12/22/06 - the date and the star

In today's excerpt, the date and the star:

"The date of Nativity was first placed placed by the Western church on December 25th in the fourth century, in a Roman calendar of AD 334, when Christmas supplanted the pagan festival of the unvanquished sun. But most Eastern Christians celebrated Jesus' birth on the feast of Epiphany [January 6], while other oriental communities in Egypt and Syria observed it on April 21st or May 20th. ...

"Extraordinary astral phenomenon regularly appear in Jewish and classical literary sources as signs heralding the birth of illustrious individuals. ... [L]iterature close to the time of Matthew's gospel testifies to the popular belief that the birth of an important personality is always marked by the apparition of a new star. Just a few months before the birth of the future emperor Augustus in 63 BC, a celestial portent had forewarned the Roman senate about the advent of a king. However, the story in Matthew was most probably built on an Old Testament prophecy of Balaam in Numbers 24:17 ('I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult') which was interpreted both by Jews and by Christians as alluding to the Messiah. This prediction was referred to by Rabbi Akiba when he proclaimed Simeon ben Kosiba, the leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome (AD 132-135), to be the Messiah."


Geza Vermes


'The First Christmas'


History Today


December 2006


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