Problem: The Bible says that Jesus was born when Herod the Great was King of Israel (Mt. 2:1), but also that it happened during a census when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Lk. 2:2). Since King Herod died in 4 BC and Quirinius' census was in 6 AD, the Bible must be wrong.
Response: One of the most popular options for resolving the death of Herod the Great/Quirinius governing debate is that what Luke really meant to say in 2:2, was that “this was BEFORE the census while Quirinius was governor,” instead of the “FIRST census while Quirinius was governor.” In A.D. 6 there was an infamous census conducted by Quirinius during which the Jews revolted. Luke himself mentions that census in Acts 5:37. It would be like us mentioning a “recession before 1929” or “a market crash before Black September.” It would have provided a historical touch point to put things in context. It would also serve to say that this census was NOT the one of Quirinius, which was too late. Thus any census before that of Quirinius could have been the one Luke meant.
N.T. Wright points out that the Greek word, ‘protos’, not only means ‘first,’ but when followed by the genitive case, as it does in the passage in question, can mean ‘before’ or ‘prior to.’ (Who Was Jesus?, pp. 88-89.) Two New Testament examples of just such a translation are John 1:15, 30: “John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” And “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” This is a viable option, but to some this is a somewhat forced translation, especially when considering that Luke tended to be more specific when putting things in a historical context.
The second option picks up on the word “first” as well, noting that Luke singles out the census of the birth as the “first” one conducted by Quirinius. This again distinguishes it from the infamous one of 6 A.D., but adds the idea that there was a previous census which Quirinius also oversaw.
There are 2 possibilities for the timing of this earlier census. According to the Acts of Augustus, Augustus conducted 3 empire-wide censuses during his reign, in 28 B.C., 8 B.C. & 14 A.D. Only the middle one comes close to the most widely accepted date of Jesus’ birth of 5 or 6 B.C. It is noted that it sometimes took years to conduct a census, especially in areas which had not previously participated because the locals were likely to revolt (ex. a census in Gaul took 40 yrs. due to a revolt and the revolt over the census of 6 A.D. in Judea), thus the 8 B.C. census is not an unlikely possibility. Plus in 8 B.C. Herod the Great permanently lost his “Friend of Caesar” and “Ally of the Roman people” status due to intrigues with the Arabs and his execution of his wife, Mariamne and their two sons, Aristobulus and Alexander, for allegedly plotting against him. Such a demotion from autonomous client state to subject was often accompanied by a loss of privileges, the most important of which was immunity from taxation. This coupled with the uncertainty over royal succession could have caused Rome to include Syriaand Judea in the 8 B.C. census of the Roman world. (It was for the same reason, political instability, that the 6 A.D. census was conducted in Judea.)
The second, and I believe the correct, possibility for the census involves the ‘oath of allegiance’ done by ALL of the people prior to Augustus’ silver jubilee on Feb. 5, 2 B.C. and the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome. Augustus Caesar himself wrote that “while I was administering my 13th consulship the senate and the equestrian order and the ENTIRE ROMAN PEOPLE gave me the title Father of my country” (Res Gestae, VI.35). A Paphlagonia inscription dated to 3 B.C. confirms this oath of allegiance by all the inhabitants of the land (Lewis & Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. II.34, 35). Josephus mentions this oath and that there were 6,000 Pharisees who refused to swear (Antiquities, 17.2.4). In order to know that there were that many, there had to have been some census records counting them, but noting that they had not sworn the oath. Orosius, a 5th century historian, noted that he had access to the records of this “census taken of each province everywhere and that all men be enrolled . . . This is the earliest and most famous public acknowledgement which marked Caesar as the first of all men . . . in this one name of Caesar all the peoples of the great nations took oath, and at the same time through the participation in the census, were made a part of one society” (bk. VI.22, VII.2).[i]
Many do not accept this 3 B.C. census as a valid possibility because they believe Herod was already dead by then. First, it is important to know that historical dates prior to A.D. 150 are notoriously uncertain. Almost all of the original historical documents one would use to verify events no longer exist. For example, the death of Herod is based on the notation of Josephus, a Jewish historian who wrote in about 70-75 A.D., that Herod the Great died after the execution of 42 seditionists during a lunar eclipse which was followed by the Jewish Passover (Antiquities, 17.6.4-17.9.3). There are a large number of scholars who have selected March 13, 4 B.C. as the date of the lunar eclipse which was followed by the Passover on April 11 that year. However, there are many who note that there isn’t enough time between that eclipse and Passover of 4 B.C. to accommodate everything Josephus describes (one commentator states that the Passover in question was not 1 but 13 months later!). Plus, the eclipse in 4 B.C. was only partial and would not have been a very noteworthy occurrence by which to date a historical event. However, there was a total lunar eclipse on January 9/10, 1 B.C. which was followed by a Passover several weeks later and which would have provided the time necessary to accomplish everything Josephus described.
After the deaths of Herod’s sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, Antipater became “co-ruler with his father and in no way different from a king” (Josephus, Antiquities, 17.1.1). A couple years after Herod executed his wife and sons, he uncovered the plot by Antipater to kill him and requested that Caesar execute Antipater for high treason. Herod at that time changed his will and completely expunged Antipater’s name from memory. Shortly after this, Herod died and was succeeded by Archelaus.
What those who say Herod died in 4 B.C. don’t take into account is the time it took Herod to get permission from Caesar to execute Antipater (Antiquities 17.5.7, 17.6.1; 17.7.1). Nor do they realize that the oath of loyalty of 3 B.C. (Antiquities 17.2.4) occurred before Antipater’s plot was found out (Antiquities 17.4). Therefore, Herod could not have died in 4 B.C., because he had to be alive to uncover the plot which occurred after the oath in 3 B.C. Additionally, when Archelaus became king, he was reckoned as one who “had long exercised royal authority” (Josephus, War, 2.2.5). This means, he reckoned his rule from 4 B.C. while Herod was still alive. He even minted coins (along with the other 2 successors, Antipas and Philip) to that effect, and thus wiped out the period during which Antipater had been co-ruler. This practice of ante-dating coins is well attested archaeologically. Herod did not in fact die for 2-3 more years--5 days after he had Antipater executed (Antiquities 17.8.1). We know from Josephus that Herod died 37 yrs. after the Romans declared him King (39/40 B.C.), and 34 years from the time he actually became King (after the capture of Jerusalem in late 36 B.C.) (Antiquities, 17.8.2; 14.14.5; 14.16.4;War, 1.33.8). This leaves the date of Herod’s death in late 2 B.C. or early 1 B.C. which coincides with the lunar eclipse of January 9/10, 1 B.C., shortly after the visit of the Magi in December of 2 B.C. and the birth of Christ 1-2 yrs. earlier in 3 B.C. during the census.[ii] (Magillath Ta'anith, an ancient Jewish scroll contemporary with Jesus, also gives the date of Herod’s death as January 14, 1 B.C.)
The next problem, if you don’t accept the “Before” explanation, has to do with the phrase “while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” One proposal is that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria. We know for sure he was governor in 6-7 A.D. and that he conducted a census then, but that census was much too late to accommodate the birth of Jesus before the death of Herod the Great. Since it says this was the “first” census, it has been proposed that he was governor once before. Although we don’t know the name of anyone who was governor of Syria twice, in 1764 a tombstone was found, the ‘Lapis Tiburtinus,’ which records the achievements of an unknown governor who served in the days of Augustus and who was ‘pro praetor’ of Syria twice. Some have leapt on that as the supposed proof that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria. However, due to its location, near the villa of Varus in Tibur, among other things, it seems more likely that it refers to Varus himself. He is known to have been the governor of Syria in 7-4 B.C. from coins found dated in the 25th-27th years of the Actian Era.
