The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is one of the most powerful symbols of Christianity. Was it purely a divine sign, or was it an astronomical event in its own right? Astronomer David Reneke believes astronomers may have found the answer.
We see it almost every year around this time, blazing brightly overhead. A brilliant ‘star’ that heralds good times, holidays – and lots of great food. Its Christmas time and you’re looking at the planet Venus, often mistaken as the ‘Christmas Star’ shining brightly, just after sunset in western sky.
The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is one of the most powerful, and enigmatic, symbols of Christianity. For centuries, scientists, scholars and historians have debated about the nature of this biblical light that heralded the birth of Jesus. Was it purely a divine sign, created miraculously to mark Jesus’ birth? Or was it an astronomical event in its own right?
David Reneke, writer and publicist for Australasian Science Magazine and regular contributor to the Westender, believes astronomers may have found the answer – or at least something that fits all the known facts.
It’s generally accepted by most researchers that Christ was born between 3 BC and 1 AD. David bases the research on the highly esteemed gospel according to Matthew, the first of the four gospels in the New Testament and, it seems, the first to be written. It’s also the only version placing the key players together in the same time period.
With modern astronomy software programs astronomers can reproduce the night sky exactly as it was, thousands of years ago. Wouldn’t it be good if astronomers could go back and have a look at the night sky of Christ’s time – to see if they could spot the Xmas star?
“Well, we have, and we found out something startling. From my research and based on earlier findings by New Zealand Astronomer John Mosley it looks like the ‘Xmas star’ really did exist,” David said.
Two thousand years ago, astronomy and astrology were considered one and the same. The motions of the heavenly bodies were used to determine the events of history, and the fate of people’s lives.
Of the various groups of priests and prophets of this period, those that garnered the most respect were the Magi. The origins of the Magi are not entirely clear. Known as ‘wise men’ – they were actually priests who relied on astrology.
Armed with an approximate date for the birth of Jesus we’ll assume that the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ was not just a localised event and could be observed by sky-watchers elsewhere in the world, not just by the Magi.
Now, historical records and modern-day computer simulations indicate that there was a rare series of planetary groupings, also known as conjunctions, during the years 3 B.C. and 2 B.C. In fact, this was one of the most remarkable periods in terms of celestial events in the last 3,000 years!
“Like the final pieces of a difficult jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon is starting to reveal itself,” David said.
On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning ‘stars.’ It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.
The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2BC, as Venus and Jupiter joined up again in the constellation Leo. This time the two planets were so close that, without binoculars, they would have looked like one single brilliant star.
Jupiter was known as the “planet of Kings” and Saturn as the “Protector of the Jews”. This could easily have been interpreted as a sign that the Jewish Messiah had been, or was about to be, born. Also, Leo was thought to denote royalty and power.
The whole sequence of events could have been enough for at least three astrologers to see this as sign in the heavens and make their way Jerusalem to ask Herod: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews, for we have come to worship him.”
This conjunction itself was unprecedented. It occurred during the evening and would have really lit up the night sky. Was this the fabled Christmas star? It seems so.
“Now, this doesn’t mean that astrology works,” David said. “We haven’t ruled out other possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem but it does make our search more rewarding to find a truly interesting astronomical event that happened during the most likely time for the Nativity.”
David has produced an E-Book on the Xmas Star containing much more detail with video imagery showing the actual alignment in progress at his website: www.davidreneke.com
Whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it has had more impact on mankind than any star before or since. It is also possible that the mystery of the Star will never be completely solved. For many of us though, it is the mystery itself that drives us to find the solution. For some though, they already have the answer. Merry Xmas.
David Reneke is the editor and publisher of Astro Space News. He’s a writer, lecturer, radio science correspondent, author, educator and practising astronomer. David is affiliated with ‘Australasian Science’ magazine .You can receive David’s free weekly email newsletter by visiting his website www.davidreneke.com