No sight in the sky is celebrated more than the beautiful Christmas Star of Bethlehem.
Each holiday season the story of how the star appeared in the sky to the Magi and the legends surrounding it are recanted from the only reliable source—the Bible book of Matthew.
It is a beautiful story of a sign in the sky guiding foreign spiritual leaders to the manger of an infant Messiah of the Jews. The imagery is part of the fabric of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Christian son of God.
A favorite subject of Christmas cards and classic artists, everything we know about this “star” is in 12 short verses of the Bible, and clearly states that King Herod didn’t see it, and that Jesus might have been as old as two when the Magi visited Bethlehem. The Book of Mathew, Chapter 2, verses 1-12 give us all clues to a celestial detective story that has a logical conclusion. The condensed version in Matthew says:
“Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him,” said the Wise Men to Judea King Herod. The King asked the Wise Men where and when the star appeared? And departing the King, the went to Bethlehem: “And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
So, what was the Star of Bethlehem? Several facts need to be established before we go looking in the skies for the Star of Bethlehem. The questions are:
When is the exact date of Jesus’ birth; 2) Who were the Magi; 3) When did King Herod reign over Judea; 4) Were there records of any solar or lunar eclipses, comets, meteors or exploding stars during this time; 5) Where were the planets and Moon during this time frame?
The celestial detective tale centers around a few basic facts: King Herod had to be alive; the King didn’t see the “Star,” nor did anyone else record it; the Magi were Zoroastrian priest/stargazers; Jesus was not born Dec. 25, 0 B.C. This is all in the Book of Matthew…and more.
To look up at the sky of Jesus’ birth and see The Star of Bethlehem, we need to know when the Messiah was born. Certainly not when we celebrate it. Yes, shepherds watch over their flocks at night, but only in the spring and summer when lamb are being born. Remember in Matthew, King Herod summoned the Wise Men to ask where was the wonderous Star they followed? It wasn’t something the King saw—if he did it was just another bright star.
Another key clue from Matthew is the fact the Wise Men did not see King Herod on their return trip, fearing for their lives. The King ordered the murder of all boys age two years and under to try and kill the rumored Hebrew Messiah. So, Jesus may have been a toddler and not an infant in a manger when the Wise Men visited.
The year of Jesus’ birth can be deduced from that two-year purge, the 1 AD date of Herod’s death. And in Luke Chapter 2 is described a Roman tax, most likely in 5 BC, when Mary and Joseph rode from Nazareth to Bethlehem to pay. The best guess is Spring 2 BC for the birth of Jesus.
To figure out the Star of Bethlehem, the time frame has been narrowed down from 4 BC to 1 AD, a five-year span to investigate in the night sky. How do we do that? We use a planetarium program anyone can download to their computer or Smart Phone. One of the best is Stellarium. You simply put in any date you wish to see the night sky, and voila! With this time capsule you can look up at the stars of Jesus’ time.
Those stars are no different 2,000 years ago than today, except for the positions of the Moon and planets. So, it is important to know where they are as ancient civilizations believed the wandering stars were gods in the sky controlling their destiny. The star patterns of those ultra-dark nights were the entertainment for ancient civilizations, full of mystery and imagination.
All ancient peoples looked up and created tales of mythology out of the starry patterns. Heroes, animals and important objects were honored with names of the star patterns and individual stars according to stories told for generations. The fake science of astrology was created with the wide-spread believe that the five wandering stars called “planets” affected man according to which star group they dwelled. The constellations were born out of myths and creatures like a lion, a sea goat and scorpion were seen in the stars. The Sun, Moon and stars always stayed in a belt of 12 constellations called the Zodiac or “celestial zoo”. And the concept of where the god-controlled planets were among the Zodiac “houses” was considered to be a message from God to the human race. Advice, fears and fortune were all predicted by the horoscopes put together by astrologers who watched the skies for the coded signs from their gods.
One of the first diligent watchers of the skies from a mysterious land called Persia, in the 21st Century called Iran and Iraq. These stargazers were learned men of the Zoroastrian faith, one that understood the Hebrew scriptures and prediction of a Messiah for the world. For hundreds, maybe a thousand years these Zoroastrian priest astrologers were looking for a sign in the sky for the King of the Jews. The Bible calls them Wise Men. They are known as the Magi.
So, what did they see in the nights from 5 BC leading up to their difficult, 1,500-mile round-trip to bring a few gifts and pay homage to the Messiah, King of the Jews?
NEXT WEEK: Conclusion of “Was the Star of Bethlehem Real?”