The Arabian Desert – Two Passages to Bethlehem?

Matthew’s Nativity account of the wise men, the Magi, establishes that they traveled two different routes during their quest to find the newborn “King of the Jews,” ultimately to and from Bethlehem. Travel from Persia required facing the hardships and challenges posed by the great Arabian Desert.[1]

Magi were well-known by reputation for their origins in Persia east of Judea by hundreds of miles. Marco Polo, famed thirteenth century explorer, wrote in 1298 of his travels to the Province of Persia searching for information about the Magi.[2]

Writing of a city called Saba, Marco Polo wrote that he first visited the burial place of the “magi who came to adore Christ in Bethlehem.” Today the city is known as Saveh located about 50 miles southwest of Tehran, Iran.[3] From Saba, his pursuit to find the location where the Magi had lived took him on a 3-day trek to the castle of “Palasata, which means the castle of fire-worshippers.”[4]

Visiting with the residents of the Palasata castle, they told the story of three renowned Magi whose home towns were given as Dyava, Saba and the castle of Palasata. While Matthew’s account neither discloses the number of Magi nor that they were kings, Marco Polo recounts being told of “three offerings” made by three kings:[5]

“…anciently, three kings of that country went to adore a certain king who was newly born, and carried with them three offerings, namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh:  gold, that they might know if he were an earthly king; frankincense, that they might know if he were God; and myrrh, that they might know if he were a mortal man.” [6]

Travel from Persia to Judea offered only two realistic choices when confronted with the second largest desert in the world. One option was around the edges of the northern half of the Arabian Desert. The other option, was the longer southern route through the desert by way of Petra south of the Dead Sea.

 

Arabian Desert Parthian Empire’s trade routes 2nd BC – 1st AD

Shorter of the two trade routes to Jerusalem, the first destination of the Magi, was approximately 700 miles.[7] The route coursed from Seleucia near present day Bagdad, north through the populous area east of the Euphrates River, on to Edessa in southeast Turkey, turned west to Damascus, Syria, then turned south following the ancient King’s Highway paralleling the east side of the Jordan River in Jordan.

Trade route spurs off the King’s Highway across the Jordan River were limited to only three. When traveling from the north, the first two were not logical choices for a Jerusalem destination. The last crossing opportunity was to ford the Jordan just above the Dead Sea heading west by Jericho, then onward to Jerusalem.

A longer trek to Jerusalem was by way of the southern half of the Parthian loop some 100 miles longer at around 800 miles. This southern trade route ran southwest from Seleucia in central Persia, west across the Arabian Desert to Petra, then turned north joining the King’s Highway south of the Dead (Salt) Sea, then to the Jordan River crossing near Jericho.

King Herod’s winter palace was located in Jericho where he would soon travel for the futile treatment of his horrible bowel disease.[8] It was this same crossing point near Jericho where the Israelites entered into the Promised Land after their wonderings in the Sinai wilderness.[9]

Erza 7:9 mentions how a similar journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took four months. On the timeline of history, Ezra was written after the Jew’s release from the Babylonian captivity while they were still under Persian rule in the late 300 BC era.[10]

Scrolling forward a century to the last quarter of the 200s BC, trade routes had been established by the Parthian Empire making travel relatively much faster.[11] Commonly referred to as “caravan routes,” these trade routes were busy – the interstate highways of the day dotted with trading posts making them the best practical means for land travel.[12]

First, the Magi traveled to Jerusalem where they sought guidance from ruler of the land, King Herod. Jerusalem was not located on the common caravan routes making their arrival newsworthy in the city were everyone seemed to be aware of their arrival.[13]

Perhaps it was their conspicuous caravan of camels; their foreign grandiose attire; or that they were regarded as kings from Persia.[14] Nevertheless, it is obvious the Magi were recognized on the highest social hierarchy as King Herod who granted the Magi immediate access to his palace.

