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Establishing the Date of Jesus' Birth

The year, month and day of the birth of Jesus Christ has not been absolutely fixed, however an approximate week of the year, and a range of years consistent with Jesus' age and length of earthly ministry up to His crucifixion on April 3rd A.D. 30 has been ascertained.

As demonstrated below, the best fit approximate date for the birth of Jesus Christ is the week of August 13, in 5 B.C. (Julian).

Several bible passages provide information regarding when Jesus Christ was born, some of which can at present be synchronized with historical records:

Analysis (below) of the presently available evidence establishes that Jesus' birth was:

The week of August 13th 5 B.C. best reconciles Jesus' birth date (absent dating Luke's census of Quirinius) with all other conclusive date synchronizations, including;

These date synchronisms are demonstrated in the following table:

          <= BC  AD =>                                                        
Tiberius' Years
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
 
BC/AD
-6
-5
-4
-3
-2
-1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
Jesus' age
0
1
2
3
4
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
Birth ↑
week of Aug 13 


Daniel's 69-week prophecy fulfilled at Jesus' baptism



Crucifixion ↑
3.5 yr
←ministry→
Tiberius' years are offset several months; his 
1st  is offset 10 months from 12 AD
while years beginning with his 
3rd  are offset 8 months from 14 AD

Tiberius' 15th year (reckoned factually) began in September of A.D. 26. If Jesus was born the week of August 13th in 5 B.C. (Julian), then His 30th birthday would have been the week of August 13 in A.D. 26, and commensurately had Jesus been baptized between September and October (at the beginning of Tiberius' 15th year), Jesus would have been "about thirty years of age" in the "fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar", exactly as Luke reported, beginning a 3 and 1/2 year ministry ending with Jesus' crucifixion on April 3rd of A.D. 30, approximately four months before His 34th birthday in August.

Two earlier birth date possibilities (during the week August 5, 7 B.C. or the week of August 25, 6 B.C., Julian) though valid computationally, are both discounted as they violate the synchronism in Luke's account that Jesus be "about 30" years old in Tiberius' 15th year (A.D. 26).

Not having dates for the "Star of Bethlehem" or Herod's massacre of the infants does not detract from the existing affirmative evidence and analysis. However, a confirmed date for Luke's census of Quirinus would be probative. The absence of such records does not disprove Luke's account, but like evidence for Belshazzar was unearthed 2500 years after Daniel identified him, perhaps someday Luke's census of Quirinius will be dated and further fix the year of Jesus birth.

 

Ambiguity of dates for Luke's census of Quirinius

The principal problem with precisely fixing the year of Jesus' birth involves Luke's synchronizing it with a Roman census taken while Quirinius governed Syria:

(NASB) Luk 2:1-3 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

The historical evidence to date does not conclusively identify to what Luke referred. There is some ambiguity in the phrase 'hegemoneúo of Syria' as it is neither a known title of Syria nor of Quirinius, and the historical records, monuments and artifacts do not precisely identify what 'apographo' (Roman census or registration) Jesus' parents were obeying, all consistent with Jesus' birth necessarily before the death of Herod the Great in early 4 B.C. While Luke referred to Pontius Pilate also as the hegemoneúo (and Matthew similarly referred to him as the 'hegemon'), we now now that Pilate's actual Roman title was "Prefect".

There were several Roman leaders in charge of Syria in differing capacities over the period in question, and resolving the ambiguity of Quirinius' responsibility and conflicts with other historical figures becomes important. As little new can be added to the analysis here at this time, see "The Census of Quirinius - The Historicity of Luke 2:1-5" by Ronald Marchant for a treatment of establishing a birth date based on a census of Quirinius, and see "The Honorand of the Titulus Tiburtinus" by Nikos Kokkinos and "C. Sentius Saturninus, Piso Pontifex, and the Titulus Tiburtinus, a reply" by C. Eilers for a discussion of a fragmented monument which possibly identifies either Quirinius, Piso, or Saturninus as having been legate twice, the second of which was of Syria. These sources are not offered to establish a date for Luke's census of Quirinius but rather to illustrate the issues and ambiguity of the historical record.

More recently, using a source-critical methodology successfully employed by Daniel Schwartz and others, John Rhoads notes the "susceptibility of Josephus to mistaken duplications and to reporting contemporaneous events from different sources as if they happened at different times" [p. 67] and re-examined Josephus' texts regarding Quirinius, concluding that Josephus misdated Quirinius' census:

IV. SUMMARY
We can now summarize the Josephan evidence for locating the census of Quirinius during the reign of Herod the Great.  First of all, name, provenance, being identifiable by reference to his father, and the context and content of both his teaching and his activity all combine to support the conclusion that the three accounts of an insurrectionist named Judas actually all reflect the same figure active during the last days of Herod the Great.  Second, although the high priesthood data is still difficult, having Joazar active in bringing about cooperation in the taxation also fits the time of Herod the Great better than assuming a variety of unrecorded appointments in order to account for the multiple deposals.  Herod exalted Joazar to the high priesthood in opposition to the supporters of Judas, and his deposal by either Sabinus/Quirinius or Archelaus after the disturbances associated with Herod’s death makes sense while an AD 6 deposal by Quirinius does not.  Third, by identifying Quirinius and Sabinus, we not only have the man responsible for the census located in Judea during the last days of Herod the Great and an explanation for the earlier reference to Coponius at Antipater’s trial but also a very plausible rationale for the extraordinary behavior of Sabinus.  Certainly, these three sets of data taken individually may not be ultimately persuasive, but on must consider their combined weight for adding greater plausibility to the account of Luke.

Admittedly, some readers may still find the standard reading more plausible.  These readers may acknowledge that Josephus was susceptible to mistaking numbers or changing dates but insist that he did not err with the date of the census.  They may acknowledge that Josephus was susceptible to the ambiguity between “Archelaus” and “King Herod” but insist that he was not guilty when reporting the mission of Quirinius.  These readers may additionally find it more plausible that two insurgents against Herod were active within weeks of each other around the time of Herod’s death, both named Judas, both with connections to Sepphoris, and both nicknamed in connection with a famous father.  They may also prefer that while one was executed by Herod the Great for raiding Herod’s temple, the other one would wait ten years after raiding Herod’s armory to adopt the same manner and substance of the teaching of the first, only to have his revolt against the taxation-census be opposed by the very same high priest who had opposed the earlier Judas even though this high priest was reportedly deposed twice during those ten years.  Indeed, remaining faithful to the story as told by Josephus, they insist that the similarity between Sabinus and Quirinius in both title and activity must be just as coincidental as the similarity in the accounts of Judas and Joazar but that the mention of Coponius at Antipater’s trial is some unexplained spurious insertion into the text.  Admittedly, these readers may with stomped foot insist that all these features of the standard account are more plausible than this reconstruction offered here.
[p. 87]

John H. Rhoads, "Josephus Misdated the Census of Quirinius",
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 54 no. 1 (March 2011) pp. 65–87

 

Month and week of Jesus' birth

A range of non-contradictory and likely dates can be established from passages in the Bible and Rabbinic writings, based on Jesus' birth relative to when John the Baptist was likely conceived. Luke reports:

(NASB) Luk 1:5, 8-9 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. ... Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.

(NASB) Luk 1:13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.

(NASB) Luk 1:24 After these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying,

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

(Note, the above passages establish that Elizabeth would conceive John shortly upon Zacharias' return from Temple service.)

As demonstrated in the table Priestly Divisions for Temple Service (below), Zacharias would be serving during Iyar 29th through Sivan 11th and Kislev 3rd through Kislev 9th. It is assumed that Zacharias returned home in the week following each ministration at which time Elizabeth conceived. Luke continues:

(NASB) Luk 1:26-27, 36 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. ... "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.

(NASB) Luk 1:41-42 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

(Note, the above passages establish that Mary conceived of Jesus when Elizabeth was in her sixth month with John the Baptist.)

The Hebrew calendar used alternating 30 and 29 day months, so given that John the Baptist was conceived six months before Jesus, that puts the month of Jesus' birth at 443 days relative to John's conception (computed as 266 days for the average human pregnancy from conception to birth plus 177 days for 3 29-day months and 3 30-day months). Assuming then John is conceived upon Zacharias' return from Temple service in either the 3rd week of Sivan (12th - 18th) or the 2nd week of Kislev (10th - 16th), the dates for Jesus' birth relative to Zacharias' Temple service can be computed and are summarized in the following table:

Below, 1st ministration:
    
2nd ministration:
    
