The mystery of the star of Bethlehem continues

MYTH OR ASTRONOMICAL REALITY?: THE MYSTERY OF THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM CONTINUES

* Continúa el misterio de la Estrella de Belén

At the time of year's end, many observatories around the world often have special Christmas lectures. But despite the historical records and sophisticated computer programs that recreate the sky of 2 thousands years ago, a consensus on what that object placed in the mangers is has not yet been reached.

Part of the problem is that the only document we have about the star of Bethlehem is the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1 to 16. To begin the analysis, it would be good to crumble exhaustively and detailedly the said text:

"[2:1; KJV] Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

[2:2] Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

[2:3] When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [2:4] And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

[2:5] And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,

[2:6] And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

[2:7] Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

[2:8] And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

[2:9] When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

[2:10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

[2:11] ¶ And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

[2:12] And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

[2:13] And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

[2:14] When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

[2:16] And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

[2:17] ¶ Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

(Note: this article is in the process of changing Scripture from the NET Bible to the King James Version Pure Cambridge Edition due to copyright changes).

In verse 2, many versions and translations of the Bible say "For we saw his star in the Orient and we come to worship him" ("The New Latin America Bible" [sic], of Bernardo Hurault and the International Catholic Biblical Society [SOBICAIN], co-edited by San Pablo, Madrid, and Editorial Verbo Divino, Estella, Navarra, 104th. edition, 1995, and 106th. edition, revised, 2004. All rigts reserved.), or even "For his star we have seen in the Orient, and we come to worship him" ("The New Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ with Psalms and Proverbs." Antique version of Casiodoro de Reina (1569). Revised by Cipriano de Valera (1602). Other Revisions: 1862, 1909 and 1960. Copyright © 1960 Bible Societies in Latin America. Copyright renewed 1988, United Bible Societies. Edition of The Gideons International, Nashville, Tennessee. Printed by National Publishing Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Reina-Valera Version 1960™ is a registered trademark ®.). The NET (New Englih Translation) Bible (Bible.org, Biblical Studies Foundation, Richardson, Texas) says: "For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”. The Bible of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil ("Holy Bible. CNBB Translation." Editions CNBB, Brasília, 2008) says: "We saw his star in the Orient and we came to worship him." The Clementine Vulgate ("Biblia Sacra juxta Vulgatam Clementinam", edition of Pope Clement VIII, 1592, republished with the approval of The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, 2006) clearly states: "we actually saw the star of him in the Orient, and we came to worship him."

The latter references cited create a problem, because if the wise men were from the East and they saw the star in the east, they could hardly follow it until reaching Bethlehem, since this place is to the opposite side, to the west. The NET Bible® brings the solution, as a footnote to verse 2: "Or 'in its rising', referring to the astrological significance of a star in a particular portion of the sky. The term used for the 'East' in verse 1 is 'anatolai', a plural form that is typically used of the rising of the sun, while in verses 2 and 9 the singular 'anatole' is used. The singular is typically used of the rising [or appearance over the horizon] of a star and as such should not normally be translated as 'in the east'." The note cites Walter Bauer ("A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature", 3rd. Edition, revised and edited by Frederick Danker, translated by William Arndt, Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick Danker, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2000), who explains that, unlike in verse 1, the word in verse 2 probably refers to an astronomical term rather than a geographical location. This note also applies to verse 9. (Notes taken from the NET Bible® footnotes, copyright (c) 1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from http://bible.org)

The quotation in verse 6 is from the Book of the Prophet Micah, chapter 5, verse 2 (or 1):

(NET)

" 'And as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,' "

" 'seemingly insignificant among the clans of Judah,' "

" 'from you a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf,' "

" 'one whose origins are in the distant past.' "

The Hebrew version of the Bible translated into Greek, the Septuagint, from which the evangelists probably quoted, says:

" 'And you, O Bethlehem, house of Ephratha, are very few in number to be among the thousands of Ioudas;' "

" 'one from you shall come forth for me to become a ruler in Israel,' "

" 'and his goings forth are from old, from years of yore.' "

Ioudas might be Judah. (Quotations are taken from "A New English Translation of the Septuagint", ©2007 by the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, Inc. Used by permission of Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. )

The quote in verse 15 is from the Book of the Prophet Hosea, chapter 11, verse 1 (NET):

" 'When Israel was a young man, I loved him like a son,' "

" 'and I summoned my son out of Egypt.' "

The Septuagint has differences ("A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above):

"At dawn they were cast out; Israel's king was cast out."

(1) " 'For Israel was an infant, and I loved him, and out of Egypt I recalled his children.' "

It is known that at that time many Jews were waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecy of the coming of a Messiah. Even in the Book of Numbers, chapter 24, verse 17, the fourth prophecy of Balaam son of Beor speaks of a star that should rise announcing this arrival (NET):

" 'I see him, but not now;' "

" 'I behold him, but not close at hand.' "

" 'A star will march forth out of Jacob,' "

" 'and a scepter will rise out of Israel.' "

" 'He will crush the skulls of Moab,' "

" 'and the heads of all the sons of Sheth.' "

Moab and Sheth might be geographical places. The Septuagint ("A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above) says:

" 'I will point to him, and not now; I deem him happy, but he is not at hand.' "

" 'A star shall dawn out of Iakob, and a person shall rise up out of Israel,' "

" 'And he shall crush the chiefs of Moab, and he shall plunder all Seth's sons.' "

Very little is known about Melchior, Gaspar and Baltasar, the three wise men (Latin, "magi", plural of "magus", from Greek, "magos", foreignness from the Persian "magus"), because although Matthew writes that they were from the East he does not tell their names, does not say there were three, nor that they were kings. That term refers to an occupational title of the priestly caste of a branch of Zoroastrianism known as Zurvanism, active in ancient Iran and Iraq. As part of their religion, these priests paid particular attention to the stars, and gained an international reputation as astrologers. It is very likely that they had knowledge of Jewish traditions because these latter people had been captive in Babylon (80 km south of Baghdad) several centuries before. Indeed, in this latter context the Hebrew prophet Daniel eventually became counselor of King Nebuchadnezzar II, the Great, who ruled between 605 B.C.E. and 562 B.C.E.. A famous (and debated) prophecy from the Book of Daniel is the one from chapter 9, verses 24 through 27, where the Archangel Gabriel speaks to him of the coming of an anointed one in seventy weeks:


"[9:24; NET] 'Seventy weeks have been determined' "

" 'concerning your people and your holy city' "

" 'to put an end to rebellion,' "

" 'to bring sin to completion,' "

" 'to atone for iniquity,' "

" 'to bring in perpetual righteousness,' "

" 'to seal up the prophetic vision,' "

" 'and to anoint a most holy place.' "

"[9:25] 'So know and understand:' "

" 'From the issuing of the command to restore and rebuild' "

" 'Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince arrives,' "

" 'there will be a period of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks.' "

" 'It will again be built, with plaza and moat,' "

" 'but in distressful times.' "

"[9:26] 'Now after the sixty-two weeks,' "

" 'an anointed one will be cut off and have nothing.' "

" 'As for the city and the sanctuary;' "

" 'the people of the coming prince will destroy them.' "

" 'But his end will come speedily like a flood.' "

" 'Until the end of the war that has been decreed' "

" 'there will be destruction.' "

