The Star Of Bethlehem, A Comet In 5 BC And The Date Of Christ’s Birth -- By: Colin J. Humphreys

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 43:1 (NA 1992)
Article: The Star Of Bethlehem, A Comet In 5 BC And The Date Of Christ’s Birth
Author: Colin J. Humphreys


The Star Of Bethlehem, A Comet In 5 BC And The Date Of Christ’s Birth1

Colin J. Humphreys

I. Introduction

The star of Bethlehem has been considered either to be mythical or a miraculous object beyond the bounds of scientific explanation or a real astronomical phenomenon.2 The question of whether a celestial phenomenon reported in ancient literature in an historical context was a real astronomical object is one which occurs quite frequently. In all such cases it seems best to consider as a working hypothesis that the report is correct and to investigate whether any astronomical phenomenon exists which fits the report. Thus, tentatively, we take seriously the references in Matthew’s gospel and in other ancient literature to the star of Bethlehem which is stated to have appeared near the time of the birth of Christ.

If an astronomical object can be identified with the characteristics described in Matthew and other ancient manuscripts, this information may throw light on the long standing problem of the date of the Nativity. In AD 525 a Roman scholar and monk, Dionysius Exiguus, fixed the AD origin of our present calendar (Anno Domini = in the year of our Lord) so that Jesus was circumcised in the year AD 1 on 1 January (8 days, counting inclusively, after his birth on 25 December the previous year). More recently dates ranging from

20 BC to AD 10 have been given for the year of the Nativity.3 Concerning the day, although 25 December is firmly fixed in our calendar, this is unlikely if the arguments in the present paper are accepted. In this article we consider a combination of astronomical and historical evidence which may be used to identify the star of Bethlehem and to determine the date of the Nativity.

The earliest known account of the star of Bethlehem is in Matthew 2:1-12. Most scholars accept that the final text of this gospel may have been composed in about AD 80 from sources written in earlier times. Presumably one of these sources recorded the star of Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi. The account in Matthew describes how the Magi saw a star which they believed heralded the birth of the Messiah–king of the Jews. They travelled to Jerusalem and informed King Herod of the time when the star appeared, which indicates that the star was not a customary sight. The advisers of Herod told the Magi that, according to the prophesy of Micah, the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem, so the Magi journeyed there. The star moved before them and ...

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