When REALLY Was Jesus Born?
When Jesus was born, no one used a calendar that measured time in years before or after the birth of Jesus. The was not a known number at the time. Therefore, his calendar went directly from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.
All historians today agree that Dionysius was wrong in his calculation of the year of Jesus' birth. He was even wrong in thinking Jesus was born on December 25, because shepherds in Palestine were not out in their fields with their flocks that late in the year. Luke 2:8 says that on the night Jesus was born angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds in a nearby field. Most historians say that Jesus was probably born no later than October.
We will show in this booklet the evidence that Jesus was born in 2 B.C. at the time of Israel's Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashana), which fell on September 29 that year. Two thousand years later is 1999 A.D. (Remember, since there is no year zero, two thousand years from 2 B.C. comes to 1999, rather than 1998 A.D.)
The Feast of Trumpets changes each year, much like Passover and Easter, because these are calculated according to a lunar calendar. And so, whereas the Feast of Trumpets fell on September 29 back in 2 B.C., it falls on September 11 in 1999 A.D. This is properly Jesus' 2000th birthday according to the Hebrew calendar.
The Decree from Caesar Augustus
The Bible gives us a few historical details surrounding the birth of Jesus to help us set the date of his birth. Luke 2:1 says,
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [apographe, “enrolled, or registered”].
Caesar Augustus was born as Octavian on September 23, 63 B.C. He was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who was killed on “the Ides of March” in 44 B.C. when Octavian was just 18 years old. The following year Octavian was made Consul of Rome, a two-year term of rulership. This marked the real beginning of his political career in Rome.
Some years later, on January 16, 27 B.C. Octavian was proclaimed Emperor of Rome and given the title, Augustus Caesar. This ended the Roman Republic and replaced it with the Roman Empire. Augustus ruled with great skill for many years. He finally died on August 19, 14 A.D., which was, to the day, precisely 56 years after he had first been made Consul in Rome in 43 B.C.
After 7 B.C., Rome's wars ceased, and there seemed to be a Golden Age of peace throughout the empire. Many soldiers were released from military service from 7 to 2 B.C. Furthermore, Virgil, the Roman poet, had prophesied a Golden Age of peace and prosperity to occur about this time. So when the Temple of Janus was closed (signifying peace throughout the empire), there was a heightened sense of optimism and confidence everywhere. Augustus was viewed as the Roman “prince of peace.”
Finally on February 5, 2 B.C., the Roman Senate awarded Augustus the title of Pater Patriae, “Father of the Country.” Augustus Caesar himself wrote about this in his book, Res Getae, paragraph 35, which is quoted on page 19 of the book, Roman Civilization, by Lewis and Reinhold. The Emperor Augustus wrote,
When I held my thirteenth consulship, the senate, the equestrian order, and the entire Roman people gave me the title of “Father of the Country.”
When the Roman Senate passed this bill, they issued a decree throughout the entire Roman Empire that everyone under the authority of Rome should register their approval of this bill and swear an oath of allegiance to Augustus. This is the enrollment, or registration, mentioned in Luke 2:1, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.
When Cyrenius was Governor of Syria
Luke tells us that this particular registration took place “when Cyrenius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:2). This statement has puzzled biblical scholars for many years, because they can find no such census taking place from 7 B.C. to 1 B.C. In fact, there is also no evidence that Cyrenius was governor of Syria prior to 6 or 7 A.D. For this reason, critics have long maintained that Luke did not record the historical facts properly, and this has been used to discredit the inspiration of the Scriptures.
New evidence, however, has now come to light, which not only affirms Luke's statement, but also dates the birth of Jesus in 2 B.C., rather than the commonly accepted date of 4 or 5 B.C. The known governors of Syria during this time were as follows:
|Titius||7 B.C. and earlier|
|Varus||7 or 6 B.C. to 4 B.C.|
|Saturninus||4 B.C. to 2 B.C.|
|Varus||2 B.C. to 1 A.D.|
|G. Caesar||1 A.D. to 4 A.D.|
According to Roman history, Cyrenius (spelled Quirinius in Latin) was governor of Syria in 6 or 7 A.D. and he conducted a census for the purpose of taxation that same year. This date is obviously much too late for the birth of Jesus. However, there was one year in which it was possible that Quirinius could have been a lieutenant governorof Syria. It was the summer of 2 B.C. between Saturninus and the second governorship of Varus.
Historical records show that Saturninus was still in Syria in May of 2 B.C. Then there is a historical gap in the records until November, when we first read of Varus being in Syria. We do not know what happened in the six months from May to November of 2 B.C. However, we do know that Quirinius was Caesar's specialist in the area of enrollment and taxation. We also know that Quirinius had been sent to Syria and Palestine at the time of Jesus' birth with the title of procurator. (See Justin Martyr's First Apology, chapter 34.)
Quirinius was not actually a “governor” at the time of Jesus' birth. Luke 2:2 should have been translated, “And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was ruling or administrating his duties from Syri.” He was not the governor, but the procurator. The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. X, p. 216 says,
Each province had its equestrian procurator who in the eyes of the provincials was almost as important as the governor himself.
This shows that the governor and procurator were two different persons, though both were very important. Quirinius was the procurator when Jesus was born, even as Pontius Pilate was the procurator years later when He was crucified.
Dr. Ernest Martin suggests the most plausible solution to the problem in his book, The Star that Astonished the World, 1996 edition, page 197. I believe that it holds the key to understanding this history.
There was yet no established custom near the time of Augustus for governors to be in their provincial seats of authority at set times of the year. Cicero left his province before May 1st in 58 B.C. . . . This example shows that sometimes parts of the Summer period saw a province without its resident governor. Obviously, a lieutenant would have been in charge in some capacity. In fact, Atkinson shows that it was common practice for some of the Summer months not to have provincial governors in residence. Perhaps this is what occurred in the change-over period from Saturninus to Varus. In truth, there was a good reason why both Saturninus and Varus would have wanted to be in Rome for the Summer of 2 B.C. . . It was the Silver Jubilee of Augustus' accession to total power and the year he was proclaimed the Pater Patriae. This year was looked on as the apex of the Augustan Peace.
