Bethlehem star: History & astronomy


#1

bethlehemstar.net/

This thrilling exposition of the astronomy of the Bethlehem star (.net) continues through the astronomy of the crucifixion, reminiscent of Saint Teresa of Jesus who, in founding her reformed Carmelite monasteries, always endowed each with an image of the Infant King of Kings, and Christ scourged at the pillar.

The stunning politics of the era are well documented as intertwined with the signs in the sky, including Tiberius Ceasar’s removal of his ruthless anti-Semitic prime minister, and execution of his appointees, which Pontius Pilate feared would soon include him if he offended the Jewish leaders any further by not crucifying Christ Jesus.

The anti-Catholic–wonderfully so for our purposes–D. James Kennedy, in his book, THE GOSPEL IN THE STARS, helps nail down the thesis proposed by the scholarly Bishop Sheen, that the whole world knew there was a long-awaited Savior and used the time clock of the heavens. Sheen cited things like the Chinese history with the emperor walking in his garden; noticing a new star in the south-west; questioning the sages as to the meaning of that new star; and the sages replying that they would look it up; and the sages reporting back that this heavenly portent signified the arrival of the One Who was prophesied.

This star history takes us step-by-step through the unusual triple conjunction of the king planet Jupiter and Regulus/king star in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah constellation, Leo; to the Virgo bringing the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus so spectacular that it is repeated in planetariums for effect; to the Blood Moon eclipse at 3:00 when Christ commended His spirit to the Father in death unto eternal life for us all, the Great Clock set in motion when time was created.

Particularly enjoyable are the ancient historians referenced as intertwined with Old & New Testament passages fleshing out the tumult and hope of salvation history.

EMMANUEL! GOD WITH US! DELIVER US, JESUS CHRIST, YESHUA HA MESHIACH, AND GRANT JERUSALEM THY PERFECT PEACE!


#2

Interesting, God Bless, Memaw


#3

Quite good because it fits.


#4

That’s just bad astronomy. Not my field.
Phil Plait has discussed this topic for years. Catholics should be ashamed to promote such piffle.


#5

I’ll be honest. I’m too wary of naturalistic explanations of stuff in the Bible that does not necessarily have to be explained in a naturalistic way. This is from another thread a while back:

Just a minor rant. Ever since Christians became too keen on identifying the Star of Bethlehem with any natural astronomical phenomena from that time period - be it a supernova or Halley’s Comet or a planet or whatever - and then try to use it to pinpoint Jesus’ birth date. But I personally think that this ignores the fact that the description of the ‘star’ doesn’t exactly fit a normal star or a comet or supernova or whatever: Matthew says that the star did not so much blaze across the sky but “stopped/stood over the place where the child was.” Why try to rationalize it when even the text seems to indicate that this was no mere astronomical phenomenon?

I think the early Christian interpretations of the star do more justice to the actual text than the modern rationalistic/naturalistic interpretations do. They thought that it wasn’t any regular star; in their view, it could have been a one-time miracle, maybe a guiding angel or the Holy Spirit in the guise of a star - which you obviously couldn’t find on any star chart or track down using a telescope. You cannot use computer programs or charts or telescopes to see an angel or the Holy Spirit.

The modern interpretations are really guilty of imposing our modern understanding on an ancient text. We moderns think materially: the Sun and other stars are balls of gases, comets are these dusty snowballs that orbit the Sun, planets are these things made out of gases or rocks or metals that orbit a star and supernovas are stars that exploded. But the ancient Jews didn’t see it that way: stars, the ‘hosts of heaven’, are usually linked, even identified with angels. So they have this sort of different, spiritual understanding of what stars are. And I think that’s what’s really been lost with modern explanations that try to explain away anything that smacks of the supernatural in a naturalistic way.

It’s also kind of funny/ironic in a way too: many of us Christians will go up in arms when somebody tries to explain away the Resurrection or the various visions of angels or Jesus’ miracles in a naturalistic way (you know, stuff like ‘Jesus didn’t really walk on water; He just surfboarded on this ice sheet’ or ‘Jesus didn’t really multiply the loaves, He just encouraged everybody to share’), but we readily accept naturalistic explanations like the darkness of the crucifixion being an eclipse or something or the star of Bethlehem being a supernova/planet/comet/whatever when it seems to suit our purposes (say, pinning a date on Jesus’ life).

