Saturday, July 12, 2008


Two simple questions serve best when we try to distinguish one person from another. They are: 1) "What are the most important events in that person's life?"; and 2) "How does this person get by from one day to another?"

As for myself, I was cut from my mother's womb in the middle of a bedrock island crowned with the Great White Way. I came into the world on May Day, the Cross-quarter Day that heads up the season of greatest light. On the very same day of my birth the newspapers headlined the opening of New York City's Worlds' Fair. My coming into the world followed the incisions, which were made for my older sister, who preceded me by eight years, and that of my "older" brother, who preceded me by some four years and died on the day of his birth. My parents were outstanding people in their own ways. Both of whom, separately and by themselves, left Germany shortly after World War One and crossed the ocean to set foot on what seemed to them to be the promised land. Their paths happened to meet quite by chance, when a young man offered to help a young woman seated on a park bench in Central Park who had her luggage standing nearby and tears in her eyes. I considered my mother as one who possessed the faith to "move mountains," and I ranked my father among those who belonged to "the salt of the earth."

On my first day of kindergarten I learned to my overwhelming embarrassment that I couldn't recognize my very own name, Raymond Soller, printed on the side of a recycled cigar box converted to hold crayons. At the end of the school year I was held back, but that had nothing to do with my ability to master kindergarten. The age for promotion into first grade had been moved up two months earlier to the last day in April which was the day just before my birthday. As a result of this change the school officials told my mother that I could repeat kindergarten. It was a very difficult idea for me to comprehend how just one day could account for a difference of one whole year. In any event my mother kept me home for the next year, because she decided I had already learned everything I really needed to know from kindergarten. In spite of my traumatic experience with kindergarten and subsequent year of absence, I returned to school once more and trekked back and forth every day for a distance of four city blocks along a column of rectangular blue-black slate slabs. The walkway led straight to New York City Public School 103 in the Bronx.

The material in this presentation, Jesus and the Acceptable Year of the Lord, attempts to answer those same two questions about important dates and daily occupation for the person known as Jesus of Nazareth just as we might ask about anyone else. I happened to stumble across these questions concerning the life of Jesus during my grade school years. During this time of my youthful existence I lived in the basement of a five-story walk-up apartment building standing at the corner of East 234th Street and Carpenter Avenue. The underground maze of basement facilities included a building superintendent's apartment, storage rooms filled with coal, and a mammoth coal-fired steam furnace. As for my clothes, I had one pair of dark brown trousers to wear for the entire third grade school year. Sometimes, after emerging from my underground home, when I hurried along on my way to school, I would stumble and fall over one of those uneven cracks in the slate-lined sidewalk. I wasn't concerned about the scrapes on my knee or the blood trickling down my leg, but I was scared about the prospect of showing my torn pants to my mother. I immediately wondered just how much my mother would fuss at me and whether she would be able to once more fix the hole in my pants. There was a constant need to take thought for the morrow and to raise the question as to how we could get by for another day. The question also struck me as to what Jesus really meant when he asked, "Why take ye thought for raiment?" I had to worry about my clothes, and my mother and father worried about my clothes; and so how could Jesus ask us not to worry? How could Jesus expect people to live like lilies of the field? Could people really get along from day to day like lilies?

My birthday and Christmas ranked high on my list of preoccupations outside of school and the holes in my school pants. When Christmas rolled around I would associate the holiday season with Christmas presents and the birth of the infant Jesus. When I discovered that December 25th was probably not the right day for Christmas, I tried to find out just what was the right day. I went to an encyclopedia and read the article under Jesus. The article was no help. I turned to the section for Augustus Caesar, because Jesus was born during the reign of Augustus. There I read, "born 23 September 63 B.C., ... became heir to the Roman Empire after the death of Julius Caesar which occurred on the Ides of March 44 B.C. ...Augustus died on 19 August 14 A.D." This disturbed me. I asked myself, "Wasn't Jesus more important than Augustus? Why don't we have real dates for the life of Jesus? Why don't we know when Jesus was born, or when Jesus died?" I know the date of my birth, so why don't we know the date for the birth of Jesus?