Herod directed the Magi to go to Bethlehem after consulting with Jewish religious experts in exchange for revealing the location of the child after they found him. Bethlehem was only 5 miles to the south of Jerusalem accessible directly by a north-south road. Matthew’s account then provides a key detail:

MT 2:12 “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (NIV)

Avoiding King Herod presented a logistical challenge. Herod would assuredly know if the Magi were back in the City of Jerusalem; undoubtedly he would know if they were passing by the much smaller Jericho where area local contacts to the King’s winter palace were certain.

A return route back to Persia that avoided Jerusalem and Jericho left only one option across the Arabian Desert the southern Parthian loop. The catch was how to reach it from Bethlehem.[15]

Palestine Trade Routes

Copied with permission: Biblewalks.com.

Access to the southern Parthian trade route out was literally at their doorstep. The Central Ridge Road ran south out of Bethlehem to the Spice Road, then passed under the Dead Sea and rejoined the southern Parthian route at Petra.[16] The other less traveled minor route spurs off the Central Ridge Road may have shortened the southward path, but the trade-off was a more difficult passage, few trading posts, and greater risks.

Many secular historical accounts confirm the information about the Magi – who they were, their reputation, from where they came as well as two well-known geographically established caravan trade routes from Persia to Judea. Marco Polo’s account affirms the Magi arrived safely back to their home country. Do these historical accounts corroborate and add credibility to Matthew’s about the Magi and the Nativity of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2:1, 12. “Arabian Desert.” New World Encyclopedia. n.d. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Arabian_Desert>  “Arabian Desert.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Arabian-Desert>
[2] Polo, Marco.  The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  1818.  Ed. Ernest Rhys. 1908 Edition.  Chapter XI. p 50. <http://archive.org/stream/marcopolo00polouoft#page/50/mode/2up> “Marco Polo.” Bibliography.com. 2020 <https://www.biography.com/explorer/marco-polo>  
“Marco Polo and his travels.” Silk-Road.com. n.d. <http://www.silk-road.com/artl/marcopolo.shtml
[3] Saveh, Iran (untitled). Bing.com/maps. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=caeb94c6-d007-42ed-a5c8-19628ce0cebc&cp=35.411126~50.908664&lvl=9&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027> Hartinger, J. A. “Saba and Sabeans.” Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 13. 1912.  NewAdvent.org. 2009. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13285c.htm>
[4] Strabo. Geography. Chapter III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>Stillwell, Richard, et. al. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. “Hatra Iraq.” n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=hatra&highlight=caravan>
[5] Matthew 2:11.
[6] Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  p 50.
[7] II Kings 25:1-17; Jeremiah 52:3-30. Middle East. Bing.com. Map. 2020. <https://www.bing.com/maps?osid=a2a3d404-6095-4abc-9ac8-b6d695d42293&cp=34.13455~41.097873&lvl=7&v=2&sV=2&form=S00027>  “Spice Ways.”  Israel Antiquities Authority.  Map.  n.d.  2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “Trade Routes of Palestine.” Bible Odyssey. Map. 2019. <https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/map-gallery/v/map-trade_routes-g-01>
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary.  William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVII. Chapter VI. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   Geva, Hillel. “Archaeology in Israel: Jericho – The Winter Palace of King Herod.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jericho-the-winter-palace-of-king-herod> “Herodian Jericho.” Oxford Bible Studies Online. 2020. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/article/opr/t393/e57>
[9] Numbers 20:19, 22:1; Deuteronomy 32:48, 34:1-4; Joshua 3:14-17. “Roads in Israel.” Bible History Online. Map.  n.d.  <http://www.bible-history.com/maps/ancient-roads-in-israel.html>
[10] “Ezra and Nehemiah, Books of.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2020. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ezra-and-nehemiah-books-of> “Ezra.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ezra-Hebrew-religious-leader>
[11] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” MetMuseum.org. 2020. <https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm> “Map of Roman & Parthian Trade Routes.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2020. <https://www.ancient.eu/image/11763/map-of-roman–parthian-trade-routes>  Hopkins, Edward C. D. “History of Parthia.”  Parthia.com. 2008. <http://www.parthia.com/parthia_history.htm>  “Parthian Empire.” Iran Chamber Society. 2020. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[12] Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Bernice or Pernicide Portum (Madinet el-Haras) Egypt.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=berenice-1&highlight=caravan>  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Beroea (Aleppo) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=beroea&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Dura Europos Syria.”  The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=dura-europos&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Palmyra (Tadmor) Syria.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=palmyra&highlight=caravan> “Trade Routes/” National Museum of American History. n.d. <https://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>  “Chapter 4. Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” “Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” Iran Politics Club. n.d. <http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “Roads in Israel – 1st Century AD.” Bible-History.com. Map. n.d. <https://www.bible-history.com/maps/first-century-roads-israel2.jpg>
[13] Matthew 2:3.
[14] Strabo. Geography. Chapters II-III. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi> <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=15:chapter=3&highlight=magi>  Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=1:chapter=prologue&highlight=magi>  Stillwell, Richard et. al. “Gaza Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=gaza&highlight=caravan>
[15] Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. 4.451. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0148:book=4:section=451&highlight=petra>
[16] “Major Trade Routes.” Bibarch.com. Map. n.d. <http://www.bibarch.com/images/Map-Regions.jpg> Ancient Israel trade routes (untitled).  BibleWalks.com. Map. 2011. <https://web.archive.org/web/20190414151021/https://biblewalks.com/Photos72/IncenseRoute.JPG> “Ancient Palestine.” The History of Israel. Map. n.d. <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/images/AncientRoadsandCities2.jpg>  “Old Testament Map & History.” The History of Israel.  “Palestine.” Map. n.d.  <http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/old-testament-map.html>  “The Geographical, Historical, & Spiritual Significance of Shechem.” Bible.org. 2020. <https://bible.org/article/geographical-historical-spiritual-significance-shechem> “Spice Ways.” Israel Antiquities Authority. Map. n.d. Mnemotrix Systems, Inc. 2014.  <http://www.mnemotrix.com/avdat/spiceroute2.gif>  “The Urantia Papers’ First Century Palestine.” The Urantia Book Fellowship. Map. n.d. 2013. <http://web.archive.org/web/20070820230158/http://www.urantiabook.org/graphics/gifmap1.htm>  Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Petra (Selah) Jordan.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=petra-2&highlight=caravan> Stillwell, Richard, et. al. “Elusa (El-Khalasa) Israel.” The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites.. n.d. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0006:entry=elusa-2&highlight=caravan>

