Your Thoughts on Bethlehem’s Starry Night

Nina Alden Thune
In the December issue of Sky & Telescope, Aaron Michael Adair compares the various astronomical theories behind the fabled Star of Bethlehem and examines whether any of them are plausible at all. His conclusion may have surprised you.

Now we want your take. Feel free to join in on the conversation about this topic.

123 thoughts on “Your Thoughts on Bethlehem’s Starry Night

  1. Robert Allen

    Aaron,

    Regarding the date of the alleged star, has anyone investigated the possibility that it could be an astronomical event taking place during the time of the author of the Gospel of Matthew (~100AD give or take 30 years)? It would be interesting to look at months around significant contemporary Christian holy days of the time. If such an event did take place, it could explain why it does not appear in the other earlier biblical texts (because it didn’t happen at Jesus’ birth but much later and was inserted into the Bible as ‘Historically’ real event).
    Uncertainties about the date of Jesus’ birth are no surprise as contradictions and pre-Christian (mainly Jewish, taken from Babylonian, and pagan) mythologies abound in the canonical Biblical texts (see “The Bible Against Itself” Randall Helms).
    Ultimately, whatever discoveries are made about astronomical events during biblical times will not sway the faithful, but will help the rest of us to peer into the minds of the people of those times, how they perceived the world around them, and why they applied significance to astronomical events to explain a world they clearly didn’t understand.

    Thanks,
    Robert Allen

  2. William Hathaway

    Finally, Aaron Adair has given readers a clear view of this topic, which as he points out, has generated “Hundreds if not thousands of articles.” I fully agree with his “obvious explanation.”

    I would add a few notes: I’ve read that some planetarium presenters have been called upon to give a holiday show on this every year so many times that they occasionally refer to it as the “SOB” story. Take that in whatever way one might.

    Second – it is common to interpret that the ‘magi’ came from
    “the East”, but reading the text; “we have seen his star in the east” could also be interpreted that the *star* was in the east – and the magi could well have been standing anywhere they happened to be when such observation would have been made. They did not have to come from the east. That could merely be the direction in which they saw the ‘star.’ See next point for a supporting rationale for this interpretation.

    Third – as clearly stated, a ‘miraculous star’ is a common theme in such myths. What had been the standard star for such? Sirius – the much older Egyptian heliacal rising to signal the beginning of the annual flood season. And what trio “see the star in the east” and are used to presage its appearance? The three belt stars of Orion. Used to this time as pointers to anticipate the entertaining view of this brightest of stellar risings through the thick horizon atmosphere. A simple (if garbled) reuse of an age-old tale to suit the need for a miraculous birth. This does provide an astronomical relevance – if only as a sky calendar marker for the seasons.

    Finally – a re-statement of the “believer vs. historian” theme: “faith needs no evidence; evidence requires no faith.” If one wants to believe, one is free to follow anything. If one needs proof, then this Star is indeed “not investigable.” Perhaps the need to tell stories is the answer to why astronomers indulge the ticket buyers.

    All respect,
    Wm. H.

  3. Aaron Adair

    Hello, this is a bit of self-introduction and testing of the comment board. I am the same Aaron that is responsible for this article and I hope to try to answer at least some of the questions posted here.

  4. Aaron Adair

    It would appear that this article is already producing some very good questions. Let’s see how I can do.

    Firstly, for Robert: in finding an astronomical phenomenon within a close period of time to the writing of the Gospel of Matthew is difficult for perhaps the most obvious reason–no one really knows when it was written. Some scholars have tried to argue for a pre-70 CE date for Mark, Matthew, and Luke, while others have placed it to the near-end of the 2nd century. With a century-spread in opinions, it can be very difficult to start pinning dates down. So, I will make a few comments to these possible date ranges. As for the pre-70 (actually, pre-65) is based on the Book of Acts not mentioning the death of Paul but instead his interment in Rome. This seems to be a weak argument because it does seem like the author knows what happens to Paul. Before he leaves in Acts 20 the people act as if they were seeing him for the last time; also, in 27:23-7 Paul knows that he must stand trial before Nero, which is part of latter legend (not to mention Paul being executed soon after). There is also substantial evidence that Luke used Josephus as a source, placing Luke/Acts at the end of the 1st century at least. (See Richard Carrier’s article on the Secular Web.)
    It should also be noted that because of the knowledge of the destruction of the 2nd temple, most critical scholars place the writing of Mark (the first gospel) at about that time (70 CE). The general consensus is that Mark was written in about the 70s, Matthew and Luke in the 80s to 90s, John in the 90s. I will not make the argument here, but there seems to be some good suggestions for an even later date (2nd century for all of the canonical gospels). No matter the case, it is a major uncertainty.

  5. Aaron Adair

    As for some star coinciding with some major religious event or festival in the times of the gospel writers: I have not seen much on that subject and it may be worth while to investigate. The closest example I am aware of is Raymond Brown’s suggestion (see “Birth of the Messiah”) with additional work by some astronomers that the comet of 66 CE with the precession of Armenian magi to Nero in that year, who left by another route, was the force behind the story. This seems to be a reasonable suggestion and one that I have taken seriously. However, let me make a few critical remarks:
    For one, none of the ancient historians that mention the Armenian precession talk about the comet (Halley’s to be exact) before hand. In fact, Suetonius talks about the comet several paragraphs after the magi had returned home. The connection was not made by the historians and the magi did not come to Nero because of a great birth or because of the comet. The event was totally political with the new Armenian king coming to Rome to thank Nero for giving him control of this region against advances by the Parthian Empire. Another point is that Nero was the greater gift-giver, spending exuberant amounts of money for months for the occasion instead of the new king bringing gifts to Nero, though he does worship him as he does the Sun (Mithras). Thirdly, I doubt Matthew would have wanted to connect the birth of the Christ to the figure considered to be the anti-Christ; 666 in Revelation is the addition of the values of the letters in Hebrew for Caesar Nero and there are other allusions to Rome and Nero as well.

  6. Aaron Adair

    Most importantly, the comet does not fit the description of Matthew in the least. It would certainly not move in the southerly direction or stop over a particular city or house. In fact, this is what makes me skeptical of any natural event being malformed by the author of Matthew because it is such a leap. Besides, the inspiration would probably be better accounted for by the literature at the time, be it a prophetic reading of Numbers 24 or remembering the guiding star in the Aeneid. Further, one must try to take account for the statements in one of the letters of Ignatius, a 2nd century bishop from Antioch. In his letter to the Ephesians (that is, if he is the author; it could be pseudonymous), chapter 19, he mentions a star coming into being, brighter than all others with the sun, moon and other stars dancing and singing about this one luminary. The best scholarship I have seen on this suggests that Ignatius did not use Matthew but part of a common source, known as “M.” Certainly no natural object can be mistaken for what Ignatius describes, at least not without some power intoxicants. (For that idea, John Allegro’s theory about the magic mushroom behind Christian origins is for you.) These sorts of things make it hard to believe that there was a natural phenomena that prompted the author and the large shift from natural object to a chorus of stars requires to much imagination that it would seem the stellar events were make no difference.

  7. Aaron Adair

    But if anything else, astrology was shunned by orthodox figures, be it Jewish rabbis in the Talmud or Christians such as Augustine. Since Matthew is considered the “most Jewish” of the gospels, and in Matthew 5 it says that no part of the law will be lessened by accepting Christianity, it seems same to say this author would not have been happy having his theology rest on astrology when the Old Testament is usually clear about its opposition. And even if the author did take astrology seriously for this one part of the story, we could never know what was of interest. The fact of the matter is ancient astrologers said pretty much everything under the sun; it would be nearly impossible to know what any particular person thought about some stellar event. As one scholar of astrology and Ptolemy said (Franz Boll in “Der Stern der Weisen”, 1917), figuring out the star this way is like solving the equation x + y = A where only A is known. It would be a waste of time to solve it because the options are uncountable.

  8. Aaron Adair

    Now, for Will:
    It is true that SoB has been used to refer to the star. Its double meaning is very purposeful.

    For the location of the Magi, firstly, the text is clear that there were from the East since the genitive case is used with the preposition “apo.” Now, it seems plausible to say the Magi were in most any part of the world when they was the star, though there could be some subtle meaning in the Greek that I am missing. But given that they were Easterners, it most probable place that they would be is “the East” because such persons were high class figures in the Parthian Empire. According to Strabo (1st century BCE), these Magi had control over who would be king in the empire. It makes one doubt they would have been lollygagging about in Roman or “barbarian” territories. As for the phrase “in the east,” the Greek is “en te anatole,” which has been more commonly translated in newer versions as “at its rising.” This is sensible because “anatole” says were the stars rise–in the east.

  9. Aaron Adair

    I have heard about this sort of stellar alignment being the astrological precursor to Jesus. However, there are some serious weaknesses to this. For one, the number of Magi is not said. Tradition says three most likely because of the three gifts. However, I have also read about the tradition relating to 12 Magi. As for being a pointer, pointing to what? I think you may be referring to the Internet piece “Zeitgeist” which mentions the stars pointing to the place the sun rises at the winter solstice. Do note that the only place I have found that refers to the belt stars as kings is in South Africa, which did not have any contact with the Ancient Mediterranean world. Also, these stars don’t point anywhere near the sun’s location at winter solstice. For once, the constellation has set by that time and around 1 CE the solstice was not in any constellation which could be said to be pointed to by Sirius and Orion’s belt (Taurus or Scorpio). I have found in these investigations one has to be very careful when it comes to sources.

  10. Aaron Adair

    As for why planetaria produce the show, it does seem to be in part to ensure that tickets are sold, and since capitalism is the way of things, I say full steam ahead. However, those same institutions must ensure that their presentations are accurate. We would not find it acceptable for a planetarium to promote Young Earth Creationism because it does not stand against the evidence (like all of it!) and has only one purpose: to evangelize. I think my fellow planetarium co-workers should be weary of having the facility being used for the spread of the gospel instead of the spread of good science. Perhaps in a future post I will explain what I do and do not have issue with in the shows that I have seen.

    That’s all for now. Do ask more questions if I have not been clear enough.

  11. Vince Malcangi

    An insightful personal analysis that many know as a story from the Bible. I found the article informative until your questions at the end. Your editorial accomplished nothing but to out you and your motives as an author of a thinly veiled, cheap swipe at peoples faith, specifically, Christianity, attempting to cloak personal attacks with so called research.
    You have absolutely no qualifications other than a person researching and authoring to delve into this topic. You are no accomplished authority, theologian, professor or the like, on the subject. Simply put, you are a charlatan and this is your opinion piece.
    Let me explain a few things to you Aaron. The decision to put on a show by Abrams or any other planetarium is just that, it is not a classroom. People can either come or not. It’s a free country, you are not required to be there as in most classrooms that you may be used to. If you come, you will be presented a story in the sky theater, perhaps by you. The story will be told, people will be entertained, Abrams will make a little money and absolutely no one is “shortchanged”. I have been to the show before, it’s popular and at the end, I did not notice a rush to the ticket office, even by one person, demanding their money back. People have expectations. They know what they are getting into. That’s why they come.
    You can either believe or not. Who cares? Obviously you do, for to take a story in the Bible and try to tear it down puts you on an even plane with those who try and force religion on people. In my opinion Aaron, after reading your article and posts, you, at such young age, with few life experiences have become intolerant and agenda driven. I hope not hateful. I feel a bit sorry for you now, but fortunately you are still a student. Learn.

  12. Aaron Adair

    I’m not sure is anyone will consider your post to be a bit uncivil, but I should respond because you probably encapsulate the feelings of a lot of people. As for attacking faith, if doing a historical analysis is such then I think the greater issue is with those that must have this story be true. In fact, the faith of Christianity does NOT depend on the historicity of this story; I will point you to the Second Vatican Council which determined that even if the stories of the life of Jesus are not historically true they can carry spiritual truth. As long as there is no contradiction to what is required to be saved a Catholic if free to uncover the truths of the Gospels beyond history. This was, in my opinion, a great move by the Vatican and allowed higher criticism to be the norm for good scholars, such as Raymond Brown (who did not write his “Birth of the Messiah” as an attack on his faith at all). If your personal beliefs do depend on the historical veracity of the tale, I cannot help that. I have tried to do history; existential issues much to placed aside to do this properly. Otherwise you get revisionist “historians” like Holocaust deniers. I would hope that people would attempt to base their beliefs on facts and evidence rather than to make sure the evidence conforms to beliefs.

