The birth of Jesus Christ has been a topic of controversy
for centuries. People have misunderstood the YEAR of His birth,
as well as the SEASON of His birth. Some theories purport that He
was born in one of the following years: 6 B.C., 5 B.C., 4 B.C.,
3 B.C., 2 B.C., 1 B.C., the year zero, and finally 1 A.D.
What is the CORRECT year of Jesus Christ's birth? Is it
possible to unravel the mystery?
As to the season of the year, most believe that he was born
in the winter. Others feel He was born in the fall. Some claim He
was born in the spring. Still others are inclined to shrug their
shoulders and say that they don't know, declaring that it really
does not matter. On the other hand, those who have willingly
accepted religious myth, tenaciously uphold their belief.....
But what does the Bible reveal and what does history record
We need to know, because the first coming of Jesus Christ
fulfilled a vast number of prophecies contained in the Old
The proper understanding of the year and season of His birth
can give added insight and knowledge about His life and the
purpose of His coming.
THE TRUTH IS THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO KNOW WHEN JESUS CHRIST
This article will bring together all the Biblical and
historical facts, and combine them together.....
THE REIGN AND DEATH OF HEROD THE KING
The Bible gives certain key historical events, which can be
verified in secular history. The book of Matthew records such an
event. This is vital clue which unlocks some of the understanding
of the events surrounding the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of Herod
the King...." (Mat.2: 1).
Also we know this was near to the time of Herod's death.
"And when they (the wise men) were departed, behold, the angel of
the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take
the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and you
shall be there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the
young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young
child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and
was there until THE DEATH OF HEROD" (Mat. 2: 13-15).
From historical records we can understand precisely when
Herod reigned and when he died.
Herod went to Rome in the winter ".....and thus did this man
receive the kingdom, having obtained it on the hundred and
eighty-fourth olympiad, when Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul
the second time and Caius Asinius Pollio (the first time)"
(Josephus Ant. 14:14:5).
An olympiad is four years in length and is reckoned from
July to July. The 184th olympiad was July 44 B.C. to July 40 B.C.
Additionally, Calvinus and Pollio were consuls in the year 714
AUC, which was 40 B.C. (AUC means from the founding of Rome),
(Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Jack Finegan, p.96).
The calendar year for consuls was figured from January to
January. When the January to January and July to July reckonings
are combined, we are able to bracket a year into any six month
Another event gives additional information about the total
reign of Herod and the beginning of his reign in Jerusalem, "When
the rigour of winter was over, Herod removed his army, and came
near to Jerusalem, and pitched his camp hard by the city. Now
this was the THIRD YEAR since he had been made king at Rome...."
(Josephus Ant. 14:15:14).
But it was not until the summer that Herod was able to
finally take the city of Jerusalem, "....for it was
summer....This destruction befell the city of Jerusalem when
Marcus Agrippa and Canninius Gallus were consuls of Rome, on the
hundred eighty and fifth olympiad, on the third month, on the
solemnity of the fast...." (Josephus Ant.14:16:2,4).
The 185 olympiad was from July 40 B.C. to July 36 B.C., and
Agrippa and Gallus were consuls in 717 AUC or the year 37 B.C.
Furthermore, the fast of the third month was the 23rd of
Sivan.....Herod completed the conquest of the city of Jerusalem
in the summer of 37 B.C., and began reigning as king in Jerusalem
When all these facts are put together it shows that Herod
was crowned king in Rome sometime between January and March 40
B.C. He began reigning in Jerusalem three years and three to four
"......He (Herod) died......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"
Josephus shows in Ant. 14:16:4 that Antigonus was killed
shortly after Herod conquered Jerusalem.
He began his reign in the year 40 B.C. and he reigned 37
years. Including the first year of his reign, 37 years later was
Additionally, he conquered Jerusalem in 37 B.C. again
verifying a 4 B.C. death.
This means there are two calculations which conclusively
show that Herod died 4 B.C.
