel resumed. He apparently got an adrenaline high from this news that helped him feel better, but it was very short-lived. The day after the Sabbath, on Sunday, March 25, after the euphoria had worn off and his pains were felt more sharply than ever, he was of a mind to end it all in suicide, but the effort was foiled by a quick-thinking cousin. But the ensuing household clamor over the attempt reached the ears of Antipater in his jail cell, was misinterpreted as death wails, and his lust for the kingship became Antipater’s final undoing. His attempt to manipulate the jailor into releasing him reached Herod’s ears immediately, and was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Antipater was summarily put to death that same day.

And now Herod altered his testament…he appointed Antipas, to whom he had before left the Kingdom, to be tetrarch of Galilee and Perea: and granted the Kingdom to Archelaus. He also gave Gaulonitis, and Trachonitis, and Paneas to Philip…. When he had done these things, he died, the fifth day after he had caused Antipater to be slain: having reigned since he had procured Antigonus to be slain thirty four years: but since he had been declared King by the Romans thirty seven.

Herod wasted no time changing his will once more, deciding to grant the kingdom to Archelaus rather than Antipas as the previous will had specified. Just a day or two at most was needed to write and ratify the changed will. His death being expected sooner rather than later, surely by this time his family would have already begun plans for his funeral, so that after he died all that remained was to implement them. And thus, five days after executing Antipater, Herod went to join his son in the early spring of 4 BC, 34 inclusively-counted years from the 37 BC start date for his reign that we previously built a case for.

By the timetable proposed, therefore, Herod would have died on Friday, March 30, 4 BC. This would correspond to Nisan 2 on the Jewish calendar. Recall our previous discussion about calendar matters and what the Mishnah said:

On the first of Nissan is the [cut off date for the] New Year regarding [the count of the reigns of the Jewish] kings [which was used to date legal documents. If a king began his reign in Adar even if was only for one day that is considered his first year, and from the first of Nissan is considered his second year…] (http://www.emishnah.com/moed2/Rosh_HaShanah/1.pdf; brackets with summarized Gemara commentary original, emphasis added).

Thus, having passed Nisan 1, we have entered the 34th year of Herod’s de facto reign on the inclusively-reckoned Jewish calendar Josephus clearly indicated he preferred. Though it is tight, it nevertheless fits. If instead we had followed Harold Hoehner’s thesis (“The Date of the Death of Herod the Great,” Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies Presented to Jack Finegan, pp. 103–105) that Herod (and Josephus) reckoned his regnal years using a Roman calendar with January 1 as the start of the year rather than Nisan 1, there would have been plenty of time to spare. Against this, however, is the fact that nowhere in Antiquities or Wars does Josephus use a Julian date. Though not fatal for Hoehner’s thesis (Josephus often dates things by consular years, which generally began on January 1) it is nevertheless somewhat problematic, and one of the reasons why being able to make the case with the much tighter Jewish calendar in view is more persuasive.

At this point, then, we have 13 days until the Passover festival begins on Nisan 15. Can the remaining events of the funeral and mourning period be fit in before the Passover arrives on April 12? We take up the story at Antiquities 17.8.2:

But then Salome and Alexas, before the King’s death was made known, dismissed those that were shut up in the hippodrome…. And now the King’s death was made publick: when Salome and Alexas gathered the soldiery together in the amphitheatre at Jericho. And the first thing they did was, they read Herod’s letter, written to the soldiery; thanking them for their fidelity and good will to him; and exhorting them to afford his son Archelaus, whom he had appointed for their King, like fidelity and good will. After which Ptolemy, who had the King’s seal intrusted to him, read the King’s testament: which was to be of force no otherwise than as it should stand when Cesar had inspected it…

Not sharing Herod’s mania, at his death Salome and Alexas did the compassionate thing and promptly released the distinguished prisoners in the hippodrome. The soldiers were doubtless informed later the same day, March 30, of Herod’s death, and his final will was immediately read, with its stipulation that Caesar had to give his final approval before it was official. Antiquities 17.8.3 then continues:

After this was over, they prepared for his funeral: it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulchre should be very sumptuous. Accordingly he brought out all his ornaments, to adorn the pomp of the funeral. The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones, of great variety.... About the bier were his sons, and his numerous relations. Next to these was the soldiery...every one in their habiliments of war. And behind these marched the whole army, in the same manner as they used to go out to war.... These were followed by five hundred of his domesticks, carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs [stades] to Herodium. For there, by his own command, he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life (brackets added).

The pomp and circumstance befitting the passing of a king was implemented for his father by Archelaus. As mentioned earlier, Ernest Martin, in trying to make a case to move the death of Herod to 1 BC, pads his timeline with many imagined causes for delay. Here is an example:

Josephus said the “whole army” was represented in the procession. For military commanders of the armed forces located throughout the realm to be summoned to Jericho and given time to arrive would have taken several days, at least a week and probably longer. There were few pre-arrangements for a massive funeral procession that Josephus said took place since Herod at first believed he could find a cure of his sickness while at his winter home in Jericho. But elite units of the army were not the only ones summoned to Jericho for the procession. It would also have taken some time for the relatives of Herod and other political and religious leaders of the realm (as well as representatives of neighboring nations) to arrive for the procession. These military commanders and other political luminaries gathering at Jericho would have taken a week or so (http://askelm.com/star/star010.htm).

These suggestions appear to be overkill. Since Herod’s death was expected soon after his return from Callirrhoe, immediately beginning to plan for it makes sense. Every needful thing not already in Jericho was just a day away in Jerusalem—the relatives, any servants who were not already in Jericho, the key military figures, the bulk of the troops, even what Martin calls the “crown jewels”—so everything could be set up fairly quickly. Doubtless the approach of the Passover and its impact on a large funeral figured into the plans as well, so they would want to get the burial concluded before that festival arrived. Furthermore, the province of Judea was not important enough in the grand scheme of things to warrant the presence of other heads of state at the funeral, so no significant delay to accommodate the arrival of foreign dignitaries was necessary. “The whole army” need not mean soldiers from throughout the realm, for surely defenders would have remained at their garrisons in important locations, even in Jerusalem where Herod had made many enemies and where rabble-rousers were a potential problem (as Archelaus’ experience following the funeral demonstrated). It makes good sense for “the whole army” to simply refer to all the soldiers who made it to Jericho by the time the other funeral preparations were complete. The bulk of the soldiers would doubtless have been posted nearby at Jericho and Jerusalem. Only three days might have been sufficient for all of the necessary arrangements to have been made.

Then the day of the funeral came, when “they went eight stades toward Herodeion,” a short but full funeral procession with many people involved. This would have taken up several hours on a single day, at which point the public funeral was over and the body conveyed at military march by the army to the Herodium for entombment—there is no reason to join Martin in his conjecture supposing a period of lying in state at Jerusalem. Thus, if Herod died on March 30, his funeral could have taken place on Monday, April 2. The timeline proposed is reasonably generous in the amount of time allocated to the visit to Callirrhoe; if the time spent there was shorter due to the oil immersion scare, his death could have been earlier.

Now Archelaus paid him so much respect, as to continue his mourning till the seventh day. For so many days are appointed for it by the law of our fathers. And when he had given a treat to the multitude, and left off his mourning, he went up into the temple.

Here we learn that Archelaus was able to fulfill the seven days of shivah, the mourning period, prior to the Passover. Shivah would have started the day of Herod’s burial. If burial took place on Tuesday, April 3, it would have extended through Monday, April 9, three days before the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread would begin.

He had also acclamations and praises given him which way soever he went: every one striving with the rest who should appear to use the loudest acclamations. So he ascended an high elevation made for him, and took his seat in a throne, made of gold: and spake kindly to the multitude…. Whereupon the multitude, as it is usual with them, supposed that the first days of those that enter upon such governments declare the intentions of those that accept them: and so by how much Archelaus spake the more gently and civilly to them, by so much did they more highly commend him, and made application to him for the grant of what they desired…. Hereupon he went and offered sacrifice to God: and then betook himself to feast with his friends.

It is here suggested that Archelaus entered the Temple early on the day after his shivah period ended, on Tuesday, April 10. At this time he offered public thanks to the people for their warm greeting, offered sacrifice to God, “and then betook himself to feast with his friends.” This feast marked the end of his mourning period and return to public life.

But there was to be no honeymoon period. As Antiquities 17.9.1–2 informs us:

At this time also it was, that some of the Jews…lamented Matthias, and those that were slain with him…for pulling down the golden eagle…. These people assembled together, and desired of Archelaus, that…he would deprive that High Priest whom Herod had made; and would choose one more agreeable to the law, and of greater purity, to officiate as High Priest. This was granted by Archelaus: although he was mightily offended at their importunity: because he proposed to himself to go to Rome immediately, to look after Cesar’s determination about him. However, he sent the General of his forces to use persuasions, and to tell them…that the time was not now proper for such petitions; but required their unanimity, until such time as he should be established in the government by the consent of Cesar; and should then be come back to them. For that he would then consult with them in common, concerning the purport of their petitions.... But they made a clamour, and would not give him leave to speak…. The sedition also was made by such as were in a great passion: and it was evident that they were proceeding farther in seditious practices, by the multitude’s running so fast upon them.

The above activities seem to have taken place later the same day Archelaus feasted with his friends: “at this time also…” Those who had lost relatives at the Jericho trial, just four weeks earlier, assembled and pressed Archelaus for immediate action to remove Joazar (Ant. 17.6.4), the successor to the deposed high priest Matthias. This being grudgingly granted, the day closes with Archelaus asking the people to have patience for Caesar to approve Herod’s will and properly install him in the kingship, and then their demands for a full hearing about their complaints would be granted.

Now we come to the conclusion of this passage we’ve been examining in detail, with the goal of seeing if all the events Josephus covers could fit into the available time between the eclipse and the Passover, Antiquities 17.9.3:

Now upon the approach of that feast of unleavened bread…called the Passover…the seditious lamented Judas and Matthias, those teachers of the laws; and kept together in the temple…. And as Archelaus was afraid lest some terrible thing should spring up by means of these mens madness, he sent a regiment of armed men, and with them a captain of a thousand, to suppress the violent efforts of the seditious; before the whole multitude should be infected with the like madness…. But those that were seditious on account of those teachers of the law, irritated the people by the noise and clamour they used to encourage the people in their designs. So they made an assault upon the soldiers…. So he [Archelaus] sent out the whole army upon them…. Then did Archelaus order proclamation to be made to them all; that they should retire to their own homes. So they went away, and left the festival; out of fear of somewhat worse which would follow…. So Archelaus went down to the sea…and left Philip his brother as governor of all things...(brackets original).

The introduction of this passage with “now” implies that, though tensions were running high the previous day, things did not get completely out of hand, and it closed with the general futilely attempting to explain to the people why their aggressive approach in pushing their concerns was self-defeating. The presence of the army seems to have been enough to prevent a riot. But things festered overnight and came to a head the next day, Wednesday, April 11. The words “the approach of that feast of unleavened bread” appear to refer to the day before the start of the seven-day Feast (“the Passover,” taken as a whole), which began on Nisan 15. (The difference between the Feast period and the Passover seder meal date is discussed at How the Passover Illuminates the Date of the Crucifixion.) Thus understood, the “approach” date would have been Nisan 14 (April 11), with the Passover festival officially starting at sunset that day. At length a riot broke out, when the agitators pushing for justice over the golden eagle affair attacked the soldiers, prompting a forceful, doubtless bloody army response and the cancellation of the Passover festival. Having at length dismissed the people and closed down the Passover celebration, Archelaus put his brother Philip in charge of things and left at his earliest opportunity for Rome to seek Caesar’s official blessing on his kingship.

Altogether, then, we can put together the following chart. It shows at a glance that everything Josephus lays out between the eclipse and the following Passover can be fit into the available time in 4 BC, and without violating any Sabbath travel restrictions. That is not to say that the above timeline is correct in every detail—we acknowledge that placement of the various events in the timeline involves some speculation—but it does demonstrate that claims which dogmatically assert the fit is impossible are untrue. Our contention is that this reconstruction is far less speculative than trying to defend a 1 BC date for Herod's death by proposing protracted funeral delays. By that token, 4 BC passes not only all the other more objective criteria for the year of Herod’s death already covered in previous articles in this series, but the criterion of available time for all events to take place at the close of Herod’s life as well.

DANIEL9 HerodDeathCalendar 181009

In passing we mention that, although Ernest Martin is no fan of the March 13, 4 BC eclipse, he gives us a good reason to prefer it over that of September 15, 5 BC. It has to do with Herod’s health and the venue of the trial. Martin points out that Jericho would have been extremely hot in September (http://askelm.com/star/star011.htm):

Herod was in Jericho when the eclipse near his death occurred. The city is a furnace in late summer. It is situated just over 800 feet (c. 240 meters) below sea level and its mid-September temperatures are very high. Why would Herod, who was uncomfortably ill at the time, subject himself to such oppressive conditions in the Jordan Valley when the pleasant environment of Jerusalem was, so near? It might be added, however, that if the eclipse were in the depth of winter, one could easily understand Herod’s wish to be in Jericho. This point alone renders the September 15th eclipse as improbable for consideration.

Information about temperatures at Jericho is readily available on the Internet. At http://www.levoyageur.net/weather-city-JERICHO.html it tells us that in September, Jericho has an average temperature of 29.6°C (85.3°F) and a high of 35.8°C (96.4°F), with scant rainfall. This data supports Martin’s point. So even though his overall thesis must be rejected for its many problems, we should not neglect crediting him for this insight that favors the 4 BC date.

Summary

There remain some loose ends still to cover in considering when Herod the Great died. In particular, there were some points raised by Ernest Martin regarding the sheloshim mourning period observed by Archelaus in the aftermath of Herod’s death; perceived problems in accounting for the observation of Purim right after the trial at Jericho; and how the reigns of the sons of Herod impact how we view the date of Herod’s death. We will discuss these issues soon in Part 2 of this article.

DANIEL9 DanielBanner

A Quick Review

We will begin this article with a brief review of the major points laid out in the previous one, John 2:12–21 and Herodian Chronology, and then go into a detailed analysis of some arguments offered against its conclusion that the beginning of the reign of Herod the Great should be dated to 37 BC, per the reasons laid out by Emil Schürer in A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.

Josephus Started the Year from Nisan

In the linked article we saw how Josephus’ own words demonstrated that he regarded the month of Nisan as the first month of the Jewish year, hence in Antiquities he followed the ecclesiastical calendar rather than the civil calendar starting in Tishri (emphasis and bracketed comments added; except where noted, the Whiston translation of Antiquities is used throughout this article):

Antiquities 1.3.3 – “But Moses appointed that Nisan…should be the first month…although he preserved the original order of the months [where Nisan, as counted from Rosh Hashanah in Tishri, was taken as the seventh month] as to selling and buying, and other ordinary affairs.”

Antiquities 3.10.5 – “Nisan…is the beginning of our year.”

Antiquities 11.4.8 – “the first month; which according to the Macedonians is called Xanthicus; but according to us, Nisan.”

It could perhaps be argued that calling Nisan "the first month" is purely a label, and does not entail actually counting years from it. But the fact remains that during the Second Temple period after the Babylonian exile, the Jews themselves, as reflected in both Antiquities 3.10.5 and the Mishnah, regarded Nisan rather than Tishri as "the beginning of our year," and counted their rulers' reigns from it. For our purposes, with a focus on the reign of Herod as a Jewish ruler, that is what matters.

Josephus Used Inclusive Reckoning

In addition it was established, from several examples, that the uncomplicated, plain sense of Antiquities indicates Josephus mainly followed inclusive reckoning. We know that inclusive reckoning was a normal convention in the Bible and in the Roman and Jewish worlds generally; this is not in dispute. The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 was given as a biblical example, while we observed that a straightforward reading of Josephus indicates he followed this convention in the way he handled the time spanned by several pairs of independent, unrelated events: the 27 years from Pompey’s taking of Jerusalem in 63 BC to the start of Herod’s de facto (“in fact”) reign in 37 BC following the siege of Jerusalem, the 107 years from the start of Herod’s reign in 37 BC until the Temple fell to Titus in AD 70, and the seventh year of Herod’s reign matching up with the year of the Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 BC, thus requiring his first year to have been in 37 BC. Since these three examples are obviously discussed in Antiquities —in 14.16.4, 20.10.1, and 15.5.2 respectively, with the last one also addressed in Wars 1.19.3—what Andrew E. Steinmann (“When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum 51 [2009]: 1–29) states in his note 8 (p. 2) is not borne out by the evidence:

Schürer claimed that Josephus used inclusive reckoning (1896 edition 1.200–201, Vermes and Millar edition, Schürer, History 326–327). If Josephus used inclusive reckoning to arrive at thirty-seven and thirty-four years [the first giving the time from Herod’s Roman appointment to his death, the second from the taking of Jerusalem to his death, Ant. 17.8.1] (i.e., the years 40–4 BCE inclusive totals thirty-seven), such inclusive reckoning is not indicated elsewhere in Josephus (emphasis and bracketed comment added).

The cited instances do indicate Josephus used inclusive reckoning elsewhere. They should predispose us to view the 37 and 34-year time spans the same way. The 34-year figure, commonly dated from the end of the siege, requires one small, but as we shall see, significant clarification: Josephus does not refer simply to the fall of Jerusalem to Herod and Sosius in Antiquities 17.8.1, but to the death of Antigonus: "When he had done these things, he died...having reigned since he had procured Antigonus to be slain thirty four years." It is an important difference.

Josephus Sometimes Gave Time Durations

The few exceptions to inclusive reckoning in Josephus’ writings were seen to reflect elapsed time, or rather, time durations of single events that covered a period of time from start to completion. Such was the case where Herod's 18th year was said to mark the start of the 46 years the Temple was “a-building,” and with the 126 years that had elapsed since the Hasmonean dynasty was first set up until its last king died. Whereas time spans between two different events were reckoned inclusively as expected, the duration of what were essentially single events having a defined start and end point were dealt with differently. They were treated like birthdays; the first example looked at when the Temple became 46 years old, the second at when the Hasmonean dynasty became 126 years old. Since it is self-evident that one would never say a month-old infant was reckoned as being one year of age, exceptions like these to the normal inclusive reckoning approach are to be expected. But in saying this, we must insist that such exceptions to accommodate the duration of an event do not set aside the general principle of inclusive reckoning, nor reckoning specifically from Nisan in the case of the post-exilic (Second Temple) Judean kings.

I initially thought it would be sufficient to press these three simple, positive evidences upon the reader, deeming them adequate in themselves to powerfully call into question the validity of any chronological approaches that began the de facto reign of Herod in 36 rather than 37 BC. But the more I reflected on the matter, the more I realized that it was the very complexity of the arguments put forth by W.E. Filmer (“The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” Journal of Theological Studies 17.2 [1966], pp. 283–298) and Steinmann that might cause some readers to be swayed by them. Some people are impressed by cleverness, while for others it is far easier to simply accept these scholars’ judgments on authority than to analyze their arguments. Still others may feel a certain loyalty to particular scholars for other reasons, such as Steinmann’s reputation as a conservative scholar with a significant book on biblical chronology to his credit.

