The Great Isaiah Scroll – Are Its Messiah Prophecies Authentic?

Isaiah is considered by Judaism and Christianity to be the greatest of all the prophets making the Book of Isaiah the greatest of all the books of the prophets.[1] The Talmud contains many references and interpretations of Isaiah’s prophecies with Sanhedrin 98 alone making 10 references.[2]

Beginning to end, the Book of Isaiah is chalked full of Messiah prophecies although which ones are messianic sparks a conflict. Undisputed are the three prophecies foretelling the future Messiah would come from the son of Jesse, the throne of David.[3] Of these, one is the first Messiah “Branch” prophecy followed a hundred years later by two Jeremiah “Branch” prophecies and a century after that, Zechariah’s two “Branch” prophecies.[4]

Perhaps the greatest of all offers made by God to a man is the story in Isaiah of King Ahaz who turned it down! The King was given an opportunity to choose any miraculous sign unbounded between Heaven and Hell as proof that Isaiah’s prophecy of protection would come true.[5] Suspicious, Ahaz declined the challenge leading to the famed, yet controversial, prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.

Christianity and Judaism virtually agree Isaiah 7:14 predicts the birth of a son, but they part company about it being a prophecy of the Messiah’s birth. Matthew’s Gospel contains the account when the Archangel Gabriel told Joseph his betrothed virgin wife, Mary, would give birth to a son fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of ha-almah.

Much more than a single word, the parashah or pericope of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 depicts a man’s manner of torture and suffering who is killed and buried. Moreover, the death and burial among the rich described in Isaiah 53:8-9 is followed by a description of life again in the remaining two verses. The many details in the parashah mirror the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion death, burial and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Judaism typically treats the Isaiah 52-53 parashah as a prophecy about Israel, but with some very notable exceptions.[6] Prominent Rabbis – Maimonides, Jose the Galilean, Crispin – point to a combined 5 different Messiah prophecies within the parashah of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.[7] “The Rabbis” in Sanhedrin 98b reference Isaiah 53:4 identifying one of the names of the Messiah.[8]

Hours before his arrest, Jesus quoted Isaiah 53:12 to his Disciples, “‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’” saying the prophecy written about himself was to be fulfilled.[9] Three years earlier, launching his ministry in the synagogue of his home town, Jesus of Nazareth read from the prophecy of Isaiah 61 saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[10]

Paramount to all of these prophecies is having confidence that the Book of Isaiah is credible and reliable.[11] Archeology played a major role in that determination with the discoveries of the Qumran Scrolls from 1947-1956 and their restoration.[12]

Most Qumran scrolls were only in fragments, but one scroll was complete – the scroll of Isaiah.[13] For good reason, the scroll has been dubbed “The Great Isaiah Scroll” and is on display in Jerusalem at the Shrine of the Book.[14]

A precept of the science of textual criticism is the shorter the time interval between the original and the existing text, the greater the level of textual purity – the shorter the timeframe, the fewer number of interim handwritten copies where variations are inevitably introduced.[15]

Isaiah’s book was written around 700 BC and the Scroll is dated to between 200-100 BC. When compared to other well-known texts of antiquity, textual purity of the Scroll is of the highest degree especially considering that the some Hebrew scrolls have been known to be used in synagogues for hundreds of years.[16]

Until the Qumran discoveries, the oldest textual content of Isaiah was the Masoretic Aleppo manuscript, the source for the Jewish Tenakh. The Aleppo text was written about 1000 years after the Scroll.[17] Are the expected variances minor or significant?[18]

Surprising to experts, little variation is found between the Scroll and Aleppo texts. One Scroll translator, Jeff A Benner, explains his translation methodology on his website, “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.”  Focusing on the controversial Isaiah 53, the findings of his analysis:

“The major difference between the Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the addition of the vowel pointings (called nikkudot in Hebrew) in the Aleppo Codex to the Hebrew words.”

“Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only 17 letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The three remaining letters comprise the word LIGHT, which is added in verse 11 and which does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the Septuagint (LXX). Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word (three letters) in question after a thousand years of transmission – and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.”