To further substantiate 4 B.C. as the year of Herod's death,
Josephus records that he died after an eclipse of the moon and
The precise time of this eclipse has been figured for us in
a book of astronomical calculations, SOLAR AND LUNAR ECLIPSES OF
THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST written by M. Kudler by Neukirchen-Bluyn:
Verias Butson and Bercker Kevelaer, 1971.
Here is a listing of the lunar eclipses:
7 B.C. - No eclipses
6 B.C. - No eclipses
5 B.C. - Total eclipse, March 23 at 8:30 p.m.
5 B.C. - Total eclipse, September 15 at 10:30 p.m.
4 B.C. - Partial eclipse, March 13 at 2:20 a.m.
3 B.C. - No eclipses
2 B.C. - No eclipses
In the year 5 B.C., a total eclipse occurred on March
23rd.......The second total eclipse of the moon September 15th 5
THE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS JUST BEFORE THE ECLIPSE UNTIL HEROD'S
DEATH AND BURIAL BEFORE THE NEXT PASSOVER
In Antiquities Book 17:6:1 to 17:9:3, Josephus records these
events in great detail. They will be summarized with pertinent
Just before the eclipse Herod sent ambassadors to
Rome......Then, sometime during the next week there was a group
of zealots, who stormed the temple and proceeded to chop down a
golden eagle idol Herod had previously erected over the
entrance of one of the gates to the Temple. Herod found out that
Matthias the high priest was responsible for inciting the zealots
to take such action, because they thought Herod was dead. But he
wasn't and they were caught and punished.
Herod's punishment for Matthias was this: "....he deprived
Matthias of the high priesthood, as in part an occasion of this
action, and made Joazer, who was Matthias' wife's brother, high
priest in his stead. Now it happened, that during the time of the
high priesthood of this Matthias, there was another person made
high priest for a single day, that very day on which the Jews
observe as a fast day (was the day of Atonement) the great day of
The occasion was this: "Matthias the high priest, on the
night before that day when the fast was to be celebrated, seemed
in a dream to have conversation (sexual relations), 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 reprieved this Matthias of the high
priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the
sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there
was an eclipse of the moon" (Josephus 17:6:4).
The night of that day they were burned, five nights after
the dream, there was an eclipse of the moon. This was September
15, 5 B.C......Herod died after this eclipse and before the next
Shortly after that, Herod's "distemper" increased and he
sought the help of the warm mineral baths at Callirrhoe, which
was located beyond the Jordan river. It has been estimated he
went there the week ending November 4th. There is no direct
indication how long he was there, but for his funeral procession
and burial to have transpired after the cold of the winter, he
must have stayed there approximately eight to nine weeks. Then
he went to Jericho, which has been projected to end the week of
January 13th. ".....and came again to Jericho, where he grew so
choleric, that it brought him to do all things like a madman; and
thought he was near his death, he contrived the following wicked
designs" (Ant. 17:6:5).
He then commanded the principal men of his government to
come to Jericho, there intending to have them killed after his
death....After his death, they were not killed.
Next, a few days later, Herod received letters from Rome
from the ambassadors. While this news was good, and seemed to
revive him he nevertheless attempted suicide but was restrained
While still in this rage he ordered his son Antipater to be
killed. Herod died five days later. "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 Antigones to be
slain, thirty-four years; but since he had been declared king by
the Romans, thirty-seven" (Ant.17:8:1).
His death would have been approximately the week of February
17, 4 B.C.
Based on this estimation, Herod died almost exactly 37 years
to the month from the time of his coronation. He died after an
eclipse and before a Passover.
Later we will show how this fits into the circumstances
surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
The one who succeeded Herod was Archelaus. He carried out
the wishes of Herod for a long funeral procession and period of
mourning before his burial. The time needed for this was
approximately 25 days, not counting Sabbaths......
The period of this chronology of events ends in the middle
of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, after the Passover, with the
slaughter of 3,000 people by Archelaus.....
....the commonly accepted theory that the March 13, 4 B.C.
eclipse is wrong. It is clear from the true historical evidence
that there was not enough time between a March 13 eclipse and the
Passover of April....for all of these events to have transpired.
