Until recently, there seemed to be incontrovertible proof that Christ was born before March, 4 B.C. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived in the first century A.D., recorded that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon and before a Passover. Calculations have shown that a lunar eclipse occurred the night of March 12/13, 4 B.C. This was just before a Passover. Since the Bible makes it clear that Christ was born while Herod was still alive, this has appeared to many scholars as undeniable evidence that Christ was born before that eclipse in March, 4 B.C. And so the “Star of Bethlehem” has always been looked for prior to that date.

Some historical studies, however, have thrown doubt on the association of Herod’s death with that eclipse. In an essay in the October, 1966, Journal of Theological Studies, W. E. Filmer reviewed the historical data available from the period and suggested that Herod continued to live for some time after 4 B.C. Filmer also showed reasons for thinking that the eclipse to which Josephus referred was not the one in 4 B.C. but a later one on January 9, 1 B.C. AS early as the sixteenth century an eminent scholar, Scaliger, was decisive in stating that Herod’s death was connected with the 1 B.C. eclipse.

Virtually all early Christian historians and chronologers who lived from the second to the sixth centuries (and even later) put the birth of Christ after the eclipse of 4 B.C. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Orosius, and Cassiodorus Senator said Christ’s birth was in a year we now recognize as 3 B.C. The early Christian chronologist Julius Africanus said it was in the year from 3 to 2 B.C. This same year was accepted by Hippolytus of Rome, Origen, the Chronicon ...

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