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.”

Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – Was Daniel a Hebrew Magi?

Magi from the East, known by a name that is the root word for “magic” seems at complete odds with a Jewish Messiah story about Jesus of Nazareth. Behind the curtains, was there a connection to these Magi through Daniel?

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had wiped out Jerusalem, raided the Temple, and ended the House of David’s succession of sitting kings. Treasures taken as spoils of war included Hebrew people with particular qualities.[1]

One such selected captive was named Daniel who, along with three other Hebrew captivities, was chosen to be educated for three years in the exclusive Babylonian school of Chaldeans in preparation for service to the King. They would become part of an eclectic group of royal wise men that included “the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” known as the chakkiym.”[2]

Two Aramaic words exclusively found in the Bible only in the first five chapters of the Book of Daniel are key to defining the four Hebrews, kisday and chakkiym.[3] Aramaic kisday has the same meaning as the Hebrew Kisdiy – the “Clod-breakers.” Chakkiym literally means “wise men” or simply “wise.”[4]

One day Nebuchadnezzar challenged the chakkiym to interpret his dream. Gladly, they agreed once Nebuchadnezzar revealed his dream. The king was suspicious of their dubious abilities – if they truly had mystical powers, then they should be able to know his dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar commanded that failure would result in their dismemberment and destruction of their homes.

Realizing they were backed into a corner, these royal wise men informed the King that his request was impossible because no one could do what he was asking. In a fit of rage, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the chakkiym in the kingdom to be executed.

All this was unknown to Daniel until Arioch, captain of the King’s guard, came to arrest and execute Daniel as one of the kingdom’s chakkiym. Surprised by this nasty turn of events, Daniel asked Arioch for details then convinced Arioch to allow him to approach the King. A day’s reprieve was granted by Nebuchadnezzar and that night Daniel and his friends prayed for the dream revelation.

Daniel approached King Nebuchadnezzar the next day saying, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men , the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets…”

God gave “Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams” and in answer to his prayers, Daniel revealed the King’s dream and its interpretation.  Nebuchadnezzar was completely humbled bowing down to Daniel, rewarding him with riches and making him head of all the kingdom’s chakkiym. In Jeremiah, the chief position of the wise men was called a Rab-mag.[5]

Handwriting on the wall in Belshazzar’s palace was the last time chakkiym appears in the Bible. At the urging of Belshazzar’s wife, Daniel was summoned to interpret the message which said the Medes and Persians would overthrow the Babylonian kingdom – it happened that very night.[6]

Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, espoused Zoroastrianism as the main religion in his Empire.[7] Zoroastrian priests known as Magi, considered to be wise men, held great royal influence.[8]

Daniel’s supernatural abilities of interpreting visions and prophecies valued by kings continued under Cyrus and Darius.[9] Chaldean wise men’s mystical abilities meshed well with the mystic aptitudes of the Magi.

Authors and teachers of the Hellenistic age produced many writings by noted Greek historians and philosophers giving additional insights to these mysterious wise men.[10] Accounts about the Chaldeans and the Magi reveal striking similarities.

Herodotus (c. 484-420) identified the Magi as one of the six Median tribes who had the ability to interpret dreams. Two of the Greek historian’s stories about Cyrus demonstrate the considerable political influences of the Magi in the affairs of rulers.[11]

Median King Astyages, who reigned during the same years of the Babylonian Empire, consulted Magi to interpret dreams about his daughter. Their interpretation said the King’s newborn grandson would rise to rule the kingdom. Alarmed, Astyages tried to thwart this fate by commanding his grandson to be secretly killed…but he didn’t want to know any of the details.

Years later in a strange coincidence of events, the boy was surprisingly discovered to be alive by Astyages who then proudly named his grandson Cyrus. At the urging of his Magi advisors, the King sent the young Cyrus away to be raised by his father, Cambyses, in Persia. The fascinating story ends when the Persian Cyrus rose up to overthrow his Median grandfather, but not before Astyages had the Magi impaled who had advised him to send away his grandson to Persia.

Pythagoras (c. 570-499 BC), who wanted to learn their ways, “journeyed among the Chaldaeans and Magi,” a period before Cyrus took Babylon. Democritus (c. 460-370 BC) “was a pupil of certain Magians and Chaldaeans” from whom “he learned theology and astronomy.”[12]

Xenophon (c. 430-350 BC) wrote that under Cyrus, “…the first time the college of magi was instituted…” and that the influences of the Magi “continued in force with each successive king even to this day.” Cyrus is quoted, “set apart for the gods whatever the magi direct, as they interpret the will of the gods.”[13]

Cicero (106-43 BC), famed Roman orator and lawyer, referenced “Dinon’s Persian annals the dreams of that famous prince, Cyrus, and their interpretations by the magi…who are classed as wise and learned men among the Persians…”[14]

Daniel, the Hebrew wise man of Babylon, was assigned by Darius as one of three top government positions over the satraps – province governors and chiefs.[15] His two Median-Persian counterparts conspired to have Daniel eliminated, pretext for the famous story, Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Unscathed, Daniel survived; his two rivals met the terrifying fate intended for Daniel.

