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Star in the East

And I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement. And I looked up unto the pole of the heaven and saw it standing still, and the fowls of the heaven without motion. And I looked upon the earth and saw a dish set, and workmen lying by it, and their hands were in the dish: and they that were chewing chewed not, and they that were lifting the food lifted it not, and they that put it to their mouth put it not thereto, but the faces of all of them were looking upward. And behold there were sheep being driven, and they went not forward but stood still; and the shepherd lifted his hand to smite them with his staff, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the stream of the river and saw the mouths of the kids upon the water and they drank not. And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.The Protovangelion

Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem was a star or star-like object that, in the account of Jesus' birth given in the Greek Gospel of Matthew, heralded his arrival and guided the Magi (better known in Christian mythology as the Three Wise Men) to the house where Jesus and his mother were. The messianic "Star Prophecy" that this star appeared to fulfill was of importance to all the contemporary Jewish resistance groups of the period, including those who produced the documents at Qumran (the "Dead Sea scrolls") and the zealots who triggered the war against Rome, not to mention the early Christians.
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In 1999, astronomer Michael R. Molnar published the results of his investigations in the book The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. In contrast to other suggested events involving other constellations such as Leo, Virgo, or Pisces, Molnar had discovered evidence from multiple sources indicating that the stargazars of that time considered the constellation of Aries the Ram to be associated with the people of "Judea, Idumea, Samaria, Palestine, and Coele Syria", i.e. the lands ruled by King Herod. Additional evidence indicated that a special occultation of Jupiter by the moon that occurred in the east in Aries on 17 April 6 BC signified the birth of a great Jewish king.
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Regarding Matthew's statements that the star "went before" and "stood over", Molnar and others have maintained that the Greek words used there refer to Jupiter's retrograde motion (also called "retrogradation") and stationing, respectively, as the movement of Jupiter against the background of the stars reverses course for a time and then stops before resuming the normal progression. A modern astrological interpretation of Matthew's account of the star, based on the Magi role as astrologers, claims to "decode" the Star of Bethlehem as a star configuration that was visible only to astrologers because the "star" was revealed in an astrological chart [1].

The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi

Could the purchase of an ancient coin have led to an important clue about the Star of Bethlehem? The above illustration is a Roman coin from Antioch, Syria which shows the zodiacal sign, Aries the Ram. In trying to understand the meaning behind this coin, I found that Aries was the sign of the Jews. Realizing that this is where ancient stargazers would have watched for the Star of Bethlehem, I embarked on searching for the celestial event that signified the birth of the Messiah in Judea.

Superposed on the photograph of the coin is what I found: Jupiter underwent two occultations ("eclipses") by the Moon in Aries in 6 BC. Jupiter was the regal "star" that conferred kingships - a power that was amplified when Jupiter was in close conjunctions with the Moon. The second occultation on April 17 coincided precisely when Jupiter was "in the east," a condition mentioned twice in the biblical account about the Star of Bethlehem. In August of that year Jupiter became stationary and then "went before" through Aries where it became stationary again on December 19, 6 BC. This is when the regal planet "stood over." - a secondary royal portent also described in the Bible. In particular, there is confirmation from a Roman astrologer that the conditions of April 17, 6 BC were believed to herald the birth of a divine, immortal, and omnipotent person born under the sign of the Jews, which we now know was Aries the Ram. Furthermore, the coins of Antioch and ancient astrological documents show that there was indeed a Star of Bethlehem as reported in the biblical account of Matthew.

