Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Stealing 'The Star of Bethlehem'

It's bad enough that we have to deal with atheists taking shots at Christmas let alone misguided believers. Every year someone claims to have figured out what the Star of Bethlehem really was; by which they mean: it wasn't miraculous.  The latest is a lawyer turned amateur astronomer who used a computer program to move the night sky back to its configuration around the time of Jesus birth.  His claim is that the ‘Star’ was really just a grouping of stars and planets which held a particular significance to the Magi.  Not only is this wrong, it is insulting to believers as it rips the supernatural away and reduces the ‘star’ to just an ordinary natural occurrence.  In other words, God had to wait on the universe to send His son instead of commanding the universe to announce His birth.  The premise fails on a number of points:

1) Why would a grouping of stars have a significance for a group of foreign scholars?  The general consensus is that the Magi were Babylonian and most likely adherents to Zoroastrianism.  In that case, they would have been looking for a sign announcing the return of their savior known as the sayoshant.  Whatever the star was, it had to have an arresting power to direct the Magi to Bethlehem.

Traditional image WRONG.
Shepherds did not see the Star
2) The star appeared only to the Magi and no one else as far as we can tell.  Mat. 2:7 "Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared."  If others had seen the star it would unnecessary to ask this question.  Note, this also means the shepherds did not see the star-paintings, and carols not with standing.

3) Some claim that the Magi spent two years traveling to find Jesus.  This is nonsense.  Trade routes were well established in those days.  The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem/Bethlehem was about 550 miles.  Caravans averaged between 4 and 8 miles per day. At that rate the magi would have been in Jerusalem in 75 to 150 days if they started immediately.  It is my contention that they did not start immediately as they had to ascertain the meaning of the star, and only when they understood its meaning did they begin their journey.

An additional note regarding the magi.  It is customary to show them on camels or a camel, an elephant and a horse, but only one of these animals is correct.  No magi would ever ride a camel.  That would be like the queen of England riding in a sewer truck.  Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration but not by much.  Magi would have ridden horses; their servants would be on camels.

Scroll down to the bottom of the above link and notice what the magi are riding.
4)There are two curious verses in Mat. 2: 9) When they had heard the king they departed and lo the star whch they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10) When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 

The words used to describe the intensity of their joy imply near violence or horrendously great.  They were so happy to see the star that perhaps they assaulted each other as athletes sometimes do.  This is remarkable in two respects; 1) it is hardly the manner we would expect of men of their station, and 2) why react that way if the star had been visible continuously.  I believe that the star led them as far as Jerusalem or perhaps only Damascus (as suggested in Flower) and then vanished.  Their reaction is consistent with this idea in that it once again appeared to lead them.

It is my firm belief, based on the above that the Star of Bethlehem was a miraculous sign from God unrelated to planets or comets or stars or anything else of nature.

Additional notes: The number and names of the Magi are not recorded.  My personal belief is that there were 12. 

Anything or anyone who diminishes The Star of Bethlehem via a natural explanation or extension of its visibility to anyone but the magi is stealing The Star by turning it into merely a star and they should be ignored.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Reason for THE Season

Mat (Mature Atheist Turtle) in his front yard speaking with Ary (Christian)

Mat: How do you like my sign?

Ary: Well, there isn't much to it.  I doubt if most people will know who Mithra was or perhaps even the winter solstice.

Mat: You're just afraid that we atheists are doing away with Christmas.  Most businesses now advertise Holiday sales, and decorations and avoid the word Christmas.

Ary:  There has been a backlash about that.  After complaints a number of stores have gone out of their way to make sure that the word Christmas is included in their promotions.

Mat: Yeah, but it's not like it was before.

Ary: Perhaps, but you are leaving out half the globe with your sign.

Mat: How?

Ary:  The Winter Solstice is only in December in the northern hemisphere.  It's the Summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mat: What different does it make?  Jesus wasn't born in December anyway.

Ary: But Christmas isn't about the month of the year or the changing of seasons, it's about the birth of Jesus.

Mat: And Christians don't know when that was so they stole someone else's celebration.

Ary:  It's true that the early church wasn't focused on the birth of Jesus.  They were much more interested in His resurrection.  The whole birth thing smacked of paganism, but as time passed and more and more people became Christians, two things happened.  First, the Christians didn't want to celebrate the pagan holidays and they became interested in Jesus' birthday. 

Mat: Yeah, and they tried to muscle out the Mithras celebrations. 

Saturnalia, escultura en el Jardín Botánico de Bs.As
Usuario:Roberto Fiadone
From Wikimedia Commons freely licensed media file
Ary: No, it was more about maintaining the festive atmosphere common to Saturnalia.  Saturnalia was started about 200 B.C. to raise the spirits of Rome after their defeat by the Carthaginians.  It grew to a multi-day  festival which Romans would not abandon.  It also got a bit out of hand with the drinking and cavorting but while Christmas retained a number of the elements of the celebration common to Saturnalia, it is incorrect to say that it replaced it because Saturnalia ran from December 17th through the 23rd and Christmas in the 25th.

Mat: Close enough to count as far as I am concerned.  Christians stole the Winter Solstice and Saturnalia for their own selfish purposes.

Ary:  Perhaps there is another option.  The Mishna and Talmud describe in Avodah Zara 8a Saturna which occurs before the Winter solstice.  There is another 8 day long celebration after the solstice called Kalenda.  This celebration is said to have originated with Adam as follows:

"GEMARA. Said R. Hanan b. Raba: KALENDA is kept on the eight days following the [winter] equinox. SATURNALIA on the eight days preceding the equinox. As a mnemonic take the verse, Thou hast beset me behind and before.13

Our Rabbis taught:14  When primitive Adam saw the day getting gradually shorter, he said, 'Woe is me, perhaps because I have sinned, the world around me is being darkened and returning to its state of chaos and confusion; this then is the kind of death to which I have been sentenced from Heaven!' So he began keeping an eight days' fast. But as he observed the winter equinox and noted the day getting increasingly longer, he said, 'This is the world's course', and he set forth to keep an eight days' festivity. In the following year he appointed both15  as festivals. Now, he fixed them for the sake of Heaven, but the [heathens] appointed them for the sake of idolatry."
Avodah Zara 8a

So, allow me to summarize.  Your sign is off because it refers to the Winter Solstice (excluding the Southern hemisphere) and Mithra, neither of which is applicable to Christmas.  Further, those who maintain that Christians annexed Saturnalia are off based on the Date of Christmas (December 25, when Saturnalia ended on December 23).  Finally, we have evidence that the Jews believed that Adam (the first man) celebrated a festival around the time of Christmas.  It is possible to make the case that December 25 was chosen to honor that celebration, which the Gamara says was defiled by the pagan.

Mat: Time to Turtle up!