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16 Stars and Powers: Astrological Thinking in Imperial Politics from the Hasmoneans to Bar Kokhba

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Chapter Summary

Heavenly signs played a considerable role in the legitimization of political power in the ancient world. During imperial Roman times, astrology was closely tied to philosophy, religion, and politics, and the Romans’ expectation of a Golden Age had clear astrological and astral connotations. This chapter describes how these interpretations and expectations were adopted in Jewish politics, beginning with the Hasmoneans in the second century bce, continuing through the period of Herod the Great, up to the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the second century ce. In this discourse, the pagan prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:17) played a significant role. It influenced the motif of the Hasmonean Star that is prominent on coins and in other sources from that period and is often connected to astrological interpretations of Saturn and Jupiter. This chapter argues that the narrative about the Star of Bethlehem has a clear propagandistic function and must be regarded as fiction. It is based on a story about the mythical birth of a world leader and Jewish king, which was then probably linked to the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn and seen as further confirmation of these political and religious claims.



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