The Star of Bethlehem and Astronomy – Was There a Star?

Many have wondered if “His star” observed by the Magi really existed. If astronomy can corroborate Matthew’s Gospel, it would also establish the birthday timeline for Jesus of Nazareth.

Only Matthew’s Nativity account of Jesus’ birth references the star, yet it holds two compelling clues that can be compared with factual astronomy data produced by NASA astronomers, professors, experts and others. According to Matthew, the Magi saw “His star” twice; first in their homeland, then again in Jerusalem – how can a star appear, disappear and reappear again months later?

MT 2:1-2  “…‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” (NASB, NKJV)

MT 2:9-10  “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them…When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (NKJV)

Astronomy as a science began thousands of years ago with the Assyrians and Chaldeans who charted star and planetary positions and developed the ability to calculate their advance movement in the night skies. Magi were expert astronomers who used this same knowledge and skills. Today’s modern science community considers this ancient expertise to be remarkable.[1]

After thousands of years, major advancements in scientific astronomy began in the 1600s with Johannes Kepler’s formulation of the Three Laws of Planetary Motion.[2] In the 1960s, Bryant Tuckerman took Kepler’s breakthrough to the next level using the then highly advanced IBM 704 vacuum-tube computer to calculate the alignment of planetary stars going back millennia, even down to specific to global regions such as the Babylonian/Baghdad time zone.[3]

A simple fact known to the Magi astronomers:  fixed stars hold their positions while planet-stars normally appear and disappear during their rotation around the Sun. Movement cannot be visually seen at any given moment; rather, changes in position can be observed in periodic views of the night sky or from night to night.

Eventually a moving planet will briefly appear on a single night in close visual proximity with another planet or fixed star known as a conjunction. A separation of less than 1° proximity is considered a rare conjunction event.[4] Putting the degree proximity into perspective, the pinkie fingernail on a fully extended arm held towards the night sky covers about 1°; the moon covers about ½ of a degree.[5]  

A single conjunction today is newsworthy such as when UniverseToday.com touted a 3° separation between Venus and Jupiter in 2012.[6] It was a close 3° – chances of witnessing just one conjunction of merely 1° proximity can be a once in a lifetime opportunity.[7] Imagine the excitement if there were seven conjunctions of less than 1° separation in 18 months?

It happened.

Extraordinary planetary conjunctions were exceptionally prolific during the final seven years of the BC era. Among them, from May, 3 BC, through June, 2 BC, were seven sensational, rare conjunctions:

3 BC: [8]

May 19:  Saturn-Mercury conjunction of only .67°/40′ (arc minutes) 

June 12:  Saturn-Venus conjunction of only .12°/7.2′

August 12:  Jupiter-Venus conjunction of only .07°/4.2′

September 14:  1st of Jupiter triple conjunction with Regulus of only .33°/19.8′

2 BC:

February 17:  2nd of Jupiter triple conjunction with Regulus of only .85°/51′ 

May 8:  3rd of Jupiter triple conjunction with Regulus of only .72°/43.2′ 

June 17:  Jupiter-Venus conjunction of a mere .0073°/ 26.2″(arc seconds)

May 19, 3 BC, the Saturn-Mercury conjunction of .67° proximity, only 2% this close are visible from Earth.[9] A person living to the age of 77 has less than a 50-50 chance to possibly witness one.

June 12, 3 BC, Saturn came into .12° conjunction with Venus. While they average a conjunction about once per year, close encounters like this occur in about 8% of all their conjunctions with just 17% being visible from earth – a once in century opportunity.[10] 

August 12, 3 BC, displayed the Jupiter .07° conjunction with Venus.[11] Separation with this extraordinarily tight proximity occurs in a scant 3% of their conjunctions, about once every 120 years.[12] 

Ending 3 BC, September 14th initiated the first of a triple conjunction between the king planet Jupiter and the king star Regulus, each with less than 1° proximity.[13] Jupiter-Regulus triple conjunctions recur in 12 and 71-year cycles.[14]

Most striking is the timing and galactic visual location. The Jupiter-Regulus triple conjunction played out during the 9 months between the two Jupiter-Venus conjunctions of August 12th and June 17th. Last two of the triple conjunctions took place in the heart of Leo the Lion royal constellation.[15]

June 17, 2 BC, as the sunlight faded away in the early evening western sky of Jerusalem, emerged the amazing sight. A reunion of Jupiter and Venus formed an occultation conjunction displaying an elongated, brilliant star more than twice the size of any other in the heavenly panorama.[16] Amplified by being the two brightest planet-stars, “the star” would have been an impressive phenomenon to behold.

“Occultation” is an astronomy term referring to when one celestial object visually appears to move in front of another. Jupiter-Venus occultations are among the rarest – only 3 might have been visible to the naked eye from Jerusalem since 2 BC.[17]

Rarer still, if that seems possible, the Jupiter-Venus occultation occurred inside the Zodiac’s royal constellation of Leo the Lion, the natal sign of Judah.[18] An occultation this close inside Leo only happens once about every 2000 years. Advance knowledge of this upcoming event in the heavens may have prompted the Magi to consult King Herod in Jerusalem immediately before the brilliant marvel arose.[19]

Modern software makes it possible to actually see the remarkably rare series of 3-2 BC conjunctions in an animated, time-lapsed recreation. The amazing heavenly pageant wows crowds and astronomers alike at planetarium observatory Christmas shows.[20]

Magi expert astronomers no doubt saw these celestial phenomena.[21] The question is, are the two Jupiter-Venus conjunctions on August 12, 3 BC, and June 17, 2 BC, “His star” witnessed by the Magi in Matthew?

Degrees ( ° ), arc minute ( ′ ), arc second ( ″ )


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REFERENCES:

[1] Eduljee, K. E. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html> Larson, Frederick A.  The Star of Bethlehem. “Why are we hearing this now?” 2018.  <http://www.bethlehemstar.net/setting-the-stage/why-are-we-hearing-this-now>
[2] “Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/science/Keplers-laws-of-planetary-motion>  Paradis, Andrew. “What are Kepler’s laws of motion and what exactly do they mean?” PhysLink.com | Physics & Astronomy Online. n.d.  <http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae613.cfm>  Nave, Carl R. “Kepler’s Laws.” Georgia State University | Department of Physics and Astronomy. 2001. <http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/kepler.html>
[3] Hayton, Daron. “A Modern Astrologer’s Intellectual Breadcrumbs.” Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20161118000249/http://www.pachs.net/blogs/comments/a_modern_astrologers_intellectual_breadcrumbs/> Tuckerman, Bryant.   “Planetary, Lunar and Solar Positions 601 B.C. to A.D. 1 at Five-Day and Ten-Day Intervals.” 1962. <http://www.caeno.org/_Feat/pdf/F027_Reliability_TuckTables.pdf>  Houlden, Michael A. and Stephenson, F. Richard.  “A Supplement to the Tuckerman Tables.”  Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. Volume 70. “Introduction” “Extent and Precision of Tuckerman’s Tables.”  Google Books.  <http://www.caeno.org/_Feat/pdf/F027_Reliability_TuckSupp.pdf>  Leverington, David. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy.  Cambridge University Press. 2003.  Chapter 1.2.  <http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/08408/sample/9780521808408ws.pdf>
[4] Basics of Space Flight. Dir. Charles Elachi.  2013 Edition.  “The Solar System.” NASA Science | Solar System Exploration. <https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/basics/bsf1-2.php> “Conjunction.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. 2018.  http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topicpages/definition?topic=Conjunction>   Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” International Planetarium Society Inc. Reprinted from the Planetarian. 1981. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>
[5] “Angular Measurements.”  Cool Cosmos.  “Cosmic Reference Guide.”  Cool Cosmos.  Ventrudo, Brian. “Measuring The Sky.” One-Minute Astronomer. 2009. <http://www.oneminuteastronomer.com/860/measuring-sky>
[6] Cain, Fraser. “Venus-Jupiter Conjunction, March 15th, 2012.” Universe Today. <http://www.universetoday.com/94113/venus-jupiter-conjunction-march-15th-2012 >
[7] Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.” Twin Cities Creation Science Association. 1997. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
