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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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ASTROLOGY was an important element of all ancient astronomy. The scientific observation of the positions and movements of the heavenly bodies was closely associated with the belief in their Divine character, and their influence upon the destinies of men, and formed the basis of calculations and predictions of future events. Babylonia was the earliest home of this study, which continued to be prosecuted in that part of the world with special diligence, so that in later times the word ‘Chaldaean’ was equivalent to ‘Eastern astrologer.’ It is to this class that we must refer the Magi or Wise Men from the East, who are mentioned in Matthew 2:1 ff. They had seen in their own home the rising (for so perhaps we should understand the words ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ, rendered ‘in the east,’ in Matthew 2:2) of a star or constellation, which they connected with the expectation, already diffused in the East, of the birth of a great ruler among the Jews. Travelling to Palestine, they ascertained at Jerusalem that the Messiah was expected to be born in Bethlehem, and directing their steps thither they saw the ‘star’ in front of them all the way, till they came to the house where the infant Jesus was found. (This appears to be the only sense in which the popular and picturesque language of Matthew 2:9 can be understood).

The first two chapters of the First Gospel are recognized as being taken from another source than the rest of the book, and different views have been held as to their historic value. But so far as the astrological references in ch. 2 are concerned, no difficulty need be felt about the narrative. The Evangelist, it is true, does not raise any question as to the reality of the connexion between the ‘star’ and the birth of Jesus. On the possibility of such a connexion, no doubt he shared the common beliefs of his time. But we may accept his statement of the facts without being compelled to admit that there is any truth in astrological theories. The famous calculation of Kepler shows that an unusual conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn took place about b.c. 7, and it is quite conceivable that this or some similar phenomenon may in God’s providence have led the Wise Men, even through the mistaken principles of their science, actually to visit Palestine about the time when Jesus was born. See further, artt. Magi and Star.

James Patrick.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Astrology'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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