The Star Of Bethlehem -- By: Gerald Culley

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 29:3 (Fall 2016)
Article: The Star Of Bethlehem
Author: Gerald Culley

The Star Of Bethlehem

Gerald Culley

Anything that has ever moved across the canopy of heaven, as well as much that has only existed in men’s imaginations, has been dubbed the Star of Bethlehem.

So observed Werner Keller in The Bible as History1 more than half a century ago, and an objective reader will surely agree. Comet? Nova? Meteor? Supernova? Conjunction of planets? Miracle? All of these ideas and more have had their proponents. Fascination with the Star is evident from the earliest years of Christianity, from fantastic accounts in the apocryphal gospels to sober comments from scholars like Origen and Augustine.

None of these, however, suggested that the Star was a natural astronomical phenomenon. They consistently held that it was a miracle, a special creation of God; and that view prevailed throughout classical antiquity and down to the Middle Ages.

One reason for this view was perhaps the Christian rejection of astrology, which was seen as Satanic, a false doctrine foisted by demons on the pagan world. And given that there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, any attempt to explain the Star as a natural astronomical body seemed to besmirch the gospel account with pagan superstition.

Still, with astrology’s claim to predict events and the creation account’s statement that the stars were “for signs and seasons,” Christian commentators could not quite leave astrology alone; and down to the time of the Renaissance, we see them struggle with the issue. Aaron Adair remarks,

All of these attempts by Christian scholars to try to match astrological circumstances with biblical or prophetic events demonstrate a desire for compatibility between the astral sciences and the religion of the time. The stars should announce the coming of Jesus just as the Gospel seems to say, and so this is what the Christian scholars tried to show through astrology without denying the hand of Providence. The use of divination had at best an uneasy truce with dogma. 2

And so it continued until the rise of the Age of Rationalism. Then, however, as radical scholars began denying the miraculous on philosophical grounds, they had two choices with the Star. It was either a pious fabrication—never having occurred at all— or it was an entirely natural event. This latter view opened the way, at last, for astronomers to look for the Star. For the past two centuries, then, we have experienced a series of attempts to find it in the natural procession of the heavens. It has often been sought in conjunctions of two, three or more planets, but the variety of theor...

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