Dr. Martin shows that this was the summer of 2 B.C. in which Augustus Caesar was celebrating his Silver Jubilee—25 years since being proclaimed Augustus, the Emperor, in 27 B.C. It was also the 750th year since the founding of Rome itself. On February 5 the Roman Senate proclaimed him “Father of the Country” in honor of his Silver Jubilee. The chief month of celebration was August, the month named after the Emperor himself. If all dignitaries wanted to be in Rome that summer (which would have been good for their political careers), both Saturninus and Varus would have been among them. Neither the outgoing Saturninus nor the incoming Varus would have wanted to miss the celebrations in Rome. Also, because it was a time of unprecedented peace, they could easily have left Syria in the hands of a lieutenant governor and the procurator during those summer months.
On pages 197-198 of his book, Dr. Martin explains how this could have been accomplished.
Quirinius was then in Syria having conducted his procuratorial role of conducting a registration of peoples. Since Quirinius was a man of high rank, and with the province having peace and security on all sides, there would not have been the slightest reason for not having Quirinius assume the supreme command while concluding his procuratorial responsibilities. With Saturninus gone to Rome in late Spring of 2 B.C., this would have left Quirinius as the full administrator until October or so. Something approaching this explanation might make people think that Quirinius could have been the temporary governor of the province of Syria. Luke, however, in no way said that he was. The office that bests suits Quirinius while he was performing his duties in conducting the registration of the people would be that of Procurator.
Here Dr. Martin states plainly that the only time Quirinius could have been ruling in Syria prior to 6 A.D. was in the summer and early fall of 2 B.C. He also says that Quirinius was in Syria in 2 B.C. specifically to conduct this registration-census to ratify the Roman Senate's proclamation giving Augustus the title of Pater Patriae.
Astrological Events and Celebrations of 3-2 B.C.
From May 19, 3 B.C., to December 25, 2 B.C., a series of highly significant astrological events was observed in the heavens, which had a big impact on the Romans. We know this for sure, because modern astronomers have calculated these events with great precision. They are as follows, as given by Dr. Martin on page 66 of his book, The Star That Astonished the World and used by permission from the Griffith Observatory.
Planetary Conjunctions, 19 May, 3 B.C., to 25 December, 2 B.C.
19 May, 3 B.C.
12 June, 3 B.C.
12 Aug., 3 B.C.
31 Aug., 3 B.C.
14 Sept., 3 B.C.
17 Feb., 2 B.C.
8 May, 2 B.C.
17 June, 2 B.C.
26 Aug., 2 B.C.
25 Dec., 2 B.C.
Jupiter stationary over
From this table of planetary conjunctions, we can see that there were many significant astrological events occurring in the 18 months from May of 3 B.C. to December of 2 B.C. While we, as Christians, may not hold these as significant, the important thing to note is that the Romans took them very seriously, and these things gave them a heightened sense of optimism that the world was entering a great era of peace and prosperity. Augustus was viewed as the Messiah of the Roman world who had brought in this Golden Age. All of this must have had some influence upon the Senate when they passed the bill declaring Augustus to be “Father of the Country” in February of 2 B.C.
But who would have ever thought that these same astrological conjunctions would bring Magi from the east naively inquiring about the newborn King! This triggered a reaction from Herod that closely resembled the events surrounding Augustus' own birth. On page 6 of Dr. Martin's book, he quotes from Jack Lindsay's Origins of Astrology,
According to Julius Marathus, a personal confidant of Augustus Caesar, the Roman Senate in the year 63 B.C. ordered all boy babies to be killed who were born in that year because prophetic dreams and astrological signs suggested that a “King of the Romans” was to be born.
In reconstructing the events during this time, we can see the very real possibility that the Magi followed the planet Jupiter as it tracked westward until it appeared to remain stationary over Bethlehem on December 25, 2 B.C. While this was not the date of Jesus' birth, it appears very likely that this was the date the Magi arrived bearing their gifts to the young King.
The first significant planetary conjunction listed above occurred on May 19, 3 B.C. It was a conjunction between Mercury and Saturn. Mercury was known as the messenger of the gods. John the Baptist was also known as “the messenger” (Mal. 3:1). In fact, the name Malachi means “messenger,” and this is the primary theme of his book. Is it not probable that this sign in the heavens occurred at the time the angel announced to Zacharias that he was to have a son who would minister in the spirit and power of Elias?
The Magi were experts in astrological interpretations and would have viewed these things as signs. These signs motivated them to make the long trip west to the land of Judea, knowing that the Messianic King had been born. There is little doubt that these Magi knew the prophecies of Daniel, who, centuries earlier, had been the head of that religious order for about 70 years (Dan. 2:48). We have no way of knowing how much of the truth had been corrupted by the time of Christ's birth, but we do know that the Magi arrived at the right time and were led by God to the One they sought. That should speak for itself.
In contemplating the significance of the conjunctions of Jupiter (see the table on the previous page), there is much that we can say. Jupiter was considered to be the Planet of the Messiah. The Hebrew name for Jupiter was sedeq, or “righteousness.” It is often spelled “Zadok.” It is connected to the Order of Melchi-sedec (Heb. 5:10), of which Jesus is the Chief Priest. And so the Messiah was connected to signs in Jupiter, or sedeq.
The Hebrews considered Jupiter to be the planet associated with and governing Jerusalem, although the Romans considered it to be the planet of Rome. However, the Magi did not go to Rome, but to Jerusalem, as they followed Jupiter westward. Isaiah 1:26 calls Jerusalem “the city of sedeq.” This can be translated either as “the city of righteousness” or as “the city of Jupiter.” The Magi thus followed Jupiter to the city of Jupiter-Jerusalem. In the nearby town of Bethlehem, they found the Messiah, the High Priest of the Order of Melchi-sedec.
Even as Jupiter was considered to be the planet of the Messiah, so also was Regulus considered to be the star of the Messiah. Regulus is located between the feet of the constellation Leo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This star is the “sceptre” and the “lawgiver” referred to in Genesis 49:9-10,
9 Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up; he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.
When Jupiter and Regulus had three conjunctions in the constellation of Leo between September, 3 B.C., and May, 2 B.C., the Magi could not have missed the significance. In fact, the path of Jupiter actually formed a loop, or halo, directly above Regulus, as though the King's Planet was “crowning” the King's Star. On June 17, 2 B.C., it culminated in one of the most spectacular conjunctions ever seen. Jupiter and Venus came so close together that they appeared to merge as a single star (.01 degree of separation).
Immediately after these three conjunctions, Jupiter began moving westward across the sky. Perhaps knowing that the great celestial show was over, the Magi must have begun making preparations to “follow the star” to Jerusalem. It would have been about a four-month trip, since that is how long it took Ezra to make the same journey from Babylon (Ezra 7:6-9).
If the final conjunction occurred on June 17, then perhaps by the first part of July it would have been apparent that Jupiter was going to continue moving westward, and the Magi would have begun making preparations for the trip. If they left the end of August, they would have arrived toward the end of December. Jesus would have been born on September 29, while they were already on the road.
The first thing the Magi did upon arriving in Jerusalem was to inquire of the locals to learn where the King had been born (Matt. 2:1-2). Little did they know that they were walking into a hornet's nest. Two weeks earlier Matthias, the high priest, and rabbi also named Matthias had incited some young students to tear down Rome's golden eagle from the Temple wall. Herod went into a state of rage, not only at the affront, but also because he was becoming very ill and paranoid as he approached the age of 70. The students had committed treason, and Herod was very angry. Then, to make matters worse, the Magi arrived in the middle of the investigation, inquiring where the new King had been born!
Herod's spies told him of the mysterious strangers, and so he called them in for an interview. Herod specifically inquired as to the time of the star's appearance (Matt. 2:7). Their answer is not recorded, unfortunately, but we may presume that they told him about all the astrological signs for the past 19 months. Herod was upset, and Matthew tells us Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt. 2:3).
Since astrology is not a precise science, interpretations always vary, even among those who take stock in it. It would be difficult to tell if the King had been born at the beginning of the heavenly conjunctions or many months later. To a paranoid king with no scruples against killing potential rivals, it would have been natural to simply kill all the children that had been born in Bethlehem in the past two years.
When the Magi left the palace, they probably looked into the sky and—using their measuring instruments—discovered that Jupiter had not moved from its position the previous night. It hovered toward the south of Jerusalem in the direction of Bethlehem, as if to confirm the word of the prophet Micah which they had learned from the chief priests (Matt. 2:4-6).
Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find the King they sought (Matt. 2:8). Matthew certainly would have told us if they had found Jesus in another city, after Herod had told them to go to Bethlehem. Thus, it appears that they arrived on December 25, 2 B.C., to present the Messiah with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This appears to be the origin of the tradition of giving gifts on December 25th, although this was not the time of Jesus' actual birth. And so, Matthew does not call Jesus an infant, but a young child, when the Magi arrived.
The Gospel writers use two different terms for the baby Jesus in telling the stories surrounding his birth. The Greek words used to describe Him are brephos and paidion. When the shepherds came to Jesus the same night that He was born, Luke says He was a brephos, an infant “babe” (Luke 2:16). But three months later the Magi came and found a paidion, a young child (Matt. 2:9). Many have argued that the difference between these two words is the difference between an infant and a toddler. This, along with the fact that Herod ordered all the children of Bethlehem who were two years old or less to be killed, leads people to believe that Jesus was about two years old when the Magi arrived. However, we should be careful not to try to read too much into these words.
The shepherds, after seeing Jesus, told everyone about the paidion that they had seen (Luke 2:16). But this does not necessarily mean that Jesus was a two-year-old toddler. When Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, Luke describes Him at that time as a paidion (Luke 2:21). It is therefore apparent that the Greek word paidion could be used to describe a baby who was just eight days old.
The point is, let's not insist that the Magi came to a toddler, just because he is said at that time to be a paidion. I believe that Jesus was three months old when the Magi arrived. He was no longer in the stable, of course, for we read in Matthew 2:11 that they found Him in a “house” in Bethlehem. It is also unlikely that Jesus' parents would have remained in Bethlehem—even in a house—for two years after his birth. The most likely explanation is that Jesus was born in a stable, where the shepherds found him that same night. Perhaps the next day, after the testimony of the shepherds, someone opened up a house for them to stay in while Mary rested and recovered from her labor of childbirth. They ended up staying longer than anticipated for whatever reason, and then finally after three months had passed, the Magi arrived with their gifts on December 25th. That night, one or all of the Magi were warned in a dream to return home by another way (Matt. 2:12), and God also warned Joseph in a dream to go to Egypt (Matt. 2:13). At this point the family left Bethlehem.
Jesus had been born on the evening of the Feast of Trumpets, which in 2 B.C. fell on September 29. Precisely three months later, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt, the “house (nation) of Pharaoh.” This was done to fulfill the prophetic pattern of Moses' birth.
Jesus and Moses: A Prophetic Parallel
The New Testament does not tell us how old Jesus was when Joseph and Mary brought him to Egypt. All we know is that the night the Magi arrived, God warned the Magi in a dream not to return to Herod, and He instructed Joseph in a dream to take the family to Egypt to protect them from Herod's wrath. They all escaped safely, and this outraged Herod.