Year
Jesus' birth relative to John's conception:
John conceived after Zacharias':
B.C.
A.M.
1st ministration
2nd mininstration
1st ministration
2nd mininstration
8
3753
    Sivan 12, 3753  
7
3754
Av 10 August 3*   Sivan 12, 3754 Kislev 10, 3754
6
3755
Elul 11 August 23* Shevat 10 January 27* Sivan 12, 3755 Kislev 10, 3755
5
3756
Elul 10 August 11* Adar 8 February 14*   Kislev 10, 3756
4
3757
    Adar I 8 February 3*    

* these are Gregorian dates converted from the Hebrew dates using the Fourmilab Calendar Converter

Historically, the rainy season in Palestine begins with the early rains in the month of Heshvan (mid-October) and runs through Iyar (mid-May), with the heaviest rains mid season accounting for 70 percent of Bethlehem's annual rainfall and the latter rains in Nisan (see "Ancient Ecologies and the Biblical Perspective" by Edwin M. Yamauchi, Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 32.4, Dec. 1980, pp. 193-202). Temperatures in Bethlehem during the coldest months of Tevet and Shevat (mid December through mid-February) can reach lows of 35 degrees Fahrenheit while averaging about 55 (1.6 and 12.7 degrees Celsius, respectively). See Correspondence of weather, crops, and ancient Mediterranean sailing seasons to Hebrew months for more details.

Further opinion on shepherds not keeping their flocks in fields around Bethlehem during the "rainy season" (winter) is given by:

Adam Clarke:

Keeping watch - by night - Or, as in the margin, keeping the watches of the night, i.e. each one keeping a watch (which ordinarily consisted of three hours) in his turn. The reason why they watched them in the field appears to have been, either to preserve the sheep from beasts of prey, such as wolves, foxes, etc., or from freebooting banditti, with which all the land of Judea was at that time much infested. It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point. See the quotations from the Talmudists in Lightfoot.

Adam Clarke, Luke 2, verse 8,
Commentary on the Bible (1831)

Albert Barnes:

Abiding in the field - Remaining out of doors, under the open sky, with their flocks. This was commonly done. The climate was mild, and, to keep their flocks from straying, they spent the night with them. It is also a fact that the Jews sent out their flocks into the mountainous and desert regions during the summer months, and took them up in the latter part of October or the first of November, when the cold weather commenced. While away in these deserts and mountainous regions, it was proper that there should be someone to attend them to keep them from straying, and from the ravages of wolves and other wild beasts. It is probable from this that our Saviour was born before the 25th of December, or before what we call “Christmas.” At that time it is cold, and especially in the high and mountainous regions about Bethlehem.

Albert Barnes, Luke 2, verse 8,
Notes on the Whole Bible (1870)

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown:

watch . . . by night--or, night watches, taking their turn of watching. From about Passover time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that time. (From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord's birth is too late).

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Luke 2 verse 8,
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)

The coldest period with the greatest precipitation are the two months of Tevet and Shevat, followed by two more months of the "latter rains". It is implausible that shepherds would remain in (or return to) the fields in the hills with their flocks across these two worst months, and consequently the three "rainy season" (winter) birth dates in Shevat and Adar are discounted, leaving the three late-summer dates in the months of Av and Elul.

So, by the Gregorian calendar (extrapolated back to the B.C. era) relative to Zacharias' Temple ministrations and shepherds being in their fields before the rainy season, Jesus was possibly born during the weeks of August 3, 7 B.C., August 23, 6 B.C., or August 11, 5 B.C.

However, the earlier dates in the weeks of August 3, 7 B.C. and August 23, 6 B.C. are both discounted as they violate the synchronism that Jesus be "about 30" in 26 A.D., leaving the week of August 11, 5 B.C. (all Gregorian dates) as the best-fit for the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

Star of Bethlehem and Herod the Great's massacre of infants

A confirmed date (and corequisite identification of the astronomical phenomena) for the Star of Bethlehem, would establish two criteria for the birth date of Jesus:

The "Star of Bethlehem" is what drew the Magi to seek the new born Jesus, as Matthew records:

(NASB) Mat 2:1-2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him."

(NASB) Mat 2:9-10 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

Several natural phenomena have been proposed as explanations for the star the Magi followed:

None of these natural explanations are precise or detailed enough to offer a conclusive date. Though a comet's slow apparent motion makes it a plausible candidate, comets generally have tails, are recognizable and not described as "stars", and are usually bad omens not heralding a Messiah. Planetary conjuctions don't seem to have the proper duration or brightness, and don't fit the possible dates established by other evidence. The unmistakable sudden (and temporary) burst of light from a super nova is also a plausible candidate, but they wouldn't have an apparent motion (unless they were close enough to Earth to also do some notable damage).