But in the end, none of those factors should influence our evaluation of their arguments, only the strength of the logic and data they present to make their cases. Therefore, before turning to consider the death date of Herod, it is necessary to offer some specific rebuttals to the Filmer/Steinmann contention that Herod’s reign must be dated from his appointment by the Romans, supposedly in 39 BC.

The Attacks on the “Schürer Consensus”

The approaches of Filmer and Steinmann involve attacking what Steinmann dubs the “Schürer consensus.” Their arguments primarily involve seeking ways to get around the manifest appearance of non-accession (inclusive) dating of reigns from Nisan seen in Josephus. But when we closely examine the evidence, we see this effort is built on a framework of assumptions, questionable interpretations, and outright accusations of error leveled against Josephus. In what follows we will attempt to demonstrate the existence of this shaky framework, and call for a return to a solid structure based on accepting the fundamental reliability of Josephus as an historian, with his work interpreted in a straightforward manner.

An Insistence on Non-Inclusive Dating

The fundamental way the Filmerians reinterpret Josephus is by insisting that he consistently used non-inclusive dating in Antiquities, with the month of Tishri (September/October) viewed as the first month of the year. In this approach, the year an event occurred in is not included in the counting. This means that in the case of reign lengths of rulers, where this approach is known as accession-year reckoning, counting began with the first of Tishri after the start of a king’s reign, while with other matters actual reckoning (as we count things today) was used, with the first year counted on the first anniversary after the event.

The problem is, the records of the Jews themselves indicate non-inclusive, accession-year, Tishri-based dating was not followed after the return from the Babylonian exile. The Mishnah, the third century AD rabbinic compilation of Jewish oral tradition, clearly supports inclusive, non-accession reckoning from Nisan during the Second Temple era that included Herod’s reign:

On the first of Nissan is the [cut off date for the] New Year regarding [the count of the reigns of the Jewish] kings [which was used to date legal documents. If a king began his reign in Adar even if was only for one day that is considered his first year, and from the first of Nissan is considered his second year…] On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for [the counting of] years [of non-Jewish kings], for the Shemittah and the Yoveil count...” (http://www.emishnah.com/moed2/Rosh_HaShanah/1.pdf; brackets with summarized Gemara commentary original, emphasis added).

This tells us there were two main calendars (there were minor ones as well, but they can be ignored for our purposes). One began in Tishri and applied to counting years dealing with civil affairs, specifically in regard to kings of foreign nations, sabbatical (shemittah) years, and jubilee (yoveil) counts; the other began in Nisan and applied to Jewish kings and religious festivals. In emphasizing the primacy of Nisan dating for Josephus and for Herodian chronology in particular, we do not deny that Tishri-based accession-year dating applied to kings’ reigns during the First Temple period, as well as to the reigns of the Babylonian and Persian rulers over the Jews during the Babylonian captivity. But we must insist, on the basis of the Mishnah and the testimony of Josephus, that such reckoning did not apply to Second Temple, post-exilic kings of the Jews like Herod. The evidence clearly indicates that the Jews reckoned Nisan as the first month of their year as far back as the Babylonian exile. We see this unambiguously stated in Esther 3:7 (NASB):

In the first month, which is the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, Pur, that is the lot, was cast before Haman from day to day and from month to month, until the twelfth month, that is the month Adar.

If the first month was Nisan and the twelfth was Adar for Queen Esther, a loyal Jew, the ecclesiastical calendar’s ordering of the months was obviously normative in Jewish minds by that time. There is no clear biblical evidence that the Jews thereafter ever viewed Tishri as the first month of the year for reckoning the reigns of their own rulers.

Preoccupation with Herod’s Roman Appointment

This brings up an important point about Steinmann’s approach to Herod’s reign. He consistently refuses to treat it as beginning with the deposing of Antigonus (Ant. 17.8.1) following the siege of Jerusalem, but insists it began with the Roman appointment. But why must we suppose that, just because the Romans had something to do with his getting the position, their involvement somehow made Herod a non-Jewish, foreign king to whom Tishri dating applied? Antigonus was likewise made king of Judea by the intervention of a foreign power, in his case the Parthians, yet no one tries to represent him as a foreign king. What makes one a foreign king with his reign reckoned from Tishri is ruling over a country other than Judea. This was not the case with Herod. It has to do with a uniform approach to record keeping in affairs of state.

Moreover, Steinmann’s proposal that Herod dated his reign from when the Romans granted him the throne of Judea is beside the point. For our purposes it ultimately does not matter how Herod may have viewed the start of his reign, but how Josephus did and recorded it in his histories. For argument’s sake, the strongest indicator that Herod may have personally placed priority on his Roman appointment could be seen in his coins. Steinmann cites numismatic evidence in support of Herod using Rome-based dating of his reign on page 27:

Herod’s first coins, issued to replace Hasmonean currency, are also the first dated Jewish coins. They are dated to “year three.”

Pictures of these coins, derived from David Hendin’s authoritative Guide to Biblical Coins, can be found at http://www.coinsoftime.com/Articles/The_Coins_of_Herod_the_Great.html. Then he continues:

Clearly, Herod counted the year he first reigned in Jerusalem as the third year of his reign. This means that he counted his first regnal year as beginning no later than Tishri 38 BCE and issued his first coinage shortly after conquering Jerusalem in 36 BCE (emphasis added).

We may regard the supposition that “Herod counted the year he first reigned in Jerusalem as the third year of his reign” as likely, since there are no known Herodian coins bearing year one or two (or any) dates. But the emphasized statement following it depends on first assuming the Filmerian view that Herod was named king by the Romans in 39 BC with non-inclusive accession-year dating applied (39 BC up to the end of Elul being his accession year), followed by the taking of Jerusalem in the fall of 36 BC. The coinsoftime.com website disagrees, saying the coin’s date refers to Herod’s capture of Judea in 37 BC. Steinmann has obviously allowed his assumptions to lead his arguments here.

It should also be observed that Steinmann deals with coin matters very carefully, pointing to the “year three” notation as evidence Herod dated his reign from his Roman appointment, yet in the case of Herod’s son Antipas going to great pains to argue against the numismatic evidence:

Antipas lost the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea in the second year of Gaius (38/39 CE) and the latest coins minted under his authority are dated to his forty-third year. This means that he claimed to have begun his reign in 5/4 BCE. Why would Archelaus and Antipas claim to have reigned from 4 BCE if Herod did not die in that year? Is this not proof that Herod must have died in 4 BCE and not 1 BCE? (p. 20).

It would seem so on the surface, but Steinmann then goes on to argue at length (devoting five pages to this), on a conjectural basis with considerable reading between the lines, that Herod actually did not die in 4 BC, and the evidence of the coins is misleading in this case. This is a discussion that must be tabled for now. My only point in bringing it up is to show that Steinmann is willing to reinterpret the apparent sense of the evidence when doing so will further his argument.

Let us return to our main point, that Herod’s possible view of the start of his reign is less important than how Josephus viewed it. As we saw earlier when discussing the evidence for inclusive reckoning in Josephus, the examples of Pompey’s 27 years, the Temple’s fall after 107 years, and the Battle of Actium assigned to Herod’s seventh year, all rely on dating from 37 BC. So, too, does the rebuilding of the Temple in Herod’s eighteenth year. None of these figures work with Josephus’ own time spans if they are counted from the Roman appointment three years previously. In presenting the synchronisms as he did, it is clear that, so far as Josephus was concerned, the taking of the city and deposing of Antigonus took priority over the Roman appointment for dating purposes. So, if our goal is to understand Josephus rather than read our own preferences onto his records, that is the basis we likewise should prefer for dating.

At this juncture I wish to mention an insight Ed Rickard shared on his The Moorings website, https://www.themoorings.org/Jesus/birth/Herodian_chronology.html. He proposes that the more detailed information in Antiquities was due to Josephus uncovering additional sources of authoritative, reliable information for dating the reign of Herod after Wars was written. Filmer had pointed out (pp. 286–287) that Josephus included nothing in Wars about the consular year and Olympiad synchronizations Antiquities gives for the 40 and 37 BC regnal start dates. Filmer, filtering this observation through his presuppositions, concludes that Josephus devised his own date synchronizations and introduced dating errors into Antiquities in the process.

There is another way of looking at it, however, that does not require demeaning Josephus: to posit that the additional information sources were official Roman records not known to him until after Wars was written, plus what might be called, as Ralph Marcus and Allen Wikgren translate it in the Loeb version of Antiquities 15.6.3, “Herod’s Memoirs.” This idea is attractive. It is highly probable that official records from Herod's time would have reflected consular dating with January as the first month, while information written by Herod himself would also likely have been from a Roman perspective, given how much he owed them for his exalted position. But even if it was, the question still remains: did Josephus himself embrace that perspective in the way he wrote Antiquities? For most Herodian events it makes no substantive difference whether Josephus’ records reflect a January or Nisan first month, but it does matter when we consider exactly when Herod died. That is a matter for future consideration.

It is also worth noting that, notwithstanding the evidence of the coins which, as legal tender of the realm, would naturally have reflected Roman preferences, Herod expended great effort to have the Jews regard him as one of their own rather than a Roman pawn. This is particularly clearly illustrated in the remarks he made in Antiquities 15.11.1 before undertaking the building of the Temple:

I think I need not speak to you, my countreymenOur Fathers indeed, when they were returned from Babylon, built this temple to God Almighty… And it hath been by reason of the subjection of those fathers of ours… I will do my endeavour to correct that imperfection, which hath arisen from the necessity of our affairs, and the slavery we have been under formerly…(emphasis added).

Such self-evident intent to foster an identification of himself with the Jews and gain their loyalty is inconsistent with Steinmann’s insistence that only Roman views mattered to Herod:

Since Herod was appointed by a Gentile power, he probably [assuming a 39 BC appointment as king] began to count his official regnal years as beginning on the following Tishri (September/October) of 38 BCE (since the Jewish civil year began on Tishri). He may have counted his years as beginning in Nisan (March/April) of 38, but this is less likely, since this was the beginning of the religious year, and it would have been unwise to count a Gentile appointment from a sacred Jewish date….This also implies, however, that in Antiquities Josephus numbered Herod’s regnal years from his appointment by the Romans (p. 27, emphasis and bracketed comments added).

All of that is pure conjecture; notice the words “probably,” and “may have.” Consider as well, that apart from being the start of a month—sharing certain prescribed rites with other first days of months (Num. 10:10, 28:11–15), including the first of Tishri—there was nothing especially “sacred” about the first day of Nisan. It was primarily a starting reference point, the first month of the year, from which the Jewish feasts and fasts mandated by the Torah were ordered. It carried with it none of the special “sacredness” that characterized those dates and the weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23).

To wrap up this phase of the discussion, the Mishnah’s stipulations regarding the Tishri dating of kings were for record-keeping purposes relative to other countries, not how kings reigning over the Jews from Jerusalem started their rule. Tishri dating therefore does not apply to Herod as a king of Judea. Yet, despite the united testimony of Scripture, Josephus and the Mishnah in favor of inclusive reckoning from Nisan from the time of Esther onwards for Judean kings, Filmer and Steinmann argue against that evidence, asserting that Josephus used accession-year, non-inclusive reckoning from Tishri. They then use this conjecture as the basis for a frontal attack on the plain sense of Josephus’ records. Filmer was the first modern scholar to take this tack, citing Edwin Thiele to claim that the reigns from Solomon to Zedekiah (pre-exilic rulers of the united monarchy, it should be noted) were reckoned from Tishri (p. 294), and then extrapolating from that to Herod. But surely the knowledgeable rabbis who put the Mishnah together had their own post-exilic history and the dating norms that arose from it down pat, which Josephus’ focus on Nisan dating indicates he likewise followed. Arguing against it appears to be flouting the evidence.

An Insistence on Factual Reckoning: The Actium Issue

Nevertheless, Steinmann chose to align himself closely with Filmer on this and many other matters. One is the Actium issue. He deals with it briefly on pages 5–6 in the context of critiquing the work of P.M. Bernegger, “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 BCE,” Journal of Theological Studies 34 (1983), 526–531. What his objections boil down to is an insistence on looking at Josephus’ data through the lens of factual (date-specific), non-inclusive reckoning from September 2, 31 BC. For example, Bernegger (p. 529) cites Josephus’ discussion about the Roman tax registration in Syria during AD 6:

Josephus stated that the registration was completed in the thirty-seventh year after Actium. The battle of Actium took place in 31 B.C., thirty-six factual years before the completion of the Syrian registration. In this instance, Josephus counted inclusively, and without any ambiguity.

Steinmann protests, “However, Bernegger’s reasoning only works if one forgets about the date of the Battle of Actium, September 2, 31 BCE.” This reveals his Filmerian assumptions. Shelve the idea that factual, to-the-day dating matters, together with the presumption of non-inclusive year counts, and the problem vanishes. Steinmann also projects his own bias onto Bernegger when he writes, “Years after Actium commenced on September 3, not on the following January 1, as Bernegger’s calculations assume.” But as a follower of Schürer’s approach that adhered to Jewish and Roman inclusive dating conventions, Bernegger’s year count would have been inclusive, making the first year “after Actium” begin in 31 BC, not the following January. This makes 30 BC the second year after Actium, and so on until the 37th year in AD 6. Whether Bernegger used a January-to-December Julian calendar or Nisan to Adar, the inclusive approach still makes September 2 part of 31 BC rather than 30 BC. Thus, we see that Steinmann has here criticized a misrepresentation of Bernegger’s position. His so-called “Schürer consensus” increasingly resembles a convenient straw man for him to attack. It bears only passing resemblance to the actual positions of Emil Schürer and those who followed him.

The problems posed by the Battle of Actium against Filmer and Steinmann’s interpretation get worse. For example, Steinmann claimed in note 83 of his article:

The Battle of Actium [September 2, 31 BC] would have taken place at the very end of Herod’s seventh year, since Tishri can begin no earlier than September 20 and no later than October 19. In 31 BCE the Babylonians counted September 21 as the first day of Tishri (Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BCE–AD 75 [Brown University Studies 19, Providence: Brown University, 1956] 43). This confirms that Herod started his regnal years in Tishri, not Nisan (emphasis and bracketed comment added).

But this is circular reasoning. All this statement proves is that the Battle of Actium took place in the sixth month, Elul, just before Tishri started. It does not indicate that Actium was at the very end of Herod’s seventh year, or of any year. To claim that means first assuming a Tishri-based year—the very thing Filmer and Steinmann must prove—as well as factual dating. If Nisan-based inclusive dating was used instead, Actium would still have occurred just before Tishri, but would have fallen in the middle of Herod’s seventh year. Not only does this logic fail, the claim again flies in the face of Josephus’ testimony in Antiquities that his historical records for the Jews revolved around the Nisan-based ecclesiastical calendar, not the civil calendar using a Tishri New Year. We should place priority on the source material’s own interpretation of itself, not on a modern scholar’s reinterpretation of it. If it makes good sense as written, there is no real reason to reject it.

Further to this, at http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC04.html, Kenneth Frank Doig observed:

Andrew E. Steinmann...claims that the Battle of Actium in Herod’s 7th year on September 2, 31 BCE establishes Josephus “confirms that Herod started his regnal years in Tishri, not Nisan.” However, the dating is such that it was Herod’s 7th year reckoned from either Nisan or Tishri. Because of using dating from Tishri Steinmann elsewhere says Josephus “contradicts” himself.

My own independent analysis, put into a spreadsheet long before I read Steinmann’s article, agrees with Doig’s conclusions. Whether Nisan (March/April) or Tishri (September/October) reckoning is used for the start of the year, both of these possible New Year’s dates fall squarely into the January-to-December year of 31 BC.

In the end, what Alexander Frazier wrote (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/herods-death-jesus-birth-and-a-lunar-eclipse/), quoted in my last article, still applies:

Despite any counting methods that may be employed by various authors, whether Nisan to Nisan, Tishri to Tishri, or even January to January, it holds true nonetheless that if the spring of 31 BCE is his seventh year, then the spring of 32 BCE is his sixth year, the spring of 33 BCE is his fifth year, and so on, making the spring of 37 BCE his first year (emphasis added; the argument would remain true if all instances of “spring” read “fall” instead).

The Filmerian Reinterpretation of Josephus

We will now undertake a point-by-point analysis of Steinmann’s case against the “Schürer consensus.” As observed above, he repeatedly emphasizes the significance of the de jure (in law) date of Herod’s Roman appointment over the de facto (in fact) date of taking Jerusalem. This is intimated as early as page 2, right after summarizing the main points favoring the 37 BC consensus for the start of Herod’s reign:

Despite this widely held opinion that Herod reigned from 40 (37) to 4 BCE, this was neither the consensus before Schürer nor has it gone unchallenged in the last half century. Most disturbingly, the Schürer consensus assigns only thirty-six years to Herod’s reign, thirty-three of them in Jerusalem, whereas Josephus reports the figures as thirty-seven and thirty-four respectively. All early Christian sources place the birth of Jesus after Passover in 4 BCE, with most of them placing it in sometime in late 3 or early 2 BCE (emphasis added).

Concerning these comments, three observations can be made:

First, we need to be clear: Herod did not in fact reign over the Jews from 40 BC on (or 39 BC, if one follows the Filmerian reinterpretation of Josephus), but from 37 BC (36 BC per Filmer and Steinmann). The “widely held opinion”—the “Schürer consensus”—views him in 40 BC merely as king-designate, and in Roman eyes only, until the city was actually taken and placed under his control. Antigonus, as we shall see, was the king of the Jews in every measure of the word—title (including on his coins, which bore the inscription BACIΛEΩC ANTIΓONOY (of King Antigonus), see http://www.forumancientcoins.com/catalog/roman-and-greek-coins.asp?vpar=1063, government control, residence in Jerusalem, and acceptance as king by those he ruled—from 40 BC until Herod’s siege removed him and led to his death in 37 BC. This is surely a common sense observation, but it must unfortunately be specifically pointed out, lest the complex arguments put forth by Filmer and Steinmann obscure it.

Second, Steinmann asserts that the “disturbing” Schürer consensus contradicts the figures given by Josephus for the 37 and 34 years of his reign as measured from the Roman appointment and the taking of the city respectively. Actually, what is disturbing is this misrepresentation, for no conflict with Josephus can be found. Schürer himself wrote, in his note 165:

Herod died shortly before a Passover (Antiq. xvii.9.3; Wars of the Jews, ii.1.3), therefore in March or April. Since Josephus says that he reigned thirty-seven years from the date of his appointment, thirty-four years from his conquest of Jerusalem (Antiq. xvii.8.1; Wars of the Jews, i.33.8), it would seem as if, counting thirty-seven years from the year B.C. 40, he must have died in B.C. 3. But we know that Josephus elsewhere counts a year too much, according to our reckoning…The reason of this is that he counts portions of a year as a year [i.e., he counts inclusively]; and, indeed, he probably, according to the example of the Mishna, reckons the years of the king’s reign from Nisan to Nisan. If this be so, the thirty-fourth year of Herod would begin on the 1st Nisan of the year B.C. 4, and Herod must in that case have died between 1st and 14th Nisan, since his death occurred before the Passover. That this is indeed the correct reckoning is confirmed by astronomical date, and by the chronology of the successors of Herod (bracketed comment added).

