Three wisemen and the Christmas star?

The Christmas Star – Fact or Fiction?

12 Dec , 2008 by

‘Tis the season… And every year around this time people notice the brilliant ‘star’ to the west just after sunset. For astronomers, we know it’s the appearance of the planet Venus, but noticing it for the average person brings on questions about the holidays. Was the Christmas Star real?

Regardless of your faith, the story of the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is one of the most powerful and enigmatic symbols of Christianity. For centuries, scientists, scholars and historians have debated about the nature of this biblical light that heralded an event. Was it purely a divine sign, created miraculously to mark a special birth? Or was it an astronomical event in its own right?

David Reneke, news editor of Australia’s Sky and Space Magazine, believes astronomers may have found the answer – or at least something that fits all the known facts – basing his research on the highly esteemed gospel according to Matthew, the first of the four gospels in the New Testament. It would appear to be the first written and this version places key players together in the same time period. “It’s generally accepted by most researchers that Christ was born between 3 BC and 1 AD.” says Dave. With the aid of modern astronomy software programs astronomers can reproduce the night sky exactly as it was, thousands of years ago. Humans are curious and so was Dave, so he turned back the hands of time and the stars to the time of that long ago Christmas…

“We found out something startling.” said Reneke, “It looks like the ‘Christmas star’ really did exist,”

Two thousand years ago, astronomy and astrology were considered one and the same. The motions of the heavenly bodies were used to determine the events of history, and the fate of people’s lives. Of the various groups of priests and prophets of this period, those which commanded the most respect were the Magi – whose origins are not entirely clear. Known as ‘wise men’ , we can only assume they were actually priests who relied on their knowledge of astronomy/astrology.

Armed with an approximate date, Dave assumed the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ was not just a localized event and could be observed by sky-watchers elsewhere in the world, not just by the Magi. Historical records and modern-day computer simulations indicate a rare series of planetary groupings, also known as conjunctions, during the years 3 BC and 2 BC In fact, this was one of the most remarkable periods in terms of celestial events in the last 3,000 years!

“Like the final pieces of a difficult jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon is starting to reveal itself,” David said. “On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning ‘stars.’ It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.”

But it didn’t stop there. The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2 BC, as Venus and Jupiter joined up again in the constellation Leo. This time the two planets were so close that, without the use of our modern optical aids, they would have looked like one single, brilliant star. According to Dave’s research, Jupiter was known as the “planet of Kings” and Saturn as the “Protector of the Jews”. This could easily have been interpreted as a sign that the Jewish Messiah had been, or was about to be, born. Also, Leo was thought to denote royalty and power. An interpretation? Perhaps. But, do not forget the times in which this occurred. Astronomy and astrology intermingled. This whole sequence of events could have been enough for at least three astrologers to see this as sign in the heavens and make their way Jerusalem.

“Now, this doesn’t mean that astrology works,” Reneke said. “We haven’t ruled out other possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem but it does make our search more rewarding to find a truly interesting astronomical event that happened during the most likely time for the Nativity.”

Whatever the Star of Bethlehem was, it has had more impact on humankind than any star before or since. It is also possible that the mystery of the Star will never be completely solved. For many of us though, it is the mystery itself that drives us to find the solution.

David Reneke, one of Australia’s most well known and respected amateur astronomers and lecturers, has over 40 years experience in astronomy with links to some of the world’s leading astronomical institutions. David is also the News Editor for Australia’s Sky and Space Magazine, he teaches astronomy at college level, is an invited speaker at astronomy conventions throughout Australia, a feature writer for major Australian newspapers, and is a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio stations. In these weekly radio interviews David regularly appears on about 60 networked stations around the nation with all the latest news and on general astronomy and space discovery issues. Look for his story about the “Christmas Star” to air locally on Good Morning, America. Our thanks to Dave for sharing with us!


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vagueofgodalming
Member
December 12, 2008 9:25 AM

I see David Reneke is well credentialed as an astronomer and journalist, but I wonder about his scholarship of ancient events. How, for example, does he deal with Herod’s death in 4BC?

Shakatany
Guest
Shakatany
December 12, 2008 9:53 AM

Considering that only 2 Gospels mention the nativity and that nowhere is a date given, astronomers have been on a wild goose chase for centuries. The closest we get to a date is in Luke where shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night which happens in the lambing season which is springtime.

December 25th was actually the time of the Roman Saturnalia and the birthdate of Mithras (born of a virgin in a cave/stable, greeted by wise men etc) who preceded Jesus by some 600 years. At some point the date was apparently appropriated by the Church as the birthday of their savior.

Ian O'Neill
Member
December 12, 2008 2:32 PM
Lol, superb article Tammy… who would have thought it would ignite such excitement in the comment box? Remember: don’t mention religion or politics… sssshhhhhhh I’m not a religious guy (in fact, completely the opposite), but I find these studies fascinating. Many religious accounts are based on stories that were told thousands of years ago. Granted, there may be a lot of inaccuracies and outright lies, but until astronomers actually make the effort to study the phenomena described in religious texts, we’ll never know about their accuracy. So, on a scientific basis, why not study whether the Christmas Star could have been real? The conjunction explanation seems pretty valid to me. Although I would have loved there to have… Read more »
NoAstronomer
Member
NoAstronomer
December 12, 2008 8:03 AM

/retch

joe
Guest
joe
December 12, 2008 8:14 AM

Except for the 3 wise men and the star being a complete myth….even by religious standards.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
December 12, 2008 8:30 AM

Weather you are religious or not, religious people were the keepers of record and science for many millennium. They were very much in tune with the movement of stars.
Using their records (which record things like prophetic stars) has helped us in the hunt for supernovas and comets before.

