I Preliminary Considerations

A. The objective of this study is to demonstrate that Christ was born in 3BC rather than the commonly accepted years of anywhere from 4 to 7BC.
B. This evidence is based upon modern discoveries in the fields of history, archaeology, and astronomy.
C. The new information dovetails with the chronological statements of early Christian Fathers that Christ was born in 3 or 2BC and with the natural reading of Scripture to this effect.
D. We will learn why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem during a Roman census.
E. We will learn the identity of the star associated with the Magi (astrologers/astronomers).
F. More than all this, evidence will be given in this study that will point to the exact day of Christ's birth and the exact day of the Magi's visit!
G. One of the main extra Biblical sources for the history of Palestine during the time of Christ is the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, who lived from AD 37 to about AD 105.
H. The results of this study does not alter in any way the chronology of the life of Christ.
I. This study relies heavily upon Ernest Martin's 'The Birth of Christ Recalculated' (1978).

II. The Relevance of Luke of a 2BC Identification

A. We know that Christ was "about thirty years of age" when John the Baptist began his ministry, the commencement of which happened to be the fifteenth year of Caesar Tiberius' reign (cf. Lk.3:1,23; the impression of Scripture is that Jesus began His ministry some six months after John began his; note also the fact that John was 6 months older than Jesus, as per Lk.1:24,26).
1. If early 4 or 5BC is taken as the birth of Christ, then He would have been about 33 years of age by 29AD (or 32 by 28AD).
2. Whenever Luke discussed approximate times (or numbers) he always intended the range to be narrow (cp. Lk.1:56, where "Mary stayed with her about three months", not two or four, which would have been unreasonable; Lk.22:59 "after about an hour", which could hardly be two or more hours; Lk.9:14 "about five thousand men" were fed; he does not mean somewhere between three and seven thousand; Lk.9:28 has "about eight days after these sayings", which when compared to Mt.17:1 and Mk.9:2, which says "and six days later", yields a figure of seven full days when the transfiguration occurred late on the 7th day; Lk.23:44 "about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour". Could anyone rationally suggest that Luke meant the fourth or fifth hours?).
3. This was certainly the way it was understood by early Christian scholars (Irenaeus, who lived in the 2nd century, said that Christ "was beginning to be about thirty years of age" [Against Heresies, II, xxii, 5]. Epiphanius said the same thing, and added that Christ was precisely twenty-nine years and ten months of age when he commenced his ministry [Dialogue with Trypho, 88]).

B. Based on every Roman record of the first century that we have available (historical writings, coins, inscriptions, etc.), Tiberius' first year begins on 19 August, AD 14 (Luke used the normal Roman system of reckoning that would have been familiar to a nobleman like Theophilus; cp. Lk.1:3), making his 15th year Aug. 28AD to Aug. 29AD [Thomas Lewin, Fasti Sacri or a Key to the Chronology of the NT, London, 1875, pg. 53, says, "The reign of Tiberius, as beginning from 19 Aug. AD 14, was as well-known a date in the time of Luke as the reign of Queen Victoria in our own day, and that no single case has ever been or can be produced in which the years of Tiberius were reckoned in any other way"].
1. Historians who validate this reckoning are: Tacitus, Seutonius, Pliny the Elder, Dion Cassius, Philo, and Josephus.
2. In the 15th year of Tiberius (Aug. 28AD to Aug. 29AD), John the Baptist began his public ministry (summer of 29AD).
3. At that time Jesus was "about thirty years old", which statement would be precisely true if Jesus were born in 3BC.
4. However, if He were born in 5 or 4BC, then He would have been anywhere from 31 to 33 years of age.

C. The census of Caesar Augustus, during a time when Cyrenius (Latin, Quirinius) was governor of Syria (province included Judea, which was the kingdom of Herod the Great in 3/2BC), corroborates the year 3 or 2BC for the nativity.
1. This was one of two registrations of people during a time when Cyrenius was governor of Syria (the 2nd is mentioned in Act.5:37 in 6AD).