  13. Aaron Adair

    As for my background in scholarship/theology, you are correct that I have not been taught in such things, though I do take history course, have learned and been learning dead languages (i.e. Greek and Latin), read numerous books on the subjects of biblical criticism, old and new, and importantly, I am in agreement with the best scholarship. I do not see how I could be a “charlatan” if what I am doing is repeating the same points and arguments about the Star as any other critical scholars says on the subject. When I talk about the nature of the Star, I have read commentary from John Chrysostom and Augustine, through Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, to the the work of the Jesus Seminar and its members. I also know the opinions on the historicity of the Star from the great minds of the 19th century, such as Strauss and Renan as well as F.C. Baur (let aone Bruno Bauer), to 20th/21st century writers such as Rudolph Bultmann, John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, Gerd Ludemann, Robert Price, Raymond Brown, and many others. What I have done is channel what the best scholars have been saying for decades, along with some of their reasons. I don’t think one needs to go to seminary to understand this is a completely logical and legitimate way of doing this sort of analysis. It is much like the lawyer that brings in the DNA expert; is the lawyer a charlatan because he using DNA evidence in the hands of a scientist when he or she does not know how it works? Of course not; I claim similar reasoning here.

  14. Mark

    A couple of comments.
    1.The Gospel of Mathew was authored by the Apostle Mathew between about 50-70AD. This is a tradition that dates to the 1st century and is fully supported by an abundance of factual evidence, including many ancient letters that reference the Gospel and even quote sections of it (as we have it today). Modern secular scholarship has offered only conjecture and speculation to refute the truth of this.
    2. Luke and Mathew do not disagree on the date of the birth of Jesus. First of all, neither mention a specific date. However both would be consistent with a date from about 2-6BC. Mathew mentions a “census” that modern scholars are unaware of, however early writers would have pointed out this flaw if it was one. The fact that modern scholars do not know what Mathew was referring to, does not prove that Mathew and his first century readers did not know what he was referring to.
    3. There are numerous plausible explanations for the star of Bethlehem, including one at http://www.bethlehemstar.net which is interesting. An editor of Sky & Telescope even apparently called this one reasonable.
    4. Out of all of the pagan religious practices that existed at the time, it is interesting that God chose the atars as the first point of connection he would make to the Gentiles in the life of Jesus.

  15. Aaron Adair

    The planetarium here at MSU is actually used as a classroom throughout the week, both for college and when elementary schools come on field trips. The purpose of the planetarium is for education; we certainly wish to do it in an entertaining way, but we must do it in an honest and factually way as well. After all, we should not accept museums that have displays that are simply incorrect; could you imagine a display at a World War II museum that stated the reality of the Holocaust is questionable, or that Russian forces landed on Omaha Beach on D Day, etc.? Similarly, we cannot fact check out newspapers, and we can “take them or leave them” for what they are, but is it not the responsibility of the reporter to be factual and objective? The fact of the matter is, because the planetarium is trying to disperse information, especially related to science, it has a responsibility, both as being honor-bound as trained scientists in many cases as well as being an institution of learning, to tell the audience what it is that is so about the universe, not what is pleasant. We don’t get to say any age of the universe or earth is equally plausible, and similarly the planetarium should not be disseminating “revised” history about when Herod the Great died, the nature and date of the census, and the details of the Star. The fact is, in the show we have at Abrams we don’t tell the audience the verses that we are trying to fit to; if we did, then I think most people would see there is a problem. And since people do know what they are getting into, a place with an educational purpose, they expect a factual presentation, not a feel-good sermon.

  16. Aaron Adair

    1) The earliest person to mention the Gospel of Matthew by name was Irenaeus around the year 170 CE; Ignatius has been determined to not be using Matthew but other sources; Justin Martyr seems to mention elements of the birth of Jesus from Matthew, but he does not name it as from Matthew, plus his details are off (Magi from Arabia instead of from “the East”). Scholars have figured this gospel was originally, like all of the canonical gospels, anonymous, and only later was a name attached. Even the Greek is strange here, “kata Mathaion”, which does not mean Matthew was the author, but more that this was written in the tradition of the disciple. This is unlike any historical writing from the ancient world. Also, the scholars that have proposed these things are not quite secular, since most bible scholars are Christians, not atheists. 2) Matthew does not mention a census, Luke does (2:2); Herod died in 4 BCE, and Matthew says Jesus was born when he was alive, hence Jesus was born before 4 BCE according to this gospel. The census mentioned by Luke is verified by numerous historical accounts to be the one of 6 CE since Quirinius was not governor of Syria before then and was fighting in Asia Minor during the years Jesus would have been born in according to Matthew. As for early writers, Irenaeus says that Jesus lived almost to the age of 50, past the time of Pilate and into the reign of Claudius, and there was a Jewish/Jewish-Christian belief that Jesus was born a century earlier and killed by Alexander Jannaeus (100-76 BCE), while other Christians denied he was born at all (Marcion and docetists). I think these problems are a bit more of concern for the early Christians than exactly when Jesus was born. Also, a census could not have happened in Judea before 6 CE because it was a client kingdom, not part of the Roman Empire proper.

  17. Aaron Adair

    3) I have been to that website; it proposes the same sorts of things I discussed, which I pointed out were in fact observationally impossible. They also do not fit the description of Matthew if you are willing to read it in Greek. Besides, explanations are meaningless in the end if there is no corroborating accounts of it and it is written decades after the fact by a non-eyewitness who has almost nothing in common with the next person that speaks of his birth (Luke).
    4) I don’t think I understand your point here; what does it matter that stars were used instead of something else? Also, the bringing of Gentiles to Jesus instead of Jews has a theological agenda behind it; Matthew shows that Herod “and all of Jerusalem” do not want this child, much like how the Pharisees will have him killed and the mob says “his blood be upon us and your children.” The point here is to announce the Gentile mission, that Jesus’ message is for all, not just the Jews. (If you want more on the census, see http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html)

  18. Mark

    I have to point out that your facts are wrong. (Which means many of your conclusions must also be wrong.) Mathew’s gospel is mentioned by the Didache (80-100Ad), St. Clement (92-100AD), Barnabas(96-98), St Ignatius of Antioch (before 107), and Polycarp (around 110), among others. Again, many of these references contain direct quotes from the Gospel as we have it today. There is abundant evidence that supports the ancient tradition that Mathew was written by the Apostle before 70AD and the fall of Jerusalem. By the way, the Gospel of Mathew, as well as the other Gospels, are factually correct historical accounts of events that took place exactly as described. Again, modern scholarship has only speculation and conjecture to refute the truth of this.
    The census was mentioned by Luke as you point out, not Mathew. Modern scholars do not know what “census” it was, or what role Quirinius played. Luke was not referring to the 6AD census. That would have been a serious discrepancy that the early Christians would have recognized. Again, modern lack of knowledge is not evidence that Luke (or Mathew) is wrong. If there was a serious discrepancy with Luke’s account, his first century readers would have recognized that. Mathew and Luke support the belief that Jesus was born between 2-6BC.
    In any case, the sky is a fantastic and mysterious place. Compared to what is out there, the knowledge of modern astronomy is but a tiny drop in a great ocean. Modern astronomy does not have the knowledge to refute the account of the beautiful, magical, star followed by the Magi 2000 years ago.

  19. Vince

    You begin your response to me on a somewhat personal attack and a weak defense to begin to counter my points, and I take offense to your hypocritical incivility. So I have to say, nice try Aaron, the only person that probably will consider my post to be “a bit uncivil” (translated as legitimate challenges) is you. Your intolerance and agenda is now perfectly clear. You have in effect identified and confirmed yourself exactly as I mentioned in pointing out your non-qualifications to readers, and perhaps that publication from and inadequacy is a responsibility of the editors. You are not to blame what gets published, only the content if. What people base their beliefs on should not matter to you or me, as long as those beliefs do no harm. You are again being arrogant and opinionated to thrust your opinions on those who choose to believe on how they should believe. Think about what you say for just a moment Aaron, as a reader, I would neither trust nor believe that you are “in agreement with the best scholarship”. I’m taking your word? A student that takes “a history course”? I am well aware of Abrams and again Aaron, you fail to be factually honest when describing the structure of Abrams presentations as to only being education when that is factually not so. There is an entertainment portion (sky show), educational portion, and a question and answer portion. This is normally told to the audience at the beginning. It would be refreshing to us for you to be more intellectually honest when attempting to pontificate on subjects you have no accomplishments or expertise in.

  20. Aaron Adair

    No one knows when the Didache was written; some even argue for the 3rd century (Peterson 1959), and never mentions Matthew, nor any disciple or apostle by name. Some argue that Barnabas is from the 130s (Paget, 1994; Barnard 1958), and its only citing of anything from Matthew does not say it comes from the gospel, nor the disciple, nor even from Jesus. As stated before, Ignatius does not use Matthew and may be basing his statements on oral tradition; his star story is very different from Matthew’s as well (no Magi, for example). Polycarp wrote his epistle around 110 to 140 and does not mention Matthew by name and has almost no quotes; he also uses material from the pseudonymous letters of Paul and Peter. As for being written before 70 CE, I might as well share a paper that argues that all the gospels are after the year 130 CE: http://www.hermann-detering.de/Mk13%20JHC.pdf. As for the census, it is clear what Luke says: it happened when Quirinius was governing Syria, which began in 6 CE. The Greek is very clear on this. As for mistakes being corrected, remember 90% of the people were illiterate and probably did not know the exact chronology of Judea several decades after the fact. As for exact descriptions, then how is it that they don’t know when Jesus was executed? Mark says the disciples and Jesus had a Passover Meal and Jesus was killed the next day (Mark 14:1, 12); John says Jesus was taken down on the day of Preparation, before Passover (John 19:14); Ehrman makes the same point in “Misquoting Jesus”.

  21. Aaron Adair

    Since you wish to characterize me as dishonest, hypocritical, a charlatan, having an agenda, intolerant, forcing my opinions on apparently unwilling readers, and so on, it seemed fair to think that civility was questionable. But it does not matter, so I won’t bring it up beyond this point. Now, you say you don’t have reason to believe me that I am in agreement with the best scholarship. Well then, I encourage you to read “The Life of Jesus Critically Examined” by Strauss, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus” by Schweitzer, “History of the Synoptic Tradition” by Bultmann, “The Acts of Jesus” by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, or the works of Shelby Spong and Raymond Brown. As for Abrams, yes there is entertaining portions to it, such as the Sky Show, which I do very well. What do I do in that show? I educate people about what is up in the sky. One can be entertaining and educational; otherwise, what Bill Nye been up to for all these years? Besides, I have to be factual in presenting the sky; I don’t get to choose what is Venus this time around, or if Pluto is considered a planet or not, or if Polaris is the North Star. I act as an educator, especially when I answer questions, and I try to do it in a fashion that is at least tolerable and not totally boring, be it with dizzying effects or bad puns. Education and entertainment are not poles, though one can overbear the other is one is not careful. And as for accomplishments, why does that matter? I think the facts I bring up are the most important and I have yet to see you provide some sort of contrary evidence, such as Mark above. I may disagree with him, but at least he is giving some evidence.

  22. Mark

    Actually the word Luke uses in the Greek text was also used to describe an administrative role. Quirinius may have been some sort of adminstrator at the time and the “census”may have been an oath to Augustus that everyone had to take before 2 BC. Justin Martyr also refers to Quirinius as an administrator (not governor) at the time of the birth of Jesus. Also, ancient Rome was a modern civilization in every respect. They had schools and Universities and roads and travel. Many of the early Christians were highly educated. The idea that they would have just “missed” a large discrepancy such as that is untenable.The fact that the early Christians themselves considered Luke reliable (and canonical) shows without doubt that they saw no discrepancy in the accounts. The last supper issue can also be explained. One possible explanation is that the Essene Jews had a different calendar and celebrated Passover on Wed (Tuesday night). The room that the last supper was held in was in the Essene Quarter of the time. In any case, this is a resolvable issue that the early Christians themselves did not see as a discrepancy. You will have to do better than that to refute the Word of God.

  23. Aaron Adair

    Do you even know what Greek word Luke uses? Anyways, the Greek is clear that this census first happened when Quirinius was governor of Syria, which happened in 6 CE; never before was someone legate of the same territory twice in Roman history and at the time that would fit Matthew he was in Turkey fighting a war. Plus, there was no oath-swearing in Judea in 2 BCE; that vote for Augustus as “Pater Patriae” was by Roman citizens, which would exclude non-Roman territories, such as Judea at that time; besides, Josephus mentions no such thing, though he mentioned others in 20 and 8/7 BCE. Further, Herod died in 4 BCE, not in 1 BCE as you would seem to desire. Next, Rome cannot be called a “modern” civilization, otherwise Modern means nothing. They had slavery, primitive machines, extremely low literacy, minimal medical abilities, etc. As for the “early” Christians considering Luke reliable, which ones? The Gospel of Luke is not even mention by name until Irenaeus near the end of the 2nd century. Also, other Christians made bigger errors. For example, Tertullian thought Jesus was born when Saturnius was legate of Syria, not Quirinius (Contra Marcion 4:19); Irenaeus though Jesus made it to about the age of 50; some though Herod Antipas executed Jesus, not Pilate (Gospel of Peter); some though Jesus lived a century earlier (Toledeth Jesu). As for another date for Passover, a different calender for the Essenes, do you have anything to back that up? I have never heard of anything so out there, nor as Bart Ehrman apparently; besides, they could not have gotten the proper passover lambs before the Day of Preparation since they come from the Temple-they choose the date and Jesus et al was in Jerusalem, not by the Dead Sea. Your claim seems baseless and unhelpful.

