During this advent season we often think about the Magi who came to worship Jesus. We don’t know if they were astrologers but we do know about the dark astrological faith of the emperor Tiberius (42 BC – 37 AD) who reigned during the final years of our Lord and Saviour.

Tiberius was an intelligent and well-informed pagan. He was a cruel tyrant and sometimes he ordered his soldiers to throw innocent people from the cliffs on the island of Capri when he craved sordid entertainment. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, he was a serial child sex abuser and his debauched, sexual crimes caused a great deal of misery. He did not worship the Roman gods because he had a deep trust in fate and astrology.

For sophisticated pagans like Tiberius, fate is an impersonal force that governs everything. Tiberius believed that the planets and the stars determine everything that happens in life (astrology). There is no point praying to Jupiter or Venus because it is impossible by means of prayer or sacrifice to change a person’s destiny. It is impossible to change the lifestyle of an evil despot. Tiberius would have enjoyed the famous Doris Day song Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. Many football fans know this song.

Before he became the emperor Tiberius retired to Rhodes in 6 BC. Here on this beautiful island he consulted many astrologers about his destiny. Perhaps this is what he was doing when Jesus died. Of course he had the astrologers murdered just after they had predicted his future. Que sera, sera.

When the famous astrologer, Thrasyllus, examined Tiberius’ horoscope and suggested that he had a brilliant career ahead, Tiberius steered him to the edge of a dangerous cliff and menacingly asked him: “And what do you see for yourself in the stars?” Shaking with fear, Thrasyllus spluttered, “I am in terrible danger.” Tiberius was duly impressed and spared the stargazer’s life and later, when he became the emperor, often relied on Thrasyllus for astrological advice. Tiberius spent many happy hours plotting the deaths of friends, family and rivals to his throne. He would always consult a horoscope before he ordered an execution. Que sera, sera.

Having weighed the evidence carefully, I would surmise that Tiberius was either scheming a person’s death via astrology or engaging in vile depravities when Jesus was gasping and dying on that cross.

During this advent season, let us remember the words of the Saviour on the final page of every Bible.

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Rev 22:16

Mark Roques
Categories: RealityBites

Mark Roques

Mark taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.


Hugh Grear · December 20, 2022 at 3:44 pm

What an interesting article! (However, the appearance of “Magi” in the title is a little naughty, Mark. They are just a Seasonal ‘hook’ to draw the reader in. “During this Advent season, we often think about the Magi, but I don’t know anything about them, so let’s talk about Tiberius instead”). Tiberius was clearly a bad lad, but you also say he was intelligent: how did he understand astrology, and did he distinguish between astrology and fate? The three Fates determine the time of birth, and death, and spin the events of one’s life in between. Even the Gods are said to be subject to them. The fates seem very different to the ideas of astrology. Was Tiberius just hedging his bets? Also, isn’t there an irony in the fact that Thrasyllus was spared (because of his accurate assessment of his danger), yet by being spared his prediction of his imminent demise was therefore false, so perhaps he should have got the push? Keep these good articles coming mate. H

    Mark · December 21, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Hugh – you are asking some very good questions here. There are many tensions within a fatalistic worldview. There is a very deterministic form of astrology which I believe Tiberius held to. There were also those who believed in astral magic and this mindset proclaims that you can escape from your fate by magical incantations. For example the Renaissance philosopher Ficino believed in astrology. He also used charms and talismans to ward off the dark side of fate. Incoherent? Yes!

      Hugh · December 21, 2022 at 12:26 pm

      Astral Magic? Sounds totally incoherent, but it also sounds like we need another excellent Mark Roques’ Article comparing different brands of fatalism. paganism and Astral Magic! Happy Christmas!

Bruce Michael Gulland · December 21, 2022 at 4:04 pm

Thanks Mark. And I’d always thought Tiberias was such a middle of the road, reasonable sort of bloke!

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