Regardless, a natural explanation, though supportive if one actually fit, is not really required. There are many miraculous phenomena associated with Jesus Christ: virgin birth, miracles, transfiguration and resurrection, none of which have natural explanations, and the Star of Bethlehem may well be similar.

The evasion by the Magi (coincident with the Star of Bethlehem) precipitated Herod's slaying of male infants under two years of age (ostensibly intended to include Jesus):

(NASB) Mat 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

However, the evidence for dating both the Star of Bethlehem (aside from Humphreys' nonspecific suggestion of a comet in 5 B.C. which might correspond with a birth date of August 23, 5 B.C.) and Herod's massacre of the infants is at present inconclusive.

 

Dating the death of Herod the Great

The date of Herod's death constrains the date of Jesus' birth, since Jesus could not have been born later than Herod's death. Matthew records that Jesus had already been born when Herod the Great sought to kill Him, and returned to Israel from Egypt upon Herod's death:

(NASB) Mat 2:13-15 Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. 15 He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "OUT OF EGYPT I CALLED MY SON."

(NASB) Mat 2:16 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.

(NASB) Mat 2:19-20 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, 20 "Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead."

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

The March 4 B.C. date for the death of Herod the Great is established on essentially two bases:

  1. Reconciled chronology of the events in Herod the Great's life, incuding his sons and heirs, and;
  2. a synchronicity of a lunar eclipse at a fast, followed by Herod's death, followed by Passover, as reported by Josephus:

Now it happened during this Matthias’ term as high priest that another high priest was appointed for a single day - that which the Jews observe as a fast - for the following reason.  While serving as priest during the night preceding the day on which the fast occurred, Matthias seemed in a dream to have intercourse with a woman, and since he was unable to serve as a priest because of that experience, a relative of his, Joseph, the son of Ellemus, served as priest in his place. Herod then deposed Matthias from the high priesthood.  As for the other Matthias [son of Margalothus], who had stirred up the sedition, he [Herod] burnt him alive along with some of his companions. And on that same night there was an eclipse of the moon.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.165-167,
Loeb Classical Library (1963) trans. Ralph Marcus

An analysis of three chronolgies of the years of Herod the Great as well as his sons and heirs demonstrates the entirety of Herod's life from his being appointed governor of Galilee in 47 B.C. to his death in 4 B.C. followed by the reigns of his sons, and Roman consulships, all reconcile consistently and accurrately with straight forward interpretation of historical texts and coins. To summarize:

 

Date of Jesus' birth relative to Zacharias' Temple service

Assuming Mary gave birth to Jesus 443 days after Elizabeth (and Zacharias) likely conceived with John the Baptist, the following table demonstrates the intercalated days and months of the Hebrew civil calendar for those four years during which Jesus was most likely born: 7, 6, 5 or 4 B.C., relative to Zacharias' return from his Temple ministration:

Dates later than 4 B.C. are not considered because Herod the Great had died in early 4 B.C. and ostensibly the future 'King of the Jews' whom the Magi sought to visit, and Herod sought to kill, had already been born. Dates earlier than 7 B.C. are not considered because such put the age of Jesus at His crucifixion in A.D. 30 beyond 37 years following a 3.5 year earthly ministry beginning when He was "about 30" years of age (Luke 3:23) in A.D. 26, Tiberius' 15th year.

Note the following months are ordered by the Hebrew civil calendar running Tishri through Elul because it is the civil calendar that is intercalated and postponement rules applied to then determine the sacred calendar.

Zacharias' 1st:
    
and 2nd ministration:
    
rainy season:
    
coldest months:
    

Cummulative days to Jesus' birth relative to John's conception in:
     
