Many readers will know that I believe the actual birthdate of Jesus was Sept 11, 3 BC. This isn’t based on any original research of my own (here’s a short YouTube video of me discussing the date). Rather, it is based on the work of E. L. Martin’s The Star that Astonished the World (which can be read for free). Most academics are unaware of Martin’s research because he wasn’t a member of the biblical studies guild. Others reject it out of hand because of Martin’s involvement with the old Worldwide Church of God. The quality of one’s research, however, doesn’t depend on having a PhD in biblical studies or whether one is doctrinally correct in all areas. I don’t buy Martin’s views on other things, but I find his work on the birth of the messiah persuasive (and it has a long history of endorsement in planetariums).
As noted, most academics have no inkling about Martin’s work or its basis. In briefest terms, Martin considers Rev 12:1-7 to describe the actual celestial events of the birth of the messiah (which birth is part of the context of Rev 12:1-7). Most New Testament scholars don’t consider Rev 12 as astral prophecy. The major voice in that regard is Bruce Malina, a well-known New Testament scholar. Unfortunately, Malina dramatically overstates his case in his book, On the Genre and Message of the Book of Revelation. Malina argues that (basically) the entirety of the book of Revelation is astral prophecy. Scholars like G. K. Beale and David deSilva have rightly pointed out Malina’s near total neglect of the Old Testament context of John’s Revelation. Malina’s work deserves such criticism. But it’s misguided to think that we have to choose between seeing astral prophecy everywhere in Revelation to the neglect of how John uses the Old Testament, and seeing it nowhere. I don’t buy that either-or fallacy.
Martin’s thesis has, of course, been critiqued in some detail. There are problems, but none of them are insurmountable and can be rebutted with good evidence. This reality, along with the comprehensive explanatory power Martin’s work, as well as the date’s remarkable synchronicity with Jewish messianic symbolism and calendar, make Martin’s work persuasive to me. Most of the criticisms of Martin’s work revolve around the fact that it requires a date of 1 BC for the death of Herod the Great, something that flies in the face of the (current) consensus of 4 BC for that event. Critics of a 1 BC death for Herod that I have read seem oblivious to the past and recent work in defense of that date — at least I have found references to that research lacking in their criticisms. A date of 1 BC for Herod’s death is not only possible, but more accurately reflects the data now available. The two best sources for defending Herod’s death in 1 BC — which, again, seem utterly neglected in criticisms of Martin’s work — are:
1) The difficult to find article by Ormond Edwards, “Herodian Chronology,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 114 (1982): 29-42. Edwards’s article is a study of Herodian coinage and its implications for dating Herod’s reign, including his death. Edwards’ research shows that the death of Herod the Great was Tishri 1, 3 BC (Martin’s Sept 11) by the civil new year’s calendar, or Nisan 1, 2 BC using the ecclesiastical calendar. Edwards writes in his conclusion:
“It is concluded that Josephus in Jewish War was mistaken in his handling of the calendars of the Herodian period. He dated all the Herods’ reigns from the spring new year, whereas the earlier Herods (excluding Agrippa II) dated their coins from the autumn civil new year’s day preceding accession. The error comes to light only when the data in Josephus is compared with the coin dates.”
2) The more recent article by an expert in biblical chronology, Andrew Steinmann, “When Did Herod the Great Reign?” Novum Testamentum 51 (2009) 1-29. The abstract of this article reads:
For about 100 years there has been a consensus among scholars that Herod the Great reigned from 37 to 4 BCE. However, there have been several challenges to this consensus over the past four decades, the most notable being the objection raised by W. E. Filmer. This paper argues that Herod most likely reigned from late 39 BCE to early 1 BCE, and that this reconstruction of his reign can account for all of the surviving historical references to the events of Herod’s reign more logically than the current consensus can. Moreover, the reconstruction of Herod’s reign proposed in this paper accounts for all of the datable evidence relating to Herod’s reign, whereas the current consensus is unable to explain some of the evidence that it dismisses as ancient errors or that it simply ignores.
