New Testament Chronology

New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990)

Kenneth Frank Doig
Exact Dating of the Birth and Crucifixion of Jesus



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Chapter 4

The Scripture reads, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King." (Matt. 2:1) This statement has focused the attention of many historians on the chronology of Herod and his descendants. That focus will here be sharpened, particularly on the date of the death of Herod the Great.

Before the beginning of the Christian era an Idumean tyrant1 named Herod the Great ruled a kingdom roughly equivalent to present day Israel. In the year before his death he burned seditionists alive, slew the children of Bethlehem, gathered the Jewish leaders of his kingdom to slaughter, and murdered his own son. He died in agony, perhaps a fitting end to this oriental despot. Even though his great building projects included the Temple in Jerusalem, the day of his death was a day of rejoicing for the Jews and suitable for a feast. However, the determination of the day of his death and the chronology of the reigns of his three sons who divided his kingdom has been the subject of an ongoing debate. A solution to the Herodian chronology is here proposed.

A solution to the chronology can be attained. This is based on the writings of the first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus matched against sure dating in Roman history and the contemporary coins of the Herodian rulers. According to Josephus, Herod died in the year beginning in the spring month of Nisan of 4 BCE. This is then matched up against the dating of the coins of the following Herodian rulers. This yields a year of his death beginning in the fall month of Tishri (or Dios) of 4 BCE. This overlap narrows the date to a six month period from Tishri of 4 BCE until the end of Adar in 3 BCE. Jewish tradition also dates a festival for Herod's death during this half of the year, on Kislev 7. The equivalent proposed date for the death of Herod the Great is November 27, 4 BCE. Jesus was born before that date.

I. Josephus' Chronology

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)2 Josephus did not use the Jewish civil calendar or the local Syro-Macedonian calendar, both of which began the year in the fall.3 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.4

[Added Note:  Andrew E. Steinmann, “When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum. 51. (2009): 1-29 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. Further, Josephus was a Sadducee (seeHERE), which is well established in other sections of this work as having reckoned the day from sunrise and the New Year from Nisan in the Spring.]

Josephus double dated the reign of Herod. He was first declared king by the Romans, "on the 184th Olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul the second time, and Caius Asinius Pollio, the first time." (Ant. XIV 14:5) The Olympiads are dated back to the restoration of the Olympic games in 776 BCE, and are counted in four year periods. The year began with the new moon following the summer solstice. The last half of the fourth year of the 184th Olympiad was in the Roman year 714, or 40 BCE. The end of that Olympiad year was June 30, 40 BCE.5 It has been noted that the consuls mentioned were not in office before the end of the 184th Olympiad. They were appointed following the Treaty of Brundisium, Tishri 2, or October 1, 40 BCE, shortly after the beginning of the 185th Olympiad.6 However, Calvinus and Pollio were the officially listed consuls for the entire year beginning January 1, 40 BCE. Ancient historians used the official list of names assigned by the Romans, not necessarily who actually served as consuls or when they served.7 Thus, according to Josephus, Herod was declared king effective Nisan 1, or April 5, 40 BCE.8 This year began during the last year of the 184th Olympiad, and in the official year the consuls were appointed to office. The Romans appointed Herod king after April 5, but by December 31, 40 BCE.9

When Herod was first declared king, he possessed no kingdom in Judea. He had to fight for it with the aid of Sosius and the Roman army, and "this destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls at Rome, on the 185th Olympiad, on the third month, on the solemnity of the fast, as if a periodical revolution of calamities had returned since that which befell the Jews under Pompey; for the Jews were taken by him on the same day, and this was after twenty-seven years time." (Ant. XIX 16:4)10 Marcus Agrippa and Caninius Gallus were consuls in Rome in 37 BCE, and the [fourth year of the] 185th Olympiad ended [began] July 16, 37 BCE.11 Pompey had previously captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE, as "the city was taken on the third month, on the day of the fast, upon the hundred and seventy-ninth Olympiad, when Caius Antonius and Marcus Tullius Cicero were consuls." (Ant. XIV 4:3) Twenty-seven years later by inclusive reckoning fell in 37 BCE.12 The "fast" in both years is often used to refer to the Day of Atonement on Tishri 10 in the fall. However, that is too late since the siege began when, "as the winter was going off, Herod marched on Jerusalem," (Wars I 17:8) and the Jews "bore a siege of five months." (Wars I 18:2) Thus, the capture of Jerusalem would have occurred sometime in early summer. The "fast" has then been identified as possibly an ordinary Sabbath or a special fast held by those in Jerusalem because of the siege.13 There is also a tradition of a fast on Sivan 22 in memory of Jeroboam forbidding sacrifices in Jerusalem.14 If the siege began at the end of winter in Shebat, then the five months of siege, inclusively, would have been Shebat (February), Adar (March), Nisan (April), Iyyar (May) and Sivan (June). As noted by Josephus, Jerusalem fell "in the third month," or Sivan. As such, Herod likely captured Jerusalem on Sivan 22, or Thursday, June 21, 37 BCE.15 Shortly after he began his reign in Jerusalem he had the last Hasmonean ruler, Antigonus, slain.

The year 37 BCE for Herod's capture of Jerusalem also can be bracketed by Josephus' dating of the High Priests.16 He noted, "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 a hundred and seven years." (Ant. XX 10:1) One hundred and seven inclusive years before 70 CE fell in 37 BCE. On the other side, 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.17

Herod died after, "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." (Ant. XVII 8:1) Both years of reign are reckoned inclusively from Nisan, from 37 and 40 BCE respectively. The year of his death began with Nisan of 4 BCE, and ended with Adar of 3 BCE. According to Josephus, Herod died during this year. His kingdom was then divided between his three sons, Archelaus, Herod Antipas and Philip II.