Yet Josephus says that Varus succeeded Saturninus at the time Antipater was being tried for high treason (Antiquities, 17.5.2), which would have been c. 2 B.C. Plus, the governor of Syria during the census of Mary and Joseph was Saturninus who conducted the census in the 41st year of Augustus which again corresponds to 2/3 B.C. (Tertullian, Answer to the Jews, ch. 8; Against Marcion, 4.7, 4.19). Additionally, the War of Varus following Herod’s death, cannot be dated to 4 B.C. due to lack of evidence, but there is a record of a full scale war in 1 B.C. at Passover wherein 3,000 worshippers died which spread to Arabia and Armenia, the successful conclusion of which resulted in the 15th acclamation for Augustus in 1 A.D. Also, when Palestine was divided among Herod’s 3 sons (1 B.C.), Augustus ordered that the taxes of the Samaritans be reduced by 1/4 because they had not taken part in the revolt against Varus. Thus, it would appear that the unnamed, two-time, governor of Syria was Varus who held the position from 7-4 B.C. and then again from 2 B.C. to A.D. 1, with Saturninus serving in between from 4-2 B.C. rather than from 9-6 B.C. as those who say Herod died in 4 B.C. try to place him.
Since I’ve just stated that not only was Saturninus governor of Syria during the census, but that Quirinius does not appear to have been governor twice, we need to look at the final, and I believe correct, explanation. In Luke 2:2, Luke does not use the specific term “governor,” Greek ‘legatus’ or ‘pro praetor,’ to describe Quirinius, but the general term for “ruling,” Greek ‘hegemon.’ In 3:1, Luke also applies that same description of ruling to both Pontius Pilate and to Tiberius Caesar.[iii] It is also noted that during Herod’s reign there was a hearing before Saturninus and Volumnius, the “Officers of Caesar” (‘Kaisors hegemosi’--note ‘hegemosi’ is the plural of the same word Luke used in 2:2) indicating a precedent, that more than one person could be “governor” or “ruler of Syria” at the same time (Antiquities, 16.9.1). So Luke was saying that Quirinius had some sort of position of leadership in Syria when he oversaw his first census. The Roman historian, Strabo, reports that Quirinius was the military commander of the Syrian legions which fought the Homonadensian tribe in the Taurus Mountains. Therefore, he would have been an “equstrian procurator who in the eyes of the provincials was almost as important as the governor” (Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 10, 216). Justin Martyr, (c. 100 A.D.), confirms that Quirinius was the “Procurator of Syria” (Apology, 134) and that records of the census could be verified in the archives of Rome--this was never refuted by his opponents of the time who could have easily checked the records for themselves. In addition, two inscriptions from Pisidian Antioch record that Quirinius was elected ‘Duumvir’ sometime in the period 11-1 B.C., during the same time he was conducting the War with the Homonadensians.[iv] Another tombstone, ‘Lapis Venetus’ corroborates Quirinius’ work of census taking in Syria, in an area north of Palestine, in the autonomous city of Apmea.
[i] A Greek papyrus found in Egyptin 1905 tells of a edict of C. Vibius Maximus, eparch of Egypt c. 104 A.D. which required people to return to their hometowns for a census. This confirms that this was an accepted method of conducting a census. Special conditions in Judea would have necessitated a return to one’s ancestral home. Biblical patterns of property inheritance and complicated land ownership might have required personal depositions on lineage, inheritance, etc. In addition, a special requirement might have existed that both Joseph and Mary, as physical descendants of the royal line of David (because they were possible royal claimants), had to swear the oath of allegiance to Caesar.
[ii] Early Church Fathers who believed the birth of Jesus was c. 2 or 3 B.C.: Irenaeus, Orosius, Cassiodosus Senator, Julius Africanus, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen, the Chromicon Cyrianicum, Eusebius of Caesaria, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Greek historian Zonaras, Bar Hebraeus (who quoted Syrian, Armenian, and Greek sources), Epiphanius, the Chronicon Edessenum, and Clemet of Alexandria.
[iii] It was once thought that Luke had concocted his narrative from the ramblings of his imagination, because he ascribed odd titles to authorities and mentioned governors that no one knew. The evidence now points in exactly the opposite direction. Ex. 1: Gallio, proconsul of Achaea--This designation in Acts 18:12-17 was thought to be impossible. But an inscription at Delphi notes this exact title for the man, and it dates him to the time Paul was in Corinth(A.D. 51). Ex. 2: Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene--This man was unknown to modern historians until an inscription was found recording a temple dedication which mentions the name, the title, and is the right place. The inscription is dated between A.D. 14 and 29, compatible with the beginnings of John's ministry, which Luke dates by Lysanias' reign (Luke 3:1). Ex. 3: Erastus--In Acts 19:22, Erastus is named as a Corinthian who becomes a co-worker of Paul. If Luke were going to make up any names, this would seem to be the best place to do it. How would anyone know? Well, in excavating Corinth, an inscription was found near the theater which reads, “Erastus in return for his aedileship laid the pavement at his own expense." If these are both the same man, then it explains why Luke would have included the detail that a prominent and wealthy citizen of Corinth had converted and given his life to the ministry. In addition to these, Luke gives correct titles for the following officials: Thessalonica--“politarchs," Ephesus--“temple wardens," Cyprus--“proconsul," Malta--“the first man of the island." Each of these have been confirmed by Roman usage. All in all, Luke names thirty-two countries, fifty-four cities, and nine islands without making a single error. This led the prominent historian Sir William Ramsay to recant his critical views. (Dr. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.)
[iv] 10-7 B.C. or 6-3 B.C.? Four facts work together to set the most probable date of the Homonadensian War as 6-3 B.C., and thus set the likely date of the Duumvirate to 6-1 B.C.: 1) Cassius Dio is renowned for mentioning numerous minor wars that are otherwise unattested, yet he fails to note this one. However, due to missing pages from a key manuscript, we lack Dio's account of the years 6-2 B.C. Since we expect Dio to mention wars such as this, it is likely he did, and that would put the war in those missing years. 2) Varus is noted as having three legions at his disposal in Syria in 4 B.C., yet the usual complement was four, and at least around 2 B.C. it appears that another legion was absent from its usual post in Egypt. There is no known military operation that would explain these missing legions, making the Homonadensian War a likely candidate. The war was likely to have taken several years and more than one legion, since Quirinius won by surrounding the entire region and starving the bandits out of their mountain fortresses. 3) A Roman road around the region, the Via Sabaste, was completed in 6 B.C., as stated on its milestones recovered in recent years. The course of the road takes it in a hemi-circle right around the outside of the very region under attack by the Homonadensians, at the same time linking almost every key military colony that would have been associated with the war (including the Asian Apamea, Antioch, and Caesarea), and connecting to available supply routes in three directions along the open plains. This perfectly matches the circumstances of the war and the manner in which Quirinius fought it (above). Since this particular war was won by investment more than open conflict, and supply lines and access to the region from the key colonies had to be set up before the war began, the construction of this road would be the first thing begun by Quirinius and would likely have occupied his men for the first year or two of any actual conflict. This strongly suggests a date for the war of around 6-3 B.C. 4) The Roman historian, Tacitus, says Quirinius was “somewhere in the East” from 6-3 B.C. and this war was definitely east of Rome. (Ronald Marchant, The Census of Quirinius).
Chronology of John: 2:13; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 19:14
Nehemiah 2:7-9, 17
John the Baptist began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign
Jesus was about 30 when He started His Ministry
Approximately 6 mo. after John started his ministry
It took 46 yrs. to build Temple
Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 1/2 yrs.