The above articles are not in the public domain, so I cannot post them. However, I can get copies to interested parties if you subscribe to my email list and the newsletter. This option is only for a limited time. It will start with the next issue (#5) but not continue indefinitely.
There are other issues in Martin’s work that need scrutiny. I’m actually engaged in doing that at present. Having just handed off the manuscript of a new book on 1 Enoch (focused on the importance of the Watchers’ transgression for New Testament theology) that will launch Feb-March 2017, I’m now turning my attention to a partially-written manuscript on astral prophecy. That book will aim to explain what astral prophecy is and isn’t, and expose abuses of it in Christian prophecy talk.
By way of illustrating the abuses, one of the reasons Martin’s work has drawn criticism is because some Christians think that the celestial imagery of Rev 12:1-7 somehow (a) affirms biblical prophecy, or (b) plays a role in future prophecy. The first is simply not true. There was no Old Testament prophecy about the specific astronomical events in Rev 12 signaling the birth of the messiah. The book of Revelation was the last book of the New Testament. It was written well after the birth of Jesus. Revelation 12:1-7 wasn’t a prediction about celestial events and the messiah. Rather, John is giving us the celestial circumstances handed down to him by unnamed witnesses and (effectively) establishing the birth with significant celestial signs. This isn’t a contrivance on his part because the Sept 11 3 BC date must (and does) work with the rest of the chronology of Jesus’ life produced by the New Testament and other sources. In regard to future prophecy, there is no verse in the Bible that tells us: (a) that the signs of Jesus’ birth will be mirrored at his second coming, or (b) that the signs of Rev 12:1-7 are the meaning of “the sign of the son of man” mentioned in relation to the second coming (Matt 24:30). Anyone who tells you they can predict the time of the second coming based on a repetition of the celestial events of Rev 12:1-7 should be ignored.
Another abuse comes from folks out there who are using the celestial signs of Rev 12 to predict the rapture and the tribulation are going to happen on Sept 23, 2017. I’m not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I’m going to predict something: This won’t happen. This is a false prophecy. I’m not going to be chummy toward people who abuse Scripture after the fact, like saying certain passages predicted the fall of the twin towers or an American financial collapse, or [fill in the blank with a modern event impacting America]. Sorry, but America isn’t the focus of biblical prophecy. I don’t care what code language they think they’ve figured out (or had channeled to them by special revelation). Ignore these people. Their exegesis is awful (if I were Ezekiel I might use scatological language now, but like I said, I’m not a prophet).
I have many reasons for criticizing modern “prophetic” use of Rev 12:1-7, but I’ll save that for the book. For now I’ll just say that much of what passes for “application” of Rev 12:1-7 misses something very important: the other celestial signs associated with the birth of Jesus that were present on Sept 11, 3 BC that are not mentioned in Rev 12:1-7 (i.e., there’s a lot more going on in the sky than the items John mentions). Our modern “prophets” don’t seem to be aware of that. But even if they were, see the above — there is nothing in the Bible that says any of this should matter for the second coming.
The bottom line is that if I, or anyone else, tells you they know when the Lord is returning, ignore it. That said, I’m not dumb enough or vain enough (or in the habit of ignoring Matt 24:36) to do that. I’m not going to portray myself as a prophet to dupe you into buying something from me, thinking you’re getting secret information dispensed to me from on high. I just do biblical scholarship and give readers the academic breadcrumb trail. You know the drill if you’ve followed my work for any time. Sure, I’m interested in astral prophecy, but I’m just a biblical scholar. I’m blessed to have an astronomer who has an eye for all this material to provide fodder for consideration and check my own work. Fans of my novel, The Portent, know that person by the name Mantello, as that novel, the sequel to The Facade, weaves astral prophecy into the storyline (which will continue in the third novel). Mantello is not the real name of the astronomer who works with me, nor is he a mute Pakistani teenager, but he is indeed real. I’m meeting with him, Lord willing, in November to talk about the book manuscript. He’s an invaluable resource. Please pray that my time with Mantello is productive.
So, happy birthday Jesus. While only the most callous and inhumane will fail to mourn the loss of so much life on this date in our own memory, let’s not forget the theological significance of the date for the whole world.