"[9:27] 'He will confirm a covenant with many for one week.' "

" 'But in the middle of that week' "

" 'he will bring sacrifices and offerings to a halt.' "

" 'On the wings of abominations will come one who destroys,' "

" 'until the decreed end is poured out on the one who destroys.' "


The Book of Daniel in Greek has two traditions, ancient Greek, completed before 132 B.C.E. in Alexandria, Egypt, and that of Theodotion (¿ ? - ca. 200 C.E.) written ca. 150 C.E., probably in the Greco-Roman city of Ephesus, located in present day Turkey. This latter version was used in 382 C.E. by Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus of Stridon, St. Jerome to Christians) for compiling the Latin Vulgate Bible, i.e. the originall Vatican Bible. Both versions have differences with the Hebrew Masoretic Text of Protestant Bibles, so it would be interesting to quote from them (excerpts from "A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above):

Ancient Greek: "[9:24] 'Seventy weeks have been decided for your people and for the city, Sion: for sin to be consummated and to make iniquities scarce and to blot out iniquities and to comprehend the vision and for everlasting righteousness to be given and for the vision to be consummated and to gladden a holy of holies. [9:25] And you shall understand and will rejoice and will discover ordinances to respond, and you will build Ierousalem as a city for the Lord. [9:26] And after seven and seventy and sixty-two weeks, an anointing will be removed and will not be. And a king of nations will demolish the city and the sanctuary along with the anointed one, and his consummation will come with wrath even until the time of consummation. He will be attacked through war. [9:27] And the covenant will prevail for many, and it will return again and be rebuilt broad and long. And at the consummation of times {even after seven years and seventy times and sixty-two times} {until the time of the consummation of the war even desolation will be removed} {when the covenant prevails for many weeks}. And in half of the week the sacrifice and the libation will cease, and in the temple there will be an abomination of desolations until the consummation of a season, and a consummation will be given for the desolation.' "

Theodotion: "[9:24] 'Seventy weeks have been cut short for your people and for the holy city: for sin to be consummated and to seal sins and to atone for iniquities and to bring everlasting righteousness and to seal vision and prophet and to anoint a holy of holies. [9:25] And you shall know and shall understand: from the going forth of the word to respond to and to rebuild Ierousalem until an anointed leader, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, and it {or 'he', antecedent unclear} will return, and streets and a wall will be built, and the seasons will be emptied out. [9:26] And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointing will be destroyed, and there is no judgment in it. And it {or 'he', antecedent unclear} will destroy the city and the sanctuary along with the leader who is to come. And they will be cut off by a flood, and there will be annihilations to the finish of a shortened war. [9:27] And it {antecedent unclear} will strengthen a covenant with many, one week, and by half of the week sacrifice and libation will cease, and in the temple there will be an abomination of desolations even until a consummation, and a consummation will be given for the desolation.' "

The version available to the evangelist was possibly the version in the middle, the ancient-Greek one. However, this is precisely the version that is not reproduced neither by the Catholic Bible nor by the Hebrew Bible (the latter used in turn by the Protestant Bible).

On the practice of anointing, in the book of Exodus, chapter 30, verses 22-33, it is explained how the priests of the Israelites should be anointed with a scented liquid based in olive oil. In Hebrew "anointed" is spoken "mshchth" ("Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear for the Westminster Leningrad Codex", Copyright ©Scripture4all Foundation, The Netherlands, 2009), from which the word messiah comes, translated into Greek as "khristós" ("The New Covenant. The Greek New Testament with 8928 notes and 9971 alternate readings, containing all the variations of five printed editions and variants from the manuscripts and ancient versions", second edition, draft, Tigran Aivazian, Bible.org.uk, London, 2005; "A concise dictionary of the words in The Greek Testament; with their renderings in the Authorized English Version", James Strong, Madison, New Jersey, 1890).

Returning to Daniel chapter 9, the page footnote to the word "weeks" of verse 24, the NET Bible® says: "Hebrew: 'sevens'. Elsewhere the term is used of a literal week (a period of seven days), see Genesis 29:27-28, Exodus 34:22, Leviticus 12:5, Numbers 28:26, Deuteronomy 16:9-10, Chronicles 8:13, Jeremiah 5:24, Daniel 10:2-3."

Where it says: " 'Seventy weeks have been determined' ', the Hebrew text simply says "sevens seventy", without specifying whether they are days, weeks or years ("Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear", above). In Leviticus chapter 25, verse 8 says (NET): " 'You must count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, and the days of the seven weeks of years will amount to 49 years.' ". In Hebrew ("Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear", above) this verse literally says: "You number for your seven Sabbaths of years seven years seven years seven times and they become for you days of seven Sabbaths of years nine and forty year". If the intention of the Archangel Gabriel is for Daniel to multiply seventy times seven Sabbaths of years, the count gives 490 years.

Depending on how literally you take the date of the making of the Book of Daniel, this would mean a period between the end of the times of Nebuchadnezzar II until close to the time of Herod the Great.

A note on the complex prophecies that are supposed to be fulfilled: it is much easier to analyze these things through the clear rearview mirror of time than through its cloudy windshield. Thus, ALL prophecies are necessarily analyzed a posteriori.

UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE DATE OF BIRTH OF JESUS OF NAZARETH

Which reminds us of another problem: although we can calculate the date of many astronomical phenomena mathematically, we do not have the exact date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Titus Flavius ​​Josephus, in his stupend "Antiquities of the Jews", gives the exact dates of Herod the Great's assumption to the throne and of his death: he was appointed king by Rome (with a feast organized by none other than Mark Antony in the midst) during the 184th. Olympiad (4-year cycle) when Caius Asinius Pollio was consul for the first time and Caius Domitius Calvinus was consul for the second time, which happened in the year 40 B.C.E. ("Antiquities of the Jews", Book 14, chapter 14, paragraph 5). He died after a reign of 37 years since he was declared king by the Romans, and 34 since he effectively took the throne by sending Antigonus II Matthatias, the last Hasmonean king of Judea, to execution. That is, in inclusive counting, the death of Herod the Great happened in the year 4 B.C.E. ("Antiquities of the Jews", Book 17, chapter 8, paragraph 1).

We can confirm this date of death of the king with other data:

It is known that Herod the Great died near Passover, after a lunar eclipse occurred in the very night of one of his uncountable executions (Titus Flavius Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 17, chapter 6, paragraph 4, through chapter 9, paragraph 3). This is the only reference of an eclipse of any kind in Josephus' 20-volume "Antiquities", so it must have been quite noteworthty. One of the characteristics that sets apart a total from a partial eclipse is that the Moon acquires a reddish color, reminiscent of blood to the ancients. With modern Astronomy it is known that there were 7 lunar total eclipses visible from Jerusalem in the time span from the decade before to the decade after the start of our Common Era, i.e., a period of 20 years. Out of these 7 eclipses, 3 started after midnight, presumably with few observers; 1 was after Passover and 2 were too close to Passover attending to the fact that many events in the record requiring maybe months need to fit in, and 1 was too many months away (June of the previous year). So we are left with a first pairing of the eclipse of 28 November of 7 B.C.E. and the Passover of 1 April of 6 B.C.E.; a second pairing of the eclipse of 15 September of 5 B.C.E. and the Passover of 10 April of 4 B.C.E; and a third pairing of the eclipse of 29 October of 3 C.E. and the Passover of 23 March of the year 4 C.E.. So, according to Josephus' record and astronomical computations (Eclipse tables by Fred Espenak and Jean Meeus [NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center]; Passover dates table by Susan Stolovy, Steward Observatory), the options are reduced to the following: Herod the Great died in the year 6 B.C.E., or in the year 4 B.C.E., or in the year 4 C.E..