I mean, if you saw something so damn unusual that it made you hop on your camel to slog halfway around the known world… it must have been something breathtaking.

It certainly warrants a moment of consideration.

Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
December 12, 2008 8:35 AM

Even the recent grouping of the moon, Venus, and Jupiter caught the media’s attention.

The event is entirely plausible, and probable.

xaos
Guest
xaos
December 12, 2008 8:42 AM

oblig.

“wise men?!? well what are you doing creeping ’round the barn at three in the morning? doesn’t sound to wise to me!”

esdy
Guest
esdy
December 12, 2008 9:24 AM

I’m a bit confused by the mention of Saturn in this article. You state the significance of it but don’t mention how it was involved in the Jupiter/Venus conjunction.

Hawkus
Guest
Hawkus
December 12, 2008 9:44 AM
Trying to apply scientific rational to mythology is an interesting pastime, but it’s getting a little tired? The book we’re trying to analyse here isn’t even well translated. “Three Wise Men” are “Three Magi” (no mention of gender), the word taken to mean “Virgin” translates as “young woman”… And the line: “It’s generally accepted by most researchers that Christ was born between 3 BC and 1 AD.” – so it’s generally accepted that a mythical character existed? By whom is that generally accepted, other than by followers of that faith? The idea of stars as portents isn’t exactly unique to religion (Shakespeare uses the theme again and again). I could go on (and on, and on) but I’d… Read more »
Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
December 12, 2008 9:57 AM

We could also chuck 10,000 years worth of astronomical observations out the window because the people who made them were not state approved scientists.

…But that would be stupid.

When using one oral history account to verify another, anyone looking for a plot hole is bound to find dozens. Simply because there is alot of history missing and I’m sure that more than one person has tampered with the retelling.

Regardless, its plenty obvious that in a very short time some very drastic events took place around that part of the world.
What a coincidental time for a heavenly sign to appear…

Spoodle58
Member
December 12, 2008 10:56 AM

Liked your input Shakatany, a lot a people don’t know that.

The xmas star is a load of hogwash.

Hope this is the last time I see an article like this, although it is good starting point for people to inform the world today of the other saviors that humans have invented over the years like Mithras.

Get off your bottoms and save yourself.

you may start your flame-war now… smile (had to steal that off you Hawkus smile )

Shevill Mathers
Guest
December 12, 2008 6:16 PM

A well-time story, one that will continue to excite debate & controversy for a long time to come. When mankind can eventually transport himself back in time, all these theories can be really solved. Until then, Dave, & Tammy, keep up with the excellent articles.

Shevill
Tasmania 42 South

watchful stone guardian
Guest
watchful stone guardian
December 12, 2008 12:15 PM

I ran Stellarium v.0.9.0 and found the Venus/Jupiter conjunction in Leo on June 17, 2 BCE, setting in the west just after sunset as viewed from Alexandria, Egypt. It was a spectacular scene and it would have been very cool to see that rare occurrence in person.

BTW 2 BCE = 9999 Holocene Era/Human Era for all you calendar reformists out there!

(Google “Holocene Era” to find out more).

Huygens
Guest
Huygens
December 12, 2008 2:24 PM

Jesus was a space alien sent to Earth to warn humanity about not taking our warlike and environmentally unfriendly ways into the galaxy, or else.

Oh wait….

Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone!

Helionprime
Guest
Helionprime
December 12, 2008 4:02 PM
@ Huygens: If you are not religious man , you should write more carefully. 90 % of all humankind belives in something. Is it Jesus Christ, Allah, Buda, whatever, you should’nt talk like that. I am christian by religion, and i dont wanna make research about Christmas star. I mean what is the diference… They sad there was i bright star on the sky when Jesus Christ was born. Was it Jupiter or Venus, or both of them, or special Jesus star, i dont wanna know… Anyway, someone sad “… i hope i see this article for the last time…” We had Jupiter/Venus conjunction few days ago. Jesus was’nt born. Is it ? Someone also sad a Jupiter/venus… Read more »
Rick
Guest
Rick
December 12, 2008 4:11 PM

Nice article .. yet nothing to fret about if you happen to disagree with it. I remember seeing a program on the telly about 8 years ago concerning something along the same line; only this had to do with the sudden appearance of a bright supernova at the time in question. I’ll try to look into this. Right or wrong it makes for a good mystery.

cartmancakes
Member
cartmancakes
December 12, 2008 4:22 PM

“Like the final pieces of a difficult jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon is starting to reveal itself,” David said. “On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning ‘stars.’ It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.”

The problem with this is that the star led the magi from the East to Bethlehem. Wouldn’t that mean the star should have been in the West? Or is my geography wrong?

wpDiscuz