The Star of Bethlehem

The Bethlehem star, a star of Wonder

There is a lot of star and planet information for that period in history, could any of it indicate a star or planets that lead the Magi (Wise Men) to Bethlehem?

Star of Wonder

What do we know about the Star of Bethlehem?
Could any of these known star movements have been the Star of Bethlehem?

7 BC late May: First of 3 conjunctions (coming together) of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation Pisces (occurs only once every approximately 900 years other two in September and December).

6 BC February: a coming together of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn again in Pisces, (approx. every 800 years).

5 BC March-April: Chinese astronomers recorded a nova in the constellation Capricorn visible for over 70 days.***

3 BC May 19th: Saturn and Mercury came together.

3 BC June 12th: Saturn met with Venus.

3 BC August 12th: Jupiter and Venus came together just before sunrise, appearing as a very bright morning star.

3 BC Sept 14th: Jupiter came close to Regulus (meaning ‘king’) which is the chief star in Leo, the Royal Constellation.

3 BC late summer or early autumn: The Roman five yearly census. Was this the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem? This is probably the year that Jesus was born (not 25th December).

3 BC December 1st: Jupiter stopped its motion through the fixed stars and began its annual retrograde motion and was reunited with Regulus (king) on 17th February 2 BC, and continued its retrograde motion another 40 days and then it reverted to its normal motion through the stars which remarkably placed Jupiter into a third conjunction with Regulus on 8th May 2 BC. To observers, it appeared as though Jupiter (representing the highest God) was circling over and around Regulus, the King Star.

2 BC June 17th: Venus and Jupiter joined together again (in the constellation Leo) during the evening and would have appeared as one very bright star.

2 BC August 27th conjunction Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury in the constellation Leo, another rare astronomical event. This was seen by astrologers as ‘common agreement of purpose’. It probably also signalled to the Romans a new and powerful beginning for Rome.

2 BC Rome celebrated its 750th year since it was founded.

2 BC 25th jubilee year of the reign of Caesar Augustus as Emperor.

Wisemen following a star

Jupiter continued its apparent motion westward each morning. If the Magi wanted to ‘follow’ this star, it would have had a westward motion which agrees with the Biblical account.

2 BC Between early September and late December Magi arrive in Bethlehem?
Jupiter then, due to retrograde motion, appeared to ‘stop’ in the sky, as viewed from Jerusalem, directly to the south, over Bethlehem.
It came to its normal stationary position at dawn on December 25th, 2 BC. Not only that, but the planet came to a stop in the constellation Virgo. It remained there for nearly six days.

Dating Jesus’ birth in relation to Herod’s death

Most scholarship concerning the date of Herod’s death follows Emil Schürer’s calculations, which suggest that the date was in or around 4 BC [i]

The previous consensus and tradition places Herod’s death at 1 BC [ii]
Filmer and Steinmann propose that Herod died in 1 BCE, and that his heirs backdated their reigns to 4 or 3 BCE to assert an overlapping with Herod’s rule, and bolster their own legitimacy.

Two of Herod’s sons, Archelaus and Philip the Tetrarch, dated their rule from 4 BC [iii]
Though Archelaus apparently held royal authority during Herod’s lifetime.[iv]

Philip’s reign would last for 37 years, until his death in the 20th year of Tiberius (34 CE), which implies his accession as 4 BC [v]

In Josephus’ account, Herod’s death was preceded by a lunar eclipse and followed by Passover. [vi]

A partial eclipse best observed from the west coast of Africa, took place on March 13, 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover. [vii]
Other eclipses during this period, with proponents of 5 BC and the two eclipses of 1 BCE occurring January 10, being the most spectacular total lunar eclipse and December 29, another only partial eclipse. [viii]

Some more thoughts and questions:

Could Jesus have been born in the late summer/early autumn in 3 BC?

Was it the joining of Venus and Jupiter that made the Magi (Wise Men) go to Jerusalem?

1 BC January 10th there was a total lunar eclipse: The works of Flavius Josephus states that Herod died after a lunar eclipse and was buried before Passover. (That is the Herod who tried to kill the baby Jesus).

*** Another theory is that the Star of Bethlehem was in 5 BC:

All the known aspects of the observations of the Star of Bethlehem can be understood in a simple fashion if it was a simple bright nova observed in northern Capricorn or southern Aquila in mid-March 5BC and chronicled by the Chinese and Koreans. Oriental and biblical references are consistent with each other and the Star described in Matthew and in other early documents can be explained in a perfectly natural way (Opens a new page).

Also Josephus indicated that the death of Herod the Great occurred in 4 BC. Thus, for the Gospel of Matthew to be correct, Jesus could not have been born after that date.

If this theory is true they would have seen this over the time of their journey (Link opens a new page).

[i] Schürer, EmilA History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Vol. I, Herod the Great pp. 400-467, New York, Scribner’s, 1896.
[ii] ‘Herod the Great and Jesus: Chronological, Historical and Archaeological Evidence’ by Gerard Gertoux
[iii] Josephus, Wars, 1.631–632.
[iv] Josephus, Wars, 2.26.
[v] Hoehner, HaroldHerod Antipas, (Zondervan, 1980) p.251.
[vi] Josephus, Antiquities, 17.6.4
[vii] “Lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 BCE”.
[viii] “Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: -0099 to 0000”

Here are some more possible dates for Herod’s eclipse:

John P. Pratt, “Yet another eclipse for Herod” (Opens in a new window), The Planetarian, vol. 19, no. 4, Dec. 1990, pp. 8–14.
[Sorry I have lost the different references for the main text – main computer mother board has broken, backup computer’s hard drive went a few days later…]

By Peter Reason

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