Also, we know that one of the tetrarchs who inherited (or took) a share of Herod the Great's kingdom ruled for 37 years until when the government of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar turned 19 years (i.e. after the twentieth year of it already begun) (Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 18, chapter 4, paragraph 6). As the first year of Tiberius as emperor was 14 C.E., the date of death of the aforementioned tetrarch (Philip) would be 33 C.E.. To this latter date, we must subtract the 37 years of his regime and we see that he succeeded Herod the Great in 4 B.C.E..

So according to Matthew the Evangelist, Jesus of Nazareth was born no later than 4 B.C.E..

But Luke the Evangelist describes to us that the Nativity would have happened (without he remembering the Magi and the star) during a census of Caesar Augustus (the Roman emperor Octavian) made ​​"when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:1-2; NET). Titus Flavius ​​Josephus, in "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 18, chapter 1, paragraph 1, confirms independently the census and in chapter 2, paragraph 1, says that it was completed in the year 37 of Octavian's victory over Mark Antony at the Battle of Aktion. This happened in the year 31 B.C.E. (Ramón García-Pelayo y Gross, "Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado", Editions Larousse Argentina, 1972 printing), so that the referred date would be 6 C.E..

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts what happened after Jesus' death, decades later, the census is mentioned again and unequivocally in a singular form (5:37). The narrator, traditionally Luke, adds that it had caused a revolt, which was unsuccesful. Josephus confirms the revolt and explains that it was because many of the Jews considered it "an introduction to slavery." ("Antiquities of the Jews", Book 18, chapter 1, paragraph 1). With the narrative in singular it is concluded that this was the only census of the times of everything narrated in the Gospels.

But there is something more serious: Luke not only contradicts Matthew but also reaches the height of contradicting himself already in his first two chapters, since in his chapter 1 he narrates that Jesus was already in the womb of Mary in the reign of "[1:5a; NET] Herod king of Judea ". Herod the Great was the only one who bore the title of king of Judea in the Gospels because his successor, named in the last revision of his will, was Herod Archelaus who was not blessed by Caesar Augustus with the cited title of king, but instead was appointed ethnarch (Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 17, chapter 11, paragraph 4). At that time Matthew recounts the return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus from Egypt to the ex-land of the Canaanites "[Matthew 2:20b; NET] for those who were seeking the child's life are dead" but they do not go to Judea but to Galilee, because when Joseph "[Matthew 2:22; NET] heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there," . Archelaus was a barbaric administrator of internal conflicts and consequently Caesar Augustus removed him from his position and exiled him in the tenth year of the government of the former (Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 17, chapter 13, paragraph 2), that is, 10 years counting from 4 B.C.E., which gives us 6 C.E.. Archelaus' territories were annexed to Syria. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was sent there to, besides taking the House of Archelaus, work in the census (Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 17, chapter 13, paragraph 5; and Book 18, chapter 1, paragraph 1). The census or "registration" was made throughout "[Luke 2: 1; NET] all the empire for taxes. [2: 2a] This was the first registration" and this is the moment when Mary gives birth, in the version of chapter 2 of Lucas. The Evangelist jumps a whole decade in time in something that should have lasted 9 months: the pregnancy of Mary of Nazareth. Natural philosophy point us then that this part of the Gospel of Luke was composed "playing at four hands" ... as has been happening in the Bible since Genesis.

There is another more date that Luke gives but is quite vague: in chapter 3 he talks about the beginnings of the ministry of John the Baptist: "[Luke 3:1; NET] In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod [Antipas, son of the Great and husband of Herodias, the bigamous wife of Herod Philip I] was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother [Herod] Philip [II, husband of Salome, daughter of Herodias] was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, [3:2] during the high priesthood of Annas and [his son-in-law Joseph, son of or named] Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of [the priest] Zechariah in the wilderness.". The chapter talks about how Jesus of Nazareth became a follower (and later successor) of his relative: "[3:23; NET] So Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years old.". The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar was 28 C.E. and the priestly dynasty of Annas and Caiaphas extended to 36 C.E. (Josephus, "Antiquities of the Jews", Book 18, chapter 2, paragraph 2; chapter 4, paragraphs 2 and 3; and chapter 6, paragraph 5). Therefore Jesus was "about 30" (from 25 through 35?) between 28 C.E. and 36 C.E., since he was baptized by John the Baptist and was tried by Caiaphas.

If we allow ourselves to be guided by Matthew the Evangelist, Jesus of Nazareth would have been 34 years old in 28 C.E. and 42 years old in 36 C.E., and if we let ourselves be guided by Luke the Evangelist, Jesus would have been 22 years old in 28 C.E. and 30 in 36 C.E.. So, according to Matthew at the beginning of his ministry Jesus could not be younger than 34 years old but according to Luke he could not be older than 30 years old. That range from 30 to 34 cannot be filled and both gospels continue to contradict each other.

Remarkably, there is independent confirmation that there was a certain John, who was called the Baptist. Again it is Titus Flavius Josephus, who in his Book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2 of his "Antiquities of the Jews" says that "was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God”. (...) “Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod {Antipas}, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause " (...) "Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod {Antipas}'s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned {in the frontier}, and was there put to death "

The Gospel according to John is known to be theological and not very historical in nature, but it contains the exact date of an event: in chapter 2 an encounter between Jesus of Nazareth and Jewish authorities in the complex of the Second Temple of Jerusalem is narrated and they say that the this colossal 14-hectare site has been under construction for 46 years (John 2:20). Josephus ("Antiquities of the Jews", Book 15, chapter 11, paragraph 1) says that Herod the Great began the construction in his eighteenth year of his reign, that is, in 23 B.C.E. since he was proclaimed king by the Romans, or in 20 B.C.E. if we choose the chronology since he took the throne of Antigonus the Hasmonean, inclusive counting. The numbers tell us that the dialogue between Jesus of Nazareth, who had already begun his public life after John the Baptist testified that "[John 1:34; NET] this man is the Chosen One of God", and the authorities took place in 24 C.E., or at the latest in 27 C.E. according to which chronology we choose. Once again, these latter dates are incompatible with Luke.

With these and other various data, all unfortunately insufficient for the accurate calculation, we can not but speculate that Jesus of Nazareth would have been born, as limiting dates, no earlier than 8 B.C.E. and no later than 6 C.E..

