Arabian Desert – Two Routes to Bethlehem?

 

Matthew’s Nativity account of the wise men, the Magi, reveals their quest to find the newborn King of the Jews took them first to Jerusalem, then on to Bethlehem. After being warned not to return home the way they came, the Magi took a different route back to their homeland was there a second route?

Arabian Desert, Persia

Magi were well-known by reputation for their origins in Persia east of Judea hundreds of miles away. Marco Polo, famed thirteenth century explorer, wrote in 1298 of his travels to the Province of Persia searching for information about the Magi.[1] Writing of a city called Saba, 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.[2] From Saba, Marco Polo’s 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,” a same name for Magi found in the Talmud.[3]

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:[4]

“…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.” Maro Polo [5]

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

Travel from Persia to Judea had one formidable obstacle the great Arabian Desert. It is one of the largest, if not the largest desert, in the world.[6] The shortest, easiest and safest travel option was an established trade route around the northern edges of the Arabian Desert, the northern Parthian loop.

From Seleucia near present day Baghdad, then to Jerusalem was approximately 700 miles.[7] The journey coursed 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.

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

King Herod’s winter palace was located in Jericho where he would soon travel during his final days.[8] The crossing point of the Jordan near Jericho was the same place where the Hebrews entered into land of Abraham 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 Hebrew’s release from Babylonian captivity though still under the rule of the Persian Empire 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]

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

Attention may have been garnered by their conspicuous caravan of camels; their foreign grandiose attire; or perhaps they were even 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.

After consulting with Jewish religious experts, Herod directed the Magi to go to Bethlehem in exchange for revealing the exact 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)

 
Herod would assuredly know that the Magi were in the City of Jerusalem if they returned home the way they came. If the Magi went around Jerusalem, they would still have to go by Jericho where undoubtedly area locals would certainly inform the King.

Another return route was possible through the Arabian Desert the southern Parthian loop via Petra that avoided going through Jerusalem or by Jericho. It was a much longer trek presenting a more enduring and costly logistical challenge, some 100 miles longer at around 800 miles.

Bethlehem to Petra trade routes

South of the Dead (Salt) Sea, the King’s Highway routed to Petra, then east on the southern Parthian route across the Arabian Desert to central Persia.[15]

Access to the southern Parthian trade route was literally at the doorstep of the Magi. The Central Ridge route ran south out of Bethlehem to Hebron; connected to the Spice Route which passed under the Dead Sea; and then joined the King’s Highway south to Petra.[16]

Other less traveled minor route spurs off the Central Ridge Road had trade-offs. While these routes may have shortened the southward path, they were probably more difficult passage with fewer trading posts and greater risks such as robbers, water supply, etc.

Many secular historical accounts confirm the origins of the Magiwho they were and their reputation. At the time Jesus was born ending the BC era, historically two well-known, established Arabian Desert caravan trade routes existed from Persia to Judea.

Do these historical trade routes corroborate and add credibility to the Gospel account of Matthew and the Nativity of Jesus of Nazareth?

 
 

 

 

Updated January 6, 2023.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] 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
[2] 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>
[3] 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> Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Ed. Isidore Epstein. The Soncino Press. 1935-1948. Sanhedrin 98a.  <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html#98a_22> Sanhedrin 74b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_74.html>  “Babylonia.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10263-magi>
[4] Matthew 2:11.
[5] Polo. The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian.  p 50.
[6] 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>
[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>  “Atlas of Iran Maps.” IranPoliticsClub.net. Chapter 4. March, 2000. <http://www.iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>  “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.  “Ancient 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>  “Eastern Desert.” Pinterest.com. Map. n.d. <https://i.pinimg.com/originals/cb/8e/5c/cb8e5cdfa8e96c2fdc1eb3c884cc5f75.jpg> Last accessed 19 Dec. 2021. 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>

Was Jesus Born as the Messiah, the Son of God?

