Two articles about the Star of Bethlehem follow:
1. A summary of a Thames Television TV Program.
2 An article summarising various views.
THE CHRISTMAS STAR
(Investigator 39, 1994 November)
THE CHRISTMAS STAR by Thames Television appeared on TV in Adelaide in December 1993. The speakers were David Hughes (an author), Martin Jarvis (principal presenter), Elin Rhys who read the Bible passages, and leading expert on comets Don Yeomans from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Laurie Eddie of the South Australian Branch of The Australian Skeptics supplied INVESTIGATOR with a transcript of the program.
The following is a summary of the TV program based on the transcript:
Was the Christmas star which drew the Magi to Bethlehem a miracle, myth or astronomical fact? Was it a super nova? An exploding star? A comet? Since there are many celestial phenomena astronomers need a date for the birth of Chist before they can speculate.
The Western Church celebrates Christ's birth on December 25th, Eastern Christians January 6th.
Author David Hughes said: "In my book I mention that Jesus Christ was born on the 15th September 7 BC. Now, I am not convinced that this is correct, but I am convinced that this was when the Magi thought Jesus Christ was born."
According to the Bible Caesar Augustus decreed a tax for which all people had to return to their home-town. Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, therefore travelled 130 kilometres from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea.
(Luke 3:1-3; Matthew 3)
David Hughes: "These taxation decrees were issued about every 14 years and a big inscription has been found near Ankara, indicating that around ...8 B.C. a decree was issued…"
Jesus was born in a stable. Luke says that an "angel of the Lord" appeared to shepherds in the fields to announce: "Unto you is born this day in the City of David, a saviour which is Christ the Lord."
Martin Jarvis, the principal presenter of the TV program, asked: "Was it perhaps a rare southern sighting of the Aurora Borealis?"
The Magi, according to David Hughes: "are thought to be Zoroastrian priests, astrologers, and wise men…there could have been up to a dozen Magi, and as many servants."
The Magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked King Herod: "Where is he that is born King of the Jesus for we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him?"
Herod would have viewed such a "King of the Jews" as a usurper. He asked his priests where Christ would be born. "Bethlehem!"
Bethlehem was a 10-kilometre, 2-hour, trip south. According to Matthew: "The star which they saw in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was."
The Magi presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They departed without reporting back to Herod. Subsequently Herod had all children in the area of Bethlehem, up to the age of two, killed.
Mary and Joseph, however, escaped with Jesus to Egypt and were gone for 2 years by which time Herod had died.
Martin Jarvis: "The key to the whole question of the birth of Jesus and the identity of the star that accompanied that birth is the death of Herod. The death of Herod followed an eclipse of the moon, we are told by historian Josephus."
Eclipses visible from Jerusalem were a partial eclipse in 4 BC and a total eclipse in 1 BC.
A taxation decree 8 BC, eclipses in 4 and 1 BC, and 2 years in Egypt limit our search for the Christmas star to that period
Ancient Chinese astronomers produced meticulous star maps and recorded comets over 1,000 years before Christ.
Don Yeomans of NASA: "The Chinese observers, astrologers mind you, were really quite extraordinary. They would note for any given apparition or a comet, or anything new in the skies, the time it was observed, the colour of the comet, the length of its tail, and into what region the comet was moving and how long it was seen."…
"In the interval between 8 BC and 2 BC there was only one bright comet that was recorded that was the comet of 5 BC which was recorded by the Chinese as appearing in the Constellation of Capricorn for about 70 days."
"Comets mark a change of rule. For example, in 44 BC there was a bright comet seen, and it was thought to be the soul of Julius Caesar rising up into the heavens…"
"The snag with a comet is that it does not have a serious astrological message and also doesn't appear twice. Don't forget that the Star of Bethlehem was seen when the Wise men were in the East and also when they got to Jerusalem."
Did the Magi see shooting stars?
Don Yeomans: "Very probably, but meteors and meteorites are too short lived for the Star of Bethlehem. Such a sign had to be big, bright and sustained. A so-called new star would qualify, a star in its death throes."…
Martin Jarvis: "The initial brilliance of a super nova is visible for weeks. A super-nova would be the perfect Star of Bethlehem…
Astronomers can wind back the clock to pinpoint an explosion but sadly for the theory, nothing goes back to the period of Christ's birth.
A less spectacular explosion does fit the time frame. The ancient Chinese recorded them as 'guest stars'. We know them as novae. Next to the star Altair a nova was recorded in 5 BC."