Josephus also provided dating for Philip II that can be backdated to establish the beginning of his rule as tetrarch in the same year Herod died. He wrote, "about this time it was that Philip, Herod's (Antipas) brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius*, after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis, and of the nation of the Bataneans also, thirty-seven years," (Ant. XVIII 4:6) Tiberius' reign began August 19, 14 CE. Josephus would have begun Tiberius' year 1 on Nisan 1, 14 CE. His twentieth year began on Nisan 1, 33 CE, during which year Philip died. When the thirty-seven years are backdated from his death then Josephus measured Philip's reign from the year beginning Nisan of 4 BCE, the same as working forward to Herod the Great's death.

[Added note: * David Beyer17A makes the case that Herod's departure from this life in the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius is an error for 22nd year, thus placing Herod's death in 1 BCE. The Basel edition of Antiquities, printed in Greek in 1544, uses the 20th year, and was soon accepted as the standard. Beyer examined printed versions of Josephus in the British Library and Library of Congress, many of which were printed before 1544 and used the 22nd year. Based on the existence of these "22nd year" volumes he presumes by their early predominance that this is how Josephus wrote it over a millennium earlier. What is missing from his dissertation is an examination of any hand-written histories, with provenance, on which the printed versions were based. A search in Basil, the Vatican Library, etc. might have produced a more convincing data set. We are also missing any information on why 16th century scholars quickly abandoned the 22nd year in favor of the 20th year. Byer's research does not justify a shift to the 22nd year and 1 BCE death of Herod (unless you need to justify the errant 33 CE date for the Crucifixion of Jesus).]

Josephus dated the death of Herod in the year beginning Nisan 1 of 4 BCE, that is from March 28, 4 BCE to March 17, 3 BCE.

II. Did Herod Die Before a Passover?

Herod's death is usually placed between Nisan 1 and Nisan 14 of 4 BCE. The main points of support are:

1. Herod died shortly after he burned Matthias, when "that very night there was an eclipse of the moon." (Ant. XVII 6:4) This partial was the night of March 12/13 (2:20 AM), 4 BCE, two weeks before the new year.18

2. Herod died after the new year, but shortly before the Passover of 4 BCE, since after he died Archelaus faced an uprising "upon the approach of that feast of unleavened bread." (Ant. XVII 9:3; Wars II 1:3)

The problem with this conclusion is the assumption that Archelaus faced the uprising before the Passover of 4 BCE, instead of the following 3 BCE. The earlier Passover causes undue compression of the events between Herod's death and the following Passover. It is not possible that he could have died before the Passover in 4 BCE. This is confirmed by the following consideration:

1. First it is necessary to verify that the eclipse in question was the night of March 12/13, 4 BCE.19 Josephus relates that before the burning of Matthias, "it happened during the time of the high priesthood of this Matthias, there was another person made high priest for a single day, that very day which the Jews observe as a fast. The occasion was this: - this Matthias the high priest, on the night before that day when the fast was to be celebrated, seemed, in a dream, to have conversations [intercourse] with his wife; and because he could not officiate himself on that account, Joseph, the son of Ellemus, his kinsman assisted him in that sacred office. But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood and burned the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon." (Ant. XVII 6:4,)20 The "fast" would have been the Fast of Esther (Esther 4:14) on Adar 13,21 which precedes the festival of Purim on Adar 14 and 15. In 4 BCE Adar 13 fell on March 11, a Sabbath. On that single day Joseph, the son of Ellemus, was High Priest. In the evening of the following day, March 12, Matthias was burned and the eclipse shortly followed. No fasts coincided with or immediately preceded the other eclipses.22

2. After Matthias was burned the night of the eclipse, Josephus described Herod's condition as growing worse (Ant. XVII 6:5; Wars I 33:5). His worsening condition was a matter of some days or more. Herod then travelled to Callirrhoe on the far side of the Dead Sea to bathe in the hot baths. He would have been some days there before he despaired of recovery. He then went to Jericho, where in madness he summoned the "principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived." (Ant. XVII 6:5; Wars I 33:6) Herod had the Jewish leaders confined in the Hippodrome to be slain. The summoning and return to Jericho of the principal Jews would have taken an additional week or so. After this, Herod received a letter from Rome giving him the power of life or death over his son, Antipater, "so for a while he revived, and had a desire to live." (Ant. XVII 7:1) He later again despaired, and attempted suicide**, followed by the murder of his son, Antipater.23 Herod died "the fifth day after he had caused Antipater to be slain." (Ant. XVII 8:1) These events all are supposed to have occurred from March 13 to after the new year on March 28. The sixteen days make a very tight schedule.

[Note: ** Added comment suggested by Bob Whalen (e-mail 6 Feb 2001): Herod's attempted suicide was in the fall after harvest time for apples.  The knife Herod used was one with which he was paring an apple, "for it was his custom formerly to pare the apple himself." (Ant. XVII 7:1) For centuries, Jews have celebrated Rosh Hashanah (fall New Year) by eating apples and honey. It is unlikely that he was eating an apple [not an apricot] shortly before a suggested spring death, although there may have been some available from a "root cellar" in the basement of his palace.

3. After Herod's death Archelaus arranged a lavish funeral procession (Ant. XVII 8:3; Wars I 33:9). This proceeded eight stadia the first day and then on to Herodium.24 Archelaus returned to Jerusalem, where he "continued his mourning till the seventh day," (Ant. XVII 8:4; Wars II 1:1) during which time he gave a sumptuous feast.25 If Herod died the earliest possible on the first day of the new year, March 28, then Archelaus mourned until April 3, Nisan 7.

