31 - The Wise men and the Star
There are quite a number of significant events recorded regarding the birth of Jesus Christ. In this study we won't be covering every detail as that would necessarily be the work of many books. Instead, we will just touch on a few highlights, particularly his star and the main events surrounding his birth.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews [Judeans]? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
A number of interesting points arise here. Who were these wise men? What was this star they saw? How come these wise men knew about the birth of Jesus Christ while no one in Jerusalem knew anything about it? Why was Jerusalem troubled at the news instead of rejoicing?
We have to start somewhere, so first of all does it say there were three wise men? No, it doesn't. Nor does the word ever hint at such a number. Just because there were three gifts does not mean there were only three wise men. In fact, there were far more than three of them, as we shall see.
Was Herod overjoyed at the news? No, he was troubled. Troubled in the Greek is the word tarassō which means mental pressure. He was greatly distressed mentally by this news. It caused him severe headaches and put him under immense pressure. This reaction to hearing about the birth of the Christ tells us a great deal about his heart and what kind of a man he was.
And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
Herod gathered all the biblical scholars and religious leaders together and demanded to know where this Christ was born.
And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
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.
They found this scripture in Malachi and told him that it was to be in Bethlehem. It's amazing and intriguing that these wise men knew about Jesus Christ's birth, yet no one in Israel knew anything about it. How could this be? How could these foreigners from a distant land know about this event while not one person in Jerusalem knew anything about it? Let's find out.
The Greek word translated wise men is magi or magoi (it's the same word). Now for some interesting history. The magi were priests from Persia. The earliest magi lived in Media and Persia before the time of Zoroaster (ca 600 BC) who was the founder and prophet of the Zoroastrian religion. Before Zoroaster, it is thought the magi were nature worshippers.
When Zoroastrianism became the prominent religion of Persia, many of the magi adopted it. After the death of Zoroaster, the magian sect splintered into two. Some of the magi remained true to the teachings of Zoroaster while others returned to their nature worship.
During Christ's time, many of these nature worshipping magian priests had left Persia and settled in the Roman Empire where they further developed their magical arts of astrology and sorcery. The words magic and magician come directly from these magian spiritualists and sorcerers. Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8:9 was one of these spiritualist magian priests.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery [mageuō], and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
The eastern magi back in Persia remained faithful to the teachings of Zoroaster, and further developed their religion. It is these magi who are referred to in verse 1. The epithet from the east is probably a reference to their reputation (distinguishing them from the western magi spiritualists infesting the Roman Empire), as well as to their geographic location. It was these eastern magi from Persia who travelled to Jerusalem to see Herod.
Now when [after] Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men [Magi] from the east to Jerusalem.
These were noted and highly respected astronomers and scholars with an International reputation. These eastern magi were not spiritualists and mediums like their counterparts in the Roman Empire, they were brilliant men, astronomers and scholars.
Another thing, these magi were part of a royal entourage sent from the king of Persia. Magi held high office in Persia and had the king's ear. They were the king's personal advisors. The king of Persia would have known about the birth of the young Judean king and would have sent the customary royal gifts along with the magi to present to him. These gifts would have been highly valuable. There is no way just three men would have carried such wealth over hundreds of miles through dangerous country and risk being robbed. This was, in fact, a royal caravan carrying gifts for the new Judean king from the king of Persia. I'm sure most of the Magian priests in Persia would have wanted to make this pilgrimage so this was not just three men on camels. With such fabulous treasure, and travelling such great distances through country infested with robbers and wild animals, security would have been essential. The caravan would have had a formidable military escort. There could have been hundreds of people in this caravan.
Unbelievable that no one in Judea was expecting them and no one in Judea knew anything about the birth of the Christ. The first they knew of it was when this royal Persian caravan of magian priests turned up with their military escort. Herod was taken completely by surprise. He knew nothing about any Christ or king being born. No wonder he was pissed off. He was the king, and suddenly he heard there was another one? And how come none of his religious advisors had told him anything about it? Herod wanted answers! That's why he barked at the religious leaders and demanded of them where the Christ should be born. He was troubled, for sure, and all Jerusalem was troubled with him. He had murder in his heart.
So just how did these Persian magi know about the birth of the Christ anyway? If these guys knew about it, you would think God's so-called people would have known. How did these Persians know?
About five hundred years earlier, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judaea, besieged its cities and carried away many captives to Babylon, the capital of the Persian Empire. Among them were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. After interpreting a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was promoted.
Then the king made Daniel a great man, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel was a disciple, and he was promoted to the top spiritual job, as well as presiding over all the political advisors and scholars in the Persian empire.
There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers [mgushe].
Daniel was the master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers. That means he was their master. The Aramaic word for soothsayers is mgushe, the equivalent of the Greek word magi. Daniel was promoted to master of the magi in the Persian Empire five hundred years before Christ was born. As their master, Daniel would have taught them about the stars. Hundreds of years later, that knowledge was still being taught, which is why the magi who arrived in Jerusalem were knowledgeable about his star.
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews [Judeans]? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
The magi saw his star in the east or in the sun rising as it should be translated. These guys were astronomers. The birth of the Christ had been announced in the stars and it was Daniel, hundreds of years earlier, who had taught them how to read the stars. That's how they knew what to look for. The knowledge of how to read the stars had been lost in Israel, which is why no one knew anything about the birth of the Christ. That knowledge is still in the stars today, it's just that no one knows how to read it. Only those magi who knew how to read the stars saw the celestial events announcing the birth of the Christ.
God's word is written in the stars. Before there was a written bible, that was how folks learned the word. It's still all up there, but we've lost its meaning. It was because we lost the meaning of the word in the stars that God was forced to have the bible written in the languages of men. To understand what his star was, we need to look into God's word to see what we can learn about stars.
In the word, Jesus Christ is referred to as the bright and morning star. He's also referred to as the evening star. Both of these uses refer to the planet Venus. Venus is much closer to the sun than Earth, so it always appears close to the sun in the sky. Of course, during the day you can't see Venus because the sun is too bright. Late at night you can't see it either because it sets with the sun. Depending on its orbit, we either see it in the morning at dawn as the sun rises, or in the evening at dusk when the sun sets. That's why it's called the bright and morning star and the evening star.
In addition to Venus, Jupiter also represents Jesus Christ, and is referred to biblically as the king planet. So any celestial announcements regarding the birth of Jesus Christ would necessarily have to include both Jupiter and Venus. This is a very basic example of how the word is written in the stars.
Now yes, we know today that Jupiter and Venus are planets, but back then they were called stars, wandering stars in fact, because they wandered around the heavens.
We don't have time here to go into any detail on this, but the stars and planets all represent spiritual matters and have spiritual meanings. For example, Mercury represents Gabriel, while Mars represents Michael, God's Warrior Archangel. Even today, Mars is still recognised as a planet representing war. There is a war going on in the heavens and Michael leads God's spiritual warriors against the devil and his spirits. Saturn represents satan, the devil, which is intriguing in the context of christmas being a modern incarnation of the feast of Saturnalia.
As their master and teacher, Daniel would have taught all this to the magi in his day. Hundreds of years later, that teaching was still being observed, which was why those Persian magi recognised something in the heavens announcing the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. What was it they saw? Astronomy is a precise science, so it's easy to look at the sky at any time in history. If we know what to look for we can again see what it was the magi saw. Any good planetarium can re-run the events taking place in the night skies at any time, even thousands of years ago. That's how exact and precise the movements of the stars and planets are. That's how beautiful and accurate and precise the word is in the stars too. That knowledge is still all up there. Let's observe a few more details.
The word makes clear in Matthew 2 and Luke 1 that Herod the Great was alive and ruling Judaea when Jesus Christ was born. This helps to narrow down the time frame as we can check that information historically. Once we know what history tells us about Herod the Great, we can then check the astronomical records and piece it all together with the biblical records.
Josephus, a Roman historian, chronicled that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the moon. Since lunar eclipses can be calculated with mathematical exactness and scientific precision, we can check out all the eclipses visible in Palestine, select the one that matches the biblical records, and then study astronomical candidates for his star prior to that eclipse.
To cut a long story short, all scholars agree that Herod died sometime between 7 BC and 1 BC. During that time there were four lunar eclipses visible in Palestine - a total eclipse on march 23, 5 BC, a total eclipse on september 15, 5 BC, a partial eclipse on march 13, 4 BC, and a total eclipse on january 9, 1 BC.
Josephus also noted that a number of events took place between the eclipse and passover the year Herod died. Two high priests were executed by Herod, his illness became worse so he travelled to Callirrhoe to seek relief in hot baths. He returned to Jericho, then sent messengers throughout Judea to bring every principal man from every town and village to Jericho where he confined them to the hippodrome so he could execute them when he died. Envoys from Rome then arrived giving Herod permission to execute or banish his son, Antipater, and Herod had him executed immediately. Herod died five days later. Herod's other son Archelaus became king in his stead and released the prisoners from the Hippodrome. A lavish funeral followed during which the funeral procession marched from Jericho to the Herodian, a fortified mountain near Jerusalem, which scholars estimate would have taken at least twenty five days. Archelaus returned to Jerusalem and mourned for a further seven days before preparing to leave for Rome to have his reign confirmed by Caesar. Before he left, a serious riot broke out in Jerusalem and Archelaus had to send in the Roman Army. Adding all this together gives us a time period of approximately two to three months.
Bearing all this in mind, the lunar eclipse of march 23, 5 BC cannot be the one mentioned by Josephus as march 23 was the actual date of Passover that year. The eclipse on march 13, 4 BC cannot be the eclipse either as there is simply not enough time between then and the passover on april 11 for all the events recorded by Josephus to have taken place. A few scholars have proposed the eclipse of september 15, 5 BC as the one mentioned by Josephus as that eclipse gives us a six month period between Herod's death and passover the following year. However, the eclipse on january 9, 1 BC most perfectly fits the timeline, giving us three months between the eclipse and passover on April 8 of that year. Most scholars now also agree that Jesus Christ was born in 3 BC, not 4 BC as previously thought, so we have our eclipse and a timeline in which to search for candidates for the astronomical events announcing the birth of Jesus Christ.
