Conspiracy Theory – Christianity Is a Fiction

 

Adversaries of Christianity sometimes argue against the reality of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, even as a real historical figure, by claiming Christianity itself is a fictional story. One conspiracy theory claims Christianity and thus Jesus are the result of various groups colluding to invent a morphed deity image of a messiah:[1]

“…Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ were created by members of various secret societies, mystery schools and religions in order to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion.  …this multinational cabal drew upon a multitude of myths and rituals that existed long before the Christian era, and reworked them for centuries into the religion passed down to us today.” – Acharya S.

Challenges to create a fictional messiah figure would have been enormous, especially in an era without any means of electronic communication, media, even the printed word. Just the opposite occurred. Christianity rose so rapidly, Jewish leaders tried to snuff it out quickly and Rome tried to quell it by killing people who professed it.

To believe the claim of a morphed, fictitious messiah image who was a Jew, the theory wants people to believe that a Christianity conspiracy began “centuries” earlier.  Creating a Christian religion with a Jewish messiah ups the ante to the highest degree.

Jews were probably the most scorned, if not hated, ethnic group in the Roman Empire. Judaism itself viewed Christianity as blasphemous for its belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Contrary to this theory in Biblical history, Jews themselves were warring against each other before being taken captive in Babylon. After being freed by the Persian overthrow, enemies still wanted to subvert the Jew’s efforts, yet this theory says there was collusion with them to develop a fictitious messiah strategy.[2]

Rulers of three Empires – Babylonians, Persians and Greeks – had to be complicit in the conspiracy for this theory to have merit.[3] It then has to be accepted this was a long term strategy “to unify the Roman Empire under one state religion” even though the concept of a Roman Empire was unknown.

Pilate had Jesus crucified and to refute that fact means declaring Tacitus, Suetonius and other Roman historians were wrong. The theory proposes that Jewish leadership was supporting Rome who was, in fact, crucifying Jews by the thousands eventually destroying Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.[4]

For the invention of a fictional Jewish messiah, a deity or god, “created by members of various secret societies, mystery schools and religions,” a perfect profile would be expected. A fictitious messiah image would call for a flawless ancestral background of pure Jewish lineage, not to mention a flawless ancestral history free of unsavory or illegal activities. Alleged collaborators would then have to weave this 2000 year history of a complex lineage into a messiah narrative.

Genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth was anything but flawless. While going back to the time of Abraham that included blessings, faith, forgiveness, miracles, redemption, prophecies issued and fulfilled; it also involved the most ignoble examples of disobedience to God and yet each involved blessings from God. Disgraceful accounts pulled straight from the Old Testament, the Tenakh, include deceptions, lies, a prostitute, Gentile intermarriages, voyeurism, adultery, murder, greed, lascivious pleasures, etc.

Grandson of Abraham, Jacob swindled his older twin brother’s inheritance blessing from his father, Isaac. Jacob was later renamed by God and became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel.[5]

Jacob’s own conniving sons sold their younger brother, Joseph, into slavery and lied to their father saying he had been killed by a wild animal. Joseph went on to become the second most powerful ruler in Egypt under Pharaoh and eventually saved his same Hebrew family from a famine.[6]

Rahab, a prostitute spared from the destruction of Jericho, married a Hebrew named Salmon and their son was named Boaz who became a wealthy resident of Bethlehem.[7] Boaz married the Gentile daughter-in-law of his Jewish relative Naomi, allowing Naomi to redeem her otherwise lost inheritance.[8]

Jewish sage Rabbi Rashi professed his distaste of having a Gentile in the prophetic lineage of the Messiah. His disgust appears in his commentary on the Bethlehem prophecy of Micah 5:2:[9]

“you should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah: [Rashi] You should have been the lowest of the clans of Judah because of the stigma of Ruth the Moabitess in you.” – The Complete Jewish Bible

Grandson of Boaz and Ruth was Jesse whose son, David, became the King of Israel.[10] David committed some dastardly deeds that would be scandalous in any century.

King David’s voyeurism led to an affair with his neighbor’s wife and when his plan to cover-up her illicit pregnancy failed, the King had her husband sent to the front lines of a war knowing he would be killed.[11] Subsequent prophecies foretold the future Messiah would come from the lineage of King David.