About the day of the year, it seems to be totally arbitrary. With the introduction of the computational, solar Julian Calendar by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C.E., much more regular than the ancient observational Roman Calendar of Romulus and Numa Pompilius, it became much easier to calculate the dates of the seasons throughout the year. In 37 B.C.E. Marcus Terentius Varro, by combining the solar Julian Calendar with yet another type of calendar, the sidereal calendar (in relation to the night stars), set the seasons for the first time to precise dates of the Julian year. In ca. 64 C.E. Pliny the Elder imitated him and made the middle of every season coincide with the apparent positions of the Sun throughout the year, also in combination with the position of the night stars, calculating ("Natural History", John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, traslators, Taylor & Francis Publishing House, London, 1855, book 18, chapter 59) that they fell after 8 degrees from the beginning of Aries (i.e. 25 March), 8 degrees from the beginning of Cancer (i.e. 25 June), 8 degrees from the beginning of Libra (i.e. 25 September) and 8 degrees from the beginning of Capricorn (i.e. 25 December)... serious mistake, since Hipparchus of Nicaea had already discovered, in 128 B.C.E., that the constellations slowly drift from their position, in relation to the apparent position of the Sun, as viewed in the same day of every year, and therefore they get out of synchrony from the seasons (the so-called precession of the equinoxes). That is, a sidereal calendar lags behind a solar calendar, such as the Julian one, 1 day every 70 years 7 months.

Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170 - ca. 235), martyr and saint (and also the first antipope), proposed that the Incarnation (or whatever you want to call it) of Jesus of Nazareth occurred on the boreal spring equinox, the 25th of March of Pliny. Therefore, his birth, 9 months later, fell on 25 December (Watson Mills, Roger Bullard, Edgar McKnight, and others, editors, "Mercer Dictionary of the Bible", Mercer University Press, Macon, 1990, p. 142). But when the First Council of Nicaea arrived in the year 325, the sidereal lag was already 4 days, that is, the solstice fell on the 21st and no more on the 25th.

In turn, there was a second error, since the Julian Calendar, although it was already solar and not sidereal, was not so precise and was advancing 1 day every 128 years with respect to the apparent position of the Sun throughout the year. When in 1582 Christopher Clavius ​​presented the mechanism to reform it, Pope Gregory XIII wanted to leave things as they were at the time of the First Council of Nicaea, so he jumped the dates by 10 days. People went to sleep on Thursday, 4 October and woke up on Friday, 15 October of the new Gregorian Calendar. Thus, the computations were maintained as they would have been in the year 325, i.e. theday 21st, and not as in 1 B.C.E. or 1 C.E.. This difference of 325 years leaves as a consequence that the tradition of Hippolytus continues as in the solstice computed by Pliny, on December 25.

Another detail for the controversy: Luke (2:8-20) narrates that the shepherds were living in the fields guarding over their flocks of lambs at night, a rural task that apparently took place at the beginning of spring, not in the middle of the boreal winter like in December.

Someone who was truly born on 25 December was the widely considered greatest scientist in History, Isaac Newton, in 1642 Julian Calendar.

A COMET?

That the Star of Bethlehem was a comet is the most popular explanation, and it is the object that we all have in our mangers. The most famous comet of all is Halley's Comet, for two very good reasons: it is extremely bright (although it passed too far in 1986) and it has a relatively short period of 76 years. That is why the first interplanetary probes that were sent to a comet were sent to Comet 1P / Halley. One of them, the spacecraft of the European Space Agency, was baptized with the name of Giotto, in homage to Giotto di Bondone, a Florentine who in 1305 completed a series of frescoes in the Chapel of the Arena, in Padua, Italy, one of which, "The Adoration of the Magi", portrays the Star of Bethlehem as a comet, probably using the Halley as a model, which was visible in 1301. Modern calculations (of which Giotto the artist knew nothing) indicate that Halley's Comet passed by Earth in 12 B.C.E..

There are other comets that have much longer periods, thousands of years, so it may be that another comet unknown to us passedby in those years. The Babylonians, Chinese, and Koreans had very accurate records of the sky (Mark Kidger, "The Star of Bethlehem. An astronomer's view", Princeton University Press, 1999). One candidate is the one which appeared in the region of the sky known as Capricorn or perhaps Eagle, in the first months of the year 5 B.C.E. ("The Annals of [Emperor Hsiao]-Ai", in "The History of the Former Han Dynasty", Chapter 11, published by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, Copyright © Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia, 2003). There are Korean records that describe something similar ("Annals of Silla", ca. 57 B.C.E. - 935, in "Samguk Sagi [The History of the Three Kingdoms]", quoted by Mark Kidger, above ), although there is a 1-year discrepancy in the date (4 B.C.E.).

An interesting fact that may be important is that bright comets, when seeing them on their long journey go through their perihelion, that is, the minimum distance to the Sun, change sides with respect to it. This means that an arriving comet that first appears at sunrise is seen to the East. Then it disappears behind the dazzle of the day, for up to weeks. Finally it reappears but in the evening and towards the other side, towards the West. Perhaps that is why the magi saw "the star" twice with a certain interval between one appearance and another. Let us also not forget that they were originally from the Orient and ended their journey to the other side, in the Occident. Against this hypothesis is that the probable distance that they had to travel would take a long time in relation to this object’s behavior.

In ancient times (before the invention of the astronomical telescope and the discoveries in orbital physics by Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) the appearances of comets were not predictable and were considered signs of bad omen, heralding disasters (word which comes from "dis": denial, annoyance, separation; and "astro": star, ["Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary", Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 2011; Ramón García-Pelayo y Gross, "Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado", Ediciones Larousse Argentina, 1972 printing]), so it is very unlikely that this is what the Jews and the Magi have expected to find in heaven in relation to to a Messiah. However, this apparent contradiction is resolved if we view the story from the sandals of Herod the Great: the comet would be announcing its own personal destruction and not that of others.

Although Herod the Great was very cruel and could organize a massacre of children at any time, let's review verse 7 of Matthew chapter 2 (NET): “Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared.. ”(...). and verse 16 (NET): " When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged. He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men." Herod had an exact date in mind: two years before the arrival of the Magi to Jerusalem. We do not know when these actually came to meet Herod, but it was obviously before the Passover of 4 B.C.E., the date of his death. If the magi told him that the "star" had appeared two years earlier, it could not have been the comet of 5 B.C.E..

If we want to look elsewhere and relate a comet from those times to the passage of the famous Halley's Comet, let's calculate that since 12 B.C.E. until 28 C.E., the exact date that his relative of the same age (Luke 1:13, 26-27, 36, 39-42; NET) John the Baptist began gathering people at the Jordan River, we have about forty years old for the age of Jesus of Nazareth and not (Matthew 3:23a; NET) “about thirty years old”.

As the accuracy of the death of Herod the Great is attested by multiple sources, the error would have to be found in the record of the Chinese, although these were first-rate astronomers.

A SUPERNOVA?

Some think that the comet of the year 5 B.C.E. or 4 B.C.E. it was actually a supernova (Kidger, above ), due to an apparent lack of details in the cited historical chronicles about tails or proper movements.

A supernova is a star that explodes at the end of its life. If the star is very distant and not visible to the naked eye, when it explodes it becomes suddenly visible appearing in the sky as if it were a new star. The phenomenon can last for several months.

These "new stars" can be classified in two ways: by their increase in brightness, or observational point of view, and by the causes of this increase, or astrophysical point of view. As Astrophysics is a modern discipline, initially all "new stars" were called novas, from Latin, new.

From an observational point of view, a nova has its brightness increased by thousands of times, while a supernova, a term adopted only in the 20th century, has its brightness increased by millions of times.

From the astrophysical point of view, the origin of the novae are explosions in the atmosphere of the star, which occur when it is very close to another companion star of less gravity and steals the gases, until its atmosphere becomes so dense that explodes. A nova is not destroyed at the end of the event.