7 “sevens” + 62 “sevens” (483 yrs) from decree to rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One “comes”
co-regent starting 12 AD > 26 AD
sole ruler Aug. 19, 14 AD > 28 AD
if born 5 BC > 26 AD
if born 3 BC > 28 AD
if started Spring 26 AD >Fall 26 AD
if started Spring 28 AD >Fall 28 AD
Temple begun in 19 BC > 28 AD
Sanctuary begun 14 BC > 33 AD
if started 26 AD then died 30 AD
if started 28 AD then died 32 AD
if decree of Ezra in 458 BC > 26 AD
if decree of Neh. in 445 BC > 32 AD
Luke 3:1-2 mentions several political figures by which to date the beginning of John’s ministry: “the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (27-28 A.D.)[i]--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (26-36 A.D.), Herod [Antipas] tetrarch of Galilee (2 B.C.-39 A.D.), his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis (2 B.C.-34 A.D.), and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (14-29 A.D.)--during the high priesthood of Annas [by Roman appointment: 6-14 A.D., but according to the Law of Moses (Num. 3:10) it was a lifetime position] and Caiaphas (26-35 A.D.).” Putting it all together, the earliest possible date that doesn’t conflict with any others is 26 A.D., if the co-regency is included, or 27/28 A.D. if it is not, and the latest possible date is 28/29 A.D.
Most scholars, because of their erroneous belief in 4 B.C. as the death of Herod the Great, have selected the year of 5 B.C. for the birth of Christ because it seems to fit most, but not all of the biblical dates. There are some problems however. First, the most common and accepted dating of Tiberius’ reign is from Aug. 19, 14 A.D.[ii]after Augustus died, not 12 A.D. when he was only co-regent. Second, neither date for the start of the Temple 46 yrs. prior to Jesus’ ministry works with a 5 B.C. birth. Third, the decree of Artaxerxes to Ezra (7:11-28) in 458 B.C. only provided for the further return of Jewish exiles, all the articles of worship and anything else needed to supply the Temple for worship (vv. 19-20), not the rebuilding of Jerusalem. It was actually a follow up on the original decree of Cyrus in 536 B.C. (Ez. 1:2-4) because the enemies of Israel had been successful in stopping the rebuilding from the time of Cyrus (539-530 B.C.) until the reign of Darius (521-486 B.C.), (Ez. 4:4). The only reason this decree is even considered is because it comes so close to the time when Jesus began His ministry (i.e., 458 B.C. + 483 yrs = 26 A.D.).
The only birth year that fits all of the biblical criteria is 3 B.C. Starting with the beginning of Tiberius’s reign as Aug. 19, 14 A.D., his 15th year would be 27-28 A.D. Jesus would have been “about 30” in Aug. 28 A.D. if he was born in Sept. 3 B.C. John was 6 mo. older than Jesus, so it is likely he began his ministry 6 mo. earlier when he was 30 as that was the age at which Jewish males could begin serving as priests (Num. 4:47). The only date that can be used for the start of the Temple is 19 B.C. and 46 yrs. from then is 28 A.D.--the other option gives a date too late even to mark the end of His ministry. The decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (2:5, 8) did allow for the rebuilding of Jerusalem with “streets, a wall, and in troublesome times” (Dan. 9:25) and Neh. 4:16 confirms that it was rebuilt in troublesome times as half the workers stood guard “equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor,” while the rest built the wall. The decree was issued March 14, 445 B.C.[iii]according to Neh. 2:1. From that date to Christ’s Triumphal Entry on Apr. 6, 32 A.D.,[iv]prior to a Passover that fell on a Wednesday,[v]is exactly 483 prophetic years to the day.
Lastly, the attempted coup of Sejanus in 31 A.D. was followed by bloody purge of all conspirators. All Sejanus’ appointees, including Pontius Pilate, were suspect. This would explain why Pilate caved in to the mob when they said that if he didn’t crucify Jesus, Who claimed to be the King of the Jews, that he was “no friend of Caesar’s” (Lk. 23:2; Jn. 19:12). This explanation works with Jesus’ death in 32 A.D., but not if it was in 30 A.D. Pilate was normally a ruthless, brutal, anti-Semite, and so giving in to the crowd was totally out of character, except if he were afraid for his life. (Dennis McCallum, Chronological Study of the Life of Christ, p. 6)
[i] Unfortunately Luke does not tell us if he used the Roman method of reckoning Tiberius’ 15th year, or that which people in Judea and Syria were accustomed to, which antedated the reign of kings and emperors to Tishri 1 (the Jewish New Year’s Day) of the previous year. However, Ernest Martin believes that it is more likely that Luke was using the Eastern method of reckoning Tiberius’ reign, because he was writing his gospel to the Greeks and Romans, to Gentiles in general, and to one Christian convert, Theophilus, in particular. This method of reckoning would put the whole year in which Tiberius became emperor of Rome on August 19, 14 AD as his first year of rule. This means that New Year’s Day for the beginning of that year begins the first year of Tiberius. Hence, the whole year from Tishri 1, 13 AD to Tishri 1, 14 AD would have been the first year of Tiberius. Consequently, Tiberius 15th year would have been from Tishri 1, 27 AD to Tishri 1, 28 AD. This would put Jesus’ birth somewhere in 3 BC, given that he was “about thirty” when he began his ministry. This also fits nicely with the Jewish belief that spiritual maturity did not begin until the age of thirty (Num. 4:47). (Susan S. Carroll, The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical & Historical Perspective)
[ii] Historians who validate this include: Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny the Elder, Dio Cassius, Philo, and Josephus.
[iii] Archaeological records of Jewish weddings in this time period were triple dated, using an Egyptian dating system, the Hebrew dating system, and reference to the reign of a Babylonian king. These dates have been astronomically synchronized and then back dated using our current Gregorian calendar to arrive at the date of March 14, 445 B.C. We are as certain as we can be of the accuracy of this date as Nisan 1, the 1st day of the New Year when decrees were issued, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes.
[iv] Daniel 9:25-27 says that it will be “7 ‘sevens’ and 62 ‘sevens’” which is 7 x 7 yrs. + 62 x 7 yrs = 483 yrs. from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the “coming of the Anointed One” (Messiah) who will be “cut off.” The decree issued March 14, 445 B.C., settles the issue on 32 A.D. with the birth in 3 B.C. If one uses the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (2:1) in 445 B.C., the lunar or prophetic year of 360 days/year and the date when “the Anointed One, the ruler, comes” (v.25) in 32 A.D., you get: 445 + 31 = 476 x 365.25 days/solar year = 173,859 days - 3 non-leap year days = 173,856 days. If you take 483 yrs x 360 days/prophetic year = 173,880 days. 173,880 days - 173,856 days = 24 days, which allows for a different day of the year. From when the decree was issued on Nisan 1 (March 13/14), 445 B.C. to Jesus Triumphal Entry on Nisan 11 (April 5/6), 32 A.D. there are exactly 173,880 days (Paul Meier, The Third Millennium, p. 303).
[v] The key to understanding the chronology of the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is that there were two Sabbaths in that week, with a day of preparation between them, meaning Passover had to be on a Wednesday. This makes all of the Gospel accounts fall into place. It explains how Jesus and the Disciples could eat the Passover and how Jesus could then die on Passover as our Passover Lamb. The fulfillment of Christ’s words regarding the sign of Jonah become clear. A correct harmonization of all the facts will bear this out.