3753 A.M.
3754 A.M.
3755 A.M.
3756 A.M.
 
Year
Sivan 12th
Kislev 10th
Sivan 12th
Kislev 10th
Sivan 12th
Kislev 10th
days in Hebrew month
A.M.
B.C.
            30 Tishri
3753
-9
            30 Heshvan (common complete)
3753
-9
            30 Kislev
3753
-9
            29 Tevet
3753
-8
            30 Shevat
3753
-8
            29 Adar
3753
-8
            30 Nisan
3753
-8
            29 Iyar
3753
-8
(12th) 19
          30 Sivan
3753
-8
48
          29 Tammuz
3753
-8
78
          30 Av
3753
-8
107
          29 Elul
3753
-8
137
          30 Tishri
3754
-8
166
          29 Heshvan
3754
-8
195
(10th) 20
        29 Kislev (embolismic deficient)
3754
-8
224
49
        29 Tevet
3754
-8
254
79
        30 Shevat
3754
-7
284
109
        30 Adar I (embolismic deficient)
3754
-7
313
138
        29 Adar II (embolismic deficient)
3754
-7
343
168
        30 Nisan
3754
-7
372
197
        29 Iyar
3754
-7
402
227
(12th) 19
      30 Sivan
3754
-7
431
256
48
      29 Tammuz
3754
-7
(10th) 443
286
78
      30 Av
3754
-7
 
315
107
      29 Elul
3754
-7
 
345
137
      30 Tishri
3755
-7
 
374
166
      29 Heshvan
3755
-7
 
404
196
(10th) 21
    30 Kislev
3755
-7
 
433
225
50
    29 Tevet
3755
-6
 
(10th) 443
255
80
    30 Shevat
3755
-6
284
109
29 Adar
3755
-6
   
314
139
    30 Nisan
3755
-6
   
343
168
    29 Iyar
3755
-6
   
373
198
(12th) 19
  30 Sivan
3755
-6
   
402
227
48
  29 Tammuz
3755
-6
   
432
257
78
  30 Av
3755
-6
   
(11th) 443
286
107
  29 Elul
3755
-6
     
316
137
  30 Tishri
3756
-6
     
346
167
  30 Heshvan (common complete)
3756
-6
     
376
197
(10th) 21
30 Kislev
3756
-6
     
405
226
50
29 Tevet
3756
-5
     
435
256
80
30 Shevat
3756
-5
     
(8th) 443
285
109
29 Adar
3756
-5
       
315
139
30 Nisan
3756
-5
       
344
168
29 Iyar
3756
-5
       
374
198
30 Sivan
3756
-5
       
403
227
29 Tammuz
3756
-5
       
433
257
30 Av
3756
-5
       
(10th) 443
286
29 Elul
3756
-5
         
316
30 Tishri
3757
-5
         
346
30 Heshvan (embolismic complete)
3757
-5
         
376
30 Kislev
3757
-5
         
405
29 Tevet
3757
-5
         
435
30 Shevat
3757
-4
         
(8th) 443
30 Adar I (embolismic complete)
3757
-4
            29 Adar II (embolismic complete)
3757
-4
            30 Nisan
3757
-4
            29 Iyar
3757
-4
            30 Sivan
3757
-4
            29 Tammuz
3757
-4
            30 Av
3757
-4
            29 Elul
3757
-4

 

Priestly divisions or courses for Temple service

The scriptural support to convert Zacharias' being in the division of Abijah to a date range comes from 1 Chronicles 24. As the divisions are for daily and festival service in the Temple, the division dating is reckoned by the Hebrew sacred calendar running Nisan through Adar. The table below shows the week of the Hebrew sacred calendar in which each division is assigned for service (ministration):

1Ch 24:4-19 Since more chief men were found from the descendants of Eleazar than the descendants of Ithamar, they divided them thus: there were sixteen heads of fathers' households of the descendants of Eleazar and eight of the descendants of Ithamar, according to their fathers' households. 5 Thus they were divided by lot, the one as the other; for they were officers of the sanctuary and officers of God, both from the descendants of Eleazar and the descendants of Ithamar. 6 Shemaiah, the son of Nethanel the scribe, from the Levites, recorded them in the presence of the king, the princes, Zadok the priest, Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and the heads of the fathers' households of the priests and of the Levites; one father's household taken for Eleazar and one taken for Ithamar.
7 Now the first lot came out for Jehoiarib, the second for Jedaiah,
8 the third for Harim, the fourth for Seorim,
9 the fifth for Malchijah, the sixth for Mijamin,
10 the seventh for Hakkoz, the eighth for Abijah,
11 the ninth for Jeshua, the tenth for Shecaniah,
12 the eleventh for Eliashib, the twelfth for Jakim,
13 the thirteenth for Huppah, the fourteenth for Jeshebeab,
14 the fifteenth for Bilgah, the sixteenth for Immer,
15 the seventeenth for Hezir, the eighteenth for Happizzez,
16 the nineteenth for Pethahiah, the twentieth for Jehezkel,
17 the twenty-first for Jachin, the twenty-second for Gamul,
18 the twenty-third for Delaiah, the twenty-fourth for Maaziah.
19 These were their offices for their ministry when they came in to the house of the LORD according to the ordinance given to them through Aaron their father, just as the LORD God of Israel had commanded him.

Note the following months are ordered by the Hebrew sacred calendar running Nisan through Adar:

Zacharias' 1st :
    
and 2nd ministration:
    

 Wk
 Hebrew
Month
 Gregorian
Month
 Hebrew Weekly Dates
 Temple Division and Festival
 1
 Nisan (30)  March (31)  Nisan 1 - Nisan 7  first lot for Jehoiarib (1st ministration)
 2
 Nisan 8 - Nisan 14  second for Jedaiah, (1st ministration)
 April (30)
 3
 Nisan 15 - Nisan 21

 All 24 divisions at Passover & Unleavened Bread

 4
 Nisan 22 - Nisan 28  third for Harim, (1st ministration)
 5
 Nisan 29 - Iyar 5  fourth for Seorim, (1st ministration)
 Iyar (29)
 6
 Iyar 6 - Iyar 12  fifth for Malchijah, (1st ministration)
 7
 May (31)  Iyar 13 - Iyar 19  sixth for Mijamin, (1st ministration)
 8
 Iyar 20 - Iyar 26  seventh for Hakkoz, (1st ministration)
 9
 Iyar 29 - Sivan 4  eighth for Abijah, (1st ministration)
 Sivan (30)
 10
 Sivan 5 - Sivan 11  All 24 divisions serve for Pentecost
 11
 Sivan 12 - Sivan 18  ninth for Jeshua, (1st ministration)
 June (30)
 12
 Sivan 19 - Sivan 25  tenth for Shecaniah, (1st ministration)
 13
 Sivan 26 - Tammuz 2  eleventh for Eliashib, (1st ministration)
 Tammuz (29)
 14
 Tammuz 3 - Tammuz 9  twelfth for Jakim, (1st ministration)
 15
 Tammuz 10 - Tammuz 16  thirteenth for Huppah, (1st ministration)
 July (31)
 16
 Tammuz 17 - Tammuz 23  fourteenth for Jeshebeab, (1st ministration)
 17
 Tammuz 24 - Av 1  fifteenth for Bilgah, (1st ministration)
 Av (30)
 18
 Av 2 - Av 8  sixteenth for Immer, (1st ministration)
 19
 Av 9 - Av 15  seventeenth for Hezir, (1st ministration)
 20
 Av 16 - Av 22  eighteenth for Happizzez, (1st ministration)
 August (31)
 21
 Av 23 - Av 29  nineteenth for Pethahiah, (1st ministration)
 22
 Av 30- Elul 6  twentieth for Jehezkel, (1st ministration)
 Elul (29)
 23
 Elul 7 - Elul 13  twenty-first for Jachin, (1st ministration)
 24
 Elul 14 - Elul 20  twenty-second for Gamul, (1st ministration)
 September (30)
 25
 Elul 21 - Elul 27  twenty-third for Delaiah, (1st ministration)
 26
 Elul 28 - Tishri 5  twenty-fourth for Maaziah. (1st ministration)
 Tishri (30)
 27
 Tishri 6 - Tishri 12  first lot for Jehoiarib (2nd ministration)
 28
 Tishri 13 - Tishri 19  All 24 divisions at Tabernacles (or Succoth)
 October (31)
 29
 Tishri 20 - Tishri 26  second for Jedaiah, (2nd ministration)
 30
 Tishri 27 - Heshvan 3  third for Harim, (2nd ministration)
 Heshvan (29)
 31
 Heshvan 4 - Heshvan 10  fourth for Seorim, (2nd ministration)
 32
 Heshvan 11 - Heshvan 17  fifth for Malchijah, (2nd ministration)
 33
 Heshvan 18 - Heshvan 24  sixth for Mijamin, (2nd ministration)
 November (30)
 34
 Heshvan 25 - Kislev 2  seventh for Hakkoz, (2nd ministration)
 Kislev (30)
 35
 Kislev 3 - Kislev 9  eighth for Abijah, (2nd ministration)
 36
 Kislev 10 - Kislev 16  ninth for Jeshua, (2nd ministration)
 37
 Kislev 17 - Kislev 23  tenth for Shecaniah, (2nd ministration)
 December (31)
 38
 Kislev 24 - Kislev 30  eleventh for Eliashib, (2nd ministration)
 39
 Tevet (29)  Tevet 1 - Tevet 7  twelfth for Jakim, (2nd ministration)
 40
 Tevet 8 - Tevet 14  thirteenth for Huppah, (2nd ministration)
 41
 Tevet 15 - Tevet 21  fourteenth for Jeshebeab, (2nd ministration)
 42
 January (31)  Tevet 22 - Tevet 28  fifteenth for Bilgah, (2nd ministration)
 43
 Tevet 29 - Shevat 6  sixteenth for Immer, (2nd ministration)
 Shevat (30)
 44
 Shevat 7 - Shevat 13  seventeenth for Hezir, (2nd ministration)
 45
 Shevat 14 - Shevat 20  eighteenth for Happizzez, (2nd ministration)
 46
 Shevat 21 - Shevat 27  nineteenth for Pethahiah, (2nd ministration)
 February (28)
 47
 Shevat 28 - Adar 4  twentieth for Jehezkel, (2nd ministration)
 Adar (29)
 48
 Adar 5 - Adar 11  twenty-first for Jachin, (2nd ministration)
 49
 Adar 12 - Adar 18  twenty-second for Gamul, (2nd ministration)
 50
 Adar 19 - Adar 25  twenty-third for Delaiah, (2nd ministration)
 March (31)
 51
 Adar 26 - ?  twenty-fourth for Maaziah. (2nd ministration)
 
 52

 

Each division ministers twice during the year and all divisions minister on each of the festivals of Passover & Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (or Succoth):

That each division (also "course", "watch" or "guard") served twice is implied in that were they only to serve once, then 24 weeks out of the year there would be no priests in the Temple to offer the daily sacrifices, which omission didn't happen during any of the Temple periods. That all divisions served on Passover & Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles is stated in Tractates Sukkah and Taanith:

The Mishna, Tractate Sukkah:

7. At three periods of the year1 all the twenty-four orders of priests shared equally in the offerings of the festivals and in the distribution of the shewbread.

1 On the three great festivals, Exod. xxiii. 14-16.

The Mishna, 2nd division "Moed" (Festival), 6th Tractate "Sukkah" (Tabernacle), chapter V
A.W. Greenup, trans. Sukkah, Mishna and Tosefta, Macmillan (1925) p. 60

The Mishna, Tractate Taanith:

2. This is the origin of the ma'amadoth.1 It is written, Command the children of Israel and say unto them, My offering, my bread. But how can a man's offering be presented if he stand not by it? So the former prophets3 instituted twenty-four guards (mishmaroth); and corresponding to each guard was a post (ma'amad) of priests, Levites, and Israelites stationed in Jerusalem. When the time came that a guard should go up to Jerusalem, the priests and Levites belonging to it went up, whilst the Israelites who belonged to that guard assembled themselves in their cities to read the story of creation.

1 "stations," or "posts." The people, like the priests and the Levites, were divided into twenty-four courses, representatives of which took their turn every day for a week to stand by whilst the daily sacrifice was being offered. See Tos. IV. 2. In Tamid V.6 it is assumed that the "head of the station" was always present in Jerusalem.

3 David and Samuel.

A.W. Greenup, trans. The Mishna Tractate Taanith Palestine House (1921) p. 28

Each division ministration began and ended on a sabbath, running eight days with incoming and outgoing divisions overlapping on the sabbath, as alluded to in:

The Mishna, Tractate Tamid:

1. The superintendent now said to them, "Recite one blessing." They did so; they read the Ten Commandments, Shema, Ve-haya Im Shamo'a, Va-yomer. They recited together with the people three Blessings: Emet ve-Yatziv, Avodah and Birkat Kohanim. On Shabbat they would add a fourth Blessing for the outgoing watch.

The Mishna, 3rd division "Kedoshim", Tractate Tamid, chapter V

2nd Kings 11:9 and 2nd Chronicles 23:8:

(NASB) 2Ki 11:9 So the captains of hundreds did according to all that Jehoiada the priest commanded. And each one of them took his men who were to come in on the sabbath, with those who were to go out on the sabbath, and came to Jehoiada the priest.

(NASB) 2Ch 23:8 So the Levites and all Judah did according to all that Jehoiada the priest commanded. And each one of them took his men who were to come in on the sabbath, with those who were to go out on the sabbath, for Jehoiada the priest did not dismiss any of the divisions.