Since at this time we will not discuss the death of Herod, we will skip over the last two lines (although we agree with them), and just note that there is nothing in what Schürer wrote to conclude that he disagreed with Josephus’ 37 and 34-year figures. His reasoning is actually predicated around accepting them as written. Neither did he accuse Josephus of error, as Steinmann does (“Thus, Josephus is in error,” p. 7) in reference to his matchup of consular and Olympiad dates. (See also page 28, “Josephus made mistakes in Antiquities 14.389, 487 when reporting the consular and Olympian dating of the beginning of Herod’s reign.” The supposition that there was a direct conflict between Josephus’ equating the consular year of Calvinus and Pollio with the 184th Olympiad is addressed under “A Closer Look at the Consular Years,” below.) On the contrary, Schürer fully accepted those numbers and sought to understand them as Josephus and the Jews did, rather than imposing modern non-inclusive dating conventions upon them. The only contradiction is not with Josephus, but with the ultimately unsupported insistence of Filmer and Steinmann on using non-inclusive rather than inclusive reckoning, and that from Tishri rather than Nisan.

Third, he states that early Christian sources place the birth of Christ after 4 BC, generally in late 3 or early 2 BC. It should be pointed out, however, that those sources are not unanimous about a specific year, which indicates they reflect not accurate records but tradition (i.e., early Church hearsay). Jack Finegan’s Handbook of Biblical Chronology (p. 291) gives several dates suggested by early sources. Although it is true that a majority are listed as 3/2 BC, it should not escape our notice that these give a date range, and there are a number of outliers. To take these reports as authoritative is to depend on unproven tradition rather than a single well-attested year. If Luke, arguably the most historically picky of the New Testament writers, did not pinpoint the year for us, nor did any of the other inspired apostles who knew Him (and His mother Mary) best, we have no objective criterion for dating Christ’s birth, only old theologians’ tales. We must conclude, therefore, that early Church tradition gives us no clear year for the Savior’s birth, and therefore no conclusive help in pinpointing the year of Herod’s death.

Reinterpreting Three Incontestable Points

Beginning on page 8 of his article, Steinmann raises several critiques against 37 BC as the start of Herod’s de facto reign. He begins by presenting three incontestable points from Antiquities 14:

- Herod’s siege of Jerusalem ended during the consular year of Agrippa and Gallus, which coincided with the 185th Olympiad, “on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast”

- The city fell 27 years after it had under Pompey, on the same day

- The last Hasmonean, Antigonus, was put to death by Antony 126 years after the Hasmonean dynasty was first set up

Steinmann first admits (p. 9) that “the consular year and Olympiad given by Josephus indicates that Herod took Jerusalem in 37 BCE.” This is objective fact. But then he immediately makes two assertions with no such firm basis: “It was the Day of Atonement (“the fast”) on 10 Tishri in the Jewish calendar, but the third month (September) in the Greek calendar” (parentheses original, emphasis added). In what Josephus wrote there is no discernible indication that Greek months entered into the picture at all, nor reason to pivot from Greek months to Jewish days: “This destruction befel the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls of Rome; on the hundred eighty and fifth olympiad; on the third month; on the solemnity of the fast” (Ant. 14.16.4). In the post-exilic era several Jewish months, including the third, were routinely designated by their order in the calendar rather than their Jewish names. Scripture itself demonstrates this in Esther 8:9, “in the third month (that is, the month Sivan),” where the parenthetical clarification is part of the verse, and in Ezekiel 31:1, “in the third month.” We can confidently expect Josephus followed that post-exilic convention. The parenthetical explanation in Esther 8:9 also demonstrates the standardized inclusive counting the Filmer camp denies, for Tammuz, not Sivan, would have been specified as the third month if the Jews had used actual, non-inclusive reckoning.

Steinmann’s assertions about the day and month of Jerusalem’s fall appear to arise not from what Josephus wrote, but from the Filmerian preoccupation with Tishri dating. There is no reason to suppose that Josephus, a Romanized Jew whom we already know—from his own words, no less—viewed Nisan as the first month of the year, would refer to a Greek month out of the blue, particularly without also naming it for his readers unfamiliar with Greek conventions (recall how he explained Xanthicus earlier). It also makes little sense that Josephus would flip-flop with his calendars, giving the month in Greek terms, but the day in Jewish terms. The odds are overwhelmingly against it. A straightforward understanding of the passage indicates the Jewish month of Sivan, the third month of the ecclesiastical calendar, was meant. This means “the fast” is impossible to assign to the Day of Atonement in Tishri, the seventh month. “The fast” has another more likely meaning, to be discussed later.

Steinmann then (p. 9) presents two other considerations which, he claims, “contradict” the 37 BC date indicated by both consular year and Olympiad reckoning. First, he says, the 27 years that passed after Pompey takes one to 36 BC, not 37 BC. Two problems exist here: first, he again assumes without supporting evidence that it was the Day of Atonement in Tishri, and second, he makes the further undemonstrated assumption that non-inclusive, actual dating was used. In short, he is using his (and Filmer’s) assumptions as the basis for claiming Josephus was in error, instead of trying to understand the data as Josephus understood it.

As for the second “contradiction,” Steinmann says that there is no evidence of any government by the Hasmoneans until 162 BC, therefore the 126 years had to be reckoned from 36 BC, not 37 BC. But as discussed in the previous article of this series, this overlooks the detail that Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 163 BC, vacating the Syrian kingship over the Jews and defaulting to leaving the Hasmoneans in power. By recognizing this we can say that the Hasmonean dynasty endured for 126 years.

Three Considerations Favoring Actual, Non-Inclusive Years?

At this point in his article, it is apparent that Steinmann feels the pressure of the “Schürer consensus” against the Filmerian position he has staked out: “Nonetheless, the Schürer consensus could hold that the data given by Josephus here were reckoned by inclusive reckoning, making no conflict” (p. 10). Indeed, it not only could, but it does. But then he adds, “However, that Josephus was not using inclusive reckoning and that these data should be seen as reporting actual years is demonstrated by three more considerations” (p. 10). What are these considerations?

Supposed Conflict of the High Priest Chronology with the Consular Years

The first he owes directly to Filmer (p. 287): “Josephus also contradicts his own consular year for Herod’s conquest of Jerusalem by his chronology of the high priests.” The main assumption behind this is that Josephus used factual, to-the-day dating for the reigns of high priests, similar to the way the Romans reckoned the reigns of their emperors. But another assumption is less obvious: that Josephus’ account of Hyrcanus II and Antigonus views their “reigns” only as those of high priests, not kings. We will discuss this matter in detail below.

The Alleged Passivity of Sosius

The second consideration arises from a conflict Steinmann, again following Filmer (p. 286), sees in Dio’s Roman History, which he claims “casts doubt on the Schürer consensus that the conquest of Jerusalem occurred in 37 BCE.” Here I quote his argument in full (p. 11):

Concerning 37 BCE Dio states (49.23.1–2):

…during the following year [37 BCE] the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note in Syria. For Antony spent the entire year reaching Italy and returning again to the province, and Sossius [sic], because anything he did would be advancing Antony’s interests rather than his own, and he therefore dreaded his jealousy and anger, spent the time in devising means, not for achieving some success and incurring his enmity, but for pleasing him without engaging in any activity (emphasis and brackets added).

Thus, Sossius would not have helped Herod—a man favored by Antony—capture Jerusalem in 37.

Rather than teaching that Sosius was entirely passive during 37 BC, the Dio passage merely tells us, and quite specifically, that the Romans accomplished nothing of note in Syria. The sense is that, lest personal successes in Syria might inadvertently offend the uninvolved Antony (which had happened earlier with Ventidius, costing him the Syrian governorship, Dio 49.21.1), Sosius likewise did nothing there. This text does not address activities Sosius might have pursued in Judea at Antony’s specific behest, however. Making the assumption that Sosius’ fear of affronting Antony paralyzed him into inactivity everywhere is entirely unwarranted. Since Dio emphasizes Sosius’ desire to please Antony, if Antony wanted him to help Herod with the siege of Jerusalem, of course he would! That is exactly what the text says in Antiquities 14.16.1: “Sosius [was] sent by Antony, to assist Herod.” The supposed problem Filmer and Steinmann see is nonexistent. Consistent with this, in Wars 1.17.2 Josephus elaborates a little further:

For after the taking of Samosata [in 38 BC], and when Antony had set Sosius over the affairs of Syria, and had given him orders to assist Herod against Antigonus, he [Herod] departed into Egypt; but Sosius sent two legions before him into Judea, to assist Herod, and followed himself soon after with the rest of his army (emphasis and brackets added).

This information is in direct conflict with the idea that Sosius “would not have helped Herod” to capture Jerusalem in 37 BC. Therefore, we can dismiss the Dio “problem” as being nothing of the sort for the “Schürer consensus.”

The Sabbatical Years

The third consideration adduced by Steinmann against a 37 BC fall of Jerusalem is tied to the Jewish sabbatical years. The sabbatical years are brought up in two places in Antiquities in conjunction with the start of Herod’s reign. Describing the siege undertaken by Sosius and Herod, Josephus records:

Now the Jews that were inclosed within the walls of the city, fought against Herod with great alacrity and zeal...and making use of brutish courage, rather than of prudent valour, they persisted in this war to the very last. And this they did while a mighty army lay round about them; and while they were distressed by famine, and the want of necessaries: for this happened to be a sabbatick year (14.16.2, emphasis added)

He continues the story in the next chapter, observing:

Nor was there any end of the miseries he [Herod] brought upon them [the defeated Jews]: and this distress was in part occasioned by the covetousness of the prince regnant [Herod was confiscating silver and gold wherever he could find them]; who was still in want of more; and in part by the sabbatick year, which was still going on, and forced the countrey to lie still uncultivated: since we are forbidden to sow our land in that year (15.1.2, emphasis and bracketed comments added).

These details give us a way to determine the year that Herod took Jerusalem, but only if we can identify with confidence at least one other post-exilic sabbatical year to synchronize with it. Once again following Filmer’s lead (pp. 289–291), Steinmann presents this argument (p. 11):

Finally, it should be noted that Herod besieged Jerusalem at the end of a Sabbatical year when food supplies were running low. This was the same situation in mid-162 BCE near the end of a sabbatical year. Thus, Tishri 163–Elul 162 was a Sabbatical year. Since the summer of 162 BCE fell during a Sabbatical year, the summer of 37 BCE could not have been a Sabbatical year. Instead, Tishri 37 BCE–Elul 36 BCE was also a Sabbatical year. Since food supplies would have been adequate at the beginning of the Sabbatical year, Jerusalem could not have fallen to Herod in Tishri 37 BCE as the Schürer consensus holds. Instead, Jerusalem fell at the beginning of the following year (Tishri 36), with the siege taking place during the summer of the Sabbatical year (summer of 36 BCE).

To begin with, I have no idea how Steinmann concluded that his “Schürer consensus” holds that Jerusalem fell to Herod in Tishri. None of the references I looked at that accept a 37 BC de facto start for the reign of Herod place the taking of Jerusalem in Tishri, but in early summer, generally the month of Sivan (June of 37 BC, cf. http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC04.html). This conclusion follows the logic that the “siege of five months” (Wars 1.18.2) began “after the rigour of winter was over” (Ant. 14.15.14) around February, and concluded in the “summer time” (Ant. 14.16.2), “in the third month” (Ant. 14.16.4) of the Nisan-based ecclesiastical calendar Josephus favors. No, those who follow Schürer do not think Jerusalem fell in Tishri.

Now, the validity of all of Steinmann’s sabbatical year reasoning, including the assertion that 163/162 BC was a sabbatical year, depends on first accepting the foundational premise of a Tishri-based, actual/accession-year/non-inclusive dating scheme, and then presuming on the accuracy of the sabbatical year determinations made by Ben Zion Wacholder (“The Calendar of Sabbatical Cycles During the Second Temple and the Early Rabbinic Period,” Hebrew Union College Annual 44 [1973], 153–193). Quite possibly under the influence of Filmer’s 1966 article, Wacholder decided to revisit the careful earlier study done by Benedict Zuckermann (Treatise on the Sabbatical Cycle and the Jubilee, translated by A. Löwy from the German original of 1856), and concluded Zuckermann’s dates for the sabbatical years were a year too early. Of particular note is that he concluded that 37/36 BC, Tishri through Elul, was a sabbatical year, aligning it with Filmer’s date for Herod taking Jerusalem.

So, which is more accurate for the post-exilic period, the sabbatical year determination of Wacholder, or the one by Zuckermann? A detailed discussion of the issues involved is given in a Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita#Historical_Sabbatical_Years) that references the work of many acknowledged authorities, such as Parker and Dubberstein, Edwin Thiele, and Jack Finegan. It also draws on the work of ABR's Dr. Bryant Wood and several ABR Associates, including biblical chronologist Rodger Young and Dr. Douglas Petrovich. After acknowledging that the geonim (medieval Jewish scholars) and the modern state of Israel follow Zuckermann’s approach, this significant admission seems to be depreciated in favor of a sympathetic focus on Steinmann’s views favoring Wacholder. Arguments are also presented there based on the Seder Olam in support of Wacholder’s dates, but they are ultimately rendered indecisive by translation uncertainties. Their uncertainty is compounded by the fact that the Talmud demonstrates that even the leading rabbis could not agree on when the sabbatical years after the Second Temple should be observed (for example, see the convoluted discussion given in Mas Arachin 12a–12b, http://halakhah.com/pdf/kodoshim/Arachin.pdf). Without a solid, objective basis for translating its problem passages bearing on the sabbatical years, the Seder Olam provides no conclusive help in choosing between the approaches of Zuckermann and Wacholder. We must look elsewhere for a basis to make the choice.

I believe we find this basis in the detailed analysis of sabbatical year evidences of Wacholder and Zuckermann presented by Bob Pickle. The above-cited Wikipedia article is incomplete without considering the balanced treatment Pickle sets forth (as well as Blosser’s study, see below), which would help readers better appreciate why, as the Wikipedia article admits, “there are many prominent scholars who still maintain a cycle consistent with Zuckermann’s conclusion of a 38/37 BCE Sabbatical year.” Pickle’s two online articles, “When Were the Sabbatical Years?” (http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/sabbatical-years.htm) and “Which Years Were the Sabbatical Years?” (http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/sabbatical-years-more.htm), are of such high quality, they should have been published in a scholarly journal. Here we merely summarize some of their key points.

Wacholder had presented ten lines of evidence for his sabbatical year determinations, and Pickle bases his study on them. They are:

The Pledge of Nehemiah 10:31
Alexander’s Grant of Tax Exemption
Judah Maccabee’s Defeat at Beth-Zur
Simon’s Murder
Herod’s Conquest of Jerusalem
Herod Agrippa’s Reading of the Law
Note of Indebtedness from Nero’s Reign
Destruction of Second Temple
Land Contracts of Bar Kochba
Tombstones from Zoar

For each of these topics Pickle examines the data, contrasts how the Zuckermann and Wacholder approaches deal with it, and draws conclusions about which does a better job at explaining the data. In his Introduction he asks, “So which proposal is correct? First of all, why does it matter? It matters because this question is pertinent to a study of the 70 weeks of Daniel 9.” (This is exactly right, and the reason why we will have further reason to address the sabbatical years as part of “The Daniel 9:24–27 Project.”) He then goes on:

Since Daniel 9 begins with a reference to the 70 years of Babylonian captivity, this conclusion [of Wacholder, that the Hebrew word for “week” in Daniel 9 is used in Jewish writings to refer to sabbatical cycles] seems certain. The reason the Jews were sentenced to a captivity of 70 years is because they had not kept that many sabbatical years and had to catch up (Lev. 26:34–35, 43; 2 Chr. 36:21–23). So Daniel 9 begins with a reference to the missed sabbatical years of 70 sabbatical cycles, and ends with a discussion of another 70 sabbatical cycles (bracketed comment added).

It therefore follows that if a particular interpretation of the 70 weeks coincides with known sabbatical years, then that interpretation has additional merit. This approach requires the positive identification of at least one sabbatical year sometime in history.

This paper assumes that Wacholder’s ten lines of evidence for his position are the best possible case against Zuckermann’s dates. What follows is a discussion dealing with each of these lines of evidence as they appear in his 1973 paper. A careful re-analysis of this data seems to indicate that Zuckermann’s dates are the correct ones after all.

It is outside the scope of this study to detail all the various points Pickle covers. We will only note here that, when the actual data showing the confluence of the consular year of Agrippa and Gallus with the 185th Olympiad is allowed to stand as Josephus wrote it, it indisputably indicates that 38/37 BC was the sabbatical year indicated by Antiquities 14.16.2–4. As Pickle puts it:

The 185th Olympiad began in July 40 BC and ended in June 36 BC. Agrippa and Gallus were consuls in 37 BC. Thus Jerusalem was besieged by Herod in the spring and summer of 37 BC. Since 38/37 BC was a sabbatical year according to Zuckermann, Zuckermann’s sabbatical dates must therefore be correct.

I should mention here my own approach to the challenge of determining a solid basis for post-exile sabbatical year calculation. I first tried to identify the most likely first sabbatical year after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity. (This was done before looking at either Wacholder’s or Zuckermann’s dates, so they did not “prime my pump.”) The details of how I made my determination must wait for a later time, but briefly, I assumed that the 70 years the land lay “desolate” and uncultivated during the Babylonian captivity served to eliminate the Jews’ sabbatical year debt. When the Jews returned to the land and commenced agriculture once again, this initiated a new sabbatical cycle from Tishri. (I later discovered that Zuckermann had made the same deduction.) On that basis, after considerable study of Ezra and Nehemiah, I determined a likely first post-exilic sabbatical year. It was only after this that I discovered Pickle’s website, and was gratified to find that Benedict Zuckermann’s data reproduced there gave the same conclusions I had independently arrived at. This gave me a considerable measure of confidence than my determination was correct, despite the fact that it disagreed with Wacholder.

Building upon that determination—and independent of my studies of Herodian chronology that came later, by the way, so the latter in no way influenced my sabbatical year conclusions—I determined from Zuckermann’s dates that there was a sabbatical year running from the start of Tishri in 38 BC (October 7) to the end of Elul in 37 BC (September 25). This meant, since Josephus tells us that Herod took Jerusalem during a sabbatical year, the siege must have ended during the summer of 37 BC. The 36 BC date preferred by Filmer and Steinmann would place the siege after the sabbatical year had ended, so it would not work with Zuckermann’s formulation. If one instead opts for Wacholder’s scheme, the sabbatical year would have run from Tishri 37 BC to Elul 36 BC (Steinmann, p. 11), theoretically reconciling with it.

