The Classic Theory of Ferrari d’Occhieppo

This should be read as something of a footnote to my previous article on the magi. Ferrari d’Occhieppo was a well-known astronomer and his work on the Star of Bethlehem became the foundation of a theory that is seldom questioned. It is satisfying mostly because it is rooted in the notion that Jesus was to be the harbinger of the Age of Pisces. I came upon this theory after I wrote my last article on the magi and believe it merits some response.

The chart for the birth of Jesus according to Ferrari d’Occhieppo – 115 September 15, 7 B.C. at around 6 pm in Bethlehem,

I personally find several reasons to questions this classic attempt to discover the birthdate for Jesus using astronomy as well as astrology.  It has a very rationally basis on the Superior Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn which occur approximately every 20 years. The observation of the Superior Conjunction was ancient by the time the magi would have seen this one. They are considered important markers for change, including social and regime change.

To some extent, we’re comparing apples to oranges. The article I wrote was designed to discover what the magi probably saw when they spoke of the Star in the East which would lead to the King of the Jews. The article under review purports to discover the birth of Jesus.  Surely the two events were significantly far apart if the magi came from what is now Iran. Nevertheless, the two events are obviously connected.

This is the ‘classic’ theory of  Ferrari d’Occhieppo (1969) – Hughes (1979) – Seymour (1998), compiled by Bernadette Brady:

“.Jesus was born on September 15, 7 B.C. at around 6 pm in Bethlehem, under the opposition of the Sun in Virgo to the conjunction Jupiter-Saturn at its rising. This assumption explains the words of the magi to Herod: ‘We saw his star at its rising’, which supports the supposition that this ‘star’ had not yet disappeared and that it could be observed again, and the enigmatic metaphor of the Immaculate Conception (the text of the Gospel ‘born of a virgin’ could be read rather ‘born in the sign of Virgo’). The simultaneity of the astronomical event occurred with the arrival of the Messiah, king of the Jews (Jupiter, the royal planet, beneficial, in conjunction with Saturn, the planet of the Jews). The symbol of Pisces would have been preserved as a form of recognition and a rallying sign for the first Christian communities. ”

Showing the position of Saturn and Jupiter on the Ascendant

The underlying assumptions strike me as bold, compelling and for the most part, speculative.  The insistence of the Conjunction in Pisces overrides any other considerations in the charts, save the alleged reference to the Sun in Virgo not only as indicative of the virgin birth but perhaps the very meaning of it. Having said that the idea that there are some elements of the Jewish community which would interpret the co-joining of the star of Kings, Jupiter, with Saturn, the star of the Jews as a clear sign of the coming of the promised king.

Although it is not entirely impossible that the Sun in Virgo refers to ‘born of a Virgin’ one would have to run roughshod over a great deal of established theology. It takes as virtual fact that the entire event might be an example of astrotheology, wherein all the players take a symbolic role that can be described by the planets and luminaries themselves. At this point in time, such claims can only be considered as speculative. We have no evidence of this, either way. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Secondly, let’s look at the Superior Conjunction referred to. It occurred 10 Sep 7 – 28 Sep 7- 3 Dec 7 19 Dec 7. There is no doubt that the magi would be very familiar with the Conjunctions as indicators in Mundane astrology. However,  they are considered most significant when there is a change in Triplicity. The previous had been in Leo. We are still left, though, with the Conjunction being the only provable element.

Positional Astronomy. – Superior Conjunctions

The theory goes on to mention the Essenes. I also commented on some elements of the Essenes and pointed out that they had at least as much to do with the Zoroastrian magi as the Jews.  certainly, they were not associated with mainstream Judaism. I do not doubt that this connection should be considered, but so should a very great number of factors.

When all is said and done, I feel even more convinced that the chart I offered in the previous article fits more exactly and for multiple reasons the star in the east seen by the magi. Nevertheless, I admire the work and passion that went the construction of this theory and believe it may raise many questions deserving of research.

The complete text of the article in question is in French @ http://cura.free.fr/16christ.html Feb, 2002

The Magi & The Star-Child

Depiction of Cyrus the Great by Jean Fouquet, 1470.Cyrus II le Grand et les Hébreux

Let me begin by stating clearly that I make no pretense to have finally solved the riddle of the Magi. I do hope that this short piece will contribute in a positive way to the ongoing study of the subject. In writing articles of this type, one needs to study the most recent scholarship as well as the ancient sources still extant.We may never know how much knowledge has been lost over the centuries, but we do know it was a great deal. These losses included the library of Alexandria and wholesale destruction of libraries during the Muslim invasions from North Africa, Persia and as far as India.

This continues from the two previous articles on the identity and nature of the Magi in particular relation to the Christmas story which combines Jewish and Persian elements. But first, it must be remembered that it is a story and it cannot be assumed that the narrator himself thought it to be an account of a temporal event. A story is not necessarily untrue, but it is a different kind of truth than the recalling of an historical event.

