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The Star of Bethlehem : The Legacy of the Magi Hardcover – September 1, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Christian scholars have expended considerable ingenuity in providing scientific glosses for the scriptural account of the Star that shone above Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth. Astronomer Molnar disputes such explanations precisely because they derive from a modern perspective far removed from the outlook of ancient stargazers, who eagerly scanned the heavens for signs of the Messiah's birth. Ancient texts show conclusively that no portent would have excited greater expectations of a divine birth in Judea than a lunar occultation of Jupiter in the constellation Aries. And because sophisticated computer calculations reveal that such an eclipse did occur on April seventeenth in the year 6 B.C., Molnar fixes this as the celestial event that signaled the Christ child's birth. This assertion does require pushing Christ's birth back two years earlier than the commonly accepted 4 B.C. But evidence gleaned from early Roman and Jewish sources makes an earlier Nativity plausible. The uncanny fit of all the ancient and modern pieces of this puzzle makes for a highly persuasive argument. Bryce Christensen

Review

"Michael Molnar offers the first revolution in Star of Bethlehem research since Kepler's days. Molnar's big advance comes by considering what the Magi themselves would have deemed important. . . . Don't buy any other book on the Star of Bethlehem, because the old astronomical views are guaranteed to be irrelevant. Second, the new astrological paradigm forces the realization that astrology was an important force in historical times so that the disregard of the topic by most historians is blatant chauvinism. Third, the existence of a stunning astrological horoscope for April 17, 6 B.C, announcing the birth of a great king in Judea will now force scholars of religion to reconcile the event with their own beliefs."
(Sky & Telescope)

"Mr. Molnar takes a different tack, arguing that [the star of Bethlehem] was not an astronomical event that guided the wise men on their journey, but an astrological one. He may not have the best theory, but he certainly has the best story."
(Economist)

"And because sophisticated computer calculations reveal that such an eclipse did occur on April seventeenth in the year 6 B.C., Molnar fixes this as the celestial event that signaled the Christ child's birth. . . . The uncanny fit of all the ancient and modern pieces of this puzzle makes for a highly persuasive argument."
(Booklist)

"[The Star] was an alignment of stars and planets that ancient astrologers would have recognized as significant. No portent would have excited greater expectations of a divine birth in Judea . . . than a lunar eclipse of Jupiter (the 'kings' planet) in the constellation Aries. . . . [A] fresh theory providing new scientific support for the biblical story, making the 'star of wonder' a little less of a mystery."
(U.S. News and World Report)

"The explanation that appears in Molnar's new book . . . unfolds like a detective story: a clever scientific analysis woven into a cultural and historical fabric. . . . Molnar reports that the Magi considered the planet Jupiter to be the royal star. He argues that their astrological readings predicted that on April 17, 6 B.C. a remarkable alignment would occur when the sun passed into the northern sky, entering the constellation of Aries. Jupiter, Saturn, the sun and moon would appear briefly in close alignmentùan event that occurs no more than once a lifetime."
(Nation)

"This book has stunning new insight and approach, which finally gives a confident answer to a question that has fascinated all Christians through the ages."
(Bradley E. Schaefer Yale University)

"Molnar's The Star of Bethlehem is a fascinating contribution to the immense literature that attempts to come to terms with the Christmas Star represented in Matthew's Gospel. In my opinion, this book is the most original and important contribution of the entire twentieth century on the thorny question of how events recorded there should be interpreted."
(Owen Gingerich Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

"In support of an original interpretation of the Star, Molnar has assembled an impressive range of astrological and numismatic data, much of which will be new even to expert readers."
(Virginia Trimble author of Visit to a Small Universe)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813527015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813527017
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #954,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark E. Miller on May 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Star of Bethlehem is a perennially favorite topic for planetarium shows, articles, musings, sermons, and books. What could be left at this late date to say about it? Quite a lot, actually. Enough so that two new books, both titled "The Star of Bethlehem" (How original!) and both copyright 1999 are on my desk as I write.
The story about the Star is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. There are three possibilities: 1) The star was a myth - invented by the writer of Matthew or earlier Christians whom he followed, in order to give Jesus appropriately royal auspices for his birth. 2) The star was a miracle provided by God to guide the Magi, even perhaps visible only to them. 3) The star was a natural astronomical event or events. These three are obviously mutually exclusive and exhaustive. If either of the first two possibilities are correct, there is little more to be said; therefore both of our authors give them short shrift.
Both books cover some of the same material in about the same way. Jesus was *not* born on December 25 of 1 BC as worked out by the Scythian monastic scholar Dionysius Exiguus (Denny the Dwarf) in 525 AD. King Herod, of whom the Magi inquired about the birth, died in 4 BC. For other reasons, the birth is fairly firmly dated to between 6 and 4 BC. If the shepherds were `abiding with their flocks by night', the birth did not take place in December. For various reasons, these authors agree that Spring is more likely.
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Format: Hardcover
This book surprised the heck out of me. I expected another typical rundown of the usual astronomical suspects (comets, supernova, planetary massings and conjunctions, etc.) but was pleasantly surprised to find instead a very serious and scholarly treatment of first century astrology. As a certified skeptic, I've always given fairly short-shrift to astrology in general, but until reading Molnar's book, I don't think I ever understood how truly complex and technical it is. Certainly the "science" of the ancient world, Molnar argues that without such an understanding of astrology, the biblical clues as to the identity are simply missed by virtually all researchers of the star of Bethlehem. For good reason, most astronomers and biblical scholars have largely avoided the role of astrology other than casual mentions. Instead, they have focused on astronomical phenomena that are visually striking, and which they believe would have been meaningful to the visitors from the east.
Molnar takes the astrological bull by the horns, and, combined with the very novel angle of first century coinage, provides a compelling and persuasive new theory of the true nature of the Matthean "star." Briefly, Molnar points to the language of the original Greek text of Matthew 2, and identifies unmistakable allusions to a star's helical rising, and to features of a planet's "retrograde" motion (he argues that the Greek for "went before" and "stood over" are clearly references to a retrograde loop and stationary point).
In a very well documented and easily readable account, Molnar traces the evidence to a helical rising and subsequent lunar occultation of Jupiter in April of 6 BC.
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Format: Hardcover
Molnar's book has given me one of the few 'conversion' episodes in my life. He has shown that all the previous claims about the Star of Bethlehem are provably wrong. The simple reason is that they are all *astronomical* spectaculars (that would impress modern astronomers) while the only people who need to be impressed are the *Magi* (i.e., Persian astrologers) who only pay attention to *astrological* spectaculars. That is, there is no place for a comet on a horoscope, the Magi would never have looked up to spot a supernova, and triple conjunctions are astrologically meaningless. Wow, Molnar is right! The application of modern ideals to ancient situations is an easy and deadly trap, and now Molnar is showing that all previous research of the Star is totally wrong. I feel embarrassed for myself and for the historical/astronomical community at not realizing that the Emperor really had no clothing.
Constructively, Molnar next shows what the Star must have been - based on what the *Magi* would have considered as important. As astrologers, they would take the Star to be a horoscope indicating the birth of a very great king in Judea. For the last decade, Molnar's scholarly articles have worked on many points of ancient astrology, where many surviving books tell us exactly what is needed for a regal horoscope and what would point to Judea. Molnar searches over a long range of time to find the one time when all the portents point to a very great king to be born in Judea. And the date fits well with all historical evidence. So I strongly conclude that Molnar has indeed correctly identified the Star of Bethlehem.
The implications of Molnar's discovery are less clear. For example, it does not decide on the divinity of Christ. Nor does it decide on the details of what actually happened.
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