Reviewed by Dr Nicholas Campion
Peter Barthel and George van Kooten (eds), The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy (Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2015).
The Star of Bethlehem is perhaps the most famous astrological omen in history. For two thousand years it has presented a problem to those Christians who otherwise found astrology unpalatable, and to astronomers who have attempted to find clues to an actual astronomical event in the vague text of Matthew's gospel. This wide-ranging collection of papers are gathered from a colloquium held at the University of Groningen in2014 bringing together nineteen specialists in the subject, of whom two, David Hughes and Michael Molnar (who was not present) are well-known for their books on the Star. The editors, (Peter Barthel, Professor of Astrophysics at the Kapteyn Institute of the University of Groningen) and George van Kooten (Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen) have performed a vital task, combining their respective disciplines with skill, The book can fairly claim to be the most authoritative account of the Star to date, carefully examining the history of astronomical theories - from comets to supernovae and Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions. It also contextualises the Star within the theory and practice Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman and Jewish astrology. Four contributors to the volume have spoken at Sophia Centre conferences or contributed to Sophia Centre journals: Roger Beck who writes on the Mysteries of Mithras, Stephan Heilen on astrological geography Kocku von Stukrad on political astrology at the Jewish court and Helen Jacobus on Balaam's Star Oracle and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
This book is a most valuable account of the Star but at the prohibitive price of 186 Euro it is worth funding it through a library.
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