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 #50: Ki Tavo (When You Enter In)

כִּי־תָבִוֹא

Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkens) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in "A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’", by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)
Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in “A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’”, by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)

When General Lew Wallace published Ben Hur in 1880, he had no idea that his tale of a wrongfully condemned Jewish prince would have such an impact on modern audiences.  It is a tale of redemption, being the product of Wallace’s own investigation into the validity of the Christian faith.  The epic scale of the story lends itself to the big screen, but Hollywood’s first effort at bringing Wallace’s characters to life in 1925 fell short of the mark.  It took another generation of filmmakers, capitalizing on improved technology and cinematic techniques, to do justice to the tale.  The result was William Wyler’s 1959 production of Ben Hur, a film that surpassed the achievements of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, released just three years previously.  Wyler and DeMille both worked with the same leading man:  Charlton Heston, a handsome actor known for his portrayals of tough men of action.  Heston’s depiction of Moses remains the standard for cinematic portrayals of Israel’s Lawgiver, but it was his role as Judah Ben Hur which won him an Oscar as Best Actor.

The story follows Judah in his quest for revenge after his family is unjustly accused and sentenced for allegedly attempting to kill the new Roman governor of Judea.  His mother and sister are taken to prison, but Judah is condemned to a hellish existence rowing the galleys of Rome’s navy.  After three years his ship receives a new commander, Consul Quintus Arrius (played by Jack Hawkins), who leads the fleet against pirates who have menaced the sea lanes.  On inspecting the rowers, Arrius takes notice of Judah as a man full of hate, but able to control it, a trait the Consul finds useful.  Upon concluding his inspection Arrius offers this advice:

Now listen to me, all of you.  You are all condemned men.  We keep you alive to serve this ship.  So row well, and live.

Judah finds opportunity to do more than that.  In battle his ship is rammed and sinks, but he is able to escape and save the life of Consul Arrius.  Later they learn the Roman fleet has won the day and Arrius is a hero.  He returns to Rome, bringing Judah with him in hope of repaying the debt of his life.  Judah becomes a famous chariot racer, trusted with some of his master’s most prized possessions.  In time, Arrius rewards Judah with the greatest gift he can bestow:  adoption as his son and heir. 

Eventually Judah returns home, finds his mother and sister, and avenges the wrong done to his house.  Yet it is not until he encounters Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth that he finds true peace.  Lew Wallace’s story is, after all, a tale of the Christ, and would be incomplete without the redemption the Messiah offers.  The roots of the story, however, go back to the time of Moses, when he spoke these words to the people of Israel:

The Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 26:18-19 NASB)

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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 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)
Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

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