  24. Aaron Adair

    Let me add some comments about this census. Firstly, the word used for census is “apographe”, which has the root word “graphe”, a cognate word for graph, and means (as a verb) to write; “apo” means to separate, so together it means a “writing off”. This would then clearly relate to a census; in fact, the term is used directly in relation to the census of 6 CE in Acts 5:37–it’s the exact same term (different case, though). As for Quirinus (Cyrenius in Greek), it says we was “hegemoneuo”, a verb that with the genitive, in this case Cyrenius, making that figure the reference of being proconsul/procurator, which is exactly what happened in 6 CE after Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great, was forced to leave the thrown and his territory was incorporated into the province of Syria (though Galilee did not join in until much later). Again, the same terminology is used in Luke 3:1 in reference to Pilate as governing Judea (though as a prefect, not a procurator). I need to also point out that because Judea was a client kingdom of Rome, sovereignly run by the Herods, it did not participate in such censuses. Further, no empire-wide census of all people would take place during the time of Augustus; it first happened under Vespasian and Titus in the late 70s CE after the Jewish War. We know this because Augustus wrote about all of his censuses with great pride. Also, Josephus mentions no census being conducted in Judea during the proper time frame, let alone in the manner that Luke describes. Hence, the date of the census was after the time of Herod the Great, nor could any census have taken place before 6 CE, what Luke describes is clearly a census meant for taxation, and its strange nature could not have possibly been missed. Again, this web page is great for info in this matter: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

  25. Mark

    The bottom line remains that your “discrepancy” only arises when looked at from our extremely limited “2000 year later” point of view. The discrepancies result from our limited knowledge of the factual context of the time, which is entirely due to the passage of 2000 years. Those who were there know exactly what the situation was and what happened. They knew the answers to all of your questions– and they did not see a discrepancy. Luke was dating the birth of Jesus with an event that his audience at the time would have known and understood. The early Christians knew exactly what Luke was talking about, and they considered him (and Mathew) to be not only absolutely reliable, but canonical. In many cases they died for that belief. There is no discrepancy. Sorry, but you have not made the slightest bit of progress in casting doubt on the Gospel of Luke, or the Gospel of the Apostle Mathew (the publican). Best regards.

  26. Aaron Adair

    Apparently, it does not matter what I say on the subject as long as people in the past believed there was no discrepancy in the dating of events. It actually humors me that you say that modern scholars have come to their conclusions based on nothing but speculation, but your entire case in preserving the authority of the texts is based on truly idle speculations, including the apparent invention of calenders for the Essenes. I have also pointed out more than once that the early Christians did contradict one another in many cases, no one can even name these gospels until the end of the 2nd century, and you are only considering some of the “orthodox” writers; unfortunately, the case made by Walter Bauer is still strong that in fact the heretics, such as Gnostics, that made up most of the early Christian foundations, be it in Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, etc. I highly recommend his works, especially “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity.” But since you are unwilling to address the points I have made, including that a Roman census would not have happened in Judea before 6 CE, you have given no reason for any reader to think the reports are in fact genuine; in the end, your case comes down to “it must be true because people believed it” (never mind that most early Christians did not accept Luke or had a version of it without the first two chapters, such as Marcion’s gospel). The historian is not allowed to accept such an argument, especially when there is so much against it and nothing for other than shear desire for it to be true. Of course, that is a criticism I have when it comes to most of the scholarship on the Star in the first place.

  27. Joseph Breckenridge

    The Star of Bethlehem is a fiction created to convince the doubtful that Jesus was God.

    The opening chapters of Matthew offer one argument after another (including a specious geneology) to persuade readers. The tone of it is reasoned argument in the purpose of a cause.

    Note that I am NOT saying that Jesus was not divine. I’m just recognizing the fact that true believers often think it’s okay to tell a “harmless lie” if it serves some “greater truth.”

    Or, the writer may have been sincere, repeating legends that he heard and simply wanted to believe.

    I agree with the author of the article. The attempt to find an astronomical event to explain the story will always fail. Why? Because NOTHING HAPPENED. This ground has been studied to death and no satisfactory explanation has ever been found.

    Also, the way the ancient writer describes the star leading the Magi and coming to rest over Bethlehem is the way an ancient might understand a star — its size and distance. We know better.

    Jesus changed the world by transforming ethics from some mechanical duty to something that came from the whole person. He doesn’t need astronomical hocus-pocus. In fact, I suspect he would find it offensive and beside the point.

    Miracles, by definition, lie beyound the tools of science.

    Let religion be religon. Let science be science. Let’s stop confounding the two. Both suffer when we do.

    Good article. Good magazine, too. Thanks.

  28. Joseph Breckenridge

    The Star of Bethlehem is a fiction created to convince the doubtful that Jesus was God.

    The opening chapters of Matthew offer one argument after another (including a specious geneology) to persuade readers. The tone of it is reasoned argument in the purpose of a cause.

    Note that I am NOT saying that Jesus was not divine. I’m just recognizing the fact that true believers often think it’s okay to tell a “harmless lie” if it serves some “greater truth.”

    Or, the writer may have been sincere, repeating legends that he heard and simply wanted to believe.

    I agree with the author of the article. The attempt to find an astronomical event to explain the story will always fail. Why? Because NOTHING HAPPENED. This ground has been studied to death and no satisfactory explanation has ever been found.

    Also, the way the ancient writer describes the star leading the Magi and coming to rest over Bethlehem is the way an ancient might understand a star — its size and distance. We know better.

    Jesus changed the world by transforming ethics from some mechanical duty to something that came from the whole person. He doesn’t need astronomical hocus-pocus. In fact, I suspect he would find it offensive and beside the point.

    Miracles, by definition, lie beyound the tools of science.

    Let religion be religon. Let science be science. Let’s stop confounding the two. Both suffer when we do.

    Good article. Good magazine, too. Thanks.

  29. Mark

    Imagine, in another non-controversial context, historians had two ancient accounts of a contemporaneous event with an apparent discrepancy between them. An historian then uncovers solid evidence that people at the time were familiar with both accounts, and for some reason not entirely clear, did not consider them to be at all inconsistent. Without a doubt historians would then logically conclude that there was in fact no discrepancy, and that there was just something about the situation that they did not know. Surely the people who were there and who knew the situation personally had a better vantage point, and would have known whether there was a discrepancy or not. Historians would then just keep digging until they found out whatever it was that they didn’t know to resolve the situation. Of course, that is not what you have done. You are not applying historical investigation and analysis in a sound, fair minded, objective way. You have set out to attack something and have no interest in anything that does not serve that purpose. There is abundant evidence that first, and early second century Christians had the Gospels exactly as we have them today. They did not see your discrepancies. You can believe what you want, but you have no objective, factual, basis for faulting my view.

  30. Aaron Adair

    Mark: you keep insisting that a historian would accept contradicting data if other people before had accepted it. It seems odd that you keep claiming that this is how the historian operates and in another subject the conclusion would be in your favor, yet you fail to provide a single example of this very thing. How can you say how history works if you are without example? Instead, let me provide some contrary examples. There are many stories about Heracles (Hercules for you Latin-speakers), and back in the 5th century BCE the historian Herodotus tried to figure out when the historical Heracles existed, as in under what king did he serve. Herodotus found nothing but contradiction and found he could only make shots in the dark. He thus rejected being able to find the date of Heracles. But people did believe these stories and did not argue about contradictions between them. In a later time, when Ibn Ishaq, the first Muslim historian was going through all the traditions about Muhammad (Ibn was working more than a century after his death), he through out the majority of those stories, considering them unhistorical and fanciful. Modern scholars accept even fewer of the traditions (called Hadiths) than Ibn had. Also, Plutarch and other historians had many accounts on how Alexander the Great came to die, if he was poisoned or just got sick. People believed all sorts of stories about him, but these historians either were critical of them or said know one knows. So in fact, when it comes down to it, historians are NOT willing to accept contradicting stories just because other people accepted them. Your argument is fallacious on two accounts: argument from numbers and argument from authority.

  31. Aaron Adair

    Besides, the people that you are taking as being in the know about Jesus birth (the Apostolic Fathers of the 2nd century and beyond), are just that–centuries after the fact. They were not contemporaneous and had to use the same sources that we use today, such as Josephus, Tacitus, etc. Further, there is not some gap in our knowledge of the events of that time. We know when Herod was alive, based on the accounts of multiple historians and archaeological evidence, we know who was governor of Syria in the times from 10 to 4 BCE (the time frame that fits Matthew), we know where Quirinus was (in Turkey fighting a war on the other side of a major mountain range), we know how the Romans conducted censuses, we know when censuses were conducted since Caesar Augustus wrote down when he did such a thing and as did Josephus for events in Palestine. We know plenty about this part of the world for this time in relation to these sorts of events. For Matthew and Luke to not be in contradiction, Josephus, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, Augustus, Plutarch, Appian, Suetonius, and archaeology would all have to be wrong. Further, one of the sources for Josephus was Herod’s memoirs, and I can bet Herod knew when Herod rules, as did his close fried Nicolaus, another one of Josephus’ sources. To continue to say there is some gap in our knowledge about these things is to play ignorant.

  32. Aaron Adair

    And finally, you are still running on false premises. Firstly, we DON’T have evidence that the early Christians had Matthew exactly was we do because we don’t even know what exactly Matthew looked like. There are still arguments amongst textual critics as to what is the original version. In fact, some such scholars figured that the concept of the “original” version was without meaning; after all, how would we know we had the unadulterated version of the author, and who would be that author: the person person that wrote chapters 3-28? the person that added the first 2 chapters? The one that changed one word from passive to active voice? To make any claims about having the exact form is simply bogus. Besides, we DON’T have any Christian writing saying what they quoted was from the disciple Matthew or the apostle Luke until Irenaeus in the late 2nd century. That is a long time to claim an apostle wrote something. And as I have pointed out, the Greek does not support it saying that Matthew or Luke was the author; the use of the Greek word “kata” means the contents of the books were not written by the person named, but that the person named was used as their source, as inspiration. Hence, the gospels themselves don’t claim to be from the disciples or early apostles. And internal evidence demonstrates they are not; if the disciple Matthew wrote this, then why did he have to use Mark, who was not a disciple at all and never met Jesus alive? Scholars have concluded Matthew and Luke used Mark and a sayings source, called Q. Hence, they are depending on someone else, not acting as eye-witnesses.

  33. Aaron Adair

    But the last piece to consider, that the early Christians did accept Matthew and Luke and believed there to be no contradiction, this is just wrong. As I pointed out, Tertullian says that Saturnius was governor at the time of Jesus’ birth, not Quirinus as Luke says. Saturnius did rule when Herod was alive, so this appears to be Tertullian trying to fix a problem; no matter what, he is plainly contradicting Luke. Also, Justin Martyr contradicts Matthew as to where the Magi came from; Justin says from Arabia, while Matthew says “the East”. Origen also quotes Celsus as saying those from the East were Chaldeans instead of Magi. It seems people can’t get their story straight. So in fact, the “orthodox” church fathers contradicted the stories; in fact, most of the church figures placed Jesus’ birth around 3 BCE or later, which contradicts both Luke and Matthew; in fact, 5 ancient sources date Jesus’ birth to 8 or 9 CE, much later that Herod and even well past the census. These is also the consideration of the many “heresies” out there that did not take Matthew or Luke as canonical; Marcion’s gospel, for example, is much like Luke’s but completely excludes the birth narratives. And there are still many more contradicts between the early Christians on the birth of Jesus as I have pointed out, including being a century different. To boldly continue to say that the early Christians did not find contradiction between Matthew and Luke and accepted them is demonstrably false.

  34. Aaron Adair

    Perhaps I should take a bit of time to explain a bit of how one tries to figure out what is reliable and not in the gospel accounts of Jesus. There are three primary criteria that passages and verses are put against: independent attestation, embarrassment, and dissimilarity. The first means that an account is deemed more probable in being historical if there exist multiple accounts of that story which are not dependent on the same secondary source. For example, three of the four gospels mention an apocalyptic prophecy in Mark 13, Matthew 24, and Luke 22. However, scholars have figured they are all from the same source: Mark. Hence, even though Matthew and Luke repeat it it does not make it more historical since they are only repeating things; it would be hearsay. Secondly, if a certain account would be embarrassing to tell, such as Jesus needing to be baptized, then it becomes more likely to be historical since one is not likely to make up something that goes against the goals of the group. Lastly, dissimilarity is in relation to the same story existing outside of the gospels but in other non-Christian documents. Basically, if the same story exists elsewhere, it becomes difficult to say it was not an influence, or perhaps the point was to utilize that same story. So, if it is said Jesus was nearly killed at birth, but that same story exists for Moses, Sargon, Heracles, Romulus, Oedipus, etc., it becomes hard to say that these stories were not the source. Basically, anything said that would have been useful to the church or inspiring that is not part of the history of Jesus, it becomes extremely suspect. In the Star story, there is no independent attestation, nothing embarrassing, and similar stories exist outside of the New Testament, such as a star leading Aeneas to his new homeland. This makes the story unreliable historically.

  35. Larry Bogan

    After reading several books on the history of the biblical era and some of the archaeological evidence of what might have really taken place, it was a good to see Aaron Adair point out that there is no historical evidence that any special astronomical event took place at the birth of Jesus. We should stop trying to use astronomy to find events that likely never happened.

  36. Bruce Nelson

    I was surprised at your date for the census of Quirinius. My Jeruselem Bible says in a
    footnote “About 8-6 B.C.”, and I assumed all those scholars knew what they were talking
    about. What were your sources for the 6 AD date?

  37. Aaron Adair

    There are several sources for the census. One if Josephus, in his “Antiquities of the Jews” 17.342-4, 55; 18.1-2. Dio Cassius as well in his “Roman History” 55.27. In fact, this is confirmed by the book of Acts; Josephus tells us that in this census a Judas the Galilean started a revolt and in Acts 5:37 this is repeated. Josephus and Dio are both ancient historian, Josephus being older and in the 1st century CE. More details can be found here: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html. Now, why does your Bible say this? Because they are trying to fix a problem. Translators and scholars actually do translate things away that they don’t like. For example, when Jesus talks about the parable of the mustard seed, he says it is the smallest of “all seeds;” however, the orchid seed is in fact smaller. So, since Jesus must be a botany expert, the translators of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible say that the mustard seed is the smallest of seed “you plant” or “all YOUR seed.” This is why I always go through multiple translations and go back to the Greek as well. A great account of this is given by Hector Avalos in his “The End of Biblical Studies”, along with a bunch of great stuff about the problems with such scholarship today.

  38. Steven Lohr

    Aaron-
    I read your article in Sky and Telescope with interest. As a practicing Christian, attorney, apologist and astronomer I have some familiarity with the topics which you cover. I would respectfully suggest that your reliance on some of the experts you cite in the forum is misplaced. For instance, the Jesus seminar is the radical fringe of New Testament scholarship, whose methodology of voting and reliance on Gnostic works seriously compromises their claim of scholarship. I would strongly urge you balance your critical scholarship with readings from people like Dr. William Lane Craig, PhD. Other writers, such as Norman Geisler offer more popular, but still excellent apologetic writings that more than answer many of your issues, and are readily available in bookstores. For those who are interested, an excellent “one-stop” source for vigorous and entertaining debate on the other side of the aisle can be found at the Tekton website, located at:

    http://www.tektonics.org/

    In any case, I would invite interested parties to look into some of these resources, as the argument for the historical accuracy of the Gospels is, in my opinion, far greater than you indicate in your article. I would also like to note that some have postulated a comet as being the Star of Bethlehem. Dr. Humphries in “The Star of Bethlehem” located at:

    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Astronomy-Cosmology/S&CB%2010-93Humphreys.html

    makes an interesting and well-sourced argument along these lines.

    Regards,
    Steven E. Lohr

  39. Aaron Adair

    I should let it be known that I have had the opportunity to read the works of people such as Craig and the author of Tektonics, J.P. Holding. As for the Jesus Seminar, that they are “radical” seems to be more of a smear campaign. That they considered looking at other sources other than the gospels to understand the historicity of the works is hardly a poor idea; after all, if you are trying to uncover the truth of the events of the death of Julius Caesar, you should read all the accounts given, not just those that happened to make the cut to being canonical, especially when that is done centuries after the fact. As for Humphries on a comet, unfortunately he did not read Josephus very well because it was not a comet that “stood over” Jerusalem but another object all together. Besides, comets don’t do what Matthew says. As for Tektonics, the author is well-known for lack of civility; he is generally insulting and often misreads those he argues against. I cannot take anything he says seriously since he is so poor in his scholarship, being so driven to have an inerrant Bible.

  40. Aaron Adair

    Let me give a detail of something wrong wit the argument at the link you provided. Part of the problem with the census is that during the reign of Herod Judea would not have had a census. The apologist cited, Glenn Miller, states how Judea was taxed by Rome before Herod came to power and kicked out the Parthians. But why does it matter if the land was taxed before it was a client kingdom? This is just smoke and mirrors. Britain taxed the 13 colonies before 1776; does that mean the UK taxes them now? Of course not; what happened before the formation of the nation or client kingdom is not relevant. Much the same happens for the rest of page, these red herrings and half-truths. For example, in retranslating Luke 2:2, Holding brings up people such as N.T. Wright who is not a classicist as Carrier is but a bishop. Besides, the want to retranslate Luke is because of a historical problem, not a grammar one, which only shows that the text is not accurate unless we fix it the way we want it. It seems true: fundamentalists are not happy with the Bible they have. (For some books that point to some of the problems of historicity of the Bible, see “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein, “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man” by Price, not to mention W. Bauer’s classic “Orthodoxy & Heresy in Earliest Christianity” and Wellhausen’s “Prolegomena”; all of that should get your tongue wet.)

  41. Randall

    Aaron:
    Do you accept the resurrection of the person named “Jesus Christ” to be historically true or not? Did such a person rise from the dead 3 days later? Since the discussion has been on the credibility of the Christian New Testament writings, what’s your take on this claim? Are these writings credible on this event?

  42. Aaron Adair

    Randall, that is certainly a subject that would cause even more controversy than speaking about the star already has produced. Now, I do not want to get this comment page stuck on a matter that is not about the Star, so please allow me to side step this matter. However, I would like to point to a book called “The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.” This book takes a look at some of the most recent attempts to prove the reliability of the Empty Tomb story and from that the Resurrection and shows their failings. But as for the reliability of the gospels in general, even apologists that are worth their salt admit that some things are probably not historical. For example, William Lang Craig agrees with most scholars that the story of the risen saints in Matthew 27:52-3 is fiction and he is probably the top apologist; he is certainly one of the most intelligent. Of course, he still accepts the Resurrection and much of the rest of the gospel tales. So, let me make this clear: even if a source reports something unhistorical it could still have something historical/true in it. The Gospel of Mark may still have an iota of truth about the historical Jesus left in it once one removes the legendary pieces or parts that are not backed up by historical analysis. How much actually remains is another story. But for the case of the Star, things don’t look good. As for the Resurrection, that is probably an even tougher case.

  43. Servius

    Just a couple of things.

    Regarding the magi being from the east, the Israelites had been held captive in Babylon and likely left behind some of their traditions.

    Regarding the star itself, obviously it’s not a star nor does it behave quite like a comet. It’s clear the passage says there’s a light in the sky that tells them where to go at least generally but they do not know specifically. They have to ask Herod. But after being told to look in Bethlehem the light goes on before them until it comes over the where the child was. (not over the house)

    οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τοῦ βασιλέως ἐπορεύθησαν, καὶ ἰδοὺ ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃν εἶδον ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ προῆγεν αὐτοὺς ἕως ἐλθὼν ἐστάθη ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν τὸ παιδίον.

    I think the most interesting thing about this passage is that there was a light in the sky signifying the birth of the King but the Israelites of the day did not “have eyes to see.”

  44. Doug Heller

    I found the article a very disappointing analysis indeed. Why someone would feel qualified to write such an article is beyond me, much less an astronomy student? Aaron, have you ever believed in anything in your life that can not be seen, calculated, engineered, analyzed, researched or otherwise known beyond all doubt? Perhops as you mature and learn in accordance with God’s plan for your life you will and I certainly pray that you do. The Bible is not some Scientific American account of it all to be shredded by pseudo intellectuals and shame on you for your agenda here. As an astronomer, you of all people have the miracle of the universe before your eyes and you still don’t get it. It is ultimately about faith, the substance of things hoped for, but not seen; your salvation depends on it if that is important to you. The star that you are trying to account for so desperately is simply the light that leads us to Jesus. Whether it was real or just literary is irrelevant in the context of your eternal salvation.

  45. Aaron Adair

    Servius: I didn’t know this page could support Greek. I may try that later. Anyhow, yes the text says the star stood over where the child was. The house, which th Magi enter into, is mentioned a few lines later. It seems safe to say that Jesus was in the house when the star stood in place. But, there is still to be argumentative about here. Your other insights are interesting as well. Doug: if, as you say, “whether it was real or just literary is irrelevant,” then why are you bothered by my article about the Star probably not being historical? Besides, this is not about matters of belief; I was trying to do history and history does not allow absolute certainty or proof; that’s for mathematicians and philosophers. Now, if you are worried about my salvation by the redeeming act of Jesus’ suffering, that is certainly the Christian thing to do; however, the historian/scientist is not allowed to have his or her work be perturbed by what they prefer to be the case. And since you seem to say the historical truth does not matter, you leave me very confused about the point of your post.

  46. Steven Morris

    Excellent article! I would only add that the SoB story is flatly contradicted in Chapter 2 of Luke, which states that when Jesus was twelve years old, he stayed behind in Jerusalem when his parents headed home after Passover. When they found him three days later, they told him they had “sought thee sorrowing”, and when he said “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”, “they understood not”. How could they have forgotten all the magical events of only twelve years earlier, if any of them had happened? If he’s a god, what’s to be sorrowful about if he’s off on his own for a few days? And why would everybody be “astonished at his understanding and answers”? Obviously, his parents and the religious authorities had never seen a star or anything else miraculous about him.

  47. Brian McDonnell

    Good day Aaron,

    And thank you very much for the article.
    Are not the Roman decrees and censuses well documented
    in both Jewish and Roman sources ?
    I have in mind Luke Chapter 2:

    “Now it came to pass in those days, that a decree
    went forth from Caesar Augustus that a census of
    the whole world should be taken. This first* census
    took place when Cyrinus was govenor of Syria.”

    * apparently there was another census in A.D. 5-6
    immediately after the deposition of Archelaus.

    Kind regards,
    Brian

  48. Don Kennedy

    I believe that your statement “I think my fellow planetarium co-workers should be weary of having the facility being used for the spread of the gospel instead of the spread of good science.” gives the key to this discussion thread. The “gospel” that you refer to is the Gospel message of the Biblical texts that this article discusses. In what way does the Gospel of the Biblical text differ from the “gospel” of “good science”? “Science” is supposedly completely separated from religion. In order to separate it, all of what is called religion is removed from “Science”, including all things supernatural, or metaphysical. “Science” believes, as Carl Sagan put it, that “The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be”. He means of course, that only the physical world exists, there is no metaphysical. This is the catechism of a religion. The religion of the Bible says there is a God, Heaven, Hell, spirit world, that we are more than physical, that we have a spirit in us. The religion of “Science” denies that all of these exist. “Science” has become a code word for methodological naturalism, and indeed, more than methodological, it is the actual religious belief of its converts. Biblical text presents a religion, yet the competing point of view is somehow not a religion?. How can this be? Can a non-religion compete against a religion? Of course not, they would have nothing to say about one another. Yet the members of this church have much to say about the competing religion: “mythologies” (Robert Allen); “myths” (William Hathaway). A religion tells its disciples where they came from (a cosmic accident produced the Big Bang), why they are here (they have no purpose), and where they are going (there is no existence after death). It’s high time for some honesty on the part of those that promote “Science” as the salvation for a society led astray by Christianity.

  49. Aaron Adair

    Brian: I have dealt with the census above. Also, follow this link: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html. Don: I would not say Science says there is no supernatural realm; in fact, natural science can say nothing of it simply because it IS NOT natural. Science is methodologically, not necessarily metaphysically, natural; I can’t measure the weight of angels nor count their number on pin heads. So, I do not like to lump it into positions that do make metaphysical claims about the supernatural/non-physical. Also, unlike religious dogma, the tenants of science are supposed to be questioned and justified by reason and evidence; they can also be cast aside when the evidence goes against this or that idea. Further, science says nothing about one’s meaning; that’s for theologians and philosophers. (I like Nietzsche’s notion that even with life not having meaning by simply existing, we can still give our lives meaning; we have this blank canvas and color palate to produce the beautiful landscape of our own existence; meaning is intrinsic, not extrinsic.) I would say then that you are saying more than what science does by a long shot. One only need point out that most scientists are theistic, though the top scientists tend to be atheists. One can be Catholic/Muslim/Mormon/Hindi/Aztec/Charlie Sheen and still be a good scientist.