 

Two related questions are commonly asked about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth:  was he really born, actually a real person; and was Jesus born as the Son of God, the Messiah? If Jesus of Nazareth never existed, then he cannot be the promised Messiah.

Ultimately a personal decision, the answer to the question involves substantial amounts of information to be evaluated. Gospel accounts, historical accounts, astronomy and even the archenemies of Christianity all come into play, not to mention simple logic.

Circumstantially, an entirely new religion was spawned by the teachings and events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth – Christianity. Something profound eventually changed the official views of the Roman empire with Christianity going on to become the largest religion in the world, over 2 billion people today.[1]

No one else has been so influential as to change calendars making Jesus the most impactful figure in history. The likelihood that calendars were changed based on someone who never existed is a very difficult concept to believe. The modern-day effort to change “BC” and “AD” to “BCE” and “CE” designations are still based on the fact the calendar change occurred at the same point in time as the life of Jesus.[2]

Religion archenemies of Christianity commonly agree on the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus was crucified is a fundamental component of the Jewish religion.[3] In order to be killed, Jesus had to be born.

Jewish Encyclopedia in its article “Jesus of Nazareth” states that Jesus is a real historical figure, even pinpointing a date of his birth.[4] The miraculous conception of Mary and the birth of Jesus are also recognized by the Quran.[5]

Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are accounts about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. They point out prophecies that were fulfilled and cite many witness accounts to corroborate their accounts. Whether or not they were just a series of extreme coincidences points to the legal Doctrine of Chances.

Historical references in the Gospels cite five rulers consistent with secular history that raises the bar of Gospel answerability and credibility to the highest degree. Caesar Augustus, King Herod, Quirinius, Procurator Pilate and Archelaus – all are referenced in the Gospels lending credibility to the Nativity story of its authors.[6]

Messiah prophecies that may have been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth originate in the Tenakh, the Old Testament. Christianity views many prophecies referred to the Messiah and were fulfilled by Jesus, such as the Branch prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah; the Psalms; the crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Judaism does not unanimously recognize some of these prophecies pertain to the Messiah. Renowned Jewish sages, including Rabbi Rashi and Rabbi Maimonides, had differing views on some prophecies deemed to be messianic by Christians.

One Messiah prophecy; however, is virtually undisputed by Jews or Christians alike – the Messiah would be born in the lineage of King David.[11] Gospels Matthew and Luke report that Jesus was a royal heir to David, a fact not a disputed by Judaism.

Birth circumstances described in Matthew and Luke spell out a scenario that uncannily lends credence for the Nativity story being dubbed “the greatest story ever told.” The Nativity story begins in three diverse countries of Rome, Persia and Judea, involves non-Jewish and non-Christian Magi, astronomy and a Roman Caesar. The Nativity story ends by converging in one place – Bethlehem.

Months in the making by the Roman government, the decree by Caesar Augustus forced the location change of the birthplace of Jesus. The decree in Nazareth compelled Joseph and Mary in her late-stage of pregnancy to abruptly make the days-long trek to Bethlehem where she went into labor. Had Jesus been born in Nazareth, it would have completely eliminated the potential fulfillment of Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy.[7]

Magi from the East presumed to be from Persia made preparations to travel around the edges of the vast Arabian Desert on a month’s long journey to Judea to find the newborn King of Israel. They were compelled by what they saw in the sky, not by any prophecies or scriptures.

Multiple rare planet and star conjunctions occurred in an unusually brief period of time shortly before the birth of Jesus, seconds in astronomical time. Typically these close conjunctions occur centuries or millennia apart; however, all occurred over the course of only months. [8] NASA astronomy science and technology confirms it all happened, both in timing and close proximity.[9]

When the Magi began their month’s long journey to Judea, it was prompted by what they saw in the sky, but their final destination was unclear. They sought out the ruthless King Herod in Jerusalem for assistance in finding the newborn King signaled by “his star.”[10]

Assessing all the circumstances involving the life of Jesus of Nazareth obviously has a direct impact on believability. The U.S. legal Doctrine of Chances suggests it was not an accident. Secular history and astronomy science corroborate the conclusion of the Doctrine.

