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17 Balaam’s ‘Star Oracle’ (Num 24:15–19) in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Bar Kokhba

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Chapter Summary

This essay explores whether, in his narrative of the Star of Bethlehem, the author of the Gospel of Matthew made use of the ‘star of Balaam’ oracle from the Book of Numbers in the Pentateuch among the Jewish scriptures (Num 24:15–19) and, if so, whether he understood it as a messianic prophecy. The interpretation of this verse needs to be evaluated in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which antedated the Gospel of Matthew, as there are differences between the Hebrew version and its translation in the Greek Septuagint. This study will also reconsider the evidence as to whether the military leader of the second Jewish revolt (ca. 132–135 ce), Simeon Bar Kosiba, actually considered himself a warrior-messiah in the light of Balaam’s oracle. His name was punned as Bar Kokhba (“son of the star”) in early Christian sources, and he was linked with Num 24:17 in later rabbinic texts. The ancient Jewish reception of ‘Balaam’s star’ may provide the literary context for the narrative in Matt 2:2,7–9.



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