I couldn't answer those two simple questions about when Jesus was born, and what Jesus meant when he said to take no thought for your clothes, but neither could I let them go. Time has a way of passing. I moved on with my life, started my formal education on the banks of the Charles River, paused for a two-year interlude as a Mormon missionary, returned home to marry, and then resumed my education in the mid section of the Michigan peninsula. I moved on to a career at the Florida State University Computing Center, started a family of four children, and then in the late spring of 1972 family circumstances involving the death of my asthmatic sister at age thirty-nine took me back to work in New York City not far from the area where I first came into the world. I went to work for the New York City Department of City Planning. There, at Two Lafayette Street, surrounded by the Brooklyn Bridge, the Bowery, the sight of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, City Hall, Federal Plaza, and the World Trade Center, my two simple questions resurfaced.

One summer day, while in the middle of trying to build the New York City geographic data files in preparation for the 1980 United States Census, I confronted a still-in-college fellow employee who studied Jewish literature with the question, "What was the economic relationship between capital and labor in the Bible?" I had recently been haunted by the comparison of Jacob's fortunate career path as outlined in Genesis with my career path. Here, I was well into my second span of seven years of employment with just one wife, who was the older of two daughters. But, unlike Jacob, I had acquired a goatless father-in-law and no prospect of ever taking on the younger daughter as a second wife. I simply couldn't see how I might be able to achieve the same level of economic success as attributed to Jacob. I wondered if I could determine how my economic circumstances differed from those surrounding Jacob's life, so I turned my question towards my fellow employee. To my surprise he offered a response. He said that he didn't know, but that he had just read a book he thought I might be interested in reading. He recommended the book, Passover Plot, by Hugh J. Schonfield.

I found a copy of Passover Plot and read it through during my daily commutes and evenings at home. I wasn't impressed with Schonfield's Houdini approach to the crucifixion, but one of my two dormant questions came leaping back to my mind when I read how Schonfield interpreted events retold by the gospels as being topical to the time period in which they had occurred. Schonfield suggested that an incident such as the question directed towards Jesus concerning tribute to Caesar, which asked "Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?", was relevant at the time because Judaea was probably in the middle of a Roman census. Schonfield further explained that a census was carried out at this time in regular intervals of once every fourteen years. In addition, we have historical material dating the first Roman census in Judaea to the year 6/7 A.D. By adopting this line of reasoning, and putting two and two together, or rather fourteen and fourteen together, one could calculate a possible date for Passion Week as occurring close to the years 34/35 A.D. Schonfield also used the timing of Sabbatical years, which occurred every seven years, and the historical events surrounding the death of John the Baptist to calibrate the chronology outlined in his book.

I then began to probe along the direction as to how Jesus could be so casual as to what tomorrow would bring and asked myself whether it would be plausible to correlate the final year of Jesus' ministry to a Sabbatical year. Somehow, just at this time, I happened across a book with the title, The Mishnah - Oral Traditions of Judaism by Eugene J. Lipman, located in the Judaica section of the Yonkers Public Library. I skimmed to a chapter entitled "Shevi'it" dealing with the Sabbatical year. There I read:

Shevi'it 1:1
Until when may an orchard be plowed in the year before the Seventh Year? The school of Shammai says: as long as this work benefits the produce of the sixth year. The school of Hillel says: until Shavuot [Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks]. And the opinion of the one is close to the other.
Shevi'it 2:1
Until when may a 'white field' be plowed in the year before the Seventh Year? Until the ground has dried or as long as the plowing is being done for the planting of cucumbers and gourds. R. Simeon said: You are putting the law into each man's hand. A 'white field' may be plowed until Pesah [Passover] and an orchard until Shavuot [Festival of Weeks].

The text as quoted here suggested an interesting possibility, because I could conceive how the final year of the gospel ministry as reported by the synoptics [Mark, Matthew, and Luke] could fit within the context of a Sabbatical year. I continued testing my postulate by reading the gospels over again to see whether I could find anything that might contradict my conjecture. I also began to talk to anyone who might be able to help develop my ideas. Jewish friends at work, a Jewish college seminary student who worked at his family's Jewish book store on the lower Manhattan east side, and a Jewish neighbor friend came to my assistance with additional source material for my investigation. Once I mused aloud, "Could the 'withered fig tree' mentioned in Mark's gospel actually refer to 'tree-withered figs'?" I did this when a Jewish neighbor friend was visiting my house. He responded immediately to my surprise, "That's a homonym." I replied just as quickly, "A what?" My friend Jerry Genauer cleared up my temporary amnesia about how a single word could have two different meanings even if both senses of the word sounded exactly the same. He went on to explain that the Hebrew word for "fig tree" and the word for its fruit the "fig" are identical. The singular form of the Hebrew word "fig" usually applies to a fig tree while the plural usually applies to the fruit, but the only way to tell the difference is from the context of the statement. Jerry next invited me to meet a person, named Dr. Irving Levitas, who taught evening adult classes at the Yonkers Jewish Community Center. The classes presented a historical survey of Jewish culture. Irving, as I came to know him, read the drafted material I had put together and inundated me with additional reference material and introduced me to the cavernous book stores surrounding the Fourteenth Street subway station just one express stop north of where I worked. Needless to say, I rapidly started accumulating an archive of historical material relating to the life and times of Jesus.

On one particular occasion after having shared some of my newly found information regarding the Sabbatical year with a Sunday School class I visited my mother, who was trying to raise my sister's five children. I tested her biblical acuity with the question, "What's a Sabbatical year?" She answered quickly, "That's the year when farmers don't do any work." I asked again with more than a little surprise, "How did you know that?" My mother continued, "Oh, when I [Erna Haedwig Buetow] was a little girl in Germany [during the end of the first decade of the twentieth century] my mother [Pauline Krueger Buetow, note the maiden name is Krueger] took me to her parents' farm. My grandfather [Samuel Neuman] observed a Sabbatical year at the time. He would let the village people use the land for home gardens, but he wouldn't do anything but repair the barn and fix the fences." This memory recounted by my mother was an exceptional event, because discussing any experience involving her maternal grandparents revived the embarrassment in her mind of how her mother never acquired the family name of her father. Here I learned of just one of the many hurdles that lie along the way while we try to examine the past.

As a result of my studies I have come to the conclusion that Jesus essentially used the Sabbatical year as a platform from which he proclaimed the gospel message during the last year of his ministry. In addition, the Sabbatical year provided a working prototype for the kingdom of heaven. The lack of personal concern for clothing and other daily needs arose from the regulations peculiar to the Sabbatical year, which can be best described as a "yearlong" sabbath. Jewish literature calls a period of this sort, "mid-festival days". When one uses the chronological framework spanning a "Sabbatical year" the date of the crucifixion becomes Friday, 15 April 35 of the Common Era (usually abbreviated in historical literature as CE). In contrast, many contemporary studies into the life of Jesus pay little attention to the key biographical dates for the life of Jesus. For those who are concerned about the final date for the life of Jesus we find that either 7 April 30 CE or 3 April 33 CE usually marks the possible moment when the lifeless Jesus was taken down from the cross. The preference for either of these dates relies upon the Fourth Gospel (The Gospel According to John), which narrates Passion Week in such a way as to turn Jesus into a Passover "sacrifice". This preference seems to dominate even though the synoptic gospels clearly contradict the Fourth Gospel as to the chronology for Passion Week. Regardless of the preferred Passover date, all previous studies that I am aware of, with the exception of Schonfield, have totally ignored the possibility of considering the relevance of the combined circumstances relating to the death of John the Baptist, the Roman Census, and the Sabbatical year. The reason for this situation remains a complete mystery to me.

In contrast to my studies, I have discovered that some scholars have placed a Sabbatical year at the beginning of the time frame in which Jesus delivered his message. Ernest L. Martin, in Appendix Four of his book The Star that Astonished the World, delimits the Sabbatical year from Autumn A.D. 27 though to Autumn A.D. 28. John Howard Yoder, in Chapter 3 - The Implications of the Jubilee of his book The Politics of Jesus, reviews other authors who have singled out the Jubilee as the critical commencement year, which they choose as falling in A.D. 26. Yoder does not explain any reason for the specified chronology, but he does present a persuasive case showing how Jesus stressed the social issues pertaining to a Sabbatical year and Jubilee as part of his gospel message.

The likely answer to my second question concerning the actual date for Christmas fell quite unexpectedly as a sequel to my first question. Any study into Jewish chronology at the time of Jesus leads one to studying the admixture of different starting dates for different types of years. Difficulties abound everywhere. Uncertainties are plentiful when trying to pin down the dating of even a Sabbatical year, not to mention the apparent historical contradictions between Matthew's and Luke's respective nativities for Jesus. Most scholars who concern themselves with actual dates consider Luke's nativity to be somewhat "muddled" and rely on Matthew's nativity. Those who hold this view prefer a birth date earlier than the death of Herod the Great, where the historical record most readily points to a date for the death of Herod near the beginning of April, 4 BCE (that is, Before the Common Era). Some dissenting scholars such as Ernest L. Martin, who refuse to recognize any hint of chronological problems among the gospels, attempt to reconcile Matthew and Luke into a consistent framework by reinterpreting the historical record and thereby push the death of Herod to a period some three to four years afterwards to a time closer to the beginning of the Christian Era. In contrast to both of these viewpoints I have considered the likelihood of the "historical" references peculiar to Matthew's nativity as being without any historical justification whatsoever. To put it bluntly, Matthew's nativity does not contain any reliable history when applied to the infancy of Jesus. Matthew does not identify the wise men; he does not name their place of origin; he does not identify the particular star that motivated them on their journey; and he most surprisingly skips over the identification of any Jewish contemporaries outside of the holy family who might have been personally aware of the birth of Jesus. History does not mention the "slaughter of the infants" that presumably took place in Bethlehem. One can't even turn to Luke's nativity for any help concerning this terrible event, because Luke mentions how Jesus and his family visit the temple in Jerusalem every year at Passover without expressing any trepidation, whereas Matthew's nativity has Jesus fleeing from Judaea for fear of Herod and then returning to Nazareth after Herod's death to avoid Archelaus who was ruling in Jerusalem in his father's place. Luke describes the birth of Jesus as occurring quite openly in the public arena while Matthew turns the birth of Jesus into a quite harrowing clandestine affair. In contrast to Matthew's reported nativity, I have turned to a later date tied to the first Roman Census of 6/7 CE, which took place in Judaea as suggested by Luke's gospel. This starting point for the life of Jesus occurs about a decade after the death of Herod (4 BCE) and yields a Jesus who most likely could not have reached a full thirty years of age. This conclusion pertaining to the life span of Jesus follows because Jesus was sentenced to the cross by Pontius Pilate who was replaced as procurator of Judaea in the year 36 CE. As a result, a birth date at the time of the Roman Census in 6/7 CE produces a more youthful Jesus than most commonly accepted, but this possibility cannot be ruled out. Searching after the reason for rejecting the likelihood of an under "thirty year old" Jesus simply produces one more unsolved mystery.

Systems of chronological accreditation that account for a person's age are not always what they seem to be. As an example, years of age can be modestly inflated by using a fixed New Year's date to count one's age and by counting fractions of a year as a whole year. As I learned all too well from my personal experience with kindergarten, there are systems of accounting "age" from a fixed starting date where the difference of only one day can make a difference of one whole year. This modest inflation of time or rounding up to the next largest chronological unit of time occurs naturally enough in a world where the number zero does not exist, and fractions are frequently lumped together with whole numbers. The Chinese people and many other Asian people of today are familiar with this system. The Chinese men are said to prefer the traditional method of rounding up where they are counted as a one-year-old from the day of their birth and their age advances on the Chinese New Year's Day which allows them to feel older and more respected, while Chinese women who choose to "be younger" prefer the western method of rounding their age down to a lower number. As we know, the western method adds a year to one's age only after we complete another whole year of life as counted from the day of our birth.

