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Monday, December 19, 2011

Magi and the Star of Bethlehem


This is a long post so I’m going to chop it up into several pieces. The Astronomy and Astrology research comes from “The Star of Bethlehem” by Michael R. Molnar a retired Rutgers professor. Some of the historical and biblical research comes from “The Birth of the Messiah” by Raymond E. Brown one of the most amazing biblical scholars of our time. And some of the historical, cultural and biblical research comes from me. I tried not to make it too technical, but if you have questions, please contact me and I’ll fill you in as best I can. Enjoy, Pastor Bill.
I’m sure at some point you have wondered what the Star of Bethlehem could have been. I’m sure you have heard many possible explanations. Most of those explanations haven’t panned out. This week, I’m going to give you a plausible explanation that makes the most sense within the Biblical, historical, cultural and astronomical information we have available. To answer the question in one sentence, The Star of Bethlehem is Jupiter in retrograde motion. Now that the cat is out of the bag I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck is he talking about? And so it is time to plunge into the ancient biblical and astrological world in search of The Star of Bethlehem.
Our story starts with attempting to establish the year in which Jesus was born. There are two dates that best match the biblical story, 6 BC or 6 AD. Both dates have pros and cons. The earlier one would have the baby Jesus born during King Herod’s lifetime (Matthew 2:1), before his death in 3 BC. Jesus would also be in his thirties (Luke 3:23) during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea, from 26 AD to 36 AD. In 6 BC there was a conjunction of planets that could have been what the Magi saw (Matthew 2: 1-2). However, there was no census (Luke 2:1) that we know of taken in Palestine in 6 BC. We do know that there was a census taken in 6 AD while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1). However if Jesus were born in 6 AD he would not have begun his ministry in his thirties and still face Pilate at a trial. The 6 BC date matches more of the story than the 6 AD date. Plus there is a possibility that there was a census in Palestine in 6 BC. Roman records show that there was an Empire wide census in 8 BC. However Palestine was exempt. It could be that the Romans took a census of Palestine after the census was completed in the rest of the empire. Most biblical scholars feel that Jesus was born sometime in the year 6 BC.
The next important question in our story is, who were the Magi and why did they travel to Bethlehem? The Magi were astrologers; they studied the stars to predict a person’s fortune. The Magi followed a very ancient tradition of star gazing in the Middle East. The oldest astrological records come from Babylon and list the appearances and conjunctions of the planet Venus. Records of the planets and constellations spread into Persia, India, Egypt and Greece. The movement of the planets against the background of stars was recorded for hundreds of years. These records were compiled into tables which predicted the movements into the future. Astrologers studied the tables and interpreted them for their paying customers. Ptolemy, a Greek astrologer from the second century BC instructed his readers on how to do this, which is why we know so much about this practice today.
For the Magi, this was a business. They needed to make money, and the meaning they derived from the movement of the heavens was their trade. To advertise they sent their servants out into the busy streets to shout out their masters accomplishments. The better their accomplishments the more they stood out from their competitors and the more money they made. A home run prediction for a Babylonian astrologer was predicting the birth of the future king. If a Magi could send his servant out to announce that, he would have customers standing in line. So when our Babylonian Magi looked at their celestial tables several months into the future, they saw something that got their hearts racing.
Tomorrow, how ancient astrology works and what the Magi interpreted from the movement of the spheres.

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