Where the Romans ran into trouble were monotheistic peoples, like the Jews. The Jews were a people beset on all sides by peoples that by turns occupied Palestine. The Jewish aristocracy welcomed the Romans as protectors against foreign invaders, but soon the differences in culture proved a difficult hurdle. Religious laws (including dietary and health laws), celebrations, calendars (Rome’s was Sun based, the Jews, lunar based) and all the other elements of culture made the Romans a stranger in a strange land. Resentments were fueled by the taxation policies of the Romans that reduced the amount of resources that were paid in tribute to the powerful Jewish Priesthood. The tensions between the aristocracy, the priesthood, and Rome bred militaristic religion based splinter groups within Palestine. These militaristic splinter groups, like the Zealots, drew heavily on ancient prophecy that foretold the coming of a messiah, an earthly king that would banish all enemies from their land.
The “Star Prophecy” (or Star and Scepter prophecy) is a Messianic reading applied by radical Jews and early Christians to a text from the Book of Numbers 24:17:
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.(KJV)
which was often employed during the troubled years that led up to the Jewish Revolt, the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE) and the suicidal last stand of the Essenes at Masada in 73 CE. The Star Prophecy appears in the Qumran texts called the Dead Sea scrolls. “This was the prophecy that was of such importance to all resistance groups in this period, including those responsible for the documents at Qumran and the revolutionaries who triggered the war against Rome, not to mention the early Christians”
The Star Prophecy was applied to the coming Messiah himself in contemporary radical Jewish documents, such as the apocalyptic War Scroll found at Qumran. In a pesher applied to the text from Numbers, the War Scroll’s writer gives the following exegesis:
…by the hand of the Poor whom you have redeemed by Your Power and the peace of Your Mighty Wonders… by the hand of the Poor and those bent in the dust, You will deliver the enemies of all the lands and humble the mighty of the peoples to bring upon their heads the reward of the Wicked and justify the Judgement of Your Truth on all the sons of men.
Astrology may have achieved such a poor reputation in part because it was used badly to justify violent actions. The Star Prophecy was originally a battle cry for religious zealots who wanted to wrest secular power from their government and religious power from their priesthood. Like all prophecies, you never quite get what you think. Now the message from what we call The Star of Bethlehem is “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.” Now that is a message worthy of the stars!
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