Rare Conjunction December 21, 2020 – Imagine 7 Closer Conjunctions!

News and weather reports are broadcasting the big news in the sky – a rare planetary conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn. The conjunction of this close proximity has not occurred in almost 800 years!

Franck Marchis, senior planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute and Chief Scientific Officer at Unistellar, said the rare Jupiter-Saturn conjunction on December 21, 2020, is a celestial event “you don’t want to miss.”

“Though they are actually 456 million miles apart, these two massive planetary bodies will be 0.1 degrees apart from our perspective here on Earth…”[1]

Image 7 rare conjunctions, all closer than the one on December 21, 2020. It happened in 3-2 BC just months apart!! All confirmed by NASA science technology.

Check out the details of these 7 rare conjunctions and how they might have been interpreted by the Magi who traveled to Bethlehem. Just click the underlined URL links (no cookies, no Junk emails, no spams!).

 

[1] Ciaccia, Chris. “Christmas star is coming: Jupiter and Saturn are about to do something not seen for nearly 800 years.” FoxNews.com. 21 December 2021. <https://www.foxnews.com/science/christmas-star-is-coming-jupiter-saturn-double-planet-800-years>

Demon’s Recognition of the “Son of God”

Gospel accounts of the supernatural realm of principalities recognizing Jesus as the Son of God came in a specific hierarchical sequence. The archangel Gabriel announced to Mary her miraculously conceived baby would be the Son of God although no one on Earth had yet to recognize him as such.[1]

First of the supernatural powers to distinguish Jesus as the Son of God was by none other than God, Himself. Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Voice of God called out: [2]

MK 1:11 “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (NKJV)

John the Baptist testified to what he had seen and heard that day when he baptized Jesus of Nazareth. “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”[3]

Fasting for 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism, Satan approached Jesus in his emaciated condition. Satan cunningly began his temptations saying to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” Nevertheless, Jesus quoted from the Scriptures to successfully rebuff the temptations.