Further, our modern notion of historical accuracy is a fairly recent development. All cultures have maintained a mythological dimension to their own histories and it is often the case that the mythological tells us more about the society and its part in the greater cosmology than a historical “fact” might do.  The latter is also subject to selective memory and various interpretations, while the former is more or less deliberately symbolic in nature. A popular and condescending euphemism for this second type of writing is “pious fiction.” The modern world needs to recover the meaning of an epiphany if it expects to understand ancient texts as they were intended to be read.

I intend to take a circuitous approach to explain what I have come to understand about the story of the Magi, involving solid astrology, interpreting mythological traditions as well as cultural realities.

Mark Kidger, an astronomer, writes that if the object was as bright as is reported in the Protovangelium of James, it would have to be at least as bright as the Moon and would have been recorded all over the world. He asks: was the star really brilliant? Did these early accounts use artistic license? Which of the accounts, if any, was the “correct” one? Where we even supposed to take the story of the Star literally?  The Bible and the Apocryphal Gospels were never intended to be exact histories of the life of Jesus …. they are works written by the faithful for the faithful, and for those the writers hoped to convert.” (The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View p. 19).

The interconnectedness and relative familiarity with different cultures in the Middle East, Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia are well documented but often trivialized. One cultural advantage of empires is the massive and facilitated flow of ideas, including familiarity with other languages. The Jews had been subjugated by the Romans, Babylonians, and Persians. Since the conquest of Alexander, they lived in a Hellenized world and it made for a heady mix. What emerged was a high degree of syncretism. One example was the existence of the Pharisees, a corruption of Parsi. The Jews appear to have adopted the idea of an afterlife in the Pharisee tradition, where the Saducee school remained disinterested. The idea of an afterlife was shared by other cultures, but it would appear to be Zoroastrianism and the Persian influence that was primary

Certainly, the existence of the Magi was well known and their reputation was all but universally considered one of benevolence. Just as importantly, the Zoroastrian tradition had influenced the Greeks long before Plato, as well as Judaism. Jesus is considered by many scholars to be an Essene or at least influenced by them.  The theme of the sons of darkness and sons of light has no other obvious equivalence than Zoroastrianism. We don’t find this theme in Greek or Jewish thought. Neither do we find it in Egyptian religion.

When we consider the details of the Christmas story, the role of the Magi is fascinating. First of all, the Jews were expecting a triumphant Messiah – a King of Kings from the House of David. The story of the virgin birth of a holy child, destined to redeem humanity and openly challenge the Judaism of the times is not what they had in mind. The humble birthplace of Jesus has become a symbol of humility to Christians, but it couldn’t have helped the Jews to accept him as the Messiah. Beyond Talmudic teachings, the case against Jesus being the Messiah derives from several key Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 2:3-4, and Micah 4:2-3 among them.

The Christmas story might be seen as an attempted rebuttal to the disdain in the Jewish community. However, there is far more to it than that. The story may have been an attempt to illustrate a number of things, even if that meant excessive embellishment and resorting to “pious fiction.”

There have been countless attempts to identify the “star of wonder” ranging from a possible conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to a comet and a supernova. None of the theories so far has triumphed and we are left with the distinct possibility that the star being followed was of a spiritual nature – what we might call an inner light. No astronomer has been able to identify what it was –  or if anything extraordinary was seen at all. My personal view is that the theories set forth haven’t taken the whole astrological picture into account.

Keplers_trigon. A series of great conjunctions and trigons from Kepler’s book De Stella Nova.

The first “modern” attempt to discover what identifiable astronomical events could explain the star over Bethlehem really was conducted by Johannes Kepler identifiable astronomical phenomenon lies behind the biblical story of the so-called Star of Bethlehem was effectively begun by the astronomer  Kepler (1571–1630),. Kepler was the mathematician to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor

Johannes Kepler, ‘De stella nova in Pede Serpentarii’ (1606)

1576–1612. “In the years 1604–5 a supernova appeared in the constellation Ophiuchus and excited considerable discussion in Europe. Kepler kept a detailed record of his observations of the star. In the preceding year, 17 December 1603, at Prague he had also witnessed a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after, which interested him in his capacity as court astrologer. The supernova appeared in the neighbourhood of these three planets. In

Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction Chart. Image credit: Star of the Magi

medieval times the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, known as the “great conjunction” (recurring only once every 19·86 [incorrect] years on average), was regarded as of great astrological significance. Kepler calculated that a similar conjunction with Mars moving into the vicinity soon after had occurred in the year 7 B.C. = Julian year 39. On that occasion, the conjunction had been a triple conjunction, a very much rarer event than the normal single conjunction.” (Sachs, A., & Walker, C. (1984). Kepler’s View of the Star of Bethlehem and The Babylonian Almanac for 7/6 B.C). At the end of the day, it turned out that Kepler had miscalculated and ever since then, one attempt after another to identify the star has failed.

William Eamon provides a summary of the process: “Kepler believed that the new star was a portent of deep significance. It was, he concluded, “an exceedingly wonderful work of God.” In 1606, he published a pamphlet, De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (On the New Star in the Foot of Serpens), describing his discovery. Kepler was convinced that the new star was the same as the one that the Three Kings followed on their way to Bethlehem. With somewhat tortured logic, he reasoned that the new star was the equivalent of one that appeared in the same constellation around the time of the birth of Christ. He identified the supernova with a star that appeared in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn during the years 7-5 B.C. Since the supernova of 1604 appeared in the same conjunction, he reasoned, it had to be the same as the Star of Bethlehem that showed the Magi the way to Jesus.” (Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem)

It is crucial to remember that the Christmas story was written down long after the alleged events. Although not all scholars are in agreement, the majority believe that Mark was the first Gospel to be written, sometime around the year 70. This consensus has it that the Gospel of Matthew and the  Gospel of Luke was written down sometime in the 9th or final decade of the 1st century. Obviously, this casts the authorship into doubt. It has been countered that the original four evangelists had completed gospels that were then transcribed by others at a much later date. However, the record doesn’t support this at all. Even the choice of which gospels would be included had a political and tendentious element in their selection.

Nevertheless, those who insist that everything written in the Bible is to be taken as literal truth will need to deny any metaphorical meaning at all. For the rest of us, we are free to consider the possibility that some passages or stories in the Bible are powerfully metaphorical and that metaphor and elaboration can add to the power of the truth being told, even if it had no actual historical existence. It does not seem out of place here to mention that the modern understanding of history conforms to linear time. The very idea of linear time is an extreme abstraction with no modern scientific basis. It is part of the materialist creed.

Zoroastrianism, like Christianity, is a Universal religion.  As mentioned, the Jews also had every reason to venerate the Magi, emissaries from the East: The following is what is known as the Proclamation of Cyrus from Ezra 1:1-8 (ESV):

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:

Modern Persian carpet showing Cyrus the Great, seen in Tehran

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Among the classical Jewish sources, besides the Bible, Josephus (1st century AD) mentions that Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and helped rebuild the temple. He also wrote to the rulers and governors that they should contribute to the rebuilding of the temple and assisted them in rebuilding the temple. A letter from Cyrus to the Jews is described by Josephus.:[12]  

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wineand oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury.”.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel

The somewhat terse account in Matthew is expanded upon, with both similarities and differences in the apocryphal Protoevengelium of James. This work is overwhelmingly concerned with Mary, Joseph, establishing the legitimacy of the Christ child and answering all the kinds of questions that might be asked about a virgin birth and the birth of the Christ child. James also gives us this:

“21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary, and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road. .”

If we come to these passages expecting to learn of a physical celestial event, that is what we will understand. However, this is not the only possible interpretation of ” a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him.” Could this not be written in the same spirit as “The light shineth in the darkness” in the Gospel of John?  As I mentioned, the greatest irony of a belief in literalism is that it ignores that the very act of writing or story-telling is

Grotto of-the Nativity Close-up of star at birthplace of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

metaphorical. They are part of how we process what we see. Even a technical manual will, more often than not, contain language that is not entirely literal. Turning to Judeo-Christian scripture we recognize that a direct command to “love your neighbour: can be taken at face value, even if understanding precisely what that means is subject to interpretation. The story of Jonah and the whale is a good case in point. We know that what happens in the story is impossible to explain using scientific principles. People cannot live inside whales, but if we out our material doubts aside, the story is rich in metaphorical meaning. Not believing that humans can live in whales is not cause for accusations of blasphemy except by the most extreme and demented American Evangelical Fundamentalist.

Many stories in the Bible are replete with metaphorical thought and in many cases re-telling of stories from other cultures, such as Egypt and Babylon. They are not primarily historical documents, although that are many who treat them as if they were.The first task of scripture is to impart spiritual truths and present material that illustrates the way of righteousness and the consequences of ignoring the wise. In that sense, Hindu scripture is of the same kind. There may very well be historical references, but history itself is not the most important factor.

There are many elements here that are immediately germane to the art of astrology. The more mystical the content, the more literalism falls away. What is above, is below. We are born of stars and the light we experience is microcosmic as well as macrocosmic. We speak of illuminated minds and an inner light. We also speak of the benighted consciousness and the “outer darkness.” In the Gospels, the “exterior darkness” or “outer darkness” is a place referred to three times in the Gospel of Matthew (8:12, 22:13, and 25:30) into which a person may be “cast out”, and where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon” is the title of a Ph.D. dissertation by Brent Christopher Landau of The Faculty of Harvard Divinity School.

Landau “analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity.” The thesis is compelling and at the very least provides a fairly detailed first-hand account of the experience from the Magi point of view.

The entire dissertation is available online, so I see no useful purpose in rehearsing it here, but there are several things that need to be said.  The purpose and general focus of this series of articles on the Magi are on magic, metaphor, and astrology.  Here we have an astronomical event that probably didn’t occur at all, read by Magi who were astrologers. The realization that the star was Christ himself, in perhaps a similar sense as we see in his transfiguration. All three Synoptic Gospels tell the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-9; Luke9:28-36). With a remarkable agreement, all three place the event shortly after Peter’s confession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death.