King Solomon, son of David, built his own palace first, then built and consecrated the promised Temple of God. In the interim, Solomon indulged in the pleasures of 700 wives and 300 concubines, many of whom were Gentiles who brought with them forbidden idolatry influences.[12]

A prefect lineage of a made-up messiah was simply not possible as demonstrated time and again by Scriptural history. This flawed genealogy would have been a huge obstacle for anyone who attempted to “rework[ed] them for centuries into the religion passed down to us today.” According to the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born into this flawed Jewish royal lineage.

Unique to Christianity and the center of the its core creed are the Resurrection accounts of Jesus.[13] No one, including the followers of Jesus, ever believed a resurrection could happen before Jesus was crucified.

In one weekend, one morning dawn, everything changed; it did not take “centuries” to rework “the religion passed down to us today.” Adversaries of the Resurrection accounts necessitated that the witnesses or those who believed their accounts – Christians – to be refuted, ridiculed, imprisoned and even killed.

Arrival of Jesus of Nazareth happened during the era when Rome was entering it’s height of glory in which the early Christians lived. Accounts people heard about Jesus rang true, many believed and were labeled as “Christians.” Their belief was so strong, they were willing to die for what they believed. Would anyone die to defend a false legend?

Updated November 17, 2022.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Acharya S. (Murdock, D.M.)  The Christ Conspiracy. Google Books advertisement. n.d. <https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Christ_Conspiracy.html?id=KnIYRi3upbEC Conspiracy Theories>. Stitcher. image. 2018. <https://megaphone-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/podcasts/4b9e4b82-9bf9-11e8-ad4e-23b6913e004d/image/aa316e8eb017eeb2d66bd3ab5ef8270c329c2cdb5347f0e589403a20369416bc4a7f9ac6d6f18a9a13fd4eb5c6d622a7e506238a1124dbd66019deba3532d1ee.jpeg
[2] I Kings 11:26-12:24; Ezra 4;4, 5:6-17.
[3] Ezra 1:2-4, 6:7-12; 7:11-28. Spiro, Ken.  “History Crash Course #27: The Greek Empire.” Aish.com. 2001. <http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48939587.html>  Hooker, Richard. “Hellenistic Greece: Alexander the Great.” Washington State University. 1999. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110104072822/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ALEX.HTM>
[4] Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Ed. Maximilian Ihm, trans. J. C. Rolfe. University of Chicago|Bill Thayer. n.d. “The Life of Titus.” 109 AD. <https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Titus*.html> “Siege of Jerusalem.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/event/Siege-of-Jerusalem-70> Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book II, Chapter XIV, Book V, Chapter XI.. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[5] Genesis 25; 27-28.
[6] Genesis 37; 41-46.
[7] Joshua 2, 6, Ruth 4; I Chronicles 2:1-17.
[8] Ruth 2-4.
[9] The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi’s Commentary. Micah 5:2 Rashi commentary.
[10] Ruth 4; I Chronicles 2.
[11] 2 Samuel 11-12.
[12] 2 Chronicles 7, 9; I Kings 7-8, 10.
[13] I Corinthians 15:3-4.

King Herod’s Death Year Controversy

 

King Herod’s death occurred shortly after the birth of Jesus of Nazareth making it the lynch pin date to determine the birth year of Jesus. Referenced in the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke, Jesus of Nazareth was born during the lifetimes of three historical personages – Augustus, Herod and Quirinius.[1]

Not without controversy, the death year of Herod has posed a challenge for believers and detractors alike. One factor in determining the year Herod died is the timing of a lunar eclipse; the other factor is the time between the eclipse and the Passover. Both are referenced by Jewish historian Josephus marking the beginning of Herod’s final days.

Antiquity has no standardized calendar, instead timelines and dates are linked to well-known historical events. Establishing the date of Herod’s death requires piecing together such clues as the reigns of Tiberius, King Herod and his sons; the Battle of Actium; the Jewish religious calendar; astronomy data, Josephus’ accounts, etc.