In another account about Magi, Herodotus wrote of a pair of Magi who attempted a silent coup of the kingdom through trickery of an imposter king who was a Magus. After 7 months, the Magus imposter was eventually discovered by seven men including Darius who ended up being the one who killed the Magus. The assignation inciting the “massacre of the Magi.” Darius was chosen among the seven to become King.[16]

Magians, according to Diogenes (412-320 BC), came from a long line of succession from Zoroaster “down to the conquest of Persia by Alexander.”[17] Making reference to historian Clitarchus, he said, “the Chaldaeans apply themselves to astronomy and forecasting the future; while the Magi spend their time in the worship of the gods, in sacrifices and in prayers…”

Chaldeans were skilled in the science of astronomy, said Diodorus (c. 75-20 BC). They had an extraordinary ability saying, “the Chaldeans in Babylon and the other astrologers succeed in making accurate prophecies.”[18]

Plato (circa 428-347 BC) wrote that Magi were “king-makers,” that a king’s son at the age of 14 is taught “the magian lore of Zoroaster, son of Horomazes; and that is the worship of the gods…”[19]

Parthian Empire, considered by some to be the second Persian Empire, followed the Greek Empire in world history. It coexisted with the Roman Empire at the end of the millennium, though not without wars and confrontations.[20]

Strabo (c. 64 BC-21 AD) wrote “the Council of the Parthians, according to Poseidonius, consists of two groups, one that of kinsmen, and the other that of wise men and Magi, from both of which groups the kings were appointed.”[21] He said:[22]

“And the priests of the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and Magi, distinguished for their wisdom above those around them, obtained from our predecessors honour and authority…” – Strabo

Magi, renowned for their ability to read the stars, make accurate predictions and reputed for being king-makers, came to the palace of King Herod asking “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”[23] Without hesitation, Herod gave them immediate access to his palace and did not question their quest.

Historically, the presence of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel is not at all unusual, but what is unusual is Magi seeking out a baby King of the Jews to worship him. Was Daniel an original Magi, “distinguished for their wisdom above those around them, obtained from our predecessors honour and authority,” whose dream and vision interpretations influenced the quest of these Magi?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:
[1] Daniel 1.
[2] NKJV
[3] Guisepi, Robert. “The Chaldeans, The Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian) Empire.” International World History Project. Ed. Robert A. Guisepi. 2007. <http://history-world.org/chaldeans.htm> “Chaldea.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Chaldea>
[4] Net.bible.org. Daniel 2. Hebrew text. “kasdiy <03779>;” “kasday <3779>;” “chakkiym <02445><http://lexiconcordance.com>
[5] Jeremiah 39:3, 13.
[6] Daniel 5.  Herodotus. The Histories. 1.191-193; 4.1. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D1>
[7] “Zoroastrianism.”  ReligionFacts.com. 2018. <http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm> “Zoroastrianism.” PersianEmpire.info. 2007. <http://persianempire.info/zoro.htm>  Hooker, Richard. “Mesopotamia: The Persians.” Washington State University. 1996. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110514001358/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/PERSIANS.HTM> “Zoroaster.” Encyclopædia.com. 2016. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/ancient-religion-biographies/zoroaster> Gascoigne, Bamber.  “History of Zoroastrianism.”  HistoryWorld.net. n.d. <http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab71>  “Zoroastrianism.”  BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian> Eduljee, K. E. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.” Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html>  “Zoroastrianism.” BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. “The Archaemenian.”<http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian> Jafarey, Ali Akbar.  “The Achaemenians, Zoroastrians in Transition.”  CAIS|The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. 1998.  <http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/achaemenian_zarathushtrian.htm> Soules, Jeremiah. “For the Glory of Ahuramazda:  The Political Effects of Zoroastrianism on Early Achaemenid Persia.” University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. 2010. pp. 18-21. <http://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/60912?show=full>
[8] Herodotus, The Histories. Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79. < http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126:book=3:chapter=30&highlight=smerdis >  Plato. Republic.  Book 9, section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>  
[9] Daniel 6, 9, 10.
[10] Gascoigne, Bamber.   “Iran (Persia) timeline.” HistoryWorld.net. n.d. <http://www.historyworld.net/timesearch/default.asp?conid=static_timeline&timelineid=759&page=1&keywords=Iran+%28Persia%29+timeline> Eduljee. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”
[11] “ Herodotus. The Histories.  Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79. Herodotus. The Histories. Book 1, Chapters 107-122. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D1>  Polybius. Histories. Book 34, Chapter 2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0234:book=34:chapter=2&highlight=magi>  Herodotus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herodotus-Greek-historian>
[12] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.
[13] Xenophon. Cyropaedia. Walter Miller, Ed. c.370 BC. 4.5; .8.1. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Xen.+Cyrop.+1.1&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0204>   “Xenophon.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Xenophon>
[14] Cicero, M. Tullius. Divination. Trans. William Armistead Falconer. 44 BC. 1.46. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Cic.+Div.+1.1&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043>
[15] Daniel 6. Herodotus. Histories. 3.90. Xenophon. Cyropaedia. 4.5.
[16] Herodotus. Histories. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. n.d, Book XI, Chapter III. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[17] Diogenes. Lives. Prologue.  “Cleitarchus.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/cleitarchus>
[18] Diodorus. Library. Prologue; 15.50. “Diodorus Siculus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Diodorus-Siculus>
[19] Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>  Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Plato.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plato>
[20] Lendering, Jona. History of Iran – Parthian Empire. 2018. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[21] Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. 17-23 AD.  H. L. Jones, ed. 11.9. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0198%3Abook%3D6%3Achapter%3D1%3Asection%3D1>
[22] Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. 17-23 AD.  H. L. Jones, ed. 1.2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi>
[23] NASB, NKJV.

The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find a newborn King of the Jews.[1] All they knew, he was expected to be somewhere in Judea. It made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.

Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. First words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:

MT 2:2Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?(NASB, NKJV)

No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. The question assumes two facts – the child is predestined to be the King of the Jews and he has already been born. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew this to be true saying:

MT 2:2For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.(NKJV)

Now the second shock wave – not the star; no, it was the fact that they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.

Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. The Magi certainly shook things up with their declaration which undoubtedly also got the attention of everyone else in the palace.  Herod and all of Jerusalem were “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”[2]

Throughout history palaces of kings and queens have been notoriously unable to hold their secrets. Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends. Many times it was the royal family members who could not keep things to themselves – good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. Herod’s family was scandalously known for their loose lips.[3]

A newborn king of the Jews – who was the father if not from the House of Herod?  A child worthy of worship by Magi?! Now this was newsworthy! It must have been the hottest topic of conversation in Jerusalem.

Herod was widely hated so the news undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Either way, it would be years before he would begin his reign.

For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod, this whole affair whether true or not would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.[4]

Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after they left the palace the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.”[5] Not just a select few, but all of the Jewish religious experts – the King was leaving no stone unturned as was his reputation.

Herod made it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation by asking the chief priests and scribes to determine “where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.”[6] The King specifically asked “where” – not ifChristos was to be born using the specific Greek word for Messiah. Their consensus response: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah 5:2.[7]

Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.

Matthew’s account does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know the exact date. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.

Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy from the Jewish religious experts, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded in the response by the chief priests and scribes although as religious experts they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel.[8] Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not.

One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation:  when did this star appear? There could be only one reason why it was now important – knowing when the star appeared would establish a timeline.

Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since the word was out all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, why did Herod want their next meeting to be secret? It strongly suggests the King had something to hide.

Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. This information would serve as leverage to learn when the star had appeared. During the second meeting, Herod got the information he wanted and the Magi got the information they were seeking.

One other thing… Herod wanted the Magi to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship him. But Herod worshiped no one or thing.

In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Duped by the Magi who went back to their homes by avoiding Jerusalem, the enraged and paranoid King believed he still had a threat that must be eliminated. Herod ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance learned from the Magi.

Hard to believe anyone could be this evil?  This is the same King who, among many murders, killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather and her two sons who were strangled, and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife.[9] Moreover, from his death bed he would summon all the principal men of his kingdom to Jericho, lock them in the hippodrome, and give orders to have them killed so as to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.[10]

Does Herod’s provocation by the Magi’s declaration ring true that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.” Smithsonian. Map.  n.d. 2016. <http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  
[2] Net.bible.org. Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “tarasso <5015>”  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1990.
[3] Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XV, Ch.VII-VIII; Book XVI, Ch. VIII, XI, IX, XIII, XVI. Book XVII, Ch. I, V. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XVIII, XXII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII. 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
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Ch. 1; Book XV, Ch. 1, 3, 6, 7; Book XVI, Ch.VII, VIII, X; Book XVII, Ch. IV, VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXVI, XXII, XXIV, XXVI, XXX, XXXI. “Herod the Great.” 2017. Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[6] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R.  “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Ch. III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Ch. XI; Book XVII, Ch. IX.
Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII, XXVII, XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Ch. VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXXIII.