Much is based on ancient documents that did not record historical events under precise calendar dates as modern historical records do. Events were just related to a well-known period or the reign of a noted ruler or contemporary. Luke’s method of dating the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-2) is typical of the historian’s method of that day. NT chronology falls into two parts: the life of Christ and the apostolic age.
Life of Christ.
Luke’s statement of the age of Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3:23) links the first two, while the problem of the length of the ministry links the second and third.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was born some time before the death of Herod the Great. Josephus, the Jewish historian who was born A.D. 37, affirms (Antiq. 17.6.4) that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon, which is astronomically fixed at March 12-13, 4 B.C.. His death occurred shortly before Passover, which that year fell on April 4, and his three sons became rulers in that year. The age of Jesus at Herod’s death is not certain. The "two years" for the age of the children killed at Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16) offers no sure indication, since Herod would allow a liberal margin for safety.
It does show that Jesus was born at least some months before Herod’s death.
Christ’s presentation in the temple after he was forty days old (Lev. 12:1-8; Luke 2:22-24) makes it certain that the wise men came at least six weeks after his birth.
(Emphasis mine: This confirms that the Magi or Persians astrologers were viewing a star rising in the east in a particular constellation and traveling west over 200 miles to get to Bethlehem as per the prophecy in Micah 5:2, which Herod even acknowledged in Matthew 2:7-8.)
The flight to Egypt may have been at On, (Heb. ’Own, one, or shortened ‘On, of Egyptian derivation) an ancient city of northern Egypt in the Nile River delta north of modern Cairo, called by the Greeks Heliopolis (City of the Sun) and so translated in the Septuagint (Gen. 41:45, 50; 46:20; cf. Jer. 43:13; Ezek 30:17, both NIV).
On is an Egyptian word signifying "light" or "sun," so the Greek and Hebrew names are fair translations. "Cleopatra’s Needle" of Thames Embankment fame was originally one of the obelisks before the temple of the Sun at On, erected by Thothmes II (1503-1449 B.C.). Two of its obelisks, both known as "Cleopatra's Needle," are now in London and in New York City's Central Park. The temple of the sun was built by Amenophis I. On was founded as an important city long before the unification of Egypt. It was the major center of commerce in northern Egypt. The learned priest, Poti-pherah (Heb. Powtiy Phera’, po’-tee feh’-rah, of Egyptian derivation) of On, whose daughter Asenath (Heb. ’Asenath, aw-se-nath’, of Egyptian derivation) became Joseph’s wife, was a person of considerable importance (Gen. 41:45; 46:20). The worship of the sun god, which was centered there, had peculiar features that suggest Syrian influence, until the rise of Thebes (c. 2100 B.C.). Ra was identified with Baal by Semites and with Apollo by the Greeks. Its importance as a historical repository with famed schools of philosophy and astronomy that declined after the founding of Alexandria in the fourth century B.C.
It is perhaps significant that On is named as the place of sojourn of the holy family after the flight into Egypt. Presently it is a village called El Matariye and on its ruins, the site of the famous temple is marked by one conspicuous obelisk, a monument set up by Sesostris about 2000 B.C.
The time spent in Egypt is uncertain, but it may have been several months. Thus, the birth of Jesus should be placed in the latter part of the year 5 B.C. Herod's war with the king of Arabia and his troubles with Augustus, as well as the problem of the method of taking the census among the Jews, may have delayed the actual census in Palestine for several years, bringing it down to the year 5 B.C.
This file was updated on November 20, 2004.