Perhaps the greatest anathema to astrology according to Christian theologians is the mistaken view that astrologers believe the stars dictate what will happen to individuals and societies.  In their view, this somehow circumvents the will of a supreme being, when in fact the astrologer reads the signs to gain knowledge of divine will. Sorcerers and fortune tellers are considered to be cut from the same cloth as astrologers. However, in Judaism and Zoroastrianism, the stars are clearly understood to be useful and several books in the Jewish Bible, such as The Book of Daniel are saturated with astrological meaning. Yet in the Tanakh, we find The metaphor of the clock and time is germane here. The clock doesn’t create time, it just tells you what time it is.

It’s increasingly apparent that the importance of astrology in Judaism increased during the Babylonian captivity and the strong and friendly contacts with the Persians, who maintained a fairly practical form of the art.

It should be noted tht thee is no explicit mention of astrology in the Tanakh – However, “two biblical passages dealing with the diviner (menaḥesh) and soothsayer (me’onen; Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:10) were understood by the rabbis as bearing relation to astrology (Sanh. 65b–66a; cf. Maim. Yad, Avodah Zarah 11:8, 9). The prophets were aware of the practices of “star-gazers” (ḥoverei ha-shamayim) among the Babylonians and other peoples but they scoffed at them (Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2). In the book of Daniel the Babylonian astrologers arecalled kasdim (Chaldeans), and in Aramaic kasda’ei (2:2, 4, 5, 10; 4:14; 5:7, 11). The Sibylline Oracles (219–231) praise the Jewish people for refraining from astrology, which is a delusion. The Book of Jubilees (12:16–18) depicts the patriarch Abraham as overcoming the beliefs of the astrologers. The first Book of Enoch (8:3) includes astrology among the sins spread among mortals by the primeval giants (nefilim). Josephus, however, writes that astrology was common among the Jews in his days and that Jewish misinterpretation of celestial signs was partially responsible for the outbreak of the revolt against the Romans and its continuation for four years (Jos., Wars, 6:288ff.)”Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 .

Ketubbah – Jewish Marriage Contract, Leghorn, Italy, 1728 with astrological symbols

1300 years later, Moses Maimonides was vehemently opposed to the practise of astrology, but his view had virtually no influence on subsequent Jewish writers. Astrology had become an integral element of Judaism. After all, the Yiddish mazel tov derives from Hebrew words meaning a constellation of good stars and destiny. Considering the extraordinary influence and reputation of  Maimonides, this stands as a  strong endorsement of astrology by the Jewish community.

Detail of the ancient kibbutz Beth Alpha mosaic, Israel: a zodiac wheel with all 12 symbols and names of the zodiac, surrounded by four female figures at the corners, identifying the seasons of the year; at the centre, Helios, the sun god driving a quadriga, with moon and stars. (Picture: Art Resource, NY; biblicalarchaeology.org/via @Inés Peschiera Kežman Pfeifer)

“With the exception of Joseph b. Judah ibn *Aknin and his enthusiastic admirer R. *Jedaiah ha-Penini (Bedersi), none of the Jewish philosophers of the succeeding generations opposed or deprecated astrology. Even the rationalistic *Levi b. Gershom maintained that the activities and events of a man’s life were predestined by the positions and movements of celestial bodies. The astrologers fail, he asserted, first of all because of insufficient knowledge about the movements of the stars and the effects of their changed positions on sublunar beings, and secondly, because of the intervention of intellect and free will, “for the intellect and the will are empowered to carry us beyond the limitations imposed by the celestial bodies” (Milḥamot Adonai 2:2). Shem-Tov ibn *Falaquera also considered astrology a true science and made use of it. Many of the great rabbis, commentators, preachers, and ethical teachers dealt with astrology and were favorably disposed toward it; *Abraham b. David of Posquières, in his Hassagot, a commentary on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah; *Naḥmanides (Commentary on Gen. 1:16; Lev. 23:24, and passim) and his pupil Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (Responsa, no. 652); *Baḥya b. Asher (Commentary on Ex. 11:4; and passim); Isaac *Aboab (Menorat ha-Ma’or, 143; passim); Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ *Duran (Magen Avot, 72bff., and Tashbeẓ, no. 513); Isaac *Abrabanel , who cited many proofs “from the science of astronomy in regard to the celestial conjunctions” for his opinion that the redemption of Israel would begin in 1503 and come to completion in 1531 (Ma’yenei ha-Yeshu’ah, 12:2); Isaac *Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 34, 56), though he disapproved of eschatological reckonings based on astrology; Moses b. Ḥayyim *Alshekh ; *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) of Prague, who is reputed to have practiced astrology in the company of his friend Tycho Brahe; David *Gans ; Leone of *Modena ; Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo of Candia, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz ; and *Elijah , Gaon of Vilna (Commentary on Sefer Yeẓirah). A definitely negative attitude toward astrology was assumed by Azariah dei *Rossi” (Me’or Einayim, 42, 43). Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008

Most importantly, traditional astrology views the stars as in the microcosm and the macrocosm. In most cases, we study the macrocosmic heavens to shed light on the microcosm. In the case of the Star Child, we have the Magi reading the advent of the Christ by an inner illumination. This appears to be the message when we have looked at all the sources and considered the identity of the players in this cosmic drama. We talk about “outer space” but there is a corresponding “inner space.”