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

Josephus:

[David] had prepared, as we have said already. He divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the priests from them, he found of these priests twenty-four courses, sixteen of the house of Eleazar, and eight of that of Ithamar; and he ordained that one course should minister to God eight days, from sabbath to sabbath. And thus were the courses distributed by lot, in the presence of David, and Zadok and Abiathar the high priests, and of all the rulers; and that course which came up first was written down as the first, and accordingly the second, and so on to the twenty-fourth; and this partition hath remained to this day.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book 7, Chapter 14, Para. 7
William Whiston, trans. (1736)

and Alfred Edersheim elaborates on the 'courses' of Temple service in Jesus' time:

The Twenty-four Courses

This much it seemed necessary to state for the general understanding of the matter. Full details belong to the exposition of the meaning and object of the Levitical priesthood, as instituted by God, while our present task rather is to trace its further development to what it was at the time when Jesus was in the Temple. The first peculiarity of post-Mosaic times which we here meet, is the arrangement of the priesthood into 'twenty-four courses,' which undoubtedly dates from the times of David. But Jewish tradition would make it even much older. For, according to the Talmud, it should be traced up to Moses, who is variously supposed to have arranged the sons of Aaron into either or else sixteen courses (four, or else eight, of Eleazar; and the other four, or else eight, of Ithamar), to which, on the one supposition, Samuel and David each added other eight 'courses,' or, on the other, Samuel and David, in conjunction, the eight needed to make up the twenty-four mentioned in 1 Chronicles 24. It need scarcely be told that, like many similar statements, this also is simply an attempt to trace up every arrangement to the fountain-head of Jewish history, in order to establish its absolute authority.

The Courses After the Captivity

The institution of David and of Solomon continued till the Babylonish captivity. Thence, however, only four out of the twenty-four 'courses' returned: those of Jedaiah, Immer, Pashur, and Harim (Ezra 2:36-39), the course of 'Jedaiah' being placed first because it was of the high-priest's family, 'of the house of Jeshua,' 'the son of Jozadak' (Ezra 3:2; Hagg 1:1; 1 Chron 6:15). To restore the original number, each of these four families was directed to draw five lots for those which had not returned, so as to form once more twenty-four courses, which were to bear the ancient names. Thus, for example, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, did not really belong to the family of Abijah (1 Chron 24:10), which had not returned from Babylon, but to the 'course of Abia,' which had been formed out of some other family, and only bore the ancient name (Luke 1:5). Like the priests, the Levites had at the time of King David been arranged into twenty-four 'courses,' which were to act as 'priests' assistance' (1 Chron 23:4,28), as 'singers and musicians' (1 Chron 25:6), as 'gate-keepers and guards' (1 Chron 26:6 and following), and as 'officers and judges.' Of these various classes, that of the 'priests' assistants' was by far the most numerous, * and to them the charge of the Temple had been committed in subordination to the priests.

The Week's Service

Each 'course' of priests and of Levites (as has already been stated) came on duty for a week, from one Sabbath to another. The service of the week was subdivided among the various families which constituted a 'course'; so that if it consisted of five 'houses of fathers,' three served each one day, and two each two days; if of six families, five served each one day, and one two days; if of eight families, six served each one day, and the other two in conjunction on one day; or, lastly, if of nine families, five served each one day, and the other four took it two in conjunction for two days. These divisions and arrangements were made by 'the chiefs' or 'heads of the houses of their fathers.' On Sabbaths the whole 'course' was on duty; on feast-days any priest might come up and join in the ministrations of the sanctuary; and at the Feast of Tabernacles all the twenty-four courses were bound to be present and officiate. While actually engaged on service in the Temple, the priests were not allowed to drink wine, either by day or by night. The other 'families' or 'houses' also of the 'course' who were in attendance at Jerusalem, though not on actual duty, were, during their week of ministry, prohibited the use of wine, except at night, because they might have to be called in to assist their brethren of the officiating 'family,' which they could not do if they had partaken of strong drink. The law even made (a somewhat curious) provision to secure that the priests should come up to Jerusalem properly trimmed, washed, and attired, so as to secure the decorum of the service.

Alfred Edersheim, "The Officiating Priesthood" - Chap. 4,
The Temple: Its Ministry and Services (1881)



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(last updated April 22 2014)