So I kinda think modern attempts to identify the Star of Bethlehem and then use it as a sign for when Jesus was born are kinda misguided for two reasons. (1) Most people who look for the elusive Star tend to look for the flashy phenomena - supernovas, comets, planetary conjunctions - because they have this assumption that the star has gotta be one of those flashy phenomena that happened back then. But IMHO there’s no indication from the text itself that the star was or had to be such a prominent celestial sight. The Magi were astrologers by profession; for all we know they could have seen something that only made sense to people who really pore into the sky. It’s kinda like astronomers who see things in the sky that a casual observer could easily miss or find too mundane or ‘boring’ to pay attention to. So (assuming a naturalistic explanation for the star) I see no need to limit the potential candidates to comets or supernovas or suchlike.

And the second reason is, just as I said in the quote above, all modern attempts seem to assume naturalistically that the Star was a natural phenomenon. But what if the ‘star’ was actually a supernatural, one-time miracle? Then there’s no real objective way we can trace it.

P.S. If you read the text carefully, Matthew does not state whether people other than the Magi saw this star; on the contrary, it seems that only the Magi really saw the star: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose/in the east and have come to worship him.”


#6

Does this mean that the ones who are scientists who are not already believers will see what the believers can not see?


#7

bethlehemstar.net/

If this whole article is read, it makes sense.

These men were from the east, and these people saw the stars as posting events in the world. By looking at the positions of the stars and their apparent movements and junctions to one another, they were seeing certain events taking place. That is what this article explains, how they enterpreted the apparent movements in the constellations.

Of course it is anyone’s opinion, but the article made a lot of sense.

For one thing, if the star was a miraculous star, why didn’t other people see it, especially if it moved in the sky? But the explaination in the article gives the answer, there was no new star, but rather the movement of the ordinary stars in the sky which took a person who knew the constellations and the places of the stars. The bible doesn’t say it was a new star, just that a star appeared, which could very well mean to our eye looking at the movement of the stars.

For another, why were these men from the east and not from somewhere else? Because in the east, they studied the stars, and were called wise men who studied them. And the article does show what they saw happening in the constellations at the time of Jesus’ birth, to indicate a birth of a great king.

I believe it was well done and fits the bible. Why do we necessarily have to think it was a miracle? And if it were, there would have been others from other countries and tribes who would have been startled at it, yet there is no indication of this happening at that time.

For another thing, to see a bright star in the sky and to follow that star would be difficult if not impossible. Because the stars are so far away from us, that they don’t appear to be moving at all.

For another, if the star was an angel star, bright and shinning, then why would the bible call it a star when it was an angel? Or why call it a star if it was just a bright light in the sky? Why not call it a light? Because it was a star, a regular star, which only appear to those who were skilled enough to see it.

In fact, it was greater than a miracle to have all of these stars behaving in the way they did at just at the right time when Jesus was born. To me that is a far greater miracle although it can’t be called a miracle because it was all done thru natural movements in the sky executed from the beginning of the creation.

If the whole article is read, it is impressive.


#8

According to the account in Matthew, the star “was going before them,” and “stopped at the place where the child was.” Comets of course traverse the sky, and supernovas and conjunctions do appear to move - thanks to the earth’s motion. But that a lighted object high in the sky could give someone to a precise location just doesn’t compute. (In any case, the gospel says that the guiding star “stopped at the place where the child was.” The magi needed no help to find the village of Jesus’ birth, since the men in Jerusalem already mentioned that it was in Bethlehem; they needed help only to determine which child in Bethlehem was the one they were seeking.) St. John Chrysostom I think had the right observation when he said:

For if you can learn what the star was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest? From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia.

…]

In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again. For on their way as far as Palestine it appeared leading them, but after they set foot within Jerusalem, it hid itself: then again, when they had left Herod, having told him on what account they came, and were on the point of departing, it shows itself; all which is not like the motion of a star, but of some power highly endued with reason. For it had not even any course at all of its own, but when they were to move, it moved; when to stand, it stood, dispensing all as need required: in the same kind of way as the pillar of the cloud, now halting and now rousing up the camp of the Jews, when it was needful.

In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out. For it did not, remaining on high, point out the place; it not being possible for them so to ascertain it, but it came down and performed this office. For you know that a spot of so small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and discover it to them that were desiring to see it. … How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”

In fact, the ancient tradition John Chrysostom was describing here (first attested in the Protoevangelium of James - as always :wink: - and repeated by other Fathers and writers such as St. Irenaeus, Origen, St. Ephrem, and Theophylact, even down to the days of John Calvin!) has the ‘star’ actually leaving the heavens and coming down to earth to lead the Magi to a particular house, perhaps even to the infant Jesus Himself. In other words, they thought that the ‘star’ was more like Tinker Bell in the Peter Pan stories than any natural celestial phenomenon known to astronomy.