Benner points out the only variation of any significance, a single word, is still consistent with the Septuagint text. About 100 years before the Scroll was written, the Septuagint LXX translation was produced from 285-247 BC. According to Josephus, Egypt ruler Ptolemy Philadelphius required 72 Jewish scribes to be separated and translate Hebrew Scripture to produce a complete Greek translation.[19] The Septuagint is the primary basis of the Christian Bible.

Fred P. Miller is another Scroll text translator with his own website, “The Translation of the Great Isaiah Scroll.” Miller attributes the Scroll text to not being a “translation,” rather a copy that merely reflects dialects of the era similar to updating old English, such used as in the King James Version, to modern English used in the New King James Version. Miller’s finds the results “remarkable”:

“With this fact in mind, (that the Qumran scribes used their own discretion to alter the text to fit their own dialect), then the correspondence between the text of the Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic text of Isaiah is all the more remarkable.”

Science has proven the Book of Isaiah holding its many prophecies genuinely and accurately appear in today’s Jewish and Christian Bibles. The question is not whether the prophecies of Isaiah are legitimate; rather, which are Messiah prophecies and have any been fulfilled?


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

REFERENCES:

[1] “Isaiah.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8235-isaiah> “Isaiah.” Biblica | The International Bible Society. 2019. <https://www.biblica.com/resources/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-isaiah>
[2] Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a, footnote #1. Isaiah XLIX:7, XVIII:5, I:25, LIX:19, LIX:20, LX:21, LIX:16, XLVIII:11, LX:22, LIII.4.<https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98b_31>  CR The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. Sanhedrin, Chapter XI, p 310. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t08/t0814.htm>
[3] Isaiah Is 9:6-7; 11:1-2, 10.  CR 1 Chronicles 2:12-15; Ruth 4:21-22. Matthew 1:5-6. Ryrie. “Introduction to the Book of Isaiah.”
[4] Jeremiah 23:5; 33:14-15. Zechariah 3:8, 6:12-13.
[5] Isaiah 7:11, NASB,
[6] The Compete Jewish Bible – with Rashi Commentary. Isaiah 42:13-14 Rashi commentary. <http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/63255/jewish/The-Bible-with-Rashi.htm>  Singer, Tovia.  “Who is God’s Suffering Servant? The Rabbinic Interpretation of Isaiah 53.”  Outreach Judaism. 2015.  <http://outreachjudaism.org/gods-suffering-servant-isaiah-53> Gold, Moshe “Israel’s Messenger, The Suffering Servant of Isaiah – A Rabbinic Anthology.” Israel’s Messenger. 2009. Jewish Awareness Ministries. <http://www.jewishawareness.org/the-suffering-servant-of-isaiah-a-rabbinic-antholo>
[7] Neubauer, Adolf, and Driver, Samuel Rolles.  The Fifty-third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters. 1877. Moses Maimonides.  “Letter to the South (Yemen).” pp xiv, 99-117, 374-375.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=YxdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=advent&f=false>  CR Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a.  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson. 1918. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t05/abo06.htm>
[8] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Sanhedrin 98b, footnote #31. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98b_31>
[9] NIV. Luke 22:37.
[10] NASB, NRSV. Luke 4:21. CR Matthew 12:15-21 citing Isaiah 42:1-4; Luke 22:37 reference to Isaiah 53:12.
[11] Cohen, Menachem.  “The Idea of the Sanctity of the Biblical Text and the Science of Textual Criticism.” Bar-Ilan University. 1979. <http://cs.anu.edu.au/%7Ebdm/dilugim/CohenArt>  Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2017.  <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/bible_isaiahscroll.html>  Zeolla, Gary F.  “Textual Criticismj.” Universitat De Valencia. 2000.  <http://www.uv.es/~fores/programa/introtextualcritici.html>  “Isaiah.” Biblica.
[12] “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Israel Museum. 2019. <https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book/dead-sea-scrolls> “Isaiah.” Biblica.
[13] “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Israel Museum.  Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”
[14] Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll…” “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The Israel Museum.
[15] Westcott & Hort. The New Testament in the Original Greek. Pages 31, 58-59, 223-224, 310-311. [xv] Miller. Fred P.  The Great Isaiah Scroll. Moellerhaus Publisher. 1998. “Qumran Great Isaiah Scroll.” <http://www.moellerhaus.com/qumdir.htm>  Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”
[16] Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”
[17] Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll.” “Isaiah.” Biblica.
[18] Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. March 6, 2012.  <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>
[19] “Septuagint.” Septuagint.Net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XII, Chapter II.1-6, 13-1. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Benner. “The Great Isaiah Scroll.”  Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex.”  USC West Semitic Research Project. 2012. <https://web.archive.org/web/20140826133533/https://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtml>  “Septuagint.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Septuagint> Cohen.  “The Idea of the Sanctity of the Biblical Text and the Science of Textual Criticism.”