4. After Archelaus' mourning, Nisan 8 at the earliest, he went to the Temple and made promises to the multitude (Ant. XVII 8:4; Wars II 1:1). The period of appeasement is described as "the first days," (Ant. XVII 8:4) that is, more than one day. Archelaus was soon put to the test by a demand for revenge on the burning of Matthias, and the removal of the High Priest (Ant. XVII 9:1-2; Wars II 1:2). This was Nisan 9 at the earliest. The protestors wanted a High Priest more agreeable to the Law. Archelaus replaced the High Priest, but claimed that Matthias' death was within the law. This led to further discord followed by several appeals by Archelaus to appease the dissidents. He restrained himself because he wanted to leave quickly for Rome after Passover.

5. Following these events was "the approach of the feast of unleavened bread . . . when an innumerable multitude came thither out of the country." (Ant. XVII 9:3; Wars II 1:3) Josephus is here describing the specific day of Nisan 8 when most of the multitude arrived in Jerusalem. He confirmed that "the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan]." (Wars VI 5:3) It was on this day that Jesus arrived "six days before the Passover." (John 12:1) This was from Nisan 8 to 13, the day before the Passover. It was this day, Nisan 8, that the Megillat Ta'anit specifically restricted from being a fast day.26 However, if Nisan 8 here follows the prior events that began the earliest on Nisan 9, then this cannot have been the same Passover.

6. The protestors would have wanted their new High Priest to preside over the Passover festivities. But, the High Priest had to be replaced before Nisan 8 in order to have undergone the mandatory seven days of purification required to preside at the Passover (Ant. XVIII 4:3). Archelaus would have had to replace the High Priest by Nisan 7 at the latest. After this date there would have been no High Priest ritually clean at Passover. The conservative religious protesters would not have tolerated this situation. But, if Herod died on the first day of the new year, then on Nisan 7 Archelaus still had to be in mourning and could not have replaced the High Priest. This Passover cannot have been that of 4 BCE.

7. When the sons of Herod appeared before Caesar Augustus to vie for the kingdom, Antipas said, "Archelaus did in words contend for the kingdom, but that in deeds he long exercised royal authority." (Wars II 2:5) This argument could only be persuasive if Herod had been dead for many months, with Archelaus in control that "long" time. Antipas' statement would be meaningful after Passover of 3 BCE. He cannot be referring to his brother having exercised royal authority for only several weeks, as would be true if Archelaus departed after Passover of 4 BCE. Antipas' speech to Caesar was likely in 3 BCE.

8. Forty-one days after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary departed for Nazareth. From that time "His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover." (Luke 2:41) During a later trip to Bethlehem by the Holy Family the Magi visited Jesus. God warned Joseph in a dream of Herod's intent to slay Jesus, and the holy family fled to Egypt. They returned from Egypt shortly after Herod died, but bypassed Jerusalem on the way to Nazareth (Matt. 2:19-22). If Herod died about Nisan 1, then the holy family bypassed Jerusalem at Passover time, in contradiction to their always attending the Passover. Therefore, Herod did not die shortly before a Passover.

All of the above events could have extended from the eclipse over a year to the following Passover of 3 BCE. There is no requirement that Herod's worsening illness, trips to Callirrhoe and Jericho, and subsequent death be compressed into sixteen days. A period of months is an acceptable and preferable interpretation. Herod's death late in the year would have made it too late for Archelaus to sail for Rome to be confirmed king, so he waited until after the following Passover. There is then adequate time for the period of mourning, replacement of the high priest, and growth of sedition on the approach of Passover. The death of Herod late in 4 BCE is confirmed by the coins of the following rulers. Thus, his death is excluded from the first half of the year.

III. Numismatic Evidence

Coins were issued by Herod the Great, followed later by Archelaus, Antipas, Philip II and the Agrippas. These coins can be used to determine the year in which Herod died. However, it is necessary to decide (1) by what calendar the coins are dated, (2) whether they are dated by accession or non-accession reckoning, and (3) to establish the absolute dating of the coin series with the ruler's reign. The coins of Herod are only suggestive, but all of the above considerations can be determined by the reign and coins of Agrippa I. His coins are dated from a fall new year, representing either the Jewish civil calendar or the Syro-Macedonian calendar.27 The reigns will be shown to be dated by non-accession reckoning. The coins will determine that Herod died in the year beginning in the fall month of Tishri of 4 BCE. This is at least six months after his supposed death in Nisan of 4 BCE.

Herod the Great issued four coins dated year 3 to replace the Hasmonean coins.28 These were probably issued about the time he captured Jerusalem at the end of June in 37 BCE. The relative percentage of these coins was higher at Samaria than Jerusalem, suggesting they had been issued in Herod's temporary capitol.29 If the coins were issued a little before Herod's assault on Jerusalem, then they are likely dated from the fall of 38 BCE, which included June of 37 BCE. Year 1 would then be dated to the fall of 40 BCE. The coins are correctly dated year 3 if the Romans appointed Herod king about the fall of 40 BCE, and he issued the coins before the fall of 37 BCE. Since Herod and his sons used Greek inscriptions on their coins, he was likely using the fall new year of the Syro-Macedonian calendar. The easiest way to explain the dating of year 3 is that the three years are dated from the fall for years 40/39, 39/38 and 38/37 BCE.30 This is not, however, conclusive.

The Jews did not want Herod as their ruler, nor would they recognize the dating of his reign to his appointment by the Romans. Herod acknowledged this in his later coins by dropping the year dating. After his first mintage of coins Herod reverted to undated coins in the style of the former Hasmoneans, but all his inscriptions were still in Greek. Although Herod's coins indicate reckoning from a fall new year, the lack of later dates prevents their use to establish directly the year of his death. To use the dating of coins it is necessary to jump ahead to the later rulers and work backwards.

