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The Star Of Bethlehem





Being born in a miraculous manner, as other great personages had been,
it was necessary that the miracles attending the births of these
virgin-born gods should be added to the history of Christ Jesus,
otherwise the legend would not be complete.

The first which we shall notice is the story of the star which is said
to have heralded his birth, and which was designated "his star." It is
related by the Matthew narrator as follows:[140:1]

"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, 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?
for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to
worship him.'"

Herod the king, having heard these things, he privately called the wise
men, and inquired of them what time the star appeared, at the same time
sending them to Bethlehem to search diligently for the young child. The
wise men, accordingly, departed and went on their way towards Bethlehem.
"The star which they saw in the east went before them, till it came and
stood over where the young child was."

The general legendary character of this narrative--its similarity in
style with those contained in the apocryphal gospels--and more
especially its conformity with those astrological notions which,
though prevalent in the time of the Matthew narrator, have been exploded
by the sounder scientific knowledge of our days--all unite to stamp upon
the story the impress of poetic or mythic fiction.

The fact that the writer of this story speaks not of a star but of
his star, shows that it was the popular belief of the people among
whom he lived, that each and every person was born under a star, and
that this one which had been seen was his star.

All ancient nations were very superstitious in regard to the influence
of the stars upon human affairs, and this ridiculous idea has been
handed down, in some places, even to the present day. Dr. Hooykaas,
speaking on this subject, says:

"In ancient times the Jews, like other peoples, might very
well believe that there was some immediate connection between
the stars and the life of man--an idea which we still preserve
in the forms of speech that so-and-so was born under a lucky
or under an evil star. They might therefore suppose that the
birth of great men, such as Abraham, for instance, was
announced in the heavens. In our century, however, if not
before, all serious belief in astrology has ceased, and it
would be regarded as an act of the grossest superstition for
any one to have his horoscope drawn; for the course, the
appearance and the disappearance of the heavenly bodies have
been long determined with mathematical precision by
science."[141:1]

The Rev. Dr. Geikie says, in his Life of Christ:[141:2]

"The Jews had already, long before Christ's day, dabbled
in astrology, and the various forms of magic which became
connected with it. . . . They were much given to cast horoscopes
from the numerical value of a name. Everywhere throughout the
whole Roman Empire, Jewish magicians, dream expounders, and
sorcerers, were found.

"'The life and portion of children,' says the Talmud, 'hang
not on righteousness, but on their star.' 'The planet of the
day has no virtue, but the planet of the hour (of nativity)
has much.' 'When the Messiah is to be revealed,' says the book
Sohar, 'a star will rise in the east, shining in great
brightness, and seven other stars round it will fight
against it on every side.' 'A star will rise in the east,
which is the star of the Messiah, and will remain in the east
fifteen days.'"

The moment of every man's birth being supposed to determine every
circumstance in his life, it was only necessary to find out in what mode
the celestial bodies--supposed to be the primary wheels to the
universal machine--operated at that moment, in order to discover all
that would happen to him afterward.

The regularity of the risings and settings of the fixed stars, though it
announced the changes of the seasons and the orderly variations of
nature, could not be adapted to the capricious mutability of human
actions, fortunes, and adventures: wherefore the astrologers had
recourse to the planets, whose more complicated revolutions offered more
varied and more extended combinations. Their different returns to
certain points of the Zodiac, their relative positions and conjunctions
with each other, were supposed to influence the affairs of men; whence
daring impostors presumed to foretell, not only the destinies of
individuals, but also the rise and fall of empires, and the fate of the
world itself.[141:3]

The inhabitants of India are, and have always been, very superstitious
concerning the stars. The Rev. D. O. Allen, who resided in India for
twenty-five years, and who undoubtedly became thoroughly acquainted with
the superstitions of the inhabitants, says on this subject:

"So strong are the superstitious feelings of many, concerning
the supposed influence of the stars on human affairs, that
some days are lucky, and others again are unlucky, that no
arguments or promises would induce them to deviate from the
course which these stars, signs, &c., indicate, as the way
of safety, prosperity, and happiness. The evils and
inconveniences of these superstitions and prejudices are among
the things that press heavily upon the people of
India."[142:1]

The Nakshatias--twenty-seven constellations which in Indian astronomy
separate the moon's path into twenty-seven divisions, as the signs of
the Zodiac do that of the sun into twelve--are regarded as deities who
exert a vast influence on the destiny of men, not only at the moment of
their entrance into the world, but during their whole passage through
it. These formidable constellations are consulted at births, marriages,
and on all occasions of family rejoicing, distress or calamity. No one
undertakes a journey or any important matter except on days which the
aspect of the Nakshatias renders lucky and auspicious. If any
constellation is unfavorable, it must by all means be propitiated by a
ceremony called S'anti.

The Chinese were very superstitious concerning the stars. They
annually published astronomical calculations of the motions of the
planets, for every hour and minute of the year. They considered it
important to be very exact, because the hours, and even the minutes, are
lucky or unlucky, according to the aspect of the stars. Some days were
considered peculiarly fortunate for marrying, or beginning to build a
house; and the gods are better pleased with sacrifice offered at certain
hours than they are with the same ceremony performed at other
times.[142:2]

The ancient Persians were also great astrologers, and held the stars
in great reverence. They believed and taught that the destinies of men
were intimately connected with their motions, and therefore it was
important to know under the influence of what star a human soul made its
advent into this world. Astrologers swarmed throughout the country, and
were consulted upon all important occasions.[142:3]

The ancient Egyptians were exactly the same in this respect. According
to Champollion, the tomb of Ramses V., at Thebes, contains tables of the
constellations, and of their influence on human beings, for every hour
of every month of the year.[142:4]

The Buddhists' sacred books relate that the birth of Buddha was
announced in the heavens by an asterim which was seen rising on the
horizon. It is called the "Messianic star."[143:1]

The Fo-pen-hing says:

"The time of Bodhisatwa's incarnation is, when the
constellation Kwei is in conjunction with the Sun."[143:2]

"Wise men," known as "Holy Rishis," were informed by these celestial
signs that the Messiah was born.[143:3]

In the Ramayana (one of the sacred books of the Hindoos) the horoscope
of Rama's birth is given. He is said to have been born on the 9th Tithi
of the month Caitra. The planet Jupiter figured at his birth; it being
in Cancer at that time.[143:4] Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu. When
Crishna was born "his stars" were to be seen in the heavens. They
were pointed out by one Nared, a great prophet and astrologer.[143:5]

Without going through the list, we can say that the birth of every
Indian Avatar was foretold by celestial signs.[143:6]

The same myth is to be found in the legends of China. Among others they
relate that a star figured at the birth of Yu, the founder of the
first dynasty which reigned in China,[143:7] who--as we saw in the last
chapter--was of heavenly origin, having been born of a virgin. It is
also said that a star figured at the birth of Laou-tsze, the Chinese
sage.[143:8]

In the legends of the Jewish patriarchs and prophets, it is stated that
a brilliant star shone at the time of the birth of Moses. It was
seen by the Magi of Egypt, who immediately informed the king.[143:9]

When Abraham was born "his star" shone in the heavens, if we may
believe the popular legends, and its brilliancy outshone all the other
stars.[143:10] Rabbinic traditions relate the following:

"Abraham was the son of Terah, general of Nimrod's army. He
was born at Ur of the Chaldees 1948 years after the Creation.
On the night of his birth, Terah's friends--among whom were
many of Nimrod's councillors and soothsayers--were feasting in
his house. On leaving, late at night, they observed an
unusual star in the east, it seemed to run from one quarter
of the heavens to the other, and to devour four stars which
were there. All amazed in astonishment at this wondrous
sight, 'Truly,' said they, 'this can signify nothing else but
that Terah's new-born son will become great and
powerful.'"[144:1]

It is also related that Nimrod, in a dream, saw a star rising above the
horizon, which was very brilliant. The soothsayers being consulted in
regard to it, foretold that a child was born who would become a great
prince.[144:2]

A brilliant star, which eclipsed all the other stars, was also to be
seen at the birth of the Caesars; in fact, as Canon Farrar remarks, "The
Greeks and Romans had always considered that the births and deaths of
great men were symbolized by the appearance and disappearance of
heavenly bodies, and the same belief has continued down to comparatively
modern times."[144:3]

Tacitus, the Roman historian, speaking of the reign of the Emperor Nero,
says:

"A comet having appeared, in this juncture, the phenomenon,
according to the popular opinion, announced that governments
were to be changed, and kings dethroned. In the imaginations
of men, Nero was already dethroned, and who should be his
successor was the question."[144:4]

According to Moslem authorities, the birth of Ali--Mohammed's great
disciple, and the chief of one of the two principal sects into which
Islam is divided--was foretold by celestial signs. "A light was
distinctly visible, resembling a bright column, extending from
the earth to the firmament."[144:5] Even during the reign of the
Emperor Hadrian, a hundred years after the time assigned for the
death of Jesus, a certain Jew who gave himself out as the "Messiah,"
and headed the last great insurrection of his country, assumed the name
of Bar-Cochba--that is, "Son of a Star."[144:6]

This myth evidently extended to the New World, as we find that the
symbol of Quetzalcoatle, the virgin-born Saviour, was the "Morning
Star."[144:7]

We see, then, that among the ancients there seems to have been a very
general idea that the birth of a great person would be announced by a
star. The Rev. Dr. Geikie, who maintains to his utmost the truth of the
Gospel narrative, is yet constrained to admit that:

"It was, indeed, universally believed, that extraordinary
events, especially the birth and death of great men, were
heralded by appearances of stars, and still more of comets, or
by conjunctions of the heavenly bodies."[145:1]

The whole tenor of the narrative recorded by the Matthew narrator is
the most complete justification of the science of astrology; that the
first intimation of the birth of the Son of God was given to the
worshipers of Ormuzd, who have the power of distinguishing with
certainty his peculiar star; that from these heathen the tidings of
his birth are received by the Jews at Jerusalem, and therefore that the
theory must be right which connects great events in the life of men with
phenomena in the starry heavens.

