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14 The Star of Bethlehem and Greco-Roman Astrology, Especially Astrological Geography

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Chapter Summary

This chapter is devoted to a central point of Michael R. Molnar’s thesis regarding the Star of Bethlehem: the association of the zodiacal sign of Aries with Judea. After a demonstration that the planetary alignment of 17 April 6 bce envisaged by Molnar could indeed have been interpreted as a royal birth by a Hellenistic astrologer, this contribution provides the first complete survey of extant Greco-Roman systems of astrological geography, with detailed information on their different characteristics and two special analyses devoted to the systems of Paul of Alexandria (including comparisons with Mesopotamian presursors and the Book of Acts) and Claudius Ptolemy. It is argued that Paul of Alexandria’s is the oldest Hellenistic system and that Ptolemy’s system must, in view of its extreme sophistication, be largely Ptolemy’s own invention. Various scholarly hypotheses regarding the development of Hellenistic astrological geography are discussed. Based on these premises, the plausibility of Molnar’s assumption that the magi associated Aries with Judea is evaluated, with negative results. In addition, a seemingly important argument adduced by Molnar in support of his theory, the horoscope of emperor Nero, is critically assessed. His entire theory on the Star of Bethlehem turns out to be problematic. The contribution ends with a philological appendix on Matt 2:1–12.



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