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3 A Critical Look at the History of Interpreting the Star of Bethlehem in Scientific Literature and Biblical Studies

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Chapter Summary

Through eighteen hundred years of interpretation, the Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–12) has gone from divine miracle to scientific wonder to literary artifice. However, the greatest variety in theories—as well as the topic of most interest to many spectators—is in the scientific rationalizations of the story, as suggested over the last two hundred years. This chapter provides a critical survey of the various attempts to explain the story using astronomy and astrology as well as exegetical and literary methods. The main focus of the chapter is on Michael Molnar’s hypothesis regarding the horoscope of Jesus, highlighting numerous weaknesses and undermining certain arguments. Moreover, several historical features strongly indicate that the star was intended as a miraculous sign and not based on a historical event. In addition, Adair critically analyzes the literary connection between Matthew 2 and Numbers 24:17 for its strengths and weaknesses in explaining the natal account. Finally, he suggests a proposal for a prior source for the Matthean star narrative, as derived from pesher techniques and supported by other texts independent of the gospel account, each of which include their own star in relation to Jesus.

10.1163/9789004308473_004
/content/books/b9789004308473_004
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