Adding another level of complexity is “inclusive reckoning,” the question of whether a partial year was counted as a full year in historical references. The unsettled question instills a plus or minus factor of at least a year.[2]

Herod’s death year is commonly calculated by historians using Josephus’ reference in Antiquities of the Jews. His son, Philip, began his regional Judean reign when his father died as did his two brothers, Antipas and Aristobulus.[3]

“…Philip, Herod’s brother, departed this life, in the twentieth year of the reign of Tiberius after he had been tetrarch of Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis, and of the nation of Bataneana also thirty-seven years. – Josephus[4]

Tiberius began his reign in 14 AD, then adding 20 years lands in 34 AD to establish the year of Philip’s death. Subtracting 37 years of Philip’s rule backdates to the commonly accepted year for King Herod’s death in 4 BC.[5]

Josephus’ account bookends Herod’s final days starting with a lunar eclipse and died just before the approaching Passover. The historian described in great detail events that occurred in the interim.

King Herod

Drama of Herod’s final days is better than most movie scripts.[6] A gripping scene in Jerusalem begins with rumors that Herod had died inciting insurrectionists to remove the long-hated sacrilege of Rome’s golden eagle insignia Herod had mounted over the entrance gate.

Unfortunately for the insurrectionists, the King was not yet dead. Herod had the High Priest removed from office and 40 insurrectionists burned alive.[7] That very night was marked by a lunar eclipse.

Herod’s loathsome protruding bowels and gangrenous groin condition worsened. His physicians recommended therapy in the warm baths of Callirrhoe, a 2-day journey from Jerusalem across the Jordan River. Gaining no relief from the warm springs, his physicians then recommended soaking in a full vat of oil at his palace in Jericho.[8]

Treatments failed and Herod welcomed the relief that death would bring. Preparing for the final chapter in his life, the King sent letters throughout Judea summoning all the “principal men” to Jericho:

“all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation, wheresoever they lived, should be called to him…a great number that came, because the whole nation was called, and all men heard of this call, and death was the penalty of such as should despise the epistles.”[9]

In the interim, misery overcame the King who decided to hasten the inevitable by suicide with a kitchen carving knife. His cousin saw what was about to happen, grabbed the King’s hand and began screaming.[10]

Echoing screams throughout the halls of the palace were misinterpreted that Herod had died touching off a great wailing lamentation. Herod’s imprisoned eldest son, Antipater, believing a twist of fate had now posited the kingdom into his grasp, promised his jailer fortunes to release him immediately. Instead, the jailer informed Herod who became enraged, beat his head and ordered Antipater to be promptly executed.[11]

Herod died 5 days later after Antipater’s execution.[12] News of the King’s death spread across Judea and to other nations. International dignitaries and top military personnel including centurions, captains and officers; and full regiments of the Thracians, Germans, Galatians and Gauls all outfitted in full battle gear traveled to the King’s funeral in Jericho. An elaborate funeral procession and burial in Herodium took many days.

Meanwhile, a funeral bier was built of gold embroidered by “very precious stones of a great variety” and lined with purple material “of various contexture.” The King’s burial was followed by a 7-day morning period, then a feast for the people of Judea.[13] Some experts question whether all these things could have occurred in the span of only 4 weeks if Herod died in 4 BC…

Consultant and Biblical hobbyist, David Beyer, compared the 1544 Gutenberg printings of Antiquities used to determine the 4 BC date to two dozen older, handwritten manuscripts predating Gutenburg  He discovered all older handwritten Antiquities manuscripts said that Philip died in the 22nd year of Tiberius, not the 20th year.[14] This discovery changes the traditional year of Herod’s death to the 2-1 BC timeframe.

Two historical works by Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, back up Beyer’s discovery. In Antiquities, Josephus states Tiberius died after serving as Caesar “twenty-two years, five months and three days,” historically dating to early 37 AD. Philip reigned for 37 years places King Herod’s death in 1 BC.[15]

Agrippa traveled to Rome a year before the death of Tiberius, 36 AD. After saying to Caligula in a carriage ride that he wished Tiberius would die, the carriage driver told Tiberius who had Agrippa thrown into prison. Six months later with Tiberius’ death, Caligula (Caius/Gaius) gave Philip’s tetrarchy to Agrippa in 37 AD.[16]

Wars marked the Battle of Actium in the 7th year of Herod’s reign. The Battle of Actium is academically recognized as occurring in the year 31 BC. Josephus wrote that Herod served for 37 years. Simple math backdates the beginning of Herod’s reign to 38 BC thereby placing Herod’s death in 1 BC.

