The Star of Bethlehem

Was the Star of Bethlehem a Real Celestial Body?

January 29, 2019
Star of Bethlehem


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Was the Star of Bethlehem a real celestial body or a miraculous vision? Astronomer Bob Berman discusses the prevailing theories and adds his own thoughts into the mix.

Star of Wonder?

Each holiday season, planetariums present their “Star of Wonder” show, which offers astronomical explanations for one of the most famous stars of all—the Star of Bethlehem, or Christmas Star. This is the star that the wise men from the East followed to Jerusalem in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew.

The shows typically suggest that the Christmas Star was either a comet, a conjunction of bright planets, or maybe even 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.

So, what was the star of Bethlehem?

In this 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.

What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

Whether planet, star, or supernova, everything arcs rightward during the night. The Magi would have traveled in a giant semicircle if they had 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 only celestial objects that don’t move much are located in the north—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.

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.


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 of this discussion is to point out that when people suggest some natural phenomenon—such as a comet that 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.

Faith in the Miraculous

Why offer a scientific explanation that has to unfold outside the laws of science?  

And religion is similarly mistreated because the whole search for the real Christmas Star 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. And as far as the planetarium programs go … They have become a holiday tradition of their own, so we might as well just sit back and enjoy!

What do you think the Star of Bethlehem was? Let us know in the comments!

Learn More

Find out the facts behind other Christmas traditions.

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything 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

the star was not a comet or planet==an actual star entered our solar system millions of years ago with Christ
the entire earth watched for ages
the star is now far away but yet exists
there is so much more but i hope to write about it

Star of Bethlehem, The Christmas Star

To me this star that shown the place of Christ birth and where he was as a toddler for the Magi is one of those miracles that God caused to happen and is something I accept by faith in God, that He is able to do the humanly impossible.

Faith vs Proof

I'm always amused by the religious who want science to prove their faith. Being an astronomer myself, I'm frequently asked by the faithful what various astronomical events mentioned in this faith book or another might have been. In other words, you're asking me to provide proof in the form of a natural explanation for what is, pretty much by dint of it being mentioned in your faith book, a supernatural (i.e., inexplicable by natural laws) event? If it can not be explained by natural laws then it can have no "proof" in any rational sense. If you have faith, you should have no need of proof. If you have proof, then you have no need of faith. Proof is the opposite of faith so please be careful about what you're asking to be proved lest others presume you have no faith. If you want to continue to enjoy the supernatural story of "The Star of Bethlehem", please stop asking for a natural explanation.

Star of Bethlehem

Call me old fashioned, however I think it was an Angel from heaven given the one assignment of lighting the way to the Lord Jesus Christ, so the magi could find him as well as the shepherds because we read in Luke where a host Angels announce his arrival to the shepherds

The Signs in the Heavens

1. The king planet, Jupiter, does full retrograde around the king star, Regulus, THREE TIMES. King... King... King. All of this in Leo the Lion. Think Lion of Judah. While Jupiter frequently passes Regulus (about every one or two decades), this time it encircles it THREE TIMES. This is unique. All this as seen from both Jerusalem and "in the east" (probably near Babylon, from where the Magi may have hailed). The Magi would immediately have recognized the significance based on the Torah prophecy of the Messiah found in Genesis 49:9-10, which was one of the very first prophecies of Christ's coming ever given by God.

2. Simultaneously we see part of the sign in Revelation 12. A woman clothed with the sun with the moon at her feet. On this date the moon was at her feet and she was clothed with the sun as can be seen in the above image.

3. This wasn't just any moon. It was a new moon.

4. And, to top it all off, this date happens to be Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year, also called the Feast of Trumpets.

Jesus likely born on June 17th, 2 BC:

1. It was exactly 40 weeks later, to the day, from September 11th, 3 BC. In medical thought, a perfect pregnancy. 38-42 weeks is a perfect pregnancy window.

2. The king planet, Jupiter, and the mother planet, Venus, merge in conjunction to become the brightest star/planet that anyone at that time had EVER seen. This conjunction is beyond rare, to say the very least. Jupiter and Venus are the two brightest lights in the night sky apart from the moon. This would thus fulfill Isaiah 9:2, both in the heavens (via Jupiter and Venus), and on the earth with Christ's birth, for at this very moment human eyes first see the incarnate God in flesh.

3. The king planet, Jupiter, had traveled through the sky from the east, to the west, without stopping, over the course of these nine months and is in conjunction with Venus right over Jerusalem.

4. This happened right at the heart of Leo the Lion... Lion of Judah.

The magi likely visit the six-month old Jesus on December 25th, 2 BC:

1. On December 25th, 2 BC, the king planet, which had been traveling from the east for the past 15 months WITHOUT STOPPING, finally STOPS (enters retrograde) DIRECTLY over the town of Bethlehem. On December 25th, 2 BC, if one were looking at Jerusalem's night sky, Jupiter would appear in the south-southwest, directly above Bethlehem.

