No star is more famous than the Star of Bethlehem, and yet you can’t point to it in the night sky…or can you?
The star of wonder that lead Wise Men from Persia to the infant Messiah of the Christian religion is detailed in only document: The Gospel of Mathew 2:1-12 in The Bible.
The passage will be read thousands of times in places of worship and reverence this Christmas holiday season. And a bright star will shine over the manger of Jesus Christ in nativity scenes depicted from live displays to greeting cards.
It’s a powerful image in the mind: a brilliant star in the sky that shines like a directional beacon marking the spot of a miracle. Believing the “star” heralded the birth of a Hebrew King predicted for centuries, a caravan of stargazing priests and their entourage traveled 550 miles from Bagdad to Bethlehem just to bring gifts and pay homage.
The celebration of Jesus’ birth wouldn’t be complete without the Star of Bethlehem. But exactly what was it?
Well, go outside right after sunset and look around the sky. You are almost startled by the brightness of that spectacular “star” in the southwest, right? That’s planet Venus, making its twice a year appearance as the “Evening Star.” Only the Sun and Moon are brighter.
When Venus is at “eastern apparition” and in our evening skies a few months, all eyes are drawn toward it. Last week (Dec. 2 & 3) the crescent Moon and Venus were side-by-side, making a striking scene that couldn’t be ignored, even by the causal glance. Several national flags and symbols adopt this crescent Moon and star motif.
Right now in our Christmas 2016 morning sky is the fourth brightest object in the sky, the planet Jupiter. It rises before the Sun, and if you get up early it will also jerk your eyes skyward even if for just a few seconds.
So imagine the excitement last year when there was a grand “conjunction” of Venus and Jupiter in our evening skies in the Summer of 2015. In fact the pair of planets was so close on July 1st that they were barely separated to the naked eye and a close pair in binoculars.
Last year it was exciting to watch the conjunction of the two brightest objects besides the Sun and Moon as it played out over months of evenings in the constellation Leo the Lion near the bright star Regulus, or “Regal One.”
So imagine the human reaction 2,000 years ago when this same scenario played out as Venus and Jupiter virtually merged as one star in the early evening of June 17, 1 BC. The previous year the two planets had been playing tag in the night sky with Mars, and the whole celestial passion play was watched closely by the ancient stargazers.
Was this the sign in the sky that the learned Zoastrian Priests of Persia have been looking for? Most archeoastronomy scholars think it is the logical answer.
The reason is the mind of the ancient stargazer, and how the common person had a keen interest in the night sky—their only entertainment. Everything watched in the sky was interpreted as a sign of the Gods communicating with the human race on Earth. We call that astrology, and know it is a bunch of unfounded claims based on fiction, not fact. Yet a horoscope of our fate based on the position of the Sun, Moon and stars is too tantalizing to turn down interest, even if just for entertainment.
It is obvious what the Star of Bethlehem couldn’t be as the usual suspects weren’t recorded in history. And the famous star was a noticeable object(s) in the night sky. But it wasn’t something that a busy aristocrat like King Herod would see and recognize as a sign of a Messiah. According to the Bible’s Matthew, King Herod asked the Wise Men about the star and where it was located.
A comet would have been written in history. So would an exploding star, called a supernova. None are recorded around the time of Jesus’ birth, estimated from 6 BC-2 AD. A meteor is too fleeting, though some can be extremely bright. No solar or lunar eclipses happened around that time.
The birth date is certainly not Dec. 25, 0 BC/AD. First, King Herod died in after a lunar eclipse but it’s not certain if it was 4 BC or 1 BC. Remember, Matthew says he had all male boys under age 2 killed hoping to eliminate the infant Messiah.
The second obvious point that proves Jesus was not born in December is shepherds watch their flocks in the Spring, when lambs are born, and they aren’t outside much in the Winter. Third, the Roman tax edict that sent Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem from Nazareth and Herod’s actions all point to a birth in the Spring of 4, 3 or 2 BC.
That why the frequent conjunctions, or meetings, of planets in the Houses of the Zodiac is the Number One suspect as the Star of Bethlehem.
Just look up at brilliant Venus this Christmas 2016 Season—it is irresistible. Strip the night world of the buildings, lights and airplanes and you begin to see the attention the stars were given by our ancestors of millennia ago.
Now you understand one of the iconic images of Christianity, and can revel at Venus as a beautiful sign in our 2016 Christmas evenings.
And be at peace, because on this planet Earth, a Savior was born, who lived as an example of how to treat every man and woman as an equal and a child of God.