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TorahTimes Messianic Ministry

Teaching Truths about Torah, Time, and Messiah

A Review of Barry Setterfield

The main value of a review is that it gives me a chance to repeat key points about the birth of Messiah applied to a new situation, and also to bring up points I would not ordinarily mention, and that are only interesting with reference to what another scholar has said. Barry Setterfield is an Australian Creationist Astronomer, famous for his theory that the the speed of light is slowing down.

PART 1: When was Jesus born? The Jewish feast of Hannukah occurred on 25th Kislev which corresponds to our month of December. Up until 1583 AD, the time when the Gregorian calendar was introduced, the 25th Kislev and 25th December were the same day., accessed 12/19/2015

This is absolute nonsense. The Gregorian Calendar months are fixed in the solar year. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah is fixed to the lunar year. The two only match up by accident. The odds of the 25 Kislev occurring on December 25 are about 1/30 in any given year both before and after 1582. The odds of it happening in any two given years in a row are 0. In 3 BC, on the day when Messiah was conceived, it was 1 Teνeƫ, December 10. It was the 6th day of Hanukkah. The first day of Hanukkah that year was December 5. This is according to the proleptic Julian Calendar. Now actually, the Julian calendar reform was not implemented correctly and too many leap years were put in, so Augustus made an edict that there would be no leap years until AD 4 starting in 8 BC. The Roman date of Messiah’s conception in the contemporary calendar actually in use was December 11. In the Roman calendar 1 BC was not a leap year. So there is a one day difference for the years 2 and 3 BC between the proleptic Julian calendar and the Roman Calendar.

Normally, I use the proleptic Julian calendar as this is the historical standard and works with the astronomy programs. The stated date of Messiah’s birth in the proleptic Julian calendar September 1, but in the actual Roman calendar Sept 2. The sign in Revelation 12:1-2 best corresponds to August 31, 2 BC. But in the actual Roman calendar it was Sept. 1. The proleptic Julian date for Yom Teruah was 8/31 to 9/1. The actual Roman date is 9/1 to 9/2. Similarly the day of his conception was 12/9 to 12/10 3 BC in the proleptic Julian calendar. But in the actual Roman calendar it was 12/10 to 12/11 3 BC.

Setterfield should have known better than to equate 25 December to 25 Kislev. The solar calendar does not match the lunar, except by accident. And we see it was a miss for 3 BC. It was also a miss in 4 BC. No part of the eight days of Hanukkah overlapped December 25 in these two years. Even calculating Kislev a month late will not do the trick. Setterfield has begun his article by giving the false impression that 25 December has a traditional legitimacy. In 2 BC when the Magi came, Hanukkah was Nov. 24-29, but they arrived a month later. All Setterfield is left with is speculation that there is some link between 25 December and some event having to do with Messiah. He already admits it is not his birth in the article. The solution is simple. Discard the deceptive tradition and celebrate his birth on Yom Terah.

Setterfield is not the first scholar to try to connect Messiah’s birth with the new astronomy to December 25. Ernest Martin attempted it, and so also Rick Larson. I will discuss this more later, but for now I should point out that it is obvious that some scholars have a very great motivation to use unjustified arguments to justify tradition.

II. A Jewish holiday celebrated Herod's death on 2nd Shebat. This is incompatible with the 4 BC eclipse. The 2nd Shebat date came just 15 days after both the 1 BC eclipses


The scroll of fasting does not actually say it was Herod’s death. There is also an alternative unidentified date that is sometimes associated with Herod’s death. It is merely assumed by scholars that either date must go with Herod’s death. According to my research none of these unidentified dates work out if we assume they are for Herod’s death. The 2nd of Shebat came on December 30, 2 BC, and the eclipse was Jan. 9, 1 BC, which would mean Herod died before the eclipse. This is contrary to Josephus. To make it work, Setterfield calculated his month of Shebat a month later than it should have been because he used a modern equinox calculation to figure the beginning of the lunar year in 2 BC. The observational equinox date occurred on March 22, 2 BC, the same day as 15 Nisan. To make it an observational equinox, atmospheric refraction must be included in the calculation. When the sun is observed to set due west then it is the beginning day of the year. It is not when you turn the atmosphere off and do modern calculations. Ancient observations of the sun setting due west always include refraction. The statement “just 15 days after” is not exactly accurate either even with the revised month. The new moon and second day of it after the eclipse of Jan. 9, 1 BC was 2 weeks and 5 days later, i.e. 19 days later.

Trying to use these unknown dates from the Scroll of Fasting is the poorest sort of foundation to build on.

A. Julius Caesar nominated Octavian his son and heir in his will. Julius was murdered on 15th March 44 BC. Will effective from 17th. Octavian and Mark Antony had joint rule from 17th March 44 BC.


The Senate restored the Republic after the assassination. Octavian was not even a consul and the Senate had no wish to see him appointed one. Octavian did not even have an army. Mark Antony was co-consul with Julius Caesar when the later was murdered. The Senate appointed P. Cornelius Dolabella to replace Caesar, and not Octavian. Octavian became consul on 19 August 43 B.C. when he extorted the position from the Senate over a year later after illegally marching the army he had managed to obtain in the year previous into Rome. As far as the Republic was concerned, Caesar’s will had no value insofar as it meant Octavian would be a successor or head of state. Octavian’s de facto power began on 19 August, 43 BC, and it was only legalized by forcing the people to vote in favor of the Triumvirate on Nov. 27, 43 BC.

The reason this mistake is often made, and not by just Setterfield, is to put the 41st and 42nd year of Augustus back a year so that notices of those two years by church historians can be better seen to justify 3 BC dates.

B. A cross-check on Herod: Antony appointed him King of Judea in winter. late in 39 BC. Herod's 1st Regnal year was thus 38 BC. Josephus records that he reigned 37 years from that appointment


Josephus puts Herod’s appointment in 40 BC. And then proceeds to state that Herod reigned 37 years from then, which would end his reign in 4 BC. There is no way to reconcile Josephus on this matter. He is simply wrong, or his figure was changed from a real figure of 40 years. Herod’s years were never in actual reality reckoned this way. They were reckoned beginning in the fall of 38 BC. But some reckon it from the fall of 37 BC (or the spring). These reckonings are based on Josephus’ false consular dates for Herod’s taking of Jerusalem. Josephus give the consular date for 37 BC. Dio Cassius gives the consular date for 38 BC! Dio Cassius is certainly the more reliable historian on this matter.

C. On 2nd September 31 BC, Octavian scattered fleets of Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. Antony and then Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian became ruler of Egypt and undisputed leader of all Roman Legions on that date.


The suicide of Cleopatra was in August 30 BC or after a bit. Augustus began his reign on 1 Thoth in the Egyptian calendar, corresponding to a date in August 30 BC. The first year of his reign is August 30 to August 29 BC. The 28th year of his reign is August 3 BC to August 2 BC. Setterfield puts the 28th year one year too early, as also the reign of Augustus from 19 August 43 BC one year too early. Again, the probably reason for misstating the facts is so that the 28th year of Augustus made be dated one year before it actually was, so that certain statements from the church fathers may either be drawn away from 2 BC dates, or to support more 3 BC dates. And Setterfield has not told us that he is using unparsimonious dates for Augustus’ Egyptian reign.

Saturninus left very early in 2 BC once the census was complete. He was replaced by Quintillius Varus about a year before Herod died.


This supposition assumes Josephus summary is correct. There is in fact a 7 month gap, and over this seven month gap Josephus passed directly from Saturninus to Varus, without mentioning the short term of Quirinius. Saturninus indeed probably left early in 2 BC around May or June. Antipater left for Rome a few months earlier, and was absent for seven months, say April 2 BC to October 2 BC. When Antipater arrived back from Rome, Varus was there to preside over his prosecution for attempted murder of Herod. It is therefore easily supposed that Quirinius filled the vacancy between Saturninus’ departure for the games in Rome and Varus’ arrival in the fall of 2 BC. Tertullian supposes that Saturninus was the legate of Syria when Luke’s census was conducted. This supposition may be because Quirinius’ term was so short, and did not coincide with the start of the Roman year or end with it. I consider the supposition that Quirinius was co-governor with Saturninus not likely for this reason. Tertullian would have named Quirinius instead. Quirinius diplomatic rank was not that of an underling. The Roman Knight Amelius Secundus records only Quirinius on the Lapis Venetus for the census of Apamea. This census was obviously not the inventory of Judea conducted later. If Quirinius had been a co-governor, then the Roman Knight would have been compelled to mention both or the senior legate.

Tertullian must have preferred a winter 2 BC or spring 2 BC date for the birth of Messiah. This is why he says the census was under Sentius Saturninus. Saturninus was on the job as legate of Syria just past the spring of 2 BC. Tertullian does not say Quirinius because he thinks his copy of Luke is mistaken or that Luke made a mistake. If Quirinius had been a co-governor or deputy in the spring or winter of 2 BC then Tertullian would have confirmed Luke by mentioning it. But he could not, because he knew the service dates for Quirinius were between June and early October of 2 BC.

Quintillius Varus did not come on the job until after September 2 BC. He was therefore only on the job as legate less than six months before Herod died. Saturninus did not leave very early in 2 BC, but about half way through it. He was still on the job after Antipater has gone to Rome in April of 2 BC.

E. The decree for the registration and pledge was issued in early August of 3 B.C. and had been completed by the end of the year. F. On February 5, 2 B.C., Augusted was granted, and accepted, the title of Pater Patraie.


There is no proof of any census relating to the Pater Patraie law before Feb. 2 BC. There are some notices of Augustus refusing it. There are also records of some local oaths of loyalty being taken without proof of their being taken in conjunction with this decree. There are also some cases of Romans volunteering the title for Augustus without being ordered to do so by law. Augustus says that, When I administered my thirteenth consulate (2 B.C.E.), the senate and Equestrian order and Roman people all called me father of the country, and voted that the same be inscribed in the vestibule of my temple, in the Julian senate-house, and in the forum of Augustus under the chariot which had been placed there for me by a decision of the senate. When I wrote this I was seventy-six years old (Res Gestae). We can be sure that the the Senate acted before the subject peoples in the provinces were required to participate, because it was in the summer of 2 BC that Yosēf and Miryam set out to Bēƫlehem to be registered. Again there is no evidence that the subject peoples registered before Feb. 5, 2 BC. There are only some cases of usage of the titles volunteered by Romans and some cases of other loyalty oaths or local census takings that scholars try to connect to Luke’s census and the Pater Patriae decree coming from dates in 3 BC. The scholars are only assuming a connection because they need to in order to justify their incorrect chronology of Messiah’s birth. Since it is only assumed, the parsimonious assumption to counter it with is that the legal basis for the decree was passed before the oath taking was required.

Setterfield states it as a fact that the oath taking was before the decree as if he knows it was. This is false. What is stated as a fact is merely an incorrect assumption.

Now Herod since did die after Messiah was born, and the eclipse before his death was on Jan. 9, 1 BC. we can correct the explanation of Josephus’ time line going back a whole year. It has been calculated by Ramsey and Lewin that dispatches between Rome and Judea take from 7 to 8 weeks. Using this information, Antipater’s seven month journey to and from Rome, and the 1 BC death of Herod, we can reconstruct Josephus’ time line.

Josephus states, But being himself suspicious of his father, and having been alarmed not a little […] writes [had written] to his friends at Rome to be sent to Caesar (Ὑφορώμενος δὲ τὸν πατέρα καὶ δεδιώς μὴ εἰς πλεῖον […] γράφει πρὸς τοὺς ἐν Ῥώμῃ φίλους […] πέμπειν ᾗ τάχος Ἀντίπατρον ὡς Καίσαρα). Antipater had written to his friends in Rome about 8 weeks before the Feb. 5, 2 BC decree (Ant. 17:52). Whiston translated the temporal adverb But Antipater had now a suspicion.... which implies he did not write until after the preceding events. There is no such adverb in the Greek! There are only participles describing his state of mind, and then the present tense verb “writes.” If this is not an error then it can be ascribed to the historical present tense, which Herron contends Josephus is known for (Jacob Prasad, Foundations of the Christian Way of Life […], pg. 20, note 67.) Herron, Further, Lightfoot, when he appeals to Josephus’ usage to show that 1 Clement may be using the historical present as well, ignores two important points. One, Josephus is recognized to be the ancient author who used the historical present the most (Clement and the Early Church of Rome, pg. 16.) Therefore, we are compelled to assign Josephus’ tense here to the historical present, and to start of new section with Antipater, where the narrative backtracks a bit. Josephus is not too careful either to tell us which events are background that happened before the main time line. Otherwise we are have to suppose that the Pharisees refused their oath before one was required to be taken. The extra 3 months required for round trip dispatches between Antipater and Rome simply will not fit in the space allotted.

So here is how the events are organized. I have used Thomas Lewin’s time intervals, but I have backed up the time line to the edict to register. It should be noticed that I have transferred Lewin’s relative chronology to the correct year.

Senate Decree     1720728.5  Feb. 5, 2 B.C. Decree dispatched to provinces   
7.4 weeks/52 days     +52    Time to reach Judea                             
                  1720780.5  March 30, 2 B.C. decree executed on Pharisees   
two weeks/14 days     +14    days                                            
                  1720794.5  April 13, 2 B.C. Antipater sets out for Rome    
7 mon./194 days      +194    days  (6.5 months inclusive) Antipater’s absence
                  1720988.5  October 24, 2 B.C.  Return of Antipater         
                        2    days (Lewin)                                    
8 weeks dispatch       56    Herod’s Message to Rome                         
                  1721046.5  Dec. 21, 2 B.C.                                 
one week in Rome        7    Days to decide Antipater’s Punishment           
8 weeks dispatch       56    Days to return the answer                       
                  1721109.5  Feb. 22, 1 B.C., Antipater Executed             
                        5    days                                            
                  1721114.5  Feb. 27, 1 B.C.  (II Adar 2). Herod dies        
                       41    days between Herod’s death and Passover         
                  1721155.5  April 8, 1 B.C. (14 Nisan). Passover.           

This time line comes from Ernest Martin, but I have tossed in +x factors so that it may be meshed with Lewin’s relative chronology.

  Fast 10 Teνeƫ, December 8, 2 B.C.   The sedition of the Rabbis
                                      Matthias deposed, other Matthias arrested
                  January 9, 1 B.C.   Other Matthias executed
    Shebat 12, January 9/10, 1 B.C.   Lunar eclipse 1721066
                    + 7 days Herod’s condition worsens
                    + 7 days at Callirrhoe Baths
                    + x days? (14)
                    + 7 days Plan to murder Israel’s Elders put in motion
                    + 7 days Herod dies, elders released from hippodrome
                     +7  days royal funeral preparations and summons
                    +30 days funeral procession and mourning periods
														+ x days (14).

          total 91 days to 172115,  April 9, 1 B.C.  (15 Nisan, Passover).
          Martin wants 10-12 weeks. There are in fact 13 weeks.

         + x days need to be adjusted to match Lewin’s estimates.


“(1). Shepherds were watching their flocks by night - only when lambs are being born in the spring or autumn, however the flocks would not be in the fields in the spring because they would trample the new crops. They were only allowed in the fields in the autumn to graze the stubble and for the fall lambing season.”


This is a good point. The Talmud explains that the Shepherds went out to the fields after the spring rains, after the Passover. At this point the barley harvest would be well underway. Then they brought their sheep in from the fields just before the fall rains, about November. The additional reason for this pattern is that the combination of cold, rain, and wind was especially hazardous to new born lambs. The shepherds had to have kept breeds of sheep, besides other breeds, that bore their young in the early spring. This way the lambs would be a year old and, old enough to be used in the Temple. March weather can be especially cold, wet, and windy. It is a time they wanted to avoid having young lambs out doors. Luke’s statement that the Shepherds were in the fields combined with the Talmud’s remark on the customary practice makes it likely, though not absolute, that the season during the dry warmer months. Any theory that puts the birth before Passover or after the fall rains begin should definitely lose credibility.

“(2). Revelation 12 depicts the birth of Christ when sun and moon in Virgo. That dates the Nativity as 10th September 3 BC. or 29th September. 2 BC.”


Neither date is correct. Setterfield should have stated August 31-September 1, 2 BC. The alignment is best on this date, and it is the only date that agrees exactly with the priestly divisions and other remarks of Matthew and Luke. Probably the reason Setterfield has left it out is that he assumes a modern definition of the spring equinox. The new moon of month VIII was seen on Sept 30, 2 BC, and it was seen well into Libra, and from a viewer on earth, the position would not be under virgo’s feet or legs, but well to the left of the whole constellation.

“The Wise Men claimed to Herod that the star they followed was visible for 2 years.”


This is not what the text says. Herod learned the time it appeared from the Magi, and then he proceeded to kill all under 24 months. The Magi gave a time less than 24 months before. Herod rounded the timing up so that he would be sure to kill the child. The Magi would have given Herod two dates, corresponding to two helical risings of Jupiter. They would suppose the birth was either at the first or second helical rising, either 7/31-8/1 3 B.C. or 9/1 2 B.C. These were the dates that the star appeared. The wise men would confess that they would have to find the child to know which date was correct.

Furthermore, it was not a question of visibility of the star, but when it first appeared, that is the points of its helical risings.

“Six weeks later, from Jerusalem, the Wise Men saw Jupiter due south on the meridian above Bethlehem. At that time Jupiter had reached its furthest point west, came to a halt and stood still against the background stars in the sky 65 degrees above Bethlehem. It was December 25th.”


This is the book end to the first error in the article, attempting to give credence to December 25. But the dating is false. Jupiter’s furthest west point was on December 27th, 2 B.C. at 22 hours JMT.