However… Steinmann holds that the “fast” mentioned in Antiquities 14.16.4 was the Day of Atonement, 10 Tishri, 36 BC. This would have been ten days after Wacholder’s sabbatical year had ended. Josephus said in Antiquities 15.1.2 that immediately after the end of the siege, while Herod was plundering Antigonus’ loyalists, “the sabbatick year…was still going on.” This means problems exist for Steinmann’s approach even if we accept Wacholder’s 36 BC sabbatical year. To nullify it, Steinmann would have to drop his insistence on the “fast” being the Day of Atonement, but doing so would seriously undermine his thesis keyed on factual, non-inclusive dating.

In the end, even if Steinmann should discard the Day of Atonement idea, all of the other problems discussed earlier with the Filmer/Steinmann approach still remain, as well as the many conflicts Bob Pickle points out that exist with Wacholder’s ideas. It is beyond the scope of this article to detail them; the interested reader is referred to Pickle’s website. Suffice it to say that there are far fewer problems involved in utilizing Zuckermann’s sabbatical year pattern, and it offers an independent confirmation that 37 BC marked the start of Herod’s reign.

We will close this sabbatical year discussion by noting that the highly-respected Jack Finegan pointed out on page 116 of his Handbook of Biblical Chronology (revised edition):

In 1979 Donald Wilford Blosser published a new study of Jubilee and Sabbatical years, with a calendar of Sabbatical years extending from 171/170 B.C. to A.D. 75/76, a tabulation which is contrary to Wacholder and in exact agreement with Zuckermann (“Jesus and the Jubilee: Luke 4:16–30, The Year of Jubilee and Its Significance in the Gospel of Luke” [Ph.D. diss., St. Mary’s College, The University of St. Andrews, Scotland, 1979], 113, emphasis added).

Finegan's conclusion on sabbatical year matters is to side with Zuckermann over Wacholder:

Since we have taken Yose ben Halafta as an early and dependable authority, we accept the date of 68/69 [as the sabbatical year before Titus took Jerusalem] and also use it as basic for the determination of several other Sabbatical years in what follows, all thus, in fact, in accordance with Zuckermann (and Blosser) (p. 122, § 226, bracketed comment added).

Antigonus and the “Times of Herod”

Steinmann then goes on to attempt to justify dating Herod’s reign from his de jure appointment as king by the Romans rather than his de facto rule after Antigonus' death, by appealing to the 28 high priests and a strange definition of “the times of Herod”:

However, a closer examination of Antiquities 20.250 [20.10.1 in Whiston’s edition] demonstrates that Josephus was reckoning Herod’s years from his appointment by the Romans. This is shown by Josephus’ noting that there were twenty-eight high priests from “the times of Herod” until the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. When Herod conquered Jerusalem he appointed Ananel to be high priest. Counting high priests beginning with Ananel and ending with Pannias, the last high priest before Titus conquered Jerusalem, there were twenty-seven high priests. This means that Josephus was including Antigonus in his reckoning of twenty-eight high priests during the reign of Herod. To confirm this, note that above it was demonstrated that Antigonus reigned in Jerusalem as high priest from Tishri 39 to Tishri 36. Therefore, Josephus began the “times of Herod” with Herod’s appointment by Rome three years earlier than his conquest of Jerusalem, and the beginning of his reign according to official regnal years overlapped the high priesthood of Antigonus by about two years (1 Tishri 38 BCE–10 Tishri 36 BCE). However, if one were to date the “times of Herod” to his appointment by the Romans according to the Schürer consensus (40 BCE or perhaps 39 BCE in official regnal years) this would mean that there were 110 or 109, not 107 years from “the times of Herod” to Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem (p. 28, emphasis original, bracketed comment added).

It must first be pointed out that Steinmann’s claim about his self-defined “Schürer consensus” again misrepresents what Schürer and those following him believe. See again what Schürer wrote in his footnote 165:

Again, from the conquest of Herod down to that by Titus he [Josephus] counts 107 years (Antiq. xx. 10)…(bracketed comment added).

“From the conquest of Herod.” This starting point is unambiguously referring not to the Roman appointment the Filmerians focus on, but to Herod’s de facto rule over Judea following the siege and putting to death of Antigonus. Given the convention of using inclusive dating from Nisan for the reigns of Jewish kings, 107 years is exactly right for the time spanning 37 BC to AD 70.

Apart from that, what Josephus wrote “demonstrates” none of the things Steinmann claims in his quote above. His statement rests on the extremely shaky foundation of two unsupported assumptions. First, it depends on using accession-year, non-inclusive dating from Tishri. We already showed this runs counter to normal dating conventions for post-exilic Jewish kings, and as discussed above, this is apparently one reason why Steinmann wants to reckon Herod’s kingship from his Roman appointment, not the death of Antigonus: he does not want to view Herod as a Jewish king subject to the Nisan ecclesiastical calendar, but as essentially a Roman vassal assigned to Judea, with the unspoken implication that the Tishri civil calendar applying to foreign rulers applies to him as well. Thus, moving the beginning of Herod’s reign forward by six months, from Nisan in the spring to Tishri in the fall, and then not counting inclusively, gives Steinmann a theoretical mechanism for down-dating Herod’s reign from 40 to 39 BC.

Second, this reinterpretation of Josephus specifically depends on the atypical list of high priests put together by James C. VanderKam (From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004] 394–490, 492). That list diverges from the widely accepted ones given by Whiston (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html#margin_note_8) and Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Priests_of_Israel)—which happen to be identical in the persons included, though presented differently—by leaving off Jonathan (AD 58), and supplying in his place Antigonus as the requisite 28th high priest. Doing this, however, requires supposing that the “times of Herod” (as king) included the period 39–36 BC (by Steinmann’s reckoning) covering Antigonus’ reign (an important little word!), a period when Herod was neither in control of Jerusalem nor viewed as king by its inhabitants (see the Strabo quote below). It further requires viewing Antigonus merely as a high priest, though Josephus plainly describes him as the factual king of the Jews immediately preceding Herod! How could Antigonus, a king of Judea whose coins, we saw above, declare him to be such, simultaneously be regarded as a high priest during Herod’s “times”? When we read Antiquities 20.10.1, we find Antigonus described in this manner:

Barzapharnes and Pacorus, the generals of the Parthians, passed over Euphrates, and fought with Hyrcanus, and took him alive, and made Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, King [not merely high priest]. And when he had reigned [as king] three years and three months, Sosius and Herod besieged him, and took him (emphasis and bracketed comments added).

We see that after deposing John Hyrcanus II—who had also basically functioned as a king, save that the Romans kept a close eye on him and gave him the lower title of ethnarch, governor of the nation, and denied him the privilege of wearing a kingly crown—the Parthians made Antigonus king. Although he also functioned as a high priest, Josephus actually ignores that aspect. That his kingship is emphasized is crucial to recognize, it depreciates his being high priest to irrelevancy. Steinmann, however, overlooks this detail and instead, following VanderKam, emphasizes only the high priest side of the man, in order to justify using Herod’s Roman appointment as the true start of his kingship, with the dating implications inherent in that choice. In so doing he is utterly silent regarding Whiston’s earlier, longstanding, well-accepted listing of the 28 high priests that left off Antigonus and included Jonathan.

Filmer and the “List of High Priests

In his 1966 paper, Filmer likewise downplayed the kingship roles of Hyrcanus and Antigonus, solely emphasizing their function as high priests. From that standpoint he used the mention of the 3-1/2 year reign of Antigonus, considered only as a high priest, to argue for factual, non-inclusive reckoning instead of inclusive reckoning from Nisan:

In fact the dates 40 and 37 B.C. for the accession of Herod are at variance with the chronology of this period as given by Josephus himself. In a list of high priests and the periods for which they held office, he gives Hyrcanus twenty-four years and Antigonus three years and three months. Now Hyrcanus was appointed by Pompey in 63 B.C., whence we deduce that Antigonus began his reign in 39 and was removed by Sosius in 36 (emphasis original).

Notice the emphasis on the words, “list of high priests.” Although it is true that the section of Antiquities where these matters are discussed (20.10.1) has a certain focus on high priests, Josephus discusses Hyrcanus and Antigonus as kings, not high priests! This is obvious when we look at the broader context of what Josephus wrote in 20.10.1, noting particularly how he uses the words “reign” or “rule” to focus our attention on the function of kingship rather than of a high priest:

Judas…kept the priesthood, together with the royal authority... Alexander had been both King and High Priest…Aristobulus…did himself both reign [i.e., act as king], and [in contrast to reigning] perform the office of High Priest to God. But when he had reigned [as king] three years, and as many months, Pompey came upon him: and…restored the High Priesthood to Hyrcanus; and [in addition to being high priest] made him governor [de facto political ruler] of the nation: but forbad him to wear a diadem. This Hyrcanus ruled [as effective king, albeit crownless], besides his first nine years, twenty-four years more, when Barzapharnes and Pacorus, the generals of the Parthians…made Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, King. And when he had reigned [as king, not as performing the office of high priest] three years and three months, Sosius and Herod besieged him, and took him. When Antony had him brought to Antioch, and slain there, Herod was then made King by the Romans…(emphasis and bracketed comments added).

It is very important to observe above that Josephus uses “reign” specifically to describe the kingship function, while he uses “perform the office”—not “reign” or “rule”—to describe the separate high priestly function. Plus, when Sosius and Herod besieged him, it was not because Antigonus was functioning as a high priest, but as king of the Jews. Not only did Filmer, like Steinmann after him, downplay the obvious kingship role of these men that Josephus highlights in Antiquities, he used that minimizing of the kingship aspects as an excuse for suggesting factual reckoning was used here; because he wanted to start Herod’s reign from his Roman appointment in 39 rather than 40 BC, he needed to count those three extra months after Nisan (which marked Antigonus’ third year as king, more evidence the Nisan calendar for dating Jewish kings was used, not Tishri). This was a pretext for ignoring the Roman and Jewish convention of reckoning the rule of kings inclusively.

What all of this means is, Antigonus reigned as king until his removal by Sosius and Herod in 37 BC. It was at this point that the “times of Herod” began, not before. This is why I wrote earlier that Steinmann used a strange definition of the “times of Herod”:  it includes a different king as part of Herod’s “times.” We cannot emphasize this too strongly: Antigonus cannot be regarded as a high priest under Herod.

Filmer continues:

These two terms of office [Hyrcanus plus Antigonus] together total twenty-seven years, and so conform to the twenty-seven years’ interval between the two captures of Jerusalem by Pompey and Sosius which historians reject. Neither can it be argued that the twenty-four years of Hyrcanus were inclusive of an accession year, for, as we shall see, Josephus did not use that system of reckoning, and furthermore, Antigonus’ term of office is given as three years and three months, which is clearly factual (emphasis added).

“Term of office” was emphasized above to point out that Filmer is talking about Antigonus only as a high priest, completely ignoring the fact that Josephus does not use “term of office” in regard to him, but “king” and “reigned.” The three years measure the Nisan-based reckoning of Judean kings’ reigns, while the additional three months accounts for the fall of Jerusalem in Sivan.

Filmer does not tell us who the historians are who supposedly “reject” the 27 years from Pompey to Sosius/Herod; it must be people unwilling to use inclusive reckoning, which easily explains the 27 years (the three months then being part of Antigonus’ third year as reckoned inclusively from Nisan, not part of a fourth year by accession reckoning from Tishri). We can grant that the above is a single clear instance where Josephus gives a factual reign length for Antigonus, but what of it? We must insist that it is quite insufficient, on the basis of Esther 3:7, the Mishnah and Josephus’ instances of obvious inclusive dating discussed earlier, to overrule the abundant evidence for a regular pattern of inclusive dating. Those give us a firm foundation for asserting that inclusive reckoning does apply, notwithstanding the denials of Filmer and Steinmann. Why, then, does Josephus use factual dating that includes the months here? Simply because in this particular context, he is concerned with pinpointing the time “Sosius and Herod besieged him [Antigonus], and took him,” leading directly to Herod becoming king. The focus here is on determining the time of the siege relative to Antigonus’ kingship, not the counting of his regnal years.

Is it not also interesting that in this passage, Josephus says Herod was “then”after the siege ended and Antigonus was slain at Antioch—”made King by the Romans”? Although Filmer and Steinmann are silent on this comment by Josephus, this remark tells us that Josephus recognized the pragmatic reality that, although the kingship was technically granted to Herod three years beforehand by the Romans, it had no practical force until Antony sent Sosius to help Herod depose and replace Antigonus. We should recognize this reality as well. It was the successful siege, removal, and putting to death of King Antigonus that made Herod king, not merely a ceremony in Rome three years earlier. This is also indicated by an easily overlooked detail in Antiquities 15.1.2:

Nor was there any end of the miseries he [Herod] brought upon them [the defeated Antigonus loyalists]: and this distress was in part occasioned by the covetousness of the prince regnant [Herod]; who was still in want of more…

Notice those easily overlooked words, “prince regnant”? They are fraught with meaning. A prince regnant/regent is defined as “a prince who rules during the minority, absence, or incapacity of a sovereign” (https://www.thefreedictionary.com). The term was used here for Herod by Josephus for a specific reason—it recognizes the reality that Antigonus was in the hands of Antony at the time, but had not yet been put to death and was still regarded as the true sovereign of Judea. Because he was still alive, Josephus applies to Herod the precisely correct term “prince regnant” here (contra the Filmerian understanding that Herod had already been king for three years), until after Antigonus was dead: “When Antony had him brought to Antioch, and slain there, Herod was then made King by the Romans…(Ant. 20.10.1). Then, not before. Consistent with this, again recall Antiquities 17.8.1, “he [Herod] died…having reigned since he had procured Antigonus to be slain,” not “since the siege ended.” It is little details like this which show that Josephus did not intend to portray Herod as king going all the way back to his Roman appointment. Developing an entire narrative around that view is building a house on sand. In this connection, a detail Josephus adds in Antiquities 15.1.2 is worth pointing out:

And Strabo of Cappadocia attests to what I have said; when he thus speaks; “Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded. And this Antony seems to me to have been the very first man who beheaded a King; as supposing he could no other way bend the minds of the Jews, so as to receive Herod, whom he had made King in his stead. For by no torments could they be forced to call him King: so great a fondness they had for their former King. So he thought that this dishonourable death would diminish the value they had for Antigonus’s memory; and at the same time would diminish their hatred they bear to Herod.” Thus far Strabo (emphasis added).

Do you notice that Strabo views Antigonus not as a high priest but as king of the Jews, as we took pains to point out above? This offers independent confirmation from another ancient historian that we are on the right track in rejecting all attempts to minimize Antigonus’ status as king and instead elevate his supposed status as a high priest, all in an effort to justify expanding the “times of Herod” to 39 BC.

No, Herod’s “times” did not include the period when Antigonus was in office. They must therefore be reckoned from the start of his practical rule when the city was taken and King Antigonus was put to death. We must insist that the evidence, free from conjectures, begins the “times of Herod” in 37 BC, and all attempts to reconcile events tied to various years of Herod’s reign must be tied into that date via inclusive dating to avoid intractable problems. We must conclude that the Filmerian position is erroneous.

The High Priests and Aggregate Dating

Returning again to the high priests…we must not overlook the fact that in Antiquities 20.10.1, from the outset of Herod’s de facto kingship over Jerusalem and Judea until the fall of Jerusalem to Titus, only the aggregate totals of the high priests’ times in office are given:

Accordingly the number of the High Priests, from the days [or “times,” Loeb edition] of Herod, until the day when Titus took the temple, and the city, and burnt them, were in all twenty-eight. The time also that belonged to them was an hundred and seven years.

Aggregate dates were also the rule of thumb from the time of Aaron until Antiochus IV Epiphanes removed Onias, putting him to death, and installed Jacimus (also called Alcimus) into the office, of whom it is said that he “retained the High Priesthood three years” until his death began a seven-year interregnum. Thus, Josephus covers many centuries without listing a single high priest’s individual term in office, establishing this as his standard approach. That did not change until the Hasmoneans, who as Josephus puts it “had the government of the nation conferred upon them” and were already the de facto rulers of Judea, also took on the high priestly duties beginning with Jonathan Maccabeus.

The aggregate treatment of those who were nothing more than high priests thus stands in marked contrast to the specific reign lengths assigned to the Maccabean hybrid kings/high priests, most notably Hyrcanus II and Antigonus. This indicates those time periods applied to them in their roles as kings, not as high priests (besides, high priests do not “reign,” they serve in office!). Generalizing from the reign lengths of the Maccabean rulers to factual reckoning of high priests' terms in office goes beyond the evidence.

In all events, with Antigonus’ death making Jerusalem both kingless and high priestless, Herod becomes king in Antigonus’ place. Up to this time Herod has had nothing whatsoever to do with appointing high priests, but now it is his job. Having just overseen the demise of a Hasmonean king/high priest, he was not much of a mind to put another Hasmonean in that position, so he began his custom of making “certain men to be [high priests] that were of no eminent families,” the first of which was Ananelus. (The lists at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html#margin_note_8, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Priests_of_Israel differ only in that Wikipedia also mentions that Ananelus, Joazar ben Boethus, and Jonathan ben Ananus had short periods of restoration, a detail ignored in Whiston’s margin note in Antiquities). VanderKam errs in including Antigonus in his list while inexplicably leaving off Jonathan (a different man than Jonathan ben Ananus), who is included in both the Whiston and Wikipedia lists (the latter assigning him to AD 58). By including Jonathan, the matching lists of Whiston and Wikipedia have the expected 28 high priests from Ananelus to Phannias, so there is no need to include Antigonus as VanderKam and Steinmann do. This removes any need to synchronize the start of Herod’s reign with the 39 BC (actually 40 BC) beginning of Antigonus’ term in office, and in turn eliminates the requirement Steinmann sees to base Herod’s reign on his Roman appointment. The interrelationships of various kinds of data these scholars have proposed DOES fit together—after all, they are clever!—but it is all based on a foundation of conjecture that requires jettisoning known dating conventions and tinkering with Josephus’ data.

Before moving on, here is an observation made by Kenneth Frank Doig in chapter 4 of his book, New Testament Chronology, posted online at http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC04.html, which effectively wraps up this topic:

In 63 BCE Pompey “restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus,” (Ant. XIV 4:4) and “this Hyrcanus ruled, besides his first nine years, twenty-four years more...and the Parthians, passed over the Euphrates, and fought with Hyrcanus, and took him alive, and made Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, king; and when he had reigned three years and three months, Sosius and Herod besieged him.” (Ant. XX 10:1) Twenty-four inclusive years from 63 BCE end in 40 BCE, the year the Parthians attacked Judea and established the rule of Antigonus. The three years and three months of Antigonus’ rule were, inclusively, 40, 39, 38 and the first three months from Nisan, or in Sivan of 37 BCE.

This straightforward solution is so simple, it is a wonder why any prefer the complexities of the Filmer/Steinmann/VanderKam synthesis in its place. Surely Occam’s Razor applies here: the simplest solution, having the fewest assumptions, is most likely the correct one.

