What Was The Star of Bethlehem?image preview

What Was The Star of Bethlehem?

The Star of Bethlehem remains a mystery to both astronomers and historians. There are many contributing factors, including the uncertainty of the actual date of Christ’s birth and the terminology used to describe celestial happenings more than 20 centuries ago. For instance, any celestial object bright enough to attract attention was apt to be called a star. Therefore, the object we seek may not have even been a star.

Four theories have been advanced to explain the star. One is that it was an unusually bright meteor or fireball streaking toward the horizon. But such fiery streaks only last for several seconds at most; hardly long enough to lead the Wise Men halfway across the Orient to Bethlehem (though certainly it would have been quite an interesting camel ride!).

Another theory suggests that the star might have been a bright comet. But we must say no to that as well because comets were considered to omens of evil. They were considered to presage famine, flood, an epidemic or some other disaster.

Not so easily dismissed is a nova or supernova outburst; dying stars having a final fling of glory before descending the long road to ultimate extinction. The appearance of a very bright nova would certainly attract the attention of sky conscious people. Then, after several weeks or months of such prominence, it slowly fades back to obscurity. In the case of a supernova, a massive star literally blows itself apart, putting forth an energy output equivalent to a hundred billion stars or more. It can suddenly blaze forth in the night sky with a brilliance rivaling Jupiter or even Venus; perhaps even be glimpsed in broad daylight. Truly a celestial announcement worthy of the birth of a King.

Unfortunately, ancient Chinese records do not show any such bright nova or supernova appearing in the sky some 2,000 years ago.

That only leaves the planets. A conjunction of two or more planets would undoubtedly be watched with great interest by the Wise Men and might have been interpreted by them as a sign in the heavens. In February of 6 B.C., Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars formed a triangular configuration very low in the western twilight sky soon after sunset. If you have visited a planetarium for the traditional Christmas show, you may have experienced the thrill of seeing these worlds approach each other as the projector races back in time to recreate this celestial tableau.

Taken literally, however, the account of the star in the book of St. Matthew actually calls for two “stars.” One to start the Wise Men on their long journey, the other appearing when they arrived in Bethlehem. Perhaps the signal for their star came on August 12, 3 B.C. with the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter rising in the east at dawn and appearing just 12 minutes of arc apart. Planets this close are very striking, if they do not differ too much in brightness.

Interestingly, in the book The Bible as History (Bantam 1983) by Werner Keller, it is noted that in the original Greek the words used for “in the east” are a technical term meaning “heliacal rising” or an observation in the eastern sky before sunrise, nicely explaining the ambiguous phrase in St. Matthew.

Venus then disappeared into the solar glare, but Jupiter remained in the sky for the next 10 months, accompanying the Wise Men on their westward journey until on June 17, 2 B.C. another, even more outstanding conjunction with Venus took place, this time in the western sky after sunset. At sundown only the sharpest of eyes might have split them and two hours later at minimum separation they were just 36 arc seconds or 0.01° apart. The two planets would have appeared to merge their light into a single brilliant beacon; an exceedingly rare occurrence! And since the Wise Men were traveling westward, one could say that the “star in the east” went (as St. Matthew noted) “before them.”

While I believe that these two close conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter offer the most plausible astronomical explanation for the Star, there are problems with it, since each occurred after the generally accepted date for the death of King Herod (April 4 B.C.), who met with the Wise Men before they proceeded to Bethlehem. Scholars who reject as mythical the story of Herod and favor a later date for Christ’s birth are inclined to regard the star as a myth too.

Or perhaps it was after all, truly a miracle star? A celestial apparition unique in the history of man.

Astronomy has taken us as far as it can go. The final decision is yours, alone.

 

 

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Marlene Cuppy
Marlene Cuppy
5 years ago

/Why not just leave it alone and accept what we have read in the Bible all our lives? I am 76 and accept what I have been taught all these years and the article in question will only disturb the tradition that our children must follow.

Carolyn Coffeen
Carolyn Coffeen
5 years ago

I good explaination can be found in the documentary entitled The Star of Bethlehem

Matt
Matt
5 years ago

Christians can’t and shouldn’t just “leave it alone”, Marlene. I understand what you mean, that we should accept the bible on faith, and we should. That being said, however, we live in an age where everything in the God’s Holy Word is being scrutinized and rejected by the media and academia. It is the responsibility of Christian Apologetics to prove to the best of our ability that Christ, God made flesh, came to this earth to die for the sins of a fallen world and rose again, defeating sin and death for the believer. That is a responsibility we should take very seriously and we should be using every resource available to do it. If that means purging traditions that are not backed up in scripture from our celebration (such as the image of wise men being present at the manger which is not biblical) then so be it. It is better to honor God’s Word than man’s tradition. I, for one, fully support the efforts of sharp Christian minds using science to highlight the truth of the scriptures.

Mary J.
Mary J.
5 years ago

I agree with Marlene Cuppy.

Kay Williams
Kay Williams
5 years ago

All honor, praise and glory belong to Jesus. He came, He told the people who He was and why He came. They rejected Him but He accomplished His purpose anyway. I like to read and study ideas that make plainer the scripture that was translated in the old English dialect. We will see what it all is about and where our ideas were right and where they were not so right. Praise His Holy name!

Laura-Jean
Laura-Jean
5 years ago

as for me and my house we will go on believing what the bible states and look at it as truly a miracle star. God Bless baby Jesus. For those of you who believe the bible I send you blessings that you have a Most blessed Christmas season as you prepare for the birth of Christ. Not sure why after all these years that the bible is being more and more challenged and scrutinized and rejected.

Bill Schley
Bill Schley
5 years ago

A great read on this subject is Grant’s “The Birth of Christ Revisited.” It approaches the nature of the star both spiritually and scientifically. The conjunction of the planets in Leo and the sun being in the house of Virgo on Sept. 11, 3 BC is the single of its six appearances that fits perfectly with scriptures in the book of Revelation and actually pinpoints His birth on that date between about 6:45 pm and 7:20 pm. I must stress that Grant’s work is not at all based in astrology, but solely in astrnomical, scriptural, and historical fact. I am paraphrasing greatly here, but looking for the book is worth the effort. Another well documented text on the subject was written by Wierwille, “Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed.” You can still find this text on Amazon occasionally although it is out of print so far as I am aware.

florio vino
florio vino
5 years ago

It may not all be right or even explainable, but enough did happen and was recorded by enough individuals to have the process recorded. To me it is worthwhile believing and treasuring by all, even the the nonbelievers. IT is our right to believe that this occurred and it is only fitting to accept this story !

Paula Dawson
Paula Dawson
5 years ago

Yee of little faith. The Bible speaks of signs & wonders. Miracles that have no explanation. We still don’t know who to mummify a body or how the pyramids were built. Some things just need to be accepted as they are. It could have been a UFO leading the way for all we know. Don’t care. Not important. The fact is the Messiah was born. Acknowledged… given wealth to his family for his care…and he lived suffered & died as a sacrifice for us. Believe it or not doesn’t matter to me. But I believe and I am grateful.

David McNight
David McNight
5 years ago

The biblical passage that talks about the ‘Star’ of Bethlehem has mystified me growing up. The identity of that ‘Star’ is ever apparent by the description given by those biblical versus. The Wise Men followed the ‘Star’ from the East to the West. The ‘Star’ went before the Wise Men. The ‘Star’ went before the Wise Men and stood over the birth place of Christ. What is that ‘Star’? The Sun!

Caroline
Caroline
5 years ago

The Church fathers would refer to that miracle star as an angel. Seems like a biblically correct way to look at it. The Magi certainly understood that it was special and not like any other star, even calling it “His star”, knowing that it served a special purpose.

Rochelle Dubois
Rochelle Dubois
4 years ago

In 1997 there was an amazing comet the scientists named the Hale-Bop comet. At the time I remember thinking and feeling like it was the comet that the 3 kings saw… it had a spectacular tail…. and traveled through the sky for everyone to see in a right to left route in the USA… They said it came around it’s orbit every 2000 or so years which is when we began recording time, the year Christ was born. Now when I research the comet I see that the actual orbit is 2537 years according to scientists but with all the dates in the Bible being approximate…. and events in the Bible being told from mouth to mouth until they were actually written down by the monks some many years later… I thought this could well be the star that the 3 kings saw and followed…and why not? In any case… I am sure that it was a comet the 3 kings saw as comets leave such an amazing trail to follow with their tails of ice and dust. Not sure if it was the “star of Bethlehem” but then again who knows what it looked like in the sky’s over Bethlehem…and who really knows what time of year it was as the Bible is just an approximation of time and no one really knows actual dates that these things occurred…for sure. Celebrating December 25th as Christ’s birthday is merely a guess adopted by the church so we could all share that celebration together and to discredit Pagan worship and it’s festivals of winter called Saturnalia.

Jerry
Jerry
4 years ago

Merry Christmas .

Susan Higgins
4 years ago
Reply to  Jerry

Thank you, Jerry, Merry Christmas to you.

Rick Murphy
Rick Murphy
4 years ago

There is another explanation. There WAS no star. There were no Wise Men. The world of Jesus, as it had been for thousands of years preceding his birth was a world dependent on signs, omens, oracles, fortunes and above all, ASTROLOGY, the reading of the stars and the alignment of the planets. Every king had his court astrologers. As they were reputed to foresee the future, they were considered among the wisest of men. It was not uncommon for potentates to send emissaries to foreign lands with gifts and offerings of friendship to a new king. We should also note in the Bible, the Wise Men did not follow the star to the manger Bethlehem as in the song. They went first to the Palace of King Herrod,the most logical place one might expect to find the succesor of a sitting king. It was Herrod’s religious scholars, upon consulting their texts and prophesies who pointed the Wise Men to the City of David.

Grandma Peggy
Grandma Peggy
4 years ago

For those who don’t know, the Biblical dates can be accurately pinpointed. Michael Rood, a Christian scholar and researcher, has reconstructed the ancient Hebrew calendar and has the info for sale on his web or Face Book site. He’s not the only research scholar to have done this but he’s the first one I’ve seen to publicize the info. He also paid extremely close attention to Biblical facts such as Mary’s visit to Elizabeth…because Elizabeth’s husband was a temple priest and his service was for a set time, now known from the Hebrew calendar. This can give the time of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and delivery and therefor also Mary’s times…even factoring in travel times it took for the priest and Mary, mary having just been impregnated herself set put immediately to visit Elizabeth. So Mary’s date of delivery can be figured as occurring in Sept. Approx. of our calendar. Next, the solution to the wise men of the east…Daniel a Jew of the Bible was a captive in Babylon and made head of the School’ of the kings wise men. They were trained and taught of the Hebrew sacred writings by Daniel. They weren’t necessarily astrologers but certainly were wise in astronomy. Much of our knowledge of astronomy came from the Persians/Babylonians. Mr. Rood takes all these events into account in his research, even deciphering the so called vague referrals in the Bible to translate them into today’s language and siences by knowing the Hebrew calendar and way of life. You’d be surprised at the details contained in scripture when you know of Hebrew life. The Star is explained, the travel times of the wise men, their arrival after Jesus was a young child living in a house with Mary and Joseph, not in a cave or barn to see a newborn. It’s fascinating to hear the truth as it applies to Hebrew life, language including idioms….

M Rye
M Rye
4 years ago

The Star of Bethlehem documentary!! As also noted in the comments from Carolyn Coffeen.