The star descended from the heights and came closer to the earth to show the place to them [the magi]. For if it had appeared to them in the heights, how would they have been able to perceive the particular spot where Christ was? For the stars are visible over a great area. You may accordingly behold the moon over your house while it appears to me that it is over my house only. In short, the moon or a star appears to one and all to stand over them alone. So this star could not have indicated where Christ was unless it descended and stood over the head of the child. (Theophylact, Commentary on Matthew 2.9)

And at His birth the star appeared to the Magi who dwelt in the east; and thereby they learned that Christ was born; and they came to Judaea, led by the star; until the star came to Bethlehem where Christ was born, and entered the house wherein was laid the child, wrapped in swaddling-clothes; and it stood over His head, declaring to the Magi the Son of God, the Christ. (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 58)

[The star] came down to the very place where the infant was [and it remained] on the Christ [just as, when he later submitted to John’s baptism, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended] and remained on him. (Origen, Homily on Numbers 18.3 [4])


#9

Did you read the article? It explains this and how the star was stopped.

No offense to our ancient good fathers and saints, but if they lived today and read the article, I believe they would pause and think again.

Even tho it is true, that it’s anyone’s guess.


#10

I think you’re anachronistically applying the modern understanding of what stars are. Let’s be honest: Matthew’s (or the Fathers’) idea of what stars are is not the same as our idea of what stars are. If we took the tradition of the star coming down to earth to lead the Magi literally, our modern minds would imagine that the Earth should have become a blazing inferno 2,000 years ago, burned up by the collision of that one star. In fact, we could never contemplate such a prospect. Because it’s hardwired into our heads that the ‘stars’ are gigantic, inanimate, energetic, luminous balls of gases that are light-years away from us. So we dismiss the idea of ‘moving’ stars coming down to Earth absurd. But for Matthew and the Fathers, there would have been nothing unnatural about such an idea. I mean, these were the days when people could think think that the sun was simply as large as the breadth of a person’s foot, or that the sun and moon are just flat, shiny discs up in the sky. Or that the Earth was either a flat disc or a box-shaped thingy. (If it was an orb, then only the upper parts would have been inhabitable - I mean what would happen to people who live on the ‘lower’ part of the world? Wouldn’t they fall off?)

Here’s the thing. In antiquity, stars are not thought of as inanimate objects; they were ‘alive’. (In fact, we shouldn’t read our conceptions of what constitutes ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ objects into ancient texts at all.) An author called Lester J. Ness who wrote a series of articles entitled Astrology and Judaism in Late Antiquity said:

When people looked into the sky, they saw living creatures who looked back at them, who planned their lives, and who communicated with them. The ‘laws’ of astrology were the habits of the gods from this point of view.

In fact, you would notice that across all ancient cultures there is an idea that the heavens are alive, that there was a ‘spirit’ in the stars. That’s why Greek myths could speak of gods and heroes becoming constellations. That’s why the Egyptians could identify the deceased Pharaoh with the pole star, and why some Zoroastrian texts could equate the Fravashis (the guardian spirit of an individual who sends the soul, or urvan, into the material world; the soul is thought to rejoin its fravashi after death) with heavenly bodies. And that’s why some myths could consider the stars as being the children of the sun and the moon. And so and so forth.

The Jews had the same idea, in fact. Look at the song of Deborah in Judges 5:20: “From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sisera.” This is not just poetic flourish or rhetoric; premodern readers could understand this line in a quite literal way. And in fact, ancient Jewish folktales interpret this line in a quite literal way: that during Barak’s battle with Sisera the stars literally came down from heaven to burn Sisera’s army or their weapons. Or what about Job 38:7?

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

In fact, you’d notice here the parallelism between the ‘morning stars’ and the ‘sons of God’ (i.e. the angels); in true Hebrew fashion, one is synonymously identified with the other. And there’s the word ‘hosts’ or ‘armies’: tzevaot - or in a more familiar form, sabaoth. God is often termed in the OT as “Yhwh of Hosts” (“Lord God of Hosts”): while in a literal sense, it could refer to the ‘armies’ of Israel, it also refers to God being the head of the “hosts of heaven.” And what are the ‘hosts of heaven’? It is both the stars (and other heavenly bodies) and the angels. So there was no fine line between the two.

I’ll continue in the following posts.


