Conclusion of the story begun in last week’s The Loafer, available in archives at theloaferonline.com.
What was the most famous object in the sky, the Star of Bethlehem? Was it something everybody saw or just a few people? Regardless, the Star of Bethlehem represents the hope, peace and celebration of the Christmas season.
With a little celestial detective work, one can conclude that the Star of Bethlehem was very real. But it was a sight that may have been taken for granted as a common event in the night skies. Just like today when people casually look up to see some bright stars, but have little idea of their names or constellations where they dwell.
And like today, the ancient world had men interested in stargazing and understanding the unchanging pattern of stars and the Milky Way, the Sun and Moon, and the five stars that wandered around a narrow band of the sky constellations.
Astronomy was born out of the human craving to understand the day and night sky. Gods were worshiped as responsible for the moving stars called planets, and their position among the 12 houses of the Zodiac were deemed to influence the affairs of man, and astrology was born.
Looking up tonight we see the same stars that the ancient people saw 2,000 years ago as the constellations haven’t changed, just the position of the planets, Moon and Sun. Among those stars is the wonderous Star of Bethlehem.
By using the Bible book of Matthew, we have established that Jesus had to be born before King Herod died and after the Roman tax edict that Joseph and Mary were back in Bethlehem to pay. Thus, the date of Jesus birth is between 5 BC and 1 AD, most likely the Spring of 2 BC.
We can look at those ancient skies of Jesus’ birth by using a planetarium program available on a free download for any computer, tablet or Smartphone. Before we do, let’s look at what the Star of Bethlehem could not have been.
METEOR – These flashes of cosmic dust and sand burning up our atmosphere are too fleeting to be the Star. They just don’t last but a few seconds.
COMET – A visit by a bright comet is unforgettable and can last for weeks. This would be the best guess for the Star, but no comets are recorded during the time of Jesus’ birth. And a comet certainly would have been seen by everyone, including King Herod.
SUPER NOVA – A star exploding brightly in the night sky happens once or twice a century—some are bright enough to be visible in the daylight! These “new stars” have been recorded since ancient history, yet there is no super nova that occurred in the skies around the time of Jesus’ birth.
ECLIPSE OF SUN OR MOON – A celestial event that would be recorded in history during Jesus’ time, and none were seen. So that’s not the Star of Bethlehem.
A MIRACLE OF THE NIGHT – Maybe it was something only the Wise Men saw, an angel disguised as a star which lead them to Bethlehem.
Celestial detective work tells us the key to the mystery of whether the Star of Bethlehem was real are the Wise Men. The Wise Men (or Magi) were priest of the Zoroaster belief system in ancient Persia going back 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus. They studied the motion of the planets among the narrow band of the Zodiac and believed in the Hebrew prediction of a Messiah. These Zoroastrian Magi took the mysterious science of astronomy and translated the events in the sky to human destiny—today’s astrology. Often, those predictions from the stars decided the fate of lives, even kingdoms. And in our case, the birth of the prophesized Hebrew King from scriptures we call the Old Testament.
We use the Greek word for “wandering star” to describe planets, but the ancient stargazers had no idea of the exact nature of these worlds circling our special star, Sun. To explain the unexplainable, civilizations devised systems involving deities, and the planets were deemed gods in most cultures.
It was in the moving planets among the fixed stars where gods would talk to Earth, and the Magi of Persia became some of the most dedicated ancient stargazers. They would have been watching very closely as several celestial “conjunctions,” or close encounters, of planets and the Moon occurred in constellations that would have been interpreted closely.
Beginning in 4 BC, the evening sky began a passion play of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, moving slowly around Leo the Lion, occasionally being met by Mars and Mercury. Any planetarium program can be set back to that time in the night sky and what you’ll see is amazing.
There are twelve constellations recognized as the domain of the Sun, Moon and moving planets, all animals, except Libra the Scales, thus the Zodiac or celestial zoo. Ancient civilizations divided the stars into “houses” of significance for humans. Taurus the Bull might be a time to be stubborn or strong; Pisces the Fish could be interpreted as a good time to travel like a stream. And the same was true with the five wandering stars: Mercury was a messenger;
Venus a queen; Mars a warrior; Jupiter a king; and Saturn a farmer.
As one carefully watches on a planetarium program the planet positions for the few years before 0 BC, the movements of Venus and Jupiter had to be noticed by everyone looking up on those super dark and clear nights of 2,000 years ago. Something amazing happened in June 2 BC. The two brightest planets approached each other, and merged as one brilliant star for a few days in the evening twilight! A beautiful sight for all to see, the common person wouldn’t read all the astrology into the stars they saw—only the Wise Men could understand the stars.
The spectacular conjunction of Venus and Jupiter happened on June 17, 2 BC in the feet of Leo the Lion, the constellation that had power for rulers. And nearby was the bright star Regulus, the regal star watching the merging of Jupiter, the King of the God, and Venus, the Queen.
The conjunction of the two brightest planets—only the Sun and Moon outshine them! –is not as rare as you might think. The two planets got close to each other in the morning sky of October 2017. And in the July 2016 sunset skies Venus and Jupiter merged as one star for a night.
Was this conjunction of Venus and Jupiter the Star of Bethlehem? It could be. And if you chose to believe it was a miraculous event without explanation, that’s okay too.
The importance of the Star of Bethlehem is its message of peace and love among our brothers and sisters of Earth. There is nothing like respect and human compassion to brighten anyone’s life like a beaming star.