Historian Dr. Gerard Gertoux’s different calculation arrived at similar results through another method. Since Herod was 70-years old when he died, Gertoux determined his death occurred sometime between April, 2 BC, and March, 1 BC.[17]

NASA lunar eclipse data for Jerusalem shows that a partial, less-than-half lunar eclipse did occur on March 13th, 4 BC.[18] Passover that year fell on April 10th, just four weeks later.[19] However, a full lunar eclipse appeared over Jerusalem January 9-10, 1 BC, and the Passover was observed on April 6th, twelve and half weeks later.[20]

Historical records and archeological discoveries along with astronomy data point to the death of Herod in the 1-2 BC time frame. Did Herod’s death actually occur in 1 BC or the traditionally accepted year of 4 BC?

 

Updated September 14, 2022.

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Matthew 2. Luke 2.
[2] Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.” pp 3-4.  Maier, Paul L. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel Publications. 1999. Dissertation 5, Appendix #38.  Google Books. n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=kyaoIb6k2ccC&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20complete%20works%20of%20josephus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false >  Ramsay. Was Christ Born in Bethlehem? Chapter 11 & end note.
[3] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVII, Chapter XII; Book XVIII, Chapters V.  Bunson, Matthew. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. “Galilee; Judaea.” 2002. <https://archive.org/details/isbn_9780816045624>
[4] Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapters IV.
[5] Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 349 footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>  Bernegger, P.M. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.” Journal of Theological Studies. 1983. Vol. 34, no 2, pp 526-531, <http://www.redatedkings.com/postings/Bernegger.pdf>  Schurer, Emil.  A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 1890. Volume 1, pp 464-465, footnote 165.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=BRynO3W9FPcC&pg=PP1#v=snippet&q=Tiberius&f=false>  Doig, Kenneth F.  New Testament Chronology. 1990. Chapter  4. <http://nowoezone.com/NT_Chronology.htm
[6] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VII, Chapters VI – IX. 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>  Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. 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
[7] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI, VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[8] 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>
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VI.5. CR Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[12] Josephus. Antiquities.  Book XVII, Chapter VI-VII. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.
[13] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapters VII-VIII.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII; Book II, Chapter I. Whiston. The Works of Flavius Josephus, the Learned and Authentic Jewish Historian.” 1850. p 450, footnote.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&hl=en#v=snippet&q=349&f=false>; “Highways and Roads of Palestine.” 2017. Map. Bible-history.com. <http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/israel-first-century.html>  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.”  A partial translation from “La Fecha de Muerte de Herodes y La Estrella de Belén.” 1999. Astrology of the New Centaurs. <;href=”http://www.expreso.co.cr/centaurs/steiner/herod.html”>  Smallwood, E. Mary. The Jews Under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian. 2nd Ed. 1981. p 104, footnote 158. <http://books.google.com/books?id=jSYbpitEjggC&lpg=PA151&ots=VWqUOinty4&dq=census%20Syria%20Rome&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>; Reinhold, Roy A. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.” Codes in the Bible. 2001. <http://www.ad2004.com/Biblecodes/articles/yeshuabirth5.html “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8616-jesus-of-nazareth> Beyer, David W.  “Josephus Reexamined:  Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius.” 1998. p 88. Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. Ed. Jerry Vardaman.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=mWnYvI5RdLMC&lpg=PP1&dq=isbn%3A0865545820&pg=PA85#v=snippet&q=beyer&f=false>  Gertoux, Gerard. “Dating the death of Herod.” 2015 Academia.edu. <http://www.academia.edu/2518046/Dating_the_death_of_Herod/a>
[14] Beyer. “Josephus Reexamined.” pp 86-87, 90-93, 95-96.  Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.1, 6.  Wolfram, Chuck.  “The Herodian Dynasty.” 2004. <http://web.archive.org/web/20151013221102/http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cwolfram/herod Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. 2nd Ed. 2003. Chapter 13. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge.  <://web.archive.org/web/20170917115234/http://www.askelm.com/star/star015.htm> Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.6-8, 10.
[15] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II. 2; Chapter VI.5.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII.8.
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter VI.10. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.6.  “Augustus.” UNRV History |The Roman Empire. United Nations of Roma Victrix. 2017.  <http://www.unrv.com/fall-republic/augustus.php>  “Did Caesar and Cleopatra really have a son?” The Ancient Standard. 2010. <http://ancientstandard.com/2010/12/03/did-caesar-and-cleopatra-really-have-a-son
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter V, Book XVII, Chapters VI – Chapter VIII.  Josephus.  Wars. Book I, Chapter XXXIII. “Actium (31 BCE).”  Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/battle/actium-31-bce> “King Herod the Great.” Livius.org. 2017. <http://www.livius.org/he-hg/herodians/herod_the_great01.html>  “The Actium Project.” New World Encyclopedia. The University of South Florida and the Greek Ministry of Culture. Dir. William M. Murray.  Research Project. 1997.  <http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~murray/actium/brochure.html>  Chesser, Preston. “The Battle of Actium.” Ohio State University. 2002. <http://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/battle-actium>  Gertoux. “Dating the Death of Herod.” pp 6, 9, 11.  “HEROD I. (surnamed the Great).” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7598-herod-i>  Villalba i Varneda, Pere. The Historical Method of Flavius Josephus. 1986. p14.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=kdUUAAAAIAAJ&lpg=PA14&ots=2ek7SgCy2c&dq=josephus%2C%20battle%20of%20actium%2C%20herod&pg=PA14#v=onepage&q=josephus,%20battle%20of%20actium,%20herod&f=false>  Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”  San José, Juan Antonio Revilla. “On the Year of Herod’s Death.” Pages 14, 140.  “World History 50-0 BC.”  HistoryCentral.com.   MultiEducator, Inc.  n.d. <http://www.historycentral.com/dates/50bc.html>
[18] Espenak, Fred.  NASA Lunar Eclipse Website. 2007. Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel; Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  <https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/JLEX/JLEX-AS.html
[19] Martin. The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 13. Bernegger. “Affirmation of Herod’s Death in 4 B.C.”
[20] Espenak. NASA Eclipse Website. Asia and Asia Minor – Jerusalem, Israel. Century Selection -0001 – 0100.  Espenak, Fred.  “Six Millennium Catalog of Phases of the Moon.” NASA Eclipse Website. n.d. “Phase years Table:  -0099 – 0000.” <https://archive.is/UsEwe> Kidger, Mark R. “The Date of Passover 11BC – 10AD.”  <http://www.observadores-cometas.com/cometas/Star/Passover.html> Reinhold. “Other Scholarship Proving the Exact Date of Birth of Yeshua (Jesus), part 5.”