 

Herod’s Death, a Lunar Eclipse and Passover – What Year?

King Herod died between a lunar eclipse and the Passover, according to Josephus.[1]Matthew and Luke Gospels say Herod was alive when Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem; Matthew adding the King died before Joseph and Mary with their child Jesus came out of hiding in Egypt.[2]

Establishing the date of the lunar eclipse through the science of astronomy would substantiate Josephus’ historical account, more so corroborate the Gospel accounts and establish the birth year of Jesus of Nazareth.

 “But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised a sedition with his companions, alive. And that very night, there was an eclipse of the moon.” [3]

  “…and when the public morning for the king was over…at the feast of unleavened bread, which was now at hand, and is by the Jews called the Passover…”[4] – Josephus

Secular history has long advocated the year of King Herod’s death as 4 BC.[5] That year is reckoned from published copies of Josephus’ Antiquities going back to 1544 saying one of Herod’s sons, Philip, died in the 20th year of the reign of Tiberius after ruling for 37 years.[6]

Two of Herod’s sons, Antipas and Archelaus, had both laid claim to the throne after the King died.[7] Caesar, a beneficiary of millions from Herod’s will, heard their appeals in Rome.[8] Augustus’ delayed Solomon-esk decision split the kingdom to be ruled by the three sons of Herod rather than a single king – Archelaus to rule over one-half of Judea including Jerusalem, Philip and Antipas to rule over the other half of the kingdom.[9]

Tiberius reigned as Caesar from 14-37 AD taking the reverse calculation of the beginning of Philip’s 37-year rule to 4 BC, the year of Herod’s death.[10] Key to this timeline for historians is a lunar eclipse that coincided with the traditional Antiquities date reckoning.

NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem confirms a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse occurred on March 13, 4 BC, between 1:32am and 3:50am. Slightly less than four weeks later, Passover fell on April 10th.[11]

Upending the 4 BC date reckoning was Biblical hobbyist David Beyer. He traveled to the various libraries around the world holding older handwritten copies of Antiquities and uncovered that all handwritten copies originally stated Philip died in the 22nd year of the reign of Tiberius. The discovery adjusts the beginning of Philip’s rule to the years of 2-1 BC, the time of Herod’s death.

January 9, 1 BC, a full lunar eclipse began over Jerusalem at 10:22pm spanning to 3:53am, January 10th.[12] NASA’s astronomy data is a potential game-changing fact aligning with the adjusted 2-1 BC date reckoning for Herod’s death based on Beyer’s discovery. The Passover in 1 BC was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.[13]

Archeological, historical and astronomy records tracing to 2 BC coincide with other Gospel timeline events. The Silver Anniversary of Caesar Augustus and his Pater Patriae registration decree; archeological discoveries of Quirinius governing in Syria; and the Battle of Actium marking the beginning date of Herod’s reign all land in the 2-1 BC time frame.[14] NASA’s data also shows a rare planetary conjunction formed an extraordinary, elongated star in June, 2 BC.

Aside from the partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC, finding other known secular historical events to corroborate that year’s timeline has proved to be challenging. Attempts to explain the registration decree by Augustus and Quirinius governing in Syria have required complicated, varying explanations.[15] Astronomical events that could explain “His star” took place in previous years.

One historical factor may tip the scales in favor of the actual year. Josephus described in detail events that transpired between the lunar eclipse and the Passover.  A question about the 4 BC timeline, could all these events have taken place in less than four weeks or would the twelve and half weeks in 1 BC be more realistic?

Herod’s loathsome bowel and gangrenous groin condition compelled him to seek therapy in the warm baths of Callirrhoe, a 2-day journey from Jerusalem across the Jordan River. Gaining no relief, he soaked in a full vat of oil at his palace in Jericho.[16] After all treatments failed, Herod welcomed the relief of death.