2. Cyrenius was, however, not an ordinary governor; he was a Roman procurator who had powers directly from Augustus, which in contemporary terms means a powerful "man-Friday", a Legatus Augusti [Justin Martyr said that Roman records showed Quirinius as the procurator of Syria: Apol. I, 34. The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. X, pg. 216, has this revealing comment on the role of a Roman procurator: "Each province had its equestrian procurator who in the eyes of the provincials was almost as important as the governor himself {see Tacitus, Agric., 15}. These procurators were appointed by the Emperor quite independently of the legatus {governor} and the relations between the two were frequently none too friendly"].
3. The resident governor at the time (4 to 2BC) was Sentius Saturninus, and this fact is confirmed by Tertullian, a lawyer by profession, and a Christian apologist, who lived in the late 2nd century [In his Adv. Marcionem, IV, 7, he says, "There is historical proof that at this very time censuses had been taken in Judaea by Sentius Saturninus respecting the family and descent of Christ." And he dated the census taken at the time of Christ's birth as 3/2BC].
4. The following were the Roman governors of Syria from 7BC to 1AD:
a. Titius, prior to 7BC.
b. Q. Varus, 7 or 6 to 4BC.
c. S. Saturinius, 4 to 2BC.
d. Q. Varus (a 2nd term), 2BC to 1AD.
e. G. Caesar, 1AD to 4AD.
5. The census (registration) of 3/2BC is mentioned only by Luke and Tertullian (Augustus wrote an account of the major events of his life; he wrote of official censuses in 28BC, 8BC, and 14AD, but nothing of the year in discussion, yet Luke said the whole Roman world was involved).
a. The year 2BC was one of the most important in the career of Augustus, as he was sixty years old and it was the Silver Jubilee of his rule (begun in 27BC; it was also the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome).
b. On February 5, 2BC, the Senate and the people of Rome awarded him the highest of all decorations: Pater Patriae (Father of the Country).
c. There was no year like it for celebrations in Rome, and the festivities and celebrations encompassed the Empire in its entirety (the provinces).
d. Augustus knew beforehand of the special honor, and issued an "edict" calling for a fresh registration of all who lived within the borders of the greater Empire (Lk.2:1-5).
e. The purpose of this registration was to secure an oath of allegiance to Caesar Augustus in his Jubilee year.
f. Josephus mentioned that an oath of allegiance was demanded by Augustus about twelve or fifteen months before the death of Herod [Antiquities, XVII, 41-45 "There was moreover a certain sect of Jews who valued themselves highly for their exact knowledge of the law; and talking much of their contact with God, were greatly in favor with the women {of Herod's court}. They are called Pharisees. They are men who had it in their power to control kings; extremely subtle, and ready to attempt anything against those whom they did not like. When therefore the whole Jewish nation took an OATH to be faithful to Caesar, and [to] the interests of the king, these men, to the number of above six thousand, refused to swear. The king laid a fine upon them. Pheroras' wife {Herod's sister-in-law} paid the money for them. They, in requital for her kindness {for they were supposed, by their great intimacy with God, to have attained to the gift of prophecy}, prophesied that God having decreed to put an end to the government of Herod and his race, the kingdom would be transferred to her and Pheroras and their children. Salome {Herod's sister}, who was aware of all that was being said, came and told the king of them. She also told him that many of the court {of Herod} were corrupted by them. Then the king put to death the most guilty of the Pharisees, and Bagoas the eunuch, and one Carus, the most beautiful young man about the court, and the great instrument in the king's unlawful pleasures. He {Herod} likewise slew everyone in his own family, who adhered to those things which were said by the Pharisee. But Bagoas had been elevated by them and was told that he should someday be called father and benefactor of the {new} king, who was to be appointed according to their prediction, for this king would have all things in his power, and that he {the king} would give him {Bogoas} the capacity of marriage, and of having children of his own"].
g. Various authors have suggested that this "oath of allegiance" and the census mentioned by Luke are one and the same [Lewin, Fasti Sacri, and more recently P.W. Barnett, Expository Times, 85 {1973-74}, pps. 377-380].
h. An inscription with such an oath of obedience has been found in Paphlagonia, and is clearly dated to 3BC [Lewis & Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. II, pps. 34 and 35, Harper Torchbooks Edition has these words, "taken by the inhabitants of Paphlagonia and the Roman businessmen dwelling among them", and importantly, the whole of the population were required to swear it: "The same oath was sworn by all the people in the land at the altars of Augustus in the temples of Augustus in the various districts"].