Jesus began his public ministry traveling from Nazareth to a Capernaum synagogue where he taught. A man in the audience was possessed by an “unclean demon” and its voice cried out: [4]

LK 4:34 “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (NKJV)

Commanded to be silent and to come out of the man, the demon threw him down into convulsions, then came of the man leaving him unharmed. Those who witnessed the exorcism were “amazed” exclaiming Jesus was someone of authority and power causing his fame to quickly spread.[5]

It would not be the only instance when demons proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God. Mark and Luke wrote that whenever demons saw him, they forced their hosts to fall down before Jesus crying out, “You are the Son of God.”[6]

Mathew, Mark and Luke record another especially harrowing encounter with a demon-possessed man in the Gerasenes (Gararenes) region on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee.[7] He lived nake without a house among the tombs and could not be restrained by anyone – chains and shackles would only be broken into pieces. Obviously, out of fear people avoided the area of the tombs.[8]

Arriving by boat from across the Sea of Galilee, the demon-possessed man spotted Jesus, ran to him and bowed down before him. A voice of the demon within the man cried out asking for mercy:

MK 5:7 “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” (NKJV)

Appealing to Jesus by the name of God for mercy, the demon demonstrated Jesus was subject only to the authority of God. The evil entity also recognized that Jesus had complete power and discretion over the demons.

Asked for his name, the demon answered Jesus saying, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”[9] When Jesus commanded the demons to come out of the man, Legion implored Jesus for mercy not to be thrown into the abyss; instead, asking that they would be allowed to enter a nearby herd of swine.[10] Jesus granted the request and the demons entered the herd of pigs which then charged down a steep hill into the sea and drowned.

Herdsmen of the hogs ran into the town and told their story of what had happened. A crowd gathered and went out to see things for themselves. They saw the former fearsome demon-possessed man clothed and calmly sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Fear gripped the crowd imploring Jesus to leave them alone. Jesus honored their request telling them to return to their homes and he sailed back across the sea. Meanwhile, the healed man proclaimed throughout the town what Jesus had done for him.

The Book of Acts, written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, recounts another demon encounter that did not end well. Some Jewish exorcists, the seven sons of high priest Sceva, attempted to invoke the name of Jesus saying to the demon, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”[11] 

Not impressed by the authority of their command, the demon retorted, “I know about Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul, but who are you?”[12] By the words of their own command, they did not acknowledge the power and authority of Jesus, rather only the person about whom Paul was preaching.

The demon reacted by causing the possessed man to overpower the seven sons and beat them to a point they ran from the house naked and bleeding. Word spread throughout Ephesus causing fear and praise for the name of Jesus.[13]

Accounts of the exorcisms carried such a degree of credibility, the enemies of Jesus believed the witnesses.[14] Rather than believe Jesus was performing the exorcisms by the power and authority of God, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebub, another name for Satan. In response, Jesus asked two rhetorical questions:

LK 11:18-20 “”If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (NKJV)

In the supernatural realm, God was the first to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as His own son. Secondly was Satan followed thirdly by his demons who recognized and bowed down to Jesus as the Son of God. What then should mortal people believe?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 1:30-32, 35.  CR Matthew 1:20-22.
[2] Mark 1:11. Luke 3:21-22.  NKJV. CR Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:32-33.
[3] John 1:32-34. NKJV.
[4] Luke 4:34. NASB. CR Mark 1:24.
[5] Mark 1:27-28; Luke 4:36-37.
[6] Mark 3:11. Luke 4:41. NKJV. CR Mark 9:17-27; Luke 6:18.
[7] Matthew 8:28. NetBible.org. Footnote 1.
[8] Matthew 8:29-34; Mark 5:1-13; Luke 8:26-39.
[9] Mark 5:9. NET.
[10] Luke 8:29-33.
[11] Acts 19:13. NET. Acts 19:13-17.
[12] Acts 19:15. NET.
[13] Acts 19:13-17.
[14] Matthew 9:34, 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15.