The year 3/2 B.C. was certainly an extraordinary one of visible astronomical exhibitions, as there was no year similar to it for many years on either side (a foretaste had occurred back in 7 B.C., as Jupiter and Saturn had come into conjunction on 3 occasions: May 26, Oct. 3, and Dec. 4, and this was followed in early 6 B.C. with a close triangulation of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn while the planets were in Pisces.) The year 3/2 B.C. stood far above any near contenders for a period of exceptional signs in the heavens to herald Christ’s birth (Gen. 1:14). Matthew reports that the Magi saw the “star” rising in the East, and so it would naturally be called a “morning star” (Christ said of Himself: “I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star,” Rev. 22:16; cp. 2 Pet. 1:19). This shows that the celestial bodies were symbolically significant to New Testament writers, and clearly, this was the mindset of the ancient world.
How would astrologers (such as the Magi) interpret such a phenomenon? Jupiter was known as the Father of the Gods. Jupiter had just left the vicinity of the Sun and joined with Venus (Aug. 12, 3 B.C.) in the constellation Leo. Jupiter was often associated with the birth of kings, and therefore called the King-planet (Hendricksen, Matthew, pg. 153). To the Chaldeans Venus was Ishtar, the Goddess of Fertility. The conjunction of these two planets signified the birth of a new king was imminent. This was a favorable sign, as these two planets were also known by all astrologers as the Greater and Lesser Good Fortunes. And while this conjunction was occurring, the Sun (Supreme Father), the Moon (also a Mother), and Mercury (the messenger/Interpreter of the Gods) were located in the constellation Leo the Lion. (Note Olcott’s comment: “The Lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah, and the constellation appears in the Hebrew zodiac. The association of Leo with Judah arose from the fact that Leo is Judah’s natal sign (Gen. 49:9-10). In the Bible, there are frequent allusions to this connection between Leo and the tribe of Judah. Thus we read: ‘Judah is the Lion’s whelp,’ and ‘The Lion of the tribe of Judah,’” Star Lore of All Ages, pg. 233).
Following these planetary conjunctions, Jupiter then moved on to unite with Regulus on three occasions. The Romans called it “Rex,” which means “King” in Latin. In Arabia, the star was known as the “Kingly One.” The Greeks called him the “King Star.” Of all the stars in the Heavens, Regulus was universally associated by ancient astrologers with the attributes of greatness and power. It lay practically on the ecliptic (the path the Sun takes in traversing the heavens), and it was thought that this position made it of special importance to the Sun. This close relationship to the Sun, the ruler of the heavens, made Regulus a “royal star,” the one most associated with the birth of kings.
The first conjunction occurred September 11-14, 3 B.C., and here was Jupiter (the King-planet), which has just united with Venus (the Mother) in August 3 B.C., now joining itself with the King-star, Regulus (the star of the Jewish Messiah; see Num. 24:17) in the zodiac sign of Leo (the constellation of Judah), while the Sun (Supreme Father) was then located in Virgo (the Virgin) (see discussion of Rev. 12:1-5). These features clearly reflect biblical themes associated with the birth and person of Christ, who was prophesied to be born of a virgin and a descendant of David, of the tribe of Judah.
The 2nd conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus occurred on February 17, 2 B.C., and amazingly, the Moon came to be positioned at that exact time between Jupiter and Regulus! At about 5 a.m., looking at the western horizon, an observer would have seen the Moon directly between Jupiter and Regulus. Indeed, it would have been occulting (covering up) the star Regulus with the lower 1/5th of the Moon’s diameter.
And then on May 8/9, 2 B.C., the same conjunction occurred again. This time however, the Moon occulted Regulus with the top 1/5th of its diameter.
Jupiter then moved on its westward journey, and on June 17, 2 B.C., it had its extraordinary rare reunion with Venus. When Venus has extended herself as far east as possible to encounter Jupiter, a splendid conjunction resulted, visible west of Babylon. And note too, this beautiful conjunction occurred in the constellation Leo at the exact time of the full Moon. So close were the two planets that they would have appeared very much like one gigantic star in a “marriage union” with each other. And most importantly, the Magi would have witnessed this union appearing on the western horizon precisely in the direction of Judea. (Isaac Asimov referred to this celestial occurrence and asked the question: “Is the fact that the unusual ‘star’ was seen in the direction of Judea enough to make them think of Messiah?” The Planet That Wasn’t, pg. 222). This heavenly scene could well have produced a general excitement to look towards Jerusalem for the arrival of the Messianic king of the Jews. It could have been interpreted that these two planets, which possibly introduced the prophesied king when they were both morning stars some ten months before (August 12, 3 B.C.), were now consummating their introduction with an impressively rare evening star union.
What a beautiful display this last rendezvous would have made in the early evening sky west of Babylon, and especially to the people looking at it in Palestine! There had not been anything like it (nor would there be again) for generations.
This, however, was not all, on August 27, 2 B.C., there occurred the extremely close conjunction of Jupiter with Mars (planet of war), while Venus and Mercury homed in on them in an unusual massing of four planets. All primary planets (except Saturn) were clustering in the constellation Leo, while the Moon was just entering Leo. The Sun, however, at that very time was entering the sign of Virgo! The stellar body that played the most prominent role in the extraordinary year of 3/2 B.C. and which figured in almost every celestial event was Jupiter. Jupiter soon left the unusual union with the three other planets and proceeded in its apparent motion westward. Since the Magi came from the East, it could well be that they simply followed the normal movement of the planet toward Jerusalem as it progressed westward each day, for the Bible says the star “went before them” (Mt. 2:9), which means they let Jupiter lead them westward.
Upon reaching Jerusalem, the Magi were told to look to Bethlehem for the newborn king; this happened when the New Testament says the “star” came to a definite halt in the heavens; it stopped its motion of leading the Magi and “stood over where the Child was” (Mt. 2:9). In a word, the celestial body became stationary. It is this very action which has caused many interpreters to characterize the whole episode in Matthew as either fictions or miraculous. Whoever heard of a normal heavenly body having the capability of stopping its movement over a small village in Palestine? Matthew, however, is describing a celestial phenomenon in popular language that astronomers are fully aware of and is explained as follows: Jupiter becomes “stationary” at its times of retrogression and progression.[i] It is this natural occurrence that caused “His star” to stop over Bethlehem.
But how was it possible for Jupiter to be stationary over the village of Bethlehem at that time? There is not the slightest problem for it to do so. The Bible says the Magi saw the star come to a stop while they were in Jerusalem. And on December 25, 2 B.C., at the ordinary time for the Magi’s predawn observations, Jupiter would have been in meridian position directly over Bethlehemat an elevation of 68° above the southern horizon. This precise position would show the planet shining directly down on Bethlehem while it was stationary among the stars!
Amazingly, on December 25, 2 B.C. Jupiter came to a “stopped” position in the middle of the constellation Virgo, the Virgin! Jupiter “stopped” precisely in the abdomen region of Virgo, right where a woman carries a child in pregnancy! Even more amazing, below Jupiter just above the horizon, was the constellation ‘Crux,’ the Cross, positioned directly South of Jerusalem above Bethlehem. What remarkable “coincidence!” This may be the major reason why people in the early Church said that December 25 was a day associated with the Magi presenting their gifts to the newborn Savior. (And why the Church later used that date for the celebration of Christmas.)
Interestingly, while Jupiter was in its “standing still” position over Bethlehem, the Sun was also “standing still.” December 25 was the time of the Winter Solstice. The word solstice in Latin means “Sun stands still.” (“General observance required that on the 25th of December the birth of the ‘new Sun’ should be celebrated, when after the Winter Solstice the days begin to lengthen and the invincible star triumphed again over the darkness,” Cumont, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans, pg. 89).
Note also that Herod “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had been told by the Magi” (Mt. 2:17). Meaning the child would have been born sometime between December 25, 4 B.C. and December 25, 2 B.C., when the Magi arrived. If Jesus was born in September 3 B.C. (see discussion below), the slaying of the infants was about 15 months after his birth. If the conception period were also considered, it comes to 24 months exactly.
[from Ernest L. Martin, The Star that Astonished the World(assumes birth in 3 B.C.), John Mosley of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA]
[i] When we look at Jupiter, we see the planet normally moving eastward through fixed stars. This apparent movement is called “proper motion.” The Earth, however, is moving in its orbit around the Sun faster than that of Jupiter. When Earth reaches point A, and observer would see Jupiter along nearly the same line as the Earth’s own orbital movement. When the Earth is traveling more or less in a direct line toward Jupiter, the planet will continue to show “proper motion.” But when Earth reaches position B. it is no longer heading toward Jupiter. The faster velocity of the Earth, as it makes its turn to B and beyond, causes the apparent motion of Jupiter to slow down. This continues until the Earth reaches C. At that point, the speed of the Earth in relation to Jupiter is the same as Jupiter’s. That is when Jupiter appears to become stationary within the background of the fixed stars. As the Earth progresses from C to D, it has a greater relative speed than Jupiter and this causes Jupiter to retrogress (reverse its motion and travel westward through the stars). At D, however, the speed of the Earth and Jupiter are again matched (relative to each other) and Jupiter stops its reverse motion. When D is passed, Jupiter returns to “proper motion.” Each of the stationary positions of Jupiter repeats itself in about 13 months.
The key is symbolically hidden in Rev. 12:1-5: “A great sign (astronomical) appeared in heaven (2nd heaven, the sky); a woman (constellation Virgo, the Virgin, is the only sign of a Woman which exists along the ecliptic) clothed with the sun (the Supreme Father is mid-bodied in Virgo), and the moon (also a symbol for a Woman--see Gen. 37:9-10) under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (in Norton’s Star Atlas there are 12 visible stars around Virgo’s head); and she was with child (Virgin Mary pregnant with Jesus); and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign (astronomical) appeared in heaven: and behold a great red dragon (the constellation Hydra, “whose length stretches 1/3 of the way around the whole zodiacal sphere, completely expelled from the places into which he had intruded, fleeing now for his life, while the great Lion with claws and jaws extended, bounds in terrific fury to seize the foul monster’s neck,” Seiss, The Gospel in the Stars, p. 135) having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven (fall of angels), and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth (in the person of Herod the Great), so that when she gave birth he might devour her. And she gave birth to a son (Christ), a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, and her child was caught up to God (ascension) and to His throne.
The Astronomical synchronism of this sign in the year of Christ’s birth--3 B.C.
Virgo occupies, in body form, a space of about 50° along the ecliptic. (The head of the Woman actually bridges some 10° into the previous sign of Leo and her feet overlap about 10° into the following sign of Libra, the Scales.) In the year of Christ’s birth, the Sun entered the head-position of the Woman about August 13, and exited her feet about October 2. But the apostle John saw the scene when the Sun “clothed” the Woman (which is to say--when the Sun was mid-bodied), and this happens over about a 20-day period each year, which in 3 B.C. was from about August 27 to September 15.
If John in the Book of Revelation were associating the birth of Christ with he period when the Sun is mid-bodied to the Woman, then Christ would have been born within this 20 day period. From the point of view of the Magi back in their home in Babylon, this would have been the only logical sign under which the Jewish Messiah might be born. Especially if He were to be born of a virgin. (Even today, astrologers recognize that the sign of Virgo is the one which has reference to a messianic world ruler to be born of a virgin. Devore, Encyclopdeia of Astrology, p. 366.)
The key to the very day of Jesus’ birth is the words, “and the moon under her feet.” The word “under” signifies that the Woman’s feet were positioned just over the Moon. Since the feet of Virgo represent the last 7° of the constellation, (in the time of Christ this would have been between about 180° and 187° along the ecliptic), the Moon has to be positioned somewhere under the 7° arc. But the Moon also has to be in that exact location when the Sun is mid-bodied to Virgo. In the year 3 B.C., these two factors came into precise agreement for less than two hours, as observed from Palestine, on September 11.[i] The precise arrangement began about 6:15 p.m. (sunset), and lasted until 7:45 p.m. (moonset). This is the only day in the whole year that this could have taken place. One day before (Sept. 10), the Moon was located mid-calf, while one day beyond (Sept. 12) the moon had moved so far beyond the feet of the Virgin that it was positioned at least 25 diameters of the Moon to the east of her feet.
This was the situation in the heavens when the angel announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds (Lk. 2:8-11). Apparently, Jesus was born in the evening, and Rev. 12 shows that it was a New Moon day (when the moon 1st appears as a thin crescent and the 1st day of the month), meaning it was Tishri 1, also known as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
> Gabriel appears to Zechariah in the Temple
> Massing of planets Mars, Venus, & Jupiter in Gemini
> Conjunction of Mars & Venus
> Conjunction of Venus & Jupiter
> Conjunction of Jupiter & Mars; Moon also enters Gemini
> Zechariah returns home & John is conceived who “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”
> Conjunction of Jupiter & Sun in Gemini
> Gabriel appears to Mary in Nazareth.
> Conception of Jesus Christ
> Mary travels to Judea to see her cousin Elizabeth who is 6 mo. pregnant.
> Mary returns to Nazareth
> John the Baptist is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.
> The Magi begin noting their observations of the activity of Jupiter (the “king planet").
> Jupiter and Venus(the “morning star") in conjunction in Leo (the “lion," associated with the tribe of Judah).
> Venus circles Mercury (the “messenger of the gods”)
> Birth of Jesus Christ
> Sun in Virgo(the “woman") with the "Moon under her feet"
> The Magi continue to observe the activity of Jupiter, noting three occasions in which Jupiter and Regulus(the “king star") are in conjunction in Leo.
> Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus as evening stars in Leo
> Massing of planets Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus in Leo; Jupiter and Mars also in conjunction
> The Magi leave for Jerusalem after this celestial event.
> Jupiter and Venus in conjunction in the head of Virgo
> The Magi arrive in Jerusalem & proceed to Bethlehem.
> Jupiter in Virgo “stops” over Bethlehem before dawn as the Magi travel there to worship the Christ child who is more than a year and three months old.
> The Magi depart for Persia.
> Joseph, Mary, & Jesus flee to Egypt.
> Joseph, Mary & Jesus return & settle in Nazareth after the death of Herod
Matthew 1:18, 20
Luke 1:26, 36
Matthew 2:7, 16
Late May, 4 BC
May 20-30, 4 BC
May 20, 4 BC
May 23, 4 BC
May 26, 4 BC
June, 4 BC
June 12, 4 BC
December, 4 BC
March, 3 BC
August 12, 3 BC
August 25 - September 10, 3 BC
September 11, 3 BC
September 11-14, 3 BC
February 17, 2 BC
May 9, 2 BC
June 17, 2 BC
August 27, 2 BC
October 11, 2 BC
December 2 BC
December 25, 2 BC
Spring 1 BC
[i] The further significance of September 11, 3 B.C.:
It was Tishri 1 on the Jewish calendar. Tishri 1 is none other than the Jewish New Year’s Day (Nisan 1 was the beginning of the Jewish ecclesiastical year, in 3 B.C. that fell on March 18). Otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah, or as the Bible calls it, the Day of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25). There could hardly have been a better day in the calendar of the Jews to introduce the Messiah to the world than the first day of the civil year. Sundown on September 11, 3 B.C. (approximately 6 p.m.), was the beginning of Rosh Hashanah--Jesus was born very soon after 6 p.m. when the day changed from Elul 30 to Tishri 1.
The significance of Tishri 1 in Scripture:
It is the Jewish New Year’s Day (end of summer and beginning of autumn).
It was Noah’s birthday, and the very day he removed the cover from the Ark (Gen. 8:13).
It was also the beginning of a new beginning for Earth. The first day of restoration/creation could be reckoned from this day, since all the fruit was on the trees ready for Adam and Eve to eat--the Jews discussed whether creation took place in Spring or Autumn. This would signal another new beginning for the Earth. Tishri 1 “came to be regarded as the birthday of the world,” (McClintock & Strong, Cyclopaedia, vol. x, pg. 568) “Judaism regards New Year’s Day not merely as an anniversary of creation, but more importantly, as a renewal of it. This is when the world is reborn,” (Gaster Festivals of the Jewish Year, pg. 109).
The festival year of the Jews comprising seven of twelve months, were all commenced by the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10:10); the last month (7th) was the last month (Tishri) for a trumpet introduction (for the festival year). The “last trump” in the series was always sounded on this day. So, it was the final trumpets’ day (Lev. 23:24; Num. 29:1). The next New Moon (the first of each month) on which the trumpet would be sounded would be five months later, Nisan 1 (the beginning of the festival year). Note that the 7th (and final trumpet blast in the Tribulation brings on the 7 bowl judgments just before the Second Advent of Christ (Rev,. 11:15; cp. 16ff).
The Day of Trumpets was also recognized among the Jews as their “Memorial Day.” (The Jewish historian Theodor H. Gaster has special insight into Israel’s ancient feasts, see Festivals of the Jewish Year). It was not the kind of “Memorial day” to which we are accustomed. It was a time to celebrate when “the dead return to rejoin their descendants at the beginning of the year” (Gaster, pg. 108). In other words, it was a celebration of the doctrine of future resurrection. Such a day was a time when Israel would rally to the call of God for the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth (Gaster says the Day of Trumpets became a “symbol of the Last Trump,” pg. 113). Since the Apostle Paul was Jewish, it is possible to connect his mention of “the last trumpet,” associated with the Rapture, (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16), with this ancient festival.
The theme of the Day of Trumpets is also that of kingship in Israel. This was the very day that the kings of Judah reckoned as the inauguration day of their rule. This procedure was followed consistently in the time of Solomon, Jeremiah, and Ezra (Theile, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pgs. 28, 31, 161, 163). The Day of Trumpets was acknowledged as the time for counting the years of kingly rule. Indeed, it was customary that the final ceremony in the coronation of kings was the blowing of trumpets (for Solomon, 1 Ki. 1:34; for Jehu, 2 Ki. 9:13: for Jehoash, 2 Ki. 11:11). There may even be a reference to the elevation of Joseph to kingship on the first day of Tishri. Notice that he had been in the dungeon for “two full years” (Gen. 41:1). As with Christ in Rev. 11:15, the kingdoms of the world become Joseph’s in the day intended for coronations. The day that later became the Day of Trumpets! Of course, Pharaoh retained top leadership, but the New Testament shows that God the Father still maintains supreme rule over Christ when He takes over the kingdoms of the world. The psalms classified as “enthronement psalms” (Ps. 47, 93, 96-99) were probably designed for recitation at the New Year Feast of Yahweh (Gaster, pp. 114-115; Mowinkle, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. II, pg. 324). Gaster’s insight is most helpful. when he writes, “The Sovereignty of God is a dominant theme of the occasion and it is one of the cardinal features of New Year’s Day” (pg. 115).
[ii] John the Baptist’s Birth--So when was Christ born? We know from Biblical references that Christ was born six months after his cousin John the Baptist. Again from Biblical references we can pin down the date of John’s birth. John’s father, Zechariah, was in the temple performing his priestly duties when an angel visited him in a vision and informed him that his wife Elizabeth, who was barren and on in years, would soon conceive a son. We know from Luke that Zechariah was responsible for the eighth of the 24 Priestly Courses of the Jewish Faith. Each of the 24 courses lasted a week and were repeated twice during the year. The Jews used a lunar-solar calendar of 51 weeks - the other three weeks of the year were for the three major Jewish religious celebrations - Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Because the calendar only had 51 weeks, the Jews had to add 30 days at prescribed intervals so that the calendar kept pace with the solar year.
In the case of Zechariah, he was officiating in the 8th course, or 8th week of the Jewish year, when the angel paid him a visit. The priestly courses probably started their serving in the springtime month of Nisan - the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year. This is a chronological clue - it tells us the general time of year that Zechariah was serving. We also know that he was not serving at a festival period because the priests suspended their normal weekly duties and all served together during the major Jewish high holy seasons.
Assuming that the springtime month of Nisan began that year (it varied with the state of the crops - in 4 BC it began after midnight on March 28 - March 29) on what corresponds to the end of March of our current calendar, then Zechariah was visited by the angel, and his wife became pregnant, in the month of June. Remember also that Passover, one of the High Holy weeks of the Jews, occurred during the time interval from late March to June - putting off Zechariah’s priestly course for one week. Assuming a full-term pregnancy of 9 months, Elizabeth gave birth to John sometime in March. This means Jesus’ birth would have taken place the following September. (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical & Historical Perspective by Susan S. Carroll)
[iii] Unfortunately Luke does not tell us if he used the Roman method of reckoning Tiberius’ 15th year, or that which people in Judea and Syria were accustomed to, which antedated the reign of kings and emperors to Tishri 1 (the Jewish New Year’s Day) of the previous year. However, Ernest Martin believes that it is more likely that Luke was using the Eastern method of reckoning Tiberius’ reign, because he was writing his gospel to the Greeks and Romans, to Gentiles in general, and to one Christian convert, Theophilus, in particular. This method of reckoning would put the whole year in which Tiberius became emperor of Romeon August 19, 14 AD as his first year of rule. This means that New Year’s Day for the beginning of that year begins the first year of Tiberius. Hence, the whole year from Tishri 1, 13 AD to Tishri 1, 14 AD would have been the first year of Tiberius. Consequently, Tiberius 15th year would have been from Tishri 1 in 27 AD to Tishri 1 in 28 AD. This would put Jesus’ birth somewhere in 3 BC, given that he was “about thirty” when he began his ministry. This also fits nicely with the Jewish belief that spiritual maturity did not begin until the age of thirty (Num. 4:47). (Susan S. Carroll, The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical & Historical Perspective)
[iv] Historians who validate this include: Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny the Elder, Dio Cassius, Philo, and Josephus.
[v] Archaeological records of Jewish weddings in this time period were triple dated, using an Egyptian dating system, the Hebrew dating system, and reference to the reign of a Babylonian king. These dates have been astronomically synchronized and then back dated using our current Gregorian calendar to arrive at the date of March 14, 445 B.C. We are as certain as we can be of the accuracy of this date as Nisan 1, the 1st day of the New Year when decrees were issued, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes.
[vi] Daniel 9:25-27 says that it will be “7 ‘sevens’* and 62 ‘sevens’” which is 7 x 7 yrs + 62 x 7 yrs = 483 yrs. from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the “coming of the Anointed One” (Messiah) who will be “cut off.” The decree issued March 14, 445 B.C., settles the issue on 32 A.D. with the birth in 3 B.C. If one uses the decree of Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (2:1) in 445 B.C., the lunar or prophetic year** of 360 days/year and the date when “the Anointed One, the ruler, comes” (v.25) in 32 A.D., you get: 445 + 31*** = 476 x 365.25 days/solar year = 173,859 days - 3 non-leap year days**** = 173,856 days. If you take 483 yrs x 360 days/prophetic year = 173,880 days. 173,880 days - 173,856 days = 24 days, which allows for a different day of the year. From when the decree was issued on Nisan 1 (March 13/14), 445 B.C. to Jesus Triumphal Entry on Nisan 11 (April 5/6), 32 A.D.***** there are exactly 173,880 days (Paul Meier, The Third Millennium, p. 303).
* A week of years is a common idiom in Judaism. It comes from God’s command that every 7th year, the sabbatical year, the land was to lie fallow (Lev. 25:1-22; 26:3-35; Dt. 15).
** The prophetic year is 360 days long. The Babylonian calendar, which the prophet Daniel used, had 360 days/year. Prophetic Scriptures used various descriptions to convey the idea that a month is 30 days and a year is 12 months of 30 days each totaling 360 days. Ex. #1: Dan 7:25, where the 4th beast with 10 horns oppresses the saints for “a time, times and half a time;” which clearly parallels Rev. 13:5 where the Beast out of the Sea with 10 horns has “42 months” to exercise authority during which he makes war against the saints. Ex. #2: Rev. 11:2-3 has the Temple trampled for “42 months” while the 2 witnesses prophesy for “1,260 days.” Ex. #3: Rev. 12:6, 14 has the Woman fleeing from the Dragon for “1,260 days,” which is also described as “a time, times and half a time.” Ex. #4: Dan. 12:7 again lists “a time, times and half a time” which 12:11, 12 expound upon and add to, to let us know that it will be a little bit longer than the standard 3 1/2 yrs.: as 1,290 days [1,260 + 30 (or 3 1/2 yrs. + 1 mo.)] and 1,335 days [1,260 + 75 (or 3 1/2 yrs. + 2 1/2 mo.)] from the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the Abomination of Desolation is set up until the end and the final blessing. Thus, we have “a time, times and half a time” equal to “42 months” which is equal to “1,260 days” (42 x 30) which is again equal to “a time, times and half a time” (or 1 year, 2 years and 1/2 a year = 3 1/2 yrs.). See also Gen. 7:24; 8:3-4 where 5 mo. = 150 days.
*** 1 year must be subtracted for moving directly from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D. with no year 0 in between.
**** Century years which cannot be divided by 400 are not leap years, therefore 3 days must be subtracted for 300, 200, and 100 B.C.
***** Because the Jewish day goes from sunset-to-sunset, rather than midnight-to midnight, approximately 6 hrs. of what we would call the previous day needs to be included in dating events. For simplicity’s sake we usually think of the dates of Nisan 1, 445 B.C. & Nisan 11, 32 A.D. as March 14 & April 6, respectively.
[vii] The key to understanding the chronology of the events leading up to and including Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is that there were two Sabbaths in that week, with a day of preparation between them, meaning Passover had to be on a Wednesday. This makes all of the Gospel accounts fall into place. It explains how Jesus and Co. could eat the Passover and how Jesus could then die on Passover as our Passover Lamb. The fulfillment of Christ’s words regarding the sign of Jonah become clear. A correct harmonization of all the facts will bear this out.
Problem: The Bible is full of contradictions. It lists two genealogies for Jesus and they aren't the same. (Mt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3:23-38)
Response: Matt. 1:1-17 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife, 7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
Luke 3:23-38 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,
the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, the son of Melki,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,
25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos,
the son of Nahum, the son of Esli,
the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath,
the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein,
the son of Josech, the son of Joda,
27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa,
the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,
the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki,
the son of Addi, the son of Cosam,
the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,
29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer,
the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon,
the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,
the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,
31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna,
the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,
the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse,
the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,
the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon,
33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob,
the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu,
the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,
the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan,
the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,
the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel,
the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
I am so glad you asked about the genealogies, because the answer is an example of fulfilled prophecies. Throughout the Old Testament we are told the Messiah would be from the physical lines of certain people: Eve (Gen. 3:15), Shem (Gen. 9:26), Abraham (Gen 12:3), Isaac (Gen. 17:19-21; 21:12), Jacob (Num. 24:17-19), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and David (2 Sam. 7:11-16; Ps.89; Jer. 33:19-26), but not Jeconiah (a.k.a. Jehoiachin or Coniah). Jeconiah was the last King of Judah, the royal line was through him, but God cursed him and said that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of David (Jer. 22:24-30).
So, it is important to confirm that Jesus was the physical descendant of all of the above except Jeconiah or He doesn't qualify to be the Messiah God promised. Remember, a prophet has to be 100% accurate in his predictions or he is not a true prophet of God (Dt. 18:22). Also, the Messiah has to fulfill 100% of the Messianic prophecies or he's not the Anointed One. Normally, Jews only traced their ancestry through the males. But since Jesus was born of a virgin, it was necessary to trace His ancestry through His mother as well.
You will note, they diverge at David. Matthew’s (Mt. 1:1-17) follows the royal line through Solomon to Jeconiah to Joseph—Jesus’ adoptive father, but not His physical father. It establishes His legal right to sit on the throne of David as Joseph’s adopted son. Luke’s genealogy (Lk. 3:23-38) is that of Mary starting with her nearest male relative, her father Heli,and going back to David through his son Nathan. This confirms that God kept His promises to all the patriarchs that one of their physical descendants would be the promised Messiah, while also maintaining His judgment on Jeconiah.
Another important thing to note about those boring genealogies, since the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, no Jew can trace their ancestry back to David or any of the other patriarchs because the genealogical records were destroyed then too. Also, in the 40 years between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the destruction of those records, there was not one person who disputed Jesus’ ancestry despite all the persecution of Christianity among the Jews. This means that no one else can make the claims of Jesus to fulfill all the prophecies regarding His physical descent—no one did before He came, and no one can since then either.
The way Luke worded this in Greek, indicates that Joseph was not the physical son of Heli, but his son-in-law. This follows the Hebrew custom of only tracing genealogies through the male line and substituting a husband’s name for that of his wife if tracing the genealogy through her.
 It is a satisfaction to know that not a doubt was thrown out by the bitterest of the early enemies of Charity as to our Lord's real descent from David. On comparing the two genealogies, it will be observed that Matthew, writing more immediately for Jews, deemed it enough to show that the Saviour was sprung from Abraham and David; whereas Luke, writing more immediately for Gentiles, traces the descent back to Adam, the parent stock of the whole human family, thus showing Him to be the promised "Seed of the woman."
(from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)
Problem: Similarities between Jesus, Dionysus and Osiris—note that these ‘gods’ came hundreds of years before Jesus.
· They are all “God made flesh” and the “son of God.”
· They are all personal saviors whose fathers are God and whose mothers are mortal virgins.
· They were born in a cave or humble cow-shed on December 25 before 3 shepherds.
· They all offer their followers the chance to be “born-again” through the rite of baptism.
· They all miraculously turned water into wine at a marriage ceremony.
· They all rode triumphantly into town on a donkey while honored with palm leaves.
· All of them died at Easter-time as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.
· All three descended to Hell, then on the third day, rose up from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory.
· Their followers await their return as the judge during the Last Days.
· Their deaths were celebrated by bread and wine, which symbolize their body and blood.
Response: If you take the time to research Dionysus and Osiris, you will see that very few of the details of their mythological stories can be twisted to approximate the details prophesied hundreds, even thousands of years before Jesus came which were then perfectly fulfilled by Him (see Messianic Prophecies page, especially Prophecies in Matthew). Their gods are not like our God. Aside from the obvious difference that the LORD God is the one and only God Who created everything and embodies all the abilities and powers attributed to gods and not one of many fallible and flawed ‘gods,’ His Son is the Only Begotten Son, not one of many minor gods or demigods. The God of the Bible is righteous and holy in a way that none of the other so-called ‘gods’ of antiquity ever were. Their 'gods' are petty and flawed, created in man’s sinful image and not able to elevate us to a level of moral perfection only the True God possesses. [Note also: Zeus is famous for his infidelities, many of which were with mortal women, but none of his other children from mortals were true ‘gods’ as they were not immortal, they were considered demigods (half-gods), many of whom became known for their extraordinary abilities such as Heracles, Perseus, Castor & Pollex, and even his daughter Helen of Troy whose extraordinary beauty was responsible for the Trojan War. Yet none of them were gods or became gods.]
Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and madness. In some versions of his myth, he does have the ability to turn water into wine, but in most cases he is only credited with inventing wine and teaching the people how to cultivate grapes. In most versions of his story he is the son of Zeus and a human mother, Semele. Hera, Zeus’ wife, was understandably jealous of her husband’s mistresses and would persecute them and any children produced. She disguised herself and convinced Semele to ask her god-lover to show himself to her in his true form. As she was a mere mortal, she was burnt to a cinder when Zeus reluctantly did so. Zeus then rescued the premature child she was carrying and sewed him up in his thigh until the baby reached term—this is what conferred immortality (the mark of godhood according to the Greeks) on the child. [No stable, no date and no shepherds. Although this did introduce a concept of ‘rebirth’ since he was ‘born twice,’ but it was not in the Christian sense of a spiritual rebirth of the human followers.]
In other versions he is the son of Zeus and the goddess Persephone whom Hera had kidnapped, torn to bits and eaten by the Titans. Only his heart was rescued and Zeus tricked the human Semele into swallowing it, in of all things a glass of wine, she then became pregnant as a surrogate mother to Dionysus. So he is again ‘twice born,’ but his ‘biological’ parents were both gods. This is the only story that gets a concept of resurrection for Dionysus, but then, it takes away the human mother as contributor to his DNA.
Dionysus was usually depicted riding a leopard or a tiger or in a chariot drawn by panthers. In one story is he said to have ridden a donkey across a swamp to escape pursuit of an angry mob and to seek refuge in the temple of Zeus [hardly a ‘triumphal entry’ complete with waving palm branches]; usually, the donkey that accompanies him is ridden by his former teacher, Silenus, who is too drunk to walk. It was believed that under the influence of wine his followers would feel possessed of a great power or ‘be filled’ with the ‘god.’ His followers would go into mad states under this influence and rip apart and eat raw any animal they found—probably part of the reason Christians are exhorted “not to be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 5:18)—[not even close to the same meaning as eating the bread and drinking the wine to represent the body and blood of Jesus in His sacrificial death]. His festivals occurred on Jan. 6 and Mar. 16 or 17—not Dec. 25 nor Easter/Passover in April.
Baptism plays no part in the initiation into this ‘mystery religion’ and as mentioned earlier, there is no concept of the initiate being ‘born again’ only the idea of temporarily freeing them from their normal self by madness, ecstasy or wine. While he was one of the few ‘gods’ who could bring a dead person back from the underworld (because of his relationship with Persephone wife of Hades), the only time he did so was to rescue his human mother, whom Hera had tricked into being killed by Zeus, and bring her up to Mt. Olympus. [Not the same as being killed in the place of anyone or to save anyone; nor death for 3 days followed by a resurrection; time of year not mentioned here; although I can kind of see a parallel to the ascension. There is no concept of him coming back or judging the dead.]
Osiris was the Egyptian god of the dead who judges each person at death to determine whether they could live again in the afterlife. If their sins weighed more than a feather, however, they were not permitted entrance. He was the oldest son of the earth god, Geb who was also the first king of Egypt, and the sky goddess, Nut—not a mortal virgin mother. He is credited with giving civilization to Egypt by teaching them what to eat (prior to this they were cannibals), the art of agriculture, how to worship the gods and giving them laws. He also traveled to other lands teaching them the same things.
Osiris was killed by his brother Set who coveted his throne. Set first tricked him into getting into a stone box (origin of the sarcophagus), which he then sealed and threw into the Nile. Isis, his sister-wife, searched until she found him and briefly raised him from the dead using magic learned from their father so that he could impregnate her. Later, Set found the body where Isis had hidden it and dismembered it into 14 pieces and scattered them all over Egypt. Isis located the pieces, wrapped them up mummy fashion and reburied them in the sarcophagus. The festival commemorating his death is celebrated on Nov. 13, the same day the grain was planted [again not Easter time]. The death of the grain when it was planted became associated with the death of the 'god.' As part of the festival, loaves of bread are baked in the shapes of his body parts and then eaten by the celebrants who are considered to be eating the 'god' [I will concede some similarity between this and the Eucharist].
In Egyptian artwork he is either depicted as a green skinned man to represent new life, in the vegetation and flooding of the Nile each year, or as a black skinned man to represent the fact that he is dead—the lower half of his body is also usually shown wrapped mummy-style to also depict that he is dead. Originally only the kings of Egypt were associated with him in death—as he rose from the dead, so they would too and then inherit eternal life through a process of imitative magic. In the later years of the New Kingdom, anyone who paid the costs of the assimilation rituals, which involved a lengthy process of mummification including removing the internal organs and storing them in canopic jars, embalming and wrapping the body and placing it in a sarcophagus, could inherit eternal life. [The rite of baptism is not involved, nor are they considered to be ‘born again’ just granted the Egyptian concept of eternal life which was to eternally traverse the heavens with the sun god Ra—by day in the sky above, but by night he and his entourage entered the underworld.]
As you can see, these ‘gods’ do not have as much in common with Jesus or each other as the initial question would lead us to believe. Regarding the similarities that are present between Jesus, Dionysus and Osiris, I want to remind you that Satan is the great copycat. While these “gods” were on the scene before Jesus entered the world, don’t forget that the Messiah had been predicted for millennia before He came. It is because Jesus fulfilled every one of over 100 separate prophecies regarding the Messiah, that we know He is the Messiah and not some imposter. Because these prophecies were written down Satan also knew them and devised his own counterfeits to appear on the scene before the true Messiah came, with the intention of leading men astray from the true God and His true Messiah. Let’s not forget that the first prophecy regarding the Messiah was given in approximately 4000 BC in the Garden of Eden with Satan present in the serpent. Do you think Satan was unable to figure out that the seed of the woman would somehow involve God Himself impregnating a virgin so that His Son could be born? Before the Flood Satan already had his fallen angels impregnating women (Gen. 6:1-4), the children produced from these unions were called “Nephilim” and were the “heroes of old”—think of Hercules and his great strength—myths and legends often had some basis in fact.
Satan is going to do it again according to Rev. 13 and 17 when he empowers the Antichrist (Rev. 13:2). He’s going to come in peace (Rev. 6:2; Dan. 9:26-27), seeming to be the right man, he’s going to do all sorts of counterfeit miracles and signs (Rev. 13:13), he’s even going to be killed and come back to life (Rev. 13:3, 14; 17:8, 11) so that the inhabitants of the earth will worship him (Rev. 13:8, 14-15; 17:8). All of this will take place before Jesus comes back because Satan wants to deceive as many as he can before the end. Just because Jesus has done or will do many of the same things Satan’s counterfeit(s) has or will do, does not mean that Jesus is also a fraud. It is easier to see that in among the fake stuff there is truth. After all the most believable lies are the ones that contain some truth.
Ex. 15:11 "Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you — majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
Deut. 32:31-33 For their rock is not like our Rock, as even our enemies concede. 32 Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison, and their clusters with bitterness. 33 Their wine is the venom of serpents, the deadly poison of cobras.
Ps. 89:6-8 For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? 7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. 8 O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
Isa. 40:25-26 "To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.
Isa. 46:9-10 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.