The Star of Bethlehem


In Book VI, after having described the war between the Romans and the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Josephus takes us back to before the war and describes some events that he claims foreshadowed the coming “desolation” but that the “wise men” thought was a good sign:

“Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men… was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemiesMoreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence."

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 5:3​

This one passage of Josephus has seven plot elements in common with the passage about the star of Bethlehem from the book of Matthew, telling virtually the same story:

“Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was {in the temple;}. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy {the vulgar people anyway;}. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”

– Matthew 2:7-12​

Josephus must be talking about Halley's Comet which appeared in 66 AD, and which, Josephus tells us, is a foretelling of the coming of Vespasian and Titus (father and son) to the empire, to fulfill the oracle that someone would come out of Israel to become ruler of the habitable Earth. Which is what he told the Flavian's himself, that they were fulfilling Jewish prophecy and were come to save the Jews. But this is the same as the story of the star of Bethlehem from Matthew.

“…I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals…”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 5:3​


The Pilgrimage of the Magi

Then in the very next passage, Josephus tells us about an oracle foretelling the coming of a ruler out of Israel which had deceived the “wise men”.

“Now if any one consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves; for the Jews… what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, "about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth." The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise menwere thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 5:4​

This passage of Josephus comes just after the star of Bethlehem passage and matches perfectly the exact preceding passage of Matthew about the pilgrimage of the wise men to see the star of Bethlehem:

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”

– Matthew 2:1-6​

Two sequential passages in The Wars of the Jews which exactly parallel two sequential passages in Matthew only in reversed order, VI:5:3 → Matthew 2:7-12 and VI:5:4 → Matthew 2:1-6.

“…Now he is to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest, not who does no more than change the disposition and order of other men's works, but he who not only relates what had not been related before, but composes an entire body of history of his own: accordingly, I have been at great charges, and have taken very great pains [about this history]…”

– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Preface​

Yes, Matthew not only changes the order and disposition of other men's work {making those wise men who were deceived into wise men who were not deceived;} but he also composes entire bodies of history of his own which had not been related before. I think the author indeed must have taken great pains in earnest {just as Josephus himself admits to have done;}.


Away in a Manger

Now we continue with one of the most memorable and haunting events from the whole war, which happened during the siege of Jerusalem in Book VI of the Wars of the Jews. During the siege, there was a terrible famine that broke out as the Romans tried to starve the Jews out, but the rebel leaders {Simon and John;} refused to allow the people to surrender.

“There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar {Lazarus;}… She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon, such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried offby the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose… and it was now become impossible for her any way to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow… She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us. Yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets, and a by-word to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews." As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealedUpon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid this miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard of action had been done by themselves. So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die, and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not lived long enough either to hear or to see such miseries.”
– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 3:4​

We find a story in the New Testament with nearly all of the same details, of Mary being pierced, of the things she treasures, of her baby in a feeding situation, all of which is intended to be a sign to the people and everyone who heard it was amazed:

“And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding troughAll who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds {guards;} told them. However, Mary continued to treasure all these things in her heart and to ponder them… Then Simeon blessed them and told Mary, his mother, “This infant is destined to cause many in Israel to fall and rise. Also, he will be a sign that will be opposed. Indeed, a sword will pierce your own soul, too {not just the famine;}, so that the inner thoughts of many people might be revealed.””
– Luke 2:12-35​

A famine {sword;} did indeed pierce Mary's bowls {soul;} revealing the inner thoughts of many and her only treasure left was in her heart after she had her baby-in-a-feeding {trough;} event which was intended to be a sign to the world.

“…Now this is such a most tragical fable as is full of nothing but cruelty and impudence…”
– Flavius Josephus Against Apion, :8​

Notice, these are four coincidences of rather specific and complex details (Mary's baby feeding is one story detail!), which is why I need four forms of emphasis to show how much these two stories are talking about the same event. I have, as well, over four hundred more of these sort of coincidences between the New Testament and the works of Josephus enumerated below, showing the mocking humor of the New Testament. But first, let's see how John also mocks this passage:

The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you {you will starve;}. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life {will be remembered forever;}; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever {have their story told forever and reenacted in churches around the world;}.”
– John 6:52-58​

“…nor by way of irony, as thou wilt say, (for he was entirely a stranger to such an evil disposition of mind,) but he wrote this by way of attestation to what was true…”
– The Life Of Flavius Josephus, 1:65​


Mary Hath Chosen that Good Part

“There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar {Greek “Lazarus”;}, of the village Bethezob, which signifies the house of Hyssop. Upon this the seditious came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, "This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never so much afrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother…”
– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 3:4​

“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
– Luke 10:38-42​

Mary has chosen a fine portion which Martha wanted to see but they were not able to take it away and Martha was quite troubled. Just replace “Martha” with “the seditious” and suddenly this biblical passage which never made any kind of useful sense {what good part did Mary choose?;} makes much more sense. One of very many Bible passages that have no theological, moral or historical lesson or value whatsoever or any obvious reason to be included in this “holy” record, but in the context of a satire, the meaning finally becomes clear and obvious.

“…Nay, this miracle or piety derides us further, and adds the following pretended facts to his former fable…”
– Flavius Josephus Against Apion, :10​

The book of John mocks this event in a slightly different way but gives us some added information about this party, namely that Mary's father Lazarus was also there:

“Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment… Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.”
– John 12:1-7​


The Heavenly Army Appears

Then, in the very next passage of Josephus, the Roman army is besieging Jerusalem, waiting for them to starve to death, when they get wind of this horrifying act of cannibalism:

This sad instance was quickly told to the Romans, some of whom could not believe it, and others pitied the distress which the Jews were under; but there were many of them who were hereby induced to a more bitter hatred than ordinary against our nation. But for Caesar, he excused himself before God as to this matter, and said that he had proposed peace and liberty to the Jews, as well as an oblivion of all their former insolent practices; but that they, instead of concord, had chosen sedition; instead of peace, war; and before satiety and abundance, a famine. That they had begun with their own hands to burn down that temple which we have preserved hitherto; and that therefore they deserved to eat such food as this was. That, however, this horrid action of eating an own child ought to be covered with the overthrow of their very country itself, and men ought not to leave such a city upon the habitable earth to be seen by the sun, wherein mothers are thus fed, although such food be fitter for the fathers than for the mothers to eat of, since it is they that continue still in a state of war against us, after they have undergone such miseries as these. And at the same time that he said this, he reflected on the desperate condition these men must be in…”
– Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 3:5​

“And this will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Suddenly, a multitude of the Heavenly {Roman;} Army appeared with the angel, praising God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to people who enjoy his favor!” When the angels had left them and gone back to heaven, the shepherds told one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what has taken place that the Lord has told us about.” So they went quickly and found Mary and Joseph with the baby, who was lying in the feeding trough. When they saw this, they repeated what they had been told about this child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. However, Mary continued to treasure all these things in her heart and to ponder them. Then the shepherds returned to their flock, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them…”
– Luke 2:12-35​

“…Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost {i.e. “dead”;}. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost {dead;}. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins {seditions;}. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us {well, he's with God anyway;}. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”
– Matthew 1:18-25​

Caesar {Joseph;} did not want her son to become a public example although Mary {Mary;} did, so he tried to cover it up with the overthrow of their entire nation {putting her away privily;}.

“And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death." Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]"”
– Thomas 1:1-2​

Yes! I am indeed disturbed! And I am marvelling! So I guess that means I get to reign over all now, woohoo!