David Hughes: "The Wise Men being astrologers would have seen the nova ...but it would not say to them, 'This is a star associated with a new king of the Jews'. It would give them no message to make this long journey from Babylon to Jerusalem."…
Martin Jarvis: "So what had really spurred this epic trek? The likely answer is planets, those wandering 'stars' so beloved of astrologers… The Magi's Star of Bethlehem would have needed at least two planets. John Mosley has a hunch."
John Mosley: "On the evening of June 17th, 2 BC, Jupiter and Venus slowly moved closer to each other as they set in the West. About an hour before they set they would have merged into one single object, they were so close."
To the query that 2 BC seems too late John Mosley answered: "the history of the period is re-evaluated and it seems that Herod might have died several years later than we thought before."
DATE CELESTIAL EVENT 1 BC Total eclipse of the Moon. The Moon turned blood-red. 2 BC 17th June Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. 4 BC Partial eclipse of the Moon. 5 BC A comet appeared in the Constellation of Capricorn for about 70 days. 5 BC A nova is seen near the star Altair. 7 BC 27th May First conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn 7 BC 15th Sept. Birth of Jesus according to David Hughes. As the sun set in the west, Jupiter and Saturn rose in the east, a rare astrological moment, for it is the sign of a special birth. 7 BC 6th. Oct. The second conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. 7 BC 1st Dec. The third conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn commenced. 7 BC 7th Dec. The third connunction of Jupiter and Saturn ended. 12 BC Appearance of Halley's Comet. 44 BC A bright comet in the skies is claimed to be the soul of Julius Caesar rising up into the heavens.
(Table prepared by Laurie Eddie)
David Hughes countered that this left only one year between the Venus/Jupiter conjunction and Herod's death. Yet Herod killed children two years old and younger and "everybody thinks that Joseph and Mary went to Egypt for at least two years before they returned to Nazareth after the death of Herod."
Another conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn, occurred in 7 BC. Martin Jarvis: "Three times, between May and December 7 BC they almost merged."
Jarvis explained that the first near-merging on May 27th could have prompted the journey of the Magi. At the time of the third conjunction (in December) the Magi would have been with Herod. David Hughes next argued that Herod and his court would not have noticed such a sign because the Jewish religion did not use astrology.
The triple conjunction of 7 BC was seen in the constellation of Pices "the sign of Jews". This happens only every 800 years.
(This summary by BS)
STAR OF BETHLEHEM - WHAT WAS IT?
(Investigator 39, 1994 November)
Some brief comments:
N R Molnar wrote:"Augustus Caesar probably issued his tax (census) proclamation in 8 B.C., and Herod is commonly thought to have died in 4 B.C."Molnar argues that the "Star" consisted of a "lunar occultation of Jupiter" on March 20 and April 17 in 4 B.C. (The Coins of Antioch, Sky & Telescope, January 1992)
Patrick Moore suggested the "Star" might have been two meteors – the first before the Magi started out on their journey and the second as they neared Bethlehem.
(The Christmas Star, Astronony Now, December 1989 pp. 18-20)
Bob Berman argued:"Anything celestial - whether supernova or planet - rises and arcs and sets below the horizon as the evening wears on. No heavenly body could remain motionless in the sky over Bethlehem."Professor Colin Humphries believes the "Star" was a comet in 5 B.C. and this required a birth date between March 9 and May 5 in 5 B.C. (The Advertiser, 1991 November 2, p.18)
(Discover, December 1991, pp. 78-79)
A thorough book is The Starof Bethlehem Mystery (1979) by David Hughes. Hughes concluded the census occurred 8 B.C. and Jesus' birth 7 B.C. (p. 94)
He added:"Although Saturn and Jupiter and their triple conjunction fit most of the requisites of the 'star of Bethlehem', and are in my opinion at the top of the list of likely candidates, the fact that they could never have been seen as 'one star' leaves a feeling of uncertainty…" (p.129)Clearly we cannot correctly identify the star if we search in the wrong year.
A Scythian monk living in Rome, Dionysius Exiguus (c. 500-550 A. D), calculated the birth date of Jesus as December 25 in 1 B. C. Everyone thinks this date is wrong because Jesus was born when Herod was still alive and Herod supposedly died in 4 B.C.
The Bible says that John the Baptist began his ministry in:"The fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar."Jesus' ministry started (probably) within half a year after John's and when Jesus was 30. (Luke 3:1-23) This might still be the 15th year but could also be the 16th. Tiberius became "Caesar" in 14 A.D. Calculating back results in 1 B.C. or 2 B.C.
There is also evidence that the traditional date of 4 B.C. for Herod's death is wrong and should be 2 B.C. or 1 B.C.
But that's another article.
More information about the Christmas Star appeared in
Investigator 81 & 88 – both articles are on this website: