on 9 March 2011
THE STAR OF THE MAGI approaches the star in St. Matthew's Nativity story from two historical perspectives. In the first half of this book, Roberts identifies the Magi correctly as Zoroastrian priests and reviews their enormous influence on Western thinking via the Jews and Greeks. The second half of the book offers a history of astrology and its impact on Middle Eastern and Western thinking through the ages. Throughout the book, she carefully documents her claims with ancient and modern sources.
Among the examples Roberts gives to illustrate the ties between the Magian religion and the West is the tradition in the early Christian church (and retained in the Nestorian Church of the East) that Zoroaster foretold the coming of Christ. Also, after the Jews are freed from captivity in Babylon, their tribal god is transformed into the God of the Universe, similar to the Magi's Universal God Ahura Mazda (the Wise Lord), and the intermittent polytheism often mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is abandoned. Most notably, Roberts lists these familiar-sounding concepts which originated with the religion of the Magi: 1) God and the Devil, 2) Heaven and Hell, 3) The Last Judgment, 4) The resurrection of the dead, 5) Angels and Demons, 6) The Holy Spirit, 7) The virgin birth of the Savior, 8) The ultimate battle of good and evil at the end of the world. Jewish affinity for the Persians continued during the Parthian Persian Empire which ruled virtually all the Middle East at the time of Jesus (the Romans ruled only a narrow strip of the Middle East around the Mediterranean).
Roberts puts the Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius at the "axle" of the Axial Age but notes that Zoroaster's revelation is much older. She acknowledges the problems with dating other Zoroastrian writings but points out that recent biblical scholarship has found the same to be true about the Hebrew Scriptures.
In reviewing theories about the Star of Bethlehem, Roberts gives an interesting history of astrology beginning with the early church fathers and continuing forward to include the 8th Century Baghdad astrologer Masha'Allah and Renaissance astronomer/astrology Johannes Kepler. She rightfully reminds us that astrology was considered a science at the time of Jesus and that modern astronomers have only recently begun to analyze the Nativity star's appearance in the context of First Century astrology/astronomy. So what is the author's conclusion about the Star of Bethlehem? Roberts says that she's, "not entirely sure." Nevertheless, her book is a fascinating account of the REAL history of the Magi and the REAL history of ancient astrology.
Ken R. Vincent, Ed.D. is the author of THE MAGI: FROM ZOROASTER TO THE "THREE WISE MEN." (This review was originally published in the UNIVERSALIST HERALD, Vol. 158, No. 6, November/December 2007)