Magi – Why Are They in a Jewish Nativity Story?

 

Adoration of the Magi by Claude Vignon, 1694.

Magi were scorned by Judaism for their mystical reputation.[1] Why then do the mystic Magi appear in Matthew’s Nativity account of a Jewish-born Messiah?

Greek text of Matthew uses the word magos, the Latin word equivalent to magus, its plural form is magi.[2] The word is sometimes translated into English as “wise men” – both translations are correct.

Babylonians, Medes and Persians viewed magos as an eclectic group of priests, physicians, teachers, soothsayers, interpreters of dreams, astrologers, and sorcerers. It is easy to see how magi could be referred to as “wise men” – or just as easily, “mystics.” Not surprisingly, magi is the root word of “magic.”

MT 2:1 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” (NIV)

MT 2:1 “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (NRSV)

Clearly not worried his reference to the Magi would be called into question by his contemporaries, Matthew covered the Magi story with 12 verses, at least 10 providing specific details.[3]

Roman era Jewish society had a dual-perspective of magi. One was of the famed Hebrew,  Daniel, a captured Israelite of royal descent by Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was placed into the elite Babylonian school of the Chaldeans which included an education in astronomy and astrology.[5]

God gave “Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams,” a gift that landed him in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal council of wise men, the chakkiym.[6] Later, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel chief of all the magi, a position known as Rab-mag.[7]

After the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire, Daniel’s “extraordinary spirit” again elevated him to a high level of the government.[8] The main religion under King Cyrus was Zoroastrianism. Its founder, Zoroaster, was himself known as the original magi.[9]

Setting the stage for the other Jewish perspective of magi began when Alexander the Great marched through Judea. The Greek Empire’s open-minded Hellenistic culture allowed the Jews religious freedom, but it also introduced Zoroastrianism intermingled with influences of the Babylonian chakkiym; its priests called magi.[10]