What are the odds that Jesus was born as the Son of God, the Messiah?

 

Updated September 17, 2023.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] “What is the #1 religion in the world?” Search. Google. 2020. <https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+the+%231+religion+in+the+world&oq=what+is+the+%231+rel&aqs=chrome.0.0i457j0j69i57j0j0i22i30l4.10361j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8>
[2] Hocken, Vigdis. “Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE).” TimeandDate.com. 2020. <https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/ce-bce-what-do-they-mean.html> Mark, Joshua J. “The Origin and History of the BCE/CE Dating System.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2020. <https://www.ancient.eu/article/1041/the-origin-and-history-of-the-bcece-dating-system>
[3]“Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth>  Messiah. Triton World Mission Center. image. n.d. <https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrFGczYdVhjL.gT5Bg2nIlQ;_ylu=c2VjA3NlYXJjaARzbGsDYnV0dG9u;_ylc=X1MDMTM1MTE5NTcwMgRfcgMyBGZyA3locy1hZGstYWRrX3NibnQEZnIyA3A6cyx2OmksbTpzYi10b3AEZ3ByaWQDMzh6Tm9GQmVSYTJoSU9hTDIzbDFOQQRuX3JzbHQDMARuX3N1Z2cDMARvcmlnaW4DaW1hZ2VzLnNlYXJjaC55YWhvby5jb20EcG9zAzAEcHFzdHIDBHBxc3RybAMwBHFzdHJsAzIzBHF1ZXJ5A01lc3NpYWglMjBwcm9waGVjeSUyMGltYWdlcwR0X3N0bXADMTY2Njc0MjIyNw–?p=Messiah+prophecy+images&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Ai%2Cm%3Asb-top&ei=UTF-8&x=wrt&type=yhs-adk_sbnt_appfocus1_sm_ff&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&hspart=adk&param1=20210118&param2=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&param3=searchmanager_%7EUS%7Eappfocus1%7E&param4=%7Efirefox%7E%7E#id=158&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Ftritonubf.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F04%2FThe-Messiah-in-Judaism-Christianity-and-Islam-04.jpg&action=click
[4] Maimon, Moshe ben (Maimonides). “Melachim uMilchamot.” Chabad.org. Chapter 11, #4. <https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188356/jewish/Melachim-uMilchamot-Chapter-11.htm>  CR I Chronicles 9:1; Matthew 1:5; Luke 3:32. Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. Book 1, #7. The Complete Works of Josephus.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Hall, David Markel.  “The Temple of G-d.”  1997.  Zion Messianic Congregation of Austin, Texas. <http://tzion.org/articles/temple.html>  “Jewish Genealogy & Surnames.” Archives. Archives.com. n.d. <http://www.archives.com/genealogy/family-heritage-jewish.html>  “Jesus.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. pp 246-251. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 11. 2nd edition. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/infomark.do?action=interpret&eisbn=9780028660974&prodId=GVRL&userGroupName=imcpl1111&type=aboutBook&version=1.0&authCount=1&u=imcpl1111>
[5] Quran. Trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. n.d. Search “Jesus.” <http://search-the-quran.com>  “The Descriptive Titles of Jesus in the Quran (part 1 of 2): “The Messiah” and “a Miracle.”’ IslamReligion.com. 2020. <http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/230>  The Quran. JM Rodwell Translation With text notes. “Preface.” <http://www.truthnet.org/islam/Quran/Rodwell/Introduction.html>
[6] Matthew 2:1, 22; 27:2; Mark 15:1; Luke 2:1-2; John 19:1.
[7] Micah 5:2 (verse 1 in Jewish Bibles).
[8] 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>  Dickinson, David. “Is This Month’s Jupiter-Venus Pair Really a Star of Bethlehem Stand In?” Universe Today. 2015. <https://www.universetoday.com/122738/is-this-months-jupiter-venus-pair-really-a-star-of-bethlehem-stand-in/> 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 >  Cain, Fraser. “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.” Universe Today. 2004. http://www.universetoday.com/10006/venus-and-jupiters-upcoming-conjunction/#ixzz2B6cvKJEt> Carroll, Susan S. “The Star of Bethlehem:  An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.” Pulcherrima Productions.  1997. Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. <http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf>
[9] Phillips, Tony. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.” NASA Science | Science New. 2018. <http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2000/ast16may_1>  Haley, A. S. “The Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.” Anglican Curmudgeon. Video. 2009. <http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/10/star-of-bethlehem-and-nativity.html>  CR “Birth of Jesus.” Navsoft.com. 2012. http://navsoft.com/html/birth_of_jesus.html>  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>
[10] Matthew 2:1-3.
[11] Maimon, Moshe ben (Maimonides). “Melachim uMilchamot.” Chabad.org. Chapter 11, #4.  Numbers 17-19. The Complete Jewish Bible. Rashi Commentary. <https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9952/showrashi/true

Luke’s Nativity – An Investigative Breakdown

 

Luke and Matthew provide significantly different perspectives about the Nativity circumstances of Jesus of Nazareth, yet they have the common threads of the historical timeline, geographic locations and the key figures. In the very opening paragraph of Luke, the author states that his letter is based on the eyewitness accounts “from the beginning”:

LK 1:2-4 “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (NASB)

Beginning with the birth of John the Baptist, Luke’s account describes circumstances not found in any other Gospel. Zechariah, a Levite Jewish priest, had been chosen to represent his priestly division to offer incense to God.

While inside the Temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him specifically described as standing on the right side of the altar. The angel delivered God’s message that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant with a son to be named John. Gabriel foretold the child’s purpose in life, even that the baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were considered “advanced in years.” It is a relative term considering that girls married and began having children as soon as nature allowed, about 13 years of age.[1] Doubting Gabriel’s message, Zechariah was struck dumb during his wife’s pregnancy.

Luke does not describe Elizabeth’s pregnancy as miraculous. Two Greek words referencing a miracle are used elsewhere in Luke, but not used here for Elizabeth. In the other instances, the Greek word dunamis is translated to English using such words as “miracles,” “deeds of power,” “power of the Spirit,” or “mighty works” and semelon is translated with such words as “miracle,” “miraculous sign,” “sign from heaven.”[2]

Six months later in Nazareth 80-90 miles away, Mary, who had been betrothed to Joseph, was going about her daily routine. Gabriel met her saying, “”Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” The angel’s message continues to be quoted:

LK 1:31-32 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David…” (NASB)

Mary is quoted using the personal pronoun “I” asking Gabriel how she could have a baby when she was a virgin. Mary and the angel Gabriel are the only ones present making Mary the primary source of the conversation. Gabriel went on to explain the Holy Spirit would impregnate her and she would give birth to the Son of God:

LK 1:35 “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (NRSV)

Elizabeth re-enters Luke’s account when Gabriel told Mary that she was 6 months pregnant. After Gabriel departed, Mary hurried to go visit her. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s babe leapt within her.[3]

Presumably only Mary and Elizabeth are present for this greeting dialog, similar to Zechariah and Gabriel. Elizabeth’s blessing statement is consistent with both Gabriel’s message and her greeting to Mary. If Elizabeth was not available to the author, then Elizabeth’s praise containing four personal pronouns of “me” and “my” was restated by Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord. For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Less obvious, although a very important detail, Elizabeth knew about Mary’s immaculate conception before Mary told her. It was only a few days after Gabriel told Mary she would conceive the Son of God. Mary’s pregnancy was not visible and it seemed only Mary knew about it. A woman’s pregnancy is not naturally known even to the mother, barring modern medicine, until 2-4 weeks or later after conception.[4]

Upon hearing Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary was filled with emotion. Her detailed passionate praise is quoted with the personal pronouns “my” and “me” five times. The primary source of Mary’s praise strongly appears to be Mary herself.

Matthew articulates Joseph’s reaction to discovering Mary’s pregnancy months later after she returned from the trip to visit Elizabeth and he was understandably upset. Joseph was considering a divorce until a visitation by Gabriel informed him Mary had not cheated, rather the Holy Spirit impregnated her as a fulfillment of prophecy.

Luke’s Nativity identifies two Roman rulers not found in Matthew that serve as historical date markers – Caesar Augustus and Quirinius governing in Syria. Two other specific details are a decree issued by Caesar Augustus which, in turn, became the compelling factor for Mary to travel to Bethlehem in her late stage of pregnancy.[5]

Chronicling the birth of Jesus, Mary went into labor in Bethlehem and was forced to give birth in a stable because all the inns were full. Luke quotes an angel appearing to shepherds outside of Bethlehem announcing his birth and a larger number of angels in the sky praising God. The source of the quote had to be one of the shepherds.

LK 2:10-14 “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”(NKJV)

Immediately, the shepherds quickly went into the little town of Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph with Jesus lying in a manger confirming the angel’s birth announcement. What the shepherds witnessed, they widely told to people who marveled at their report.

Matthew, on the other hand, outlines a different Nativity aspect telling how the Magi had observed signs in the sky that prompted their long journey to find the newborn “King of the Jews.” After consultation with Jewish religious experts, King Herod revealed to the Magi where they could locate the babe. When the Magi found Jesus, the family had moved to a house.

Luke adds two other details. Eight days later during the Jewish circumcision event, Joseph and Mary officially named their baby Jesus as each were separately instructed by Gabriel. At the 30-day mark according to the Law, the parents presented Jesus to the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem and offered a sacrifice which required a priest.

Much of Luke’s Nativity account is unique yet it is in sync with Matthew. Four key points are common to Luke and Matthew – Jesus was born in Bethlehem; Nazareth is his hometown; Herod is King with governing authority of country of Judea. Does Luke’s Gospel Nativity meet the standards of credibility?

 

Updated December 3, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 1:7, 18. NASB, NKJV. West, Jim. “Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d. http://www.theology.edu/marriage.htm>  Rich, Tracey R. “Marriages.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm>
[2] Luke 4:14; 10:13; 19:37; 23:8. NetBible.org. Greek text. dunamis <1411>, semelon <4592>
[3] Slatzman, Russell. “Biblical travel: How far to where, and what about the donkey?” Aleteia. 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/01/24/biblical-travel-how-far-to-where-and-what-about-the-donkey> Kosloski, Philip. “Mary traveled a highly dangerous path to visit Elizabeth. Aleteia. 2019. <https://aleteia.org/2019/05/31/mary-traveled-a-highly-dangerous-path-to-visit-elizabeth>
[4] “Month by Month.” Planned Parenthood. 2020. <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/pregnancy/pregnancy-month-by-month> “Home pregnancy tests: Can you trust the results?” Mayo Clinic. 2019. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/getting-pregnant/in-depth/home-pregnancy-tests/art-20047940> “How long does it take to know I’m pregnant?” nct.org. n.d. <https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/am-i-pregnant/how-long-does-it-take-know-im-pregnant>  Marple, Kate. Ed. “Early signs of pregnancy: When will I feel symptoms?” babycenter.com. 2019. <https://www.babycenter.com/getting-pregnant/how-to-get-pregnant/early-signs-of-pregnancy-when-will-i-feel-symptoms_10372077>
[5] The Nativity Story. TheBridgeChurch. image. n.d. <http://www.thebridgechurch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The-Nativity-Story.jpg>