Eusebius of Caesarea on the Star

I WILL write and inform thee, our dear brother, concerning the righteous of old, and concerning the handing down of the histories of their deeds ; and how, and through what, the Magi recognized the Star, and came and worshipped our Lord with their offerings ; partly from the Holy Scriptures, and partly as we have found in the true chronicles, which were written and composed by men of old in various cities.
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And as many things, which Moses also neglected, are found in chronicles that were written and laid up, so too the history of the Star which the Magi saw, was found in a chronicle which was written and laid up in Arnon, the border of the Moabites and Ammonites. And this history was taken from the place in which it was written, and was conveyed away and deposited in the fortress of Achmethan,21 which is in Persia. Because that, in the time of Moses, and both before and after Moses, the Assyrians were lords over the land of the Moabites and of the Ammonites, where Balaam said, "A Star shall rise out of Jacob, and a Head shall arise in Israel."
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But the Assyrians, because they were born and brought up in the doctrine of the Chaldaeans (astrologers) of their country and of the soothsayers their countrymen, according to what they had received from their mother Babylon, from whom, began astrology and soothsaying and magic, just as from Egypt (began) incantation,----on this account they received the word of Balaam the soothsayer, the disciple of Babylon, and were not able to refuse credit to his word, lest the whole doctrine, on which they took their stand, should be proved false; for Balaam was called "the soothsayer," because of the doctrine of astrology in which he was brought up. And as to his being besides called a prophet, because his word turned out true in regard to the legions of the Chittites which issued forth, and about the Star which arose,----although in these things indeed he was true and trustworthy, yet because he was a false witness, and said : "I see no iniquity in Israel,"29 the children of Jacob slew him" as a liar.
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And when the Persians saw that the word of Balaam had turned out true and become a fact, they were also specially concerned to see when the Star would arise and become visible, about which he spoke, meditating what might perchance happen at its rising, and whence it would appear, and concerning whom it would testify.
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And from (L)ISCUS 43 to king PIRSHBUR (Pir-Shabur?), in whose days Augustus Caesar reigned over the Roman empire. And in his days was the glorious manifestation of our adored Saviour. And therefore in the days of this PIRSHBUR, who was called ZMRNS, there appeared the Star, both transformed in its aspect, and also conspicuous by its rays, and terrible and grand in the glorious extent of its light. And it overpowered by its aspect all the stars that were in the heavens, as it inclined to the depth, to teach that its Lord had come down to the depth, and ascended again to the height of its nature, to show that its Lord was God in His nature.
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And when the Persians saw it, they were alarmed and afraid, and there fell upon them agitation and trembling, and fear got the mastery over them. And it was visible to the inner depths of the East alone ; and the Persians, and the Huzites,44 and the other peoples that were around them, knew that this was what Balaam had foretold ; and this apparition and news flew through the whole East : "The king of Persia is preparing splendid offerings and gifts and presents, and is sending them by the hands of the Magi, the worshippers of fire." And because the king did not know where the Messiah was born, he commanded the bearers of the offerings, (saying): "Keep going towards the Star, and walking on the road along which it runs before you ; and by day and night keep observing its light."

Agiary

A Fire Temple (also Dar-e Mihr, or Atash Kadeh in Iran, Agiary in India, and various names in North America) is a place of worship for Zoroastrians. It is typically a building with a hall and various rooms or chambers, the most holy of which houses a sacred fire, which laymen make offerings to and priests perform rituals before. In Zoroastrianism fire is revered as the son of Ahura Mazda, and represented by the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta, or "Best Righteousness." There are three grades of fires: the Atash Dadgah, Atash Adaran, and Atash Behram, sometimes called a "Fire Cathedral".
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The oldest archaeological site found of what would be recognized as a fire temple today is the Kuh-e Khwaja, near Lake Hamun in Sistan. The remains suggest an inner sanctum where the fire was housed and corresponds with what the Muslim writer Qazvini observed at the site in the 13th century. Features that all these writers observed which correspond with the Zoroastrian scriptural edicts are the ever-burning fire in a stone ceremonial vessel, the cloth mask worn over the nostrils and mouth to prevent pollution from the breath, a bundle of twigs (barsom) held by the priest, and special silver tongs for tending the fire. These basic features are still prevalent today, though slightly changed.

Magians

The lan-sacrifice probably was a kind of fire sacrifice, because the Persepolis fortification tablets also call the Magians 'fire kindlers'. The Greek geographer Strabo of Amasia (64 BCE-c.23 CE) translates this as pyrethoi and is a more explicit about this ritual.