Herod Antipas was one of the three sons who received a portion of Herod the Great's kingdom. It is possible to work backwards from the end to the beginning of his reign in the year Herod the Great died. The end of Antipas' reign can be established in relation to the reign of Herod Agrippa I.31 The following dating that establishes this relationship is summarized on Chart VIII, `The Reign of Herod Agrippa I.' On that chart the "year" is shifted to begin in Nisan, with the first half of the year indicated by "N" and the second half by "T." Tishri here represents the fall new year, which may have been a month later in Dios. For example, 36T is the period dated from Tishri 1, 36 CE to the end of Adar, 37 CE. This method will separate and show the overlap in the years reckoned from Nisan and Tishri.

Chart VIII
The Reign of Herod Agrippa I
Date (Shifted) Josephus (Nisan) Coins (Tishri) Notes
36T   Year 1  
37N --------- Year 1 ---------- 1 ------------ --- Reign Began
37T 1 2  
38N 2 2  
38T 2 3  
39N 3 3  
39T 3 4  
40N --------- 4 --------------- 4 ------------ --- Antipas Banished (Year 43)
40T --------- 4 --------------- 5 ------------ --- Gaius Coin Year 5
41N 5 5  
41T 5 6  
42N 6 6  
42T 6 7  
43N 7 7  
43T --------- 7 --------------- 8 ----------- --- Reign Ended

Agrippa I was made tetrarch shortly after Gaius (Caligula) came to the throne of the Roman Empire on March 16, 37 CE. Tiberius had previously imprisoned Agrippa, and Gaius left his friend in prison for a short time for the sake of appearances. "However, there did not many days pass, ere he sent for him to his house, and had him shaved, and made him change his raiment; after which he put a diadem upon his head, and appointed him to be king of the tetrarchy of Philip." (Ant. XVIII 6:10) Josephus dated his appointment as king after Nisan 1, or April 6, 37 CE. This is shown on Chart VIII as "Reign Began" opposite 37N. Agrippa would have reckoned his year 1 as dated from Tishri of 36 CE, and this is reflected in his coins.

Josephus described the details of Agrippa's reign as follows: "He departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age; for he reigned four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip's tetrarchy only, and on the fourth he had that [tetrarchy] of Herod [Antipas] added to it; and he reigned besides those three years under the reign of Claudius Caesar." (Ant. XIX 8:2) The four years under Gaius began about April of 37 CE (37N). Gaius died on January 24, 41 CE (40T), to be succeeded by Claudius. The end of the three years, and the death of Agrippa I, was in the fall of 43 CE, or possibly early 44 CE. The total was seven years according to Josephus Nisan reckoning (43T).

The appointment of Agrippa I by Gaius about April of 37 CE is a generally accepted date. The date of his death is not so certain, and it does bear directly on a comparison of the different dating of Josephus and the coins. Agrippa died in Caesarea five days after the second day of "shows in honour of Caesar." (Ant. XIX 8:2; Acts 12:19-23) It is here proposed that this Caesar was Augustus, and the honour was for his birthday on September 23. During Augustus' lifetime his birthday was celebrated with games and horse races, including in the provinces. His birthday became a permanent festival (Dio Cassius, Roman History LIV 8:5, LIV 34:1-2, LV 6:6, LVI 25:3, LVI 29:1). It was observed after Augustus' death, at least into the third century.32 In the eastern provinces, at Ephesus and Smyrna, Augustus' birthday on September 23 became New Year.33 Caesarea was built in honor of, and named after Caesar Augustus. Augustus had been deified, and there was a temple in his honor at Caesarea (Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 38:305). The "shows in honour of Caesar" began September 23, Agrippa became sick the second day, and died on the fifth day. Agrippa I died of his illness on September 28, 43 CE (43T).

There have been other suggestions for dating Agrippa's death. There is little likelihood that anyone would have honored the dead Tiberius or Gaius. Claudius' birthday was August 1, but specific games in his honor are less likely, and not documented.34 A popular choice for the festival was that it was in honor of the founding day of Caesarea, or "dies natilis," on March 5.35 Josephus mentioned such a festival, which occurred every fifth year (Wars I 21:8). The city was finished in Herod's twenty-eighth year, the end of 10T BCE, or March 5, 9 BCE (Ant. XVI 5:1). However, these festivals every fifth year would have fallen on March 5, 42 or 47 CE, not in 43 or 44 CE. If the five years are interpreted as every four years, with year 1 of the next count overlapping year 5, the festival would have fallen on March 5, 45 CE. This is still too late. Agrippa I did not die at the festival for the founding of Caesarea, since there was no festival in 43 or 44 CE. Agrippa's death is also said to follow shortly after the Passover when Peter was arrested and delivered from prison. The time sequence is uncertain here since Agrippa "went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. . . ." (Acts 12:19) Caesarea was the seat of government, and Agrippa would spend time there, but not necessarily a short time. The only date for the death of Agrippa that can be tied to a known festival at Caesarea in 43/44 CE, is the birthday of Augustus. Thus, Agrippa I died on September 28, 43 CE. This falls in the seventh year of his reign according to Josephus, but the eighth year according to Agrippa I. This is shown on Chart VIII as "Reign Ended" opposite 43T.