2. In the Bible, the Greek word used for the child the magi find is "padion", which is more like "toddler" (not "infant"). This also explains why Herod has all the male children under two years of age killed. If Jesus was a newly born child, he could have been more specific in his order.

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Star of Bethlehem

Everyone wants a clean cut scientific answer to this - there is none. God was in charge when this occurred. Why can't people just live on faith and leave it alone?


I agree

Stationary Orbit

As a child fascinated with both religion and astronomy, I postulated that a comet had been caught into a geosynchronous orbit. I even cut out a white cardboard comet that was used on our family tree for years.

The problem is that such an orbit requires an object to be above the equator. This means that magi would have only a longitude if the object was meant to pinpoint a terrestrial location. But of course there is no equatorial route from the East to that longitude, and without a knowledge of geography West and South of the levant to backtrack into Africa, they would have concluded Jerusalem to be roughly the closest major city to that point. Or perhaps the star (comet) was first viewed at a particular declination that became the declared latitude of their journey's end.

My faith doesn't require a scientific explanation any more than the other way around, but I find there is very often a plausible cause that satisfies both realms. Perhaps this is it.

I'm married now and my children are grown. Maybe it's time to make a new cardboard cutout ...

Star of Bethlehem

I would think that the "star" or "light in the sky" was an Angel from YAHWEH since an Angel also appeared to the shepherds. And remember the "pillar of fire" that guided the Israelites during their journey in the desert? There was an Angel involved in that also. jus' sayin'.

Star of Wonder

Simple answer: I don't know...and as satisfying as it would be to find a definitive answer, in the long run, it doesn't really matter that we are unlikely to do so. The two major possibilities have to do with historic/cultural context (more in a minute) and perhaps a comet. Many scholars believe that the Magis' journey may have taken up to two years. I've not heard of a comet visible for that long, but they are often visible for several months. From our earthbound perspective, their travel appears slow, and then their journey carries them away from earth, out of our sight. Possibility two: it is a metaphor (which people in that time and place regarded as equally valid as physical truth. None of them would ever say, "It's just a metaphor." It was (and still is) a way of expressing that which is too large for literal description, and in a culture that regarded the stars as heralds of significant events, use of this image would make perfect sense. Or perhaps it was a literal miraculous presence. Things do happen that we can't explain.

So the Star? Although much beloved, its literal existence is only one relatively minor element in the larger Miracle of Christmas. God chose to join us as a human being, which is the most radical Act of Love imaginable. Other human beings--particularly one young woman--facilitated, proclaimed, and celebrated this love. Alleluia!

Cease condemning Astrology

have studied human nature/behavior for over 45 years. Was it Aristotle who said, "As Above, So Below?" the truth is we are connected deeply to not only each other on this planet but to the heavens,planets, etc. Astrology assets that planetary cycles affect human behavior. We inherit a 'picture' of the cosmos at birth. We inherit gifts determined the month we are born. The bible speaks of each persons gifts. We are physical human beings existing in a physical Universe, subject to the powerful positive and negative forces of life and the Universe. The purpose of religion has to do with teaching right behavior, learning unconditional love, forgiveness, to develop faith that powers and principalities seen and unseen regulate our lives.Trillions and trillions of atoms make up 'us'. Fluctuations in cosmic cycles affect these cells/atoms. The truth is the rhythms of the Universe DO affect our lives and one can debate the degree. I've observed the lives of hundreds of people famous and not so famous, the cosmic influences see the rise and fall of their lives. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, "For everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the sun."Even conceiving children at 'right times' would prevent many problems,illnesses,miscarriages. In my practice I have received over 80 letters of thanks for the wisdom,insights,helpful direction my intelligent understanding of the 'energies' gives a person. Astrology is both Art/Science that explains what ministers,therapists, psychiatrists cannot. I only wish I had all the answers, I don't but for a genuine practitioner, it offers invaluable help to those on their journey of self discovery and understanding the 'why' of events/relationships.

Star of Bethlehem

I believe that the star of Bethlehem was the Angel Gabriel hovering over the Christ child to protect him from saten. Other angels appeared in the Bible's account of his birth also. Saten would have loved to destroy Christ before he could die for the forgiveness of our sins.

Star of Bethlehem

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

Star of Bethelem

You are right. God can do any thing. It could have been star that He stopped for as long as needed. In Joshua chapter 10: 12-14 He made the
sun stand stil for about a day. In IIKings chapter 20: 9-10 He caused the Shadow to move backward for 10 degrees so the sun would have
had to move backward 10 degrees also. GOD CAN DO ANYTHING!!!!!!!

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!!!



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.

Star of Bethlehem

If Jesus was old enough to be a toddler, the Holy Family would have long since left Bethlehem to return to Nazareth or home, since they were only in Bethlehem to register for the census. Yet, the Wise Men clearly found the Child in Bethlehem. Herod ordered the boy children of Bethlehem and its environs killed, and Joseph was warned by the Angel to flee the place to Egypt until Herod died.

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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