  50. Aaron Adair

    Steven: you point out how the story in Luke seems to run against the rest of the nativity story. Kudos. However, you may like to see other passages that are even stronger on this, in my opinion. For one, in Mark 8:11-3, Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven; Jesus says not sign will be given to “this generation”. Isn’t a Star a sign from heaven and in Jesus’ generation? (Later redactors, such as Matthew and Luke, rewrite this passage.) Also in Mark, Mary and family come to try and take Jesus out of the lime light because they think he is talking crazy? Did she forget about angels, her own virgin birth, Magi, etc.? But let’s go back to the letters of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-3, Paul says that Jews ask for miraculous signs, but instead Paul preaches Christ crucified. As G.A. Wells points out, this seems to say that Paul knows of no miracles of Jesus and seems them as getting in the way of the faith. Would not Jesus have been as wise about his own teachings? It seems a miraculous star would have been beside the point for the earliest Christians (taking Paul’s letters to be the earliest Christian records we have) and even an interference. Now that is when the Bible speaks against itself.

  51. Tom Casey

    Wow… I just picked up the issue last night, my subscription lapsed a while ago… and was pleased to see an article on one of my favorite astronomy subjects, the star of Bethlehem. But then I read the article, then just went to the discussion site and was further dismayed. Although there have been many, many theories on what the start may have been, and many disagreements, I cannot remember anyone getting this worked up about it (the author, that is). This has lapsed into something other than a discussion of the star and what explanation for it astronomy may have. And all this on a couple of sentences written by an historian 2000 years ago. Must be something really bugging you Mr. Adair. Your last post goes way out to try to save yourself… if on page 51 of this S&T issue, if there is an incorrect statement, do we throw out all the others? Seems you have an intense desire for the books in the Bible collection to be perfect… wonder why that always comes up in discussions like these? Anyway, I would rather see some sort of “profitable” discussion in the true scientific manner being posted here.

  52. Tom Casey

    The biggest frustration with trying to match an astronomical event with the Star is the lack of imformation. As Aaron points out, all we have is a few sentences to work with and then a lot of assumptions made from other historical references. The Titanic sank not even a 100 years ago and there are still a few witnesses alive, yet there is an ongoing argument as to why the ship sank. The Gospels were wrtiien 2000 years ago so what can we expect? In my opinion, there is a clear answer to why there is only the few sentences describing the event… it wasn’t important to the story being told. Each of the four gospels was written by a knowegable writer in a creative way to serve the end audience. Matthew was written to the Jews and it’s emphasis is on the old prophecies. Mark was aimed at the Romans, Luke was more a historian, and John was directed to non-Jews. Matthew’s reason for including the story of the Magi had more to do with his desire for bringing out the prophecy side that the wise men represented… that they had read the old writings and saw an event represented by the Star. His intend was obviously not to give us a scientific marker to run our sky programs backward to the exact date… that’s something we can play with today, but never probably get an exact answer. The lack of any other historian mentioning it only show us that astronomy was about as unpopular to the general masses as it unfortunately still is today. An Egyptian friend of mine who I spent two weeks out in the Sahara with tells me they see the stars differently than most cultures do… to them it’s more of a timekeeping and navagation tool since there is little else out in the desert to work with. As to why Matthew said so little… maybe that’s another reason.

  53. B. Osborne

    It’s also quite plausible that the “Magi” were Jewish wisemen from Babylon (modern day Iraq). It is directly east of Israel and was a center of Jewish study after the fall of the Jewish kingdom at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. It seems more reasonable that Jewish wisemen would have made the trip than the traditionally pictured group of white, brown, yellow and/or black ones.

    Also, one should be somewhat careful not to go too far down the path of claiming something did not happen in the past because we are unable at the current time to explain it. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures are replete with historical persons and places that scholars claimed were “mythologies” (as Robert A. puts it) until archeology found they did in fact exist. At the end of the day, we can’t say there was, or wasn’t, an astronomical event. We can say, with historical confidence, there was a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua (Jesus) that lived in the period. Who you believe him to be is another question…

  54. Aaron Adair

    In respect to an astronomical event, the point of my article is that NO astronomical event even comes close to fitting the miraculous nature of the star described by the author. As for Jews in Babylon, that’s still not Magi. If you are saying it was not Magi, then Matthew is wrong. Now, I won’t discuss archaeology in respect to the existence of people; that is not what this article is about. However, the evidence that Jesus was a rabbi is a hard case to make. Basically, critical scholars have most every opinion on who the historical Jesus was. I will not delve into that question here, but I will point out that every reconstruction produced has plausibility but they all seem to undo each other. Dr. Robert M. Price makes this point clear in his “Deconstructing Jesus”. As for the historicity of the story, as I pointed out there is no other independent account of the Star; in historical analysis, without independent attestation something cannot be considered historical. Plus, parts of the New Testament seem to contradict the very notion of the Star being historical and the story itself is replete with details similar or identical to ancient Mediterranean stories, such as the Aeneas, the birth of Alexander the Great, Mithras, etc. Hence, everything is against the story and nothing for it. Historians deal with these sorts of things all the time. Herodotus wrote that armor around Delphi came to life to defend the temple against the Persians; no historian believes it for similar reasons why Matthew’s Star story is not acceptable.

  55. Rosanne

    I believe that the Bible is just a bunch of written down stories as it says (according to the book of such and such) by different authors from different times, Someone just decided to put them all together for print. So to find out the star just go by that particular authors sightings. They used to use stars and such to tell time from my understanding. The Bible is a compilation of diaries from different authors.

  56. Tom Casey

    I always amazes me when Christmas comes around that the Star becomes an issue of much debate. It both facinates and angers… and on all sides of the debate. We all grasp for something “scientific” to latch on to, to confirm some sort of closure to our belief or doubt about the Jesus story. Aaron, our author here, is taking it as a reason to justify his doubt about the whole Bible it would seem. Many other posts to this forum make the same nod of approval. Then there are those “believers” that during the many talks that will occur on this subject in the next few weeks, who will scoff at the very mention that some sort of astrological sign was what led the Magi to make their journey. Astrology and Christians just don’t mix so it must have been a miraculous event. It is amazing that the Matthew account was not cast out of the chosen mix as so many of the gnostic gospels were… for having a touch of mystic flavor. The Star story must have had a supportive argument that we have lost today. To those who read and study the Bible, there is an uncanny singularity of story across all the books included… written by so many authors across such a wide range of time. The inclusion of Mattew in the mix is a point towards the acceptance of the Star story as real history.

  57. Marc Tattar

    I would like to thank Aaron for putting this article together. I enjoyed it immensely. Though the topic will never enjoy universal agreement, I think Aaron has done a good job summarizing the key points of the story. He clearly has a good grasp on several separate historical viewpoints and presents them as such. Unlike most S&T articles, this article’s subject is not resolved and probably never will. As scientific progress usually clears the fog of doubt with time with most of us, I don’t think this is the case with the Star of Bethlehem. There are those who have made up their minds with such resolve that nothing can break their belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. What I take away from the article is a little better historical perspective on what people were like around that time period. I have enough trouble piecing together accurate facts from 100 years ago in my own family tree (imagine 2000 years to track). Two lines in the Bible don’t have much credibility with me but perhaps that isn’t the point. Thanks again for the enlightening article. I have enjoyed reading the posts as well.

  58. Dave Ross

    Aaron, I’ve been wanting to jump in here at some point as this has been a topic of interest to me over the years, both as an amateur astronomer and United Methodist minister. First, let me add my thanks for a fine article and the way you forthrightly address what is yet another problematic intersection of science and religion in our day. To be sure, it’s a pretty minor one, but for some of us it is an interesting case in point; a sort of touch stone that pretty quickly reveals any number of unexamined presuppositions about our understanding of history, truth and so on. I have to give you credit for taking on the program of reading and research that went into the article and that informs your responses here in the follow up discussion. Anyone who, I take it, comes primarily from a science background but willingly takes up company with the likes of Raymond Brown- well, darn! More comments to follow…

  59. Dave Ross

    One comment, Aaron, I wanted to address to you, however, is to challenge your view of the role of astrology in Judaism and Early Christianity. You ask, “Would the Jewish followers of Jesus have paid heed to astrology at all?” While it is true that “Ancient Jewish literature” is pretty clear in condemning divination of this kind, I think it’s safe to say that over the latter half of the last century there has been a reappraisal of how certain we can be about what “normative” Judaism taught about astrology, among other things. James Charlesworth, working with the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha from the inter-testamental period and on the Dead Sea Scrolls and so forth, has been a leader in this area. If you google “James H Charlesworth” and astrology you will find a JSTOR article entitled “Jewish Astrology in the Talmud…”, and even though you might only be able to read the first page it tells the story. Lester Ness, whose dissertation on this topic can be found online is another. For the NT side, Howard Clark Kee’s book, “The Beginnings of Christianity” has a good chapter on this, and I would also mention Tim Hegedus, whose book entitled “Early Christianity and Ancient Astrology” has just recently been published and whose interesting article can be found here… http://www.valentino-salvato.net/Astrology/pdf/Magi_and_Star.pdf .

    None of this weighs in at all toward shoring up the historicity of the star, for all the reasons you have rehearsed, but it does shed light on backgrounds for possibly better understanding the gospel writer’s interest in the midrash, symbol, literary device of the star and how it operates to convey meaning in the gospel on a variety of levels.

  60. Tom Casey

    As mentioned in previous posts, Christians have a problem with the explanation of the Magi using astrology to discover the birth of Jesus. I’ve been in Christian discussion groups where people actually stormed out in protest at the mention of the Star’s possible analysis through astrological meaning. Jesus himself said that there would be signs in the heavens, the difference being that the signs he speaks of don’t necessarily mean the same as what astrology connects to. There can be a sign in the heavens without the belief that those signs have a controlling aspect on life on Earth… the astrologer or believer of same looks to the sky for life guidance and that is the reason astrology was frowned upon by the Jewish teachings.

  61. Tom Casey

    FYI- There is a DVD being sold this Christmas that covers the Star’s anaylsis of Frederick Larson. The most interesting part of his view is the addition of Revelation 12 as another reference point of signs in the heavens as mentioned in the Bible. His anaylsis continues the story to the Christian Easter events on Good Friday. There is also a web site… http://www.bethlehemstar.net

  62. Graydon

    While Science should not strive after ultimate explanations of truth the Christmas story about the Star of Bethlehem I can see is too tempting to pass up….

    Since you are referencing Josephus, you are therefore accepting Jewish historical records as truth. As such the Torah, i.e., Old Testament, also talks about a heavenly sign to foretell the coming Messiah. Since the Jews do not believe the Messiah has yet arrived, it is necessary that they will not agree with the New Testament.

    Matthew, who lived while Jesus lived, was the author of the Book of Matthew and according to Christian historical records, the census initiated by Herod occurred when Jesus was born. So you see from the non-Jewish perspective, your claims of historical errors and contradictions within the New testament are entirely incorrect.

    As far as the “star”, i.e., Aster or Astor is concerned, it is not possible for us to know anything beyond what scriptures tell us. Nor does scriptures indicate that the “star” was another miracle. The main point is that Jesus was born the Son of God, lived a righteous life, was crucified to pay for oue sins and returned from the grave as the New Testament claims.

    In any case science does not conflict with truth only with false religions.

  63. Vern

    Regarding Aaron’s socalled New Testament contradictions with respect to chronoligical events….

    In the 6th century A.D. that Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk living in Rome, who was confirming the Easter cycle, originated the system of reckoning time for the birth of Christ. Usage gradually spread to the point where it was adopted in England by Synod of Whitby in 664 finally gaining universal acceptance. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar.

    HOWEVER more accurate knowledge shows that the earlier reckonings of the time of Christ’s birth were in error by several years. Therefore it is now agreed by historians that the birth of Christ occurred between 4 and 6 BC.

    Therefore Herod was still alive and initiated the census while Jesus was still an infant…..

    I cannot explain the star however.

  64. Aaron Adair

    Mark: Thank you for the kind comments. However, I hope that some sort of resolution will come about in the scientific community. After all, as I noted, biblical scholars have figured the story is not historical for over a century now.
    Dave: It’s very good to get helpful feedback from those theologically trained. It is also good to hear that Brown’s scholarship is still in higher regards. What can I say? He did some very good scholarship and I learned a lot from him. Thank you also for the sources on Jewish astrology. I was aware that there were segments of that society that in fact practiced astrology; I read the Dead Sea Scrolls’ use of it. If anything, my point was that because of the strong opposition to astrology in the Talmud (cf. Shabbat 156a-b) that to take anything from Jewish literature and think it can be used for a historical reconstruction is not sound. But I am going to take a closer look into the paper you brought up. It looks good. Oh, and Gent’s website is a great place to go from the vast level of scholarship on the subject, some of it very old.