Coins from the reign of Agrippa I are known from year 5 with the head of Gaius.36 These coins are shown on Chart VIII as "Gaius Coin Year 5" opposite 40T. This included late 40 or early 41 CE, while Gaius was still alive. The coins were likely issued soon after the beginning of the fall new year. They commemorate Gaius, who had just awarded Antipas' territory to Agrippa. The three types of coins and quantities found suggest they had been in circulation some time. Year 5 is unlikely to have been by Nisan reckoning; this would fall after Nisan 1 of 41 CE, and Gaius would have been dead several months. Theoretically the coin could have been dated according to Roman reckoning from January 1 and the coins issued in early January. However, the inscriptions are still in Greek, and such dating is not indicated.

That the coins are not dated according to Josephus' Nisan dating, but from a fall new year becomes evident from an examination of the final coins issued by Agrippa I. His last coins are dated year 8. This is shown on Chart VIII as "Reign Ended" opposite 43T. Now the coin's year 8 matches up with Josephus' year 7. The coins are dated from the fall new year and must be according to non-accession reckoning.37

With Agrippa's reign established, the end of the reign of Herod Antipas can be established. Antipas' 43-year reign is confirmed by the latest date of his coins.38 According to Josephus, Agrippa acquired Antipas' kingdom in the fourth year of his reign, measured from Nisan of 40 CE. The first half of this Nisan year lines up with year 4 of Agrippa's coins, and the second half with year 5 of his coins. Was Antipas banished in the first or second half of Josephus' Nisan year? The answer will determine whether to line up Antipas' coins of year 43 with Agrippa's coins of year 4 or year 5. This can be determined by whether Antipas was banished before or after Tishri in 40 CE.

When Agrippa appeared as tetrarch, Herodias, Agrippa's sister and Antipas' wife, was very envious of her brother's new wealth and power. She urged her husband to go to Rome to request more power from Gaius, and after several years delay he sailed to Rome. Agrippa sent letters to Gaius accusing Antipas of intending to revolt, which seemed confirmed by Antipas' store of arms. Gaius banished Antipas to Spain and gave his tetrarchy to Agrippa (Ant. XVIII 7:1-2; Wars II 9:6).

Josephus follows the account of the banishment of Antipas with Gaius' attempt to set up his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem. This later event was precipitated by a dispute between the Jews and Greeks in Alexandria. The Greek ambassador came to Gaius, and with blasphemies against the Jews convinced Gaius to erect his statue in the Temple. Gaius sent Petronius to Syria as the new president, with the additional assignment to erect his statue in Jerusalem. During this attempt the Jewish multitudes opposed Petronius, and it was during "seed time that the multitude continued for fifty days together idle." (Wars II 10:5) Seed time would have been in Tishri and Heshvan. Petronius relented to the Jews, and fortunately Gaius died before he could enforce his threats of death against Petronius and the Jews (Ant. XVIII 8:1-9; Wars II 10:1-5). Shebat 22, or February 13 in 41 CE, is commemorated as the day when Gaius' order to erect the statue was rescinded.39

The Alexandrian Greek delegation to Gaius and Petronius' travel to Syria must have occurred sufficiently before "seed time" to be dated before Tishri 1 of 40 CE, or in the first half of the Nisan year in 40 BCE.40 This would then place the events of the banishment of Antipas in 40N, as indicated on Chart VIII by "Antipas Banished (Yr 43)." If Josephus presents the events in chronological order, then this lines up with Agrippa's coins dated year 4, the second half of the year by Tishri reckoning. Therefore, Antipas' last coins dated year 43 must line up with year 4 of Agrippa's coins.

It is now possible to backdate from Antipas' year 43 to his year 1, the year in which Herod the Great died. This is illustrated in Chart IX, 'Herodian Reigns Dated From Tishri.' Also included is dating from the reigns of Philip II and Archelaus. The last coins of Philip II are dated to year 37,41 but, the coins of Archelaus were undated.42

On Chart IX the year dates are shifted to begin in Tishri, as per the coins.

Chart IX Herodian Reigns Dated from Tishri
Year Herod Antipas Philip II Archelaus
Philip II
5/4 BCE 36      
4/3 37 1 1 1
3/2   2 2 2
2/1   3 3 3
1/1   4 4 4
1/2 CE   5 5 5
2/3   6 6 6
3/4   7 7 7
4/5   8 8 8
5/6 ------ --------- 9 ------- 9 ------- 9
6/7   10 10  
32/33   36 36  
33/34 --- --------- 37 ----- 37**  
34/35   38     
35/36 Agrippa I 39    
36/37 1 40    
37/38 2 41    
38/39 3 42    
39/40 --- 4 ------- 43** --- Antipas Banished*
40/41 5      
41/42 6       
42/43 7      
43/44 8**      
                                * = Antipas was banished in 40N.
                                ** = Highest year confirmed by coins.

According to contemporary coins, year 1 of Herod Antipas and Philip II was measured from Tishri (or Dios) of 4 BCE. When this dating is lined up with Josephus' reckoning from Nisan of 4 BCE, then Herod the Great must have died after Tishri of 4 BCE, but before Nisan of 3 BCE. Herod died between September 22, 4 BCE, and March 17, 3 BCE. This is illustrated in Chart X, `Alignment of Herod the Great's Death.'

Chart X
Alignment of Herod the Great's Death
Herod the Great
Antipas or Philip II 
6T (35)32    
5N (36)33    
5T (36)33    
4N (37)34    
4T --- (37)34 ---------- 1 ----------------- --- Herod the Great Died
3N   1  
3T   2  
2N   2  

For the past century there has been general acceptance that Herod the Great died shortly after the Nisan new year in 4 BCE, that is, 4N. Although early attacked for the undue compression of events necessary to establish this date, this conclusion has stood. If the coins are dated inclusively from the fall then any date before Tishri in 4 BCE is excluded as a possible date for Herod's death, including shortly after Passover in 4 BCE. As discussed above, there is difficulty fitting Herod's death between Nisan 1 to 14 of 4 BCE. The evidence shows that he died during the second half of the year.

