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The Antedating of the Reign of Tiberius Caesar

Tiberius Caesar antedated his reign to a point in time about 10 years before the death of Caesar Augustus.

1. Antedating did occur in the reigns of some first century Roman emperors. Dio describes the reigns of the emperors Galba, Otho, and Vitellius as lasting, respectively, 9 month and 13 days, 90 days, and 1 year minus 10 days (for a total of about 2 years time). Yet he gives the length of time from Neroís death to the start of Vespasianís reign (the time frame containing the rules of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) as only 1 year and 22 days. Dioís explanation is a classic example of antedating:

ďFor they did not succeed one another legitimately, but each of them, even while his rival was alive and still ruling, believed himself to be emperor from the moment that he even got a glimpse of the throne.Ē (Dio, Roman History, 66.17.5)

Though he complains about antedating in the reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, Dio himself accepts antedating in the reign of Vespasian to a time several months before the death of Vitellius. Furthermore, many modern scholars accepts the idea that Tiberius antedated his reign to a point in time at least a couple of years before the death of Augustus.

2. Tiberius first came to power in the Roman Empire about 10 years before the death of Augustus.

Dr. E. Jerry Vardaman points out a possible starting point for the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Chronos, Kairos, Christos, p. 59-61). About ten years before the death of Caesar Augustus, a grandson of Augustus named Gaius, who had been chosen by Augustus to be the next emperor of Rome, died. Another of Augustusí grandsons, named Lucius, had also died a couple of years earlier. Tiberius was somewhat in disfavor in the years before the deaths of Lucius and Gaius. He was in voluntary exile on the island of Rhodes and had little power in the Roman empire. But after their death, Augustus chose Tiberius as his successor, adopted him as his son, and gave him a ten-year decree of power. About ten years later, Augustus died and Tiberius succeeded him as emperor of Rome.

At that time in history, it was not uncommon for rulers to date the beginning of their reigns from as early a date as possible, a practice called ďantedating.Ē Therefore, it is possible that Tiberius Caesar also counted the beginning of his reign as emperor from the earliest possible date, from about the time that he was chosen as the heir to the throne and given the name of Caesar.

In the usual chronology, Augustus died in A.D. 14, and the sudden rise of Tiberius to power occurred in A.D. 4. However, the evidence from astronomy places the death of Augustus in A.D. 10, four years earlier. So, in this revised chronology, the death of Gaius and the appointment of Tiberius as the successor to Augustus must also be placed four years earlier, during the year 1 B.C. Augustus appointed Tiberius as his successor by adopting him, on June 26, so that he would inherit the throne. The Roman custom was to count the first full calendar year of an emperor's reign as year one. Therefore, we should count the antedated reign of Tiberius as beginning with the first full calendar year after he was chosen to be the successor to Augustus, which is A.D. 1.

3. A long gap in the account of Josephus
If the first full year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar was A.D. 1, rather than A.D. 11, (the year after the death of Augustus in A.D. 10, by my revised dates), then there was a ten-year overlap in their reigns. This ten-year overlap can be discerned in the writings of the ancient Jewish Roman historian, Flavius Josephus. Josephus is unable to give a detailed description of the first 10 or so years of Tiberius' reign, because he already accounted for the events of those years as a part of the last years of Augustus' reign.

Josephus writes that Valerius Gratus ruled over Judea for eleven years before Pilate, having been sent to Judea at the beginning of Tiberiusí reign. But all that Josephus can tell us about this time period is that Valerius Gratus was procurator of Judea and that he appointed various persons, in succession, as Jewish high priest. Josephus did not have enough material to describe that eleven-year period of time, because he had already described the events of the last ten years of the reign of Augustus (A.D. 1 to 10). Those last ten years of Augustusí reign coincided with the first ten years of Tiberiusí reign.

The history of the Jewish people, and their interaction with the Romans, was written by Josephus in 20 books (these resemble 20 chapters of one book) called The Antiquities of the Jews. Events occurring during the reigns of Julius Caesar, king Herod, Caesar Augustus, and Tiberius Caesar, are told in this work in significant detail. The time period from the beginning of Herodís reign over Jerusalem to the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple, a time period of 18 years according to Josephus, is given 425 verses in book 15, an average of 23.6 verses per year. Other books from The Antiquities of the Jews, which cover events from the reign of Julius Caesar to the destruction of Jerusalem, likewise give detailed descriptions of events. The average number of verses per year for each book is listed in the following chart.

Notice that each book gives an average of over ten verses per year for each year covered in that book. (Book 20 has a low number of verses per year because those events are described by Josephus in greater detail in a separate work, The Wars of the Jews.) Book 18 contains the lowest average number of verses per year. The source of this lowered average is a section of book 18, from verse 33 to verse 35, which supposedly describes the first eleven years of Tiberius Caesarís reign after the death of Caesar Augustus.

Only 3 verses (containing 4 sentences) supposedly describe 11 years of history of the Jewish people and the Roman Empire. Thatís an average of 0.27 verses per year for this section of the history compared to 20.1 verses per year average for books 14 through 20 (98.7% less than the average). If this section of the history contained the overall average of 20.1 verses per year, then there would have been approximately 221 verses, instead of 3 verses.

For further references and more detailed information, see the book Important Dates in the Lives of Jesus and Mary, available as a printed book and as an ebook in PDF format: Important-Dates.pdf. The book and the web site are both copyrighted by Ronald L. Conte Jr. Much of the text on this site is taken from the book. Brief quotes with proper attribution are permitted.

4. The death of Germanicus
Josephus places Gratusí rule over Judea during the first eleven years of Tiberiusí reign, so that the first year of Pilateís rule over Judea began in the 12th year of Tiberiusí reign. Eusebius, a bishop and historian of the early Church, interprets Josephus to the same conclusion: ďit was actually in the twelfth year of the reign of Tiberius that Pilate was appointed procurator of Judea by Tiberius.Ē Now Josephus places the death of Germanicus during the reign of Pontius Pilate. (Germanicus was a Roman general, at one time a Roman consul, and was the grand-nephew of Augustus.) But Dio and Tacitus both place the death of Germanicus in the fifth year after the death of Augustus.

The only way that Germanicus could have died during the reign of Pontius Pilate (sometime after the 12th year of Tiberiusí reign), and in the 5th year after Augustus died, is if the reign of Tiberius began long before the death of Augustus. In this revised chronology, the 5th year after the death of Augustus coincided with Pilateís rule over Judea because Pilateís reign began during the 2nd year after the death of Augustus, which was the 12th year of the reign of Tiberius (antedated). Josephus is correct in placing the death of Germanicus during Pilateís rule over Judea and sometime after Tiberiusí 12th year, because the beginning of Tiberiusí reign overlapped the end of Augustusí reign by about 10 years. The first full year of Tiberiusí reign was A.D. 1 (his first full year after adoption by Augustus), and Augustus died in A.D. 10. Pilate ruled over Judea beginning about A.D. 12. Germanicus died in A.D. 15.

The generally-accepted chronology for this time period cannot account for the timing of Germanicusí death. If the reign of Tiberius began with the death of Augustus, then Germanicus could not have died after Pilate began to rule Judea, that is, after the 12th year of Tiberiusí reign, and yet have died in the 5th year after the death of Augustus.

5. Josephus refers to Jesus
Josephus tells us about the death of Germanicus shortly before his description of the Ministry of Jesus Christ. The only account intervening between the death of Germanicus and this mention of Jesus is a description of two conflicts between Pilate and the Jews. The number of verses intervening is only eight. The overall average number of verses per year in The Antiquities of the Jews is 20.1, and no single book in that work (from the time of Julius Caesarís reign and thereafter) has an average number of verses per year of less than 11. Since there are only 8 verses between the account of Germanicusí death and the mention of Christís Ministry, Germanicus must have died close to the time of the Ministry of Christ, no more than a year before His Ministry began (although he could have died sometime soon after Christís Ministry began).