  65. Aaron Adair

    Just responding to your most recent posts. Firstly, Matthew, and the other gospels for that matter, where not chosen based on hard historical analysis. They were chosen because their theology meshed with that of the bishops that read them. It is the primary reason Gnostic literature was not allowed into the canon. Besides, the choices in gospels was centuries after the books were written, let alone after the fact. To say they accepted the story and so we should is a logical fallacy–argument from authority. Besides, we distrust accounts that others accepted that came from true historians. Modern historians are very skeptical about the level of viciousness ascribed to Nero, for example, especially from Suetonius. On Christians accepting astrology, this is a matter that I do not think much about, nor does it seem to matter much to me because what Matthew describes is clearly not astronomical. I am also aware of the website and DVD by Larson. Unfornately, his theory is founded on bad history (redating Herod’s reign and the census) and his Star does not act as Matthew’s is said to have, as I pointed out in my article, especially since what is required is not observationally possible. You’d think that would hinder such a hypothesis.

  66. Aaron Adair

    Graydon: Yes, Josephus was Jewish, but that does not mean he wrote in a way to discriminate against the Christian writers. In fact, we can’t be sure if Josephus knew of Christianity (his only mentions have signs of forgery, as all scholars agree). Also, there is good evidence that Luke used Josephus as a source! (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html)
    Also, Josephus has proven to be a good source who matches up with other historians and archaeological evidence. To dismiss him is to dismiss history, at least on this point. He’s more questionable about the events at Masada. So no, I don’t consider Jewish records “truth”; I consider them a source that when they mesh well with other sources makes for compelling reason to believe them.
    Vern: The change in the calender has been known for a while, but worth repeating, so thank you for that point. However, Luke, not Dionysius Exiguus, describes the census as happening when Quirinius was governor of Syria which did not happen until 6 CE, nine years after Herod’s death. I have provided this same link before above, but here is is again, making the case that Matthew and Luke truly do contradict and future analysis won’t be fixing it:
    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

  67. Graydon

    Thanks for providing good information for others including myself to examine further. I agree with the first two sentences of your last post/reply and your comments towards the end regarding the sequence of events etc.

    While the two Biblical eye-witness accounts of the same events Book of Matthew and Book of Luke do not agree entirely, adding additional questionable information from the perspective of Josephus, for me, does not add one drop of reason in a pool of confusion.

    I prefer to agree with Jeffrey Spitzer’s account of Josephus and his writings but look forward to your’s an other’s thought provoking comments.

    For now I will be focusing on the Star of Bethelehem issue.

  68. Dave Ross

    Aaron, a housekeeping matter… Are there any options at “Web Central” for organizing the page differently to make access to things more convenient? Maybe it’s not worth it but right now it’s sort of hard to wade through to either see what’s new or catch up on the discussion. It may be past its peak, but those of us who are gluttons for punishment can still hope that along with Comet Holmes it might surprise us and revive in intensity…

    Is there a way the Web Master of this Universe can organize it by date, maybe? Similar to the way some Yahoo groups are organized by month? Just some thoughts… I also had trouble posting today (Nov. 22/23) but maybe The SoB Blob is on holiday too…

    Hope all had a Happy Thanksgiving…
    Dave Ross

  69. Dave Ross

    Aaron, to get back to a discussion from October 25 or so. The matter of celestial events that might have been experienced by the gospel writer or his community came up. You raise an objection based on the apparent wide uncertainty about the dating of the gospel of MT. I checked a couple of more or less standard sources that are reasonably up to date, the New Interpreter’s Bible (multi-volume commentary), the New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, etc. They all seem to point around about “the last third of the 1st century” or there abouts; one gave 85CE, etc. These are generally pretty close to where the matter stood when I was in school, maybe 85 pushes a decade later but that’s all. This being the case, I don’t think it’s all that impossible to reasonably wonder about the impression that a comet (Halley’s) might have left in the imagination of folks in that time frame. Josephus himself seems to directly connect the comet of 66CE to the start of the war that led to the disaster of the Jerusalem Tempel’s ruin. I’m guessing that’s the kind of thing that might stick in the mind. Yes, comet’s are generally ill omens in antiquity; but in the slippery manner of all such- one side’s ill is another’s potential boon. But, more importantly, I’m not suggesting an identification of the SoB with a comet, only that it helps set the background for understanding why or how MT’s Jewish-Christian community would have found the star meaningful in announcing another momentous event- the one they called the good news.

  70. Dave Ross

    This is mentioned briefly by Brown but it also came up in print back around the last Halley Days in Theology Today which keeps an online archive at http://theologytoday.ptsem.edu/search/index-browse.htm (April, 1986) I am working from the first edition of BoTM and, if I recall correctly, he has a bit more to say along these lines offering “verisimilitude” in the later editions.

    I think the old but still useful distinction used by Gabriel Marcel applies. There are problems to be solved and then there are mysteries to be explored. In my view, the astronomy can help explore the mystery even if it cannot solve the supposed problem of making a definite identification.

    Dave Ross

  71. Graydon

    My previous post was misleading on several counts. So I owe an apology and correction.

    Luke was not one of the 12 apostles/disciples. There is uncertainity as to who the author of the Book of Luke was. However it appears that Luke was a significant contributor. In any case not all contributors were considered, inspired, i.e., God’s living witnesses.

    The author says he wrote an orderly account. This does not mean in chronological order but in a moral or a spiritual order according to William MacDonald author of New Testament Believers commentary. The purpose was to give Theophilus a written account that would confirm the trustworthiness of all that the author had been taught.

    Taking these factors into account helps me at least to resolve the challenges of apparent discrepancies between the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke.

    The material referenced previously from http://infidel.org by others is not scientific humanism but secular humanism…. which agressively attacks the writing and religion of Christianity….

    Sky and Telescope articles should focus on observational science, touch on astrophysics and cosmology. But avoid religious topics.

    SOB…. I am beginning to believe that the SOB was Shekhinah. If the SOB was bright and high in the sky there would have been hundreds of curious people following it to the manger.

  72. Trenton Feist

    Aaron, you referenced in you article that there is not a western account of the Star of Bethlehem. I would like to mention that there is a western account, The Book of Mormon. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the metal plates from which The Book of Mormon was translated were a record kept by ancient Americans from 600BC to well after the death of Christ. In the Book of Third Nephi chapter 1 vs 21 is the reference to the Star of Bethlehem “And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.” The context of this verse is the realization to the people of the Americas that the sign of the birth of the Messiah had come as prophesized earlier in The Book of Mormon. That prophecy comes in the Book of Helaman chapter 14 vs 5. This western account may be considered in supporting the fact that there was some sort of celestial event that was visible both in the Middle East and in the Americas. What is was exactly, I do not know but thought it was worth mentioning another record that supports the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem and that this star was regarded as the sign of the birth of the Messiah.

  73. Graydon

    It occurred to me that with so many stories of miracles in the old and new testament possibly including the SOB just how beneficial would it be to astronomers and others to discover that the SOB existed?

    I have also reviewed my books written by Steve Hawkings and just started reading some interesting material on Cosmology by PhD Hugh Ross “Beyond the Cosmos”. Seems to me that we should not take string theory and a multiple dimension universe too lightly.

  74. Graydon

    It occurred to me that with so many stories of miracles in the old and new testament possibly including the SOB just how beneficial would it be to astronomers and others to discover that the SOB existed?

    I have also reviewed my books written by Steve Hawkings and just started reading some interesting material on Cosmology by PhD Hugh Ross “Beyond the Cosmos”. Seems to me that we should not take string theory and a multiple dimension universe too lightly.

  75. Rod Jenkins

    I read with interest your excellent article and agree with your conclusions.

    I researched the subject in detail some time ago and published my findings in December 2004. You can obtain a copy of my paper entitled “The Star of Bethlehem and the comet of AD66” by going to http://www.bristolastrosoc.org.uk or by following the link from the Star of Bethlehem article in the Wikipedia Encyclopedea.

    My conclusions, that the star could not have been a real astronomical object appearing at the time of the nativity and certainly could not have been an astrological sign, are in agreement with yours.

    I have also found that many authors are not very scientific. For example when examining the literature I never ceased to be surprised on how easily some astronomers, once they start delving into the subject, are apparently seduced by the attractions of astrology. The result is that they end up supporting a case based on astrological signs even though they would almost certainly normally reject the prognostications of astrologers and the principle that heavenly signs could have any such validity.

    I set out to conduct a more scientific study. After coming to the same conclusions as yours I went on to research what may have inspired the author of Matthew’s Gospel. The result was that I may very well have stumbled on what the star story was based on. The evidence is circumstantial but to my mind compelling.

    (to be continued)

  76. Rod Jenkins

    It is a historical fact that in A.D.66:

    A deputation of Magi did come from the east to bring gifts and pay
    homage and they did return home by another route

    A bright comet with an impressive tail appeared over Jerusalem

    These Magi were on a journey to visit Nero then the most powerful man on earth. The comet was Comet Halley.

    My theory is based on the author of Matthew’s gospel using these two well known significant events to get his points across. At a stroke by saying that Magi had also visited Jesus he was elevating him to at least the level of Nero, himself at the time recognised as a god. In addition the appearance of a star strengthened the claim that Jesus was someone special as the beliefs of the time were that stars heralded the births of important people. By using events, that people could relate to, and making the story compatible with the peoples’ beliefs he made the whole Christian story all that more believable – a brilliant piece of spin.

    This simple solution to the mystery also has the advantage that it does not leave any untidy ends, for example:
    It explains why the story only appeared in Matthew?
    It explains why the Magi were never heard of again?
    It requires no Magi triggering event.
    It’s compatible with the historical record.
    It’s not dependent on any belief in astrology.
    It’s not dependent on any act of faith.

  77. Dave Ross

    Aaron,hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving last week…
    Now, for the thing I’m most curious about with respect to your article- the bottom line, so to speak.

    1.)Is it that you think the time is now past, since the apparent consensus of historians and biblical scholars alike is that there’s little directly historical detail to be found in the sole source for the SoB, for it to continue as a proper subject for exploration under the planetarium dome?

    2.) Or is it a more limited point about the particular tack taken by astronomers; ie, falling into the trap of over precision with respect to identifying THE phenomenon that must have been the SoB, and naively ending up giving the appearance of contradicting a large portion of biblical scholarship?

    3.) Or, not directly broached in the article, is the real issue the problematic intersection of science and religion that the SoB presents, and the heedless way some may be ignoring the flashing caution lights when they rush right through to conclusions, seemingly based on science, when even religionists fear to tread there?!

    -continued…

  78. Dave Ross

    Personally, as might be gathered from my earlier posts, I would be in great sympathy with positions 2 and 3. But, I guess I’d be disappointed if you felt 1 was the necessary conclusion. Many issues related to 3 were taken up by John Mosley in articles written in the Planetarian back in the last decade, but I wonder if you think his argument, basically that while problematic there are still good reasons for treating the subject in public planetarium shows, carries less weight in light of the most recent historical skepticism about the star? Personally, I don’t see this as necessarily meaning that any and all astronomy aimed at the SoB is, as you say at the end of the article, “irrelevant.” The history of SoB interest and interpretation is a story in itself that I should think could be told with integrity and sensitivity. Even just running down the list of the usual suspects, even if none in the end answers convincingly to the description in MT, gives educators the opportunity to do a little teaching about those astronomical phenomena and exercise the gamut of impressive slides, animations and special effects under those marvelous star filled domes. Maybe I am just being a sentimentalist, quite possible, and refuse to admit that in today’s culture the subject is hopelessly sectarian and divisive. I appreciate your invitation to chip in our two cents from the many and varied perspectives that have shown up here in this discussion board. -Dave Ross

  79. Aaron Adair

    Graydon: On Josephus, he seems to be a rather good source on these matters. He is using excellent primary sources, including Herod’s own writings, and he is in alignment with other historians and archeology. That is why I am not just taking Josephus’ word (Jeffrey Spitzer is correct that he was a biased writer), but because it is in agreement with so much else and has good sources, this makes his account reliable. Further, as I have mentioned before, no one knowns who did write any of the gospels and they are written most likely too late to be by any of the disciples or earliest Christians. And because these accounts contradict they cannot be considered historically reliable. As for Infidels.org, I linked to the writings of a Roman historians at Colombia university, Richard Carrier, who has proven to be an apt researcher. It would be wrong to dismiss his work because he writes on a secular humanist website; such dismissal is the genetic fallacy. On string theory/higher dimensions, it would be great if it panned out. I have my fingers crossed. And I don’t see the existence of the SoB contributing much to astronomy, but that may simply be my weak imagination.

  80. Aaron Adair

    Sorry about the mess that this forum has. I don’t know enough on how to make it better. HTML and web pages are not my forte. As for the date of Matthew, most critical scholars place the gospel in or around 85 CE, which would be 91 years after Jesus’ birth if born on 6 BCE. Also, I have come across scholarship that would place all the gospels into the 2nd century CE (Herman Detering, “The Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13/par): A Document from the Time of Bar Kochba”, Journal of Higher Criticism 7/2 (Fall 2000)). Such scholarship at least makes it harder to justify dates pre-70 CE. As for comets making the background for Matthew’s story, maybe. I don’t know, but it seems a reasonable suggestion. Only problem I see if that Matthew’s star is unlike anything else considered astronomical. As for your options, I would probably go with 2 and 3. I don’t think 1 for two reasons: tradition and it is still a part of the history of astronomy. My only problem is that the Star gets so much attention over other star stories, such as Aeneas’ star or Caesar’s comet (44 BCE), and that it is not pointed out that the astronomical stars shown are not truly fitting to the words of the gospel. Such a disclaimer should be included. Otherwise, the only reason to take it out of the show is if people don’t want to hear it anymore.

  81. Aaron Adair

    Trenton, thank you for that piece of information. Though I have had the chance to read parts of the Book of Mormon and have come to know some of the theology, I had no idea it had anything to say about the Star of Bethlehem. Quite fascinating. However, I would have difficulty in using the account to prop up the case of the historicity of the Star since access to the original tablets is quite limited and historians have had trouble lining up the claims of the religion with archaeology, such as the lineage of Native Americans. It is also odd that people in American would have seen the Star since Herod did not and the Star seems to have been at a rather low altitude and could not have been seen thousands of miles away due to the curvature of the earth. I guess I will have to see what sort of historical commentary there is on these passages. Thanks again. I learn something every day this way.

  82. Aaron Adair

    Rod: I have had a chance to read your article a while ago and I think it is an excellent suggestion for what the “Star” may have been, at least as an influence. It makes great sense and explains so much. If it happens to not be the correct answer to the mystery, it is definitely an exemplary solution. The only things it seems to be problematic for me is that it does not explain what Ignatius of Antioch wrote about the Star, that no historian connects the magi that came to Nero with astrology, and historians mention the comet after the magi’s trip instead of before. Also, it is hard to match things up when Nero is giving gifts to the head mage yet Jesus receives, suggesting Nero is greater/more able that Jesus. Also, the comet seems to have no details that fit the description of the Star itself. However, these are all small points. It only means is that there still could be another explanation out there, which I am trying to work on myself. If an explanation comes about that can explain Matthew and Ignatius, then that would perhaps be the best explanation yet. No matter what, I think your suggestion is one of the best today for the historical “reality” of the Star. I am glad you enjoyed my article; I certainly enjoyed yours.

  83. Graydon

    Interesting points you brought forth. Depending upon which Bible you refer to it contains approximately 66 books and therefore many authors. Consequently there will be discrepancies. There is also antinomy and paradoxes. However I must say that the term contradiction can only apply to apparent chronological discrepancies. Because the SOB is missing from the Book of Luke, does not create a contradiction IMHO.

    String theory/higher dimesions are quite helpful in opening the mind to more possibilities. Personally I have never wished for God or Jesus to exist but that does not stop me from believing.

    I appreciate the mystery of the SOB regardless.

  84. Graydon

    Interesting points you brought forth. Depending upon which Bible you refer to it contains approximately 66 books and therefore many authors. Consequently there will be discrepancies. There is also antinomy and paradoxes. However I must say that the term contradiction can only apply to apparent chronological discrepancies. Because the SOB is missing from the Book of Luke, does not create a contradiction IMHO.

    String theory/higher dimesions are quite helpful in opening the mind to more possibilities. Personally I have never wished for God or Jesus to exist but that does not stop me from believing.

    I appreciate the mystery of the SOB regardless.

  85. Daniel Tell

    As a planetarian myself, I’ve was alarmed to discover the ubiquity and popularity of programs addressing the Star of Bethlehem, especially with the number of planetaria that continue to discuss the 2 BC conjunction, despite historians regarding it as impossible due to the date of Herod’s death.

    What has troubled me more though is where the source of interest originates. From the audience’s side, it would seem that a scientific explanation for the star would demean the event–if it was a naturally occuring event wouldn’t that demean the miracle? And yet people come up to me after shows on the subject telling me how they thought it “brought the magic back to the holiday.”

    Furthermore, how can planetarians justify it? Not only is it a desparate attempt to integrate scripture with science and pander to visitors, but I’ve always felt presenting it, especially the 2 BC conjuction endorses astrology. I always felt guilty running shows on the subject as it seems to deliver the message from the planetarium that “yeah, astrology doesn’t work… well, okay, except in this one case where the magi could use it to predict the birth of Jesus, but ignore it all the rest of the time.” And, of course, as you point out in the article, it further ignores the tenent of Judaism that Israelites were immune to astrology, a point reiterated throughout the Old Testament.

    That said, I thank you sincerely for writing this article. It was nice to finally see someone bring up this issue. I hope for the day when planetaria no longer feel the need to justify this story and we can throw it into the bucket with all other “miracles”–miracles by definition are not rooted in science, and we have no business discussing them, and since it describes no known or knowable object in our sky, it’s outside the scope of mythology presentation. Thank you for the article, I hope everyone in our industry will read it.

  86. Mark

    As a planetarium director, I am not sure that the “astronomy is irrelevant”. I don’t have any qualms with the article itself, as there is inherently speculation on a very thin line of information, producing unsatisfying results. But I do consider the subject worthy of presentation for the very things it exposes.

    It uses a popular idea to draw an audience into the planetarium, and then provides a platform to do all sorts of astronomy education. The movement of planets – retrograde motion, conjunctions, oppositions. The details and differences between comets and meteors. What in the world is a nova, or supernova? All of these subjects are wonderful, but the chances of getting a general audience in to hear about retrograde motion of planets is slim to none.

    It doesn’t necessitate the “spread of the gospel”. That is easily covered in explaining the purpose and intent of the program.

    And the investigation of the question has led to a broader understanding of the role of astronomy and astrology in ancient times. I feel it can be a very fruitful discussion, provided it is carefully set within guidelines.

    Thanks for “listening” (reading)
    Mark

  87. george nehls

    I just quickly scanned all 89 comments to date and was surprised to find that none have mentioned the book, “The Star of Bethlehem,” Michael R. Molnar, ISBN 0-8135-2701-5. I purchased this book shortly after its publication in 1999. As far as concerned me, Molnar dealt conclusively with the subject, having gone back to the orginal Greek texts and then brilliantly reconstructed the entire sequence. I’m not going go into details here (I’d just foul it up), but my suggestion to anyone seriously interested in the subject is to read Molnar’s book and go from there. My brief summary is that the Magi were eastern astrologers who were convinced by their readings that a king was about to be born in Judea and they went looking for a pregnant lady there. Molnar gives you the whole enchilada.

  88. Aaron Adair

    Graydon: As great as string theory could be, I don’t see how it relates to the story. Even in M-theory, there is only one time dimension, causality holds, logic is unbroken. Also, even though Luke fails to mention the star, his timeline forces there to be a contradiction in the timing of the Star. In Matthew, Jesus is born and the Star was seen when Herod was alive; Luke has Jesus’ birth well after that time. I don’t see how to fix this other than to try and rewrite history, which many have tried (Ernest Martin, for example).

  89. Aaron Adair

    It is excellent that we have two opposing views on the need to include the Star in future holiday shows for the public. I best show my hand further on the subject. I agree with Mark that the Star gives the opportunity to talk about a great number of different topics, such as novae and planetary motion. However, all these topics are treated superficially; I get the intuition that few remember the details of what a nova is or the details of the motion of planets. Since they are more applied in the theater than explained and made interesting in their own right, the positive effect of mentioning them in the Star shows seems minimal. I would prefer it otherwise, but a study would need to be done to know if any knowledge sinks in. Now, even though the theories about the Star are given for a scientific goal, they ipso facto promote a Christian “truth,” that some aspect of the story is in fact proven by science and has the purposes of evangelism–see Frederick A. Larson. However, any scientific theory also needs to be shown how it fails to explain the evidence; my article demonstrates that the theories totally fail. Hence, by not mentioning this, we don’t do science but instead preach something as historical even if we don’t intend to.

  90. Aaron Adair

    Now, I don’t think we should just get rid of mentioning the Star. It is still part of the traditions of the planetarium and gets people in a good spirit. However, if we talk about the Star, we MUST point out the severe failings, including the failures of the use of astrology, else we ipso facto (again) promote its ability to work. If astrology “just happened” to bring people from across the deserts of Asia to the correct town, to the very person they were looking for would make anyone think that there must be something to such accuracy. Unless these problems–failures, in fact–then this is a grievous problem and disservice to the audiences in inadvertently producing a show that gives in effect misinformation or misrepresentation. It may give a warm-fuzzy, but this cannot be the purpose of the planetarium. I think it may be intelligent of me to better explain myself in an article for the Planetarian in the near future.

  91. Aaron Adair

    George: I have read Molnar’s articles and book on the subject and have been in personal communication as well. I also mentioned his work in my article. As I point out, the problem with astrology is that the very same events in the sky could very well mean almost anything, especially since we don’t know how the Babylonians produced natal horoscopes at the end of the 1st century BCE. Further, Molnar is simply unconvincing in relation to his analysis of the Greek. He allows an error in producing the Greek (missed a nu-movable for “eido”) and, as I pointed out in my article, the words used by Matthew are totally unlike the language used by astrologers and any Greek reader should easily have noticed the differences, especially one that can write in the language. Further, what Molnar described was observationally impossible–the retrograde motion and stationary point being distinguished in under two hours. Further, the Greek is clear that the Star is extremely close to the house. Recently, Marcus Born and John Domminic Crossan have a book out and say the Star gave the location of the house with the accuracy of a GPS device. An impossibility for anything called astronomical/astrological.

  92. Aaron Adair

    As for the coins, that case is made on pure speculations that the coins have anything to do with Judea. There is no primary evidence to link the two and it seems that the coins only deal with the city they are from, Antioch of Syria. The ancient astrologers contradict each other about geographical astrology. Molnar was mistaken about what Manilius says, he misses what Paulus Alexandria says, Dorotheus of Sidon is missed, etc., and all of these are not from Babylon, so they give no help to what would have interested the Parthians/Persians/Babylonians. There is also the problem that astrology is being used backward by Molnar and others. Astrologers took the time of birth, looked at records, and then make predictions. They did not predict the existence of nature of births they did not know of and there is no historical example of this switch in the records. Basically, the premises of astrology have been turned on its head to get this to work in a way that does not match what Matthew said and was not possible to been seen. Now, here is the scary part: Molnar probably has the best theory! Given the deep problems I have with his work, that should really say the quality of the work on this subject.

  93. Graydon

    I have just finished reading Star of Bethlehem by Michael Molnar. As you indicate he does have the best theory and it is clear that he has done a great deal of research and hard work on this book. I found it to be quite convincing until I read Aaron’s further comments on the book.

    On the back cover Owen Gingerich has quoted “In my opinion, this book is the most original and important contribution of the entire 20th century on the thorny question of how events recorded there should be intrepreted.”

    Thank you George Nehls for bringing this book to our attention.

    I will have to dig into this book again as it is quite intense and deals in depth with astrology which I have little interest in. I prefer observational astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology.

    Perhaps I will have more comments later.

  94. Vern

    If the SOB per Crossant’s book was able to provide GPS accuracy for the “house”, it would not be an astronomical object…..

    It is my personal opinion that Crossant’s books lack credibility. He was a cofounder of the Jesus Seminar and is frequently regarded as a heretic by most Christians, according to the Bible’s definition…. and he is definitely not an astronomer nor a scientist.

    A much more credible author would be Owen Gingerich, who wrote the following which appears on the back cover of Molnar’s book… “In my opinion, this book is the most original and important contribution of the entire twentieth century on the thorny question of how events recorded there should be intrepreted.” Check out his credentials.

    I tend to agree with George Nehl’s comments. Incidentally, Sky and Telescope published some material on this subject from Molnar some time ago….For those who are genuinely seraching for a better explanation read his book and decide for yourself.

  95. Dan L

    J Domminic Crossan is considered a non-Christian and a heretic, has no scinetific credentials and as a religious scholar was co-founder of the very controversial Jesus Seminar…. Can’t read his book in part because I cannot locate it from most reputable bookstores and none of the Christian book stores. Hard to believe he got to where his is today….

    A more credible author is the renowned Owen Gingerich, who endorses Molnar’s book on the back cover.

    The SOB could not be an astronomical object if it were close enough to the “house” to be as accurate as a GPS receiver.

    Question: Why does the Matthew story talk about a manger or stable whereas the Luke story talk about a “house”?

