Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Historicity Of The Star Of Bethlehem (Part 5)

(Previous posts in the series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.)

Adair tells us that "one must wonder" why Luke doesn't report the events surrounding the Bethlehem star. Luke goes from the opening weeks of Jesus' life to an incident that occurred when he was twelve years old. The events of Matthew 2 seem to have occurred when Jesus was close to two years old (2:16). Why expect Luke to narrate something that occurred during a timeframe he wasn't covering? As Richard Burridge notes, even if an ancient biographer covers some of the events of his subject's childhood, "usually the narrative moves rapidly on to the public debut later in life" (in Joel Green, et al., edd., Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2013], 337). Sometimes a figure's childhood wouldn't even be narrated at all, as the gospels of Mark and John illustrate. There wasn't a shortage of significant events in Jesus' life to report. The sentiment of John 21:25 surely was widespread in ancient Christianity. Luke knew more than he records in his gospel and Acts. The "we" material in Acts, for example, doesn't include everything Luke would have experienced in his travels with Paul. Luke seems to have used Mark as a source, yet he doesn't include every miracle Mark narrated. He would have known of Jesus' resurrection appearance to James, but he doesn't mention it. And the frequency of Pauline miracles in the letters of Paul suggests that Luke could have included more miracle accounts from Paul's life if he'd wanted to. He surely left out much of what he knew even in the context of events as significant as the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Luke, like other ancient historians, was highly selective in what he reported. The absence of the star of Bethlehem events in Luke's gospel isn't much of an objection to the historicity of those events.

Elsewhere, Adair writes that Matthew 2's portrayal of a close relationship between Herod and some of the religious leaders isn't historically plausible. He claims that Matthew portrays the relationship as too "fruitful", that the scribes are unrealistically portrayed as "at the beck and call of the king" (1728). But Matthew only says that Herod gathered them (2:4), not that they were at his beck and call or any other such thing. Herod seeks their counsel on a religious matter, and there's no reason to think they'd be offended by that. Verse 3 suggests that Herod and the leaders he consults would have had a mutual interest in the matter. Herod then acts on his own, to pursue his own interests (verse 7). Adair hasn't provided any reason to think the scenario Matthew describes is unrealistic.

Adair tells us that Herod should have sent escorts with the magi in order to "guarantee" the execution of the child. Matthew unrealistically portrays Herod as "unreservedly trusting" of the magi (1728). I've addressed such issues in my review of Jonathan Pearce's book here.

Adair finds it dubious that the star would lead the magi to Herod rather than bypassing him and taking the magi directly to Bethlehem. Since God is governing a universe consisting of billions of people and a far larger number of other factors, we can't single out a small number of considerations, like the fastest route to Bethlehem or how to avoid the murder of the Bethlehem children, and assume that God would make his decisions on that basis alone. It's not difficult to think of reasonable potential motivations God may have had for sending the magi to Jerusalem prior to Bethlehem.

Having addressed a lot of the objections that have been raised against the historicity of the star, I want to move on to a discussion of the evidence for its historicity. That will be the focus of my next post.

(When it becomes available, the last segment in the series will be linked here.)

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