If the Magi saw Jesus the night of December 25, then God must have spoken to them in their dreams that very night. They would have left immediately the next day, of course, since the danger was imminent. They would have arrived in Egypt about the 29th of December, when Jesus was precisely three months old. This is how old Moses was when he was taken into the house of Pharaoh for his protection against the decree of the king. Exodus 2:2-3 says,
2 And the woman conceived and bare a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. 3 And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.
The story continues, telling us that Moses was found by Pharaoh's daughter and adopted into her family. Jesus was a prophet like unto Moses (Acts 3:22). Many have already made the connection between the slaughter of the children at the time of Moses' birth and the slaughter at Jesus' birth. But our study of chronology and astronomy seem to indicate that both Moses and Jesus were saved from death at the age of three months: Moses by going into the house of Pharaoh; Jesus by going to Egypt.
Thus we find that the Greek Orthodox Church has long commemorated the Slaughter of the Bethlehem Innocents on December 29. The Church of England commemorates the day on December 28. They are probably very close to the truth of the matter.
The Story of King Herod
Herod killed the children of Bethlehem about a month before he himself died. The events leading to th is tragedy began with some rabbinical teachers in the temple who incited some of the students to tear down the golden eagle from the temple wall, because it was, to them, a blasphemous graven image. King Herod went into a rage, and while investigating the matter, the Magi arrived from afar inquiring about the new “king of the Jews” whom they presumed had been born.
King Herod craftily sent them to Bethlehem to find this new king. They did find Jesus there, but they returned to their country by another route, while Jesus' family fled to Egypt. This occurred, as we said, in late December of 2 B.C. Shortly after this, on January 9, 1 B.C. Herod executed the rabbi named Matthias by having him burned at the stake, but he did not dare to execute the high priest, who was also named Matthias. He merely deposed him. That night there was an eclipse of the moon. A few weeks later Herod himself was dead. The story is told by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, vi, 4.
But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon. But now Herod's distemper greatly increased upon him after a severe manner, and this by God's judgment upon him for his sins . . .
Two weeks later Herod died. Historians date the birth of Jesus by calculating the time of the eclipse that occurred the night Herod executed Matthias and his friends. They usually assume that Jesus was about two years old when Herod killed the children of Bethlehem, so they try to pinpoint Jesus' birth about two years after the death of Herod. It is most commonly assumed from this that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. This view is largely based upon a nineteenth century editor's footnote in Josephus. That editor, commenting upon the lunar eclipse in question, says this:
This eclipse of the moon (which is the only eclipse of either of the luminaries mentioned by Josephus in any of his writings) is of the greatest consequence for the determination of the time for the death of Herod and Antipater, and for the birth and entire chronology of Jesus Christ. It happened March 13th, in the year of the Julian period 4710, and the fourth year before the Christian era.
If it were really true, as this editor would have us believe, that Herod died shortly after March 13th of 4 B.C., then Jesus must have been born the previous autumn, in the year 5 B.C. There is no possibility that Jesus was actually born in the autumn of 4 B.C., for this would have been six to eight months AFTER the death of Herod. If Herod had already died around the first of April in 4 B.C., then how could he have conspired to kill the children in Bethlehem or even to send the wise men out to find the child after Jesus was born later that year? In other words, to say that the birth of Jesus occurred in 4 B.C. is ludicrous.
Because there are a limited number of lunar eclipses that were visible in Jerusalem around that time, there are only certain years that remain as possibilities for the death of Herod—by which we may determine the birth of Jesus, by counting backward from Herod's death. If we take a closer look at the events of this time that are mentioned by Josephus, we will also see that the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C., was not the one that occurred when Matthias was executed by Herod. And by proving this, we will also see that Jesus could not have been born either in the fall of 4 B.C. or in the fall of 5 B.C.
The True Date of the Eclipse
There is a book in good research libraries entitled Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient Near East from 3000 B.C. to 0 with Maps, by Manfred Kudlek and Erich H. Mickler. It lists the dates of all lunar and solar eclipses visible from Jerusalem in the years before the Christian era. The particular lunar eclipses that are of interest to us in our study are listed on page 156 of that book:
|August 3,||9 B.C.|
|Nov. 28,||9 B.C.|
|Nov. 18,||8 B.C.|
|March 23,||5 B.C.|
|Sept. 15,||5 B.C.|
|March 13,||4 B.C.|
|July 17,||2 B.C.|
|January 9,||1 B.C.|
|Nov. 8,||2 A.D.|
|August 4,||3 A.D.|
The two eclipses that are highlighted in bold lettering are the main ones that we will study. The eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C., is the wrong one, as we saw earlier. We can prove conclusively that the eclipse that coincided with the deposition of the high priest, Matthias, occurred on January 9, 1 B.C. Herod then died the end of January. This means that Jesus was born the previous autumn at the Feast of Trumpets, September 29, 2 B.C.
Herod, Age 70, Died in 1 B.C.
Josephus tells us that Herod was about 70 years of age when he died, for Josephus tells us in Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, vi, 1,
And as he despaired of recovering (for he was about the seventieth year of his age), he grew fierce and indulged the bitterest anger upon all occasions.
Again, Josephus confirms this in another book, Wars of the Jews, I, xxxiii, 1, where he writes about this same topic,
Now Herod's distemper became more and more severe; and this because his disorders fell upon him in his old age, and when he was in a melancholy condition. For he was almost seventy years of age.
Josephus also tells us that Herod was 25 years old in 47 B.C. when his father appointed him governor of Galilee. (See Antiquities of the Jews, XIV, ix, 2, with footnote.) If king Herod was 25 years old in the year 47-46 B.C., then he was 70 during the year 2-1 B.C. So we must find an eclipse that occurred in 2 or 1 B.C. to determine the time of his death. In our listing, we find there are only two possibilities: one on July 17, 2 B.C., and another on January 9, 1 B.C.
