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The Star of Bethlehem ~ a thought for Jehovah's witnesses (general)

posted by fezik82(R), Ohio, 11.16.2017

With the Christmas season coming, Jehovah's witnesses will be setting out to debunk the traditional interpretation of the infancy narrative. Most people are unaware of their rather unique teachings with regards to the star of Bethlehem, the wisemen, and the gifts which they brought to the newborn king. Rather than coming to worship the newborn King, the Society teaches the the wisemen were rather demon worshiping astrologers who followed Satan's star to slaughter the infant Jesus... and who would be so ill to follow the example of these gift giving pagan worshipers?

The word used in the Greek for the wisemen is μάγοι, or magoi, and as the Watchtower teaches, it is from this word that we have derived the word “magician”. The term magician is alluded to in many popular translations, such as the New International Version, when referencing these wise men as “magi”. While the Society admits that “it is true that the word magos can mean ‘Oriental scientist’”, they choose rather to compare to those who literally worshiped the stars and the heavens in Isaiah 47:12, 13 in order to justify their own understanding that the “astrologers” in Matthew’s gospel are heathen worshipers. In earlier editions, Watchtower Society founder Pastor Russell taught quite the opposite, stating:

“The term [Magi] originally belonged to a class of priests among the Medes and Persians who constituted the king's privy council and who cultivated astrology, medicine and occult and natural science. Ancient authors make frequent reference to them. Later the term was applied to all eastern philosophers.”

We learn of other “magoi” in the New Testament, such as Simon Magus, aka, “Simon the sorcerer”. The account given in Acts 8:9-24 certainly paints Simon in an unfavorable light; in fact, the early Church fathers refer to him as “the source of all heresies”. Another, final, account of this Greek word is in Acts 13:6-11, an account of Elymas the sorcerer and a false prophet named Bar Jesus. Elymas the sorcerer attempted to turn the Roman proconsul at Paphos, Sergius Paulu, from his faith, causing the Spirit led apostle Saul to call him out as a child of the devil who perverts the ways of the Lord, full of trickery and deceit. But, just as countless other arts and professions have good and bad examples, the objection of these magi must not necessarily dictate the intent of the magi who had come to visit the newborn King.

alternate interpretations of the Magi

1. On the contrary, Herodotus, a historian who died about 427 years before the birth of Christ, spoke of the Magi simply as being the name given to one of the six tribes of Medes. The Medians were ancient Iranians, from an area known as Media, which consisted of northwest Persia (ancient Iran) and Southeast Asia Minor (ancient Turkey, the site of the seven churches of Revelation). The Medians were likely descendants of Noah through his grandson Madai (Genesis 10:2). The Watchtower states that it is, “because of this understanding, elsewhere in the Bible the Hebrew Madai is translated 'Medes,' or 'Media,' as at 2 Kings 17:6; 18:11; Esther 1:3; Isaiah 13:17; 21:2; and other texts”.

Though nobody denies that the Medians existed, some scholars question whether they had ever divided into six tribes, though there is much evidence. The Watchtower Society cites both the “Imperial Bible-Dictionary" (Vol. II, p. 139) and J. C. Müller in “Herzog’s Encl” to confirm that they, too, believe “Magi” to be a term used to refer to one of the six tribes of the Medes. There also exists the fragments of Berosus of Babylon which claims that the Median royal line extended almost two thousand years before the time of Alexander the Great , who died in 323 B.C. Babylon would certainly be a logical place to find such evidence; according to Biblical prophecy, Media and Persia were enemies of Babylon and were prophesied to be Babylon’s future destroyers (Jeremiah 13:17, 25:25; cf. 21:2). The Society tends to overlook this prophecy when portraying the wise men as idolaters based on their likely descent from Persia.

