“A New Star Did Appear According to the Word”

Brant Gardner

The sign of the star was added to the sign of the night that was no night. Concerning the star in the Old World, Raymond Brown notes:

“Matthew’s age would not have found bizarre the claim that a star rose to herald the birth of the King of the Jews and subsequently guided magi­astrologers in their quest to find him. Virgil (Aeneid n 694) reports that a star guided Aeneas to the place where Rome should be founded. Josephus (War VI v 3;§289) speaks of a star that stood over Jerusalem and of a comet that con­tinued for a year at the time of the fall of the city. He says (v 4;§§310, 312) : “God has a care for men and by all kinds of premonitory signs shows His people the way of salvation,” and relates this to the Jewish belief that “someone from their country would become ruler of the world” (see also Tacitus Histories V 13). It is true that Pliny (Natural History II vi 28) com­bats the popular opinion that each person has a star which begins to give light when he is born and fades out when he dies; yet the thesis that at least the births and deaths of great men were marked by heavenly signs was widely ac­cepted. Cicero (De divinatione I xxiii 47) reports that on the night that the great temple of Diana at Ephesus burned, when the light began to dawn, the magi who were wise and learned among the Persians clamored that this presaged the birth of one who would be a great peril for Asia, one who turned out to be Alexander of Macedon. Suetonius (Augustus 94) records a tradition stemming from Julius Marathus that a public portent alerted the Roman peo­ple some months before the birth of Augustus that Nature was making ready to provide them with a king, and this so frightened the Senate that it issued a decree forbidding the rearing of any male child for a year. The births of Mithradates and of Alexander Severus were among the many births thought to have been accompanied by the appearance of a new star in the heavens. Sue­tonius (Nero 36) tells us how alarmed that emperor was when a comet ap­peared several nights in succession, for a comet was popularly supposed to her­ald the death of a person of great importance. Superstitiously prudent, Nero fulfilled the portent by having some of the notables of his realm put to death. Thus, not only the appearance of a star heralding the birth of the Messiah, but also Herod’s attempt on the life of the child would have been motifs famil­iar to the times.” (Raymond E. Brown. The Birth of the Messiah. Image Books, Garden City, NY. 1979, pp. 170-171)

The cultural acceptance of celestial phenomena as an indicator of terrestrial events would certainly be echoed in the New World. The question remains as to what that particular star might have been. Brown examines three possibilities that have been proposed by various scholars, a supernova, a comet, or a planetary conjuction (Raymond E. Brown. The Birth of the Messiah. Image Books, Garden City, NY. 1979, pp. 171-3). Whichever of these three the Biblical star might have been, it would have been seen as similarly significant in the New World. The use of the same term, star, is easily ascribed to Joseph as the translator.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon