Friday, December 18, 2015

The Star of Bethlehem and Astrology by T.W. Doane 1882

The Star of Bethlehem and Astrology by T.W. Doane 1882

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Being born in a miraculous manner, as other great personages had been, it was necessary that the miracles attending the births of these virgin-born gods should be added to the history of Christ Jesus, otherwise the legend would not be complete.

The first which we shall notice is the story of the star which is said to have heralded his birth, and which was designated "his star." It is related by the Matthew narrator as follows:

"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.'"

Herod the king, having heard these things, he privately called the wise men, and inquired of them what time the star appeared, at the same time sending them to Bethlehem to search diligently for the young child. The wise men, accordingly, departed and went on their way towards Bethlehem. "The star which they saw in the east went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was."

The general legendary character of this narrative—its similarity in style with those contained in the apocryphal gospels—and more especially its conformity with those astrological notions which, though prevalent in the time of the Matthew narrator, have been exploded by the sounder scientific knowledge of our days—all unite to stamp upon the story the impress of poetic or mythic fiction.

The fact that the writer of this story speaks not of a star but of his star, shows that it was the popular belief of the people among whom he lived, that each and every person was born under a star, and that this one which had been seen was his star.

All ancient nations were very superstitious in regard to the influence of the stars upon human affairs, and this ridiculous idea has been handed down, in some places, even to the present day. Dr. Hooykaas, speaking on this subject, says:

"In ancient times the Jews, like other peoples, might very well believe that there was some immediate connection between the stars and the life of man—an idea which we still preserve in the forms of speech that so-and-so was born under a lucky or under an evil star. They might therefore suppose that the birth of greatmen, such as Abraham, for instance, was announced in the heavens. In our century, however, if not before, all serious belief in astrology has ceased, and it would be regarded as an act of the grossest superstition for any one to have his horoscope drawn; for the course, the appearance and the disappearance of the heavenly bodies have been long determined with mathematical precision by science."'

The Rev. Dr. Geikie says, in his Life of Christ:

"The Jews had already, long before Christ's day, dabbled in astrology, and the various forms of magic which became connected with it. . . . They were much given to cast horoscopes from the numerical value of a name. Everywhere throughout the whole Roman Empire, Jewish magicians, dream expounders, and sorcerers, were found.

"'The life and portion of children,' says the Talmud, 'hang not on righteousness, but on their star.' 'The planet of the day has no virtue, but the planet of the hour (of nativity) has much.' 'When the Messiah is to be revealed,' says the book Sohar, 'a star will rise in the east, shining in great brightness, and seven other stars round it will fight against it on every side.' 'A star will rise in the east, which is the star of the Messiah, and will remain in the east fifteen days.'"

The moment of every man's birth being supposed to determine every circumstance in his life, it was only necessary to find out in what mode the celestial bodies—supposed to be the primary wheels to the universal machine—operated at that moment, in order to discover all that would happen to him afterward.

The regularity of the risings and settings of the fixed stars, though it announced the changes of the seasons and the orderly variations of nature, could not be adapted to the capricious mutability of human actions, fortunes, and adventures: wherefore the astrologers had recourse to the planets, whose more complicated revolutions offered more varied and more extended combinations. Their different returns to certain points of the Zodiac, their relative positions and conjunctions with each other, were supposed to influence the affairs of men; whence daring impostors presumed to foretell, not only the destinies of individuals, but also the rise and fall of empires, and the fate of the world itself.

The inhabitants of India are, and have always been, very superstitious concerning the stars. The Rev. D. O. Allen, who resided in India for twenty-five years, and who undoubtedly became thoroughly acquainted with the superstitions of the inhabitants, says on this subject:

"So strong are the superstitious feelings of many, concerning the supposed influence of the stars on human affairs, that some days are lucky, and others again are unlucky, that no arguments or promises would induce them to deviate from the course which these stars, signs, &c., indicate, as the way of safety, prosperity, and happiness. The evils and inconveniences of these superstitions and prejudices are among the things that press heavily upon the people of India."