A Closer Look at the Consular Years

Besides the support for the traditional date of 37 BC for the start of Herod’s reign given by Josephus’ list of 28 high priests (plus the kings Hyrcanus and Antigonus prior to the “times of Herod”), there are other factors to consider. Steinmann defends his 36 BC date by claiming that the consular years of Calvinus and Pollio at Herod’s Roman appointment, and of Agrippa and Gallus when he took the city after the siege, were in error by being one year too early. But to imagine that Josephus, with access to detailed official records and surrounded by many Romans who could have corrected any calendar errors obvious enough for Filmer and Steinmann to find, would mess up such a fundamental criterion as consular year dating, strains credibility. We observed previously (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_consul) that consular years were named after the “ordinary consuls” of a given year, and had nothing to do with when in the year they were named:

A consul elected to start the year—called a consul ordinarius (ordinary consul)—held more prestige than a suffect consul, partly because the year would be named for ordinary consuls (emphasis added).

Yet Steinmann claimed (p. 7),

The one hundred eighty-fourth Olympiad ended on June 30, 40 BCE. However, Calvinus and Pollio were not appointed consuls until after the Treaty of Brundisium on October 2, 40 BCE. Thus, Josephus is in error.

This reveals once more a preoccupation with factual, to-the-day date reckoning according to modern standards. Due to the civil war between Octavian and Antony, there were no consuls named for 40 BC until after the treaty was signed. Hence, Calvinus and Pollio were the ordinary consuls of record for that whole year, notwithstanding the fact that they did not take office until after October began. It is not Josephus who is in error here. The consular year named for Calvinus and Pollio indeed overlapped the latter half of the 184th Olympiad, exactly as Josephus wrote (Ant. 14.14.5, “And thus did this man receive the Kingdom; having obtained it on the hundred eighty fourth olympiad; when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time; and Caius Asinius Pollio [the first time]”). This was true regardless of the circumstance that their factual terms in office were delayed by war. Since he has other motives for wanting Herod to take office in 39 BC, Steinmann presumes to accuse Josephus of error, and therefore bumps Calvinus and Pollio from 40 BC to 39 BC only to defend his thesis. In the process he unabashedly disregards Josephus’ confirmation of the date by double-dating it to the 184th Olympiad, asserting Josephus really dropped the ball by committing a double error! How likely is that?

A similar accusation is leveled against Josephus concerning the consuls in the year Herod and Sosius took Jerusalem. Josephus unambiguously stated that the consular year of Agrippa and Gallus coincided with the 185th Olympiad (Ant. 14.16.4: “This destruction befel the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls of Rome; on the hundred eighty and fifth olympiad; on the third month [i.e., Sivan, May/June, counting inclusively from Nisan]; on the solemnity of the fast”). Since Steinmann had bumped Calvinus and Pollio from 40 BC to 39 BC, but has to maintain the three-year time difference between Herod’s Roman appointment and the actual taking of Jerusalem, he is forced to also bump Agrippa and Gallus to 36 BC. This supposed error is also pure conjecture on Steinmann’s part, but a necessary ingredient in the complex interrelationships of events he and Filmer constructed. The weight of the internal evidence is against these machinations. Ronald Syme (The Augustan Aristocracy [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986], pp. 455-458), whose list of Roman consuls from 80 to 1 BC is reproduced at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_consuls, had no hesitation in assigning the year of Calvinus and Pollio to 40 BC, and that of Agrippa and Gallus to 37 BC.

The odds are overwhelming: Filmer and Steinmann got this wrong.

Incidentally, Filmer (p. 285) also states the following:

The principal historical evidence for the date of Herod’s death is provided by Josephus in two statements in which he says that he reigned thirty-four years from the death of his predecessor Antigonus, but thirty-seven years from the time when he was declared king by the Romans. It is therefore important to establish precisely these two dates for his accession. Regarding his appointment in Rome Josephus says: “Thus did this man receive the kingdom, having obtained it on the hundred and eighty-fourth Olympiad, when Gaius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio the first time.” This makes it 40 B.C., but in this he is contradicted by Appian, who mentions Herod’s appointment in a context that can be dated from Dio’s Roman History to 39 B.C. (emphasis added).

Leaving aside the fact that Filmer sets himself up as an arbiter to pick winners and losers between ancient historians, do the records actually show that Appian “contradicts” Josephus? The citation of Appian, The Civil Wars 5.8.75, is the following:

He [Antony] set up kings here and there as he pleased, on condition of their paying a prescribed tribute: in Pontus, Darius, the son of Pharnaces and grandson of Mithridates; in Idumea and Samaria, Herod; in Pisidia, Amyntas; in a part of Cilicia, Polemon, and others in other countries (emphasis added).

Rather than Josephus making an error here as Filmer claims, the situation Appian describes has nothing to do with Judea at all. It simply reflects the situation before 40 BC, antedating Herod’s Roman appointment, when he was increasingly being recognized by Antony as an ambitious, capable leader utterly loyal to Rome, and as a result was given control over Idumea and Samaria. That Octavian, who collaborated with Antony in proclaiming Herod as king of Judea, is not mentioned here, is yet another reason to see what Appian reports as a different, earlier situation. We must likewise not overlook the fact that Judea is specifically left off Appian’s list. In short, we have no justification for drawing out, as Filmer has, an implication that his Roman appointment took place at that time. This is an example of something we should not do: reading our own conjectures onto the ancient records, with an agenda to nuance—or even misrepresent—them to support an outcome we favor. We should respect the ancient records as written by those much closer to the events, with only overwhelming evidence sufficient to make us question them.

“On the Solemnity of the Fast”

We have one more loose end to tie up. Earlier it was stated that “the fast” in Antiquities 14.16.4 should not be understood as the Day of Atonement on 10 Tishri, an assumption both Filmer and Steinmann make and use as support for dating Herod’s de facto reign from Tishri. In the interest of transparency, I must confess I also previously saw “the fast” as the Day of Atonement, though based not on Tishri dating but on what Josephus wrote in Wars 1.7.3–4 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/war-1.html):

for it was in the third month of the siege before the Romans could even with great difficulty, overthrow one of the towers, and get into the temple (emphasis added).

In this place Josephus was apparently not talking about the fall of Jerusalem in the third month, Sivan, but in the third month of the siege itself. However, he states in Wars 1.18.2 that the total time covered by the siege was five months:

Indeed though they had so great an army lying round about them, they bore a siege of five months, till some of Herod’s chosen men ventured to get upon the wall, and fell into the city, as did Sosius’s centurions after them…

and that the siege began right after “the rigour of winter” was over (Ant. 14.15.14), “as the winter was going off” (Wars 1.17.8). These statements imply that Herod’s efforts to take the city began in the late winter month of Shebet (February of 37 BC). I suggest that if we want to be generous to Josephus and not presumptuously accuse him of error, in Wars 1.7.3–4 he was ignoring the two months (Shebet–Adar) of preliminary preparation prior to the arrival of Sosius and the Roman army. During that time Herod apparently occupied himself with setting up for the main effort later—cutting down trees, shipping in and setting up siegeworks from Tyre, etc., even taking time to get married. Then after Sosius arrived the assault on the walls really got underway, lasting the three months from Nisan to Sivan.

So, if “the fast” was not the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), what might it have been? As pointed out, it would be most natural for us to expect, since Josephus regards Nisan as the first month of the year and demonstrates that he consistently follows the normal Jewish/Roman convention of using inclusive dating, that the “third month” in which the “solemnity of the fast” took place—essentially, reprising the situation that unfolded during the 63 BC siege by Pompey, 27 inclusively-counted years previously—was the Jewish summer month of Sivan (June, 37 BC).

There is historical evidence that “the fast” in Antiquities 14.16.4 should not be equated with a defined Jewish fast date, but as the regular Sabbath. Granted that this is not the first thing most people (myself included) would think of, some solid evidence does point in that direction. Cassius Dio, who as a non-Jew may have misconstrued the no-work Sabbath as a “fast day,” called the day Pompey took the city 27 years earlier the “day of Saturn” (i.e., Saturday) in his Roman History (37.16.4):

Most of the city, to be sure, he [Pompey] took without any trouble, as he was received by the party of Hyrcanus; but the temple itself, which the other party had occupied, he captured only with difficulty. For it was on high ground and was fortified by a wall of its own, and if they had continued defending it on all days alike, he could not have got possession of it. As it was, they made an excavation on what are called [by the Romans] the days of Saturn, and by doing no work at all on those days [note the plural—it was not just a single special fast day] afforded the Romans an opportunity in this interval to batter down the wall. The latter, on learning of this superstitious awe of theirs, made no serious attempts the rest of the time, but on those days, when they came round in succession [i.e., once a week], assaulted most vigorously. Thus the defenders were captured on the day of Saturn, without making any defence, and all the wealth was plundered. The kingdom was given to Hyrcanus, and Aristobulus was carried away (emphasis and bracketed comments added).

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on “Pompey the Great” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12264-pompey-the-great) accepts this understanding, observing:

Pompey declared Aristobulus a prisoner and began to besiege the city. Although the party of Hyrcanus opened the gates to the Romans, the Temple mount, which was garrisoned by the people’s party, had to be taken by means of rams brought from Tyre; and it was stormed only after a siege of three months, and then on a Sabbath, when the Jews were not defending the walls. Josephus calls the day of the fall of Jerusalem “the day of the fast” (??ste?a? ?µ??a; “Ant.” xiv. 4, § 3); but in this he merely followed the phraseology of his Gentile sources, which regarded the Sabbath as a fast-day, according to the current Greco-Roman view. Dio Cassius says (xxxvii. 16) correctly that it was on a “Cronos day,” this term likewise denoting the Sabbath (emphasis added).

Josephus was a very knowledgeable Jew who would almost certainly have clarified that the fast in question was the very important Day of Atonement, if such it was. Since he did not, it implies this day was not the high holy day of Yom Kippur. Further, it supports the Jewish Encyclopedia’s suggestion that he was using pagan Roman sources to put together this part of his history, reflecting their inaccurate understanding of the Sabbath. Some have suggested that a little-known fast commemorating Jeroboam’s forbidding sacrifices in Jerusalem on Sivan 22 might be a possibility (see http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC04.html, note 14), but I think this is a “hail Mary” suggestion of little likelihood. Dio 37.16.4 gives us an entirely satisfactory answer. Thus, we can understand Antiquities 14.16.4 as telling us that Pompey and Herod/Sosius both took Jerusalem 27 years apart, in the same summer month of Sivan, on a Sabbath day when the Jews’ religious scruples would not let them oppose construction of the siegeworks.

Looking Ahead to Herod’s Death

I think we have now said all that is necessary about the start of the reign of Herod the Great. Many different details point to its beginning in the summer of 37 BC, in contrast to the Filmer/Steinmann approach, which requires ignoring some details, interpreting others in non-straightforward ways, and proposing errors by Josephus even for events he double-dated. We have not comprehensively looked at every single point that Josephus’ modern-day critics attack him for, but enough of them—and I hope in convincing fashion—to set aside their 39 BC proposed start date for Herod’s reign, together with the idea of non-inclusive, accession-year dating from Tishri that underlies it. The conclusion for today is this: Herod became king of the Jews in the summer of 37 BC following the death of Antigonus.

In the next phase of this study, I plan to examine the other end of Herod’s life—his death and the events leading up to it. That discussion will regard the start of Herod’s reign in 37 BC as established, and build upon it.


DANIEL9 DanielBanner


Introduction


To tackle the life and death of Herod the Great using the writings of Josephus is to enter a morass of scholarly conjectures, an undertaking beset at times by blatant reading between the lines by academics to justify their pet theories. Nonetheless, some examination of Josephus’ Antiquities must be done, since Scripture itself gives us very little datable information about Herod. In doing my own examination of Antiquities and related extrabiblical histories, I hope to avoid the sort of speculation I fault in others. The reader must judge if I have succeeded.

This article will mainly examine what John 2:12–21 says about the 46 years Herod’s temple had been under construction as of the first Passover of Jesus’ public ministry, bringing in as needed reasons to assign the beginning of the reign of Herod to the traditional date of 37 BC, rather than the 36 BC date some researchers have recently promoted. The sheer volume of material will not permit us to investigate here the date of Herod’s death; I hope to cover this, in the detail it deserves, in a future article.

First, a word about my general approach. In the course of my research I discovered that, even among those who agree with me that an AD 30 Crucifixion best accommodates the diverse data bearing on the question, there are many different opinions out there about which inputs are most valuable. Different researchers may emphasize and/or interpret details in different ways, yet still arrive at the same final destination, just getting there by different routes. Some take into account information from coins, others ignore it. A 3-1/2 year ministry for Jesus is taken as a given by some, requiring an earlier baptism date for Christ than a 2-1/2 year ministry requires. Data derived from Josephus or other classical historians is viewed with various degrees of acceptance or skepticism. There are other inputs as well, these are just a sampling.

In tackling this study, I have brought together contributions from many sources into a hybrid of my own. I have a higher regard for certain types of data than others, and therefore leave unmentioned some forms of evidence which a truly comprehensive examination would be obliged to cover. For example, I purposely ignore evidence from numismatics, deeming it nonessential to making my points, and tending to clutter the case with inconsequential minutiae. Information from ancient historians is a mixed bag; on the whole, Josephus’ Antiquities seems to be solid because it is largely self-consistent, so I focus nearly exclusively on it. (It is not error-free, though; for example, I believe he erred in assigning Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ temple desecration to Kislev 25, 167 BC, whereas 1 Maccabees puts it on Kislev 15 of the same year; it makes a difference when understanding the 2300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel, discussed in an earlier article.) So, I will pay the most attention to Antiquities when citing an extrabiblical source for establishing dates. Though it may seem I have over-weighted this study with Internet resources, they include citations from scholarly volumes which others can check as desired. And of course, the text of Scripture itself will be my go-to source for making critical points.

There is one other point to make before getting this study underway. I am sharply aware that some scholars, beginning with W.E. Filmer in 1966 (“The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great,” Journal of Theological Studies, pp. 283–298), and more recently including Andrew E. Steinmann (“When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum 51 [2009], 1–29), Ernest L. Martin, and others, have rejected the conclusions laid out below—what Steinmann labels the “Schürer Consensus”—and chosen, for what I regard as dubious reasons, to date the start of Herod’s reign to 36 BC. They also reject the consensus for the death date of Herod, 4 BC, in favor of a 1 BC date—likely because it is more in keeping with the AD 33 Crucifixion they endorse. I considered approaching this study as a detailed negative critique of these scholars’ meandering intellectual journeys through varied classical histories, but in the end concluded that making a positive case from the Bible and the plain sense of Antiquities was the best approach. If the case for the traditional dates of Herod’s reign is as strong as I think it is, its merits will be apparent, and there will be no need to attack the work of others in order to support it.

The Forty-Six Years the Temple was “A-Building”

We will begin by letting the Scriptures speak. Unlike many scholars we will not start with extrabiblical records, since they are not inspired by God. We read the account of the apostle in John 2:12–21 (NASB, with notes in brackets):

12 After this [the wedding at Cana] He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple [hieros] those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple [hieros], with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;
16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father's house [oikos] a place of business.”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE [oikos] WILL CONSUME ME.”
18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple [naós], and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple [naós], and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple [naós] of His body.

What Exactly was the “Temple”?

It will be noticed that two different Greek terms lie behind the word “temple” in this passage. The word naós is defined in the online Strong’s Concordance (G3485) (it can be accessed on BlueLetterBible.org) as “used of the temple at Jerusalem, but only of the sacred edifice (or sanctuary) itself, consisting of the Holy place [sic] and the Holy of Holies (in classical Greek it is used of the sanctuary or cell of the temple, where the image of the god was placed which is distinguished from the whole enclosure)” (emphasis added). On the other hand, hieros is defined by Strong’s (G2413) as “sacred, consecrated to the deity, pertaining to God.” It views the word as having a more general reference beyond just the inner sanctuary, one that encompassed the entire temple complex.

Strong’s, however, though very accessible and useful to many, is not exactly a respected source for scholars. We do well to check a “real” lexicon to see if it upholds Strong’s insistence that naós “only” refers to “the sacred edifice (or sanctuary) itself.” I have at hand a copy of the slightly-dated but still very useful second edition of Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (“BAG”). Rather than drawing a hard line between naós and hieron, this authority notes (p. 533) that naós can also refer to “the whole temple precinct,” and references John 2:20 as an example.

Notwithstanding this cautionary note, however, J. Dwight Pentecost and others have attempted to parse the word “temple” in this passage so as to minimize its implications regarding the date of the Crucifixion. They do this by asserting that the 46 years it specifies refers only to the years that had passed since the edifice, narrowly defined as Strong’s does—the holy place and the holy of holies, to which access was restricted to the priests—had been redone by Herod. Ron Wallace, cited last month for his blog comments (http://www.biblefragrances.com/studies/tiberius.html) about the 15th year of Tiberius, also quoted Pentecost’s opinion about the 46 years of building the temple:

“[Josef] Blinzler feels that A.D. 28 as marking the commencement of Christ's ministry is substantiated by John 2:20 where the Jews state that the temple had been in continuous construction for forty-six years since Herod began to build it in 20/19 B.C. But the Jews are talking about the temple edifice…which was completed in 18/17 B.C. as having stood for forty-six years, that is, the Passover of A.D. 30, rather than the temple precincts…which were still in the building process” (Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, p. 578, emphasis added).

Pentecost apparently wishes to use a specific interpretation of the temple building time to support placing the Crucifixion in AD 33. Thus, he narrowly defines “temple” to refer only to the refurbishing of the holy place and holy of holies (the naós, technically speaking), which was completed by 18/17 BC (assuming construction began in the fall of 20 BC). So the question before us is, does his assertion that the Jews were only talking about the temple edifice hold up to scrutiny? Was BAG mistaken?

Let us seek clarity by going now to Josephus. He tells us in Antiquities 15.11.1 (Whiston translation from the Greek):

And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign [counted inclusively from the death of Antigonus], and after the acts already mentioned, undertook a very great work; that is to build of himself the temple [neon] of God, and make it larger in compass, and to raise it to a most magnificent altitude: as esteeming it to be the most glorious of all his actions, as it really was, to bring it to perfection; and that this would be sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him… “Our fathers, indeed, when they were returned from Babylon, built this temple [naòn] to God Almighty, yet does it want sixty cubits of its largeness in altitude; for so much did that first temple which Solomon built exceed this temple; nor let any one condemn our fathers for their negligence or want of piety herein, for it was not their fault that the temple [naós] was no higher; for they were Cyrus, and Darius the son of Hystaspes, who determined the measures for its rebuilding; and it hath been by reason of the subjection of those fathers of ours to them and to their posterity, and after them to the Macedonians, that they had not the opportunity to follow the original model of this pious edifice, nor could raise it to its ancient altitude; but since I am now, by God's will, your governor, and I have had peace a long time, and have gained great riches and large revenues, and, what is the principal filing of all, I am at amity with and well regarded by the Romans, who, if I may so say, are the rulers of the whole world, I will do my endeavor to correct that imperfection…” [bracketed comments and emphasis added].