The Jewish Encyclopedia offers a more extensive proof of the existence of the tribes, but regardless of whether they did in fact exist as an empire, it seems to be firmly established by most groups that the Medians were a religious people known as Zoroastrians, and Herodotus further claimed that the Magi were responsible for providing the Zoroastrian priests. To the disarray of the Watchtower Society, they were not a mystical sect flourishing in witchcraft and magic. In fact, Zoroastrianism is the earliest documented monotheistic religion (belief in one God), and they greatly feared the practice of magic. The sacred Scriptures to the Zoroastrians, known as the Avesta, condemns sorcery and refers to it as “the domain of the evil spirit” in the Book of Vendidad at 1.14-15.
The beliefs of the Zoroastrians were so similar to those taught in our Old Testament that some have claimed the Abrahamic religion may have borrowed its theology from Zoroastrian texts; first in Judaism, and later in Christianity. The Jewish Encyclopedia admits that, “the similarities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are many and striking”. Watch Tower founder Pastor Russell may have found the very explanation as to why our texts and those of the Zoroastrians are so similar. In speaking of “The Wise Men”, he noted that:

"We are informed by Tacitus, by Suetonius and by Josephus that there prevailed throughout the entire east, at this time, an intense conviction, derived from ancient prophecies, that before long a powerful monarch would arise in Judea and gain dominion over the world… But the clearest of all these prophecies was one by Zoroaster. The Nestorians say that Zoroaster was a disciple of Jeremiah, from whom he learned about the Messiah and talked concerning him to his disciples.'--Persian Missionary."

Pastor Russell offers further insight into how those “throughout the entire east, at [the time of the birth of Christ]” could possibly know so much about the expectance of the Messiah. Along with their possible influence from the prophet Jeremiah, he pointed out their relation to even more Old Testament prophets, stating that:

"We should remember that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were at this time princes of Persia and intimate with the wise men of that country, which was at that time the principal nation of the world. It is easy to see how traditions would be handed down through that channel, and especially may we suppose that Daniel's prophecy respecting the time of Messiah's birth would be well known to the disciples of Zoroaster, Persia's wise men. Furthermore, there were Jews scattered abroad throughout that country who still more or less kept alive the thought of Israel's hope for the great Messiah so long promised of God, prophesied of as the bringer of blessings not only to Israel but through them to all the families of the earth.

Therefore, it is not surprising that of the 12 mentions in the Old Testament of the Medes, five were in the accounts of either Daniel (8:20; 9:1) or Jeremiah (25:25; 51:11; 51:28). In fact, one of the titles given to the prophet Daniel was "Rab-mag", meaning, "the chief of the Magi" (Daniel 4:8-9; 5:11, cf. "Insight on the Scripture, Volume II", WTBTS, 'Rabmag', p. 725). In Daniel 2:48, we find that he was king of the Magi, noble over the wise men of Babylon:

"Consequently the king made Daniel someone great, and many big gifts he gave to him, and he made him the ruler over all the jurisdictional district of Babylon and the chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon."

In addition to this we find that God, through the prophet Isaiah, also spoke favorably of the Medes, relaying to them to “lay siege” against Babylon. This happened in 586 B.C., (617 B.C.E. according to the Watchtower Society today), though the Society teaches that this is ultimately an end time prophecy predicting the fall of Babylon the Great.

In Esther 1:13-19 the king consulted the “wise men”, some from the land of Media. This is possibly the reason that some translations find justification in the term “wise men” in Matthew 2:1. In Esther 10:2, we read of a Book of the Medians as an authority; a book in which the common consensus is that it has since been lost. Though there could certainly be more written of this group, the Scriptures clearly demonstrate that they were found to be favorable to God. There is nothing written about them to suggest that they would send so called “demon worshipers” to slaughter the baby Jesus, as the Society assumes.

2. It is only fair to note that some commentators in the early Church, such as Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Origen, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome, seemed to understand the magi in the ordinary sense of “magician”, not at all to suggest that any one of them held similar belief to the Watchtower Society as to the intentions of the magi. There is nothing in their writings to suggest that they believed the magi who visited Christ to be comparable to Simon Magus, or even Elymus the Sorcerer. There is nothing in this terminology to suggest that Herodotus’ explanation of magi, that they were simply members of one of the six tribes of Medes, would not possibly apply to the magi in Matthew’s gospel. However, the Watchtower Society hoped to have the backing of Tertullian in their convictions concerning the magi in Matthew’s gospel, conveniently quoting him as stating:

“We know the mutual alliance of magic and astrology. The interpreters of the stars, then, were the first . . . to present Him [Jesus] ‘gifts.’”

As is often the case when the Watchtower Society quote with an ellipsis, this quote is a little misleading. Tertullian did begin this chapter by describing some professions which were liable to fall into idolatry, he then stated that an unnamed believer had challenged the Church as to whether astrology fell into those professions. The anonymous believer thought astrology to be free from idolatry. Keep in mind that astrology in this time often held a more restricted meaning. Sometimes the stars or moon were used through God's command to determine feast days, such as Rosh Hashanah or the New Moon festival, sometimes the stars were actually worshiped as gods and credited for God’s work. It’s important to note that Tertullian alleged that this person who had raised questions does not honor idols before continuing with his interpretation of the astrologers in Matthews account. He states that those who have discovered the art and attributed to the stars the power of God are deserters from God and lovers of women, and on that account condemned by God. Tertullian writes that astrology (of this sort) is cause for penalty and must be excluded for disciples and masters. Afterward came the framework for the Watchtower Society's above quote:

“But Magi and astrologers came from the east. We know the mutual alliance of magic and astrology. The interpreters of the stars, then, were the first to announce Christ's birth the first to present Him gifts”.

The Watchtower Society had a point to be made when ignoring Tertullian’s note that the Magi were the first to announce the birth of Christ, leaving this observation out singlehandedly builds their case that the Magi were nothing more than supposed, “demon-worshiping astrologers”, as only pagans practice this sort of gift giving, in their opinion. Tertullian also had a point to be made when writing that the Magi were the first to announce Christ’s birth. He states that this may, therefore, have become the religion of those Magi who perhaps turned other astrologers toward Christ. He said that astrology in his day (160-225 A.D.) had become the science of the stars of Christ, not of Saturn or of Mars, though this science of astrology must end at the Gospel as far as interpreting one’s nativity. He further suggested that the Magi, when obeying the will of God and returning home by another way, symbolically revealed that they do not walk in their ancient path. One cannot deny that the Magi walked home in the way of the Lord (Matthew 2:12).

In agreement with Tertullian, it should not be discounted that the Magi were likely residents of Persia. The Watchtower Society themselves state that, “those ‘wise men’ were devil-worshiping magi from the East, from Persia”. There was a prophecy spoken through Malachi to the Persian territories. While many were known to offer worship to their sun god, Mithra, Jehovah told them to look toward another “sun”, “the sun of righteousness”, who shall rise to heal them (Malachi 4:2); the Watchtower Society recognizes this as a reference to Christ. Perhaps He would heal them by relieving them from their idolatrous tendencies. The Lord was not hesitant in referring to Christ as “sun” if it meant that it would lead these particular Persian sun worshipers toward the true God. It would not be very surprising, then, if these Persian astrologers were in fact pagan worshipers, that God would give them a sign that they could relate to in order to lead them to Christ.

The Magi were the first Gentiles in written history to come to Christ. By definition, a Gentile is a person who is not a Jew, a person of the nations. To the Jewish mind, including the New Testament writers, a Gentile was often a pagan who did not know the one true God. But the one thing that most people in the Old Testament had in common was idolatry, or pagan worship, whether they were Gentile or Jew. The Gentiles and Jews alike fell short of God’s glory. It was because of the fall of the Jews that God extended His salvation to all. Effectually the witnesses must reason why He would save one pagan race and not the others. Many still find the terms, “nations”, “pagans”, “heathen”, and “Gentile” to be synonymous (cf. Matthew 10:18 and Romans 11:13). While salvation has been extended to the Gentiles, the Watchtower aptly declares that, “they must turn away from the false idolatrous gods to which they had till then been dedicated”. But one must wonder, why the hypocrisy when it comes to the Magi? Is it reasonable to assume that God paved a path for both Jews and Gentiles to turn from their wicked ways to follow Christ, with the exception of those Gentiles who were astrologers? Without guiding readers to suppose that these wise men were (and remained) Satanists, the Society would have a far greater difficult task of forbidding participation in the celebration of the birth of Christ, and they are simply not willing to let that happen.

I asked The Lord how much He loved me

He stretched out His arms and said, "this much"

Then He died for me


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