15 The World Leader from the Land of the Jews: Josephus, Jewish War 6.300–315; Tacitus, Histories 5.13; and Suetonius, Vespasian 4.5

in The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi
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Abstract

This contribution concerns the oracle about a world leader coming from the land of the Jews, as transmitted by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Jewish War 6.300–315), which is paralleled in Tacitus (Histories 5.13) and Suetonius (Vespasian 4.5). The oracle plays an important role in Michael Molnar’s contextualization of Matthew’s Star of Bethlehem passage. Josephus and Tacitus set the oracle in the period of the Roman war against the Jews (66–70 ce) and connect it with portents indicating disaster. All versions state that the Jews misinterpreted the oracle, and that the ruler it pointed to was Vespasian (or Vespasian and Titus). The similarities between the three versions are so great that it is plausible that they are dependent on each other, or on a common source. The most probable explanation of the interdependency of the three versions is that Josephus is the source of the Latin versions. This explains how the oracle functioned as a reason for the Jews to revolt against the Romans. Josephus’ version may derive from a (messianic) passage in Jewish scripture, as Josephus states, but the content of the oracle is not specific enough to trace it to a specific passage in the Hebrew Bible.

The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi

Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy

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