The Star of Bethlehem

Dec 20, 2017
Star of Bethlehem

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What is the Star of Bethlehem, and what is its significance?

Every holiday season, planetariums present their “Star of Wonder” show, which offers astronomical explanations for the most famous star of all—the Star of Bethlehem.

The show suggests that the star was either a comet, a conjunction of bright planets, or maybe a supernova.

Or perhaps it was Jupiter alone in the constellation Aries, according to a newer thesis that got New York Times headlines a few years ago.

What the public doesn’t know, is that none of these could be correct. Every backyard stargazer knows you can’t get anywhere by following something in the sky.

In the below painting, Adoration of the Magi, the Star of Bethlehem is shown as a comet. The painter, Giotto di Bondon, saw Halley’s Comet in 1301. Find out more about comets.

star-comet.jpg

Where Is the Star of Bethlehem?

Whether planet, star, or supernova, everything arcs rightward during the night. The Magi would travel in a giant semicircle if they followed any kind of celestial object. What’s more, no astronomical body can come to a screeching halt and hover over Bethlehem or anywhere else.

the-star-of-bethlehem.jpg

Only things in the north don’t move much—like Polaris, the North Star, which appears glued in place. But that eliminates planets, which are never in the north. Plus, the Magi weren’t going north to get to Bethlehem, but southwest. Find out more about stars and their locations.

Bottom line? None of the planetarium explanations can possibly be valid—and planetarium directors know this very well.

Many scholars believe that when the account was first written a century after Christ’s death, the star was intended to be an ASTROLOGICAL omen. By this reasoning, it was never an actual  object in the real sky. This idea is supported by the fact that the Star appears in Matthew, but not at all in Luke.

star-astrology.jpg

In any case, astrology (which appears in the earliest of almanacs) eventually fell into total disfavor—first with the church and later with science—making this explanation popular with neither. And planetariums are reluctant to get into this because astrology is the last thing they want to discuss.

Now, hold off on any angry letters. The whole point is that when planetariums suggest some natural phenomenon such as a comet just happened to appear at the right place and then just happened to stop and hover over the manger—well, that itself would be indistinguishable from a miracle. Why offer a scientific explanation that has to unfold outside the laws of science?

And religion is similarly mistreated because the whole thing suggests that faith in the miraculous is unnecessary, because there’s some kind of rational science explanation for the Star. In short, neither science nor religion are well served.

No matter. Those planetarium programs will continue. They’ve been around for three quarters of a century, and are enjoyed by the public. They’ve become a holiday tradition of their own.

Find out the facts behind other Christmas traditions.

What do you think about the Star of Bethlehem? Let us know below!

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe

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Star of Bethlehem

But, remember, GOD can do anything, he can also stop a star if he wants, or needs to

The star and Babylonian astrology

We do have the manual used by the magi, and there is only one sign about a king coming from the west. It is presented in the book "The Star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology". The main idea is that the magi came in 2 BC in search of a new Alexander the great. The signs they saw are in accordance with Revelation 12.

God, science and logic

One thing that seems always to be left out of the discussion of God, science and logic is that to study science, is to study the Mind of God and that everything He does and how He does it has a perfectly logical and scientific explanation, even if it is beyond human comprehension.

A perspective to consider

122:8.6 These priests from Mesopotamia had been told sometime before by a strange religious teacher of their country that he had had a dream in which he was informed that “the light of life” was about to appear on earth as a babe and among the Jews. And thither went these three teachers looking for this “light of life.” After many weeks of futile search in Jerusalem, they were about to return to Ur when Zacharias met them and disclosed his belief that Jesus was the object of their quest and sent them on to Bethlehem, where they found the babe and left their gifts with Mary, his earth mother. The babe was almost three weeks old at the time of their visit. 122:8.7 These wise men saw no star to guide them to Bethlehem. The beautiful legend of the star of Bethlehem originated in this way: Jesus was born August 21 at noon, 7 B.C. On May 29, 7 B.C., there occurred an extraordinary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. And it is a remarkable astronomic fact that similar conjunctions occurred on September 29 and December 5 of the same year. Upon the basis of these extraordinary but wholly natural events the well-meaning zealots of the succeeding generation constructed the appealing legend of the star of Bethlehem and the adoring Magi led thereby to the manger, where they beheld and worshiped the newborn babe. Oriental and near-Oriental minds delight in fairy stories, and they are continually spinning such beautiful myths about the lives of their religious leaders and political heroes. In the absence of printing, when most human knowledge was passed by word of mouth from one generation to another, it was very easy for myths to become traditions and for traditions eventually to become accepted as facts.
- as recorded in the Urantia book

Star iof Bethlehem

Sometime I am reminded by the most powerful astronomers of a conversation held between two sub teen boys while they both looked up into the Big Blue Sky. Says the one youngest to the older, "The Sky Ain't A Big Blue Umbrella." After a moment os study, the Older replies to the Younger "Well.....There is something there, so tell me what is it that Ain't".