Of course, the proclamation that the Kingdon of Heaven is within you is used only by Matthew. Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” Compare Matthew 11:11-12 with Luke 7:28; Matthew 13:11with Mark 4:11 and Luke 8:10; Matthew 13:24 with Mark 4:26; Matthew 13:31 with Mark 4:30 and Luke 13:18; Matthew 13:33 with Luke 13:20; Matthew 18:3 with Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16; and Matthew 22:2 with Luke 13:29. The two phrases clearly mean the same thing.

If we revisit words of the Magi in Matthew: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising and have come to worship Him ” we are left with a tantalizing and evocative image, but we still don’t have any idea what this rising star was. It was common to refer to planets as stars, but there isn’t anything close to bright enough to match the description.

If we take this account at face value and ignore the impossible exaggerations which have, ironically, obscured all the main points, we would have a chart similar to this — in most respects, at least.

This chart shows the rising of Jupiter the king planet, in the royal sign of Leo and with the Kings’ star, Regulus. This certainly fits with the description of the Star in the East. It is ascending ahead of the Sun with enough clearance from the Sun to allow visibility.

Regulus, in Leo (The Lion), means “little king,” named by Copernicus. It is the heart of the lion and associated with generosity and ambition. If well aspected it will raise the person to high positions in life and denotes successful activity. Its nature is Mars and Itster. Bayer name Alpha Leo. Apparent magnitude +1.3 This star rising with Jupiter would have been considered a strong indicator of the birth of a king when combined with the other elements present.

Some have suggested that “born of a Virgin” means the Sun in Virgo. I see no compelling reason to take this view, but it may be worthy of further research.

The triple conjunction of Venus and Mercury and the Ascendant with Jupiter would make for a convincing candidate for the birth of a great king in Babylonian as well as Persian astrology. The Moon is in her domicile in Cancer and Mars is safely in the 6th house, like a tiger in a cage.

Saturn retrograde conjunct the Midheaven is more sinister. The Jews are under the governance of Saturn and this new king is not welcome by the highest authorities. There is a tight conjunction of  Saturn with the fixed star Rigel, the brightest star in Orion, The Hunter (Apparent magnitude +0.3) The star is of the nature of Jupiter and Saturn and associated with fame, wealth, and lasting honours.  Rigel is a fortunate star and a  powerful one.  This would serve as a protective element.

This is the most likely way that the Magi determined the location of the birth. Saturn conjunct the MC is in the place of authority. It is only natural that they would visit Herod.

I make no claims to this being the exact date, but the time would be close to accurate and the relatively short window for this configuration to occur, makes this a candidate for something approaching what must have occurred.

It seems ironic that the many of the attempts to embellish and exaggerate message of the Magi have obscured what might otherwise have been obvious.

The Magi are what scripture and tradition say they are – highly skilled astrologers, almost certainly from Persia. There has been a number of attempts over the years to make them appear to be like a Unicef greeting card or all Jewish kings from Yemen.

I don’t believe that The Star-Child account is not meant to be taken literally, but it is a rather lovely narrative of the Star leading to the Child. For approximately two billion  Christians, Christ is their Guiding Star

Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Total Solar Eclipse – 21 August 2017

There are dozens of articles posted on the internet regarding the upcoming Total Solar Eclipse. I have therefore elected to illuminate the significance of this eclipse in a fairly straightforward fashion so that those who are not adept in advanced techniques will nevertheless leave with a better understanding of the subject. I will speak to the essence of the phenomena. There are legions of potential rules and considerations one might use to judge an eclipse. This one is extraordinary because it’s the first total Solar Eclipse to be seen in all of the US since 1918.  The eclipse will have resonance in parts of Canada, Mexico, and Central America, but the full totality is seen only in the continental USA.

It is also extraordinary because the eclipse point is conjunct Regulus and the Ascendant of the President. The eclipse of the Sun in his own domicile is extraordinarily potent. It will fall over Washington D.C. like a dark cloud and the following months will see chaos, violence, confusion, and terror. I have struggled with writing this because I dislike being the harbinger of such news, but on balance, I think it better to be prepared than not. Because the eclipse is a Fixed Sign, the effects will unfold over several months. I could have consulted many charts but saw no need to do so. I chose the chart for the Year – Vernal Equinox and the chart for totality over Washington 21 August 2017. I could have consulted many charts but saw no need to do so. I chose the chart for the Year – Vernal Equinox and the chart for totality over Washington 21 August 2017.

Vernal Equinox – Washington D.C.