Of these, we can immediately eliminate the one that occurred on July 17, 2 B.C., because it came at the wrong time of the year. Herod died two or three months before a Passover, according to Josephus' account. So this positively eliminates the eclipse in July of 2 B.C. Josephus carefully and completely recorded the events from Herod's death to the Passover. So we have to look for a lunar eclipse that occurred sometime during the winter, but certainly not as late as March.
THE ONLY POSSIBILITY is the lunar eclipse that occurred on January 9, 1 B.C. No other eclipse occurred near the time when Herod was 70 years old in 1 B.C. If Herod had died shortly after the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 B.C., he would have died at about the age of 67, or at most 68. If Herod had died shortly after the lunar eclipse of Nov. 8, 2 A.D., he would have been about 72.
We conclude, then, that Herod killed Matthias January 9, 1 B.C. Herod himself died in late January, allowing Joseph and Mary to return from Egypt in time for Passover in 1 B.C.
Jesus' Birth Dated by Tertullian
None of the ancient historians or Church fathers placed his birth before 3 B.C. Most reckon His birth in what we would today call 2 B.C. Tertullian was born around 160 A.D. He was a Roman lawyer, one of the more educated and outstanding early Church leaders. Tertullian's knowledge of Roman history was as fresh as our knowledge of the American Revolutionary War. He had easy access to all the records of the Roman Empire by which he could date Jesus' birth. In 198 A.D., Tertullian wrote An Answer to the Jews, where he commented on the year of Jesus' birth:
Let us see, moreover, how in the forty-first year of the empire of Augustus, when he had been reigning for twenty and eight years after the death of Cleopatra, the Christ is born. (And the same Augustus survived, after Christ is born, fifteen years; and the remaining times of years to the day of the birth of Christ will bring us to the forty-first year, which is the twenty and eighth of Augustus after the death of Cleopatra.)
Remember, Tertullian lived some centuries before Dionysius, so he did not date events according to B.C. or A.D. Instead, he dated these events according to Roman history, with which he was so familiar.
Tertullian dated the birth of Jesus in three ways. First, he said that Jesus was born in the 41st year of Augustus. We know that Augustus (Octavian) began to rule in 43 B.C., so Octavian—later known as Augustus—was first appointed Consul of Rome on August 19, 43 B.C. This is when Roman history dates the beginning of the reign of Octavian. his 41st year went from 3 B.C. to 2 B.C.
Tertullian also tells us that Augustus lived 15 years after the birth of Jesus. Roman historians tell us that Augustus died on August 19, 14 A.D. He died precisely 56 years to the day after he had first become Consul of Rome, and so all the historians record this unusual coincidence.
So according to Tertullian, Jesus would have been born about 15 years prior to 14 A.D. or 2 B.C. (As you calculate, remember that there is no year zero.) This was 15 years before Augustus died, and it was the 41st year of his reign.
Finally, Tertullian also says that the 41st year of Augustus (when Jesus was born) was the 28th year after the death of Cleopatra. One of the key dates in Roman history is the Battle of Actium, when Octavian's naval forces defeated those of Antony and Cleopatra. This battle is dated September 2, 31 B.C. A year later, rather than face captivity and possible execution, she and Mark Antony committed suicide in August of 30 B.C. This ended the power struggle and put Octavian in full charge of Rome. Three years later, the Roman Senate proclaimed him “Augustus.” The Roman Republic was dead; the Empire was fully born.
Irenaeus and Eusebius Date Jesus' Birth
Another early Church leader, Irenaeus, states in his book, Against Heresies, III, xxi, 3, that “Our Lord was born about the 41st year of the reign of Augustus.” Thus, he agrees with Tertullian that Jesus was born in 2 B.C.
Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea (264-340 A.D.), is known as “The Father of Church History.” He wrote the first true history of the Christian Church. Of Jesus' birth, he says in Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Sec. 5,
It was the forty-second year of Augustus' reign and the twenty-eighth after the subjection of Egypt and the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra. . . .
Eusebius equates the 28th year after the death of Cleopatra with the 42nd year of Augustus. In doing so, he corrects the possible misunderstanding in the writings of Irenaeus and Tertullian, who say it was his 41st year. The 41st year, strictly speaking, would have ended in August of 2 B.C., which was close, but fell about a month short of the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born September 29 of 2 B.C. So Bishop Eusebius pinpoints the time of Jesus' birth a little bit better than did Tertullian a century earlier.
The 42nd year of Augustus extended from August of 2 B.C. to August of 1 B.C. The 42nd year of Augustus went from August of 2 B.C. to August of 1 B.C. If Bishop Eusebius was correct, then Jesus was born in September of 2 B.C. I believe that He was born on the evening of the Feast of Trumpets, which in that year fell on September 29.
Clement of Alexandria (born about 150 A.D.) also says Jesus was born in the 15th year before the death of Augustus Caesar—that is, in 2 B.C.
According to the eminent W.E. Filmer, who wrote an article proving that Jesus was born in 2 B.C., “there were, before the year 500, no less than ten Christian witnesses who agreed on the year in which Christ was born.” He suggests that the reason so many agreed on the year of His birth, even though they widely disagreed on other dates, was that the Romans had official proof of the year of His birth. They had, after all, conducted a census in the year of Jesus' birth, which had brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the registration. The results of this census were apparently open for inspection, for Justin Martyr wrote in the mid-second century in his First Apology, 34,
Now there is a village in the land of the Jews, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, in which Jesus was born, as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing made under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea.
And so we conclude that many early Church leaders agreed upon the date of Jesus' birth, because the Roman records were open for all to see. It is unfortunate that most of those records are now locked in the archives of the Vatican, where they remain hidden from public view.
When Was Jesus' Thirtieth Birthday?
If Jesus was born in September of 2 B.C., then He would have been baptized to begin His ministry at the age of 30 in September of 29 A.D. The New Testament does not date the beginning of Jesus' ministry, but it does say that He was 30 when He began to minister. Luke 3:23 says Jesus was “ABOUT thirty years of age” when He began His ministry. In the Greek language, the word “about” does NOT mean approximately, as we think in English today. It means precisely, or in very close proximity to 30 years old.
We must date Jesus' ministry from the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, who was about six months older than Jesus, and who likewise must have begun his ministry at the age of 30, as the law prescribed for priests. Numbers 4:2 and 3 says,
2 Take the sum of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, after their families, by the house of their fathers, 3 From thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter into the host, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation.
We know from Luke 1:36 that John's mother was five or six months pregnant with him when Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost. So this makes John five or six months older than Jesus. John was of a priestly family (Luke 1:5), and so, like Jesus, he would have begun his independent, full-fledged ministry at the age of 30. He turned 30 years old in the spring of some year, and we know Jesus began His ministry in the fall of that same year, also at the age of 30.
The Fifteenth Year of Tiberius Caesar
Both John and Jesus began their ministries in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. Luke 3:1-3 says,
1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. . . 2 the Word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Since the Bible dates his ministry according to Roman history, we must look at Roman history to fix the date of the start of John's ministry. Once we determine this, we can simply add another five or six months to establish the beginning of Jesus' ministry and His baptism.
Augustus (i.e., Octavian) began his career on August 19, 43 B.C., when he was first appointed consul of Rome. He died precisely 56 years later, on August 19, 14 A.D. Because of this unusual coincidence, many Roman historians mention it in their writings, making it one of the most well established dates in Roman history.
Tiberius, his adopted son, began his reign when Augustus died, on August 19, 14 A.D. Tiberius, of course, had been exercising power some time before Augustus actually died, and this has led some to believe that the first year of Tiberius began a few years earlier at the beginning of a co-regency. However, evidence tells us that Tiberius never officially claimed that his first year began before the death of Augustus.
Adam Rutherford tells us in his Bible Chronology (p. 450) that shortly after Tiberius began to reign, coins were minted in his honor in Antioch. These were double-dated as the first year of Tiberius and the 45th year after the battle of Actium (Sept. 2, 31 B.C.). Roman historians often dated their history according to the “Actium Era,” which began in September of 31 B.C. Keeping in mind that there was no year zero, the 45th year of the Actium Era would extend from September of 14 A.D. to September of 15 A.D.
These coins prove that the first year of Tiberius extended from 14 to 15 A.D., no matter what some may say about Tiberius ruling as a co-regent with Augustus in the last few years of his life. As Rutherford asserts, “No instance is known where the years of Tiberius' reign were reckoned from his previous partial association with Augustus” (Ibid., p. 451).
A couple of years later, more coins were minted, and dated as the third year of Tiberius and the 47th year of the Actium Era. Again, these prove that the reign of Tiberius was officially recognized in his own time as beginning in 14 A.D. Tiberius never attempted to extend the length of his reign by claiming the last few years of Augustus' reign on the basis of a co-regency.
So the 15th year of Tiberius extended from August of 28 A.D. to August of 29 A.D. In His Sovereignty, God saw to it that we would know precisely when John began his ministry. Otherwise, it would have been useless information to know that he began to preach in the 15th year of Tiberius. But God did not leave us hanging. We know that John began to preach in the spring of 29 A.D. This was the only spring season in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar.
Jesus Was Born on the Feast of Tumpets
There are some who believe Jesus was born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 15), and that He was circumcised on the eighth day of Tabernacles (Tishri 22). That theory is plausible, only because it is the time when Christ will be birthed in us at the appointed time in the future. But Jesus Himself was born on the evening of Trumpets (Tishri 1).
In the law, God established three very significant Holy Days in the autumn of the year. They all occur in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which is called the month of Tishri. This correlates roughly with September or October of our modern calendar. These Holy Days are as follows:
(1) Trumpets (Tishri 1)
(2) Day of Atonement (Tishri 10)
(3) Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 15-22)
In order to fulfill the whole law, neither John nor Jesus was eligible for initiation into the ministry until they were fully 30 years old (Num. 4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39). We will see that Jesus was baptized on the Day of Atonement (Tishri 10), five days before the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. If He had been born on the first day of Tabernacles, then He would not have come to John for baptism on the Day of Atonement, because He would have lacked a few days yet to his 30th birthday.
So the question is, how do we know Jesus was baptized on the Day of Atonement? On that day the priests in the temple were supposed to choose two goats. They were to cast lots over the goats to see which one would be killed and which one would be sent into the wilderness. (The full instructions are found in Leviticus 16.) When Jesus came to John for baptism, all of his actions were meant to fulfill the requirements of the Day of Atonement.
While the priests were carrying out these rituals in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus came to John for baptism. John was the true High Priest in the eyes of God. Caiaphas was the High Priest in the Temple, chosen by men. Jesus was, in effect, presenting Himself as the first goat, which was to be “killed” for the cleansing of the sanctuary. His baptism was the moment of His legal death. Baptism represents death (Romans 6:4). After His baptism, Matthew 4:1 says, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
In other words, He immediately fulfilled the pattern of the second goat, which at that time was being led “by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:21). The Hebrew word translated “fit” here means seasonal, timely, or ready. In this case, we see that the “fit man” was the Holy Spirit, who always comes at the appointed time and season to do the work. And so we see that Jesus' baptism and the Spirit's leading Him into the wilderness ran directly parallel to the temple activities on the Day of Atonement. This can only indicate that He was baptized on that feast day, nine days after His 30th birthday on the Feast of Trumpets.
Jesus' Crucifixion in 33 A.D.
