The Star of Bethlehem -- By: William Geating
BSP 13:4 (Fall 2000) p. 121
The Star of Bethlehem
Many possibilities have been suggested to explain the astronomical phenomena known as the “Star of Bethlehem” as recorded in Matthew 2:1–12. Is there a scientific explanation for this “Star of Wonder” that remains true to the Scriptural account?
To answer this question, we must first establish, accurately, the year when Christ was born, which in turn, will allow us to reconstruct the skies at the time of the Savior’s birth. Our present calendar assumes that Jesus was born in the year AD 0, when, actually, the event occurred several years prior to that. In AD 533 the Roman Monk Dionysius Exiguus dated Christ’s birth based on the writings of Clement of Alexander. This date was based on the account of the reign of the Emperor Augustus, who, unbeknown to Dionysius, had actually established his reign several years earlier under the name, Octavius.
The Bible indicates that Jesus was born in the days of King Herod (Mt 2:1). Josephus, the Jewish historian writing in the first century AD, states that Herod died a few days after an eclipse of the moon. After a week of official grieving, the Passover was observed. The only lunar eclipse visible in Israel at that time period occurred on March 13, 4 BC.
Furthermore, documents found in Ankra, Turkey, record the occurrence of Roman tax collections. The only date that again fits this time period is 8 BC. Using 8 to 4 BC as our two limits for Christ’s birth, what did the night skies display that would announce the Savior’s birth?
Luke 2:8 states that the shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Shepherds would only watch their flocks at night during the springtime when the lambs were being born. This again narrows the window for the time period for Christ’s birth.
The Greek word for star, aster, in ancient literature could refer to several astronomical events, such as a meteor, comet, planet or star. Do any of these fit into the time period?
A meteor, although spectacular, lasts only a few seconds due to the intense friction of the earth’s atmosphere. The Magi, who were well trained in astronomy, would have seen nothing unusual about a short-lived meteor.
A comet has often been suggested as a natural occurrence that would have alerted the wise men. Yet Halley’s Comet passed by in 11 BC, as well as other comet recordings in 44 BC, 17 BC and AD 66, all of which were outside the 8–4 BC time period. In addition, comets were viewed as omens of evil in ancient cultures.
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