The Angel Gabriel

“But wonderful it was what a dream I saw that very night; for when I had betaken myself to my bed, as grieved and disturbed at the news that had been written to me, it seemed to me, that a certain person stood by me, and said, "O Josephus! leave off to afflict thy soul, and put away all fear; for what now grieves thee will render thee very considerable, and in all respects most happy; for thou shalt get over not only these difficulties, but many others, with great success. However, be not cast down, but remember that thou art to fight with the Romans." When I had seen this dream, I got up with an intention of going down to the plain. Now, when the whole multitude of the Galileans, among whom were the women and children, saw me, they threw themselves down upon their faces, and, with tears in their eyes, besought me not to leave them exposed to their enemies, nor to go away and permit their country to be injured by them. But when I did not comply, with their entreaties, they compelled me to take an oath, that I would stay with them: they also cast abundance of reproaches upon the people of Jerusalem, that they would not let their country enjoy peace.”
– The Life Of Flavius Josephus, :42​

“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins {seditions;}. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.”
– Matthew 1:20-25​


Active Member
Star of Bethlehem: the primary linkage to Josephus is with Jesus' Doomsday Prophecies later on in Matthew (23:-25), where Jesus predicts a number of signs including the star or comet...

"AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky" (Matt. 24:29)

"A star like a sword had stood above the city for a whole year, and a comet too. Also, before the revolt and the troubles preceding the war, when the people flocked to the feast of Azymes, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, at the ninth hour of the night, such a great light shone round the altar and the sanctuary, that it appeared to be bright daylight, and lasted for half an hour" (JW 6.289-290)

But it could be that Josephson has found a secondary linkage to the Jesus birth narrative, which up till now had no known correlation with Josephus. The most convincing part is "star from the east" being Titus who arrives at the eastern gate as well as being presented with treasure, i.e. the temple's treasure. But the magi and son of Mary has been linked to Eleazar and, coming from Edessa, and his Persian style birth (ref: Ralph Ellis). So it could be describing how Eleazar first took the temple and gained the treasury ahead of Titus doing the same thing. Eleazar has "shepherded the people", for he became the king of the Jews.

Matthew 2:1-12

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:


7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.


Active Member
The Pilgrimage of the Magi: there definitely seems to be a link here from the verbatim "wise men" and "governor", so that increases support for the "star of Bethlehem" also having some kind of linkage since the passages follow each other. It's a bit difficult to understand, but seems to be referring to Eleazar vs. Vespasian as the real king of the Jews and whether the magi were mistaken or something.

Since the "signs" are the main parallel between the gospels and Josephus, it could be that we are also meant to look back to the birth narrative at this point.


Active Member
Away in a Manger: Joe did note in CM that we should look to the birth narrative to better understand the human passover lamb joke.


Active Member
Mary Hath Chosen that Good Part: this is also covered in CM, but there's been some problems with regards to the order/sequence of events that are not fully resolved.


Active Member
The Heavenly Army Appears: difficult to understand how the birth narrative would be connected to the famine and destruction of Jerusalem as well as Titus, Jesus and Eleazar/Emmanuel, but the "manger" part is nevertheless convincing in terms of more strands to the cannibalism joke. I need to have a think about that though, as the bigger picture is still missing.


Active Member
The Angel Gabriel: most convincing part is "Joseph/us" and "fear", but I don't yet see any significance to the proposed parallel. Is Josephus meant to be a lampoon of Joseph mentioned in the birth narrative - same as Joseph of Arimathea? It's possible I suppose, but need to have a rethink of the entire context surrounding the birth narrative then look back at Josephson's potential parallels above to see if there is further merit to his ideas - good thinking outside the box nevertheless!

Jerry Russell

Staff member
In the "Flavian Signature" parallel sequence, we've been attaching the Cannibal Mary story to the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Eucharist. The Flavian Signature parallels seem conceptually sound enough, but it doesn't seem surprising that there would also be parallels to the infant Jesus story. And I'd say these parallels that Josephson has identified, are much stronger.

Either way, it's hard to see Josephus as the primary source of this story. It seems to be obviously a parable or myth, not a real historical event at all. And, why would Josephus speak of this story with such great urgency, as a by-word or a myth to the world? Why is it "portentous to posterity" and who are the "innumerable witnesses"? How could he not be thinking of Christianity?

Or conversely, if the Christians invented a God out of Josephus' little horror story, how does that make fun of Josephus? The only one being satirized (or, humiliated) in the comparison is themselves.