#11

(Continuing)

There are three motifs in Jewish and Christian literature that Matthew and the Fathers would have known. One is the idea of angels being guides. (This is pretty famous: just look at Exodus and how God’s angel guided the Israelites out of Egypt. In fact, some Jewish thought identified the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that went before the Israelites to have either an angel inside or was itself an angel in cloud/fire form.) The second is, consistent with their sometime identity as ‘stars’, angels are conceived as being bright and shining - even fiery. (Again, one need not look for obscure passages for this.) And the third idea is, that angels regularly descend to earth - just like ‘falling stars’. (This is why it was easy for Christians to identify Satan with the ‘morning star’ of Isaiah 14; cf. the fall of “the third part of the stars” in Revelation 12:4.)

So taking these into account, there’s really nothing strange in thinking that star could have been an angel if we adopt Matthew’s and the Fathers’ mentality here. ‘Real’ stars don’t leave the sky and come to earth, nor literally go before people to guide them, nor come to rest over a person, a city or a house. But in old Judaeo-Christian tradition, stars - angels - are quite capable of doing that, and people wouldn’t think that was strange without having to resort to naturalistic explanations like we often do today. And the star of Matthew actually does what angels generally do in Scripture: it guides the Magi.

You know what’s interesting here? The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy (6th century) makes explicit what could be implicit in Matthew - that the star was an angel.

And it came to pass, when the Lord Jesus was born at Bethlehem of Judæa, in the time of King Herod, behold, magi came from the east to Jerusalem, as Zeraduscht had predicted; and there were with them gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And they adored Him, and presented to Him their gifts. Then the Lady Mary took one of the swaddling-bands, and, on account of the smallness of her means, gave it to them; and they received it from her with the greatest marks of honour. And in the same hour there appeared to them an angel in the form of that star which had before guided them on their journey; and they went away, following the guidance of its light, until they arrived in their own country.

And it’s not just this work that does this. Many Christian writers from antiquity (ranging from Theophylact to Ishodad of Merv to St. Thomas Aquinas) also held this possibility. Now it’s true that there was a little hiccup in the idea of heavenly bodies being alive since Origen argued that they had rational souls (an idea which was eventually condemned), but (as we can see from St. John Chrysostom and Theophylact) orthodox writers had generally no problem with believing that at least, the Star of Bethlehem could have been an angel. It was modern astronomy that really killed this idea - unfortunately, in my opinion. The 16th century Spanish Jesuit John Maldonatus was really one of the last persons to seriously entertain the idea of the star to be actually some supernatural being (either an angel or the Holy Spirit). From then on, it’s purely naturalistic explanations that came in vogue.


#12

Patrick, what you say is illuminating and intriging to say the least.

And I have to say that people of oldn’ days did tend to believe in simplar ways than we do today because of our swelled scientific heads.

But on the other hand, science is one with divine knowledge since it too is a creature of God’s and good. So I do think that if the ancients were privy to what we know today, I wouldn’t put it past them to think twice about the angel being the star. Tho I personally have nothing against it and in deed have had a suspicion that this was the way to explain it.

Having said all of that, and having read your fascinating explainations, I still would go with the new found explaination, for I think it fits in with the wise men’s times. And in addition there is also the recent principle in interpretating scripture, not to multiply miracles if unnecessary. But the new way is even greater than a miracle in my view, since all of the stars and movements from our viewing would need to be setup at the beginning of creation, making Christ’s birth a part of creation itself.

But thank you for all your information, because it will help in reading the O T now, and that is something everyone can profit from.

Now in the case of Moses and the Red Sea, that would seem to me a miracle because even tho some have tried to explain it as a natural wind, that can’t explain away the timing of Moses arms causing the Sea to open and again his arms causing the sea to close.

May you be blessed with a holy Christmas season.


#13

Merry Christmas. You’re free to believe whatever you will in this regard - I’m not stopping you nor anyone else.

What I’m just trying to say is, we moderns have really lost our touch with the supernatural. :smiley: I know I’ve said this in some other place, but I like watching religious films in general - not just Christian ones. One of my favorites tend to be Bollywood Hindu religious epics. The one thing I really like about them is that, they’re not afraid to treat the supernatural as supernatural. Indian ‘mythologicals’ (as they are often known) - especially the older ones - tend to be (in)famous for their - from a Western POV, kitschy - special effects (the overuse of blue screen, ‘divine weapons’ that look like they were made out of cardboard, etc.), and actors in garish, gaudy costumes reciting stilted, archaic dialogue. But the fact that they try to attempt to replicate the ‘otherworldliness’ of Hindu myths show at Indian filmmakers, at least, do not share the modern Western tendency to shy away from the supernatural.