Jesus' ministry lasted about three and a half years. Then, to fulfill the Feast of Passover, He was crucified at the time all the people killed the Passover lambs. The method God used to ensure the precise fulfillment of this type is amazing. The law of Passover stated that the people were to kill the Passover lambs “in the evening” (Exodus 12:6). The literal Hebrew text reads “between the two evenings.” The first evening was at noon, when the sun began descending. The second evening was when the sun actually set. Thus, the law said they were to kill the lambs sometime in the afternoon.
Josephus tells us that it was common practice to kill the Passover lambs at mid-afternoon. In his Wars of the Jews, VI, ix, 3 we read,
So these high-priests did so upon the coming of that feast which is called the Passover, when they slay their sacrifices from the ninth hour till the eleventh… [i.e., from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.]
It was lawful to slay the lambs any time after noon, so long as it was done before sunset. The people all had to be indoors by sunset, and they were not allowed to leave the house until the first light (Exodus 12:22).
Jesus was put on the cross at the third hour of the day (roughly 9:00 a.m.), and he died at the ninth hour of the day (roughly 3:00 p.m.). There was a ruling of the Sanhedrin that the Passover lambs should not be killed until a half hour past noon, lest any should mistakenly kill the lamb too early. But at noon, God suddenly imposed darkness upon the whole land. Luke 23:44 tells us,
44 And it was about the sixth hour [noon], and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.
Thus, darkness covered the land for three hours, from noon until about 3:00 p.m. The people were no doubt very worried about this, since they could not kill the Passover lambs in the darkness. That would have been unlawful. One can only imagine the relief they must have felt when the sun finally came out at the ninth hour. Immediately, thousands of lambs were hastily slain by a city full of worried people—and at that moment Jesus died as the true Passover Lamb who had come to take away the sin of the world.
According to Kudlek and Mickler's book on eclipses mentioned earlier, there was a lunar eclipse late that same afternoon. Remember, Passover was always held on a full moon, because it was the 14th day of the lunar month. Thus, every so often there would be a lunar eclipse on that day, though very seldom would it have been visible in Jerusalem. But on April 3, 33 A.D. (Passover that year) there was just such a lunar eclipse visible in Jerusalem. It was visible in the western Roman Empire about 3:00 p.m. and in Jerusalem at 5:10 p.m. When the moon rose over Jerusalem that fateful day, it was already in eclipse, as even as Joseph of Arimathea was hurrying to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.
We know from Luke's account that a supernatural darkness covered the land from the sixth hour to the ninth, or from noon to 3:00 p.m. But two hours after the sun reappeared, there was a natural eclipse of the moon. These two heavenly signs marked the date of the crucifixion on April 3, 33 A.D.
Summary of Events
We have now established the historic evidence that Jesus was born in September of 2 B.C. Rome was celebrating its 750th year of history, and Augustus Caesar was celebrating his Silver Jubilee. Peace reigned throughout the Empire, and the signs in the heavens led astrologers everywhere to believe that the world was entering into a new Golden Age. We have seen that the Roman Senate passed a decree making Augustus Caesar the Father of the Country in February of 2 B.C., which everyone in the Empire had to ratify in the following year. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for this registration. There Jesus was born in September of that year.
Three months later, while still in Bethlehem, the Magi arrived in Jerusalem asking about the newborn king. King Herod was not pleased and ordered all babies up to two years old near Bethlehem to be killed. Joseph and Mary escaped and took Jesus to Egypt, the “house of Pharaoh,” for safekeeping. Jesus was three months old at the time, which was precisely the age that Moses was brought into Pharaoh's house for safekeeping many years earlier.
Within two weeks, King Herod pronounced judgment upon the conspirators who had torn down Rome's golden eagle from the temple, and that evening there was an eclipse of the moon, January 9, 1 B.C. Herod died about two weeks later, allowing Jesus' family to return to their home in Nazareth.
When Jesus was grown, He came to John for baptism on the Day of Atonement in September of 29 A.D. This was the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, the adopted son of Augustus Caesar, who had died August 19, 14 A.D. Jesus' ministry lasted three and a half years, and He was crucified at Passover, April 3, 33 A.D.
Jesus' 2000th birthday fell on the Feast of Trumpets, September 11, 1999. This date may yet prove to have great significance, because of Hosea 6:1-3, which says,
1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. 3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.
Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 seem to define a prophetic “day” as a thousand years. Bible scholars and teachers have suggested for many years that Hosea's prophecy might be fulfilled after Jesus' 2000th birthday. Of course, even if this is so, it must be kept in mind that Hosea says these things could be fulfilled anytime in the THIRD DAY, or the third millennium.
We ourselves are simply marking the beginning of the third millennium from the birth of Jesus in order to give notice that the world has reached another important date that will have long-term effects upon history. We believe that the Kingdom of God will now be preached with greater effectiveness throughout the earth. We believe that the nations will come to realize that man's governments and all human wisdom will fail to bring peace to the earth. We believe that the angelic message given to the simple shepherds of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus' birth is about to be fulfilled: “On earth peace, good will toward men.”
Daniel's 70 Weeks Ended in 33 A.D.
I was brought up a good dispensationalist, as many others were. I read many theories attempting to explain the timing of Daniel's 70 weeks. When I finally read Adam Rutherford's book, Bible Chronology, as part of my study of timing, I began to see how my beliefs were not based on viable historical data. I began to see that key dates had been manipulated to make it turn out according to biased understanding. It began to dawn on me that we needed to adjust our understanding to fit the facts, not adjust the facts to fit our understanding of the Bible.
In other words, prophecies should be understood in light of how they were actually fulfilled in history. History is fulfilled prophecy.
The plain fact of history is that Daniel's 70 weeks (490 years) began in 458 B.C. with the decree of Artaxerxes I, and it ended 490 years later in 33 A.D. with the crucifixion of Jesus. In other words, the crucifixion occurred at the end of the 70 weeks, not in the middle of the final “week," as I had been taught. So let us take a closer look at Daniel 9:24-27 now in the light of the history already presented.
