Is the Star of Bethlehem a Myth or Reality?
I thought you would find this interesting as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, heralded by a super star! Astronomers find evidence of a magnificent star that hung over Bethlehem just over two thousand years ago “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world…” (Psalm 19).
Perhaps the greatest and most mysterious astronomical event in history is the Star of Bethlehem. After studying blood moons (lunar eclipses) and their historical and prophetic significance, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by celestial events as they relate to God’s Word.
The stars and celestial events carry messages to us from God, like traffic signals warning us that danger is coming or it’s OK to go, or something momentous is taking place. The Bible tells us “the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Studying and interpreting God’s creation is NOT the same as astrology, which the Bible strictly forbids. Astrology assumes that stars are causes of earthly events. The Bible declares that stars and celestial events can signal messages about earthly events. A star shone as a sign of the first coming of Jesus. As we anticipate His second coming, we are admonished to look up and watch, because “there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars…” (Luke 21:25-28).
The Star that Astonished the World For centuries the Star of Bethlehem has been the subject of wonder and debate among scientists and scholars. Some scientists consider the Star to be a myth, a legend. Scholars, unable to accept it literally, call it a literary symbol. Astronomers have searched the skies and recorded history for evidence of a supernova (exploding star), comet, or meteors—anything to explain the biblical account—but found nothing. Even theologians question whether the Star was a supernatural event, a miracle, or a spiritual metaphor.
But all that has changed in the past few decades. With new historical knowledge and the use of computers, we can create models of the universe as it existed 2000 years ago. The story of the Star and the famous wise men who followed it is proving to be real and scientifically demonstrated!
There are several great sources for the information I’m about to share, such as The Star That Astonished the World, published by Dr. Ernest Martin (1996), and more recently, a dvd and website which I highly recommend called The Star of Bethlehem.
Blood Moon Over Herod What we know now is that some very remarkable celestial events took place in the Middle East beginning in the summer of 3 BC. King Herod, who ordered the killing of all male babies two years and younger in Bethlehem, died shortly after a total eclipse of the moon on January 9, 1 BC (you can check this out at NASA’s eclipse website here). This would put the birth of Jesus somewhere near 3 or 2 BC.
The ancient Magi or wise men of the Bible most certainly followed the celestial events of 3 and 2 BC. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him,” they asked upon arriving in Jerusalem (Matthew 2:2).
Magi were often court astronomers whose duties included looking for signs in the skies. The “wise men” of the Bible may have descended from the Babylonian magi of the prophet Daniel’s day. They might also have been part of the Jewish remnant who had remained in Babylon, and most likely knew the prophecy in the book of Numbers:
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”—Numbers 24:17
Matthew reports that the wise men were from the East, and Babylon is east of Judea. This would account for their interest in a Jewish king and for Herod giving them an audience, as well as his harsh reaction to their news.
Super Star What the wise men saw as they followed the star, was most likely a “conjunction.” At dawn of August 12, BC, the Magi watched as the planet Jupiter (known as the King planet) and Venus (known as the Mother planet) appeared to merge in the eastern sky, creating the effect of a super conjunction of planets. To the magi, this heralded an important event—such as the birth of a king!
In June, 2 BC, a conjunction of the same planets occurred again, only this time it was so close (one of the closest conjunctions ever to occur in the history of the world) that it would have astounded the people of the ancient world. What the Magi saw from their home in Babylon was a super star shining in the west, directly toward Jerusalem.
Other unique and dramatic celestial events took place during this time period. The planet Jupiter also rose to meet Regulus (the bright King star) on three different occasions and made a “halo loop” over the star. The Magi were undoubtedly convinced that a great event had occurred.
The First Christmas As the Magi made their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, they would see the Jupiter-Venus pair moving from east toward the south (the direction of Bethlehem) due to the rotation of the earth.
When the Magi first reached Herod in Jerusalem, they asked where the King of the Jews had been born. As they left the palace to look directly over Bethlehem, they would have seen Jupiter now appearing to have stopped, stationary in the heavens, mid-bodied to the constellation Virgo the Virgin and shining directly down on Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. This event happened on December 25, 2 BC, when some believe the wise men actually gave their gifts to the baby Jesus, some 15 months after His birth.
The Day Jesus Was Born In the book of Revelation the apostle John describes a vivid scene portraying the birth of the Messiah:
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Revelation 12:1-5).
A birth of astronomical significance occurred when the sun was mid-bodied to a woman, shown in heaven with the moon at her feet. Astronomers can easily figure out the time of year this was if the symbolic woman was Virgo the Virgin as John seems to suggest.
All this adds up to a day in late summer in 3 BC, the year many now agree Jesus was born. It would have been in the early evening on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, with a new moon in the heavens. Some believe His birth took place September 11, 3 BC during Rosh Hashanah, the Day of the Trumpets, or two weeks later during the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23).
The Day Jesus Died And now, fast forward 33 years, to the day when the sun went dark and the Son of God, the Messiah, hung on a cross and died to save us. There is much compelling evidence that that day was April 3, 33 AD. Now, I will admit, this is not agreed upon by all researchers. Sir Isaac Newton proposed this day, but he also had April 23, 34 AD in mind. However, the evidence is compelling, and adding to it is the fact that on April 3, 33 AD, a blood moon rose in the evening sky, as a lunar eclipse finished the day. You can read the research in detail in several sources, including the Star of Bethlehem website, where the crucifixion is discussed.
God gives us many signposts along the way in life, through His Word, through His Spirit, and through the signs and wonders He places in His creation. Like poetry written in the skies, the stars and heavenly bodies proclaim His glory, declare His work, capture our attention and cause up to look up and watch for His coming.