On the other hand, and always from the astrophysical point of view, a supernova has its origin in the core of the star. If the star is large enough, when its fuel runs out at the end of its life, the outer layers fall abruptly on the core, with a force so violent that the interior explodes destroying the star, in an explosion that may be brighter than all the light in its galaxy combined. The core, if it does not end up being destroyed, is so altered that it becomes a packed mass of neutrons, or it can even become a black hole.

A nova can go supernova if the "thief" star steals gases from its companion to such an extent that the pressure inside it no longer holds up and ends up exploding, destroying itself. There is also the possibility that two companion stars collide, with the same result.

The brightness of an astronomical object is defined by a scale of magnitudes that works as a division into categories, as in sports. Thus we say that an object of magnitude 1 is of the first magnitude, that is, the brightest, while an object of magnitude 6 is of the sixth magnitude, that is, the least bright. Objects of magnitude +6, or objects of sixth magnitude, are those that are at the limit of the sensitivity of the human eye to the naked eye. Objects of eighth (+8), tenth (+10), nineteenth (+19) etc. are only visible with astronomical telescopes.

Since this scale of magnitudes was created by the astronomer Claudius Ptolemy around the year 150 C.E., it was discovered that it had some errors and that the brightest stars in the sky were actually brighter than +1; for example, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is brighter than 1st magnitude. Thus brightness with negative numbers were established, for example now it is said that Sirius has a magnitude of -1.5. For its part, the planet Venus, the third brightest astronomical object after the Sun and the Moon, when in its ideal brightness location reaches magnitude -5.

In modern times, the provisional nomenclature for novae is "N" followed by the year of their first appearance. Since they are more frequent and do not self-destruct, they will then be assigned a permanent name that includes the region of the sky where they are. For supernovae, the nomenclature is similar except that it is already its permanet name, since in practice the star self-destructs. The prefix is ​​"SN", and if there are more than one in the same year, it will have a suffix that is a letter from "A" onwards. The first to use the suffixes were the supernovae of 1885 and 1987, although in the end they had no successors the same year.

Since the last supernova detected with the naked eye was in 1987 and it reached a magnitude of +3, we will only list novae of equal or greater magnitude. The following list of novae starts from after the invention of the astronomical telescope, in 1609, until the year 2010. In all this period only two novae were so bright that they went to the negative side of the scale (“List of Novas in the Milky Way”, Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, International Astronomical Union, 2010.).

Novae:


N1670: Magnitude +3.


N1673: Magnitude +3


N1843: Magnitude -1.


N1848: Magnitude +2.


N1866: Magnitude +2.


N1876: Magnitude +3.


N1898A: Magnitude +2.


N1901A: Magnitude +0.


N1918A: Magnitude -1.


N1920A: Magnitude +2.


N1925A: Magnitude +1.


N1934C: Magnitude +1.


N1936C: Magnitude +2.


N1942B: Magnitude +1.


N1960: Magnitude +3.


N1963B: Magnitude +3.


N1975G: Magnitude +2.


N1999B: Magnitude +3.


The large number of novae detected since the late 19th century is due to the introduction of astrophotography, which allows large portions of the sky to be compared quickly.


As for supernovae, in the entire History only ten have been detected in the sky with the naked eye at any magnitude, of which seven have been brighter than the first magnitude.


Supernovae:


SN185: Magnitude -4. It was registered by the Chinese. It was visible for eight months. This is the first recorded case of a supernova in History.


SN386: Magnitude +2. It was registered by the Chinese. It was visible for three months. Due to its low luminosity and short duration, it is not ruled out that it was a nova and not a supernova. To solve the problem, its distance is crucial, but it has not yet been determined.


SN393: Magnitude -1. It was recorded by the Chinese between February and March and was visible until October or November, about eight months. If SN386 is confirmed, it was the only observation of two supernovae separated by less than a decade.


SN1006: Magnitude -8. It appeared on April 30 and was recorded by the Japanese, Chinese, Iranians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Egyptians, in continental Europe and in petroglyphs of Arizona Indians. It was the brightest explosion in the entire History. It was easily visible in broad daylight and at night it casted shadows on the ground behind oneself.


SN1054: Magnitude -6. It appeared on July 4 and was recorded for 642 days, almost two years. For 23 days it was visible in broad daylight. It was recorded by the Chinese, Japanese, Muslims, and in New Mexico Indian petroglyphs. The remnants of the wreckage formed the Nebula M1, also known as the Crab Nebula, from its appearance. Separated in time with SN1006 by 48 years and therefore by less than one human generation.


SN1181: Magnitude -1. It appeared on August 6 and was recorded by the Chinese and Japanese in eight different texts. It was visible in the night sky for about 185 days.


SN1572: Magnitude -4. Also known as Tycho's Supernova, after the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe who first saw it on November 11 and studied it extensively. It was visible in broad daylight for 23 days and at night for 18 months.


SN1604: Magnitude -3. It appeared on October 9. Also known as Kepler's Supernova, after the German astronomer Johannes Kepler who published a famous book about it. It was visible in broad daylight for more than 3 weeks and at night it was visible to the naked eye for 18 months. Apart from Europeans, it was recorded by Arabs, Chinese and Koreans. Separated in time with SN1572 by 34 years and therefore separated by less than one human generation.


SN1885A: Magnitude +6. At the limit of the human eye's visibility and actually discovered by chance with a telescope. It disappeared from observation to the naked eye in just three nights. It was the first detected belonging in another galaxy, M31, or the Great Andromeda Galaxy, neighboring our Milky Way galaxy, although this was not known at the time.


SN1987A: Magnitude +3. It appeared on February 24 in a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud. A large-scale campaign was quickly mounted to study it with the best telescopes on Earth and from artificial satellites, with the best and most complex scientific instruments of today. It is the first whose progenitor star was already cataloged, Sanduleak -69 202, so there was an opportunity to make a comparison before and after the explosion. It was the last to be seen with the naked eye so far.


Despite the possibility of coinciding with Mateo's account, however, like any other true star, a supernova almost does not move (perceptibly) in relation to the other stars, and cannot wamder and stop over a house.


A CONJUNCTION OF PLANETS?


If we take into account that the magi were astrologers and were engaged in making horoscopes, then most likely they were paying attention to the constellations and the planets in them.


A phenomenon that until today, in the 21st century, draws the attention of the public who attends astronomical observatories is the conjunction, which is when two planets cross in the sky. The planets all move at different speeds: Mercury takes 88 days to revolve around the Sun, Venus 225 days, Mars 687 days, Jupiter 12 years, Saturn 29 years. If we take into account that the Earth also moves around the Sun, the movements that we see from our planet become even more complicated: the planets walk among the stars, sometimes they overtake each other, sometimes, when we get closer, they seem to go in reverse, and there are even times when they seem to stop. All this attracted a lot of attention of astrologers, but only in the seventeenth century did Johannes Kepler manage to explain the mechanics of these movements.


In 1604 a supernova appeared in the region of the sky called Ophiucus, SN1604. Kepler noticed that Mars crossed with Saturn on September 26 and with Jupiter 15 days later, and there the supernova appeared. He calculated that in the year 7 B.C.E. Jupiter and Saturn came into conjunction three times in a seven-month period and on February 20, 6 B.C.E. Saturn came into conjunction with Mars, with Jupiter in the vicinity. Since he did not understand anything about subatomic physics, he proposed that events like this are what give birth to supernovae. (John Mosley, “Common Errors in‘ Star of Bethlehem ’Planetarium Shows”, The Planetarian, Third Quarter of 1981.)