24 Seventy weeks [i.e., 70 rest year cycles, or 490 years] are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks [i.e., 7 rest year cycles, or 49 years] and threescore and two weeks [62 x 7 = 434 years]… 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off… 27 And He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week He shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease. . .
It is not our intention to do a complete study on this subject, as that would take an entire book in itself. The question we must resolve here is the meaning of verses 26 and 27. The Messiah was to be “cut off” sometime after the 62-week period. Daniel's three time periods are as follows:
|(1) Seven Weeks||458 B.C. - 409 B.C.|
|(2) Sixty-Two Weeks||409 B.C. - 26 A.D.|
|(3) One Week||26 A.D. - 33 A.D.|
Daniel's prophecy tells us that “the sacrifice and the oblation” would cease in the midst of the final week of years (26-33 A.D.). This turns out to be the fall of 29 A.D., specifically, the Day of Atonement of that year, when Jesus presented Himself to John for baptism.
We usually assume that the crucifixion ended the Old Testament sacrificial system, and most certainly, it did mark the full end of sacrifice insofar as the Christian is concerned. The priests continued sacrificing in the Temple for another 40 years, until the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Thus, it is obvious that Daniel's prophecy spoke only from God's perspective about the efficacy of those sacrifices and oblations. No sacrifice after Jesus' presentations had any relevance to the sin question. The midst of Daniel's 70th week marks the time of Jesus' baptism, when He presented Himself as the true Goat. Jesus later presented Himself as the true Lamb at Passover of 33 A.D., marking the end of Daniel's 70 weeks.
These are the two great days in which Jesus presented Himself to the Father as the Sacrifice for sin. The first was a legal death, when He “died” by means of baptism. The second was His actual death on the Cross.
There are two great works of Christ to be considered here, not just one. Those who understand the law of the two goats (Lev. 16) and compare it with the law of the two doves needed to cleanse the lepers (Lev. 14) will understand how this works. Both the first goat and the first dove were killed; while the second goat and the second dove were released alive. The first was a death work; the second a living work. These form the basic foundation of the two works of Christ in His two “comings."
Jesus came the first time to die, and we are expected to “die with Him” daily. He comes the second time alive, that we who have died with Him might also live with Him.
But while these things are all very important for our overall understanding, we must limit ourselves to a discussion of Daniel's 70 weeks. Jesus was “cut off” after the 62-week period, as Daniel 9:26 indicates. This cutting off actually worked out in two stages: His baptism, and His crucifixion. I believe that this is why Daniel's prophecy is worded the way it is. Daniel does not say that He would be cut off in the midst of the 70th week. It merely says He would be “cut off” after the 62-week period, i.e., after 26 A.D. Thus, He must be “cut off” during the final week of years, 26 - 33 A.D.
So the Messiah was indeed cut off, but it took place in two stages: the first at the beginning of His ministry in the fall of 29 A.D.; the second at Passover of 33 A.D.
Nonetheless, Daniel 9:27 talks about this final week and pinpoints the midst of this week as the time when the sacrifice and oblation cease. History shows that God was talking about His baptism, not the crucifixion. In the eyes of God, the sacrifices and oblations (at least those performed on the Day of Atonement) became irrelevant at that point, for now the True Goat had been presented to God.
The fact that the Temple priests continued to offer sacrifices and oblations long after this date is of no consequence to us. It is not what men do, but what God accepts that is important. Sacrifices would not actually cease for many years, but in the eyes of God, that era had ended in 29 A.D. Hebrews 9:12-14 says,
12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; 14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
The usual theory is that “the clock stopped," either at the beginning of the 70th week or in the middle of it, and will be resumed at some point in the future. These views become irrelevant, once we see that Jesus was indeed crucified at the full end of the 490-year period. Jesus' baptism in the midst of the week did not stop any time clocks. Furthermore, Daniel 9:27 is not talking about an “antichrist” who will put a stop to modern Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem at some future point. It is talking about what happened at Jesus' baptism. Jesus is the One who put an end to the sacrificial system. And Jesus is the One who confirmed the New Covenant with many during that week from 26-33 A.D.
Nearly the entire concept of modern Dispensationalism is based upon a faulty knowledge of history. The beginning points of Daniel's 70 weeks are manipulated without regard to actual Persian history that is conclusively established by astronomy. The dates are manipulated in order to make Jesus' crucifixion date fit their view of prophecy. They have Him crucified in the middle of the 70th week, in order to “stop the clock” and push the final week or half-week into the future. To make matters worse, the view then mandates the re-establishment of animal sacrifices on the old Temple site, as if God would have any regard for them. This view tramples on the blood of Christ and makes void His Sacrifice. Christians have no business dabbling in such a view. My tolerance for other viewpoints is greater than average, but not when they begin to undermine the blood of Jesus and its effectiveness for sin. This is basic to Christianity itself.
Modern Dispensationalism also does not understand the concept of Blessed Time. They seldom relate it to Jesus' statement to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 about forgiving “seventy times seven” times. We can hardly blame them for not knowing how the principle of Blessed Time works, because this appears to be a new understanding not revealed in the past. Yet it is clear now that Blessed Time, as well as Judged Time and Cursed Time, are all cycles of forgiveness—grace periods, during which time God “forgives," withholding judgment for sin. Once we understand this, we can see that the purpose of the 70 weeks of Daniel was to bring us to the Cross, when God called the world into the Divine Courtroom and reckoned the account for the whole world. The whole world was found carrying an insurmountable debt to sin; but that entire debt was placed upon Jesus Christ, who paid it in full by His death on the Cross. If He had done this before the end of the seventy weeks (such as in the middle of the final week), He would have violated His own principle of Blessed Time, when judgment is deferred by grace 490 times. Thus, Jesus' statement to Peter lays down an important principle that is not only a moral command to us, but also a prophetic law that God Himself reveals to us by personal example.