The Castaways have just begun a study in the book of Esther. We had a read-thru on Sunday and some light discussion about a few of the topics the book introduces. One of those topics is the Jewish feast of Purim. For the Jewish community Purim is all about celebrating Divine Providence. Loosely translated the word means, “the day of the lot.”
Haman Casts The Lot – Rembrandt
The pur, or, “lot,” it refers to was cast by an enemy of the Jewish people named Haman, who sought their annihilation throughout the Persian Empire. The lot determined that their extermination would be carried out, “in the first month, the month of Nisan.” (Est. 3:7) The month of Nisan is the moon cycle falling between March 20 and April 18th. Coincidentally, that is the period of Aries in the Zodiac. Aries, known in the time of Esther as Lu-Hun-Ga, was the established sign of the Hebrew people. The constellation Aries contains a trinity of bright stars in a pattern called an asterism. The brightest of these is “Hamal” the Alpha Arietis, then “Sheratan”, the Beta and “Mesarthim”, the Gamma star. Hamal, the brightest of the three, is a binary star, an aspect that presents some interesting speculation in the world of astrophysics about the possibility of a super-nova. But I mention all of this to point out an association between the time of Purim, a Biblically authorized festival of gift giving, and the Christian celebration of Christmas which has no such authority in scripture.
In the story of the Magi, at the birth of Christ, in Matthew, chapter two, verse nine, the scripture says, “…and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Note that the word rendered “Stopped” in the NIV, is, in the Greek, “histemi”, meaning “to stand”, and rendered “stood”, as past tense, in the King James. The word, “stood”, in the time of King James was commonly used among astronomers and astrologers to refer to the repetitive, fixed position of an object in the night sky at an observable time.
Now, I know that the common interpretation of the “Christmas Star” is that it literally stood still over Bethlehem at the time of Jesus birth. Some would so strictly interpret “stood” as to mean the star stood still over the very manger where the baby Jesus lay on that night, but hear me out. In the year six, BC, an amazing astrological event took place, a literal sign in the Heavens. It was a planetary alignment, recorded by Chinese astronomers, which included the moon, Jupiter and Saturn, the three brightest objects in our night sky, all appearing together in the constellation Aries on April 17th. For the Magi, observing from what is today Northern Iraq, it would have first been a brilliant object, including the moon, rising in the east, the opposite direction from Bethlehem, then moving across the sky until it “stood”, or “repeated” in the west in the same direction as Bethlehem.
Now think for a minute, the alignment associated with the trinity of bright stars already in Aries would have created an astounding sight, but the Zoroastrian astrologers, the Magi, who had observed it would have needed time to interpret what they saw. It would probably have taken years to finally come to an agreement that the sign, occurring in Aries, foretold the birth of a great King among the Hebrew people. It would have taken more time to report such news to the Parthian ruler in Arbela, King Izates I, and to get a decision, under the layers of Roman rule, to send the Magi, with gifts, in tribute to this new King. Thus the Magi arrive two years after the birth of our Lord. Remember from the story that the Magi went first to Herod to ask where the child was, because they didn’t know. They found Bethlehem by deduction through scriptural prophecy in Micah 5:1 – 6. This sign in the heavens, this revelation of Divine Providence from God, observed by the Magi was so powerful in its impact on them and their rulers that it likely convinced the Parthian queen, Helena, to convert from Ashurism to Judaism, and move to Jerusalem, where she built a palace for herself and one for each of her sons in the old city, very close to the Temple mount.
Perhaps we as Christians should be equally convinced of God’s Divine Providence and, if we insist on celebrating the birth of Christ, perhaps we should abandon the pagan celebration and celebrate Purim, in the month of Nisan, as our Jewish brothers do. According to scripture, the stars and history, the authorized celebration of Purim falls closer to the true date of the birth of our Lord than does the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.