In the Equinox chart, Mars is bedeviled by numerous afflictions.  At the same time nothings restrains him. The sixth house of the common people is in the Royal sign of Leo, the sole domicile of the Sun and the Lord is Exalted. It’s not even a slight stretch to see how this has played out. The new President has been under constant duress. Mars is disposited by Venus. She is Rx. in her Detriment and Under the Beams. As Ficino put it, Venus soothes Mars and Jupiter soothes Saturn. She can do nothing. She isn’t even visible. Mars is a wild beast with no idea where he’s going. So, we look to Jupiter to soothe the other Greater Malefic and find him weak by sign, Rx and in the House of Death.  As the lord of the Ascendant, he doesn’t make a good captain.  Saturn with the Moon, in this case, causes a kind of emotional paralysis.  Mercury is the chart Almuten but Under the Beams. Considering the highly afflicted Mars,  Mercury in Aries is one more harbinger of the coming storm. The Node is with Regulus.

The eclipse also augers literal and extreme meteorological and seismic events in the areas alluded to, including the Southen US, Mexico, Central and the Northern regions of South America. Spain and North Western Africa will also see extreme conditions.  The heat and volatility in the social sphere will be echoed in the natural world.

eclipse path – courtesy of NASA

Total Solar Eclipse – Washington D.C.

The American people have been having an extraordinarily difficult time, with groups claiming authority seeming to come out of nowhere – except of course they don’t. Terms such as Fascism, Nazism, and Anarchy have more currency than any of them have had in decades – in most cases since WWII In my series on the Aquarian Age I discussed this in a much broader context. Turmoil, threats open revolts are all in store. I used the term ‘velvet fascism’ and have been horrified as basic rights such as freedom of speech are under attack from Saturn’s miserable armies. An earlier name for Saturn was Falsifer. He is the enemy of freedom and the author of enmity.  He is cold, dry and humourless. His presence in the Tenth House of the Vernal Equinox chart and on the Ascendant in the Eclipse chart, speaks eloquently of the situation.  Jupiter and Saturn are in reception by way of Ruler/Exaltation which is relatively minor consideration.

The chart for the Eclipse over Washington might be seen as a progression of the Chart of the Year. Conflict becomes a greater conflict. The house of the common people is now ruled by Venus in the sign of the Moon. She is in the eighth house as Jupiter had been. Jupiter isn’t very strong by sign, but exceedingly well placed in the House of the Good Spirit. When good placements are rare, one must pay as much attention to them as the darker significations.

Superior Conjunction of 30 Dec 2020 12:00:00 PM EST +05:00:00 Washington DC

I’m left with the sense that the ‘king” or whatever nomenclature one uses to describe this type of office is brought down, but the people are in disarray, confused and as Yeats put it “full of passionate intensity.” An established order is falling apart and a new order “slouches toward Bethlehem.” In a corporate global plutocracy, the king is expendable. His puppet masters create confusion and discontent and the people played as fools. I see this as a prelude to the upcoming Superior Conjunction. The epoch of Aquarius – Fixed Air progressing from Fixed Earth will no doubt accelerate technological advances that are to a large extent dehumanizing and set a fine stage for fanaticism.

America is a tinder box.and deception is the demon. True anti-fascists wouldn’t need to cover themselves in black and create acts of extreme violence while proclaiming their peaceful intentions.  Most of the major demonstrations have been sponsored and in many cases have actually hired crowds to create or exaggerate the illusion of dissent. This stokes the fires of a revolution that isn’t really a revolution at all. The torches and pitchforks cannot help but remind me of the wretched slaves of illusion in Plato’s Allegory of the cave.

Commentary on Averrores – BBC

Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd‎ (Latinized as Averroes), lived from 14 April 1126 – 10 December 1198. He was a Medieval Andalusian polymath who wrote profusely on logic, Aristotelian and Islamic philosophy, theology, the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence,  psychology, political and Andalusian classical music theory, geography and mathematics, Averroes is of great importance in Islamic philosophy for multiple reasons. He argued for the reconciliation of reason with revealed religion, pointing out passages from the Qu’ran to support his position. He was a powerful proponent of Astrology for the same reasons. He was accused of shirk or polytheism, for referring to the planets, and most particularly Venus, as if they were divine. He was exiled but eventually embraced back into court in Morroco.

The Magi & the Flame Part I

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The Nativity story is powerfully evocative, even for those who do not profess to be Christian, despite the fact that it is almost or entirely apocryphal. For centuries the festival of Christmas, allegedly marking the birth of the Messiah, has almost seamlessly blended with parallel traditions and folklore, such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees, flying reindeer and gift-giving. Few theologians still believe that 25 December is the actual birthday of Jesus. As we will see, literalism is not at home here. The original Christian Nativity narrative is related only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The two remaining canonical Gospel writers don’t mention the Nativity and Paul never refers back to it.  The Christ of Paul is Christ Crucified. He shows no real interest in the life of the historical Jesus.

I doubt very much that there could ever be a definitive explanation of The Procession of the Magi which could take all elements and traditions into account. Rather, this is an exploration of the theme as it has expressed itself, even before the Christian narrative. I suggest that the story itself has so much power that it can accommodate, expand and deepen several traditions that coincide in some way with Christmas. It’s as if nature itself anticipates the “return” of the Sun. Yet there are no records, either Jewish or Roman that could confirm or deny the event. Nevertheless, the story endures and is passed on even by people who have little idea of its origin.

Interestingly, Luke makes no mention of the Magi.  Surely such an extraordinary event would have been recorded, if only by the other apostles. The meaning or identity of the star they followed has also given also rise to a great deal of speculation, but no clear evidence has settled the debate.  In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew (KJV) the apostle writes:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea 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.

Benozzo Gozzoli, - "the Young King" (detail) Procession of the Magi.

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the Young King” (detail) Procession of the Magi.

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

Benozzo Gozzoli, - "the Middle King" (detail) Procession of the Magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the Middle King” (detail) Procession of the Magi

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which 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.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

zfflorenz-via-cavour-kapelle-des-palazzo-medici-riccardi-zug-der-hl-drei-konige-konig-melchior-von-benozzo-gozzoli-chapel-procession-of-the-magi

Benozzo Gozzoli, – “the old King” (detail) Procession of the Magi.

The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great to a betrothed virgin whose name was Mary.

There are, however, major differences. Matthew has no Census to report, no annunciation to the shepherds or a presentation in the Temple.and has him born in a house there and an unnamed angel appears to Joseph to announce the birth.

In Luke there are no Magi, no flight into Egypt, or Massacre of the Innocents, Joseph is a resident of Nazareth, the birth appears to take place in an inn instead of the family home, and the angel (named as Gabriel) announces the coming birth to Mary.[1]

While it is possible that Matthew’s account might be based on Luke or Luke’s on Matthew, the majority of scholars conclude that the two are independent of each other. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that tale of the Magi may well pre-date Christianity. The inclusion of them adds another dimension and underscores the status of The Prince of Peace.

a-magian-worshipping-at-a-fire-altar

a magian worshipping at a-fire altar

This is neither plagiarism nor wishful thinking. Those with a familiarity with the Gospel of John and the work of Philo will find them speaking the same language. Philo was a Hellenized Jew and prolific author of a large body of Neo-Platonic thought, set in the context of Judaism. His work On Creation is almost certainly the immediate source of the Logos or Word, which gives us the opening of John’s Gospel.

Philo wrote well before any Christian writing. John appears to be strongly influenced by Philo throughout hos own writings. Christianity and Neo-Platonism have enjoyed a harmonious relationship at the heart of much of Christian theology.

The Persian Magi were philosophers and priests. They were learned and skilled in medicine and natural science, including Astrology. They were prophets, although Christians preferred to use the term “soothsayers.”  The Magian religion was Zoroastrianism. Which had greatly informed Judaism, Sorcery was forbidden. They resembled the Brahmans in function and status. Their position and role in society were very much like that of the Druids.

Tradition has it that the Magi arrive at their destination on Epiphany, the final day of what became the Twelve days of Christmas. The Twelve Days is associated with Saturnalia. Twelfth Night is a holiday on January 5 that marks the 12th and final night of the Christmas season. The Twelve Days of Christmas are the twelve days beginning on the night of Christmas (December 25) and ending on Epiphany on January 6.  We can say that among other interpretations, the Epiphany is the recognition of Christ

Moreover, the number twelve has great significance. It’s the number of astrological Signs and the Apostles. It should come as no surprise that in ancient times the Sun was worshiped as a god.  If there is no Sun, there is no life. The association of the Sun with life itself became spiritualized, perhaps we should say internalized – a guiding light. We are in fact made of stardust. The Solstice is an astronomical event with major implications for life on Earth.

By the time of the European Renaissance, the Magi are invariably portrayed in the finery one might expect of a courtier. It became common to portray the Magi as representing the three stages of life. In fact what we find over the centuries is a practice of applying ever more meaning, as if projected upon them. This is surely the intent and the effect is to create a Universal story, with clear roots in the Solar Mithraism and Zoroastrianism expressed through Christian mysticism. The favoring of evocation over definition is part of the nexus.

Sirius

Sirius – The Star in the East

The “three kings” have also been associated with the three bright stars in Orion’s belt.  Depending on your point of view, this either confuses or enriches the story. The “Three Kings” illustrated here is part of a much grander design in the “Chapel of the Magi” commissioned by the elder Cosimo and the family has been insinuated into the paintings, creating the sense that the Magi and the Medicis are part of the same story. The artist has included the three sisters of Lorenzo which offers up the idea that the Procession or Adoration of the Magi is a Universal, one in which we all share in one way or another. Our culture will determine the details and some may never understand the mystical significance. It would be a mistake to insist on literalism or historicity.

The Three Sisters of Lorenzo de Medici

The Three Sisters of Lorenzo de Medici

Similarly, it is not at all out of the question that the Three Kings are related to the Trinity in the Renaissance Magi, but in the sense of one to adore each Person of the Trinity. These kinds of associations were in congruence with the syncretic philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, a Catholic Priest who was also a Magus, translator of the Hermetica and almost all the works of Plato. His magnum opus was his Theologia Platonica. They were also at home in the antiquity of India, Persia, Egypt and other rich cultures who, to a greater or lesser extent, informed each other.

The origin of the word Magi is Persian. They are astrologers and sages. not kings. The star in the East was almost certainly Sirius. The coincidence with the Winter Solstice is no accident. What we have is a Solar festival, but also a mystical vision. The Epiphany and the Procession of the Magi are not just something that happened more than two thousand years ago. If that were the case, the story would have little relevance.  They were perhaps not so much following a star as acknowledging and venerating a great light that drew them to an epiphany. We can associate it of course with the Winter Solstice, the longest night followed by the waxing of the light. The Yule log, the lighting of candles and merry-making seem to fit seamlessly into the story.

In Polish tradition, the “star of Bethlehem” is the first star seen to rise on Christmas Eve. Gwiazdka is a symbol of the “Star of Bethlehem, whose appearance was accompanied by the birth of Jesus. Thanks to the Star of Bethlehem, the Magi could reach the place of birth of the Savior. Today, we expect the first star, which appears in the Christmas sky during Christmas Eve (Wigilia). Only after it shines, Poles sit at the table, divide the wafer and exchange Christmas greetings.” ( see Polish Toledo)  The spirit of Christmas takes precedence over identifying a particular star. Literalism misses the point.

fire-temple-sadeh-zoroastrian-celebration

Zoroastrianism Fire – Temple Sadeh Zoroastrian

The Epiphany and the Procession of the Magi are not just something that happened more than two thousand years ago. If that were the case, the story would have little relevance.  They were not so much following a star as seeing a great light that drew them to an epiphany. We can read the event as a Solar pilgrimage and celebration that includes a rich tapestry of related traditions,  with sources reaching back to remote antiquity.

Ficino is most eloquent on this point: that the Magi were embraced in the same way that the Academy of Florence had embraced Hermes Trismegistus, Zoroaster, Orpheus, Pythagoras and of course, Plato. Ficino accepted that all these sages had drunk from the same well of the prisca thelogia.  He often referred to the Nativity in his writings, particularly in his letters and in the Apologia. He had a life-long fascination with the Magi.

Just as the Zoroastrian is not worshipping fire. The flame is an outer manifestation of an inner state of being. We are drawn to the light in many ways and in many vessels.

In Part II of this article, I will examine the astronomy and astrology of the event as seen from 7BC.

(This article was originally published December 21, 2016)

This Sumerian bas-relief evokes most of the core themes of the Magian pilgrimage with which we are familiar. In this case, there are Four gods standing before the Tree of Life with a Winged Solar Disk above them, which is the symbol of Zoroastrianism.

Judaism & Divination

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What I have to say here is not limited to Judaism by any means, but there are key concepts and beliefs within the religion that are helpful in explaining  the often awkward relationship between astrology and particularly monotheistic religions.

The term mazel tov is usually regarded as a Jewish phrase expressing congratulations or wishing someone good luck. It’s more complex than that, though. Mazel is fate, in the sense of  G_d working through the constellations. This the essence of the doctrine that the stars impel, they do not compel.In this respect the Jewish and Islamic view is the same.

There are of course many forms of astrology and they are not all viewed in the same way. Some off the main forms of astrology are Mundane and all forms off Predictive Astrology, including Horary.  These seek to see into the future, in one way or another : to predict a political win, a war, the establishment of a new kind of order and so on. in Horary,  the question isn’t always about the future. It could be a question such as ‘where are my keys’? or  ‘does that girl like me?’ Since the means of prognostication have to do with the interactions of energies. Is this really so different rom a doctor listening to your pulse? I don’t say there are no differences. I only suggest that the line is more difficult to draw than is often assumed.

The second group consists of Nativities, Medical Astrology and Electional Astrology. The first is what everyone calls a birth chart that describes the nature o the person, showing strength, weaknesses with an aim to help the person or her parents to help create the best environment and tools. This is actually less predictive than a weather forecast. The goal is to understand and help.

Medical Astrology is perhaps the most useful of all forms. It not only provides us with what we need to know about the person’s humours and temperament. We will find out what kinds of healing are likely to work best for this person and also gives us reliable information as to which kinds of diseases the native will most likely encounter. Hippocrates said “He who does not understand astrology is not a doctor but a fool.”

Electional astrology in essence is not a great deal different from consulting the Farmer’s Almanac, although considerably more refined.. To find the best time to do something, we choose a moment that is most propitious for the given purpose. This actually the same in spirit as planting by the Moon. It will of course be specialized for the person who asks when something might be done. Again, this is a means of helping others and doesn’t contradict the Jewish and Islamic prohibitions, or would not if understood.

So in reality, there are few out and out predictions made by anyone, not because it’s wrong or doesn’t work, but because it’s only used when needed,  It is a false idea turned dogma that the stars are the means by which Divine Will, or Great Spirit, speak to us. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds.of kinds of divination but astrology has stood the test of time for several millennia

It’s a rare event to find a Rabbi discussing these issues and I commend him for doing so.