In December 2020 there was much propaganda that "the Star of Bethlehem had returned", due to a spectacular conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn, the closest nocturnal conjunction between these planets in 794 years. But first let's remember that the real distance from Jupiter to the Sun is 779 million kilometers, and from Saturn to the Sun 1433 million kilometers, so the real distance between Jupiter and Saturn when they are very close is about 655 million kilometers . That distance that was talked about a lot, in technical terms, is the angular distance. The conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn are always less than 1,5 degrees of angular distance. But on December 21 the separation was just 0,1 degree (one tenth of a degree). If we consider that from the horizon to the top of the sky there are 90 sexagesimal degrees (nine hundred tenths of a degree), the planets really almost seemed to merge.


However, as spectacular as the conjunctions can be, if the magi knew the sky they would not lose sight of the path of the planets, so they would know that what was happening was a conjunction and they would not have appeared in Jerusalem coming from so far away “[Matthew 2:2b; NET] saying 'For we saw his star when it rose' ”, speaking of a star in singular noun.


More towards the mythological side of things, a proposal by Roger Sinnott is that the magi were paying attention to a conjunction between Jupiter and Venus (the two brightest planets) in the year 2 B.C.E. and a triple conjunction of the planet Jupiter (called by the ancients "the king of planets") with the star Regulus ("the regal star", according to the ancients) of the asterism, or figure that the human mind forms with the stars, of the Lion. (Roger Sinnott, "Sky and Telescope," December 1968. ).


Michael R. Molnar proposed that the constellation the magi were paying attention to was Aries, the Lamb, traditionally associated with the Jews. In the year 6 B.C.E. Jupiter was in Aries, and not only that, the Moon occulted it twice. (Michael R. Molnar, "The Star of Bethlehem: the legacy of the Magi", Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London, 1999).


Arguments in favor that the magi were reading a horoscope is that they did not follow the star directly, but instead went to meet Herod in his capital Jerusalem to ask him where the new king of the Jews had been born. The priests explained that the prophecy of the Book of Micah, chapter 5, verses 1 to 3 indicates that they had to go to Bethlehem.

HISTORICAL REALITY OF THE STORY IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL

That there are many candidates paradoxically may mean that nothing extraordinary happened, nothing that really stands out from a pile of normal astronomical events. Even the slaughter of the innocent does not have any independent evidence, although the Jewish historian Titus Flavius ​​Josephus, in his book "Antiquities of the Jews" from the year 93 C.E., speaks of the reign of Herod the Great and describes him as a man who killed his wife Mariamne I, and some time later two of his children with her ​​and another son, this latter one his firstborn.

However, there is the possibility that Matthew's account is mixing several stories. First, the so-called Matthew the Evangelist is hardly Matthew the publican, disciple of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written between the year 70 C.E. and the year 100 C.E..

However, there are other stories similar to that of the Star of Bethlehem in unthinkable documents: stories of the Romans. Pliny the Elder, in his "Natural History", XXX, Section VI, relates that in the year 66 C.E. Tiridates I, king of Armenia, led a remarkable procession of Magi to pay homage to the Emperor Nero. Dio Cassius, in his "Roman History", Vol. VIII, Book LXII, adds that they came down a road and returned to their country following another way, as in Matthew's account. And precisely in this year comet Halley passed by, performing movements very similar to those described in the Gospel of Matthew.

In the Book of Isaiah, chapter 60, the LORD (Yahweh) says to Zion (the city of Jerusalem and by extension the biblical land of Israel), among other things (NET):


"[60:1] 'Arise! Shine! For your light arrives!' "

" 'The splendor of the LORD [Yahweh] shines on you!' "

"[60:2] 'For look, darkness covers the earth' "

" 'and deep darkness covers the nations, ' "

" 'but the LORD [Yahweh] shines on you;' "

" 'his splendor appears over you.' "

"[60:3] 'Nations come to your light,' "

" 'kings to your bright light.' "

"[60:4] 'Look all around you!' "

" 'They all gather and come to you,' "

" 'your sons come from far away' "

" 'and your daughters are escorted by guardians.' "

"[60:5] 'Then you will look and smile,' "

" 'you will be excited and your heart will swell with pride.' "

" 'For the riches of distant lands will belong to you' "

" 'and the wealth of nations will come to you.' "

"[60:6] 'Camel caravans will cover your roads,' "

" 'young camels from Midian and Ephah.' "

" 'All the merchants of Sheba will come,' "

" 'bringing gold and incense' "

" 'and singing praises to the LORD [Yahweh].' "

(...)

"[60:11] 'Your gates will remain open at all times;' "

" 'they will not be shut during the day or at night,' "

" 'so that the wealth of nations may be delivered,' "

" 'with their kings leading the way.' "

"[60:12] 'Indeed, nations or kingdoms that will not serve you will perish;' "

" 'such nations will be totally destroyed.' "

"[60:13] 'The splendor of Lebanon will come to you,' "

" 'its evergreens, firs, and cypresses together,' "

" 'to beautify my palace;' "

" 'I will bestow honor on my throne room.' "

"[60:14] 'The children of your oppressors will come bowing to you;' "

" 'all who treated you with disrespect will bow down at your feet.' "

" 'They will call you, 'The City of the LORD [Yahweh], Zion of the Holy One of Israel.' ' "

(...)

"[60:22] 'The least of you will multiply into a thousand; ' "

" 'the smallest of you will become a large nation.' "

" 'When the right time comes, I the LORD [Yahweh] will quickly do this!' "


The Septuagint, not uncommon, has differences. Overall differences are minor, but some are outstanding ("A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above): 60:1: "... shine {Possibly 'Be enlightened'}, O Ierousalem ..."; 60:4 " ... and your daughters shall be carried on shoulders."; 60:6 " ... and the camels of Midian and Gaiphar ... "; 60:11: " ... and kings who are being led away." 60:13a: "... with cypress and pine and cedar together, to glorify my holy place."; 60:13b omits "'I will bestow honor on my throne room.'"; 60:22 ".. . I, the Lord, will gather them in due time."

Midian (Madiam in the Septuagint) was the fourth son of Abraham and Keturah, his wife after the death of Sarah. Ephah (Gaiphar in the Septuagint) was the first son of Midian and therefore grandson of Abraham. Sheba was Ephah's cousin and grandson, also, of Abraham and Keturah, being the first son of the second son, Jokshan, of this couple. Abraham's heir was Isaac, so to the rest of his offspring the patriarch (after giving them some gifts) sent them away to the east (Genesis 25:6). The Midianite branch established as a tribe in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. Moses got asylum among them after killing an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-22) and it was in this vicinity where the burning bush appeared (Exodus 3:1-15). The Kingdom of Sheba lied further south, toward Yemen or even Eritrea and Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa. In this latter regard it is worth remembering that the tradition says that one of the Magi, Balthazar, was of black race, as probably also was that famous Queen of Sheba, which made ​​a courtesy visit to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-13), carrying as gifts 120 talents of gold (1 talent ~ 30 kg, if not more, that is, three and a half tons of gold, if not more), a amount of spices that "has never been equaled" and gems. The honoree was able to correspond very chivalrously.

