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Carols versus Matthew on the Star of Wonder — 5 Comments

  1. I thought the biggest objection to the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction being the “Star of Bethlehem” was the 800 year cycle of its occurrence viz. the timing is off.
    Also, I am reminded of a comment of an amateur astronomer when he went to Chile, up in the Andes. He said there were so many more stars than he had ever seen before that it made picking out the usual constellations very difficult. (I would love to see that some day which is why I also promote Dark-sky Association with talks about light pollution locally here in our county.)
    Anyhow, despite whatever artistic license by artists or lyricists there remains The Star to be wondered about.

  2. Embellishments of Matthew’s simple “star” into a spectacular miracle are all but irrresistible. Already in the apocryphal 2nd century Gospel of James it shines with an “incredible brilliance amidst the constellations and making them seem dim.” And over the centuries artists of all kinds have further expanded on these exaggerations, often combined with iconographic symbolism.

    Thus the star often outshines the Magi, who are the focus of Matthew’s story. They come “from the East” and are stargazers, which associates them with Babylon and its Marduk cult. Matthew writes for a Jewish-Christian community, and for Jews Babylon is the place of Exile, and Marduk rival of the God of Israel. So the point of the story, or at least one important point, would appear to be that with the birth of Jesus even their erstwhile oppressors transfer their allegiance from their Marduk-king to the Light of the World.

  3. Very interesting — I had never read the “Gospel of James”, or “Protoevangelium of James”, until now. Below is its whole section about the star, for those not familiar with it. Remarkably, the same problem is found in it. It follows Matthew in talking about the magi. No one knows about the star until the magi show up. But then, as you point out, the Protoevangelium goes on about how brilliant the star is and how it washes out the other stars, which of course makes no sense given that Herod asks them what it was they saw.

    21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed, and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road.

  4. Pingback:5 January: Star of wonder | Will Turnstone

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