We see that Herod’s stated objective was to broaden (“make it larger in compass”) and increase in height the naós—the temple proper, the holy areas reserved for the priests—to its original Solomonic grandeur. The work began, as stated, in the 18th year of his reign (we will look more closely at this later). Antiquities goes on to note (15.11.6) that “the temple [naou] itself was built by the priests in a year and six months.” “By the priests” is a hint that the naós referred to here, which Pentecost latches onto as justification for his interpretation, is restricted to the holy place/holy of holies. Only priests specially trained in construction techniques were permitted to work in this area, not laymen. It is possible that the only work they did during that short time was on the immediate area around the holy of holies rather than on the holy place containing it, but there is not enough information to make that judgment.

However, our concern is with what the Scriptures mean, not Josephus. Was the naós indeed the limited focus of the whole John 2:12–21 passage, particularly the mentioned 46 years, as Pentecost contended? Many scholars disagree. Wallace cites several:

Merrill F. Unger writes of Herod’s temple in ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE NEW TESTAMENT, page 99. “This magnificent enterprise was begun in 20–19 B.C., and although the sanctuary proper was finished in a year and half, the larger plan envisioned by the monarch was not completed until A.D. 64. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees declared that the temple already had been in the process of construction for forty-six years (John 2:20).”

J.W. Shepard in his classic THE CHRIST OF THE GOSPELS, translates John 2:20 as "Forty-six years this temple was abuilding and will you raise it up in three days?” (p. 95, emphasis added).

A.T. Robertson confirms, “As a matter of fact, it was not yet finished, so distrustful had the Jews been of Herod.” (WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, The Fourth Gospel, verse 2:20).

I find these and the other comments given by Wallace persuasive. Shepard’s translation accounts particularly well for the aorist tense used, giving the sense of a past action of unspecified duration—even still ongoing. This is why Wallace, citing Unger, Shepard and Robertson, emphasized that the temple had been in the process of construction (and was still unfinished) for 46 years. This is the understanding conveyed by other translations of John 2:20:

KJV: “Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?”

RSV: “The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’”

ASV: “The Jews therefore said, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?”

Context, Context, Context

In real estate, the aphorism for finding a valuable building or piece of land is “location, location, location.” In hermeneutics, the key to properly interpreting a passage is “context, context, context.” In the end, whatever meaning we assign to naós, it must be consistent with the immediate context in John 2. Look closely at verse 20 again: “The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple [naós], and will You raise it up in three days?’” If they were indeed restricting their focus only to the edifice of the holy place, we would have expected them to say, “It took a year and a half to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But that is not what they said. Their reply encompassed much more than the time required for the corps of priestly stonemasons to do their job. In this context, I believe it is clear that the Jews were using the part to represent the whole—a figure of speech that grammarians term a synecdoche. As John clarifies in 2:21, Jesus used “naós” to refer to His body in a prophetic foreshadowing of His resurrection after three days. But His hearers could not grasp that meaning. They instead latched onto the word Christ used of Himself, naós, and incredulously threw it back at Him, but with a broader meaning taking account of the entire temple complex. It is the context that gives this broader meaning, not the strict dictionary definition of the word Strong’s limits itself to. Jesus opened the door for the Jews to adopt this broader meaning by calling the sacred precinct not by its technical term, hieron, but instead calling it “the house of God.” This encompassed both the hieron and the naós.

Reading through the entire passage, the focus began on the hieron, the sacred precinct which included all areas open to the public. It is this area of the temple where Jesus took His stand, making a scourge of cords and proceeding to wreak havoc among the commercial interests gathered there. And now, note how He refers to this area: He calls it “God’s house (oikos).” This was a blanket term not only applied to the publicly-accessible areas of the hieron, but encompassing the naós as well. For surely, if the public areas where the sellers plied their wares could be called the “house of God,” much more did the holiest areas qualify! Consistent with this understanding is what Wikipedia observes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple):

In Judaism, the ancient Hebrew texts refer not to temples, the word having not existed yet, but to a “sanctuary,” “palace” or “hall.” Each of the two ancient temples in Jerusalem was called in the Tanakh Beit YHWH, which translates literally as “YHWH’s House.”

It is this understanding that Jesus clearly has in mind. To Him the temple as a whole, both the naós and its surrounding public courtyards, constituted the house of God. He had a wider view of the term, and His hearers adopted it in their scornful response. Therefore, we conclude that John 2:20 should be understood as teaching that, at the time of His first Passover after being anointed by the Holy Spirit when John baptized Him, the temple work begun in Herod’s 18th year had begun 46 years previously, and was still in process.

Before moving on, I wish to draw the reader’s attention to a notable quotation from the Pulpit Commentary at http://biblehub.com/john/2-20.htm:

In forty and six years was this temple built as we see it today. This is one of the most important chronological data for the life of our Lord. Herod the Great, according to Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 15:11 1), commenced the rebuilding of the second temple in the autumn of the eighteenth year of his reign. We find that his first year reckoned from Nisan, A.U.C. 717–718 [37 BC]. Consequently, the eighteenth year must have commenced between Nisan, A.U.C. 734–735 [20 BC] and 735–736 [19 BC]. The forty-sixth year after this would make the Passover at which this speech was delivered—the spring of A.U.C. 781 [AD 28] (Wieseler, ‘Chronicles [sic] Synopsis of the Four Gospels,’ translation; and Herzog, ‘Encyc.,’ 21:546) [bracketed comments added].

The spring of AD 28 just happens to be the year this study already identified, for other reasons, as the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, following His baptism by John in the latter half of AD 27. This unsought correlation indicates that, since others have seen the same things, we are that much more likely to be on the right track.

How Do You Reckon?

Let us now dig down into the study by first clarifying some general dating issues. Calendar-related matters in Josephus are somewhat complicated. One might think a New Year would begin on what was regarded as the first month, but not so. Here is the numerical order of the lunar-based months of the Jewish calendar:

1 - Sevat (Jan/Feb)
2 - Adar (Feb/Mar)
3 - Nisan (Mar/Apr)
4 - Iyyar (Apr/May)
5 - Sivan (May/Jun)
6 - Tammuz (Jun/Jul)
7 - Av Jul/Aug)
8 - Elul (Aug/Sep)
9 - Tishri (Sep/Oct)
10 - Heshvan (Oct/Nov)
11 - Kislev (Nov/Dec)
12 - Tevet (Dec/Jan)

Each Jewish month covered a range of our months because, being tied to the phases of the Moon, it varied somewhat year-to-year. There were two main calendars used by the Jews. One was the civil calendar, with its New Year set to the first of Tishri in the fall. This calendar dealt with most agricultural matters, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years when the land was to lie fallow, and the reigns of foreign kings. The other, of greater importance to Josephus, was the ecclesiastical calendar, with its New Year on the first of Nisan in the spring. As the Mishnah—the compilation of Jewish oral law—teaches, Nisan reckoning was tied closely to the Jewish religious festivals, and also used for incrementing the passing years of the reigns of Jewish kings, which would have included Herod the Great:

On the first of Nissan is the [cut off date for the] New Year regarding [the count of the reigns of the Jewish] kings [which was used to date legal documents. If a king began his reign in Adar even if was only for one day that is considered his first year, and from the first of Nissan is considered his second year…]” (http://www.emishnah.com/moed2/Rosh_HaShanah/1.pdf, brackets original, emphasis added).

Thus, we see that the reigns of Jewish kings were reckoned on a spring-to-spring basis, incremented with the passing of each New Year on Nisan 1. In addition, the start date of a king’s reign was always reckoned as belonging to Year 1 of his reign, even if it only preceded Nisan 1 by a single day. This is the essence of inclusive reckoning: a part of a year is deemed to be a whole year for counting purposes. That this policy is enshrined in the Mishnah is strong reason to presume it applies to the reign of Herod.

Moreover, Josephus specifically tells us, in multiple places in Antiquities, that he himself viewed Nisan as the first month of the year:

Antiquities 1.3.3 – “But Moses appointed that Nisan, which is the same with Xanthicus [the Macedonian calendar name for the month], should be the first month, for their festivals; because he brought them out of Egypt in that month. So that this Month began the year, as to all the solemnities [sacred festivals like Passover] they observed to the honour of God: although he preserved the original order of the months [that is, by Tishri (fall-to-fall) reckoning, where the year begins with Rosh Hashanah] as to selling and buying, and other ordinary affairs” (bracketed comments added).

Antiquities 3.10.5 – “But in the month of Xanthicus; which is by us called Nisan, and is the beginning of our year.”

Antiquities 11.4.8 – “And as the feast of unleavened bread was at hand, in the first month; which according to the Macedonians is called Xanthicus; but according to us, Nisan.

Therefore, in the sections of Josephus we are investigating, we can confidently expect the reigns of Jewish rulers will follow Nisan-based dating. Inclusive reckoning of time periods was part and parcel with this.

Roman Calendars

Roman emperors, in contrast to Jewish rulers, appear to have had their reigns measured from their actual dates of accession, rather than measured in reference to a default New Year’s date. Thus, Tiberius’ first official Roman year began with his Senate approval on September 18, AD 14, and each succeeding year was incremented on that anniverary.

The Roman consuls of record, however—the “ordinary” consuls—were reckoned as taking office at the start of each year. In this regard Wikipedia notes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_consul):

If a consul died during his term (not uncommon when consuls were in the forefront of battle) or was removed from office, another would be elected by the Comitia Centuriata to serve the remainder of the term as consul suffectus (suffect consul). A consul elected to start the year—called a consul ordinarius (ordinary consul)—held more prestige than a suffect consul, partly because the year would be named for ordinary consuls (emphasis added).

That the year was named for the ordinary consuls of that year explains why Josephus repeatedly mentions their names when providing dates. This detail was not simply a matter of political interest, but had specific pertinence to Roman dating conventions. The Wikipedia article also adds under “Consular Dating,”

Roman dates were customarily kept according to the names of the two consuls who took office that year, much like a regnal year in a monarchy. For instance, the year 59 BC in the modern calendar was called by the Romans “the consulship of Caesar and Bibulus”, since the two colleagues in the consulship were Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus…. The date the consuls took office varied: from 222 BC to 153 BC they took office 15 March, and from 153 BC onwards it was on 1 January.

Besides the Julian calendar, implemented by decree in 45 BC and having its New Year on January 1, there were other calendars used by the Romans. Olympiads, periods of four years, were an inheritance from the Greeks that were used frequently by classical historians, including Josephus. Each was divided into four one-year subdivisions, which ran from July 1 to June 30. The first olympiad spanned 776 to 772 BC. Then there were the AUC years. The acronym stands for ab urbe condita—alternatively, anno urbis conditae—signifying the number of years since Rome was founded. It was the usual way of expressing dates in the classical period, where each year was reckoned as beginning on our April 21st.

Inclusive or Non-Inclusive Counting?

Besides the need to account for varying calendars, matters were further complicated by having to determine whether inclusive or non-inclusive counting was followed. The evidence, as seen in the Mishnah, indicates that the Jews normally used inclusive reckoning. In an earlier study of this series we saw that Scripture itself uses it, notably in reference to the sabbatical years (see also the example of Cornelius in Acts 10, given at the end of this article). Kenneth Frank Doig (New Testament Chronology, http://www.nowoezone.com/NTC04.html) analyzed Josephus’ records and concluded:

Josephus reckoned the reigns of kings according to the Jewish Second Temple calendar that began in the spring. Scripture records that this occurred, “in the first month, which is the month Nisan” (Esther 3:7). This calendar continued in use and is preserved in second century CE Jewish oral tradition in the Mishna, which states, “on the first of Nisan is a new year for the computation of the reigns of kings, and for festivals” (Rosh Hashanah 1:1). Josephus did not use the Jewish civil calendar [with the New Year starting in Tishri] or the local Syro-Macedonian calendar, both of which began the year in the fall. For the Herodian rulers, or “kings,” he used inclusive, or non-accession reckoning. The Babylonian Talmud supports this: “If a king ascended to the throne on the twenty-ninth of Adar, as soon as the first of Nisan arrives he is reckoned to have reigned a year” (Rosh Hashanah 2a). He counted the first year of a reign as year one and any part of the first and last year as a complete year. He appears to have maintained this reckoning without regard to other local calendar systems or how these rulers actually recorded their own reign. Josephus used inclusive reckoning from Nisan [bracketed comments and emphasis added].

As valuable as this Mishnaic information is, though, we have to ask: What about Josephus? Can it be shown from his own writings that he himself followed inclusive dating practices?

A Contribution by Schürer

In the late 1800s, pioneering chronologist Emil Schürer published his five-volume masterwork, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. That work set forth what was to be, for about 100 years, the standard understanding that Herod’s de facto (“in fact”) reign over Judea spanned 37 to 4 BC. His de jure (“in law”) start date, as reckoned by the Romans, was assigned to 40 BC (Ant. 14.14.5, “And thus did this man receive the Kingdom; having obtained it on the hundred eighty fourth olympiad; when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time; and Caius Asinius Pollio [the first time].”) We are not appealing to Schürer here as an authority to validate the dating in this study (that would assume what must first be demonstrated), but as a tool for analyzing Josephus. Schürer’s lengthy note 165, on pages 464–467 of Vol. 1, Div. 1 in his 1890 second edition (online at https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044023360308), presents logical evidence that Josephus did indeed use inclusive reckoning:

Herod died shortly before a Passover (Antiq. xvii.9.3; Wars of the Jews, ii.1.3), therefore in March or April. Since Josephus says that he reigned thirty-seven years from the date of his appointment [by the Romans], thirty-four years from his conquest of Jerusalem (Antiq. xvii.8.1; Wars of the Jews, i.33.8), it would seem as if, counting thirty-seven years from the year B.C. 40, he must have died in B.C. 3. But we know that Josephus elsewhere counts a year too much [i.e., he counts inclusively], according to our [non-inclusive] reckoning. Thus he counts from the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey [63 BC] to that by Herod twenty-seven years (Antiq. xiv.16.4), whereas the true number is twenty–six (B.C. 63–B.C. 37) [counting non-inclusively]. Again, from the conquest of Herod [37 BC] down to that by Titus [AD 70] he counts 107 years [with no year 0] (Antiq. xx.10), whereas there were only 106 (A.U.C. 717–A.U.C. 823). He reckons the spring of B.C. 31 the seventh year of Herod (Antiq. xv.5.2; Wars of the Jews, i.19.3), whereas it was only the sixth year (his reign beginning with July B.C. 37). The reason of this is that he counts portions of a year as a year... [i.e., he counts inclusively! Bracketed comments and emphasis added].

Let us now look closely at the references from Antiquities cited by Schürer.

Twenty-Seven Years from Pompey to Herod

Antiquities 14.16.4: “This destruction befel the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls of Rome; on the hundred eighty and fifth olympiad; on the third month; on the solemnity of the fast. As if a periodical revolution of calamities had returned, since that which befel the Jews under Pompey. For the Jews were taken by him on the same day; and this was after twenty seven years time” [emphasis added].

This reference contributes a consular date unambiguously locked to 37 BC. Moreover, it is double-dated to the 185th olympiad; the latter half (Jan-Jun) of its third year and first half (Jul-Dec) of its fourth year line up with 37 BC as well. The “third month” refers to the Jewish month Sivan (May/June) as counted from Nisan. The nature of the fast is an interesting question on its own, with a variety of answers proposed (the one I like best is that it refers simply to the Sabbath day, following Dio Cassius 37.16.4 and the discussion at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12264-pompey-the-great), but it lies outside the scope of this study. The takeaway is that every detail in this passage indicates Herod became de facto king of Judea in 37 BC.

107 Years before the Temple Fell

Antiquities 20.10.1: “Accordingly the number of the High Priests, from the days of Herod, until the day when Titus took the temple, and the city, and burnt them, were in all twenty eight. The time also that belonged to them was an hundred and seven years” [emphasis added].

Counting back 107 years inclusively from the sack of the temple in AD 70 brings one, once again, to 37 BC. (As an aside, the number of high priests specified by Josephus is also supported by the lists at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html#EndNote_Ant_20.20b and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Priests_of_Israel. These lists differ only in that Wikipedia also mentions that Ananelus, Joazar ben Boethus, and Jonathan ben Ananus had short periods of restoration, a detail ignored in the margin note in Antiquities.)

The Seventh Year of Herod

Antiquities 15.5.2: “At this time it was, that the fight happened at Actium, between Octavius Cesar and Antony; in the seventh year of the reign of Herod” [emphasis added].

Here we have a universally accepted date solidly anchored in history in the Battle of Actium, when Octavian defeated Antony’s naval forces and cemented his sole rule over the Romans. This is known from multiple Roman historians to have taken place on September 2, 31 BC. Taking 31 BC as the seventh year of Herod, by inclusive reckoning, makes 37 BC his first year yet again.

Others have written about further considerations connected with Actium that reinforce the 37 BC determination for Herod’s first year. Someone named Alexander Frazier posted the following pithy comment in the “Add Your Comments” area on the Biblical Archaeology Review website (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/herods-death-jesus-birth-and-a-lunar-eclipse/) on March 18, 2018:

Despite any counting methods that may be employed by various authors, whether Nisan to Nisan, Tishri to Tishri, or even January to January, it holds true nonetheless that if the spring of 31 BCE is his seventh year, then the spring of 32 BCE is his sixth year, the spring of 33 BCE is his fifth year, and so on, making the spring of 37 BCE his first year [emphasis added].

Another researcher, Bob Pickle, has a special focus on the sabbatical year cycles. He points out on his website (http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/sabbatical-years-more.htm#5):

Some scholars other than Wacholder [i.e., Filmer and those who follow him] would like to have Herod conquer Jerusalem in 36 BC instead, yet this is not possible. Twice Josephus informs us that the Battle of Actium (summer of 31 BC) occurred in the seventh year of Herod's reign (Antiq., bk. 15, ch. 5, sect. 2; Wars, bk. 1, ch. 19, sect. 3). If he took Jerusalem in 36 BC, then 31 BC would have been his sixth year by non-accession-year [inclusive] reckoning, not his seventh year. So the data Josephus gives us regarding the Battle of Actium mandates that Herod's taking of Jerusalem be in 37 BC, not in 36 BC [bracketed comments added].

In passing I will note that the sabbatical year determinations published by Benedict Zuckermann match up perfectly, from the time of Ezra on, with the results of my own independent study of Daniel 9. A chart of Zuckermann’s dates can be found at http://www.pickle-publishing.com/papers/sabbatical-years-table.htm.

The Eighteenth Year of Herod

In a roundabout way, this brings us back to considering the 46 years the temple was said to be “a-building” by the Jews in John 2:12–21. We have first established solid reasons, based on multiple converging lines of evidence, to regard 37 BC as the beginning of Herod’s reign, with 31 BC as his seventh. The same inclusive dating method used earlier makes the spring of 20 BC the start of Herod’s 18th year. Construction of Herod’s temple began in the fall of 20 BC (a conclusion indicated by the timeline seen in Antiquities 15—see also Pulpit Commentary, cited earlier).

