Evidence for the 'STAR OF BETHLEHEM' in the "HEAVENS"
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 KJV)
“For He is the living God, And steadfast forever… He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth…” (Daniel 6:26-27 NKJ)
The opinions have ranged from the 'Star of Bethlehem' being either a complete myth or icon invented by the followers of Jesus Christ, to support their claims of His actual birth and divinity; to possibly being a real life event that may have occurred, but having been manipulated and distorted by the same followers of that day, as providing "New Testament" evidence of the Messiah's arrival versus the more established "Old Testament" system of beliefs; thus to become the fabled story that it is today. Even amongst circles within the Christian community, there has been great debate as to the validity of this celestial event or what it may have actually been. It is fortunate that by faith (and the will of God) that this story has been carried as long as it has, until the "modern world" could catch up with what the "Old World" beliefs had already held as a "truth".
Other than the accounts listed in the Holy Scriptures and other historical documentation, there is now more scientific proof in our modern age than ever, which provides definitive evidence for what this legendary "star" may have really been. With the aid of modern science and computers, the speculation about the actual 'Star of Bethlehem' has become more of a fact than a story out of Christian myth.
The original problem had arisen with the historical documentation and accounts from scripture having been somewhat vague and less precise in naming a specific date for this possible event. Newer scientific methods have fortunately proven instrumental in determining a much closer projection and can likewise show evidence of potential candidates for this "star".
There are several hypothesis based on astronomical and astrological facts that can now be calculated in reverse, producing models of the stars that were visible in the night sky, as they would have appeared to the people of the Middle East at the speculated time of Christ's birth. This helps to not only determine a more accurate date for the birthdate of Jesus but also provides verification of a potential origin for the legendary 'Star of Bethlehem'.
The evidence to support these theories shows that a series of stellar and planetary events did occur in the heavens and would have been visible to the naked eye by the people of that time. The "wise men" of course (being astronomers and astrologers) were experts in these fields of study and would have likewise foreseen these events ahead of time, thus witnessing their occurrence in "real time" as they transpired.
MODERN SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY
By using the same documentation that projects the potential birthdate for Jesus Christ (between the years of 7 BC and 1 BC), astronomical models have also been developed that can suggest possible evidence for the actual 'Star of Bethlehem'. To find the best candidate, we must first rule out some of the theories from past years to focus on more recent and accurate information.
Possible Past Theories (NOT the Best Candidates)
COMET (a "moving" star)
One theory is that the "new star" visible in the night sky could have been a comet. Most of us know what a comet is today but in ancient times they most often were perceived as omens of great events (both good and bad) that were soon to occur. The Chinese and other cultures even associated comets with the "sweeping away of the old order of things". The "wise men" in the biblical narrative would have originally seen the 'Star of Bethlehem' in the east and by the time that they had set out for Bethlehem, after visiting King Herod, they could have also seen it in front of them as they then headed south. A comet could have been viewed travelling from east to south across the sky for the duration of the 2-4 month journey that the "wise men" may have performed in their quest. However, there is not any record of such an object during this time frame either. The famous Halley’s Comet for example, did make an appearance until around 12 BC, which is well outside the probable timeframe for the birth of Jesus.
METEOR (a "falling" star)
A meteor is a small fragment of material or even celestial dust which enters Earth's atmosphere at great speed and glows brightly as its outer layers vaporize. While often it is a physically small thing, a "shooting star" can be beautiful viewed from Earth and could be a dramatic means of making an announcement in the heavens. Although somewhat similar to the appearance of a comet, even the much larger variety of meteor would be less likely as a possible candidate due to their rapid speed and very short-lived duration as they burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. Most obvious is the fact that "shooting stars" do not rise in the east like other stars, because as their nickname implies, they "shoot" across the sky. Therefore the 'Star of Bethlehem' was most likely not a meteor.
NOVA (a "new" star)
Another theory (and a good one), is that the 'Star of Bethlehem' was proposed to have possibly been a 'nova', or a "new star" (short for the Latin term "nova stella"), which in science is caused by the gravity of a 'white dwarf' stellar body, gathering enough material onto its surface (usually from a nearby companion star in a binary system) to raise the surface pressure high enough for a large thermonuclear explosion. For much larger stellar objects (and their resulting explosion), we have what astronomers term as a 'supernova'. A white dwarf's increase in brightness during such an explosion may be at a factor of 10,000 to over one million. This increase to peak brightness is very rapid and visible to the naked eye without the aid of a telescope or magnifying lens. This type of event can be seen for a couple of days, while the fading away to invisibility, usually occurs over the period of a few months.