Letters were sent by Herod summoning “all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation” to his palace in Jericho [17] Surmising the people would all rejoice at his death, the king had the “principal men” locked inside the Jericho hippodrome and gave orders to have them killed with darts as soon as he died.[18]

The cruel nature of Herod worsened – to ensure that the whole nation would fall into deep mourning, he also plotted to kill one member of each family in Judea.[19] Diverting his attention from this connivance, a letter from Caesar temporarily uplifted his spirits.[20] Acme, Herod’s wicked daughter-in-law, had been executed and Caesar granted the King permission to either banish or execute her husband, Herod’s own hated son, Antipater.

Hastening the anticipated relief of death, Herod attempted suicide. His cousin happened upon the act, intervened and began screaming which echoed through the halls of the palace. Antipater, thinking Herod had died, tried to bribe the jailer for his release; the jailer instead told Herod who had Antipater immediately executed.[20]

Five days after Antipater’s execution, Herod succumbed to his wretched fatal condition.[22] All these things occurred after the eclipse up unto Herod’s death. What transpired next before the Passover would have taken even more weeks.

Fortunately for the principle men of Judea locked in the Hippodrome, Herod’s order to kill them after he died was not carried out. Salome, Herod’s sister, and her husband told the guards the king had changed his mind before he died.

Many traveled to the funeral in Jericho from throughout Judea including 500 domestic servants and freed men; from other countries were foreign dignitaries and militaries.[23] Slowly, the funeral procession lasted for many days to Herod’s final resting place in Herodium 30 miles away.[24]

Archelaus afterwards extended the mourning period to seven days followed by giving a feast for all the people.[25] Soon thereafter, chaos and sedition broke out in the days approaching the Passover with passions still simmering from Herod’s executions of the Jewish insurrectionists weeks earlier. Archelaus dispatched military forces to quell the unrest resulting in the death of 3000 rebels. During the Passover, Archelaus along with his family, sailed away to Rome to escape the threatening chaos.[26]

A partial lunar eclipse in 4 BC followed by the Passover less than 4 weeks later vs. a full lunar eclipse in 1 BC with the Passover 12½ later – which timeline marked by a lunar eclipse makes the most sense for the actual death year of Herod and consistent with the Gospels?

 

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapters VI, XIX 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>  CR Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. 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>
[2] Matthew 2; Luke 1.
[3] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.4
[4] Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter 1.2-3
[5] Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies Vol. 34, no 2, pp 526-531. 1983.  RedatedKings.com. n.d.  <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf>  Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. Chapter 13. 2003. <http://askelm.com/star/star000.htm#_edn11%3E%20%3Chttp://web.archive.org/web/20170111193244/http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm>  Schurer, Emil.  A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. Volume 1. pp 400, 416. <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.6; V.4.  Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. 1998.   <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false>
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter IX.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter II.
[8] Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapter VIII.
[9] Matthew 14:3; Mark 6; Luke 3:1.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VII, Chapters IX, XI.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapters II, VI.
[10] “Tiberius.” BBC. 2014. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/tiberius.shtml> Schurer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. p. 358.
[11] Espenak, Fred. “Javascript Lunar Eclipse Explorer.” NASA Eclipse Website. n.d.  Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100. <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html>  Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.” Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page. n.d.  <http://www.observadores-cometas.com/cometas/Star/Passover.html>
[12] Espenak. “Javascript Lunar Eclipse Explorer.”  NASA Eclipse Website. n.d.  Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  Espenak. “NASA TP-2009-214172.” n.d.  <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/5MCLEmap/-0099-0000/LE0000-01-10T.gif>
[13] Kidger, Mark R.  “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  Mark Kidger`s Comet and Asteroid Observing Home Page.
[14] Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the two Censuses of Quirinius.” 2018. Academia.edu.  <http://www.academia.edu/3184175/Dating_the_two_Censuses_of_Quirinius>  Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII. Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter XIX.  “Augustus.”  UNRV History |The Roman Empire. United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php;
[15] Davis, John D. “Quirinius” (Quirinus), cwui-rin’i-us, Publius Sulpicious.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. IX: Petri – Reuchlin. 1953. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc09/htm/iv.vi.xii.htm>  Ramsay, William M.  “Was Christ Born in Bethlehem?” Chapter 11. 2010. <http://biblehub.com/library/ramsay/was_christ_born_in_bethlehem/index.html> Schaff, Philip. “Chronology of the Life of Christ.” History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100. Chapter 2. 1890.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 1 June 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.II_1.16.html> Sieffert, F. “Census.” The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Vol. II:  Basilica – Chambers. 1952. <http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc02/htm/iv.vi.ccxxx.htm>
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI. Josephus.  Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. “Tulul Abul Alayiq (Herodian Jericho) – Jericho.”  This Week in Palestine. Issue No. 102, October 2006.  <http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=1948&ed=132&edid=132>  “Callirrhoe.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3933-callirrhoe>  “Map of New Testament Israel.”  Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[19] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[20] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[21] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[22] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[23] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[24] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII, * footnote.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.  “Highways and Roads of Palestine.” Bible-history.com. Map. n.d. <https://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/herodium.html>
[25] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I.
[26] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IX-X.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter I-II.