There is a hint in the biblical account of the flood of how age could have been counted by a people who closely followed the words in the Torah. In the book of Genesis, chapter 8, verse 13, it describes the day on which, after the flood, Noah first looked out upon the earth. Here it says, "And it came to pass in the six hundredth and first year (of Noah's Life), in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth: and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the earth was dried." It appears here that Noah advanced a year in age at the turning of the year. One might interpret this verse as saying that Noah either was born on the first day of the first month of the year, or that he automatically became a year older on the first day of the first month of the year. But under further consideration, it certainly seems more likely for a people within a single community, who could not generally keep track of an individual birthday, and who wanted to avoid confusion, to uniformly become "one year older" on their New Year's Day. In the absence of any concrete evidence showing how a specific method of reckoning a person's age prevailed at the time of Jesus in Jewish Palestine, one should allow for the possibility where years of age were rounded up and those who followed the traditions synchronized with the Temple in Jerusalem advanced one year in age on the first day of Nisan, which was the first day of the religious new year.

If we turn back to the gospels, a telling illustration concerning the counting of inflated units of time occurs where Jesus reportedly spent three "days and nights" in the tomb before his disappearance from the tomb. The actual number of hours covering the time when the body of Jesus laid in the tomb could have been less than forty hours, which is at least twenty-four hours less than a full three days consisting of seventy-two hours. This method of counting any fraction of a chronological unit the same as a whole unit was the common practice when the gospels were written because people did not even know whether the number zero existed, and generally counted inclusively. The general practice caused fractions at either end of a chronological time span to be counted the same as whole numbers. Consequently, one whole "day and night" and two fractions of a whole day can be understood as three "days and nights." The original gospel audience never sensed a contradiction as people might in our own day, because they used a counting system very different from the method we use today, which uses the number zero.

Another major difference between our modern culture and the culture in which Jesus lived occurs when we talk about astrology. With the exception of a few critical thinkers such as Cicero, who lived just before the time of Jesus, astrology was commonly accepted. The astrological worldview prevailed during the time of Augustus and for well over two centuries afterwards. By way of illustration, the birth date for Augustus had more than an historical significance, because it was generally assumed at the time that important leaders had been born at some significant astrological moment. Augustus was so proud of his particular astrological provenance that he displayed the zodiacal event on a coin. In 9 BCE the Greeks of Asia minor honored this date by calibrating the first day of their calendar year with the birth date of Augustus. When we take into account our traditions concerning Father Time, and the New Year's Infant, it follows naturally enough, and it is not surprising, when we observe that birthdays appear most noteworthy when they occur on a New Year's Day.

If we turn away from Rome and focus on Jerusalem, something of the same sort could be expected for the birth of a prospective messiah. An auspicious birthday was required if a personality such as Jesus could ever be expected to assume messianic proportions or challenge the stature of Augustus. A baby's first day of public notice occurred only after a period of seclusion, which lasted forty days when the infant was, according to Jewish custom, presented at the Temple. If Jesus had been presented at the Temple on the first day of the Jewish religious calendar in the year of seven CE, that is Nisan 1 or April 6th on the Julian Calendar, then this too would have been noteworthy. By using this assumption we can count backwards forty days inclusively and land on February 26th. This is admittedly a wild guess, but the question can be asked, "What happened astronomically on 26 February 7 CE?" I asked this question by writing a letter in April of 1985 to Ewen A. Whitaker, an astronomer at the University of Arizona at Tucson. The answer was more than surprising, because the astrological data fits the description of events both in heaven and on earth as reported by Luke's nativity. Luke could not mint a coin[*], but he could inscribe the date in his nativity story by using astrological semaphores. As we shall come to see, the sign "You shall see the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" describes both a place on earth and a precise astrological moment in heaven where a chorus of angels stand in for the heavenly stars. This explanation of Luke's nativity has merit, and I submit that the date 26 February 7 CE provides a likely answer to the question as to when Jesus was born.

Astrology in the days of the Roman emperors had many political overtones. If birthdays influenced the course of one's life, then relative rankings among prospective rulers, times of vulnerability, and prospective death dates could all be calculated. Court astrologers loyal to the emperor were well regarded, but other astrologers among the nobility frequently became entangled with treasonous plots while astrologers who practiced among the common people were sometimes banned from Rome and labeled as seditious. One such example of just how serious an astrological matter could become occurred during the reign of Nero when an ominous comet appeared. An astrologer warned Nero that one possible way in which he could ward off the disastrous effects of the comet was by executing some prominent subjects. Nero seized this opportunity to execute the conspirators who had been recently discovered in a plot against his life. Nero's vengeance did not stop with those who were found guilty, but extended to the children of the condemned men who were banished from Rome and then either starved to death or poisoned.

Mentioning the appearance of an unusual star with the birth of Jesus, or any infant for that matter, could easily be interpreted by watchful Roman authorities as a treasonous plot against the ruling Roman regime. This potential threat might well explain why the Gospel of Mark, which was reported as first directed towards a Roman audience, does not mention any such event surrounding the birth of Jesus. The presentation found in Luke's nativity, with its heavenly announcement of good news, appears to avoid these circumstances, but Matthew's nativity treads upon dangerous ground where Matthew portrays both the appearance of a star and Jesus' birth as an ominous threat to Herod the Great. If the infant Jesus had been a threat to Herod, then we need to realize that an auspicious date for the infant Jesus also posed a threat to the dominance of the Roman world. Even though Matthew and Luke probably wrote their nativity stories some forty or fifty years after the death of Jesus, a plain public pronouncement as to the birth date for Jesus posed a serious political threat to the ruling dynasty in Rome. This may be one additional reason why the Roman authorities were so determined when they chose to "persecute" those who identified themselves as Christians. The potential political threat to the Roman Empire regarding the astrological dating of Jesus' birth and his possible future return to rule over the world did not disappear until the days of Constantine, when Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion. By the time Christianity became more acceptable, the astronomical date for the birth of Jesus, and the historical dates for his life apparently were overtaken by alternative liturgical dates. These dates blended in with Greek and Roman mythology, where traditional Greek and Roman festival dates had been synchronized with the solar calendar year.

When reading the following material the reader will be well advised to consider the viewpoints regarding the absence of the number zero, inclusive counting, and an astrological cosmology as being essential to the time period in which Jesus lived. Before entering the world in which Jesus lived the reader needs to abandon "nothing" as an identifiable numerical value, and, in addition, abandon nothing less than today's commonplace knowledge concerning the seemingly unbounded size of the universe. I, therefore, have chosen to present information in a manner, which I consider suitable to the time when Constantine ruled the Roman Empire.

I have singled out the Bible, the Mishna, Josephus, Philo, Eusebius, Roman inscriptions, and the writings of Roman and early Christian authors as primary source material most suited to the time period under consideration. References to material developed after the time of Constantine will be assigned to the footnotes. I have naturally enough tempered my approach in light of contemporary historical critical viewpoints. The following relatively short amount of material does not, in any way, attempt to be a comprehensive biography for the life of Jesus. Many volumes have been written about the person who has influenced the world in which we live like no one else. Nonetheless, one just might find more historical and cultural substance here than found in other more voluminous studies. Contemporary scholars may easily try to either ignore or dismiss the material presented here, but even so, if this presentation proves to be accurate, then much of what has already been written concerning the life of Jesus will need to be reviewed in a very different light. I have answered, at least to my own satisfaction, the two simple questions that originally pushed their way into the head of a grade school kid. Many years have slid by since I first puzzled over those two questions stemming from the life of Jesus. I have sandwiched in as best I could the time required to develop the material in this book during the daily routine of my life. The time and effort I have spent in research has been exciting. I sincerely hope that these ideas will prove to be somewhat stimulating to the reader as well.

I am thankful for my friends and family, who over the years have tolerated my apparently unending ramblings covering a more than unusual kaleidoscope of ideas. I am especially grateful to my parents for providing me with a home where the need to cope with economic reality challenged our family every day. I also want to recognize once more those individuals who helped me answer my probing questions: Jerry Genauer who knew about homonyms and how to grasp a "figment;" Dr. Irving Levitas for sharing part of his world of historical philosophy with me; and Ewen A. Whitaker for his detailed astronomical replies. Most important of all, I am proud to acknowledge the individual who stood up against those who would "join house to house, ... lay field to field, till they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth", and espoused an economic system in which at least once every seven years the handiwork of any one person's labor stood on an equal footing with his fellow man, where debts were forgiven, and where the agrarian produce coming forth naturally from God's chosen land was given freely to all those who were willing to suspend their ambitions for personal wealth and security. This book is therefore dedicated with my deepest respect to Jesus and the "acceptable year of the Lord."

* Star of Bethlehem - The Legacy of The Magi
In the book, The Star of Bethlehem - The Legacy of the Magi, Michael R. Molnar proposes a simultaneous occultation of the sun, moon, and Jupiter in Aries that occurred on April 17, 6 B.C. as the portent that signaled the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, and motivated the magi on their journey. He also explains how this idea was possibly inspired by a Roman coin that bears the image of a ram and a star. He describes the coin as follows: (Ch. 3, page 49) "Aries, the Ram, makes its debut on coins that were issued in Antioch close to, if not during, the time of Quirinius's governorship [6-7 A.D.]. One side portrays a bust of Zeus (Jupiter), who had appeared on many coins from Antioch in earlier years, but the reverse illustrates for the first time a leaping ram looking backwards at a star. The scene is truly intriguing in light of Luke 2:1-18 that tells us that Jesus was born when Quirinius was governor of Syria and that there were 'shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.' Of course, the Romans were not depicting the Nativity of Jesus. The ram on the coin unmistakenly symbolizes the zodiacal sign Aries."

Later on (Ch. 5, page 122), Molnar attempts to explain the cause for the apparent chronological discrepancy between the nativities mentioned by Matthew and Luke as follows: "... Luke, like that of Matthew, was telling a story about a celestial Messianic portent involving the morning stars (Jupiter and Saturn) but did not make any specific references to astrologers as the Matthean account did. Instead, he wrote about the planets as messengers of God, namely, the heavenly host announcing the birth of Jesus as the Messiah.

"Believing that the coins portrayed the Messianic star under which Jesus had been born, the people of Antioch would have spread stories and perhaps the evangelist of Luke used those stories to reconstruct the Nativity. Thus, the evangelist placed the time of the birth according to when the coins with Aries first appeared, around the time of Quirinius's governorship. This explanation is more plausible than the theory that the evangelist confused the tumultuous time of Herod's death with the upheaval surrounding Quirinius's annexation and taxation."

It is more than amazing that Molnar fails to explain that Jupiter cycles the Zodiac in a period of about twelve years, so that on 6 April 7 A.D. we find a reoccurrence of the same Jovian portent as had occurred during the time of Herod the Great. The significance of the later date was probably elevated by the Jewish celebration of the Blessing of the Sun, which I take as the day when Mary and Joseph are reported as having presented the infant Jesus at the Temple. So, again, I feel no need to presume that Luke's account of the nativity was confused at all.

First bronze coins of Antioch depicting Aries were issued in ca. CE 5 - 11, around the time when Quirinius was governor.

Star of Bethlehem in Aries the Ram

Illustration furnished by Michael R. Molnar, author of "The Star of Bethlehem, The Legacy of the Magi."

Also see Seeking synchronicity in the Star of Bethlehem story by Sharon Abercrobie

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