Sunday, December 18, 2011
"Star of Bethlehem"...astronomical data
With no integration of the religious significance other than "tis the season", it is interesting to discover the event associated with the birth of the historical Jesus--the alleged "Star of Bethlehem". Real or an addition to add to the story? Sorting out the verifiable facts and the historical time span is a bit complex. It is known that King Herod ["Herod the Great"] fits into this time slot and King Herod was even mentioned in Matthew. Now [debatable] King Herod died sometime in 4 B.C. Scholarly research has even placed King Herod's death at 1 B.C.. I'll leave all of that the historical and theological scholars for it gets quite complex when consulting documented historical references and interpretations.
This is the only Biblical reference found in Matthew--Luke mentions nothing about the "star". [Note: Both books were written 80-90 years after the event.]
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
Okay, now to the astronomical ideas. Again, we are dealing with a culture over two thousand years old and definitions and attitudes towards astronomy was different. Such is the definition of a star which could mean a meteor, comet, or the conjunction of planets. However you look at it, it was bright. Comets can be ruled out for they were associated with bad events--not a good thing with the positive aspects of a Jewish messiah. Meteors move too fast and short of duration. So, what's left? Planet conjunctions. It just so happens that there were two events [planet conjunctions] that happened within that time span: Triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces in 7 B.C. and near-conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in Pisces in February 6 B.C.. These would produce a bright fixture in the heavens. And the Jews placed a lot of astrological significance in the events of Saturn and Jupiter. The first planet conjunction happened around 7 B.C. in May when the Babylonian "Wise Men" [astronomers/astrologers of the highest rank] may have begun their sojourn. The second planet conjunction happened a few months later in September when the Wise Men were visiting King Herod and set his paranoia into motion with their revelation that a new king was at hand. Stories get twisted for the actual number of "Magi" was never given at first and later stated as three. Their status changed too. And, they were ignorant of the ethnicity of the "new king". Nevertheless, and despite the historical speculations, it is quite possible that the "Star of Bethlehem" was a conjunction of several planets.