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Thread: The four words for star in Matthew

  1. #1
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    The four words for star in Matthew

    Hi, please let me know if I make any terrible gaffes in the following...

    The word “star” appears four times in English translations of Matthew chapter 2. In the original Greek, it is spelled differently three times, and is constructed with modifiers that may indicate significantly different astronomical meanings. In Matthew 2:2 star, “αστερα” appears in the phrase “αστερα εν τη ανατολη ” which is usually interpreted something like “star in the east” or “star rising in the east”, because “ανατολη” is rendered simply “east”. But apparently the roots of “ανατολη” indicate something more like “where the Sun rises” or “rising with Sun and stars”. This indicates an interpretation for Matthew 2:2 more like “star rising with the Sun”. To active sky and star watchers that indicates the well known phenomenon called “heliacal rising”, which is the first appearance of the year of a star at dawn just before sunrise. Also this use could be plural “stars” as well as singular. In Matthew 2:7 “φαινομενου αστερος” is generally interpreted something like “appearance of the star” This may also mean singular or plural stars, and from the plot development in Matthew this clearly refers to the same stellar event as in Matthew 2:2 (here Herod is asking the Magi exactly what time the heliacal rising occurred). Matthew 2:9 then says “αστηρ ον ειδον” which is interpreted something like “the star they had seen” or “their star” or “the star they knew”. Here it is usually assumed to mean the same star as mentioned in Matthew 2:2, but it could also mean another star familiar and significant to them or a stellar event with meaning related to the event described in Matthew 2:2 (which would be consistent with the story line as this is clearly another scene in the story). Also αστηρ “astir” here suggests the possibility of something like the English “asterism” a group of stars or a small constellation. Finally Matthew 2:10 is basically exclamations of joy about the αστερα which is a simple uncomplicated spelling of star or stars.

    And apparently there are no fish allusions. If you plug Matthew 2:7 “φαινομενου αστερος” into Google-translate you will get “phenomenon starfish” – which would seem exciting for interpretations involving the constellation Pisces. But my linguist friends tell me that is a mistake on the part of the translation machine and the standard translations are accurate. Likewise the word “τεχθεις” found in Matthew 2:2, I am told, grammatically, cannot be related to the word for Pisces ” Ιχθείς”.

  2. #2
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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    These are not "significantly different astronomical meanings". They are all the same word in different grammatical cases.

    αστηρ = nominative singular
    αστερα = accusative singular
    αστερος = genitive singular

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    fdb -- excellent, thanks for your help! I will have to adjust that, it is the context (what the text says the star is doing) that indicates different astronomical meaning.

    Question: So is it incorrect to say that any of those uses could indicate stars plural, or an asterism group of stars? Must they all indicate strictly one single star?

    Thanks for your help.

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    All of these are singular. There are different forms for the plural.

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    fdb -- thank you. But could the root itself αστ refer to asterism (a group of stars)? Or must it be strictly only one star?

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    αστερισμος is a Greek word, of course.

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas_help View Post
    In Matthew 2:2 star, “αστερα” appears in the phrase “αστερα εν τη ανατολη ” which is usually interpreted something like “star in the east”
    Here Matthew actually says "... magi came from the East ... saying "... we saw his star in the East and we came ..." ". In this case East has a geographical meaning. i.e. "we saw the star from our country ...". This is what a Greek understands from this passage, free from other theological influences.


    In Matthew 2:7 “φαινομενου αστερος” is generally interpreted something like “appearance of the star” This may also mean singular or plural stars, and from the plot development in Matthew this clearly refers to the same stellar event as in Matthew 2:2 (here Herod is asking the Magi exactly what time the heliacal rising occurred).
    Correct. φαινομένου implies that the star was still visible by Herodes and all. Otherwise it would be φανέντος.

    Matthew 2:9 then says “αστηρ ον ειδον” which is interpreted something like “the star they had seen”
    Yes. As in 2:2.

    There is nothing with the notion of more than one stars. Of course today we know that some stars which appear as one in naked eye are actually many. But this was not known then.

    Nothing about fish. Somebody played with the word αστερίας (starfish).

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    Re: The four words for star in Matthew

    There is an enormous amount of secondary literature on all of this and I doubt whether there is very much new to say. From a purely grammatical point of view ειδομεν γαρ αυτου τον αστερα εν τη ανατολη can mean either "for we saw his star (while we were still) in the East" or "for we saw his star (rising) in the East(ern sky)". A case can be made for both interpretations.

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