Armed with this information, let's now take a look at the biblical records and look at one of the prophesies in the bible regarding the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is well known that Jesus Christ was a Judean. What does God's word say regarding the tribe of Judah in reference to the stars?
Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee.
Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
What the heck is this talking about? Judah is a lions whelp? Huh? Which constellation in the night sky depicts a lion? The constellation Leo is depicted by a lion. Okay, so the constellation of Leo represents the tribe of Judah. Now, as Jesus Christ was a Judean, which constellation do you think might have been involved in the astronomical announcement that he had been born? Scorpio? No, Leo, from which tribe came Jesus Christ. So without question, that constellation would have had to figure in any announcements about his birth, along with Jupiter and Venus.
Leo has long been understood as being the constellation representing the tribe of Judah, out of which tribe would come the messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 10 of Genesis 49, lawgiver is the Hebrew word regel, from which we get our English word regal. The Arabic regel means foot and is identical in meaning to the Aramaic regla and the Hebrew regel.
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver [regel] from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
Guess which star is the brightest in Leo? That's right, Regulus. This prophecy in Genesis is referring to the star Regulus in Leo. Thus the brightest star in Leo, Regulus, has the biblical connotation of the foot, tying in with from between his feet. These words form the basis of our English word regal, the basis of a king, that upon which a king stands. So we can now add Regulus to our list of stars that would have had to have been part of the celestial announcement of the birth of the Judean king.
To sum up, Regulus is regarded as the king star and it is appropriately placed in the constellation of Leo. In addition, Jupiter is regarded as the king planet. Venus, as the bright and morning star and the evening star, again refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. So it follows that any celestial announcements regarding the birth of Jesus Christ must have been in the constellation Leo and would have included Regulus, Venus and Jupiter.
Meanwhile, back in Persia, our noted astronomer magi pals were staying up late, looking up at the night skies, sipping hot drinks and scoffing sandwiches, as they had been doing for hundreds of years. They were looking for a sign in the heavens announcing the birth of the Christ. Daniel had taught them what to look for, and hundreds of years later they were still watching, still looking, their gaze fixed on the constellation Leo.
At this juncture, we also need to understand a few astronomical terms, like conjunction, which is when two planets or a planet and a star are very close together and are lined up with the north pole. Sometimes they can even merge. That's a conjunction. Another term we need to understand is retrograde motion. It is a difficult concept to explain in few words, so do some of your own research. Essentially, because the planets all travel at different speeds, and because of earth's orbit around the sun, planets can appear to stop in the night sky and then go backwards. As the earth then ducks round behind the sun, these planets can then appear to stop and carry on forwards again. This phenomenon is called retrograde motion. To an astronomer, retrograde motion is a celestial fireworks display. To literally see a planet stop in the night sky, go backwards, stop and then go forwards again is an event which greatly excites astronomers.
Before beginning to examine the celestial events, I think we can safely assume that the constellation Leo, the star Regulus, and the planets Jupiter and Venus would have been involved, and we could expect Mars and Mercury to be in there somewhere as well, but certainly not Saturn. Cutting a long story short, by examining astronomical records within the time period we researched earlier, we come up with the following.
August 12, 3 BC Jupiter and Venus in conjunction in Leo.
September 14, 3 BC Jupiter and Regulus in conjunction in Leo.
Jupiter then went into retrograde motion, it stopped and went backwards in the sky.
February 17, 2 BC Jupiter and Regulus in conjunction in Leo.
Jupiter then stopped and went forwards again.
May 8, 2 BC Jupiter and Regulus in conjunction in Leo for a third time.
June 17, 2 BC Jupiter and Venus in conjunction in Leo for a second time.
You've heard of a once in a lifetime event? Well, astronomically, this was a once in the history of the world event. And no one in Israel noticed. No one. God announced it to the whole world yet no one but those magi in Persia saw it. Amazingly, that wasn't all. After this once in a history of the world celestial fireworks display, there was a final starburst that shook the heavens - the massing of the planets Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars in the constellation Leo.
August 27, 2 BC Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus all mass in Leo, with Jupiter and Mars in conjunction.
A triple conjunction is a celestial fireworks display to an astronomer. It is such an event, that today they still cause ripples of excitement through astronomical circles. Jupiter being the prime mover is obviously the best candidate for his star as noted by the magi. Sometime prior to Jesus Christ's birth, because of retrograde motion, Jupiter appeared to stop and go backwards and then stop and go forwards again, thus completing three distinct and separate conjunctions with the star Regulus. This triple conjunction sandwiched between a double conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, and all within the constellation of Leo, would have set their hearts fluttering!
Finally, the massing of the planets Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars in the constellation Leo had them running to saddle up their camels. They knew the Messiah had been born and off they headed to Jerusalem with their gifts in search of the new born Judean king.
Chapter 32 - The Birth of Jesus Christ