i. Augustus received his most prestigious title, the Pater Patriae, on February 5, 2BC, and wrote of it in his Res Gestae: "While I was administering my thirteenth consulship the senate and the equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title Father of my Country" [VI, 35].
j. Since most people in Judaea and the Empire were not Roman citizens, Augustus could have decreed in 3BC that everyone should swear an oath of absolute obedience to him to accompany his award as being "Father of the Country".
k. The inscriptional oath found in Paphlagonia, the oath mentioned by Josephus, and the census of Luke are one and the same.
l. The Armenian historian, Moses of Khorene, said that the native sources he had available showed that in the second year of Abgar, king of Armenia (3BC), the census brought Roman agents "to Armenia, bringing the image of Augustus Caesar, which they set up in every temple" [History of the Armenians, trans. R.W. Thomson, Book II, 26].
m. One Orosius, who lived in the fifth century and quoted early sources, wrote: "[Augustus] ordered that a census be taken of each province everywhere and that all men be enrolled...This is the earliest and most famous public acknowledgment which marked Caesar as the first of all men and the Romans as lords of the world, a published list of all men entered individually...This first and greatest census was taken, since 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" [VI, 22 and VII, 2; he also identified the year as 3BC].
n. The fact that oaths and censuses should go together should be no strange thing, as most Roman census declarations required an oath of allegiance to the emperor, as in the example of one such declaration of property tax ended with: "We swear by the fortune of the Emperor Caesar Trajanus Hadrian Augustus...under oath [Lewis & Reinhold, vol. II, pg. 387]; and "I swear by Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus that I have kept nothing back" [iobid., pg. 388].
o. It thus seems highly probable that all in the Empire registered an oath of obedience and an approval of the Pater Patrae to Augustus at this time and that Quirinius had been sent to the East to conduct it.
p. It is reasonable that a period of about a year was allowed for complete enrollment, thus beginning the registration of 3BC, in plenty of time for the celebrations in 2BC when the title became official.
q. That the registration was not for the purpose of taxation is seen by the fact that as long as King Herod was alive, no taxes were paid to Rome - rather they were paid directly to Herod (immediately upon Herod's death, the Jews asked Archelaus [Herod's successor] to relieve them of excessive taxes [Antiquities, XVII, 205]). Had the Jews been paying taxes directly to Rome brought about by the census of Quirinius, this request would have been irrelevant. From 63BC to 47BC Judea was part of the province of Syria and paid tribute directly to Rome. From 47BC to 40BC Hyrcanus was the "ruler of the free republic" [Antiquities, XIV, 117], but the Jews still paid direct taxes to Rome. When Herod became king, however, the tribute to Rome ceased and Herod collected all the taxes. This continued until 6/7AD when direct taxation was again imposed in Judea [see P.C. Sands, The Client Princes of the Roman Empire, pps. 222-228].
r. Official censuses involving taxation took place every 20 years (in 28BC and 8BC), but the next official census was in 14AD, which was 21 years after 8BC and not 20 as one would expect. Could it be that 2BC was dropped out of the yearly taxation in celebration of Augustus' Silver Jubilee?
s. The year 2BC, however, was reckoned so glorious a new beginning for Augustus and Rome that the imperial taxation and evaluation ceased during that year if people would give their oath of allegiance to Augustus as their Pater Patriae and universal lord. This could well be the case and explain the 1-year discrepancy (by the way, every five years there was a registration which updated individual Roman citizenship, and these archives were kept in their own native cities or other important "Roman centers" throughout the Empire [see Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, pps. 147ff]).
t. In 3BC Quirinius was special governor during the time of the governorship of Saturninus, who was responsible for conducting the special census concerning the Pater Patriae for Augustus.
u. The oath of loyalty issued by Augustus in 3BC brought Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to their native city of Bethlehem.
1. Mary normally would not have needed to go with Joseph, but since both were royal claimants, both had to appear in person and sign the document.
2. All "royal claimants" would have especially been singled out to take the oath.
3. Luke tells us that the reason why both Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem was because he was reckoned as belonging to the house of David, and of course, so was Mary (Lk.2:4).
v. The census of 3BC is the only census after the one in 8BC, and most would consider 8BC as too late for the birth of Christ.