(From the "Chronological Bible" - editor Edward Reese, 1977,
Gaddy and Associates Inc. Publishers, Nashville, we have this
statement by Frank R. Klassen, who did the chronology dates:
"Herod the Great died ABOUT the 13th of March (Adar) in 4
B.C., in the year of Rome 750...." - Keith Hunt)
ADDITIONAL CORROBORATING HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
PROVING JESUS CHRIST'S MINISTRY BEGAN IN A.D. 26
The gospel of Matthew shows that after the death of Herod,
Joseph brought Jesus and Mary back from Egypt to Nazareth in the
district of Galilee. This means that since Herod died in 4 B.C.,
Jesus Christ must have been born in 5 B.C.
Jesus was born while Herod was still alive. Herod was in
Jerusalem, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the
days of Herod......." (Mat.2:1-3).
Then, Herod summoned the scribes and chief priests to
Jerusalem to inquire where Jesus Christ should have been born,
according to the prophecies in the OT.
After finding that it had been prophesied that Jesus should
be born in Bethlehem, Herod instructed the wise men to return and
inform him where Jesus resided, "When they had heard the king,
they departed, and lo, the star which they saw in the east, went
before them, till it came and stood over where the young child
was......When he (Joseph) arose, he took the young child and his
mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was
there until the death of Herod" (Mat.2:9-15).
"But when Herod was dead (in February 4 B.C.), an angel of
the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph.....And he arose and took
the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the
room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there; not
withstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside
into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a
city called Nazareth" (Mat.2:19-23)......
THE FIFTEENTH YEAR OF TIBERIUS
The fifteenth year if Tiberius is another historical
reference that gives us further supporting evidence, "Now in the
fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar...." (Luke 3: 1).
A dispute has existed concerning the date of the fifteenth
year of Tiberius. This is a result of the two year co-rulership
Tiberius had with Augustus.
This date is keyed to the battle of Actium, which took place
during the 187th olympiad in the 7th year of the reign of Herod
(Josephus Ant.15:5:1-2; Wars 1:20:3).
The 187th olympiad was the four year period: July 32 B.C. to
July 28 B.C. The 7th year of Herod, March 31 B.C. to March 30
Augustus, died when Sextus Apuleius and Sextus Pomppeios
were consuls, on August 19. Augustus had been ruler from the
victory at Actium 44 years lacking 13 days (Dio Roman History,
Book LVI: 29-30, Loeb Ed. Vol.7, p.65,69).
The date of the consuls reign was 767 AUC, which was 14 B.C.
During the last years of Augustus' reign, ".....the consuls
caused a law to be passed.....that he (Tiberius) should govern
the province jointly with Augustus and hold the census with him"
(Seutonius Ed. J. C. Rolfe, LCL, 1, p.323).
Tiberius began his co-rulership with Augustus in A.D. 12.
This means that the 15th year of Tiberius was A.D. 26. There was
a two year co-regency from A.D. 12 to A.D. 14.
Some scholars calculate his 15th year from the beginning of
his sole rulership in A.D. 14 and arrive at an A.D. 28 date. This
is the source of conflict. However, A.D. 12 is the only date that
harmonizes with all other events.
Therefore, John the Baptist began his ministry, as a
messenger to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus Christ, in the
spring of A.D. 26. Jesus was then baptized by John the
Baptist, some time in the fall of A.D. 26.
FORTY-SIX YEARS BUILDING THE TEMPLE
During the first Passover of Christ's ministry, the Jews
stated that the Temple had been 46 years in building (John 2:
20). Jesus' first Passover was A.D. 27.
"And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign (that
is, the eighteenth in Jerusalem, but the twenty-first year from
his coronation in Rome).....undertook a very great work, that is
to build of himself the Temple to God" (Ant.15:11:1).
The 18th year of Herod's Jerusalem reign was 20 B.C. to 19
B.c., which was the first year of building the Temple. Carried
forward, the 46th year was A.D. 27.
TO BE CONTINUED
This study was written about 1980. Entered on this Website 2005