If this divine sanction of astrology is contested on the ground that
this was an exceptional event, in which, simply to bring the Magi to
Jerusalem, God caused the star to appear in accordance with their
superstitious science, the difficulty is only pushed one degree
backwards, for in this case God, it is asserted, wrought an event which
was perfectly certain to strengthen the belief of the Magi, of Herod, of
the Jewish priests, and of the Jews generally, in the truth of
astrology.

If, to avoid the alternative, recourse be had to the notion that the
star appeared by chance, or that this chance or accident directed
the Magi aright, is the position really improved? Is chance consistent
with any notion of supernatural interposition?

We may also ask the question, why were the Magi brought to Jerusalem at
all? If they knew that the star which they saw was the star of Christ
Jesus--as the narrative states[145:2]--and were by this knowledge
conducted to Jerusalem, why did it not suffice to guide them straight
to Bethlehem, and thus prevent the Slaughter of the Innocents? Why did
the star desert them after its first appearance, not to be seen again
till they issued from Jerusalem? or, if it did not desert them, why did
they ask of Herod and the priests the road which they should take, when,
by the hypothesis, the star was ready to guide them?[145:3]

It is said that in the oracles of Zoroaster there is to be found a
prophecy to the effect that, in the latter days, a virgin would
conceive and bear a son, and that, at the time of his birth, a star
would shine at noonday. Christian divines have seen in this a prophecy
of the birth of Christ Jesus, but when critically examined, it does
not stand the test. The drift of the story is this:

Ormuzd, the Lord of Light, who created the universe in six periods of
time, accomplished his work by making the first man and woman, and
infusing into them the breath of life. It was not long before Ahriman,
the evil one, contrived to seduce the first parents of mankind by
persuading them to eat of the forbidden fruit. Sin and death are now in
the world; the principles of good and evil are now in deadly strife.
Ormuzd then reveals to mankind his law through his prophet Zoroaster;
the strife between the two principles continues, however, and will
continue until the end of a destined term. During the last three
thousand years of the period Ahriman is predominant. The world now
hastens to its doom; religion and virtue are nowhere to be found;
mankind are plunged in sin and misery. Sosiosh is born of a virgin,
and redeems them, subdues the Devs, awakens the dead, and holds the
last judgment. A comet sets the world in flames; the Genii of Light
combat against the Genii of Darkness, and cast them into Duzakh, where
Ahriman and the Devs and the souls of the wicked are thoroughly cleansed
and purified by fire. Ahriman then submits to Ormuzd; evil is absorbed
into goodness; the unrighteous, thoroughly purified, are united with the
righteous, and a new earth and a new heaven arise, free from all evil,
where peace and innocence will forever dwell.

Who can fail to see that this virgin-born Sosiosh was to come, not
eighteen hundred years ago, but, in the "latter days," when the world
is to be set on fire by a comet, the judgment to take place, and the
"new heaven and new earth" is to be established? Who can fail to see
also, by a perusal of the New Testament, that the idea of a temporal
Messiah (a mighty king and warrior, who should liberate and rule over
his people Israel), and the idea of an Angel-Messiah (who had come to
announce that the "kingdom of heaven was at hand," that the "stars
should fall from heaven," and that all men would shortly be judged
according to their deeds), are both jumbled together in a heap?


FOOTNOTES:

[140:1] Matthew, ch. ii.

[141:1] Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 72.

[141:2] Vol. i. p. 145.

[141:3] See Knight: Ancient Art and Mythology, p. 52.

[142:1] Allen's India, p. 456.

[142:2] See Prog. Relig. Ideas, vol. i. p. 221.

[142:3] Ibid. p. 261.

[142:4] See Kenrick's Egypt, vol. i. p. 456.

[143:1] See Bunsen's Angel-Messiah, pp. 22, 23, 38.

[143:2] See Beal: Hist. Buddha, pp. 23, 33, 35.

[143:3] See Bunsen's Angel-Messiah, p. 36.

[143:4] Williams's Indian Wisdom, p. 347.

[143:5] See Hist. Hindostan, ii. 336.

[143:6] See Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. i. p. 561. For that of Crishna,
see Vishnu Purana, book v. ch. iii.

[143:7] See Ibid. p. 618.

[143:8] Thornton: Hist. China, vol. i. p. 137.

[143:9] See Anac., i. p. 560, and Geikie's Life of Christ, i. 559.

[143:10] See Ibid., and The Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 72, and
Calmet's Fragments, art. "Abraham."

[144:1] Baring-Gould: Legends of the Patriarchs, p. 149.

[144:2] Calmet's Fragments, art. "Abraham."

[144:3] Farrar's Life of Christ, p. 52.

[144:4] Tacitus: Annals, bk. xiv. ch. xxii.

[144:5] Amberly's Analysis of Religious Belief, p. 227.

[144:6] Bible for Learners, vol. iii. p. 73.

[144:7] Brinton: Myths of the New World, pp. 180, 181, and Squire:
Serpent Symbol.

[145:1] Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 144.

[145:2] Matthew ii. 2.

[145:3] See Thomas Scott's English Life of Jesus for a full
investigation of this subject.





Next: The Song Of The Heavenly Host

Previous: The Miraculous Birth Of Christ Jesus



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