III. The Major Obstacle Against a 3/2BC Birth Date for Christ is the Long-Accepted 4BC Date for the Death of Herod (Herod Died After Christ's Birth).

A. Josephus makes mention of a lunar eclipse which took place just before the death of Herod, and just before a springtime celebration of Passover (in March, 4BC, there was a partial eclipse).
B. Lunar eclipses that were observable over Palestine in the period from 7 to 1BC were four: March 23, 5BC, a total eclipse; September 15, 5BC, a total eclipse; March 13, 4BC, a partial eclipse; January 10, 1BC, a total eclipse; for the other years in the time-frame, there were no lunar eclipses observable over Palestine [Solar and Lunar Eclipses of the Ancient Near East, by M. Kudlek and E. Mickler, 1971].
C. The main reason historians have accepted the 13 March, 4BC eclipse as the one associated with Herod's death is due primarily to two things.
1. First, Josephus said Herod had a reign of 37 years from the time he was proclaimed king by the Romans (40BC) and 34 years from his capture of Jerusalem [37BC; Antiquities XVII, 190; War, I, 665]. This would actually date Herod's death as 3BC, but there were no eclipses of the Moon in that year, so it is assumed that Josephus reckoned parts of one year as a whole [Vermes and Millar in The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, pg. 326, state "that Josephus reckons one year too many"; scholars, to accommodate the eclipse of 4BC, have been willing to count the 2 or 3 days of Nisan in 4BC as a whole year].
2. The second reason for placing Herod's death in 4BC is because the coins minted by Herod's three successors have their rules beginning in 4BC.
D. The fact is, that the writings of Josephus are replete with contradictions [Dictionary of Christian Biography, 1882, pps. 449, 451, and 455, states: "Discrepancies are not wanting between statements in the Antiquities and others in the Jewish War, and even mistakes in regard to plain biblical facts...Josephus at times ontradicts his own statements...{There are} gross chronological inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the present text of Josephus"].
E. Reasons have been presented to show that Jerusalem was captured in the latter part of 36BC, and this would make Herod's death from sometime in 2BC into the year 1BC.
F.Coins which show Herod's successors reigning from 4BC can be explained based on the practice of awarding extra years of reign for a political objective.
1. Herod murdered his "royal wife" and "two sons" and acclaimed Archelaus, a son by a commoner, as his heir.
2. His sons who ruled in his place [Archelaus, Antipas, Philip) minted coins from 4BC that would connect them with the royal connection that Herod eliminated (this practice of antedating on the coins is well attested).
G. The total eclipse of 9/10 January, 1BC, is the one which preceded Herod's death in that same year, and which best satisfies all that happened between the eclipse, Herod's death 18 days later (28 January, 1BC), his funeral, and the coming Passover (can't reasonably squeeze in all the events from the March, 4BC, eclipse).

