What do we know about King Herod historically? Herod the Great known in the Bible as the monster who ordered the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem, is a well-known figure in ancient historical records.
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According to the Amazing Bible Timeline Herod was born in 74 BC, 24 years after Julius Caesar and during the same decade that Buddhism was introduced to China. “The Gospels tell us that Christ’s birth was shortly before Herod the Great died. Herod’s death can be fixed with certainty. Josephus records an eclipse of the moon just before Herod passed on. This occurred on March 12th or 13th in 4 B.C. Josephus also tells us that Herod expired just before Passover. This feast took place on April 11th, in the same year, 4 B.C. From other details supplied by Josephus, we can pinpoint Herod the Great’s demise as occurring between March 29th and April 4th in 4 B.C. It might sound strange to suggest that Jesus Christ was born no later than 4 B.C. since B.C. means ‘before Christ.’ But our modern calendar that splits time between B.C. and A.D. was not invented until A.D. 525. At that time, Pope John the First asked a monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the Western Church. Unfortunately, poor Dionysius missed the real B.C./A.D. division by at least four years! Now Matthew tells us that Herod killed Bethlehem’s babies two years old and under. The earliest Jesus could have been born, therefore, is 6 B.C. Through a variety of other time indicators, we can be relatively confident that the one called Messiah was born in either late 5 or early 4 B.C.” (from http://bible.org/article/birth-jesus-christ). In 2007, two different groups of scientists added information to the facts about his life. Where he was buried. How he died.
Where Herod the Great Was Buried
In May 2007, Ehud Netzer (of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) announced to the world that after a lifetime’s search, he had uncovered the remains of Herod the Great’s tomb (BBC coverage; London Times story). The likely site of the tomb – Herodium – is a man-made fortress of immense scale with many buildings, monuments, trackways and open spaces. Herodium is located in the West Bank some eight miles from Jerusalem.
How Herod The Great Died
“Herod the Great expired from chronic kidney disease probably complicated by Fournier’s gangrene,” according to the medical investigative work of Jan Hirschmann, M.D., staff physician at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System and professor of medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. The texts that we depend on for a close description of Herod’s last days list several major features of the disease that caused his death—among them, intense itching, painful intestinal problems, breathlessness, convulsions in every limb, and gangrene of the genitalia,” says Hirschmann. (from a news release by the Veterans Administration at http://www.newswise.com/articles/what-killed-king-herod in January 2002)
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What about the death of Herod in Acts in 12:23?
Acts 12 – Herod Agrippa I
February 25, 2015 in Observations on Acts | Tags: Herod, Herod Agrippa, Luke / Acts, Rome, The Book of Acts
Herod Agrippa begins to persecute the church in Jerusalem (verse 1). The Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I. Later in Acts we meet Agrippa, he is Herod Agrippa II (Agrippa II is Marcus Julius Agrippa, Acts 25-26). Born about 10 B.C., Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great, the son of Aristobolus and Bernice. He was raised in Rome, and was a fried of Caligula and Claudius as well as Tiberius’ son Drusus. He was able to exploit the relationships in order to gain wealth and power. He sought the favor of Caligula to the point that the Emperor Tiberius imprisoned him for six-months on charges of treason. In A.D. 41 Agrippa used his relationship with Caligula to help prevent the installation of a statue of the emperor in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Caligula was assassinated, Claudius made Agrippa ruler over considerable territory in Judea.
We are not told why he persecuted the church in Jerusalem, although it may be that Agrippa was in some respects interested in his Jewish roots. This piety was demonstrated upon agrippa at the louvrehis return to Judea. He donated a golden chain, given to him by Caligula when he was freed from his imprisonment, to the Temple. In addition, he undertook the sponsorship of a large number of Nazarite vows in the temple (Antiq., 12.6.1, Schürer 2:155). During a Sabbath year, Agrippa read from the book of Deuteronomy and was moved to tears when he read the words of Deut 17:15, forbidding the appointment of a stranger over the “brothers” (i.e., a non-Israelite over Israel.) The crowd which witnesses this responded “Thou art our brother!” (See m.Sota 7.8)
“He loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure; nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.” Antiq. 19.7.3
Schürer argues Agrippa was favorable to the Pharisees and even to some extent a Jewish nationalism (2:159). This may be plausible given his zealous persecution of the Jewish Christians in Acts 12.
That James would be the first of the disciples to be martyred was anticipated even during Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 20:20-28 James and John ask to sit and the right and left hand of Jesus in the Kingdom. Jesus’ response is to hint at the sort of service which he is about to offer–he is about to drink the bitter cup of God’s wrath as he gives up his life as a ransom for many.
The brothers say that they are able to do so, just as Peter thought that he would be able to go to prison or die for Jesus only a few days later at the last supper. All three of the inner circle swear ultimate loyalty, and at least initially, all three fail. Jesus grants them at least part of their request – they will drink the same cup, although it will be different for each of the brothers. James is the first to be martyred, John lives a very long life, and according to an early tradition, was persecuted greatly during the reign of Domitian.
James’ death is about eleven years after the martyrdom of Stephen. It therefore appears that the people of Jerusalem are no longer supportive of the Jewish Christians. Witherington makes this point; the city of Jerusalem has “turned against” the Jewish church (Acts, 386). Agrippa is therefore demonstrating his piousness by pursuing the leaders of the Christian community.
Bibliography: David C. Braund, “Agrippa” ABD 1:98-99; Schürer, 2:150-159.
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Jesus was born before 6 AD! He was born before Herod’s death – clearly identified here. The reason that Herod killed the babies in Bethlehem, was because he heard that Jesus had been born. Joseph and Mary fled Herod’s country to avoid Jesus being killed. This was during Herod’s lifetime.
King Herod the Great died on Sunday 14 Jan 1AD. Josephus records that the Jews established a festival to celebrate Herod’s death. And another historian records a list of Jewish Holy, Feast and Festivals, listing one on 2 Shevat for Herod. 2 Shevat in 1AD is 14 Jan, follows the 29 Dec 1BC eclipse by 18 days. Passover is 27 March 1AD. Josephus records a funeral procession of 25 days.
The eclipse of 10 Jan 1AD happens after the 26 Dec 2BC 2 Shevat, so is disqualified.
The 5 Feb 2BC “Father of the Country” decree is the empire wide event that Joseph and Mary registered in their own city of Nazareth. Josephus records about 6 months later that Herod fined 6000 Pharisees for refusing to sign that decree. This places Herod still alive in fall of 2BC.