The Star of Bethlehem

Then we find our next parallel between the very next passage of Matthew and the previous passage of Wars of the Jews, where Josephus tells us about some events that he claims foreshadowed the coming “desolation” but that the “wise men” thought was a good sign:

“Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city… which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread… and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon itAt the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men… was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies… Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, 5:3

This one passage of Josephus has seven plot elements in common with the passage about the star of Bethlehem from the book of Matthew, telling virtually the same story (HINT: since this is a satire, it is much easier to understand if you read the New Testament passages always with a sarcastically dismissive voice in your head;):

“Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 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. 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 {in the temple;}. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy {the vulgar people anyway;}. 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. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”

– Matthew 2:7-12

Josephus must be talking about Halley’s Comet which appeared in 66 AD, and which, Josephus tells us, is a foretelling of the coming of Vespasian and Titus (father and son) to the empire, to fulfill the oracle that someone would come out of Israel to become ruler of the habitable Earth. Which is what he told the Flavian’s himself, that they were fulfilling Jewish prophecy and were come to save the Jews. But this is the same as the story of the star of Bethlehem from Matthew.

“…I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals…”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, 5:3

The Star of Bethlehem returns about every 70-80 years.

Image 5: The Tapestry of Bayeux showing the appearance of Halley’s comet (top right, aka, “the star of Bethlehem”) in 1066 AD which returns in its orbit every 74-79 years.  
Latin inscription: “those dudes are checkin’ out the star”.

 

Halley’s Comet from Wikipedia:

“The apparition of 12 BC was recorded in the Book of Han by Chinese astronomers of the Han Dynasty… It passed within 0.16 AU of Earth. Halley’s appearance in 12 BC, only a few years distant from the conventionally assigned date of the birth of Jesus Christ, has led some theologians and astronomers to suggest that it might explain the biblical story of the Star of Bethlehem.”

When Halley’s Comet reappeared in 66 AD, the Jewish wise men took it to be a good sign that their saviour would come and they would win the revolution for religious freedom from the Romans, but Josephus tells us those wise men were deceived and it was actually foretelling their impending doom, although hind-sight is 20/20.

Two sequential passages in The Wars of the Jews which exactly parallel two sequential passages in Matthew only in reversed order, 6, 5:3 → Matthew 2:7-12 and 6, 5:4 → Matthew 2:1-6.  This makes both parallels extremely solid and not possible to explain by coincidence.

 

“…Now he is to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest, not who does no more than change the disposition and order of other men’s works, but he who not only relates what had not been related before, but composes an entire body of history of his own: accordingly, I have been at great charges, and have taken very great pains [about this history]…”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Preface

Yes, Matthew not only changes the order and disposition of other men’s work {making those wise men who were deceived into wise men who were not deceived;} but he also composes entire bodies of history of his own which had not been related before. I think the author indeed must have taken great pains in earnest {just as Josephus himself admits to have done;}.

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