[8] “Angle converter.” Unit Juggler. <https://www.unitjuggler.com/angle-conversion.html>  “Angular Measurements.” Cool Cosmos. <http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/cosmic_classroom/cosmic_reference/angular.html>  Ventrudo,  Brian. “Measuring The Sky.”  “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.” Universe Today. 2004. <http://www.universetoday.com/10006/venus-and-jupiters-upcoming-conjunction/#ixzz2B6cvKJEt>  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”  Phillips, Tony. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 2018. <http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com. 2012.  <http://navsoft.com/html/birth_of_jesus.html> Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World.  Chapter 1 & 4. 2003. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11%3E%20%3Chttp://web.archive.org/web/20170111193244/http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm>  Rao,  Joe.  “How to Measure Distances in the Night Sky.” Space.com. 2010. <http://www.space.com/8319-measure-distances-night-sky.html>  Cain.  “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.”  Sielaff, David. “An Important August 2 B.C.E. Conjunction.” A.S.K. (Associates For Scriptural Knowledge). 2005. <http://www.askelm.com/news/n051211.htm>  Clevenger, John.  “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.”  Lake County (Illinois) Astronomical   Society. 2012. <http://www.lcas-astronomy.org/articles/display.php?filename=the_christmas_star&category=miscellaneous>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. 2009. <http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/10/star-of-bethlehem-and-nativity.html>  Newman, Robert C. “The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?”  Interdisciplinary Bible Research Institute.  IBRI Paper (2001).  <http://web.archive.org/web/20171016111146/http://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm> Beatty, Kelly. “Venus and Jupiter: Together at Last.” Sky & Telescope. 2015.  <http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/venus-and-jupiter-a-dazzling-duo-062520154>  Ratnikas,  Algis. “Timeline 499BCE – 1BCE.”  Timeslines of History.  n.d. <http://timelines.ws/0D499_1BC.HTML>  Pratt, John P.  “The Star of Bethlehem’s Forerunner.” JohnPratt.com. Reprinted from Meridian Magazine. 2000.  <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/xmas_star.html>  Rjvanderbei. “Searching for the Star of Bethlehem (updated).”   National Geographic  News Watch . 26 Dec. 2011 <http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/12/26/searching-for-the-star-of-bethlehem>  Dickinson, David. “Is This Month’s Jupiter-Venus Pair Really a Star of Bethlehem Stand In?” Universe Today. October 14, 2015. <https://www.universetoday.com/122738/is-this-months-jupiter-venus-pair-really-a-star-of-bethlehem-stand-in/>
[9] Curtis, Jan. “Predictable Astronomical Events.” Alaska Climate Research Center. n.d. Chapter 2. <http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/astro.html>  Curtis, Jan. “Mercury-Saturn Conjunctions (2000-2078 AD).” Alaska Climate Research Center. n.d. <http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/graf/MeSc100.gif> “Planetary Conjunctions.”  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Earth System Research Laboratory. <http://web.archive.org/web/20160304124051/http://laps.noaa.gov/albers/ast/conjun/conjun.html>
[10] “Planetary Conjunctions.”  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Curtis. “Mercury-Saturn Conjunctions (2000-2078 AD).”  Curtis, Jan. “Venus-Saturn Conjunctions Minimum Separation 500-Events (2000-2482).” Alaska Climate Research Center. n.d. <http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/graf/VSc500.gif>
[11] Rao, Joe.  “Saturday’s Venus-Jupiter Encounter May Explain Bible’s Star of Bethlehem.” Space.com. 2016. <http://www.space.com/33866-venus-jupiter-conjunction-star-of-bethlehem.html>  Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 4. Olson, Ross. “Summary of Conjunctions of Planets (“wandering stars”).” 1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association.  n.d.  <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_dates.html>
[12] Fazekas, Andrew.  “Jupiter Conjunction Peaks Thursday—Easy-to-See Sky Show.” National Geographic Daily News. 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/03/120313-conjunction-venus-jupiter-sky-space-science>  “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” Press Release – Marshall Space Flight Center.  SpaceRef.com. 2000. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=1819>  Curtis, Jan.  “Venus-Jupiter Conjunctions Minimum Separation 500-Events (2000-2488 A.D.)” Alaska Climate Research Center. n.d. <http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/graf/VJc500.gif>  Curtis, Jan. “Venus-Jupiter Conjunctions 100-Events.” Alaska Climate Research Center. n.d. <http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/Curtis/graf/VJc100.gif>  Rao, Joe. “Earthlings Dazzled by Venus-Jupiter Close Encounter.” Discovery News. 2012. <http://news.discovery.com/space/venus-jupiter-conjunction-120312.html>  Cain. “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.”
[13] Kidger, Mark R. “Possible Explanations of the Star of Bethlehem.” Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page  n.d.<http://www.observadores-cometas.com/Star_of_Bethlehem/English/Possible.htm>  Kidger, Mark R. The Star of Bethlehem: an Astronomer’s View. 1999. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_ISv1gPQJV4C&lpg=PA25&ots=WsfPW9KFFR&dq=anatole%2C%20greek%2C%20magi&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=anatole,20greek,%20magi&f=false>  “2-planet (1974-2068)” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). n.d. <http://web.archive.org/web/20160412052726/http://laps.noaa.gov/albers/conjun/for008.future>
[14] Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”  Konnen, G.P. and Meeus, J. “Triple Conjunctions, Twins and Triplets,” Journal of the British Astronomical Association. vol.93, no.1, p.20-24. Bibliographic Code 1982JBAA…93…20K. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. n.d. <http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1982JBAA…93…20K/0000023.000.html>
[15] “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com.  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”  Newman. “The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?”  Phillips. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  Haley.  “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”
[16] “Planetary Conjunctions.”  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.  Bogan, Larry. “Mutual Planetary Occultations Past and Future.” Larry Bogan’s Website. Cambridge Station, Nova Scotia. 1999. <http://www.bogan.ca/astro/occultations/occltlst.htm>  “Haley. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.” p 10. “Venus And Jupiter Will Pass 42 Arc seconds Apart On May 17.” SpaceRef.com.  Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 1. Phillips. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  Rjvanderbei. “Searching for the Star of Bethlehem (updated).”
[17] “occultation.” AbsoluteAstronomy.com. <http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topicpages/definition?topic=Occultation>  “occultation.” NASA Aerospace Science & Technology Dictionary. <https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/hqlibrary/aerospacedictionary/508/o.html> Ricci, Pierpaolo.  “Occultations Between Planets from the Year 0 To 4000.”  The Sky and Its Phenomena.  n.d. <http://www.pierpaoloricci.it/dati/occpia_eng.htm>  Bogan, Larry. “Mutual Planetary Occultations Past and Future.”
[18] Genesis 49:8-10; Numbers 23:3-9, 21-24.  “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com.  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”  Newman. “The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?”  Phillips. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  Haley.  “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”
[19] “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com.  “Historical Events.” Navsoft.com. <http://navsoft.com/html/historical.html> Newman. “The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?”  Phillips. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  Mosley, John.  “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.”  Beatty, Kelly. “Venus and Jupiter:  Together at Last.” Sky & Telescope.
[20] Fazekas, Andrew. “Christmas Star Mystery Continues.” National Geographic Daily News. 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20170808084630/http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/12/081224-star-bethlehem.html>  Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 1.  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.”  Larson. The Star of Bethlehem.
[21] Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”

Was Mary a Virgin When She Conceived Jesus?

Frankly, no one can prove Jesus was born of a virgin. Neither can anyone disprove it. Basic human biology and common sense dictates a virgin cannot naturally conceive – conception would require a miracle.

Believing whether Mary was a virgin who miraculously conceived Jesus, if not by faith, boils down to a circumstantial case. Such a scenario requires a conclusion based on the circumstantial evidence.

Jewish marriage was a two-stage process; first the betrothal typically lasting for 12 months, then the wedding to consummate the marriage.[1] Once the proposal was offered to the prospective bride’s father, the finalized details were formally sealed in a binding contract.

Ketubah was a legal marriage contract enacted during the reign of Queen Salome (76-67 BC) and formalized by the Sanhedrin long before Joseph or Mary were ever born. A ketubah was the law of the land.[2]

Family intermediaries vetted the couple’s families, backgrounds and defined the terms of the ketubah, two of whom would eventually sign it as witnesses.[3] Financial details were negotiated including the bride price, the dowry, and any contributions from both families.[4] Monetary values for virgins and non-virgins were predefined by the Sanhedrin.

For the bride, the ketubah provided a trust fund in the event of the husband’s death or a divorce excepting for the disqualifying factor of adultery. For the groom, the ketubah factually and legally established his betrothal was a virgin.[5] The contract found in the Jewish Encyclopedia twice makes specific reference to her virginity:[6]

…“And I will set aside for thee 200 zuz, in lieu of thy virginity, which belong to thee (according to the law of Moses)…”

…“We have followed the legal formality of symbolical delivery [“ḳinyan”] between _____ son of ______ , the bridegroom, and ______ daughter of ______ , this virgin, and have employed an instrument legally fit for the purpose to strengthen all that is stated above, and everything is valid and established.

…………..Bridegroom.

…………..

…………..Witnesses. [7]

During Mary’s betrothal, the Archangel Gabriel announced she would bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit to which Mary replied, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[8] By her own account, Mary was a virgin at this point. 

Gabriel informed Mary her cousin Elizabeth was also 6 months pregnant.[9] Excited by this news, she “went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah” to visit Elizabeth – Mary left almost immediately.[10]

From Nazareth to Elizabeth’s home, the trip would have taken 3 to 7 days depending on the town’s exact location near Jerusalem.[11] At the moment of hearing Mary’s voice, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, leapt with joy.[12] Elizabeth also already knew that Mary was with child.

In the very short span of about a week, Mary became pregnant. No human could have known she was pregnant at that point, not even Mary herself were it not for Gabriel’s message and Elizabeth’s exclamation. Today’s modern medical pregnancy tests are effective, at the earliest, 10 days after conception and most reliably not until after 3 weeks. At best, a medical blood test can detect pregnancy in as early as 6 days.[13] 

Joseph can be ruled out as the father based on his own reaction to divorce Mary when he unexpectedly learned months later she was pregnant. The possibility that Mary had a secret paramour is a realistic possibility if one does not accept Matthew’s account at face value.[14]

Before reaching a point in her mind to cheat on Joseph, Mary would have to overcome immense hurdles – mentally, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and fear. It would be most challenging for a sheltered girl in her early teens still living at home with her parents.[15]

Mentally, Gabriel’s visit had to be a most impactful, unforgettable experience. Mary was told of her future son, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” [16] Mary then made a commitment to Gabriel and God saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.”[17] Spiritually, to then lose her virginity would be breaking her commitment to Gabriel and God.

Psychologically and emotionally, infidelity would mean betrayal. Mary would have to be willing to betray her own reputation, family, friends, and Joseph bringing them all great shame and disgrace.

Foreboding fear of serious consequences for adultery would be a huge deterrent. Forfeiture of her future financial security was at-risk by breaking the terms of her ketubah contract. Perhaps the greatest deterrent of all was the fear of death by stoning.[18]

Physically she would have to circumvent several traditional safeguards. Betrothed girls subject to Judaic Law were under strict supervision of family and the watchful eye of the community. Unmarried girls were not allowed to be alone at any time with an adult male, not even a family member.[19] While preparing for her spur-of-the-moment trip, Mary would have had to slip away from these guardians of virtue.

If Mary didn’t have a tryst before leaving Nazareth, the only opportunity would be on the journey to visit Elizabeth. Mary would have been required to travel in a caravan with a family-chosen chaperone and her secret paramour would have had to be traveling, too.[20] They would have had to find an opportunity to safely slip away without being caught.

One other factor closes the short period of time for Mary’s conception after Gabriel’s announcement. It was Elizabeth’s own words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”[21] Would an illegitimate pregnancy have been divinely revealed to Elizabeth who exclaimed that Mary’ and her baby were blessed?

How likely is it that Mary became pregnant by another man – or was she a virgin?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 62-65, 69, 71, 143.  Missler, Chuck. “The Wedding Model.”
[2] “Salome Alexandria.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2018. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/salome-alexandria> “Alexandria.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1167-alexandra>  “Ketubah.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9290-ketubah>  “Marriage: Ketubbah.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ketubbah> Schauss, Hayyim. “Ancient Jewish Marriage.”  MyJewishLearning.com. n.d. <http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Relationships/Spouses_and_Partners/About_Marriage/Ancient_Jewish_Marriage.shtml> “The Forgotten Ancient Queen: Salome Alexandra of Judea.” Ancient History. <http://etc.ancient.eu/interviews/the-forgotten-ancient-queen-salome-alexandra-of-judea/Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. “Kethuboth.”  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/talmud/index.html>  “Ketubah.”  Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. Glossary.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/tglossary.html#K
[3] “Ketubah.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Dowry.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5297-dowry> Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus, et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1912. “Pharisees.” p 663 <https://books.google.com/books?id=lfoOtGOcIBYC&lpg=PA594&ots=6qoCfVVUz7&dq> Schauss, Hayyim.  “Ancient Jewish Marriage.”  “The Origins of the Ketubah”, Ketubah.com. 2014.  <http://www.ketubah.com/templates/template28_article.cfm?article=36>
[4] “Ketubah” and “Dowry.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  Singer et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 9 “Pharisees.” p 663.  Singer et. al.  The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. “Mortgage or Hypothec.” p 37.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 12a.
[6] Lamm, Maurice. “The Jewish Marriage Contract (Ketubah).” Chabad.org. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/465168/jewish/The-Jewish-Marriage-Contract-Ketubah.htm>
[7] “Ketubah.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.
[8] Luke 1:34. NASB, NRSV.
[9] Luke 1.
[10] Luke 1:39. NASB.
[11] Luke 1:39.  “Judah.”  Jewish Virtual Library. 2018. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/judah>
[12] Luke 1.
[13] “Pregnancy Tests.” 23 June 2012.  WebMD. 2018. <http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/pregnancy-tests> “Pregnancy Test.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2018. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003432.htm> “Home pregnancy tests: Can you trust the results?” Mayo Clinic. 2018. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/in-depth/home-pregnancy-tests/art-20047940
[14] Burke, Rodney Wade. Quora. “Do atheists believe Mary engaged in adultery as I do as a Jew?  2015. <https://www.quora.com/Do-atheists-believe-Mary-engaged-in-adultery-as-I-do-as-a-Jew>  “Panthera, the real father of Jesus?” The Evolving Atheist’s Blog. 2009. https://evolvingatheist.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/panthera-the-real-father-of-jesus>
[15] West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology.  n.d.  http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm>  Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.
[16] Luke 1:32. NASB. NKJV.
[17] Luke 1:38. NKJV.
[18] Sanhedrin 53a, footnote #3; 59a; 63a; 66b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>
[19] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Kethuboth 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  Brayer.  The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 142-143.
[20] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 142-143.
[21] NRSV, NASB, NKJV, ESV, Berean, WEB.

Joseph’s Dilemma With Mary

Joseph played a key role in the Nativity story, much more than it may seem. His reactions to incomprehensible circumstances reveal truths about Mary’s pregnancy and a message from God.

Most likely Joseph knew Mary through community interactions in Nazareth such as during harvest or through their Synagogue.[1] He would have been familiar with her family’s reputation and had full confidence that she was a marriageable virgin, a very important factor in their conservative Jewish society.[2]

Betrothals typically lasted for a year during which time Joseph would be very busy.[3] As a bridegroom, in addition to paying the traditional bride-price, he had hold a job to meet other financial obligations such as preparing their new home and a 3-day wedding feast for the guests.[4]

Mary, on the other hand, had less commitment pressures to prepare for the wedding. A betrothed girl subject to Judaic Law was under strict supervision of her family and the watchful eye of the community. She was not allowed to be alone at any time with an adult male, not even a male family member.[5]

Gabriel, the angel, in his secret appearance to Mary informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was 6 months pregnant. It seemed to be a good opportunity at this point to visit Elizabeth who lived in a village days away near Jerusalem.[6] Mary would be gone for 3 months. No phones, texts or emails…keeping in touch with Joseph would be very limited.[7]

Joseph would not become aware of Mary’s pregnancy until sometime after her return to Nazareth. It is unclear exactly when he discovered that she was pregnant, but it is clear from Matthew‘s use of the Greek word heurisko meaning “to hit upon…to find (by chance)” that it was a big surprise when he did find out![8] Overwhelming emotions would be expected – hurt and anger to begin with, then resentment, embarrassment, doubt, uncertainty, temptations of vengefulness and other mixed feelings. Then the big question – what to do next?

What would be the expected natural reaction of a man who was absolutely certain that he was not the father of his pregnant betrothal’s child vs. the expected reaction of a man who might have reason to believe he was the father?

Moving forward with the marriage would be the expected behavior of a man who believed himself to be the father of his betrothal’s baby. Frowned upon by the Rabbis, accidental pregnancies during betrothals were a reality, even in those days. As such, these things were dealt with by allowing the couple to move up their wedding date and get on with life as a married couple.[9]

Not being the father of Mary’s baby was a whole different set of circumstances. Why would a bridegroom want to marry his bride-to-be who was carrying the child conceived by someone else? If Joseph stayed with his pregnant betrothal, their community of family, friends and neighbors would assume the pregnancy was a result of his own doing.

Knowing he was innocent, Joseph would have to pay the undeserving price of facing public scorn and humiliation while swallowing his pride and overcoming his personal feelings. It would take a big man. Few men would do it.

Indeed, Joseph was contemplating the divorce option, the expected reaction of a man who knew he was not the father of his betrothal’s child. It serves as the most telling evidence of a truth that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child. 

Consequences of a divorce weighed heavily on Joseph. Not only would it taint her reputation and cause financial loss to Mary and her family, a public accusation of infidelity would carry a charge of adultery – stoning would not have been out of the question.[10]

Attesting to another truth was Joseph’s honorable character. Rising above any negative feelings, he sought to quietly settle the divorce which would, in effect, minimize embarrassment to Mary, her family and avoid the public charge of adultery.[11] 

Unexpectedly, Joseph suddenly changed his mind – he inexplicably decided to continue with his marriage. Why? What could have led to this sudden change of heart and willingness to pay the huge personal price of staying with Mary?

Matthew reports the game-changing moment came from a visit by “an angel of the Lord.” He delivered a message from God telling Joseph that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and her child, a boy, was to be named Jesus.[12] 

Was Joseph really visited by an angel? The old adage that actions speak louder than words speaks volumes in this case. Something very unusual and significant happened. Joseph suddenly set aside all his negative emotions and feelings to honor his marriage commitment to Mary knowing he was not the father of her child while willingly accepting the consequences that would come with it.[13]

Do Joseph’s actions demonstrate he was not the biological father of Jesus; that he received a message from God confirming Matthew’s Gospel which says the virgin birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. 1986. pp 68-69. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[2] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 57, 59, 61. “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10435-marriage-laws>
[3] “Betrothal.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3229-betrothal> Brayer.  The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 62.  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  https://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book204.htm> Thompson, James C.  Women in the Ancient World. July 2010.  “Women in Ancient Israel” > “Women and the Law in Ancient Israel.” <http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women%20and%20the%20law%20in%20ancient%20israel.htm>
[4] Missler, Chuck. “The Wedding Model.” Koinonia House, Inc. 2018. <http://www.khouse.org/articles/2003/449/#notes>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 70.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/index.html> “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery> Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 142-143.
[6] Luke 1.  “Map of Israel in the Time of Jesus.”  Bible History Online. n.d.<https://www.bible-history.com/maps/palestine_nt_times.html>
[7] Luke 1.
[8] Matthew 1:18. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “heurisko <2147>.” Lexicondorance.com. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2147.html>
[9] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 143-144, 146-147.  Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage. 2018. Section “Celebrating the Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “Jewish Betrothal Blessing;” Section “The Structure of The Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “The Jewish Marriage Ceremony.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/465140/jewish/The-Jewish-Way-in-Love-Marriage.htm>   Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4, footnote #27.  “Ḳiddushin.”’ Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9310-kiddushin>
[10] John 8:2-7.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Ceremonies.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10434-marriage-ceremonies> Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II, #25. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Thompson,“Women in the Ancient World.”  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.  
[11] Matthew 1:19.  Schneerson; Menachem M. “The Betrothed.” Chabad org. 2018. <http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/296931/jewish/The-Betrothed.htm>  “Marriage Ceremonies” & “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[12] Matthew 1.
[13] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.