Chinese astronomers recorded a new star in the constellation of Capricorn between March and April of 5 BC, which was visible for over 70 days. This "new star" observed by the Chinese would have appeared in the east several hours before sunrise (as in Matthew 2:2 "...For we have seen His star in the East..."). However, in Matthew (2:9) we also read that the "star" was also visible in the south when the "wise men" headed toward Bethlehem, after their visit with King Herod in Jerusalem. A 'nova' occurrence would not have moved that much in the celestial horizon. The constellation of Capricorn would have also been well away from the galactic plane (by 30 to 40 degrees), where most stars in our galaxy (the 'Milky Way') are found. A nova would be a very rare event otherwise and there is no other documentation of such an occurrence happening in this frame of time for that era.
CONJUNCTION of CELESTIAL BODIES (alignment of planets with a star)
This is the last and most probable explanation for the 'Star of Bethlehem'. An observation of the "celestial bodies" will show that the stars and planets do follow a path and specific trajectory across the night sky. This is how navigators typically find their location or plot a course by identifying and using the same. Stars follow a more uniform movement as they are permanently fixed with the constellations and star clusters that they are associated with. Planets however (since they are within our own solar system), do follow a more unique and independent, but likewise predictable course across the heavens. As a result, planets may sometimes "cross paths" with other planets or stars as they visually appear to us in the sky.
Each planet revolves around the sun at a different rate of speed. The inner planets orbit faster than the ones farther away. The result as seen from the Earth, is that the planets frequently overtake and pass one another. The alignment that occurs in such situations is referred to as a "conjunction" of these celestial bodies. When two planets are in conjunction, they look like they're close together, when in reality they are millions of miles apart. However, when two or more of these elements line up in conjunction, a visible effect may be produced more akin to what we have described for a smaller 'nova' star.
In addition to this on rare occasions, sometimes one planet will first appear to pass another in its motion across the night sky, and then it will reverse or "loop" in its normal path. This is a combination of the planet's position at different times of the year in relation to the rotation of our planet. The effect is known in astronomy as "retrograde motion". In fact, on even rarer occasions of these phenomena, the planet itself actually appears to be stationary at each end of the loop, sometimes for as long as a week. It is precisely a combination of these rare occasions as the ancient Babylonians would have witnessed the event, that is a perfect candidate for what may have been seen as the 'Star of Bethlehem' in the sky.
In Bulmer-Thomas' theory, there is evidence of a triple conjunction in 7 BC and another near-conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in 6 BC. These types of events would have alerted the "wise men" to look for further "signs in the sky". If the "wise men" then followed Jupiter at the time it emerged from behind the sun in May of 5 BC, they would have also seen Jupiter pass through a stationary point four months later (about the length of their journey). If we compare this with Michael Molnar's theory for the 'Star of Bethlehem', which also documents that in 6 BC, there was a retrograde motion of Jupiter in the constellation of Aries along with a conjunction of the moon, as another possibility.
In Craig Chester's, 'The Star of Bethlehem' (from IMPRIMIS: the monthly journal of Hillsdale College; Hillsdale, Michigan; 1993), we also find other similar recorded conjunctions and retrograde motions:
- August of 3 BC - Jupiter and Venus
- September of 3 BC - Jupiter and the star Regulus (retrograde)
- February of 2 BC - Jupiter and the star Regulus (retrograde)
- May of 2 BC - Jupiter and the star Regulus (retrograde)
- June of 2 BC - Jupiter, Venus and the star Regulus
So which of these candidates is more likely the best choice?
The "Star of Kings" and a "Royal Conjunction"
Babylonian astronomers had a keen interest in the celestial bodies and would have paid very close attention to the retrograde motion of the planets in the night sky. If we also look at how these celestial bodies were perceived by the culture of the ancient Babylonians and what they represented, then this can likewise help us to unravel the mystery.
The "wise men" could have very easily witnessed a series of events which then finally led them to follow the "signs" and travel west towards Judaea. We have listed a couple of triple conjunctions as early as 7 and 6 BC. There were also a total of nine major conjunctions in the period of time from 3 BC to 2 BC. It is possible that ALL of these conjunctions that we have described so far, actually lent themselves to one final event that we can consider for the actual 'Star of Bethlehem'. The "wise men" astrologers would have been observing these celestial events over a period of time and would have been even more watchful for a significant change or "climax" to the pattern of celestial events being displayed by the heavens.
If we look at the night sky during the period of 3-2 BC, we can actually find a very likely candidate for the true 'Star of Bethlehem'... in a "Royal Conjunction". On August the 12th of 3 BC, there occurred a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter that would have had particular significance to the astrologers. This would be especially evident if they had knowledge of the prophecies pertaining to the birth of the Hebrew Messiah. On that morning, a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter took place in the constellation of Leo, near the star Regulus.
- The planet JUPITER is also known as the "King Planet" (i.e. "king of the gods" in the Roman pantheon of deities).
- VENUS (i.e. Roman goddess of love, beauty, prosperity and military victory) was named for 'Ishtar', the chief Babylonian goddess and associated with fertility.
LEO is known as the sign for the tribe of Judah (i.e. Christ = the "Lion of the tribe of Judah", as referred to in the book of Revelation 5:5).
The star REGULUS (i.e. "regal" or "royal" and Latin for 'prince' or 'little king') is one of the brightest stars from the constellation of LEO and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. It was also named 'Sharru' by the Babylonians, likewise translated as "the king".
"For I will be like a lion to Ephraim [1st King of Judah], and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue." (Hosea 5:14 NKJ)
From their study of astronomy, the "wise men" or magi, could have been alerted from earlier years of observation, that a pending series of conjunctions was to come around the years 3-2 BC. In August of 3BC, they would have been able to see the first conjunction with Jupiter-Venus, becoming visible above the eastern horizon as a morning star. During the next month, they would have also witnessed its movement towards Regulus in the constellation of Leo.
This would have been even more interesting to these ancient astrologers, as when on the 14th of September in 3 BC, Jupiter came into retrograde conjunction with the star Regulus. It moved slightly past the star, then would have appeared to completely stop and then move backward again over the course of the next several months, until it finally passed Regulus a second time (in reverse) on February 17th of 2 BC. This would have proven to be a very unusual occurrence to the magi.
Jupiter then went back to its original path and passed Regulus a third time on the 8th of May in 2 BC. Finally, on June the 17th of 2 BC, Jupiter and Venus again came into conjunction near Regulus, so close that they would have appeared as one shining light, until they set in the west toward Jerusalem as it would have been seen from Babylon.
In astronomy this would be considered a very unique occurrence. Astrologically this would also have been perceived as an important "Royal Conjunction" and would have heralded a very significant event to the ancient magi or "wise men" with the correlation of all these elements. Could this be the origin for the true 'Star of Bethlehem'? Both the facts recorded by the science of astronomy and the understanding displayed in astrological terms, seem to be very supportive of this particular series of events as being the "star" that the magi observed.
Victor Paul Wierwille in his book, 'In Jesus Christ our Promised Seed', writes that: "As the Magi approached Bethlehem, Jupiter finally 'stood over' where the child was, the area of Bethlehem. The time period in which the Magi traveled to Bethlehem could only have been between December 4, 2BC, when Jupiter could be seen in this position over Bethlehem, and before January 9, 1BC, when the events surrounding the death of Herod began."
Also, if we go by the above data along with the Hebrew information pertaining to the projected birthdate of John the Baptist and Jesus (*See our article with information about the "Birth of Christ in September"), the rare and unique retrograde conjunction on September the 14th, 3 BC, could have been the moment that the Messiah Jesus was actually born, as the "heavens being shaken" in announcing the event. Likewise, the triple conjunction of June 17th in 2 BC, may have been the final "star" that the "wise men" saw as they made their long journey from "the east" towards Jerusalem.
Additionally, if we go by the other historical information relating to the death of King Herod the Great, which occurred after the birth of Jesus at the time of a lunar eclipse (See our article "The STAR of BETHLEHEM in Bible Prophecy"), there was a significant total lunar eclipse in 1 BC which fits perfectly with this same scenario.
Let the evidence speak for itself in answer to this long questioned mystery surrounding the 'Star of Bethlehem' and birth of Jesus the Messiah.
Amazing Astrological "SIGNS in the HEAVENS"
"The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples see His glory". (Psalm 97:6 NKJ)
"For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie..." (Habakkuk 2:3 NKJ)
SEE our other article on this topic: The STAR of BETHLEHEM in Bible Prophecy for more biblical information on this miraculous event.
THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF ALL THE PROPHETIC WRITINGS IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
The words of prophecy are really a harbinger of hope to those who are searching for God today. It is through our belief that Christ died for our sins (John 3:16) and faith in His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18), that we are all "saved" and will enter into the coming Kingdom of Heaven along with Him.
The "STAR of BETHLEHEM" IS the Messiah Jesus, who came into the world as God's plan of salvation for us all. Christ was born as a human child, He lived and performed His ministry as a prophet and man, He was crucified and shed His divine blood as the "Lamb of God" for the remission of our sins, He was resurrected in full glory to pave the way for our entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom, He ascended into Heaven to rejoin our Lord Father, and HE WILL return again in the very near future, to establish His Kingdom here on Earth and live with us as "Emmanuel", the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" and King of Kings for all eternity.
References and Related Articles
- Why CHRISTMAS in the FALL Season? -OR- a Mixed-Up Calendar System & Confused History of Christia
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