In Cappadocia—for there the sect of the Magians, who are also called fire kindlers, is large—they have fire temples [pyrethaia], noteworthy enclosures; and in the midst of these is an altar, on which there is a large quantity of ashes and where the Magians keep the fire ever burning. And there, entering daily, they make incantations for about an hour, holding before the fire their bundle of rods and wearing round their heads high turbans of felt, which reach down their cheeks far enough to cover their lips. [Strabo, Geography 15.3.15]

The lips were probably covered to prevent their breath to pollute the fire. How one can sing in this way, is one of the unsolved mysteries of ancient religion. From the holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, we know that the felt turban is called pâdam and the sacred twigs barsom.

Baj, Dron, and Ritual Power ('amal)

Orthodox Zoroastrianism enjoins religious observances to counteract evil (See Zand-i Vohuman Yasht, 2.55-56). Their neglect makes one "fat of body but hungry of soul". Baj and Dron are two such neglected observances.
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Baj is the name of one of the liturgical services which form the funeral services after one's death.
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Fire burning in a vase with sandalwood and frankincense is essentially necessary during their recital.
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Aesma bui, i.e., sandalwood and frankincense

Arabic Infancy Gospel

The Arabic Infancy Gospel is one of the texts found in the New Testament apocrypha concerning the infancy of Jesus. It is based on the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and was compiled in the sixth century. It contains a number of embellishments on the earlier text, however, including a diaper (of Jesus) that heals people, sweat (of Jesus) that turns into balm, curing leprosy, and dying cloth varied colours using only indigo dye. It also claims earlier encounters for Jesus with Judas Iscariot, and with the thieves with whom he is crucified.

Infancy Gospel of Thomas

An Arabic text, Injilu 't Tufuliyyah translated from a Coptic original gives some parallels to the episodes, "recorded in the book of Josephus the Chief Priest, who was in the time of Christ": Jesus speaking from the cradle and the episode of the swallows made of clay found their way into the Qu'ran.

The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour

7. And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem of Judaea, in the time of King Herod, behold, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, as Zeraduscht [Zoroaster] had predicted; and there were with them gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew's Star an Historical Fiction

The Zoroastrians had saviour-signs within their religion. (See: "A Dictionary of the Bible" edited by [Sir] William Smith (article "Magi" [by Rev. Edward Plumptre], Volume 2, 1863). The last revised edition I am aware of was published circa 1979.)

A remarkable prophecy attributed to Zoroaster (flourished circa 600 BC?) runs: "You, my children, shall be the first honoured by the manifestation of that divine person who is to appear in the world. A star shall go before you to conduct you to the place of his nativity, and when you shall find him, present to him your oblations and sacrifices, for he is indeed your lord and an everlasting king." (See the booklet: Our Pagan Christmas by R. J. Condon (National Secular Society, 2000). (Incidentally, Condon has: "... the Wise Men came from the East to Jerusalem according to the prophecy of Zoradasht.") See also: Monumental Christianity by John Lundy (1876).) This prophecy was certainly known to the author of the "Arabic Gospel of the Infancy" (an apocryphal gospel of Catholic origin, circa 600 CE). In this particular document we read: "... magi came from the East to Jerusalem as Zeraduscht [Zoroaster] had predicted." This prophecy could well have been known to the writer(s) of the nativity story in Matthew's gospel. (The influence of Zoroastrianism is certainly traceable in many other religions.)

Two articles, both by Gherardo Gnoli, in "The Encyclopedia of Religion" edited by Mircea Eliade (1987) are interesting. The article "Saoshyant" (Volume 13) has the statement: "The doctrine of the future saviour had already taken shape in the Achaemenid period (sixth to fourth centuries BCE). ... A similar concept, that of the future Buddha, Maitreya, was most likely indebted to it, and Christian messianism can trace it roots to the same source." The article "Magi" (Volume 9) has the statement: "The Zoroastrian doctrine of the Saviour of the Future (Saoshyant) was the basis for the story of the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12)."

An additional reference in which the author maintains the same position as Gherardo Gnoli is: I Magi a Betlemme e una predizione di Zoroastro by Giuseppe Messina (Rome, 1933).

The Zoroastrian prophecy of a future saviour and also the story of the Journey of Tiridates can provide the basis for the Matthaean narrative of the "Star" and "Magi" which in all likelihood are narrative fictions comparable to haggadic midrash.



Song of Solomon: {1:10} Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold. {3:6} Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant? —Song of Solomon

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