What Signs Did the Magi See As “His Star”?

Magi saw “His star” signaling the birth of the “King of the Jews” – something so moving they walked hundreds of miles to “worship” him. What did the Magi see? Clearly, in the Jesus of Nazareth Nativity as described by Matthew, the Magi had read signs in the night sky saying to King Herod:

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 “…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)

Astrology, astronomy or was it something else?[1] Astrology is the belief that celestial bodies influence a person’s journey in life where horoscopes define a personality, successes, sorrows, challenges – a life’s destiny.[2] Astronomy is a science where positions of stars and planets follow a predictive path that can be charted past, present and future – no mystical meaning in the science.[3]

Zoroastrian theology of the Magi did not believe astrology determined a person’s future, rather a person’s spirit was chosen through a chain of decisions by the age of 15. It was a freewill choice result.[4] On the other hand, the Magi believed every planet has a significance.[5]

Going back millennia from the Assyrians and Babylonians down through the Greeks and Romans, planet-stars and certain fixed stars had names of gods varing by culture and language.[6] As these symbolic celestial bodies moved through the night sky, stargazer Magi viewed their interactions as having earthly significance.[7] Through a series of signs a story unfolded where one sign was associated with the next ultimately portraying a particular outcome.[8]

Unknown to many, Hebrew scholars have long accepted a belief that during creation God instilled the 12 constellations with influences in world events.[9] Man abused this knowledge by worshiping the stars instead of God thus He made it a forbidden practice.[10]

“The study of the universe as a whole was, like all other sciences in olden times, held in closest connection with religion, and was cultivated in the interest of the latter. The starworld was to the heathen an object of worship, but not to the Jews, whether national or Hellenized. With this reverence there was connected a superstition that the stars determined the destiny of man…It is obvious, therefore, that the Astronomy of the Talmudists [Jewish biblical sages] could not be an independent science any more than that of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, or of all other nations of antiquity or of the medieval ages: it was a department of knowledge belonging to theology.”[11] –Jewish Encyclopedia

Knowing how the Magi and the Hebrews viewed the constellations, the planets, their meaning and significance of their interactions serves as a key to solving the mystery of “His star.” By tying this information to the incredible factual astronomy events that played out on the night’s stage during the final years of the BC era, several theories  emerge that could possibly identify the star.

One is the comet star theory when two comets were observed, first in 5 BC lasting for 70 days and then a second tailless comet visible during a single night on April 24, 4 BC.[12] Another theory cites ancient Chinese records telling of a nova burst in the constellation Aquila the Eagle in 5 BC.

The comet theory has to overcome the fact that these were distinctly two very different visual events – one comet with a tail lasting for weeks; the other without a tail lasting for a single night. A nova is an explosion of a star creating a temporary brightening of the star before it fades back to a fainter state.[13] The nova theory is challenging in that it was a one-star, one-time event.

A popular theory is based on a series of conjunctions during the 7-6 BC timeframe involving very close proximity Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunctions. The trifecta took place inside the constellation Pisces, the Fish, on May 29, September 29 and December 5 of 7 BC and was followed by a massing of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 BC.[14] Jupiter and Saturn also twice came into close conjunction with the Moon.[15] Problematic for this scenario is that it does not offer an explanation for a single “star” having to rely heavily on astrological interpretation.