IV. The Traditional Date

Shortly before Herod died he gathered the Jewish leaders of Judea together in the Hippodrome at Jericho. Herod "then called for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and made his speech to them: `I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death; however, it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts, and to have a splendid funeral, if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it whether they will or no.'" (Wars I 33:6; also Ant. XVII 6:5-6) Whether Herod's words are truly reported or placed in his mouth by Josephus, this was likely Herod's intent. Herod knew well that the Jews maintained a calendar of feast days, and he was about to be added to that list. That day was in his near future. More likely, Josephus used these words because he knew the Jews of his time already celebrated a festival for Herod's death. However, when Herod died Salome and Alexas released the prisoners from the Hippodrome. There was no cause for mourning, but joy at Herod's death.

Did the Jews commemorate Herod's death and mark it by a festival? This was a happy day to be remembered, especially by the Jews released from the Hippodrome. Such a day would mark the exact date of his death.

There is a contemporary source that may give the exact date of Herod the Great's death. The Megillat Ta'anit, or Scroll of Fasting, contains a list of days on which it was forbidden to fast, that is, a list of Jewish feast days. These days are listed in order by the Jewish calendar from Nisan, but not in their original chronological sequence. Feasts are listed from before the Hasmonean era to about 67 CE, with a last reference to the time of Trajan. The reason to be commemorated is listed for most days, but two days give no reason. These days, Kislev 7 and Shebat 2, are listed in a scholium appended to the Megillat Ta'anit as commemorating the death of Herod the Great and the death of Jannai. Although this scholium is late and may be of questionable validity in parts, Kislev 7 is accepted by some as the date of Herod's death.43 This would have been November 27 in 4 BCE, in the second half of the Jewish year as indicated by the coins. This date should be kept in consideration as a possible date for the death of Herod the Great.

If the death of Herod was commemorated by a feast, why is that day not noted? The descendants of Herod ruled through the following decades, and the reason for the feast, but not the day, was likely omitted from the Megillat Ta'anit in respect, or fear, of the present Herodian ruler.

These two joyful days have also been attributed to events associated with the rebellion against Rome; Kislev 7 is said to commemorate the victory over Cestius on November 25, 65 CE, and Shebat 2 to the establishment of the provisional government on January 19, 66 CE.44 However, if these days were added to encourage the rebellion, the reason for the feasts would certainly have been recorded in the Megillat Ta'anit, in defiance of Rome.

What other feast day might be attributed to the death of Herod? By placing the death of Herod before a Passover in the prior month of Adar, in early 4 BCE or 3 BCE, depending on the chronology, the events listed in Josephus fit somewhat better. Then his death can be placed on Adar 28. The Megillat Ta'anit lists this as the day the good news came to the Judeans that they should not deviate from the Law.45 Although the reference is not clear, it has been attributed to commemorating the repeal of a Hellenistic decree forbidding circumcision and to the abrogation of Hadrian's edicts. The deviations from the Law under Herod were relatively minor by comparison, and this is not likely a reference to his death.

The only tradition that exists for the death of Herod is on Kislev 7. That tradition has been rejected primarily based on Schurer's dating of Herod's death before a Passover.46 As discussed above, Schurer's dating is likely faulty for the death of Herod, and the dating of the coins confirms this. Kislev 7 remains the proposed date for the death of Herod, that is, November 27, 4 BCE. This dating will be used in the following discussions.

V. The Transition of Government

Herod the Great's last will gave his son Archelaus most of his kingdom, but he reserved territories for his other sons, Philip II and Herod Antipas (Ant. XVII 8:1; Wars I 32:8). Archelaus assumed the kingship but he did not crown himself, reserving that final act for Caesar. After seven days of mourning and an extravagant funeral it was into December. There would be no ships bound for Rome until the spring, as the sailing season normally closed from November 11 to February 8.47 Archelaus began to consolidate his power. During the following months many Jews came to realize that Archelaus' promises were empty, and there was sedition in the air. Archelaus decided to depart for Rome to be confirmed as king immediately after the following Passover. With the arrival of the multitudes for Passover there came open confrontation, and by Archelaus' command 3,000 Jews were slaughtered at the Temple. By the time the Feast of Unleavened Bread ended, April 7, an anxious Archelaus left his brother Philip as governor and departed for Rome with a large entourage; his other brother, Antipas, soon followed (Ant. XVII 8:1-9:4; Wars II 1:1-2:3). By about June48 of 3 BCE Archelaus and Antipas stood before Caesar Augustus.

Back in Judea the conflict broke into open revolt against the Romans, who were led by Varus, the president of Syria. This culminated in great destruction at Jerusalem and the surrounding cities. The revolt ended with the crucifixion of about two thousand Jews during Pentecost season, May 21 (Ant. XVII Ch.10; Wars II Ch. 3-5). After this Philip II accompanied Varus to Syria, and then he sailed for Rome. This was ostensibly to support his brother Archelaus, but Philip looked to the possibility of obtaining a part of the kingdom for himself (Ant. XVII 11:1; Wars II 6:1). By about August/September of 3 BCE, all the antagonists presented their cases before Caesar. "So Caesar, after he had heard both sides, dissolved the assembly for that time; but a few days afterward, he gave the one half of Herod's kingdom to Archelaus, by the name of Ethnarch . . . but as to the other half, he divided it into two tetrarchies, and gave them to two other sons of Herod, the one of them to Philip, and the other to that Antipas who contested the kingdom with Archelaus." (Wars II 6:3; also Ant. XVII 11:4) By the end of summer of 3 BCE Caesar Augustus divided Herod the Great's kingdom among Archelaus, Philip II and Herod Antipas. This would have been before the beginning of Tishri in 3 BCE, according to the later dating of their coins.

VI. Archelaus Ruled Nine and Ten Years

Archelaus was deposed during the consulships of Aemilius Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius, (Dio Cassius, Roman History LV 27:6) that is 6 CE. His reign can be backdated from that year.

Josephus gave the length of Archelaus' reign as both nine years and ten years. This was not an error, but a change in approach. In his earlier work he said, "Archelaus took possession of his ethnarchy . . . and in the ninth year of his government he was banished to Vienna." (Wars II 7:3) Here, Josephus dated the nine years from Nisan of 3 BCE. In this year Archelaus officially became Ethnarch by Caesar's command and took possession of his allotment.

Several decades later Josephus wrote, "but in the tenth year of Archelaus's government" (Ant. XVII 13:2) he was banished to Vienna. Here he has backdated to the year of Herod's death when Archelaus assumed himself "king," that is from the year beginning Nisan of 4 BCE. This recognized the immediate transfer of actual power from Herod to Archelaus without leaving a messy one-year gap in his chronology. Josephus changed the years in the dream predicting Archelaus' reverse to accommodate his revised presentation. Unless Josephus is accused with an error on what should have been well known dating, this would support that the sons of Herod were confirmed to power by Caesar Augustus in 3 BCE.49

Josephus also used this later dating for the thirty-seven-year reign of Philip II, as measured from Nisan of 4 BCE. However, Philip II's actual reign as tetrarch would have been thirty-six years measured from Nisan of 3 BCE. Josephus did not provide a length of reign for Herod Antipas.

VII. Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, the probable reigns of the Herodian rulers are summarized in Chart XI, 'Herodian Chronology.' * = Year confirmed by Josephus. ** = Highest recorded coin date.

Chart XI
Herodian Chronology
Rule Began
Rule Ended
Herod the Great, "King" 37* 37 40 BCE, Fall 4 BCE, Nov 27
Herod the Great, King 34* 35 37 BCE, June 21  
Archelaus, "King" 10* 9 4 BCE, Nov 27 6 CE, Summer
Archelaus, Ethnarch 9* 9 3 BCE, Aug/Sept  
Philip II, "Tetrarch" 37* 37** (4 BCE, Nov 27) 33 CE, Fall/Winter
Philip II, Tetrarch 36 37** 3 BCE, Aug/Sept  
Herod Antipas, "Tetrarch" 44 43** (4 BCE, Nov 27) 40 CE, Summer
Herod Antipas, Tetrarch 43 43** 3 BCE, Aug/Sept  
Herod Agrippa I 7* 8** 37 CE, April 43 CE, Sept 28

Based on Josephus' history, the contemporary coins of the Herodian rulers and the Jewish feast calendar, an absolute Herodian chronology can be approached. This also adds such knowledge that Varus was still president of Syria in 3 BCE and extends the possible date of the birth of Jesus by another eight months. For Herod the Great we can date his epitaph to November 27, 4 BCE, which could have read, "No One Mourned!"


1. S. Zeitlin, "Herod, A Malevolent Maniac," JQR NS54 (1963) traces Herod's Idumean roots.

2. This Mishna further notes that another "new year" began in the fall. However, Josephus consistently used the "ecclesiastical" calendar from Nisan.

3. H. W. Hoehner, "The Date of the Death of Herod the Great," CKC, 105, states Josephus reckoned according to the Julian calendar, but Josephus nowhere uses a Julian date.

4. E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ Vol. 1 (London: Clark, 1973 Rev.), 596-599, supports this reckoning by Josephus.

5. Olympiad dates are taken from F. Parise, ed., The Book of Calendars (New York: Facts on File, 1982), 54-61.

6. O. Edwards, "Herodian Chronology," PEQ 114 (1982), 30.

7. A. E. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology (Munich: Oscar Beck, 1972), 254.

8. Dates are calculated from Carl Schoch's tables in S. Langdon and J. K. Fotheringham, The Venus Tablets of Ammizaduga (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1928) with new moon visibility adjusted to Jerusalem.

9. M. Stern, "Appendix: Chronology - The Reign of Herod," JPFC, 63-64, notes that the Romans added Idumea and Samaria to Herod's kingdom in 39 BCE. (Appian, The Civil Wars V 75:139) This was an increase to the previously awarded territory and does not indicate that Herod's first appointment should be dated to 39 BCE.

10. Dio Cassius (Roman History XLIX 22:3-23:1) places the event incorrectly in 38 BCE. He also indicates the last capture was the "day of Saturn," (XLIV 22:4) the same day as in 63 BCE. (XXXVII 16:4) The Day of Atonement was probably on the Sabbath in 37 BCE, but not in 63 BCE. The fast on Sivan 22 did not fall on the Sabbath in either year.

11. According to Josephus, as in 40 BCE, this would not necessarily limit the capture of Jerusalem to the first half of the year.

12. By using "factual" years instead of inclusive reckoning the twenty-seven years have been claimed to end in 36 BCE. However, at that time the Roman army under Anthony was invading Parthia, and it is unlikely troops would have been spared to assist Herod's capture of Jerusalem.

13. Schurer, History of the Jewish People, 284-5, n. 11.

14. M. F. Unger, Unger's Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody, 1981 ptg.), 164, and A. P. Bloch, Day by Day in Jewish History - A Chronology of Calendar and Historic Events (New York: KTAV, 1983), 209, n. 65.

15. Josephus (Ant. XIV 16:2) notes that during the siege of Jerusalem the inhabitants "were distressed by famine and the want of necessaries, for this happened to be a Sabbatic Year." Since Josephus began his year in Nisan, the Sabbatical year beginning in Tishri of 37 BCE fell in his Nisan year beginning in 37. This is the same as describing a fiscal year beginning in July of 1991 as FY91, or according to Josephus SY37 BCE. If the Sabbatical year was 38/37 BCE he would have described the fall of Jerusalem as occurring in the year following a Sabbatical year. The year 37/36 BCE was a sabbatical year. The emphasis here is likely that the extra Judeans who took refuge in Jerusalem during the siege had consumed the tide-over provisions intended for the following Sabbatical year.

16. P. M. Bernegger, "Affirmation of Herod's Death in 4 B.C.," JTS 34 (1983).

17. The last year of Hyrcanus and the first year of Antigonus was the same year. Direct addition of the twenty-four and three years plus three months will place the end of Antigonus one year late.

17A. David Beyer, "Josephus Reexamined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius," pp. 85-96, in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II: Chronological, Nativity, and Religious Studies in Memory of Ray Summers, ed. E. Jerry Vardaman. Mercer University Press: 1998. ISBN 0-86554-582-0. Available online on Google Books.

18. There were also full, central eclipses on March 23 (8:30 PM), 5 BCE, September 15 (10:30 PM), 5 BCE and January 9/10 (1:00 AM), 1 BCE. There were no eclipses in 7, 6, 3, or 2 BCE.

19. E. L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1978), 22-49, and "The Nativity and Herod's Death," CKC, 85-92, supports Herod's death after the eclipse of 1 BCE, and Jesus' birth in 3/2 BCE. However, to move Herod's death to 1 BCE requires unnecessary co-regencies of Herod's sons and the use of accession reckoning, or not counting the first partial year.

20. The incident of serving as High Priest for one day is related in the Talmud in Horaroth 12b, Yoma 12b, and Megillah 9b. The "fast" is there related to the Day of Atonement.

21. Unger, Bible Dictionary, 166.

22. The eclipse of March 23, 5 BCE fell on Ve-Adar 14 by sunset reckoning.

23. Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod's pig than his son. (Macrobius, Saturnalia II 4:2)

24. D. Johnson, "And They Went Eight Stades Toward Herodeion," CKC, 99, concludes this is best interpreted that the full procession went eight stadia and then continued at normal speed that day to Jerusalem, and then to Herodium the following day.

25. The seven-day mourning period is known as shivah, and is normally reckoned from the day of burial.

26. H. Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle Eine Untersuchung Zur Judisch-Hellenistischen Geschichte," HUCA 8-9 (1931-32), 276.

27. The Jewish month names equivalent to the Syro-Macedonian months will be used for consistency.

28. F. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage (Argonaut, 1964, rev. 1967), 81-91; Y. Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage Vol. 2 (Dix Hills, NY: Amphora Books, 1982), 5-30.

29. Meshorer, Coinage, 11-12.

30. Meshorer, Coinage, 9-10, suggests that year 3 refers to 40 BCE, being three years after Herod's appointment as tetrarch in 42 BCE. However, in 40 Herod had no subjects to use the coins, as his territory was not subdued until three years later in 38/37 BCE. This is confirmed by the lack of coins dated year 1 or 2. Meshorer's main objection is that it was four years from 40 to 37, but it is only three years when reckoning inclusively from the fall.

31. This approach is discussed by T. D. Barnes, "The Date of Herod's Death," JTS 19 (1968), 204-209. O. Edwards, "Herodian Chronology," PEQ 114 (1982) also attempted this approach, but backdated from the wrong half of Agrippa's fourth Nisan year, which placed his accession a year late. This required Edward's claim that Nisan follows Tishri by six months, which does not account for a possible intercalated Ve-Adar and assumes that the ecclesiastical year is tied to the civil year. However, the opposite was true for the Jewish calendar of the period, and this is reflected in the present Jewish calendar which always maintains exactly 177 days from Nisan 1 to Tishri 1.

32. Dio (LVI 46:4-5) notes Augustus' birthday was observed "to the present day." See also LVII 14:4.

33. Samuel, Greek and Roman Chronology, 17.

34. D. Moody, "A New Chronology for the Life and Letters of Paul," CKC, 229, reckons from Claudius' birthday and places Agrippa's death on August 6, 44 CE.

35. Eusebius, Martyrs of Palestine 11:30.

36. Madden, Coinage, 103-111; Meshorer, Coinage, 51-64; Edwards, "Herodian Chronology," 37.

37. Year 8 has also been explained by Roman reckoning with Agrippa I's death on March 5, 44 CE.

38. Madden, Coinage, 95-9; Meshorer, Coinage, 35-41.

39. Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle," 300.

40. Philo, Legatio ad Gaium 184:348, places the event at harvest time in the late spring in contradiction to Josephus. If Philo's dating is correct and the event subsequent to Antipas' banishment, then this event occurred in 40N.

41. Madden, Coinage, 100-102; Meshorer, Coinage, 42-50.

42. Madden, Coinage, 91-95; Meshorer, Coinage, 31-34. The first coin attributed to Coponius, the governor who replaced Archelaus, is dated to year 33 of Augustus, from January 1 of 6 CE. See also Dio Cassius, Roman History LV 27:6.

43. Bloch, Day by Day in Jewish History, 52.

44. S. Zeitlin, The Rise and Fall of the Judean State Vol. 2 (Jewish Publications, 1967), 354.

45. Zeitlin, Judean State Vol. 2, 95.

46. Lichtenstein, "Die Fastenrolle," 294, n. 22.

47. Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2:47.

48. H. W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972), 18-42, establishes June as the arrival in Rome, but in 4 BCE.

49. Hoehner, "Death of Herod," 107, uses similar reasoning, with the nine years being from the return of Archelaus in 3 BCE.



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