Over the coming decades, the effects of Hellenism on Jewish culture was unavoidable much to the frustration of the Jewish Rabbis. Liberal philosophies of Hellenism permeated Jewish culture meanwhile Greek became the common language.[11] Next came the Roman Empire which was content to leave the prevailing culture in Judea alone.[12]

As expert astronomers, the Magi used the legendary Babylonian astronomical science and charts to study of the motion of stars past, present and future. Their ability to plot upcoming cosmic events were scientifically predictive, not “mystical.”[13]

Toward the very end of the BC era, a series of rare celestial conjunctions occurred, ones hard to ignore by astronomers – then or today. Witnessing just one such rare conjunction can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine the scenario where, in a space of just 5 years from 7-2 BC, there were 13 rare conjunctions including two triple conjunctions![14]

Zoroastrianism beliefs held that celestial events served as signs with earthly significance. Signs of a newborn king observed by the Magi were so awe-inspiring, they set out on a month’s long quest to find and worship him.[15] Matthew does not say there were only three Magi…it is a Christmas legend that may or may not be accurate.

Matthew’s introduction of the Magi into the Nativity story thus has a full historical context behind its setting. Not just anyone appearing on the door step of the King’s palace would expect to gain entry. Yet, when the Magi arrived unannounced, they had no problem gaining direct access to King Herod who gave them his immediate and full attention.

Herod did not question the credibility of the Magi when they gave him the alarming news about the birth of a King of the Jews. Neither did Herod’s Jewish religious council who, instead, pointed the King to Micah’s prophecy saying a Jewish ruler was to be born in Bethlehem.

Believing the prophecy to be true, Herod invited the Magi back for another meeting to investigate the timing of the star, directed them to Bethlehem, and slyly asked for their help in finding this newborn king. Angered when they didn’t return, Herod’s reaction by killing all the children 2 years old and under in the Bethlehem district testifies to his belief in the truth of the Magi’s message about a newborn King of the Jews.

King Herod and his royal Jewish religious council believed the credibility and message of the Magi. How likely is it that the Jewish author of Matthew would unnecessarily introduce the Magi…unless he also believed it to be true?

 

Updated September 11, 2022.

Creative Commons License

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

REFERENCES:

[1] Deuteronomy 4, 18.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  Sanhedrin 98a. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/sanhedrin_98.html> “Zoroastrianism – Magi.” Geni. 2016. <https://www.geni.com/projects/Zoroastrianism-Magi/13185>
[2] “magus”  WordReference.com. <http://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=magus> “magi.”  WordReference.com. <http://www.wordreference.com/es/translation.asp?tranword=magi> “magus.” Merriam-Webster <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/magus>
[3] Matthew 2:1-12.
[4] Martin, Ernest L. The Star of Bethlehem – The Star That Astonished the World. 2017. Chapter 2. A.S.K. (Associates for Scriptural Knowledge. <http://web.archive.org/web/20170226050457/http://www.askelm.com/star/star002.htm>
[5]  Daniel 1. Guisepi, Robert. “The Chaldeans, The Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian) Empire.” International World History Project.  2007.  <http://history-world.org/chaldeans.htm>  “Chaldea.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014.  <http://www.britannica.com>  “Chaldea.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4213-chaldea>
[6]  NKJV.  Daniel 1- 2.  “Magi.” New World Encyclopedia. 2014. <http://web.archive.org/web/20211122161026/http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Magi>  Net.bible.org.  Daniel 2:12 Hebrew text “chakkiym” <02445>.  “Chaldea.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  Diodorus of Sicily. Mesopotamia: Ninus, Semiramis, the wonders of Babylon; Sardanapalus, Chaldaean astrology.  Vol. I.  Book II.  University of Chicago|Bill Thayer.  2017.  Page 431 # 24 ; p 447-457 #29-31. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/home.html>
 [7] Jeremiah 39:3, 13.
[8] NASB. Daniel 6, 10-12.  Deuteronomy 4:19.  Gascoigne, Bamber.  “History of Zoroastrianism.”  HistoryWorld.net. n.d.  <http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab71>  “Zoroastrianism – Magi.” Geni. “Daniel, the Magi and the Luni-solar Calendar of Israel.” TryGod.com. 2017. <http://try-god.com/daniel-the-magi-and-the-luni-solar-calendar-of-israel.php
[9]  Zoroastrianism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism>  Eduljee, K. E. “Magi – Zoroastrian Priests.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2012. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2012/09/magi.html>
[10] “Hellenism.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7535-hellenism>.  Hooker, Richard.  “Alexander the Great – Hellenistic Greece.” Washington State University. 1999. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110104072822/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/ALEX.HTM>  “Zoroastrianism – Magi.”  Geni. “Zoroastrianism.”  BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian>   Jafarey, Ali Akbar. “The Achaemenians, Zoroastrians in Transition.”  CAIS|The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. 2015. <http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/achaemenian_zarathushtrian.htm>  Hooker, Richard.  “Mesopotamia:  The Persians.”  Washington State University. 1996. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110514001358/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/PERSIANS.HTM>  Hooker, Richard.  “Hellenistic Greece:  Hellenism.” Washington State University. 1999. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110104072353/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/GREECE/HELLGREE.HTM>   “Zoroastrianism.”  ReligionFacts.com. 2014.  <http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm>  Reed, Vicky. “The Religion of the Persian Empire.” EsthersLegacy.com.  2011. <http://estherslegacy.com> “Zoroastrianism.”  PersianEmpire.info. 2007. <http://persianempire.info/zoro.htm>  Gascoigne. “History of Zoroastrianism.”  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.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html>  Leverington, David. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy.  Chapter 1. 2003.  <http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/08408/sample/9780521808408ws.pdf>  Diodorus.  Mesopotamia: Ninus, Semiramis, the wonders of Babylon; Sardanapalus, Chaldaean astrology.  Vol.I, Book II. Page 457; #31.
[11] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.
[12] Hooker. “Hellenistic Greece:  Hellenism.” Petrucci, Valerio. “Hellenization and Romanization – the Dialogue Between Greek and Roman Cultures in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.” 2017. Academia. <https://www.academia.edu>  “Judaea.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2019. <https://www.livius.org/articles/place/judaea>
[13] Eduljee. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”  Leverington. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. Chapter 1.
[14] 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>  Phillips, Tony. “A Christmas Star for SOHO.”  NASA Science | Science New. 16 May 2000. <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.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapters 1, 4. <http://web.archive.org/web/20170111193244/http://www.askelm.com/star/star001.htm> <http://web.archive.org/web/20170821004027/http://www.askelm.com/star/star004.htm>  Cain, Fraser. “Venus and Jupiter’s Upcoming Conjunction.”   Universe Today.  29 Oct. 2004.  <http://www.universetoday.com/10006/venus-and-jupiters-upcoming-conjunction/#ixzz2B6cvKJEt>  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.  n.d. <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://www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm>  Beatty, Kelly. “Venus and Jupiter:  Together at Last.” Sky & Telescope. 25 June 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. <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/xmas_star.html>  “Star of Bethlehem May Have Been Planets Jupiter, Venus.”  IU News Room. 16 Dec. 2003.  <http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/1203.html&t=Star%20of%20Bethlehem%20may%20have%20been%20planets%20Jupiter%20and%20Venus>  Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” Third Quarter 1981, International Planetarium Society, Inc. n.d. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Flescher, Eric and Sessions, Larry. “Ten ‘Star’ of Bethlehem Myths: Part II.”  Space.com. 26 Dec. 2001. <http://web.archive.org/web/20041205014757/http://space.com:80/SpaceReportersNetworkAstronomyDiscoveries/flescher_Xmasstar2_122601.html>  Cain, Fraser. “Venus-Jupiter Conjunction, March 15th, 2012.”  Universe Today. 13 Mar. 2012. <http://www.universetoday.com/94113/venus-jupiter-conjunction-march-15th-2012 >  Fazekas, Andrew.  “Christmas Star Mystery Continues.”  National Geographic Daily News. 24 Dec. 2008.  <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/12/081224-star-bethlehem.html>
[15] “Trade between the Romans and the Empire of Asia.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  National Museum of American History, “Trade Routes” >  “Major Trade Routes of 2nd Century BCE – 1st Century CE.”  <http://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu:80/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm> “Iran Historical Maps Arsacid Parthian Empire, Armenian Kingdom.” Atlas of Iran Maps. n.d. Iran Politics Club. 2014. <http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps04/index.htm>