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


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


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


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


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


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


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,


"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


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


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?


[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.

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