The death of Germanicus is placed by both Dio and Tacitus in the fifth year after the death of Augustus. The usual date for the death of Augustus is A.D. 14 and the usual date for the death of Germanicus is A.D. 19. Even with the generally-accepted dates for the deaths of Augustus and Germanicus, the Ministry of Christ must have begun at least a decade earlier than has been generally believed. But, with the conclusion of this chapter that Augustus died in A.D. 10, the death of Germanicus must be placed in A.D. 15 and the time of Christís Ministry shortly thereafter (fall of A.D. 15 to spring of A.D. 19, as concluded in chapters 2 and 7 of the book).

6. Vardaman's chronology
The late Dr. E. J. Vardaman analysed the historical context of the mention of Jesus in the writing of Josephus (Chronos, Kairos, Christos I, p. 79-82). He finds that both Jesus and Pilate are placed in an historical context which indicates that Pilate's reign and Christ's Ministry both occurred years earlier than has been generally believed. He places the start of Pilate's rule over Judea about A.D. 15 (Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, p. 315-317). Vardaman places the start of Christ's Ministry in the fall of A.D. 15. He bases this date on a number of factors, including his analysis of the microletters on various first century A.D. coins (Chronos, Kairos, Christos I, p. 66-77).

Vardaman concludes that Pilate's reign and Christ's Ministry have each been misdated by a decade or more. His work lends significant support to the conclusions of this web site and the book. Vardaman's work shows that not all Biblical scholars agree with the generally accepted chronology of Pilate's reign over Judea and of Christ's Ministry.

7. The Memoranda and Eusebius
In his book, The History of the Church, Eusebius complains that some persons during his lifetime published a tract, called The Memoranda, (or The Reports), which claimed that Christís Crucifixion occurred about the time of Tiberiusí fourth consulship. This time frame for the Crucifixion was significantly earlier in Tiberiusí reign than Eusebius thought correct. According to Eusebius, The Memoranda placed the Crucifixion in the year that Tiberius was consul for the fourth time, in the seventh year of his reign.

Eusebius believed that the Crucifixion occurred much later in the reign of Tiberius than his fourth consulship and seventh year. He placed the beginning of Pilateís rule over Judea in Tiberiusí 12th year, and the beginning of Christís Ministry in Tiberiusí 15th year. He also stated his understanding that Jesus was crucified before the completion of the 4th year of His Ministry, which places the Crucifixion in Tiberiusí 19th year, not his 7th year.

Now Eusebius is correct in saying that the Ministry and Crucifixion of Christ could not have occurred so soon as the 7th year of Tiberiusí reign, for Luke 3:1 clearly places the Ministry of John as beginning in Tiberiusí 15th year. However, The Memoranda may have contained a partially-correct understanding of the time frame for Christís Ministry and Crucifixion. Notice that the year called the 7th of Tiberius falls about 2 years after the death of Germanicus. Josephus places the beginning of the Ministry of Christ soon after the death of Germanicus (see above). Germanicus died about 5 years after Augustus died. Thus, The Memoranda contained the correct insight that the Ministry of Christ occurred closer to the deaths of Augustus and Germanicus than Eusebius believed.

Both Eusebius and The Memoranda were working from the assumption that the reign of Tiberius began at the death of Augustus. The Memoranda correctly pointed out that Christís Ministry and Crucifixion occurred not long after the deaths of Augustus and Germanicus. Eusebius correctly pointed out that the Ministry and Crucifixion of Christ occurred in the latter part of Tiberiusí reign, not long before the death of Tiberius. The Memoranda made the mistake of counting the start of Tiberiusí reign from the death of Augustus, so that it incorrectly placed the Crucifixion early in Tiberiusí reign. Eusebius objected to this mistake, without realizing that it contained an aspect of the truth, because he too assumed that Tiberiusí reign began at the death of Augustus.

This disagreement shows that, during the lifetime of Eusebius, the chronology of events during Tiberiusí reign was in dispute, and that some persons during that time period believed that the Ministry of Christ occurred soon after the deaths of Augustus and Germanicus.

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