IV. Unusual Astronomical Activity in the Years 3 to 2BC

A. Most early Christian historians and chronologers who lived from the 2nd century onward put the birth of Christ after the eclipse of 4BC.
B. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Orosius, and Cassiodorus Senator said Christ's birth was in a year we now recognize as 3BC (the early chronologist, Julius Africanus, reckoned it in a period from 3 to 2BC).
C. Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen, the Chronicon Cyrianicum, Eusebius of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Hippolytus of Thebes, The Paschal Chronicle, Photius the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Greek historian Zonaras, Bar Hebraeus (who quoted Syrian, Armenian, and Greek sources), Epiphanius and the early Syrian chronological work, the Chronicon Edessenum, indicate the nativity was 2BC.
D. Lastly, we are told by Dionysius Exiguus that Christ's birth was in 1BC (he was responsible for establishing the Common Era that the majority of the world accepts; thus, the year 1997 Anno Domini: the year of the Lord is reckoned from the birth of Christ, which he placed on December 25, 1BC, with the civil reckoning of our Era at seven days later with January 1).
E. Most of the early Christian writers (no doubt acquainted with the writings of Josephus) regard the period 3 to 2BC as the time of the nativity.
F. Beginning with August, 3BC, and ending December, 2BC, a number of planetary and stellar phenomena occurred which could not but have excited observers.
1. Beginning with 1 August, 3BC, the planet Jupiter became visible above the eastern horizon as a morning star. 12 days later, a little before 4 a.m., Jupiter would have been in close conjunction with Venus (already a morning star for 6 months), and the space between them was just about 0.08 degrees, though the planets did not appear to touch one another (a rare phenomenon indeed). Some five days later, Mercury emerged from the Sun also to become a morning star. While this was happening, Venus left its previous conjunction with Jupiter and headed toward Mercury.
2. On the morning of September 1, Venus and Mercury came into conjunction (.35 degrees from each other; it must be kept in mind that these planetary motions and relationships are the apparent ones viewed by observers on earth).
3. After the Sept. 1 meeting with Mercury, Venus journeyed back into the light of the Sun, emerging in the West as an evening star about 20 December, 3BC, and when this happened, an observer would have witnessed the planet just after sunset moving progressively higher in the sky (going more easterly) with each succeeding day. This movement placed Venus on a collision course with Jupiter which was moving westward. At the period when Venus had just passed its easternmost elongation from the Sun (the farthest east of the Sun that Venus ever reaches) on 17 June, 2BC, the two planets "collided". They were in 0.04 degrees away from each other. This was a most uncommon occurrence. To an observer on Earth, the luminosity that each planet displayed made them look like one gigantic star. It was as if Venus had stretched herself as far eastward as she was able, in order to join with Jupiter as he reached westward to meet her. This conjunction occurred at the exact time of the full Moon. The whole of the evening sky was being illumined from the east by the full light of the Moon, while the western quarter was being adorned with the Jupiter/Venus conjunction. Professor D.C. Morton, Senior Research Astronomer at Princeton University, said this conjunction of 17 June, 2BC, was a notable astronomical event [ZPEB, vol. I, pg. 398]. Such closeness had not been witnessed in generations. Roger W. Sinnott, writing in the astronomical journal Sky and Telescope, December, 1968, pps. 384-386, referred to this conjunction as a brilliant "double star" which finally gave the appearance of fusing together into a single "star" as the planets drew nearer the western horizon. He said that only the sharpest of eyes would have been able to split them and that the twinkling caused by the unsteady horizon atmosphere would have blended them into one gigantic "star" for almost all viewers. "The fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event" [pg. 386]. Here were the two brightest planets in the heavens merging together. This was happening at the period when Venus was approaching her time of greatest brilliance.
4. This splendid conjunction was only half the picture. While Jupiter was on its westward journey to link up with Venus for the spectacular 17 June, 2BC, reunion, Jupiter was showing some displays of its own. Just 33 days after the first Jupiter/Venus conjunction (12 August, 3BC), an observer would have seen Jupiter come into juxtaposition with Regulus (the principal star in the constellation of Leo, a star of the 1st magnitude). The conjunction occurred on 14 September, 3BC, and viewed from the Earth the two celestial bodies were 0.67 degrees apart. After that, Jupiter proceeded on his normal course through the heavens, and on 1 December, 3BC, the planet stopped its motion through the fixed stars to begin its annual retrogression. In doing so, it headed once again towards the star Regulus. Then on 17 February, 2BC, the two were reunited (1.19 degrees apart). Jupiter was again side by side with the star, the two bodies being 1.06 degrees from each other (for Jupiter to unite with Regulus 3 times in 1 year is not common. It occurred 12 years earlier in 15/14BC, and before that in 86/85BC. It was not to recur until 69/70AD). After this 3rd conjunction with Regulus, Jupiter continued moving westward for 40 days (in an apparent sense) to reunite with Venus in the rare conjunction of 17 June, 2BC.
5. This is not all. On 27 August, 2BC, the planet Mars, which had played no active part in the conjunctions, "caught up" with Jupiter and formed a very close union (Mars travels faster in its motion through the stars than Jupiter and overtakes it in a little over 2 years). At this conjunction the two were only 0.09 degrees from each other. Such nearness is not an ordinary occurrence. Besides this, there was also a convergence of Venus and Mercury into the same part of the sky as Jupiter and Mars. This means that four major planets were all positioned around one another in an exceptional longitudinal relationship. An assemblage of planets in such close proximity to one another is called in astrological circles a massing of the planets. And look at the close association they had to each other. The longitude of Jupiter was 142.6 degrees, Mars 142.64, Venus 141.67, and Mercury 143.71. This would have been an interesting sight to behold, but the visible effect would have been diminished because of the rays of the dawn, since the four planets were only 8 degrees ahead of the Sun.
6. The year 3/2BC was certainly an extraordinary one for visible astronomical exhibitions, as there was no year similar to it for many years on either side (a foretaste had occurred back in 7BC, as Jupiter and Saturn had come into conjunction on 3 occasions: May 26, October 3, and December 1, and this was followed in early 6BC with a close triangulation with Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This occurred when the planets were in Pisces. These conjunctions are the ones some present-day historians feel were connected with the signs indicated by Matthew in his account of the birth of Christ. The majority will not look this side of 4BC due to the fixation with the 4BC date for the death of Herod).
7. The year 3/2BC stood far above any near contenders for a period of exceptional signs in the heavens to herald Christ's birth (Gen.1:14).
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