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George van Kooten

Abstract

This paper explores the consensus and disagreements between the contributors to this first interdisciplinary conference on the Star of Bethlehem. It takes as its starting point the agreement that astrological models that included Syria-Judea only arose in the Greco-Roman period, and that it is likely that Matthew’s magi were Persians of the Parthian era. The questions it addresses concern how embassies of Parthian Magi could be conceived of, how they should be understood in the context of Parthian-Roman-Judean politics, whether the image of the magi as kingmakers of the Parthian kings excludes any acquaintance with astrological knowledge, how Greco-Roman and Babylonian-Chaldean culture relate and interact in Parthia, how Judea fits into the larger Syrian context, and whether the magi could indeed have had a motive, at that time, for paying attention to developments in Syria-Judea. To answer these questions, all available evidence concerning the magi and the Parthians is chronologically stratified and applied to Matthew’s narrative. Is his story of the magi’s visit to Jesus best explained at the level of the Flavian era, in which Matthew wrote? Or does it resonate with the Augustan era, in which this visit is said to have taken place? Or does it (also) reflect occurrences from the era between Augustus and the Flavians? On the basis of the available evidence, it is suggested that Matthew’s narrative best fits the Augustan era, which was an era of unprecedented and unparalleled Roman-Parthian peace. Against this background, Matthew’s message seems to be that people from the East (magi) and the West (Romans) constitute a new, non-political community around Jesus, who laid down the constitution of a different kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.

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George H. Van Kooten