One Saint continues with selected quotations from DR Ernest L Martin's The Star of Bethlehem: The Star that Astonished the World. Today's focus is on The Dark Decade in History (Chapter Seven). DR Martin discusses the fact "that the decade from 6 B.C.E. to C.E. 4 is one of the most nebulous in the history of Rome." He continues:
"It is a common lament among Roman historians that this ten-year period (one of the most important in the history of western civilization) bristles with many historical and chronological difficulties because of the garbled or imperfect records that have come down to us.
"Professor Timothy Barnes rightly states that “the years of Tiberius’ retirement from public life are one of the most obscure decades in the history of the Roman Empire” (emphasis mine). 1 Sir Ronald Syme echoed the same sentiment when he spoke about “the hazards inherent in the obscure decade 6 B.C.E.–C.E. 4” (emphasis mine). 2 If there was ever a “dark decade” in the history of Rome, it is this one. And sadly, this lack of information occurs at the very time the historian who specializes in the time of Augustus Caesar and the birth of Jesus needs it most. A great deal of confusion emerges within and among the historical records, and this is no exaggeration."
DR Martin looks closely at "The Difficulties with Secular Records," "The Anomalies of Josephus," "Chronological Errors in Josephus," Josephus' lack of understanding of "Even Standard Dating Systems," and yet more problems with Josephus' accounting of the time:
"One thing for certain, Josephus was a very subjective writer. With his own words he admitted that the writing of his autobiography was to assure his Roman benefactors that he was thoroughly pro-Roman in every respect. 23 His loyalty to Rome went so far that he identified the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament as being Vespasian, the Roman Emperor. 24
"And another point. It has amazed Jewish scholars that Josephus said not one word about the most important rabbi from the close of the Old Testament period until modern times ― Hillel the First. This rabbi was most prominent in Jewish affairs and he lived at the exact time of Josephus’ silence on chronological matters. Josephus full well knew of Hillel’s prestige...
"The truth is, Josephus may have tried to give a reasonable appraisal of certain historical events, but it is what he left out (or gave no chronological indications about) that gives us of modern times problems in understanding what actually happened at this crucial period of time. There were good reasons for Josephus to adopt his subjective approach. To be frank, he was interested in keeping the top part of his anatomy attached to its nether parts.
"To stay alive, Josephus had to watch very carefully what he wrote. Had he been too plain, not only would he have been in jeopardy of losing his life, but his historical works would have gone up in smoke as well. He must have felt it prudent to judiciously avoid giving comment on certain crucial periods (and especially to the mention of some key individuals) because the political climate in Rome did not warrant plain speaking. One could hardly blame him."
And "Worse Yet, the Manuscripts of Josephus Have Been Edited!" In conclusion, DR Martin compares "Early Christian Historians" to "The Chaotic Conclusions of Modern Scholars."
"In a book titled Chronos, Kairos, Christos published in 1989 by the prestigious firm of Eisenbrauns as a Festschrift in honor of one of the finest chronologists of our day, Professor Jack Finegan, the two editors (Dr. Jerry Vardaman and Dr. Edwin M. Yamauchi) included articles of research from some of the top scholars today in the field of chronology regarding the time for Jesus’ nativity. Both Vardaman and Yamauchi must be congratulated for having the courage to publish the various articles (almost all of them contradictory to one another in many of their essential factors). The disunity of opinion among the scholars, as shown in this book, is so wide in their evaluation of the historical sources that the only reasonable word to describe this state of scholarly affairs is “chaos.” Confusion presently reigns among the scholars. The laity need to know about this chaos that presently prevails in the professional research now being conducted. The above book does the job of showing this chaos (and one should be thankful for its candor)."
Chapter Seven, The Dark Decade in History, is a fascinating study of the lack of proper record keeping and the fact that we know very little today. That said, one has to note that DR Martin's thorough and methodical research into the matter of the birth of Jesus is much appreciated by One Saint!
Martin, Ernest L. “The Star of Bethlehem: The Star that Astonished the World.” 25 DEC 2012 <http://www.askelm.com/star/star009.htm>
You can purchase the hardbound version of The Star of Bethlehem: The Star that Astonished the World, by DR Ernest L Martin at
You can read or listen to The Star of Bethlehem: The Star that Astonished the World at the ASK ELM website.
You can also listen to David Sielaff’s wonderful audio interview with George Ann Hughes at the Byte Show. These files bring us up to date, for David Sielaff continues the work of Ernest L Martin today. You will find the full interview at The Byte Show. Scroll way down to The Star of Bethlehem series, in fourteen parts.
Also available are all eleven parts of The Star of Bethlehem interviews Ernest L Martin did with Jeff Rense at ASK ELM.