I may not be Hindu, and being a Christian I of course do not hold to Hinduism, but I do like certain aspects of the Indian worldview - if only because I’ve found the naturalistic/rationalistic Western worldview to be too - how do you say it - dry. The Indians have preserved something which the West had lost during the Renaissance and the ‘Enlightenment’ - when everything that is not provable by some science or tangible to us came to be dismissed as ‘irrational superstitions’.

That’s what I actually think is unfortunate. Western Christians, even if they don’t realize it, have been kinda subconsciously infected by the modern supposition that anything that smacks of the supernatural in the Bible has to be explained in scientific, naturalistic terms. In other words, even if they don’t realize it, they share a sort of unease with the miraculous with the non-believers.

At times I actually have a gut feeling that there’s a bit of a double standard involved. Christians get offended when people suggest rationalistic explanations for Jesus’ miracles or the resurrection (“Oh, Jesus just encouraged everybody to share,” “Oh, He just surfboarded on this ice sheet,” “Oh, those people are not really possessed by demons,” “Oh, He just fell into a swoon”).* But when it comes to stuff like the star of Bethlehem or the darkness of the crucifixion, for some odd reason I couldn’t fathom clearly, many Christians seem to think that those have to (not just ‘could’) be explained in naturalistic terms, when the text does not necessarily say that those had to be some sort of natural phenomena (comets, planets, supernovas, sandstorms, eclipses, cloudy weather, etc.); on the contrary, you kinda get the vibe that those were ‘out of the ordinary’ as well.

(* That’s why I actually have more sympathy for people who just dismiss all the supernatural stuff in the gospels as fiction than for people who try to ‘rationalize’ the miracles and stuff: at least they’re consistent. The rationalists want to have their cake and eat it at the same time: they want to say that whatever is written in the Bible is ‘true’, but they’re too embarrassed to admit that the miracles all the other stuff are what the gospels say or imply they are.)

I’m not saying that naturalistic explanations are bad, or that nobody should hold them. I’m just saying - what is it that prevents us Christians - the same Christians who can readily believe in the miracles of Jesus - from ascribing a non-natural explanation to these events in Jesus’ birth and death? Is it because that we’re afraid that we’ll become the laughing-stock of people? (Maybe not, since we’ve already become a laughing-stock when we accepted the miracles of Jesus.) Is it because we have this assumption in our heads that those two phenomena would pin a definitive date in Jesus’ life - in other words, it places Jesus firmly on the map of history, thereby validating Christianity? (This is another thing I find curious/amusing about the Western worldview really: its obsession with tangible ‘history’.)


#14

In think it’s pretty neat. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but it does make sense. I watched the youtube video.


#15

You have a number of fine points and I would agree. The western culture is a bunch of fraidy cats when it comes to miracles or private apparitions. But then the church is also a bit cautious.

My own view is that there are miracles taking place every day that we don’t know about or won’t accept as such. But there again, somebody is always up to no good, so then caution takes over. Which results in fear of accepting anything.

And it would be rather nice if we were back when, and our faith was so much simpler and easy. But we grow and go forward, and we have to deal with it.

What is getting more difficult is trying to remember 2000 years of history and other events so that they can be explained properly. So much has gone on that is very difficult to remember all the bits and pieces and just what happened at that time. Not every thing is written down and much as been lost to our chagrin. Especially all the culture and understandings of long ago.

Blessed be God who comforts us in all our efforts.


#16

That’s extrodinary for a man who was just a lawyer. I’m like you, I thought the time well spent watching it.


#17

Somethings bothering me…in the FAQ someone asks if we can see future events via the sky, thereby predicting Jesus’s return and he said one day we might be able to not predict the day, but the ‘season.’

What does he mean by season and are we going to be able to predict His return? That subject freaks me out.


#18

I can predict for a fact the end of the world. 2 billion years for sure since the sun will become a giant star and swallow us whole.

But apart from that ??? However it isn’t beyond my imagination to see something very chaotic happening to the earth at any time. Just watch all the TV shows on what can happen to us at any time thru natural means.

Even the moon was formed by a massive body hitting the earth about 5 billion years ago and forming a layer of material floating around the earth until in congealed into the moon.

We have no idea what could possibly happen at any time and cause most of the earth to be uninhabitable.

Being a Christian makes it all better.

May the Good Shepherd fill you with peace.


#19

Is Larson right, though, can he now or in the future use astronomy to predict the “season” of Jesus’s return?


#20

Does anyone know?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.