Modern Astronomical Evidence for the Star of Bethlehem

from Biblica.

Matthew 2:1-2       The Magi Visit the Messiah

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem     2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

In Matthew’s account of the story of the magi, the ‘guidance’ of a star is mentioned four times (Matthew2:2, 7, 9, 10). Its purpose in terms of the narrative is clear–to guide the wise men to the newborn King. But what scientific validity is there for such a phenomenon?

Given that the magi were almost certainly astrologers, the kind of phenomena familiar to them would have included comets, supernova (though not the term) and a conjunction of  planets, all of which are consistent with modern scientific observation. While open to modern refinement, the definition of a comet  given by the Roman poet Virgil in the Aenid is still valid; „a star leading a meteor flew with much light”. Likewise, records of the conjuction of planets were carefully kept; there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. and of Jupiter and Venus in 6 B.C.

The modern term supernova, a star that suddenly increases in size and brilliance then fades away, may not occur in ancient documentation, but this does not mean the phenomenon was unknown.

Where modern science would differ is in the interpretation held among the ancients. What was important to the astrologer was not only to notice the phenomena, but to search for their meaning. They would have concurred with the statement of Tacitus in his Annals that „the general belief is that a comet means a change of emperor” and that the conjunction of planets is associated with the birth of a king. In fact, a common role for such wise men was to discern the rise of a new king.

If we accept some element of historicity in Matthew’s account, then any number of combinations is possible and consistent with modern astronomical understanding. The star first sighted by the wise men (Matthew 2:2) could be explained as a supernova. Then the „star that  they had seen at its rising” might be a comet that „stopped over the place where the child was”. (Matthew 2:9) Alternately, it could have been a reflection from a planetary conjunction; two of which occurred in 7 B.C. and 6 B.C.– the most likely years of Jesus’ birth.

The occurrence of these phenomena is plausible in terms of modern astronomy, and their coincidence of time and place is not impossible. At some point, it comes down to a belief that it was God who guided the wise men by utilizing the ordinary processes of creation. The event, therefore, is not a violation of nature, nor a contradiction of modern science, but the way in which nature allows for such coincidences to occur. Ultimately, their importance for the Gospel is that God uses them to witness to the truth of Jesus’ identity on behalf of the gentile world.

Reclame

The Great King Herod and Masada (Video)

This episode talks about the Great King Herod and Masada. (Biblical Mysteries EP19)

Herod (Hebrew: הוֹרְדוֹס‎, Hordos, Greek: Ἡρῴδης, Hērōdēs), (73/74 BCE – 4 BCE), also known as Herod the Great and Herod I, was a Roman client king of Judea. He has been described as „a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis”, „the evil genius of the Judean nation”, „prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition” and „the greatest builder in Jewish history”. He is known for his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod’s Temple), the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada and Herodium. Vital details of his life are recorded in the works of the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian Josephus.

Upon Herod’s death, the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons—Archelaus became ethnarch of the tetrarchy of Judea, Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and Philip became tetrarch of territories east of the Jordan.

Herod was born around 74 BCE in Idumea, south of Judea. He was the second son of Antipater the Idumaean, a high-ranked official under Ethnarch Hyrcanus II, and Cypros, a Nabatean. Herod practiced Judaism, as many Edomites and Nabateans had been commingled with the Jews and adopted their customs. These „Judaized” Edomites were not considered Jewish by the dominant Pharisaic tradition, so even though Herod may have considered himself of the Jewish faith, he was not considered Jewish by the observant and nationalist Jews of Judea. A loyal supporter of Hyrcanus II, Antipater appointed Herod governor of Galilee at 25, and his elder brother, Phasael, governor of Jerusalem. He enjoyed the backing of Rome but his brutality was condemned by the Sanhedrin.

Two years later Antigonus, Hyrcanus’ nephew, took the throne from his uncle with the help of the Parthians. Herod fled to Rome to plead with the Romans to restore him to power. There he was elected „King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate. Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BCE), but Appian places it in 39 BCE. Herod went back to Judea to win his kingdom from Antigonus and at the same time he married the teenage niece of Antigonus, Mariamne (known as Mariamne I), in an attempt to secure a claim to the throne and gain some Jewish favor. However, Herod already had a wife, Doris, and a three-year-old son, Antipater, and chose therefore to banish Doris and her child.

Three years later, Herod and the Romans finally captured Jerusalem and executed Antigonus. Herod took the role as sole ruler of Judea and the title of basileus (Gr. Βασιλευς, king) for himself, ushering in the Herodian Dynasty and ending the Hasmonean Dynasty. Josephus reports this as being in the year of the consulship of Agrippa and Gallus (37 BCE), but also says that it was exactly 27 years after Jerusalem fell to Pompey, which would indicate 36 BCE. Cassius Dio also reports that in 37 „the Romans accomplished nothing worthy of note” in the area. According to Josephus, Herod ruled for 37 years, 34 of them after capturing Jerusalem.

As Herod’s family had converted to Judaism, his religious commitment had come into question by some elements of Jewish society. When John Hyrcanus conquered the region of Idumaea (the Edom of the Hebrew Bible) in 140–130 BCE, he required all Idumaeans to obey Jewish law or to leave; most Idumaeans thus converted to Judaism, which meant that they had to be circumcised. While Herod publicly identified himself as a Jew and was considered as such by some, this religious identification was undermined by the decadent lifestyle of the Herodians, which would have earned them the antipathy of observant Jews.

Herod later executed several members of his own family, including his wife Mariamne I

VIDEO by DiscoveryHaven

Great Battles: The Siege and Fall of Masada (Video lecture) University of Pennsylvania Museum

A lecture from Dr. Jodi Magness, Professor of Religious Studies, UNC Chapel Hill, who co-directed the 1995 excavations at Masada.

„Great Battles” Evening Lecture
The Siege and Fall of Masada
In the 1st century BCE, King Herod the Great fortified the mountain of Masada, located near the southwest shore of the Dead Sea. Seventy years after Herod’s death, Jewish rebels occupied Masada during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans, holding out even after the fall of Jerusalem. In this illustrated lecture, Dr. Jodi Magness, Professor of Religious Studies, UNC Chapel Hill, examines the archaeological and literary evidence for the Roman siege of Masada, including information from the 1995 excavations that she co-directed. VIDEO by pennmuseum

Poem – We Three Kings by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kin...

Star of Bethlehem, Magi – wise men or wise kings travel on camels with entourage across the deserts to find the savior, moon, desert, Holy Bible, Etching, 1885 (Photo credit: Wonderlane)

Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.

„Of the child that is born,” said Baltasar,
„Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.”

And the people answered, „You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, „Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king.”

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped –it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.

And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body’s burying.

And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.

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