However, in contrast to the normal method of counting inclusively, in this case we are looking at elapsed time. For us to say the temple had been “a-building” for 46 years, we must count the passing years not inclusively, but non-inclusively, like counting birthdays—in other words, we need to look back over 46 already-completed years of construction. We basically want to know when the temple became 46 years old. We are not dealing here with the reign of a king, where the conventions expect inclusive dating from Nisan, but with elapsed time after an event. This means year 1 of the count begins with the fall of 19 BC, after the first anniversary of the start of construction had passed, and continues through the spring of 18 BC. To this we add 45 additional years (with no year 0). This brings us to the spring of AD 28—the 46th year counted non-inclusively, which began the fall of AD 27—the year our previous studies indicated that Christ began His public ministry, and when he cleansed the temple near Passover. The analysis is a bit complex, but I have been over this multiple times, and it seems to fit; the chart below may help. Non-inclusive counting of elapsed time seems to be the key.

“An Hundred, Twenty and Six Years”

In addition to the previous three examples of inclusive dating Schürer described in Josephus, we can mention another detail found near the end of Antiquities 14.16.4 that points to 37 BC as the beginning of his actual reign: “And thus [after Herod had Antigonus, the last of the Hasmonean dynasty, put to death by Antony] did the government of the Asamoneans cease; an hundred, twenty and six years after it was first set up.”

This statement is kind of tricky to figure out. If we assume Herod put Antigonus to death just after he took Jerusalem, then using the 37 BC date for the start of Herod’s reign, counting inclusively 126 years back in time takes us to 162 BC. History knows nothing of note for that year. What about if non-inclusive reckoning is used, and Josephus, as in the case of the 46 years of the temple’s construction, was dealing with elapsed time? In that case, 37 BC counts back to 163 BC. In the spring of that year, Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in Persia, vacating the Seleucid kingship over Judea (his death is given in 1 Maccabees 6:16 as the last half of the year 149 of the Seleucid Era, matching with the first half of 163 BC).

My suggestion, therefore, is that Josephus’ words, “after it was first set up,” signify that he is here counting elapsed time non-inclusively from an event, as we do today: i.e., 163 BC-126 years=37 BC. He is counting the passing of actual years in reference to an event. The word “after” almost seems to be a signal to look at what follows as a non-inclusive count of elapsed time. Understood this way, the 126 years from the spring of 163 BC takes us to the spring of 37 BC. This end date fits perfectly with the three examples given by Schurer previously, increasing our confidence in this approach.

We will have other occasions in the future to put this idea—that elapsed time is reckoned non-inclusively—to the test. In particular, it seems to be the way we must deal with counting the 70 years of the Babylonian exile. The Talmud Mas Arachin 12a validates this approach: “What you must therefore say is that [the counting] excludes the year in which they were exiled.” So the start of the 70-year count—elapsed time—is the year after the exile began.

A Succinct Summary

A succinct summary of the case presented above was given by “Alexander,” cited earlier in reference to the seventh year of Herod. He lists many original source references for the “irrefutable facts” he cites for establishing the start date of Herod’s reign in 37 BC. I highly recommend all who are really interested in this subject to read his comments and check his references. Leaving most of those references out for brevity, here is the case he makes:

We know that Herod traveled to Samosata in 38 BCE to aid Antony in his campaign against Antiochus....Once Antiochus surrendered, Herod returned to Judaea that same year, arriving in the winter of 38/37 BCE (Joseph AJ 14.447, 461; Joseph BJ 1.321). He began his siege of Jerusalem shortly thereafter, in the month of Shebat, as soon as the rigor of winter had passed (Joseph AJ 14.465-466). Jerusalem was then taken in Sivan, the third month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year, in late spring of 37 BCE (knowing that the five-month siege of Jerusalem ended in “the third month” of 37 BCE, or Sivan, this siege began at some point in Shebat of 37 BCE)….

We can further determine by this information that Herod’s reign from the time the Romans declared him king is counted from Nisan to Nisan in the spring. His fourth year of this enumeration has to coincide with his first year from his conquest of Jerusalem, which we know deduces to the spring of 37 BCE. Since the winter preceding the siege of Jerusalem in Shebat of 37 BCE is stated as his third year from his Roman appointment (Joseph AJ 14.465), and it was his fourth year in Sivan of 37 BCE at the conclusion of the siege according to the regnal parallel, we can say with confidence that the transition from one regnal year to the next occurred in the spring. And with Herod’s fourth year from the time the Romans declared him king established as beginning in the spring of 37 BCE, his first year, by deduction, is counted from 40 BCE, reckoned ex post facto to the spring of that year.

These facts are in perfect agreement with Josephus, who tells us that Herod was made king by the Romans in [August of] 40 BCE, during the 184th Olympiad, when Caius Domithis Calvinus was consul for the second time and Caius Asinius Pollio the first time (Joseph AJ 14.389), and that Herod then captured Jerusalem in June of 37 BCE, during the 185th Olympiad, when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls (Joseph AJ 14.487-488, 14.66), which was twenty-seven years, inclusively, from the time that Pompey captured Jerusalem in June of 63 BCE, during the 179th Olympiad, when Caius Antonius and Marcus Tullius Cicero were consuls.

By these facts, the starting points for his two lengths of reign are unquestionably and unambiguously 40 BCE and 37 BCE respectively, as is further corroborated by other datable events.…With Herod’s third year from his Roman appointment being in the winter of 38/37 BCE, and his seventh year from his conquest of Jerusalem falling in the spring of 31 BCE, an accession year method of counting is blatantly incorrect, as is progressive counting rather than inclusive.

The third point I’d like to make is that it shows poor scholarship to refer to inclusive counting as “so-called.” That IS how they counted in the first century. Evidence of it is readily available in any Roman calendar still extant. There are also examples of it in Acts 10:1–33, where Cornelius says four days had passed when it had been only three by modern, non-inclusive counting.

The example of Cornelius which “Alexander” cites is a particularly clear example of inclusive reckoning in Scripture. Here is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Acts 10:1–33, summarized from the NASB, with the transitions between days highlighted:

Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion.…About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God…When the angel who was speaking to him had left, he summoned two of his servants and a devout soldier and…sent them to Joppa. On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter…fell into a trance…the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you”….Peter went down to the men and…invited them in and gave them lodging….And on the next day he got up and went away with them…On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them…Cornelius said, “Four days ago to this hour, I was praying in my house during the ninth hour…”]

Three days had passed as we count them, but four as Cornelius reckoned them. This is inclusive counting clearly on display in inspired Scripture. This corroborates it as a normal way of counting for both the Romans and the Jews. At the same time, it does not rule out elapsed time being reckoned non-inclusively on occasion. We have to take the full picture of each situation into consideration.

Conclusions

When all is said and done, one of the great strengths of Josephus and the straightforward treatment of his data epitomized by Schürer lies in how his presentation is self-consistent, indicating it most likely represents true history. In contrast, when we try to adopt other modern, questioning reinterpretations of Josephus, the synchronisms found in Josephus’ writings, apparent when they are read in a straightforward manner, break down. Trying to synchronize all of the various classical historians, as Steinmann (Herod, p. 28), for one, has attempted to do, means picking winners and losers when conflicts arise between their data and that of Josephus. That Josephus is the one whose data gets reinterpreted in the recent scholarly rebellion against the “Schürer Consensus” indicates he has consistently gotten the short end of the stick. I am unable to see a truly objective reason for singling him out this way.

For those who would like to see a graphical representation of the synchronisms discussed, below is a truncated chart derived from my master Excel spreadsheet, covering the Herodian data and things already discussed in previous articles in this series. (As of December 2018, this chart is no longer entirely accurate. Please see my later article, Pinpointing the Date of Christ's Birth, for a more precise accounting that places His birth in the spring of 6 BC.)

DANIEL9 HerodTimelineChart 180629

With these observations on the beginning of the reign of Herod the Great and the 46 years that passed from the time he began construction on the temple, we have said as much as we can for the moment. I plan to discuss the death of Herod in the next installment of this study.


DANIEL9 DanielBanner

An Overview of Previous Articles in the Series

The February 2018 issue of the ABR Electronic Newsletter introduced my ongoing chronology-related research. One of its key long-range objectives is to show how the “70 Weeks” prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27 illustrates the inspiration of the Scriptures, showing how human history is controlled by an all-wise, all-powerful, infallible God Who declares in advance mysteries which are yet to unfold. His objective existence and interaction with the world He created is the only explanation for the way all the pieces of that prophecy can come together over a vast span of time.

In order to lay out the case for the inspiration and (partial) fulfillment of Daniel 9, other chronological points have to first be independently established and backed up by both Scripture and history, since they are inextricably linked to the Daniel 9 prophecy. That is why I have focused so much recently on the date of the Crucifixion. Get that date wrong, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to fit together the details given in Daniel 9 and other passages without either embracing some questionable exegesis of Scripture, or casting unjustified doubt on the accuracy of original source material such as Josephus’ Antiquities. Efforts have been made by others to cobble solutions together with varying degrees of success. My own research indicates that positing an AD 33 Crucifixion date and forcing other details into conformity with it does not permit Daniel 9:24–27 to be interpreted in a straightforward manner that is faithful to its grammar and context, and indeed destroys the apologetic value of this prophecy as a witness to the Inerrancy of Scripture. This is why I have endeavored to present the evidence for an AD 30 Crucifixion as the first step in the process of unpacking Daniel 9.

My initial article, “How the Passover Illuminates the Date of the Crucifixion,” looked at how the Passover was first observed on the night before the Israelites left Egypt, then at how God commanded His people to commemorate it each year as a memorial to His great deliverance (Ex. 12, Lev. 21, Nm. 28). Applying this information from the Word to initially narrow down the options for the date of the Crucifixion—it ruled out any days other than a Friday, or any duration other than from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning—the study then looked at records of lunar eclipses, concluding that lunar eclipse information was insufficient on its own to distinguish between two possible candidate dates—April 7, AD 30 and April 3, AD 33.

The theme of that first article was then taken further in the March 2018 ABR Electronic Newsletter, which presented a detailed look at the books of Acts and Galatians. That exegetical study of Scripture concluded that, when data from Galatians 1–2 is linked with the AD 44 death of Herod Agrippa I during Paul’s second post-conversion visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11–12), it strongly indicated our Lord was crucified in AD 30. (If you have not read that paper, may I encourage you to do so.) When the exegetical conclusions from that second article are combined with calendar observations covered in the first, a strong case is made that the date for the Crucifixion that best fits the data is April 7, AD 30.

Last month, we took a detour from the Crucifixion-centered theme of the first two articles, turning our attention instead to the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8:14. We saw how that passage deals only with the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, and contributes nothing to understanding the timing of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, or the unfolding of events in the Last Days. The 2,300 evening-mornings of that prophecy refer to the number of twice-daily regular sacrifices that were lost during the time of Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple. They do not signify some obscure period of 2,300 years we somehow need to account for in our eschatology.

With this review concluded, we now resume the main thrust of this phase of the overall study, setting on a yet more firm foundation the contention that Christ was crucified in AD 30. We are going to look at something Luke reports: the ministry of John the Baptist coincided with the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Lk 3:1). This is often cited as evidence the Crucifixion took place in AD 33, but it will be shown it can very reasonably be reconciled with AD 30—for which, we must not forget, the previous studies in this series have already shown strong scriptural support. Everything must fit together without depending either on questionable interpretations of Scripture, or requiring us to suppose that extrabiblical historical source materials we depend on are wrong.

Though a number of dating indicators derived from the Roman/Jewish historian Josephus are pertinent to the study, we will not focus on them in this brief article. To begin examining Josephus is to enter a quagmire of scholarly subjectivity, where the plain sense of his records in Antiquities is frequently questioned and reinterpreted in a forced way to support an AD 33 Crucifixion. For now it will suffice to say that, when they are accepted at face value, Josephus’ writings support an AD 30 Crucifixion with little difficulty.

Luke’s Historiography

Luke 3:1–2 gives us several chronological indicators in a single sentence. In the NASB:

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

The first thing we notice here is that all of these people, in their various offices, had various degrees of overlap with the start of the ministry of John the Baptist. It is apparent that Luke is attempting to firmly anchor John’s ministry to a particular point in history. A look at Wikipedia yields the following generally accepted date ranges for key individuals:

Tiberius Caesar, Roman emperor—AD 14–37
Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea—AD 26–36
Herod, tetrarch of Galilee—4 BC–AD 39
Annas ben Seth, high priest—AD 6–15
Joseph Caiaphas, high priest—AD 18–36

An oddity is apparent here, which gives us insight into the way Luke thinks about chronology matters. It is his mention of “the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” If Luke’s only purpose was to provide chronological hooks on which to hang the ministry of John the Baptist, why would TWO high priests be mentioned, only one of whom was actually in office during John’s ministry? As far as official records go, Annas and Caiaphas were high priests at different times with no overlap, with only Caiaphas serving while John baptized in the wilderness.

There seems to be only one way to explain this, since the record-keeping of the Jews concerning their high priests was too precise for us to suppose Luke had made an error: Luke was recognizing practical political realities in Judea. He was not slavishly repeating official records, but taking a pragmatic approach in his reporting that recognized the real-world impact certain people had on the lives of the Jews. Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the influential patriarch of the family, the politically-savvy “power behind the throne,” so to speak. For all practical purposes he was a co-high priest, influencing the decisions of his son-in-law and the Sanhedrin, and having a marked impact on the religious life of the Jews even though his formal tenure in office ended before the Baptist came on the scene.

The above observation was first brought to my attention by Ron Wallace at http://www.biblefragrances.com/studies/tiberius.html. (Although I do not agree with every point it makes—in particular, its placing the 15th year of Tiberius in AD 11 seems too early—the entire article is a wealth of thoughtful information that I encourage everyone interested in this subject to read carefully.) He repeatedly references the work of theologian William Hendriksen. On page 194 of his New Testament Commentary volume on Luke, Hendriksen labels as the “traditional view” that which dates the 15th year of Tiberius to AD 26, while the “popular view” assigns it to AD 28–29. Wallace quotes Hendriksen:

“And during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” Annas (or “Ananus” as Josephus calls him) had been appointed high priest by Quirinius in the year A.D. 6, and was deposed by Valerius Gratus, about A.D. 15. But though deposed, he remained for a long time the ruling spirit of the Sanhedrin. Five sons and a grandson followed him in the high priesthood; also a son-in-law, the very one mentioned by Luke, namely, Caiaphas. The latter held the high priestly office from A.D. 18 to 36....

It may seem strange that Luke assigns the beginning of the Baptist’s ministry to the high priesthood not only of Caiaphas but “of Annas and Caiaphas.” Annas, after all, was deposed from that office in A.D. 15, long before John’s ministry began, whether according to theory (a) [the traditional view] or (b) [the popular view]. That Luke assigns the beginning of John’s ministry to the high priesthood of Caiaphas (A.D. 18–36) we can understand, but why to that of Annas?

Nevertheless, Luke is correct. He is thinking of the actual situation, not the merely formal one. The actual situation was that both Annas and Caiaphas were “in the drivers’s seat” during the entire period of John’s ministry and during the entire length of Christ’s ministry; Annas as well—perhaps even more than—Caiaphas [page 197, emphasis added].

Implications of the 15th Year of Tiberius

You may wonder, why am I belaboring this point? For this reason: The date Tiberius officially became Emperor shortly after the death of Augustus was September 18, AD 14. Counting inclusively, per the Roman norm, 15 years from this date yields the start of the Baptist’s ministry in AD 28. An AD 30 Crucifixion is too early to fit this. AD 33, on the other hand, appears to fit just fine—once appropriate, if somewhat conjectural, padding is added to stretch out the baptism > crucifixion timeline to 3-1/2 years (many scholars feel there should be a fourth Passover somewhere in there to accommodate everything that happens, though none of the Gospels mentions one). Furthermore, since this approach also places the Passover on a Friday, many scholars stop their analysis of the crucifixion date right there.

The problem is, they are then forced to seek out various workarounds and awkward interpretations of both Scripture and information from Josephus to make other details—such as Galatians 1–2 and the death of Herod Agrippa, discussed in the March ABR Electronic Newsletter article—harmonize with it. J. Dwight Pentecost is one of those scholars; as Wallace notes, “Pentecost…rejects the traditional view as ‘unacceptable’ (The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, 1980, page 80) and ‘untenable’ (page 578). But he is influenced by insisting on a 33 AD date for the crucifixion” [emphasis added]. More recently and in the same vein is the approach of Andrew Steinmann. His exegesis of Galatians 1–2, found on pp. 306–320 in his From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology, is governed by a prior commitment to an AD 33 Crucifixion. He states (p. 317):

A final objection [to equating Galatians 2:1–10 with the “famine relief visit” of Acts 11:29–30] has to do with chronology. The advocates of equating Gal 2:1–10 with the famine relief visit usually date this visit to AD 46.  This means that Paul’s conversion came fourteen years earlier in AD 32 or, perhaps, AD 33, if Paul was reckoning the span of years inclusively (Gal 2:1). However, we have already seen that the most likely date for the crucifixion is AD 33, which of necessity places Paul’s conversion several years later. (See the discussion of the dates of Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion in chapters 12 and 13 and especially the discussion of the year of the crucifixion beginning on page 280.) [Emphasis added.]

By saying “we have already seen” and referring back to a discussion about the year of the Crucifixion found on earlier pages of his book, it is clear that before he ever dealt with his exegesis of Galatians 2:1–10, Steinmann had already drawn a red line that could not be crossed. He regards his Crucifixion date as “of necessity” placing Paul’s conversion after AD 33, regardless of exegetical indications to the contrary in Galatians and Acts. He had already committed himself to interpreting Galatians 2:1–10 in harmony with an AD 33 Crucifixion, even though, as my previous article on Acts and Galatians hopefully made clear, the plain sense of Galatians 2:1–10 matches up best with the (misnamed) “famine relief visit” described in Acts 11:29–30. This requires the conversion of Paul to take place not later than AD 32, and rules out an AD 33 Crucifixion.

The Co-Princeps of Tiberius

At any rate, Luke’s approach to the high priests means it is distinctly possible that he may have taken a similar pragmatic approach to the 15th year of Tiberius, viewing it differently than did the Romans. Is there any indication that this is the case? Yes, and it lies in the fact that we have evidence Tiberius was made “co-princeps,” with powers equal to those of Augustus over the Roman provinces, including Judea, prior to the death of Augustus. (Princeps civitatis, “First Citizen,” is the official title of the Roman Emperor.)

The ancient historian Suetonius recorded the following information:

After two years he [Tiberius] returned to the city from Germany and celebrated the triumph [for his military victories in Germany and Pannonia]....Since the consuls caused a law to be passed soon after this that he should govern the provinces jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him, he set out for Illyricum on the conclusion of the lustral ceremonies [which culminated the census]; but he was at once recalled, and finding Augustus in his last illness but still alive, he spent an entire day with him in private (Augustus 97:1; Tiberius 20–21, online at https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/suet-tiberius-rolfe.asp; emphasis added).

Similarly, according to Velleius Paterculus (2.121.1–2, online at http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Velleius_Paterculus/2D*.html), a soldier who served under Tiberius,

After he had broken the force of the enemy by his expeditions on sea and land, had completed his difficult task in Gaul, and had settled by restraint rather than by punishment the dissensions that had broken out among the Viennenses, at the request of his father that he should have in all the provinces and armies a power equal to his own, the senate and Roman people so decreed. For indeed it was incongruous that the provinces which were being defended by him should not be under his jurisdiction, and that he who was foremost in bearing aid should not be considered an equal in the honour to be won. On his return to the city he celebrated the triumph over the Pannonians and Dalmatians, long since due him, but postponed by reason of a succession of wars.

While both passages agree that Tiberius did indeed receive authority equal that of Augustus in the provinces prior to Augustus’ death, it is slightly ambiguous exactly when they were granted. Paterculus seems, at first glance, to be saying that Tiberius was first granted the co-princeps powers at his father’s behest, then the triumph took place afterwards. According to the Fasti Praenestini inscription (http://www.attalus.org/docs/cil/add_8.html), on October 23, 12 AD “Tiberius rode a chariot in triumph from Illyricum.” This implies he received co-princeps authority in AD 12. However, the way the passage is written allows one to interpret it as Paterculus first presenting the big picture, then adding, as an afterthought, the observation that “on his return to the city”—i.e., right after his return from his military campaigns—he celebrated his triumph. This would make the granting of co-princeps authority follow shortly thereafter, in agreement with Suetonius. That makes good sense; after all, the high honor of virtually unlimited authority over the Empire seems to be such that would not have been granted in absentia while Tiberius was still in the field, but in his presence, to public and senatorial acclamation, following his return to Rome.

On the whole, then, the weight of scholarship seems to favor Suetonius’ timeline. Tiberius celebrated his triumph in October, AD 12. Co-princeps power was then granted him in the first half of AD 13; the census-taking and lustral ceremonies occupied the latter half of AD 13; then early AD 14 saw his trip to Illyricum, followed by a quick recall home for Augustus’ final illness. Highly-respected scholar Theodor Mommsen views the situation that way, noting in A History of Rome under the Emperors (online at https://web.archive.org/web/20110930110717/https://www.scribd.com/doc/42999229/A-History-of-Rome-Under-the-Emperors) that “Only months prior to the death of Augustus the same powers that were invested in the Emperor were conferred on him in all the provinces.” “Only months prior” implies less than a year, seemingly making AD 12 too early.

What we may take away from these co-princeps details, considered together with Luke’s pragmatic attitude toward the high priesthood of Annas, is that Luke may well have regarded the first “year of Tiberius,” so far as Judea was concerned, as beginning in AD 13. By inclusive reckoning, this would assign the 15th year of Tiberius, when the ministry of John the Baptist began, to AD 27.

The Passovers of Jesus’ Ministry

There is one more thing I wish to draw our attention to. It is generally conceded that the timeline of Jesus’ ministry encompassed three Passovers. The first is mentioned in John 2:13; the second in John 6:4; and the third, when Christ was betrayed and the Crucifixion took place, from John 11:55 through the end of chapter 19. As mentioned earlier, some scholars think there should be another Passover and another year in there, because they subjectively feel Jesus was involved in too many things to squeeze it all into the reported space of time. But the fact remains: this idea of a missing Passover is based on nothing more than scholarly conjecture, not biblical revelation. We are on safe ground if we stick to what God tells us in Scripture. Since John mentioned three Passovers, it stands to reason that if there was a fourth Passover somewhere in there, John would have mentioned it for completeness.

Prior to the first Passover we have the start of John the Baptist’s ministry, Christ’s baptism, the 40 days and nights of fasting and temptation, the calling of the earliest disciples, the wedding at Cana, and a period of baptizing ministry during which Jesus gave His disciples personal attention and nurturing. Those events can be expected to have taken several months prior to the first-mentioned Passover. For these reasons, I conclude that Jesus was baptized in the fall of the year before His first Passover.

Let us now put this all together. Luke pragmatically dated the 15th year of Tiberius according to when Tiberius obtained co-princeps authority over Judea. The evidence, drawn largely from Suetonius, is that Tiberius exercised imperium control over Judea in AD 13, making his 15th year, by Roman inclusive reckoning, AD 27. This would be the year when, in the fall, John baptized Jesus. Then the early events laying the groundwork for His public ministry take place, leading into His first Passover in the spring of AD 28. The second Passover of His ministry cited in John 6:4 took place in the spring of AD 29. Finally, the third Passover, when Jesus was crucified, came around…on April 7, AD 30. That was the conclusion arrived at in the previous installments of this study for entirely independent reasons.

Thus, there is no basis for dogmatically dismissing an AD 30 date for the Crucifixion as some do. We have to be fair to all the data, not just some of it. At the same time, we have to avoid reading our own biases into the narrative, whether by adding to it (like extra time padding the timeline of Jesus' ministry) or taking things away (like dates supported by the plain sense of extrabiblical historical records, such as those reported by Josephus pertaining to Herod the Great).

Conclusion

To wrap up this segment of the larger study, I feel obliged to adopt Wallace’s conclusion that Luke is taking a practical, Judea-centric view of the reign of Tiberius rather than a Rome-centric one:

In conclusion, the weight of probability lies with view (a). It seems that the only reason one would reject (a) in favor of (b) is an insistence that the year of the crucifixion must be 33 A.D. instead of 30 A.D. However, it seems to me that one cannot start with a preferred crucifixion date and go BACKWARD to establish the date of Tiberius' 15th year. And yet, once one accepts a particular year for Tiberius' 15th, it is reasonable then to use that to help establish the year of the crucifixion.

The phenomenon of reckoning a ruler’s reign differently when viewed from different perspectives is known in other cases, notably that of Herod the Great. Ignoring for the moment the debate about precisely when Herod’s reign began (traditionally 40 BC, by Roman reckoning), Josephus records (Ant. 17.8.1; Wars 1.33.8) that the Romans deemed it took effect when Antony and Octavian jointly declared him king over Judea, but the Jews did not acknowledge his rule until three years later, when Herod finally defeated the forces of the last Hasmonean, Antigonus, and had Antony put him to death. The Romans thus viewed the start of Herod’s reign from a date that existed only in Roman records, while the Judeans viewed it from the perspective of practical authority exerted over them. This is apparently what took place in the case of Tiberius as well. Although the Romans recorded Tiberius as sole head of state beginning in AD 14, his maius imperium (highest authority to command) power over the province of Judea was actually exercised from the time he was named co-princeps with Augustus in AD 13. And this, in keeping with his recognition of the status of Annas as a de facto high priest, appears to be how Luke reckoned Tiberius’ 15th year, from AD 13 rather than 14.

In sum, the significance of the 15th year of Tiberius given in Luke 3:1 is its specific connection to the start of the ministry of John the Baptist. We know that Christ was baptized prior to the Passover recorded in John 2:13, and a baptism during winter or early spring is less likely due to chilly weather. Moreover, time was needed prior to His first Passover to deal with the 40-day fast and other things. Therefore, we conclude that Jesus was most likely baptized in the early fall of AD 27. This synchronizes perfectly with the AD 30 Crucifixion our previous studies showed was most likely, and requires no conjectural padding of the timeline. It is consistent with the practical approach of Luke to dating things that we saw in his mention of both Annas and Caiaphas as high priests. The plain sense of Scripture in Acts and Galatians is also allowed to stand as written, rather than being subjected to awkward alternative interpretations to force it to fit with an AD 33 Crucifixion.

In the end, as John H. Rhoads pointed out in his excellent analysis of the date of the Quirinius census in Luke 2:1–2 (“Josephus Misdated the Census of Quirinius,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54.1 [2001], 65–87), “When faced with such conflicting accounts, reconstructing history consists in establishing the most plausible, rather than the absolutely certain, account of what really happened.” That is what we are attempting to show in this study. In the material we have covered it is not as if there is conflict within the data, but in the interpretations; and an AD 33 Crucifixion date appears to involve jiggering with source information not required by the alternative.

In the next installment of this study, I hope to examine the significance of the mention in John 2:13–20 of the 46 years Herod’s temple had been under construction, along with evidence why the beginning of the reign of Herod should be assigned to the traditional date of 37 BC. The fashionable approach of the last half century of assigning it to 36 BC, which began with the work of W.E. Filmer and was subsequently adopted by Jack Finegan and Andrew Steinmann among others, is a new kid on the block that, though enthusiastically embraced by a few scholars who adopt an AD 33 Crucifixion, has for good reason failed to displace the traditional AD 30 date in the minds of most.

DANIEL9 DanielBanner

At the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, I had a conversation with a friend about the meaning of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” mentioned in Daniel 8:14. The subject came up as we were discussing some aspects of the eschatology research I began in August 2017, which, among other things, has taken me into a deep study of the entire book of Daniel. This conversation brought home to me that there were differences of opinion as to how the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” should be understood.  I decided to undertake a focused study on the passage and its surrounding context to hopefully understand it better, and would like to share with you some insights that came out of that work.

What Matters is What the Bible Says

We could spend considerable time evaluating what various Bible commentators have had to say about the 2,300 “evenings and mornings.” One website (https://www.wake-up.org/time-periods/2300-days-daniel-8-14.html) observed that, of an assortment of “prominent scholars” between the years AD 430–1781 that dealt with the meaning of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings,” 21 claimed the 2,300 days represented years; six said they denoted the number of days to reach the end of the world; three claimed the period was 2,300 literal days; and one opined that the time represented 1,150 24-hour days. Folks, this diversity of opinion—which continues to our day—does not exactly engender confidence that a solution can be easily found! Nor does it mean that I, who would boldly sally forth into theological territory the prudent avoid, can come up with a better alternative than those who have gone before me. Nevertheless, when I stumble upon a workable solution offered by others to a seemingly intractable exegetical problem, as I did in this case, it seems good to pass it along.

The Text of Daniel 8

Let us first see what Daniel 8:3–14 says (NASB; a few phrases have been emphasized in bold for special attention):

3 Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.
4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.
5 While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.
6 He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.
7 I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.
8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.
9 And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the glorious land.
10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them.
11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.
12 And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?”
14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

The angel Gabriel then explains in verses 8:20-26 the meaning of the above vision:

20 “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.
21 The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king.
22 The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power.
23 In the latter period of their rule, when the transgressors have run their course, a king will arise, insolent and skilled in intrigue.
24 His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree and prosper and perform his will; he will destroy mighty men and the holy people.
25 And through his shrewdness he will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; and he will magnify himself in his heart, and he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, but he will be broken without human agency.
26 The vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; but keep the vision secret, for it pertains to many days in the future.”

What is clear to virtually all conservative interpreters is that Daniel 8:20–22 refers to Alexander the Great, the “large horn” king of Greece, from whose empire his four generals arose and parceled it out among themselves. This was an event that took place “many days in the future” from Daniel’s time, about four centuries later. Normal hermeneutics would lead us to expect that verses 20–22 establish, simply as a matter of context, that their era sets the time frame for understanding the entire prophecy covered by Daniel 8:3–26: that in the absence of any clear indications to the contrary, the whole passage deals with the time of Alexander the Great and its immediate aftermath.

This impression is apparently confirmed by Daniel 8:23, “in the latter period of their rule.” Whose rule? Contextually, the rule of the four generals of Alexander who arose out of Alexander’s broken-up realm. When was the “latter period” of these generals? Known history indicates it was just prior to the Maccabean uprising, which spelled the effective end of that rule as far as the Jews were concerned. And what instigated the Maccabean rebellion? The desecration of the Second Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a descendent of Alexander’s general Seleucus. The description of Antiochus Epiphanes in v. 23, as “insolent and skilled in intrigue,” is consistent with what is known about him: his political machinations, his pride, the warfare he waged, his persecution of the Jews, the placing of the desolating abomination in the Second Temple (where he in effect opposed “the Commander of the host,” “the Prince of princes,” God), and his being “broken without human agency,” which is consistent with his death from disease as reported in 2 Maccabees.

The Vision about the “Evenings and Mornings”

These details indicate that the context for understanding “the vision of the evenings and mornings” is the time of Antiochus, not an eschatological time some 2,300 years later. Viewing “evenings and mornings” (note well, it does not say “days,” and we cannot assume without analysis that the phrase means this) as figuratively meaning “years” is contextually unsupported, and amounts to subjectively reading onto the passage a theological/eschatological viewpoint developed from outside it. We must not set aside the immediate context of Scripture, regardless of whether respected commentators may have done so.

The six days of Creation are described thus in Genesis 1: “and there was evening, and there was morning.” To most conservative interpreters, an evening-and-morning period in Genesis is a 24-hour day, so in the absence of any clear indications to the contrary, we should default to that understanding of the evening-mornings in Daniel 8. Provisionally taking the 2,300 evening-mornings as 2,300 days obliges us to look for a significant anchor point about six years prior to Antiochus' desecration of the Second Temple.

However, we cannot identify a known historical event to provide such an anchor. The best guess of conservatives seeking to understand the 2,300 period as literal 24-hour days—the solution promoted in the ESV Study Bible, following such commentators as Matthew Henry and Keil—is that there is an approximate fulfillment between the time of the murder of the high priest Onias III by the corrupt usurper Menelaus until Judas Maccabeus rededicated the Temple. But this is only approximate, which appears to be out of keeping with the evening-morning precision applied to the number 2,300. It seems we must search for a better answer, one that understands the “evenings and mornings” as meaning something other than “days.”

The Vision about the “Regular Sacrifice”

As explained above, verse 8:11 indicates that the one who removes the “regular sacrifice” from God, and through this act metaphorically “throws down” (desolates) His sanctuary, is Antiochus. This sets the stage for understanding these words in 8:13: “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” The bolded phrase is an exact analogue to what we read in 8:26, “the vision of the evenings and mornings”; both verses speak of the same vision, emphasizing different aspects. Therefore, we should be looking for an understanding of the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” as something connected with the resumption of normal Temple sacrifice practice after its interruption by the desecration wrought by Antiochus.

I recently found a proposed solution that takes into account both the context of the passage in Antiochus' time—the interruption of the regular daily sacrifice—and the evening-morning precision of the 2,300 period. First, we need to understand what Scripture says about the “regular sacrifice,” that is, the continual burnt offering referred to in Daniel 8:11. Exodus 29:38–42 gives us the details (NASB, emphasis added):

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning [Heb boqer] and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight [Heb 'ereb]; and there shall be one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering with one lamb. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it the same grain offering and the same drink offering as in the morning, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there.

We learn from this that the regular offering, the “continual,” involved one sacrificed lamb in the morning and another in the evening. The continual regular sacrifice thus was not one sacrifice per day, but actually two, involving an 'ereb and a boqer. Now, compare this with the Hebrew words used in Daniel 8:13-14: “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings ['ereb in the singular] and mornings [boqer in the singular]. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” In other words, 2,300 evening-mornings. The same two words. Is this significant?

I think it is. Look again at the context of verses 8:13 and 14. The question asked is not, “How far in the future will the vision start to be fulfilled?”, which would expect an answer in years (since 8:26 tells us that the vision as a whole “pertains to many days in the future”). Rather, it is “How long will the regular sacrifice be disrupted?”, which looks for an answer connected with the actions of Antiochus. The NIV agrees with the NASB in affirming that this is the meaning of verse 13: “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD's people?” It is not about the “many days in the future” when the vision starts to be fulfilled, but how long the process of fulfillment plays out.

In short, we have to stay anchored to the context of the passage, both in terms of its time frame and its subject. The time frame in question is the aftermath of Antiochus' desolating the Temple, while the subject is the regular “continual” sacrifice. Since we know that the “continual” involved sacrifices in the evening and the morning (the Jews reckoned their days as beginning in the evening), we ask, “Might the 2,300 evening-mornings refer to 1,150 days of twice-daily sacrifices?”

A Precise Solution to the 2,300 Evening-Mornings

In what follows I am indebted to Fred P. Miller for the keen insights into the prophecy of Daniel 8 in the following analysis, posted at http://www.moellerhaus.com/2300.htm. He points out that precise dates for the beginning and end of Antiochus' desecration of the Second Temple are known. 1 Maccabees 1:54 gives us the date of the abomination as Kislev (December) 15, 167 BC, while 1 Maccabees 4:52–53 tells us the Temple was rededicated on Kislev 25, 164 BC. (The Jews remember this date in their celebration of Hanukkah.) These two dates span a total of 3 years and 10 days.

Now, if we compare the “time, times and half a time” expression used in Daniel 7:25 with the “forty-two months” of Revelation 13:5 for the same period when the Antichrist exercises authority, we see that Daniel reckoned a year to be 360 days long:

Dan 7:25 He [Antichrist] shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they [the saints] shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.

Rev 13:5 And the beast [Antichrist] was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.

Comparing Revelation 12:6 with Revelation 12:14 yields the same result:

Rev 12:6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Rev 12:14 But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.

When we plug this 360-day year into the three full years spanned by the desecration of Antiochus, we account for 1,080 days. To this we must add the intercalary (leap) months used by the Greeks to periodically get their calendar synced up with the seasons. How long were those months? Herodotus, the Greek “Father of History,” helps us answer that question. Writing around the year 445 BC, in a dialogue about happiness between Croesus and Solon, he states:

Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred [25,200] days. Add an intercalary month to every other year, that the seasons may come round at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty-five [35] such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty [1050] days. The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty [26,250], whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest (https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/herodotus-creususandsolon.asp).

Let’s follow along with Herodotus to find out how long the year and intercalary months were in his day. Dividing 25,200 days by 70 years yields 360 days per year, just as in our Scriptures above. The length of an intercalary month in the Greek system—probably that followed in Antiochus’ day, since he was a Greek—is found by dividing 1,050 days by 35 months, yielding 30 days per intercalary month. Over our 3 years and 10 days period, having a 30-day intercalary month in the first and third years (“every other year,” as Herodotus put it) adds 60 days. We then total it all up—years, intercalary months, plus 10 extra days: 1,080 + 60 + 10 = 1,150 days.

This is exactly the number of days covered by 2,300 evening-morning regular sacrifices. It is yet another indicator of the inspiration of Scripture, a marvelously precise fulfillment of what Gabriel revealed to Daniel about the duration of Antiochus Epiphanes' desolation of the Second Temple. I commend this solution to you for understanding the 2,300 “evenings and mornings” of Daniel 8:14. Adopting it also eliminates giving the false impression that we somehow need to accommodate 2,300 years into our eschatological understandings. We can thereby avoid an unfruitful rabbit trail as we try to think God’s thoughts after Him, as we study Daniel and other eschatology-focused Scriptures.

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ABRT 24 | 4/13/2019