Astronomical Fact Check: A Review of The Bethlehem Star, The Star That Astonished the World, by Earnest L. Martin

BFB151218 Martin - Star that Astonished the World

Everyone knows when Jesus was not born.  Even the most devoted Christians understand that December 25 is not the date their Savior came into the world.  But when exactly was He born? 

The average person would say that no one knows.  That answer is incorrect.  It is possible to know when Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth was born – at least within a few days of the event, if not the actual day.  That is the message of Earnest L. Martin’s work, The Star of Bethlehem:  The Star That Astonished the World

If the book considered only the evidence of the Bethlehem Star, it would not be sufficient to establish the case with any degree of certainty.  The title, however, does not embrace the comprehensive nature of the work.  Martin delves into astronomy and the astrological practices of the ancient world, but that is only the beginning.  His quest for truth leads him to investigate multiple avenues of evidence, including Roman, Judean, and Parthian records and historical data, Jewish cultural and religious practices of the era, and clues hidden within the text of the biblical accounts.  In the process, he not only establishes with a reasonable degree of certainty when Yeshua was born, but also sheds light on a period that is considered one of the least known in Roman history.

This weight of evidence permits Martin to make this astonishing claim:

[The] historical evidence supports the nativity of Jesus in 3 B.C.E., at the beginning of a Roman census, and (if we use the astronomical indications of the Book of Revelation) his birth would have occurred just after sundown on September 11th, on Rosh ha-Shanah, the Day of Trumpets — the Jewish New Year Day for governmental affairs.  There could hardly have been a better day in the ecclesiastical calendar of the Jews to introduce the Messiah to the world from a Jewish point of view; and no doubt this is what the apostle John clearly intended to show by the sign he recorded in Revelation 12.

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Fox Byte 5775 #48: Shoftim (Judges)

שֹׁפְטִים

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868.
“The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson”, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper’s Weekly, April 11, 1868.

What does it take to remove a head of state?  This question concerns situations in which a nation finds cause to remove a leader before the established time.  A survey of history informs us that such circumstances usually involve war and upheaval.  The incumbent, whether a king or a prime minister, is not inclined to surrender power, and therefore must be compelled to give it up, often on pain of death.  In consideration of this state of human affairs, the Founding Fathers of the United States established a procedure by which presidents might be impeached, or removed from office.  The product of their deliberations appears in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

And that is all they have to say on the matter – which is why jurists for nearly 230 years have debated exactly what they meant.

The Founders certainly understood the seriousness of the question.  They had just gone through a lengthy and painful process of removing King George III as head of state over the American colonies by the extreme measure of extricating the colonies from the king’s domain and establishing a separate sovereign nation.  Their attempts at less drastic measures had not sufficed, leaving them no option but the usual method of war and upheaval.  That is why they sought to limit the power of the president, providing a method of removal by legislative and judicial means.  The grounds for removal would have to be well established, which is why the Constitution specifies the obvious transgressions of treason and bribery.  But what exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?  This is where it gets interesting, and frustrating to those who desire to remove an incompetent, unpopular, or abusive president.

The Founders sought not only to prevent abuse of power in the Office of the President, but also to protect the dignity of the office and ensure continuity of government.  Succeeding generations have understood this, which is why only three presidents have been the subject of impeachment proceedings.  President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote on articles of impeachment for his abuse of power.  Had he not done so, it is likely he would have been the only president ever removed from office.  Congress did impeach Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on charges stemming from their obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, but acquitted both men – not because the charges were unfounded, but because of the political motivations behind the impeachment proceedings.  Under such circumstances, their removal would have brought immense harm to the Office of the President and its foundation in the organic law of the United States.

One might wish that the Founding Fathers had been more specific in the standards they expected of people holding high office.  Then again, how much more specific did they need to be in a Christian culture based on the rule of law derived from the Bible?  Their understanding of God’s requirements for public leaders shaped their creation of the Government of the United States, leading them to do as YHVH did:  provide just enough detail to establish wise government under the principles of justice and mercy.

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Fox Byte 5775 #38: Korach (Korah)

קֹרַח

Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  After the painting by J. Mund.  (Illustration from Beacon Lights of History, Vol. XI, "American Founders.", John Lord, LL.D., London, 1902).  Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.)
Duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. After the painting by J. Mund. (Illustration from Beacon Lights of History, Vol. XI, “American Founders.”, John Lord, LL.D., London, 1902).  Accessed on Wikimedia Commons.)

What would happen if the Vice President of the United States committed murder and got away with it?  It is not a rhetorical question; such a thing happened long ago, in the early days of the American Republic.  On July 11, 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed fellow New Yorker Alexander Hamilton.  The two had been adversaries for several years, and eventually their enmity resulted in a duel at a neutral site in Weehawken, New Jersey.  It is unclear who fired first, but it is certain that Hamilton fell mortally wounded, dying the next day in New York City.  Burr fled, facing charges of murder both in New York and New Jersey, but later returned to the city of Washington to complete his tenure as Vice President.  In time the charges of murder were dropped, but Burr’s political career was over.  Thoroughly disgraced and out of favor with President Thomas Jefferson, he moved to the West in search of new opportunities.

The American frontier in those days separated the United States from the Empire of Spain in Florida and along a continental-sized line from Louisiana to what would become the Oregon Territory.  It did not take long for an enterprising man like Aaron Burr to create opportunities for himself, whether legal or not.  It is said that he intrigued with Spanish and American officials on a scheme to separate Mexico from Spain and the western territories from the United States and establish a new empire with himself as its chief.  Although the full extent of Burr’s plans will never be known, there was enough truth to the allegations of intrigue to result in his arrest and prosecution by the Jefferson Administration on charges of treason.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, personally presided over the famous trial in August 1807.  The Chief Justice had instructed the jury that conviction required testimony by two witnesses to a specific, overt act.  When the prosecution could not meet that standard, the jury declared Burr not guilty.

Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President of the United States, by John Vanderlyn.
Aaron Burr, 3rd Vice President of the United States, by John Vanderlyn.

In the election of 1800 Aaron Burr had come within a whisker of winning the presidency.  By 1808 he was a political outsider living in exile.  By 1812 he had returned to the United State, but he never returned to power.  His family, his law practice, and his health deteriorated over the remaining years of his life as he watched his nation grow in size and power without him.  Although endowed with considerable gifts and abilities to govern, his grasp for power ensured that his legacy would not be as one of America’s great men, but as a byword, a legal precedent, and a footnote in history.  Yet from him, perhaps, we can learn something more about what Yeshua of Nazareth meant by His cryptic observation:

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.  (Matthew 11:12 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #37: Sh’lach L’cha (Send For Yourself)

שְׁלַח־לְךָ

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland
The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas
Sir Nicholas Dance-Holland

About the time that Gideon of Manasseh delivered Israel from oppression of the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 6:1-8:35), a war of (literally) epic proportions took place on the northwest coast of what is now Turkey.  The Trojan War really did happen, but the conflict was already wrapped in myth and legend when a Greek poet known only as Homer published The Iliad sometime around 750 BCE, four centuries after the war’s generally accepted dates of 1194-1184 BCE.  Homer’s epic inspired a number of classical works telling the tales of the Greeks and Trojans, including a sequel published in Latin seven hundred years later.  When the Roman poet Virgil wrote The Aeneid, he probably had a political agenda in mind.  His story is that of Aeneas, a Trojan hero of the royal family who escaped the destruction of the city and led a band of refugees in a journey that eventually resulted in their settlement at the mouth of the Tiber River in Italy.  There they became part of the story of Rome, a city which began as a colony of Alba Longa, the capital of the new kingdom Aeneas and his descendants founded.  Thus Rome could trace its origins at least in part to Troy.  More importantly, the family of Julius Caesar traced its genealogy to Aeneas, giving it a claim to royalty that helped Caesar’s nephew Octavian consolidate his power as Caesar Augustus.  Whether true or not, Virgil’s epic, written early in Augustus’ long reign, cemented the link of the Caesars with Aeneas and Troy in the minds of Romans, making it one of the most successful pieces of literary propaganda ever published.

Even if the Caesar’s claims were falsified, and even if Aeneas never existed outside of classical literature, his tale is an illustration of the remnant:  those who remain.  Whether it is Ishmael surviving to tell the story of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, or Job’s servants fleeing disaster to report to him (Job 1:13-22), fact and fiction throughout the human experience have featured a fortunate few who escape.  The remnant has the task of carrying the memory of those who went before, of rebuilding what they lost, and of achieving their ultimate destiny.  These remnant tales would have little impact on us if they were not a common feature in reality.  The remnant is a continuous reminder in Scripture that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy in the expectation that a people will at last be able to step into the fullness of the promises YHVH has spoken from beginning of time.

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Fox Byte 5775 #36: Beha’alotcha (In Your Going Up)

בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by  Danacea on Flickr.com via via Wikimedia Commons)
Stephen R. Donaldson (Photo by Danacea on Flickr.com via Wikimedia Commons)

In a response to a reader’s question about his works, author Stephen R. Donaldson provided this enlightening comment about the motivation behind his writing:

I’m a storyteller, not a polemicist.  As such, my only mission is to help my readers understand my characters and appreciate what those poor sods are going through.  (Stephen R. Donaldson Official Website, February 23, 2004)

Donaldson’s best known writings might be categorized as postmodern American science fiction and fantasy literature.  The worlds he creates are not the pristine, archetypical fantasy worlds of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but darker realms that mirror our present ambiguous reality.  Donaldson explores human nature in a secular, relativistic world detached from the moral underpinnings of Christian civilization.  Good and evil manifest in the worlds he creates, but they are often uncomfortably intertwined so as to be nearly indistinguishable.  Such is the case with his most famous protagonist, the anti-hero Thomas Covenant.  In ten novels published over the span of 36 years, Donaldson follows Covenant through three epic quests in The Land, the world of his creation where magic and Earthpower shape the lives of mortals.  Covenant is one of the most unlikely heroes in the history of literature:  a leper living in present-day America who is magically transported to The Land to save it from destruction by Lord Foul the Despiser.  He wears a wedding band of white gold, the source of Wild Magic, which is the greatest power ever known in The Land.  He does not know how to wield this power, nor does he desire to do so, yet the dire circumstances of The Land compel him to find a way.  Each victory comes at a cost.  Ultimately it is Covenant himself who pays the greatest price, and thus he earns not only sympathy, but redemption.

We learn much about power in White Gold Wielder, the last novel of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.  The Elohim, supernatural beings who keep watch over the Earth, “silence” Covenant, placing him in a catatonic state so he will not use his ring unwisely and risk destruction of the world.  After Covenant is revived by his companion Linden Avery, Findail of the Elohim explains their actions to her:

The ring-wielder we silenced, not to harm him, but to spare the Earth the ill of power without sight . . . Thus the choice would have fallen to you in the end.  His ring you might have taken unto yourself, thereby healing the breach between sight and power.  Or perhaps you might have ceded the ring to me, empowering the Elohim to save the Earth after their fashion.  Then would we have had no need to fear ourselves, for a power given is altogether different than one wrested away.

Findail’s declaration, “a power given is altogether different than one wrested away,” is a restatement of something taught long ago by One Who understood power:

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28 NASB)

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