Star of Bethleham

“Star” Seen After Jesus’ Birth. The “astrologers from eastern parts,” hence from the neighborhood of Babylon, whose visit to King Herod after the birth of Jesus resulted in the slaughter of all the male infants in Bethlehem, were obviously not servants or worshipers of the true God. (Mt 2:1-18; see ASTROLOGERS.) As to the “star” (Gr., a·sterʹ) seen by them, many suggestions have been given as to its having been a comet, a meteor, a supernova, or, more popularly, a conjunction of planets. None of such bodies could logically have ‘come to a stop above where the young child was,’ thereby identifying the one house in the village of Bethlehem where the child was found. It is also notable that only these pagan astrologers “saw” the star. Their condemned practice of astrology and the adverse results of their visit, placing in danger the life of the future Messiah, certainly allow for, and even make advisable, the consideration of their having been directed by a source adverse to God’s purposes as relating to the promised Messiah. It is certainly reasonable to ask if the one who “keeps transforming himself into an angel of light,” whose operation is “with every powerful work and lying signs and portents,” who was able to make a serpent appear to speak, and who was referred to by Jesus as “a manslayer when he began,” could not also cause astrologers to ‘see’ a starlike object that guided them first, not to Bethlehem, but to Jerusalem, where resided a mortal enemy of the promised Messiah.—2Co 11:3, 14; 2Th 2:9; Ge 3:1-4; Joh 8:44. From the Watch Tower book Insite into the Scriptures.

The Star of Bethlehem

Visitors from another planet???

Follow that Star

Two points, you can indeed "follow a star". We all know that constellations are first seen in the East eg Orion and as the year progresses they are seen further towards the South This is because the Earth takes 23 hrs 56 mins to turn on its axis once every 24 hour day. Hence a bright planet can be seen moving across the sky night by night from East to West. (Yes I know they also move a small amount West to East against the background stars.)

2nd point who were the Wise Men? My guess is that they were part of the Jewish diaspora left behind in Babylon after regeneration of Israel. We know that the astronomers in that area at that time had an excellent knowledge of the night sky. It also gave a reason for them to want to go to Israel at that time.
Brian Sheen - Roseland Observatory.

Star of Bethelem

Following an astrological omen may not be about it actually being above or over head something, but most likely about its presence. Seems logical they kept on moving until it reached a certain point or disappeared. At such point, there they were....Bethlehem. Seems plausible. However, the important point is that a belief is to be followed, wherever it may lead.

A Spaceship, maybe?

Maybe the star was the bright light from an extraterrestrial spaceship, hovering overhead during Jesus' birth. I love Jesus and the story about the Star of Bethlehem and His miraculous birth, but the possibility of Earth having received input from an advanced civilization would explain a lot of biblical stories and their miracles.

Bethlehem star

this is one of the subjects in a story that is thousands of years old. It is an affirmation of faith to me. None of us here today can renounce the scientific aspect, or the traditional story. Lets just enjoy one of the countnuing signs of Christmas. Merry Christmas!

The miraculous Star

"Every backyard stargazer knows you can’t get anywhere by following something in the sky." And yet, they did.

Star of Bethleham

I am a 43 year Sunday school teacher. I don't know this for a fact because the Bible doesn't tell us. I do believe the star was God Himself shining down and the bible does say it was "His" Star.

Great article

Thank you, sir. Your article was reasonably stated.

The Star of Bethlehem!

There is a documentary called "The Star of Bethlehem" by Rick Larson produced by Stephen McEveety out on DVD which gives a good account of what the Magi saw and followed. Using computer software rewinding to the position of the stars, back in the time period, talked about in the Bible. I found it very convincing, and recommend it every year at this time for anyone who wants to know the truth, and that have a love for astronomy. It takes someone, not a scientist or astronomer, someone just curious enough to do the research with software that anyone can buy to give a plausible explanation that makes perfect sense.

I have also viewed The Star

I have also viewed The Star of Bethlehem documentary and I agree, it is well worth watching!

The Star of Bethlehem;

I always thought the Star was "a planetary conjunction;(Jupiter etc.); thanks for the "Star of Bethlemhem info"; Merry Christams from Conn.;

Star of Bethlehem

A miraculous angelic announcement, a miraculous pregnancy, a miraculous birth. Why not simply a miraculous star??? I can accept that on faith. God works in wondrous ways.

Star of Bethlehem

I agree!!!

LIKE

LIKE

Star of Bethlehem

I think the reason that the star is mentioned in Matthew and not in Luke is because the wisemen/magi did not arrive at the stable, only the shepherds did. In Matthew it says they arrived at the house where they found Mary and the child at her knee, which means Jesus was old enough to be a toddler.

Star of Bethlehem

Exactly! :)

Star of Bethlehem

I agree. The "astrologers" came to Jerusalem to Herod and asked where the King of the Jews was located. They did not follow the star to the place Jesus was born. Herod asked his chief priests and scribes where this child was to be born (Matt. 2:4,5) and then sent the men to find the child so he could do obeisance to him (Matt 2:7,8), which was a lie. Herod wanted that child dead. So, off the men went to find the child and was guided by the star to find him (Matt. 2:9.10). Let's see...who else wanted that Messiah to be killed? Oh, yes, Satan would have loved to thwart God's plan for mankind's salvation, so he used his superhuman power to create this "star" that led the men to the child. But, the men had a dream that told them not to go back to Herod, but to go back another way to their country (Matt. 2:12). After that, Joseph was told in a dream to leave with his wife and child and go to Egypt until he was told to return (Matt. 2:13) because Herod wanted the child killed. So, I guess, after reading the Bible, instead of just believing the stories heard about the Star of Bethlehem, we can see the purpose of that star and know that it was not from God, but from His most hateful enemy.

Interesting post. One can

Interesting post. One can have faith in God as well as science. At least I do. Now, is God the ultimate scientist or is this phenomenon outside the realm of science?

the better question

I still love the mystery of the star and I can believe in both science and religion. We are still searching for answers and that is a great place to be too.

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