Rarity would be a factor since the Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunction was only the third since 562 BC. The scenario also had Babylonian astrology implications by taking place inside the constellation Pisces known to the Babylonians as Nunu.[16]

Pisces the Fish constellation, considered to be the house of Jupiter, is associated with water and rain making the Earth fruitful.[17] In the Hebrew Zodiac, Pisces is the twelfth sign called Dagim that falls in the twelfth Jewish month of Adar, and is one of the three constellations of the East.[18] Dagim represents fertility and pregnancy; a blessing. Adar is the month of joy holding the last holiday of the year, Purim, the celebration of hidden miracles and sets the stage for the month Nisan and the Passover.[19]

One starry scenario theory took place in 3-2 BC hitting squarely on several points, one that provides an astronomy science explanation for “His star;” matches the 2 BC timeline for the Caesar Augustus Pater Patriae registration decree; and deftly fits with the Magi’s view of cosmic signs. Seven extraordinarily close-proximity conjunctions tell an intriguing allegorical story that cannot be easily ignored.

An 18-month series of rare conjunctions began in 3 BC with the .67˚ Saturn-Mercury conjunction. Saturn was known as Ninib, Babylonian god of fertility, and Mercury as Nebo, “the messenger of the gods,” the god of record-keeping and scribe who delivered messages to the mortals.[20] In this scene, the messenger to mortals and the scribe record-keeper god met with the fertility god.

Three weeks later came the .12˚ conjunction between Saturn and Venus who was the Babylonian’s divine personification of the goddess Ishtar, a composite goddess who had many attributes. Venus was the queen of heaven, the mother goddess, the goddess of love, marriage and childbirth.[21] Here, figuratively the god of fertility had met with the goddess queen.

Two months later, queen Venus made extremely close contact with its .07˚ conjunction with Jupiter, the king planet known to the Babylonians as Marduk, the patron god of creation.[22] The symbolic coming together of the king and queen is modestly obvious. Would the Magi have seen this as the sign of a royal conception? The two would meet again 9 months later.

Perhaps the Wise Men could have chalked this all up to coincidence…until a month later. In just a half-tick of the comic clock, they saw where king Jupiter left his visitation with queen Venus to begin a triple conjunction with the star Regulus.

Considered to be the king of stars that ruled the affairs of the heavens, Regulus was to the Persians the leader of the Four Royal stars, the four Guardians of Heaven.[23] As the brightest and chief star in the center of the constellation Leo the Lion, Regulus was known as the Heart of the Lion.[24] The star’s Babylonian name was “Sharru,” meaning the ‘breast, heart’ of the lion; in Hebrew, Sharru-ukin means “king; legitimate, true.”[25]

Leo is considered to be a royal constellation because of its status at the head of the Zodiac calendar dominated by king star Regulus and its direct path to the sun.[26] Well-known to the stargazers of the ancient world, Leo was called “Ser” or “Shī” by the Persians and “Arū” by the Babylonians, all meaning Lion.[27]

Over the next eight months since the Jupiter-Venus conjunction, Jupiter’s triple conjunction path revolved around Regulus where, in essence, the king planet circled a ring around the king star of the heavens. Taking place in the heart of Leo the Lion, the natal sign of Judah, this triple conjunction may have signaled the Magi where to find the new king.[28]

Jupiter moved from circling Regulus directly back to a reunion with Venus, 9 months since the last, for the striking appearance of a partial overlapping conjunction on June 17, 2 BC. Not a surprise to the Magi who would have anticipated its appearance, yet if this second Jupiter-Venus Conjunction was the second appearance of “His star” while the Magi were in Jerusalem, they reacted with “exceedingly great joy” when they actually saw it.

Appearing unannounced at the palace of Herod, the King did not question the declaration of the Magi whose centuries old reputation preceded them – renowned for their expertise in reading the stars and, according to Plato, as “king makers.”[29] Herod acted on the Magi’s information as fact, consulted with Jewish religious experts on prophecy, then focused his attention on Bethlehem wanting to know when “His star” had appeared.

Was the sign of “His Star” announced by the Magi to King Herod in his Judean palace actually the conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus in 3 and 2 BC?

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[27] Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings.  p253.
[28] Genesis 49:8-10; Numbers 23:3-9, 21-24.  Strobel. “The Star of Bethlehem – An Astronomical Perspective.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
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