The Nakshatias—twenty-seven constellations which in Indian astronomy separate the moon's path into twenty-seven divisions, as the signs of the Zodiac do that of the sun into twelve—are regarded as deities who exert a vast influence on the destiny of men, not only at the moment of their entrance into the world, but during their whole passage through it. These formidable constellations are consulted at births, marriages, and on all occasions of family rejoicing, distress or calamity. No one undertakes a journey or any important matter except on days which the aspect of the Nakshatias renders lucky and auspicious. If any constellation is unfavorable, it must by all means be propitiated by a ceremony called S'anti.

The Chinese were very superstitious concerning the stars. They annually published astronomical calculations of the motions of the planets, for every hour and minute of the year. They considered it important to be very exact, because the hours, and even the minutes, are lucky or unlucky, according to the aspect of the stars. Some days were considered peculiarly fortunate for marrying, or beginning to build a house; and the gods are better pleased with sacrifice offered at certain hours than they are with the same ceremony performed at other times.

The ancient Persians were also great astrologers, and held the stars in great reverence. They believed and taught that the destinies of men were intimately connected with their motions, and therefore it was important to know under the influence of what star a human soul made its advent into this world. Astrologers swarmed throughout the country, and were consulted upon all important occasions.

The ancient Egyptians were exactly the same in this respect. According to Champollion, the tomb of Ramses V., at Thebes, contains tables of the constellations, and of their influence on human beings, for every hour of every month of the year.

The Buddhists' sacred books relate that the birth of Buddha was announced in the heavens by an asterim which was seen rising on the horizon. It is called the "Messianic star."'

The Fo-pen-hing says:

"The time of Bodhisatwa's incarnation is, when the constellation Kwei is in conjunction with the Sun."

"Wise men," known as "Holy Rishis," were informed by these celestial signs that the Messiah was born.

In the Ramayana (one of the sacred books of the Hindoos) the horoscope of Rama's birth is given. He is said to have been born on the 9th Tithi of the month Caitra. The planet Jupiter figured at his birth; it being in Cancer at that time. Rama was an incarnation of Vishnu. When Krishna was born "his stars" were to be seen in the heavens. They were pointed out by one Nared, a great prophet and astrologer.

Without going through the list, we can say that the birth of every Indian Avatar was foretold by celestial signs.

The same myth is to be found in the legends of China. Among others they relate that a star figured at the birth of Yu, the founder of the first dynasty which reigned in China, who—as we saw in the last chapter—was of heavenly origin, having been born of a virgin. It is also said that a star figured at the birth of Lao-tse, the Chinese sage.

In, the legends of the Jewish patriarchs and prophets, it is stated that a brilliant star shone at the time of the birth of Moses. It was seen by the Magi of Egypt, who immediately informed the king.

When Abraham was born "his star" shone in the heavens, if we may believe the popular legends, and its brilliancy outshone all the other stars. Rabbinic traditions relate the following:

"Abraham was the son of Terah, general of Nimrod's army. He was born at Ur of the Chaldees 1948 years after the Creation. On the night of his birth, Terah's friends—among whom were many of Nimrod's councillors and soothsayers—were feasting in his house. On leaving, late at night, they observed an unusual star in the east, it seemed to run from one quarter of the heavens to the other, and to devour four stars which were there. All amazed in astonishment at this wondrous sight, 'Truly,' said they, 'this can signify nothing else but that Terah's new-born son will become great and powerful.'"

It is also related that Nimrod, in a dream, saw a star rising above the horizon, which was very brilliant. The soothsayers being consulted in regard to it, foretold that a child was born who would become a great prince.

A brilliant star, which eclipsed all the other stars, was also to be seen at the birth of the Caesars; in fact, as Canon Farrar remarks, "The Greeks and Romans had always considered that the births and deaths of great men were symbolized by the appearance and disappearance of heavenly bodies, and the same belief has continued down to comparatively modern times."

Tacitus, the Roman historian, speaking of the reign of the Emperor Nero, says:

"A comet having appeared, in this juncture, the phenomenon, according to the popular opinion, announced that governments were to be changed, and kings dethroned. In the imaginations of men, Nero was already dethroned, and who should be his successor was the question."

According to Moslem authorities, the birth of Ali — Mohammed's great disciple, and the chief of one of the two principal sects into which Islam is divided — was foretold by celestial signs. "A light was distinctly visible, resembling a bright column, extending from the earth to the firmament.'" Even during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, a hundred years after the time assigned for the death of Jesus, a certain Jew who gave himself out as the "Messiah" and headed the last great insurrection of his country, assumed the name of Bar-Cochba — that is, "Son of a Star?"

This myth evidently extended to the New World, as we find that the symbol of Quetzalcoatle, the virgin-born Saviour, was the "Morning Star."

We see, then, that among the ancients there seems to have been a very general idea that the birth of a great person would be announced by a star. The Rev. Dr. Geikie, who maintains to his atmost the truth of the Gospel narrative, is yet constrained to admit that:

"It was, indeed, universally believed, that extraordinary events, especially the birth and death of great men, were heralded by appearances of stars, and still more of comets, or by conjunctions of the heavenly bodies."

The whole tenor of the narrative recorded by the Matthew narrator is the most complete justification of the science of astrology; that the first intimation of, the birth of the Son of God was given to the worshipers of Ormuzd, who have the power of distinguishing with certainty his peculiar star; that from these heathen the tidings of his birth are received by the Jews at Jerusalem, and therefore that the theory must be right which connects great events in the life of men with phenomena in the starry heavens.

If this divine sanction of astrology is contested on the ground that this was an exceptional event, in which, simply to bring the Magi to Jerusalem, God caused the star to appear in accordance with their superstitious science, the difficulty is only pushed one degree backwards, for in this case God, it is asserted, wrought an event which was perfectly certain to strengthen the belief of the Magi, of Herod, of the Jewish priests, and of the Jews generally, in the truth of astrology.

If, to avoid the alternative, recourse be had to the notion that the star appeared by chance, or that this chance or accident directed the Magi aright, is the position really improved? Is chance consistent with any notion of supernatural interposition?

We may also ask the question, why were the Magi brought to Jerusalem at all? If they knew that the star which they saw was the star of Christ Jesus—as the narrative states—and were by this knowledge conducted to Jerusalem, why did it not suffice to guide them straight to Bethlehem, and thus prevent the Slaughter of the Innocents? Why did the star desert them after its first appearance, not to be seen again till they issued from Jerusalem? or, if it did not desert them, why did they ask of Herod and the priests the road which they should take, when, by the hypothesis, the star was ready to guide them?

It is said that in the oracles of Zoroaster there is to be found a prophecy to the effect that, in the latter days, a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and that, at the time of his birth, a star would shine at noonday. Christian divines have seen in this a prophecy of the birth of Christ Jesus, but when critically examined, it does not stand the test. The drift of the story is this:

Ormuzd, the Lord of Light, who created the universe in six periods of time, accomplished his work by making the first man and woman, and infusing into them the breath of life. It was not long before Ahriman, the evil one, contrived to seduce the first parents of mankind by pursuading them to eat of the forbidden fruit. Sin and death are now in the world; the principles of good and evil are now in deadly strife. Ormuzd then reveals to mankind his law through his prophet Zoroaster; the strife between the two principles continues, however, and will continue until the end of a destined term. During the last three thousand years of the period Ahriman is predominant. The world now hastens to its doom; religion and virtue are nowhere to be found; mankind are plunged in sin and misery. Sosiosh is born of a virgin, and redeems them, subdues the Devs, awakens the dead, and holds the last judgment. A comet sets the world in flames; the Genii of Light combat against the Genii of Darkness, and cast them into Duzakh, where Ahriman and the Devs and the souls of the wicked are thoroughly cleansed and purified by fire. Ahriman then submits to Ormuzd; evil is absorbed into goodness; the unrighteous, thoroughly purified, are united with the righteous, and a new earth and a new heaven arise, free from all evil, where peace and innocence will forever dwell.

Who can fail to see that this virgin-born Sosiosh was to come, not eighteen hundred years ago, but, in the "latter days" when the world is to be set on fire by a comet, the judgment to take place, and the " new heaven and new earth" is to be established? Who can fail to see also, by a perusal of the New Testament, that the idea of a temporal Messiah (a mighty king and warrior, who should liberate and rule over his people Israel), and the idea of an Angel-Messiah (who had come to announce that the "kingdom of heaven was at hand," that the "stars should fall from heaven," and that all men would shortly be judged according to their deeds), are both jumbled together in a heap?

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