(Investigator 88, 2003 January)


The computer program "SKYMAP" confirms some of the Christmas Star information I supplied in Investigator 81.

I argued in #81 that the Star of Bethlehem was a twice-over conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter – occurring August 12, 3 BC and June 17, 2 BC.

Venus and Jupiter are the two brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon. Their conjunction – or apparent joining together as viewed from Earth – would look spectacular compared to the usual night sky, besides being a significant event to astrologers.

SKYMAP supplies diagrams of the sky, as seen from almost any country on Earth, for any date and time between 4000 BC and 8000 AD. The software also gives the rising and setting times for Sun, Moon and planets for any day one chooses.

The "wise men" – more likely astrologers – stated, "For we have seen his star in the east." (Matthew 2:2)

SKYMAP shows that on August 12, 3 BC, Venus and Jupiter rose together – so close they seemed joined – in the east. In Iraq they were 4o above the horizon at 4am and 19o above the horizon at 5.17am at which time sunrise started. These times and altitudes varied slightly from country to country. The conjunction, however, was visible to the east, wherever clouds or mountains didn't obscure it, for about an hour before sunrise throughout the ancient world from Morocco to China.

There was no interference from moonlight that morning as the Moon, on that day, rose at 6.34 and set at 19.38 (7.38 pm).

The theory is that this 3 BC Venus/Jupiter conjunction motivated the "wise men" to head for Israel. As astrologers they would have calculated that Venus and Jupiter would meet again ten months later but in the west rather than the east – and after sunset rather than before sunrise.

What, then, happened at the second conjunction – June 17, 2 BC?

SKYMAP lists the following "Daily Phenomena" for June 17, 2 BC in Jerusalem:


We can see that Venus and Jupiter rose and set virtually together. At 19.00 or 7 pm–nineteen minutes after sunset – they were 34o above the western horizon. At 8 pm they were 21o above the horizon and at 9 pm they were at 9o.

King Herod's priests, according to the Bible, consulted the Old Testament and the astrologers were pointed to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem and only slightly westwards. A star in the western sky therefore could not point out Bethlehem to someone heading south.

This problem is answered if the "wise men" did not follow the road all the way to Bethlehem but turned eastwards off the road and then, after sunset, headed directly west to Bethlehem. Jupiter and Venus would then have dominated the western night sky in front of them for two hours while the full Moon rose behind them. The Bible description – "the star which they had seen in the East went before them" (Matthew 2:9) – would be literally accurate.

The next statement "it came to rest over the place where the child was" can be explained if there were some slow-moving or stationary clouds that night. If the clouds were right then, for perhaps half an hour, Venus and Jupiter might seem to point to Bethlehem. This effect would be strengthened psychologically by the expectation the "wise men" had.

In 3 BC Venus was the "morning star" and the morning star is, in the Bible, a symbol of Jesus. (Revelation 22:16)  In 2 BC Venus was the evening star.

June 17, 2 BC was not, however, the birth-date of Jesus even if the above-discussed scenario is correct. The Bible suggests Jesus was taken to Jerusalem for a religious ceremony forty days after his birth. Yet Joseph and Mary also took Jesus to Egypt after the "wise men" visited. This can be harmonised if the visit of the "wise men" on June 17 was forty or more days after Jesus' birth.

See also The Birth Date of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem (Investigator 81).

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