An Ancient Tradition
There is one more chronological detail that we have to note. Matthew records that the Magi dreamed they should not go back to Herod, and then he says they departed. He starts the next verse (Matthew 2:13),
Now when they had departed, behold, a messenger from Yăhwɛh appeared to Yosɛf in a dream, […] Evidently this second dream was not in the same night as the Magi’s dream, because the Magi would have departed at dawn, at which time Yosɛf would have been awake. We really cannot expect Herod to give the Magi more than two days to report back to him, seeing that Bɛƫleɦem is so near Yerusalayim. And there are two other reasons to suppose that only one day intervened between the departure of the Magi and the murder of the children in the district. The first is the dates assigned to the event by Church tradition, which are the 27th, 28th, and 29th. The second is that Jewish tradition specially marks the 2nd day of Sheνat (30 December, 2 BC), which is assumed to be the date of Herod’s death, but in fact is the day he murdered the children.
Ancient Church traditions preserve several dates to memorialize the children which died in Herod’s slaughter. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates a feast on 29 December. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Lutheran Church put the date on 28 December. West Syrians put the date on 27 December. We have seen that the proper date is December 30 (2 Sheνat) for the slaughter of the children by noting that a day intervened between the dreams of the Magi and the dream of Yosɛf.
It seems to me that the Nazarene Jewish community preserved the new moon day as the day of the visit. This would commence with December 28 after sunset. Then the flight and slaughter was on December 30th (2 Sheνat). So at an early date, someone in the non-Jewish Roman Christian community calculated the new moon day, and came up with December 29th. New moon calculations were often in error by ±1 day using a 19 year cycle. So if they calculated the 27th as the new moon, then they may have assigned the slaughter to the 28th or the 29th when they should have calculated the 28th and assigned the slaughter to the 30th. These churches wanted to avoid using the Hebrew calendar, so they calculated a fixed date in the Roman calendar. The Jewish calendar would have marked the slaughter on 2 Sheνat until the Rabbis decided to suppress the history of the matter.
It is possible that Jewish tradition preserved the date of the slaughter as a day if infamy before Matthew wrote, i.e. for a period of 30+ years. After Matthew connected it to Messiah, they then did their best to forget that it was ever a tradition. The day would be declared a fast originally, and then turned into a feast later. It so happens that December 30 in 2 BC was the 2 day of Sheνat, which is one of the two unknown feast days in the Scroll of Fasting. The other date is 7 Kislev. The slaughter actually was on December 30th.
The Scroll of Fasting (Megillat Taanit) is a misnomer.
It concerns not a list of fast days, but a list of days of rejoicing on which it was not allowed to fast (pg. 340, Vered Noam, “Megillat Taanit — The Scroll of Fasting”). Thus, if Herod died on 2 Sheνat, one of the two days listed for an unknown reason, it would not be allowed to fast, because he was such an evil king. The reason for the prohibited days is because something good or miraculous happened for Israel on those days. The death of Herod would be considered a good thing and so people would want to feast on the day. But it is perfectly obvious from this chronology that Herod did not die on 2 Sheνat. The children in Bɛƫleɦem were murdered by Herod on that day. Matthew makes it clear that it was a day of mourning. Therefore Jews would remember the day with a fast, and not a feast. After Matthew was published connecting the slaughter of the children with Yeshu‘a’s escape to Egypt and the very public visit of the Magi to Yerushalayim, the Rabbis decided it was necessary to suppress fasting and mourning on 2 Sheνat, a traditional fast tied to these events. The problem is, however, how do you prohibit a fast on a day for which nothing good can be cited in Israel’s history? You have to omit the reason! For the reason itself would refute the prohibition. At first the Rabbis refuse to put a reason, because that would make them liars as well as suppressors of evidence. But later, someone, knowing that 2 Sheνat came from the period of late 2 BC or early 1 BC would speculate that the date had to do with the death of Herod. A commentary on the Scroll of Fasting, called the Scholion speculates exactly that. The Scroll itself was composed between AD 41 and AD 70 (cf. Noam). The star and Matthew’s chronology identify that 2 Sheνat was the day of the slaughter, and this must have become a day of fasting, because Megillat Taanit shows that fasting was prohibited on it in the period AD 41-70. The Netsarım would have connected that date and fast with Messiah, even if Matthew did not write before the Scroll was composed. So the need for a prohibition combined with the original knowledge of the date is very strong circumstantial evidence that it was first a fast day, and then that the Rabbis found it necessary to ban fasting on the day.
Some think that December 30, 2 BC is a date too early for 2 Sheνat, but what they fail to realize is that the occurrence of the equinox so near to Nisan 15 in early 2 BC raises the question of whether the definition of the equinox one is using has an effect on whether a second Adar should be added to the spring of that year. It turns out that the definition of the equinox does make the difference. Anciently there were several different means of computing the equinox. There was the method of picking a date between the solstice dates. There was a method of picking the midpoint between the solstice points. There was the method of using an equinox ring. There was the method of using a date calculated in the past and still adhered to by tradition. There was the method of calculating the date. The most ancient method, however, was to locate the cardinal point of west. The day upon which the sun set due west or very slightly north of due west became the first day of the year. This is the simple observational method of finding the equinox, which I will explain in another section. It suffices to say, that taking this method into account shows that December 30, 2 BC is not too early for 2 Sheνat. It is a mistake to impose a modern definition of the equinox and then overlook this dating. It means that those who do so are looking in the wrong places for the birth of Messiah. It means if they are looking for Yom Teruah on Sept. 30 or October 1, 2 BC, then they are looking too late.
On the the second day of the 11th month, in the early dawn, Yosɛf and Miryam snatched the infant Messiah out of danger just in time when warned by the dream. Meanwhile Herod murdered the children and then his own son Antipater. Macrobius, a pagan Roman writer, is said to have reported that when Augustus heard about the slaughters that he said it was better to be Herod’s hog than his son:
Macrobius (ca. AD 400), one of the last pagan writers in Rome, in his book Saturnalia, wrote: “When it was heard that, as part of the slaughter of boys up to two years old, Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered his own son to be killed, he [the Emperor Augustus] remarked, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig [Gr. hys] than his son’ [Gr. huios]” (2.4.11; cited in Brown 1993:226)....If he was referring to the death of Antipater in 4 BC [1 BC], the slaughter of the Innocents would have been one of the last, if not the last, brutal killings of Herod before he died. What is also interesting is the word-play in the quote attributed to Augustus- “pig” and “son” are similar sounding words in Greek. Herod would not kill a pig because he kept kosher, at least among the Jews; yet he had no qualms killing his own sons!
If the visit was on the new moon day and murders on the next day, 2 Sheνat, then we have one more new moon day to complete the series of new moons already in the time line. Elısheνa conceived on the new moon. The visit to Miryam and conception of Messiah was on the new moon. Yoɦanan was born on a new moon. Messiah was born on a new moon, and gifts are now given to him on the new moon as the Magi worshiped him.
And it will have been from the abundance of the new moon in its month, and from the abundance of the Sabbath on its Sabbath, that all flesh will come to worship before my face says Yăhwɛh.
Dionysius Exiguus is often charged with grave error in his dating of the common era called Anno Domini (AD), founded in the 6th century, especially by those who would place the birth of Messiah 7-5 BC. This Scythian monk placed the incarnation (i.e. conception) of Messiah on March 25th, AD 1, and the birth on December 25th, AD 1. He also believed that Messiah died on March 25th and rose on March 27th.
How far are these dates from the truth? First 25 December has been extensively dealt with already and also the alleged conception date 25 March. What remains then is the placing of the common era and the alleged death and resurrection dates. If we assume that the crucifixion date was the starting point of the other reasoning, since it is supposed to be tied to 14 Nisan (or 15 Nisan), then we will see that the other dates were derived by two assumptions, 1. that the conception date was the same day as the day of his death, and 2. that it was exactly nine Roman months to the birth. These assumptions lead to the deductions of a 25 March conception and 25 December birth.
So let us now go back to the starting point, which is the belief that the crucifixion was on 25 March and the resurrection on 27 March, and the belief that AD 1 is the year of the conception and birth. We will see that these dates are so very close to the truth that they are explained as the source of all the other errant reasoning.
First, the 1 September, 2 BC birth of Messiah leads directly to stating Messiah first birthday in the fall of 1 BC. Therefore, he is said to be aged 1 year between the fall of 1 BC and the fall of AD 1. So for roughly 9 months of the year, between January 1 and Tishri 1, the AD date corresponds to the actual age of Messiah:
Jan 1 to Sept 8, AD 1 Age 1
Jan 1 to Sept 27, AD 2 Age 2
Jan 1 to Sept 4, AD 2016 Age 2016
So even though incorrect according to its founding assumptions, the common era can be salvaged as the best way of stating Messiah’s age in Roman years, or as a way of remembering his age. On Jan 1, his age is the AD year. On Tishri 1, it is one more than the AD year until Jan. 1.
Now what about the dates of death and resurrection, 25 March and 27 March. The actual dates were 24 March and 27 March in the Julian calendar in AD 34. The date of Nisan 14 in AD 34 was 24 March, and the date of Nisan 15 was 25 March. These two dates were the times of the two passover offerings, i.e. the passover in Egypt (Nisan 14), and the memorial offering of the Exodus on Nisan 15. Three days and three nights from March 24th brings us to March 27th, which was the weekly Sabbath. The year has been nearly lost to Christendom because they could not accept that the crucifixion was on a Wednesday and the resurrection was on the Sabbath. However, it seems the calendar dates were remembered in the Roman calendar as a kind of fossilization left over from the true dates. (In defense of Christendom, it may be said that Joseph Scaliger and Sir Isaac Newton both arrived at an AD 34 date by their calculations.) The 25 March date vs. the 24 March date can be explained as a dispute over a 14 Nisan vs. a 15 Nisan crucifixion. Most non-Jewish Christians favored Nisan 15 because they misunderstood the notion of the “head day of unleavened bread” (i.e. Nisan 14) and confused it with Nisan 15, a problem stemming from the mention of this day in Exodus 12:15, and their not understanding the disguised Hebrew idiom in the Synoptic Evangelists.
Supporting the 25 March date are Tertullian: 25 March, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus: 25 March, Julius Africanus (23rd-25th, cf. Mosshammer), Lactantius (23 March), Augustine: 25 March, Sulpicius Severus, Orosius: 25 March, Prosper, and Victorius of Aquitaine; Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. AD 375), 25 March. Also the Acts of Pilate, the Liberian Chronicler of A.D. 354, Julius Hilarianus; a Paschal Homily of (Pseudo-) Chrysostom in A.D. 387, and by an Egyptian system inserted in the Paschal Chronicle. Eiphanius gives 20 March (various sources compiled, but not verified by myself). The Bede (23rd-25th). Annianus of Alexandria (ca. AD 412),
the first Pascha of the Lord on the 25th of the Roman month of March, […]; John Malalas (d. AD 578), 24 March; Paschal Chronicle 23rd-25th; Cedrenus 23rd-25th.
When the Church first started to calculate possible Friday dates for 25th March, it came up with Friday, 25 March in AD 29 and 27 March for the resurrection. Tertullian held to this dating. Of course, it is impossible, since it was only 5 days after the spring equinox that year, and on the 20th of the lunar month (i.e. 20 Adar). But it does underline how important the March 25th date seemed to be, and though wrong, the attachment to it appears to be explained by the original correct date: 24 March. Tertullian gives us the clue as to how the correct date 24 March got changed into the 25th of March,
[it was under] Tiberius Caesar, in the consulate of Rubellius Geminus and Fufius Geminus, in the month of March, at the times of the passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April, on the first day of unleavened bread, on which they slew the lamb at even, just as had been enjoined by Moses (Against the Jews 8). Tertullian says that 25 March was the first day of unleavened bread. This is exactly correct for Nisan 15, AD 34! Whatever the original here, it preserved the true date of Nisan 15, even though we know the crucifixion was on Nisan 14. This is enough information to zero in on AD 34. For it is the only year on which Nisan 15 fell on 25 March.
It should be noted that the Church has constantly misunderstood the crucifixion to have been on Nisan 15 instead of Nisan 14.
Here are the lunar dates of 25 March from 26-37 AD
AD 26 Nisan 17, Monday
AD 27 II Adar 27, Wednesday
AD 28 Nisan 9, Thursday
AD 29 II Adar 20, Friday
AD 30 Nisan 1, Sabbath
AD 31 Nisan 12, Sunday
AD 32 II Adar 24, Tuesday
AD 33 Nisan 5, Wednesday
AD 34 Nisan *15,* Thursday
AD 35 II Adar 26, Friday
AD 36 Nisan 8, Sunday
AD 37 Nisan 18, Monday
Now it does not matter how one calculates II Adar here or which lunar month is Nisan. In only one year does any 15th of a month fall on 25 March at the beginning of the year, and that is AD 34.
How then does this relate to Messiah’s birth. Simple, the 25 December tradition was derived from a combination of the truth of Nisan 15 = 25 March in AD 34 and speculative reasoning that the death date and conception date were the same. Then nine months were counted forward to 25 December. Later when Emperor Aurelian decided to emphasize the date for the birth of the pagan sun god, the Christians decided to emphasize the date for the birth of Messiah by celebrating it more vigorously. But false reasoning is false reasoning. It would never have gained traction if the times and seasons the Scripture is concerned with were paid attention to.
The Fall of Sejanus
When Yĕshū‘a was on trial, Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews made the argument that Pilate was no friend of Caesar if he did not comply with their wishes (John 19:12). Now normally Pilate would blow off such an accusation. He was a Roman, and no Roman would believe such a stupid argument. However, Pilate’s position was suffering from two recent incidents. First the fall of Sejanus in AD 31, and execution on October 18, and second Tiberius’ rebuke of Pilate over the votive shields incident. For these reasons Pilate could not simply blow off the Jewish leadership’s argument that they would say Pilate was no friend of Caesar. He could ill afford Tiberus’s displeasure on a third count.