Prophecy

The Star of Bethlehem is a star in Christian tradition that revealed the birth of Jesus to the Magi and later led them to Bethlehem. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi were men from the east who were inspired by the appearance of the star to travel to Jerusalem. There they met King Herod of Judea, and asked where the king of the Jews had been born. Herod then asked his advisers where a messiah could be born. They replied Bethlehem, a nearby village, and quoted a prophecy by Micah. While the Magi were on their way to Bethlehem, the star appeared again. Following the star, it stopped this time above the place where Jesus was born. The Magi found Jesus with his mother, paid him homage, worshipped him and gave gifts. They then returned to their own country.

The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to terrestrial events. Miracles were routinely associated with the birth of important people, including the Hebrew patriarchs as well as Greek and Roman heroes. Although not referred to by Matthew, the Star Prophecy in the Book of Numbers was well known at the time that that the Gospels were written.

The Magi are sometimes called three kings because of the belief that they fulfill a prophecy by Isaiah concerning a journey to Jerusalem by kings. This prophecy mentions gifts of gold and incense, similar to the gifts presented to Jesus. In the Book of Daniel, the Magi are portrayed as an association of scholars in Babylon.

Matthew’s description of the miracles and portents attending the birth of Jesus can be compared to stories concerning the birth of Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Linking a birth to the first appearance of a star was consistent with the popular belief each person’s life was linked to a particular star. Magi and astronomical events were linked in the public mind by the visit to Rome of a delegation of Magi at the time of a spectacular appearance of Halley’s Comet.

Christians generally regard the star as a miraculous sign given by God to mark the birth of the Christ. Some theologians claimed that the star fulfilled a prophecy, known as the Star Prophecy. In modern times, astronomers have proposed various explanations for the star. A nova, a planet, a comet, an occultation, and a conjunction have all been suggested. The star has also been interpreted as an astrological event.

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