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Edited by Jonathan Barnes and Valentina Calzolari

David, a member of the Platonic school in Alexandria in the sixth century, is credited with several commentaries on Aristotle’s logic: those commentaries, and their Armenian translations, form the subject of this book. An introduction, which discusses David and his place in the Greek and the Armenian traditions, is followed by a series of studies of the relations between the Greek texts and their Armenian translations: the aims are, first, to assess the value of the translations for the constitution of the original Greek, and secondly, to consider the ways in which the Armenian translations adapted the texts to suit their new readership. More generally, the book is concerned with the ways in which Greek thought was exported abroad—to Armenia and to Syria: it is required reading for anyone who is interested in the circulation of ideas between east and west.

Contributors include: Sen Arevshatyan, Jonathan Barnes, Valentina Calzolari, Henri Hugonnard-Roche, Gohar Muradyan, Michael Papazian, Manea Shirinian, Clive Sweeting, Albert Stepanyan, Aram Topchyan.

The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi

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

Edited by Peter Barthel and George van Kooten

This book is the fruit of the first ever interdisciplinary international scientific conference on Matthew's story of the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, held in 2014 at the University of Groningen, and attended by world-leading specialists in all relevant fields: modern astronomy, the ancient near-eastern and Greco-Roman worlds, the history of science, and religion. The scholarly discussions and the exchange of the interdisciplinary views proved to be immensely fruitful and resulted in the present book. Its twenty chapters describe the various aspects of The Star: the history of its interpretation, ancient near-eastern astronomy and astrology and the Magi, astrology in the Greco-Roman and the Jewish worlds, and the early Christian world – at a generally accessible level. An epilogue summarizes the fact-fiction balance of the most famous star which has ever shone.

Cover illustration: © Michael Farrell

The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi

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

Series:

Edited by George H. van Kooten and Peter Barthel

This book is the fruit of the first ever interdisciplinary international scientific conference on Matthew's story of the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, held in 2014 at the University of Groningen, and attended by world-leading specialists in all relevant fields: modern astronomy, the ancient near-eastern and Greco-Roman worlds, the history of science, and religion. The scholarly discussions and the exchange of the interdisciplinary views proved to be immensely fruitful and resulted in the present book. Its twenty chapters describe the various aspects of The Star: the history of its interpretation, ancient near-eastern astronomy and astrology and the Magi, astrology in the Greco-Roman and the Jewish worlds, and the early Christian world – at a generally accessible level. An epilogue summarizes the fact-fiction balance of the most famous star which has ever shone.

Series:

John M. Steele

Abstract

A variety of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia and Assyria present astrological associations between celestial events and geographical locations on the Earth. These associations fall into two main groups: those dealing with four broad geographical regions (corresponding roughly to the north, south, east, and west) and those which associate constellations or signs of the zodiac with Babylonian (and occasionally Assyrian) cities. This chapter reviews the evidence for astrological geography in Mesopotamia and argues that, although there were some common associations which are found in several different texts, there was no unified system of astrological geography with a one-to-one correspondence between a celestial location or phenomenon and a terrestrial region or city.

Series:

Annette Merz

Abstract

This chapter investigates the question of whether the Star of Bethlehem mentioned in Matthew 2:1–12 should be regarded as a historical phenomenon that must be taken into account in historical Jesus research. A short introduction describes the main problems of the historical evaluation of the sources about Jesus’ life in general. Then the under-theorized question of whether and under what circumstances astronomical data have the potential to provide a path towards more historical certainty in Jesus research is addressed. Three possible scenarios are discussed and related to instances where astronomical phenomena/data are (or seem to be) involved in a textually presented chain of events in Jesus’ life: viz., his birth and his death. Are we to conclude that we deal with (a) no verifiable astronomical event, but verisimilitude without historical basis; (b) one verifiable astronomical event, connected to relatively clearly defined historical events; or (c) a variety of astronomical phenomena that may or may not be connected to historical events that are more or less disputed? The last section concentrates on historical aspects connected to the star in Matthew’s narrative (the time and place of Jesus’ birth, his supposed Davidic descent) and evaluates their reliability in historical terms. A new understanding of the complexities of Luke’s chronology is proposed, which reckons with an erroneous interpretation of public (literary and inscriptional) information on the censuses conducted by Augustus and Quirinius. It is concluded that Jesus was possibly not born under Herod the Great, possibly not born in Bethlehem, and that the star most certainly must be considered a literary phenomenon.

Series:

Bradley E. Schaefer

Abstract

Previously, the most prominent explanation for the Star of Bethlehem was to identify one of many astronomical events as the inspiration for the journey of the magi. However, all of the astronomical answers have detailed refutations, as this chapter will demonstrate. As astrologers, the magi would have derived meaning and importance only from arcane patterns of the positions of the seven planets, as presented in a horoscope. There would have been no meaning for ancient astrologers in triple conjunctions, Venus/Jupiter occultations, or any other spectacular astronomical event; they were looking down at their horoscopes and not up at comets, novae, or supernovae, which were never placed in a horoscope.

In 1999, Michael R. Molnar proposed a completely new solution to the problem of the star, in which the star originated as a report of a natal horoscope for 17 April 6 bce. This natal horoscope shows very impressive regal portents and points to Judea. It is very improbable that such a rare planet configuration (occurring on average only once per millennium, or even more rarely) would coincide with the restricted date of Jesus' birth unless there is some causal connection. The magi were astrologers, so they were only interested in horoscopes. The primary tool of the astrologer is the horoscope, and natal horoscopes tell exactly—and only—the date, country, character, and future for the birth of a child; this is exactly the information that Matthew tells us the magi got from the star. This astrological solution ultimately provides simple and natural explanations for many of the ways in which the star operated. Notwithstanding other issues regarding the historicity of the information provided in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, for the issue of the Star of Bethlehem alone, Molnar's astrological solution is convincing.

Series:

Antonio Panaino

Abstract

The present contribution analyzes the story of the magi and their star as trans¬mitted by Matthew 2:1–12, with a special focus on the cultural relations between the Jewish and Iranian worlds. It further emphasizes the importance of these cultural relations in the framework of early Christianity, whose relevant Iranian horizon has not generally been given due consideration, at least outside of a restricted circle of spe¬cialists. The presence of the magi in Bethlehem, according to Matthew’s pericope, inevitably invites us to reflect on the origins of these wise men, who were able to recognize a special sign in the heavens and follow it in order to worship the newborn savior of the world. A number of historical events and earlier Mazdean religious doctrines provide a good cultural back¬ground for the mention of this priestly collegium in a Christian source at the end of the first century ce. This chapter offers a short overview of Iranian astral lore as well as its astrological Late Antique traditions and describes the main lines of some eschatological doctrines concerning the Mazdean expectation of the virgin birth of Zoroaster’s son. All these data are fundamental to a reconstruction of the historical meaning of the magi in the perspective of a person living in Palestine or the Middle East during and shortly after Jesus’ life. The final part of the chapter shows that many current explanations for the astral phenomenon appearing in Bethlehem are inadequate, as in the case of the millenarian doctrine of the Saturn/Jupiter conjunctions, which was not elaborated by Iranian astro¬no¬mers until Sasanian times. The author finally proposes a philological evaluation of the Greek text in the light of strict historical and comparative criticism, from which it appears that the text contains a strong symbolic and religious meaning, while strict astronomical interpretations are fre¬quen¬tly linguistically inappropriate and in some cases reflect a confessional mirage that counters historical reality, or at least historical plausibility.