Wednesday, December 17, 2014

T.T. 67. The Star of Bethlehem.

T.T. 67. The Star of Bethlehem.


Matthew’s Gospel records the story of a bright star that led the Magi (wise men) from the East to Bethlehem, where it stopped over the home of Jesus. This story has puzzled readers for centuries because the ”star” is ascribed attributes that other stars do not possess, namely that it was very bright, moved, and then was able to come to a stop.


Some have suggested that the star of Bethlehem might have been a Supernova (an exploding star). These are certainly very bright, but they don’t move or stop. Others have suggested that the “star” might have been a comet. These are also bright and they do move across the sky, but they certainly do not come to a stop. Others have suggested that the star was simply “The Glory of God” and others that it was a pure piece of fiction, written by Matthew to add a supernatural element to the account of Christ’s birth.


In Bible times everything in the night sky was called a star. Although most of them moved only slowly (we now know that stars appear to move because the earth is rotating), some did move relatively quickly. These were called “wandering stars”. We now know that these “wandering stars” are actually other planets which travel around the sun. This movement, coupled with the earth’s rotation, means that they appear to move relatively quickly.


In the 17th century the German astronomer Johannes Kepler worked out the how all the planets move. This means that we can now find out the position of all the planets, viewed from any place on earth, at any time in the past or future. We also know that when two planets appear to come together as viewed from the earth (a conjunction) their brightness is added  together, thus giving the appearance of a very bright star.


A conjunction of two planets thus seems to be a possibility for “the star of Bethlehem”. However, there is still the other problem – how could such a “star” come to a stop? Here again Kepler comes to our aid. Because of each planet’s movement and the earth’s own rotation and travel around the sun, planets can appear to slow down, pause (or stop), and then change direction as they began moving again.


Thus a conjunction appears to be a real possibility for “the star of Bethlehem”, but did such a conjunction happen around the time of Jesus’ birth? It is thought that Jesus was born about 4BC. However, Matthew indicates that when the Magi visited he was in a house and possibly a “toddler”. So we probably need to be looking for a conjunction a few years later than 4BC.


As the Magi came from the East, probably Babylon (modern Iraq), could they have seen a conjunction in the West (Bethlehem)? Yes they could have. Venus is the brightest of the planets and Jupiter the largest. We now know that a conjunction of these planets took place over Bethlehem (as viewed from the East) in 2BC. The exact date on which this occurred is rather interesting – it was on December 25th!


We don’t know the actual date of Jesus’ birth, but there are many different traditions and theories as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th..Many believe, however, that it is too much of a coincidence that the date of our present Christmas happens to be the date on which this conjunction over Bethlehem occurred. Thus, December 25th. 2BC could well be the FIRST Christmas.