As speculation is free, let us note the similarity between the words "Madiam, Gaiphar and Sheba" with variants of names that appeared in Greek traditions of the 5th century and then translated into Latin and from there into English, with "Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar".

Regarding the childhood stories about Abraham, the situation seems more complicated. There are no contemporary records of those stories. The most that we have are well subsequent publications, although one of them, the Book of Jasher, has a small probability of being contemporary, if it can overcome the suspicions of fraud.

The most recent of those records is "Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends" by Gertrude Landa, London, 1919, republished by Forgotten Books, 2008, 2010, chapter "The star-child", page 47 and followings. It recounts a version for young audiences supposedly based on rabbinic oral traditions, with many similarities to the Book of Jasher.

Another written record is that of Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, "The Legends of the Jews", New York, 1909, republished by Forgotten Books, 2008, 2010, chapter 5, pages 123-124 and 136-138. The author cites as bibliographical sources a huge amount of scripture commentaries, and the scriptures themselves, both Jewish and Christian, starting from the second century C.E.. Unfortunately, he assembles the text by doing a general collation but without the corresponding critical apparatus, so we do not know which sources he used to narrate this or that specific legend. Again, the similarity to the Book of Jasher is remarkable.

The now controversial Book of Jasher is quoted in the Bible, precisely in one of the most famous verses: Joshua 10:13: "The sun stood still and the moon stood motionless while the nation took vengeance on its enemies. The event is recorded in the Scroll of the Upright One. The sun stood motionless in the middle of the sky and did not set for about a full day." (NET). "The Upright One" in Hebrew is "ishr" ("Concordant Hebrew English Sublinear", above), also transliterated as "jashar" or "Jasher" ("Authorized King James Version Pure Cambridge Edition", above). There is another biblical reference about jasher: the Second Book of Samuel, chapter 1, verse 18: "(He gave instructions that the people of Judah should be taught 'The Bow'. Indeed, it is written down in the Scroll of the Upright One.)" (NET). In the Septuagint, Joshua 10:13 omits "The event is recorded in the Scroll of the Upright One." and 2 Samuel (2 Reigns) 1:18 omits "The Bow" ("A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above). Thus the Book of The Upright One or of Jasher is one of the famous and mysterious "lost books of the Old Testament." And indeed it was lost until a print edition appeared in Venice in 1625, which in turn referred to a previous edition, printed in Naples in 1552.

Here we must take a deep breath and handle this no less mysterious "reappearance" of the Book of Jasher with tweezers. No manuscript of the same exist, only the printed version, and we do not have a record of the past history of this text, no genealogy connecting it to biblical times, let alone to the Book of Samuel or of Joshua. The book appeared in Venice could be a falsification and the real Book of Jasher might continue lost. However, this is the best we have so far about it.

Having said this, let's see what this book says concerning the issue that summons us. chapter 8 says: "[8:1] And it was in the night that Abram was born, that all the servants of Terah, and all the wise men of Nimrod, and his conjurors came and ate and drank in the house of Terah, and they rejoiced with him on that night."

"[8:2] And when all the wise men and conjurors went out from the house of Terah, they lifted up their eyes toward heaven that night to look at the stars, and they saw, and behold one very large star came from the east and ran in the heavens, and he swallowed up the four stars from the four sides of the heavens."

"[8:3] And all the wise men of the king and his conjurors were astonished at the sight, and the sages understood this matter, and they knew its import."

"[8:4] And they said to each other, This only betokens the child that has been born to Terah this night, who will grow up and be fruitful, and multiply, and possess all the earth, he and his children for ever, and he and his seed will slay great kings, and inherit their lands."

The story goes, of course, with King Nimrod being very concerned by this prophecy and finding ways to eliminate Abram. The end we intuit it correctly: he kills an innocent but not Abram, who grows up and becomes Abraham. ("The Book of Jasher. Referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel. Faithfully translated {1840} from the original Hebrew into English", J.H. Parry & Company, Salt Lake City, 1887. The translator was Moses Samuel, of Liverpool, England, although his name was not originally included due to disputes).

Luckily we step on better ground when speaking of Moses' childhood, since we now have the written testimony of the Jewish aristocrat, naturalized Roman citizen, Titus Flavius ​​Josephus, the famous Josephus, who lived between the years 37 C.E. and ca. 100 C.E. and therefore was a contemporary of the evangelists. In "The Antiquities of the Jews", Book 4, chapter 9, paragraph 2, he tells us about the beginning of the end of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt: "While they were in this plight, a further Egyptian incident had the effect of stimulating the Egyptians of birth yet more to exterminate our race. One of the sacred scribes {Egyptian priests, keepers and interpreters of the sacred records. A Rabbinic allusion to a similar prediction of the Egyptian astrologers is quoted by Weill.} — persons with considerable skill in accurately predicting the future — announced to the king that there would be born to the Israelites at that time one who would abase the sovereignty of the Egyptians and exalt the Israelites, were he reared to manhood, and would surpass all men in virtue and win everlasting renown. Alarmed thereat, the king, on this sage's advice, ordered that every male child born to the Israelites should be destroyed by being cast into the river" ("Josephus, with an English translation by Henry St. John Thackeray", in nine volumes, Volume 4, "Jewish Antiquities", The Loeb Classical Library, William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1930, 1957, 1961, 1961 reprint, p. 253).

A secondary source, not as solid as Titus Flavius ​​Josephus' documents, is the work of Gustav Weil entitled "The Bible, the Koran and the Talmud; or, Biblical legends of the Mussulmans. Compiled from Arabic sources, and compared with Jewish traditions." (translated from the German, with occasional notes. Harper & Brothers, New York, 1846). On page 117 of the book, chapter "Moses and Aaron", the head of astrologers says to Pharaoh: " 'I read last night in the stars that the lad who shall one day deprive thee of life and empire has been conceived.' " (in this scene, the movie "The Ten Commandments" by Cecil B. de Mille, with Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter, Paramount Pictures, 1956, depicts the star as a comet, à la "The Adoration of the Magi" by Giotto, perhaps inspired by a fictional letter sent from Memphis by the legendary Prince Sesostris [probably the pharaoh Senusret III, but could also be a compound of Seti I and Ramses II, Moses pursuers according to the film] to his purported mother Queen Epiphia of Phoenicia, in Joseph Ingraham's novel "The Pillars of fire: or, Israel in bondage", Pudney & Russell, editors, New York, 1859, letter 17, p. 278, one of the works used to produce the Hollywood screenplay). The (terrible) usual slaughter follows, until on page 124 of the book "The Bible, the Koran and the Talmud" there is another interesting detail: the Pharaoh had learned that their unhappy daughters were cured of leprosy, after the oldest of them had rescued a child from a canal extending from the Nile River to the Palace. The powerful ruler was overjoyed and for the first time in his life he had embraced his beloved daughters. But later he reflected and told his wife Asia: " 'This child must not live: who knows whether his mother be not an Israelite, and he the child of whom both my dreams, as well as my astrologers, have foreboded me so much evil?' ". To which his virtuous wife replied," 'Dost thou still believe in idle dreams, the mere whispers of Satan, and in the still more idle interpretations given by men who boast of reading the future in the stars? Hast thou not slain the young mothers of Israel and their children; and even searched their houses?' ". So, Asia and the seven princesses got that Pharaoh accept Moses in the Palace. Of course, all Muslims documents are later than the Gospels, so that this source should be considered peripheral to our cause.

These two stories are not listed in the Book of Exodus, but the one by Titus Flavius ​​Josephus is certainly historically important, because it proves that the tradition was alive in a time when there was the possibility of influencing the making of the Gospels.

Titus Flavius ​​Josephus' documents are useful to analyze other important historical point: the slaughter of the innocents under King Herod the Great. Immediately after finishing the story about the star, in verses 17 and 18 of Matthew chapter 2, we read "[2:17; NET] Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:"

"[2:18] 'A voice was heard in Ramah,' "

" 'weeping and loud wailing,' "

" 'Rachel weeping for her children,' "

" 'and she did not want to be comforted, because they were gone.' "

The quote is from Jeremiah 31:15 (NET): "The LORD [Yahweh] says,"

" 'A sound is heard in Ramah,' "

" 'a sound of crying in bitter grief.' "

" 'It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children' "

" 'and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.' "

In the Septuagint, chapter 31 of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible is chapter 38 of the Greek version. Verse 15 says ("A New English Translation of the Septuagint", above): "Thus did the Lord say:"

" 'A voice of lamentation and weeping and mourning was heard in Rama;' "

" 'Rachel did not want to stop weeping for her sons, because they are not.' "

Ramah was a village about 8 km north of Jerusalem. Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin that she had with Jacob (later called Israel), who was also the father of Judah. The Book of Joshua says: “[18:5; NET] (…) Judah will stay in its territory in the south and the family of Joseph in its territory in the north" (…) "[18:10] Joshua drew lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord and divided the land among the Israelites according to their allotted portions. [18:11] The first lot belonged to the tribe of Benjamin by its clans. Their allotted territory was between Judah and Joseph." (…) “[18:21a] These cities belonged to the tribe of Benjamin by its clans::” (…) “[18:25] Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth” (…) “[18: 28]. "Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah, and Kiriath — a total of fourteen cities and their towns. This was the land assigned to the tribe of Benjamin by its clans.". The lands of Joseph passed to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

In the year 722 B.C.E. King Sargon II conquered all these lands and gathered the captive population in Ramah: “[Jeremiah 40:1; NET] The Lord spoke to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan the captain of the royal guard had set him free at Ramah. He had taken him there in chains along with all the people from Jerusalem and Judah who were being carried off to exile to Babylon" (…). King Sargon II had a wall of his palace engraved: "(…) [At the beginning of my rule, in my first year of reign] (…) [[27 290 people, who lived therein] I carried away." (Daniel David Luckenbill, “Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia”, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1927, Volume 2, chapter 1, page 2, paragraph 4). Thus, Rachel's cry can be interpreted, metaphorically, as the enormous sadness she felt when she saw that her descendants by Joseph and Benjamin were exiled.

Significantly, our reporter Titus Flavius ​​Josephus does not bring us any news of a large-scale killing of children either in Ramah or in Bethlehem. In analyzing this we must not forget that these villages were very small, so there is the possibility of the killing having involved a few unfortunate families and therefore has not been as "spectacular" as to attract the attention of the historian... especially compared to other atrocities of Herod the Great which our Josephus does bother to register. However, something that he does report to us is that, to avoid them taking the throne from him, Herod the Great went as far as to kill his own children: in the year 7 B.C.E., Aristobulus IV ("Antiquities of the Jews", Book 15 , chapter 3, paragraph 3) and Alexander (in the same work, Book 16, chapter 11, paragraph 7), children of him with his second wife, the previously executed Mariamne I, daughter of Alexander the Hasmonean, and in 4 B.C.E. Antipater III of Judea (in the same work, Book 17, chapter 7, paragraph 1), his eldest son, by his first wife, Doris. The dates of these three filicides, murders that should have been very noticeable to the local population, are consistent with the probable dates of the Massacre of the Innocents of the Gospel of Matthew. (Note that Lucas, who places the Nativity in another date, distant nearly a decade after the date of Matthew, says nothing about any killing of innocents.)

CONCLUSION

So we have three possible explanations for the Star of Bethlehem.

The first hypothesis is that the phenomenon indeed actually occurred as related by Matthew, and the coincidences with previous similar stories are just that, coincidences. The first candidate for the astronomical object would be the comet of 5 B.C.E. (or 4 B.C.E.) seen and recorded in written documents by Chinese and Korean astronomers, as specified above.

The second hypothesis is that a somewhat similar phenomenon, at least in essence, happened around the time mentioned, but the evangelist, as he had not been a witness and had limited data, fumbled along and across the prophetic literature and even in "popular gossips" from the time of Herod the Great (if we may call these that way) and additional secular events to complete the details of his narrative. The Synoptic Gospels, in general, seem to follow this line constantly.

The third hypothesis is that none of these ever happened and they existed only in the mind of the evangelist. Matthew's intentions are clear if we compare the finished work with the works of Mark and Luke, that is, if we compare the three Synoptic Gospels. It is well known that the Gospel of Mark is a memory of personally experienced events according to Simon Peter and the Gospel of Luke pretends to be a historiographical document. It is also known that the Gospel of Matthew is an apology to the alleged Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. It tries by all means to convince the Jews that the various prophecies of the ancestors had been fulfilled. The timing when this latter gospel was first written were very sensitive years in Jewish history, in the midst of the debacle over the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem with its "Sanctum Sanctorum" and everything, and the beginning of the Diaspora. The "End of Days" might have come, the right time to fulfill all of the remaining Jewish prophecies. The biography of Jesus might had been caught into this whirlpool and there they would have stuck to it, like strips of paper pasted to make a collage, the tales of the star marking his arrival, the visitors from distant nations that offer tributes, the evil king who does not want to hand over power and the consequent slaughter in a futile attempt to stop him. It should not be unconceivable that this was the way ​​this biblical passage was produced, since in fact much of the Bible has been made ​​(both before and after Matthew) precisely by the collage technique.

Be it or not "illusionist's magic" the final answer, the data we currently have on the Star of Bethlehem have brought us no further than thus far. The conclusion, if one is possible, is left at the discretion of each one of the dear readers.


Aldo Loup


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An abridged version was originally published in ABC Color, on 24 December 2006.


ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATION

The famous fresco "The Adoration of the Magi" by Giotto, ca. 1305. It is thought to contain the oldest known portrait of Comet Halley. This beautiful panel of 185 cm x 200 cm adorns the south wall of the Arena Chapel (built by the Scrovegni family of usurers and dedicated to Our Lady of Charity) in Padua, Italy.

“With camels and gifts, the three kings have followed the comet down the narrow rocky path to the stable in Bethlehem. In the fresco, this stable really seems to be the end of the road. The oldest king has removed his crown and kneels before the baby Jesus. Everyone present watches what is happening in silence and reverence. Only a vividly depicted secondary figure, the camel driver, prefers to tend his animals. Giotto uses this contrast to enhance the effect of the main scene. " - Anne Mueller von der Haegen, "Giotto di Bondone, about 1267-1337", Könemann, Cologne, 1998. Used with permssion.

Credit of the illustration: Giotto di Bondone, via Bijbels Museum. With permission from the Museum and Library Sector of the Municipality of Padua.