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A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life

In the year from 1st Nisan 750 to 1st Nisan 751


the time after which the birth

of Jesus could not have occurred, since, according to Matt. 2:1-6, Jesus was born while Herod was still living. The question to be determined would be the year of this eclipse. Astronomical calculations name an eclipse of the moon March 12 and 13, in the year of Rome 750, and no eclipse occurred the following year that was visible in Palestine. Josephus (Ant. XVII, 8, 1), says that Herod died thirty-seven years after he was declared king by the Romans. In 714 he was proclaimed king, and this would bring his death counting from Nisan to Nisan, as Josephus usually does, "in the year from 1st Nisan 750 to 1st Nisan 751, according to Jewish computation, at the age of seventy" (Andrews). Herod died shortly before the Passover of 750, then, according to the eclipse and the length of his reign. Caspari contends for January 24, 753, as the date of Herod's death, because there was a total eclipse of the moon January 10. So he puts his death fourteen days later. Mr. Page (_New Light from Old Eclipses_) argues for the eclipse that occurred July 17, 752, as the one preceding Herod's death. He thinks that this makes unnecessary the subtraction of two years from the reign of Tiberius on the theory that Tiberius was contemporary ruler with Augustus for two years. But he finds difficulty in lengthening Herod's reign so long, and his theory has gained no great acceptance as yet. Our present era makes the birth of Christ in the year of Rome 754, and is due to the Abbot Dionysius Exiguus in the
Sixth Century. Hence it is clear that if Herod died in the early spring of 750, Jesus must have been born _at least_ four years before 754, the common era, and likely in the year 749.

2. It has been inferred by some that Jesus was at least two or three years old when Herod slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem, Matt. 2:16. Thus the year would be put two years further back to the end of 747 or beginning of 748. But this is not demanded by the "two years" of Matthew, for Herod would naturally extend the limit so as to be sure to include the child in the number slain, and a child just entering the second year would be called "two years" old by Jewish custom. No more definite note of time comes from this circumstance, save that the massacre probably took place some months before Herod's death, which fact would bring the Saviour's birth back some time into the year 749.

3. The appearance of the "star in the east" (Matt. 2:2). This, of course, was before Herod's death, and would agree in time with the slaughter of the children, if the star be looked upon as a supernatural phenomenon, and not the wise men's interpretation of a natural conjunction of planets. Kepler first suggested that, as there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 747, to which Mars was added in 748, this conjunction might have been the bright star that led on the wise men. See Wieseler, _Synopsis_, p. 57. Kepler had also suggested that a periodical star or a comet might have joined the constellation. The Chinese records preserve the account of the appearance of a comet in the spring of 749. Either of these theories is fascinating in itself, especially to those minds that prefer a natural explanation of anything that looks miraculous. Both phenomena are possible in themselves, but they hardly meet the requirements of the record in Matthew. (1) The word used is _aster_, star, and not _astron_, a group of stars. (2) Rev. C. Pritchard, whose calculations have been verified at Greenwich (Smith's Dic.), has shown that those "planets could never have appeared as one star, for they never approached each other within double the apparent diameter of the moon." So Ideler's hypothesis that the wise men all had weak eyes seems rather feeble. (3) The year 747 would conflict slightly with other evidence for Christ's birth that favors 749, although Wieseler, p. 53, note 4, contends that the star first appeared to the wise men two years before their visit, and a second time on their visit to Bethlehem. (4) Besides, the star is said to have stood over "where the young child was," v. 9. If it were a natural star it would have kept going as they went, and would not have stopped till they stopped. Even then it would appear as far away as ever from Bethlehem. It seems best, therefore, to admit the existence of a miracle here, and hence gain nothing from the visit of the Magi to establish the date of the Saviour's birth, save that it was not long before the slaughter of the infants, and would at least agree with the date 749. See Broadus, Comm. _in loco_.


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