  96. Victor

    Very rarely do the eye-witness accounts of two or more witnesses accurately align… just ask any retired judge. If there is close alignment, the judge will suspect that there has been significant colloboration going on behind the scenes.

    Whereas neither the book of Matthew nor the book of Luke were written by Matthew and Luke, the authors took into account the verbal accounts of both plus that of others.

    Whereas there are discrepancies between the two accounts, it is difficult to confirm that these are truly contradictions. Discrepancies is exactly what one should expect from historical accounts based on verbal history.

    In summary, it is not reasonable to make the assumption that the Bible is not a reliable historical account.

    Note however that historians such as Josephus deliberately isolated all accounts of miracles from their material for obvious reasons.

  97. Stephanie Moidel

    There is a very interesting article concenring the appanrent conflict between Luke and Matthew at

    http://www.ibri.org/DVD-1/RRs/RR004/04census.htm

    It looks at the history of Quirenius (govenor of Syria) with respect to Josepheus’s dating of the census in Judea.

    Their articl concludes that there is evidence that Quirenius may have rule Syria (as a military commander and as govenor) twice.

    During the period of 8-4 BC he was the military commander of the legion in the middle east (which was stationed in Syria). He conducted a well documented campaign against the Tarsus region. And as the military commander he would have been the likely one to oversee the cencus ordered by Caesar August in 8 BC

    The articl article also noted that during this time Herod lost is status as “a friend of Rome” and was classified as a subject by Caesar. As a subject, he and his lands were subject to tazation, so participation in the Roman census would not have been extra-ordinary.

    I still like Roger Sinott’s article on the Star of Bethlehem best of all I’ve read over the years. Sky & Telescope should reprint it.

  98. Aaron Adair

    Vern & Dan: Crying blasphemy is SO 18th century, fallacious, and avoids the issues, as do all logical fallacies. Also, isn’t it odd to say such things and invoke the opinion of Owen who wrote about another great blasphemer, Copernicus? I respect Dr. Owen; it is top-notch. However, an opinion is just an argument from authority. Besides, I don’t know if he can read Greek. Please address my arguments, not call people names (as if saying someone has an odd theology then they cannot do good scholarship in the same way that people cannot run a mile can’t do math). Besides, Crossan and Borg are considered top-notch in modern Bible studies. Also, the Jesus Seminar only showed what scholarship had agreed on for decades, not taking some radical turn. For an older opinion on the nature of the Star, read Thomas Aquinas; an older opinion on its historicity, see Rudolf Bultmann, considered one of the best on the 20th century and in agreement with 150+ years of research on this part of the story. As for Molnar, endorsements of his book are not persuasive; evidence is. I still say Molnar’s research has serious problems which I have been talking to his with.

  99. Aaron Adair

    Victor: Indeed, if the stories in Matthew and Luke had been identical, it would be a call for the word “copy” on the lips of scholars. Yes, eye-witness accounts differ in details; however, we have here differences is almost everything. Strauss considered the two stories like two magnets placed next to each other–they separate as fast as possible. Brown only found several points of confirmation, all of which I find either still different (details about the angels) or are dubious (Jesus’ place of birth). Also, the infancy narratives are not eye-witness accounts by the Christians–there weren’t any yet. The only person to be able to give these details would be Mary, but if Mary was the only source, they why SO many differences? It doesn’t add up in any rational way, especially when the details are derivate from scripture and culture rather than historical realities. Besides, we don’t know who wrote any gospels and the nativities stories are very late; Mark doesn’t even have one, nor does John and other gospels are derivate and obviously legendary. This isn’t a matter of differences in the color of a car; this is differences in what year the event happened, where, why, who, every major detail.

  100. Aaron Adair

    Stephanie: Being from 1980, this was dealt with in the link I have given above and here again: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html. never before in Roman history was someone governor of the same place twice and how could Quirinius have conducted a census in Israel if he was fighting a war in Turkey? Because a general in Iraq has soldiers from Michigan does not make his governor of that state and the Romans wouldn’t think that way either. Besides, we know how was governor of Syria and a census would not have taken place there in the first place before 6 CE. If someone wants to address things given in the link above do so; otherwise, such comments are rather moot. Do give them the boot. (Also, once again, apologists can’t translate the Lapis correctly for it does NOT say Quirinius, or anyone else for that matter, governed Syria twice. This has been pointed out for decades and it rather silly to see it over and over again. Remember apologetics isn’t about objective research but about the party line.)

  101. Laurel-KornfeldLaurel Kornfeld

    “I don’t get to choose what is Venus this time around, or if Pluto is considered a planet or not…”

    I apologize for getting off topic, but neither does four percent of the IAU, in a politically motivated decision, get to decide for the whole world whether Pluto is a planet or not. The issue of Pluto’s status is different from factual knowledge such as Polaris being the North Star or Venus being in a particular location because it is based on interpretationm, not fact, and has been challenged by many professional astronomers. Planetariums and their employees should get to choose whether or not to accept controversial definitions like this and should present the public at least with both sides of the issue.

  102. Laurel-KornfeldLaurel Kornfeld

    “I don’t get to choose what is Venus this time around, or if Pluto is considered a planet or not…”

    I apologize for getting off topic, but neither does four percent of the IAU, in a politically motivated decision, get to decide for the whole world whether Pluto is a planet or not. The issue of Pluto’s status is different from factual knowledge such as Polaris being the North Star or Venus being in a particular location because it is based on interpretationm, not fact, and has been challenged by many professional astronomers. Planetariums and their employees should get to choose whether or not to accept controversial definitions like this and should present the public at least with both sides of the issue.

  103. Matt Van Auker

    What could be possible problem with the idea the Magi simply sensed something was “going on over there,” probably heard some kind of news, and discussed the matter (after all, they were wise men), regarding the fulfillment of Micah 5: 2 (which predicts the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem), saw the Comet coming up out of the East, in the general direction toward Bethlehem, and came to the conclusion this might be related (yeah, there’s a stretch), figured they better get going, and then simply followed along, pursuing the apparition’s course (yeah, OK, comets are a bad omen, for some people. To me, they are a sign of Hope), knowing full well already where the darn thing was heading in advance (God was taking Human Form, to set an example. Kind of an important concept, to some people).
    And given the wise men were most likely walking or riding on camels, which would give them plenty of time to follow any Comet, which you should be aware, as they generally last several weeks to months.

  104. Matt Van Auker

    Matt Van Auker #5

    To conclude, I’m just saying you might want to include some Hebrew, in any related studies, in the future.
    By the way, 2 Tim. 3: 16 calls scripture “inspired,” not infallible.
    You’re the only infallible writer I know, Mr. Adair.
    In reality, by the way, the tone of your writing is arrogant and condescending, at times.
    As an aside, spent Christmas in Bethlehem in ‘87 myself (Same year Supernova 1987A blew sending off light and debris 2.5 faster than light. Hmmm…maybe Einstein was a bit off…apparently, some things in the Universe can move faster than light in the Universe).
    Anyway, part of what bolted me out of Ann Arbor to go study in Israel, was the slight implication in light of Rev. 8: 12, that the Earth hasn’t felt the Gamma Ray burst yet.
    Still hasn’t.
    Do the math for yourself, Mr. math, physics and astronomy major.
    Already did.
    Hmmm…and a mere 167,000 light years away. Might be a little powerful.
    Anyway, I’m thinking Compton might be able to notice the spike, when it happens eventually.

    (more below)

  105. Stephanie Moidel

    Aaron,

    My daughter’s Ancient History class was discussing the Star of Bethlehem (she took in your article and Roger Sinott’s as references) and her professior pointed out an interesting fact. During the period of 10 BC to 10 AD there were two rulers of the Holy Land named Herod.

    Herod the Great who most scholars agree died in 4 BC and his son Herod Antipas who succeeded his father in ruling Galilee (he is referred to as King in the New Testament in various places although he did not actually receive the title from Rome if memory serves)

    Luke only says “in the days of Herod the king” so it actually fits either ruler and solves the “contradiction”

  106. Aaron Adair

    Stephanie: It is correct that there was more than one Herod that ruled in those times. In fact, Herod the Great had a few sons all taking the name of Herod (Archelaus, Antipas, Phillip), making things difficult for historians. Anyways, the issue of contradiction is not cleared up for Luke because his census was in 6 CE and Matthew speaks of Jesus being born during the time of Herod the Great who died in 4 BCE. Matthew is clear because the holy family returns after Herod the Great died but did not return to Bethlehem because Herod’s son, Archelaus, was ruling that part of the Holy Land. So, Matthew is clear about which Herod he mentions; Luke is less clear, but his census happened in 6 CE when Quirinius governed Judea. I think he meant one of Herod’s sons so that was he is at least consistent with himself though not Matthew.

  107. Rabbel Rauser

    The star in the east is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky in ancient times, which, on December 24th, aligns with the 3 brightest stars in Orion’s Belt. These 3 bright stars are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings.The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the Three Kings “follow” the star in the east, in order to locate the sunrise — the birth of the sun. The Virgin Mary is the constellation Virgo, also known as Virgo the Virgin. Virgo in Latin means virgin. The ancient glyph for Virgo is the altered “m”. This is why Mary along with other virgin mothers, such as Adonis’s mother Myrrha, or Buddha’s mother Maya begin with an M. Virgo is also referred to as the House of Bread, and the representation of Virgo is a virgin holding a sheaf of wheat. This House of Bread and its symbol of wheat represents August and September, the time of harvest. In turn, Bethlehem, in fact, literally translates to “house of bread”. Bethlehem is thus a reference to the constellation Virgo , a place in the sky, not on Earth.

  108. Aaron Adair

    Mr. Rabbel: Sirius and the stars in the sky don’t move amongst each other and so they don’t line up on a particular day; Sirius is always in line with Orion’s belt. The name “3 Kings” is from later Christian tradition and the only place I have found using that designation for the belt stars is in South Africa. Also, these stars don’t point to the sun on Dec 25. Firstly, Sirius is below Orion but the ecliptic is above (the video called “Zeitgeist” shows the sun being below). Also, from the latitude of Jerusalem there would not be much below Sirius, let alone the Sun. As interesting as the hypothesis of the astrological interpretation of the story of Christ may be, his conspiracy video is misleading and ill-informed. Currently I am looking at Acharya S’s work on the same subject, which at least has sources (though most are very old). Please take most things you find critically. Also, another possible reason for all the M-names for mothers is because of the Indo-European root for water or the sea, “ma,” such as in Latin “maria” and in Hebrew “mayim” (though Hebrew is not Indo-European). Also, ~50% of the women in Israel in the 1st century CE were named Mary or some variation; not all were stellar virgins.

  109. James

    Everyone has missed a crucial point that unless you research you would not know which seems to be a common factor today. The path of the wise men following the so called star in history to Bethlehem was in fact not a direct East-West direction..in fact it was a zig zag path they that took. Any historian could find the path they traveled and find it was not simple. As stars rise in the East and set in the West this throws most astronomical events out. Consider it could have been a “Company of Angels” leading the Wise Men to the New Born King…food for thought?

  110. Les Phelps

    I did not get the impression that the article was trying to absolutely debunk the Star of Bethlehem story, but that it was suggestion that both the event and the record of the event need to be considered. An intersting idea that has merit. I’m one who believes all books need to be read with an open mind rather than through the filter of faith. A lot of the feedback related to this article reminds me of an astronomy course. The ones I’ve audited are as much about the history of the conflict of astronomical science vs the predominant religion at the time as they are about astronomy. The Bible is either the infallable word of God and therefore invlunerable or it is not. What do all of these centuries of fighiting to support the Bible say about it’s invlunerability? Is it really that fragile?

  111. Aaron Adair

    Les: an interesting historical analogy with previous arguments about astronomy. The greatest point of similarity is that the arguments come down to what historians and/or scientists say verses what others believe based on some interpretation of the Bible. Some see the Gospels as eye-witness history, some as not necessarily historical narrative, others as fiction/myth. In the past, it was interpretations of the Bible, such as John Calvin’s reading of the Psalms in saying the earth is fixed. But now theologians can argue these passages do not speak of geocentricism (be they right or wrong). Since theologies are based on interpretation they should not be given epistemological precedent over rational inquiry. In fact, the Dali Lama takes such a view on spiritual matters, that if science conflicts with his faith he will accept the science (be it well established), or so I have read. Hopefully such a stance can permeate the minds of all peoples of faiths.

  112. Jim Rouse

    Aaron: I have published information that I think you’ll find of interest, but it’s way too lengthy to post here and it’s not available through web links. If you’ll give me a private email address to contact you, I’ll be happy to send it.
    Jim Rouse
    rouse8849@yahoo.com

  113. Grant Privett

    Aaron: you have made a cogent case for your ideas, illustrated an ability to read diverse sources and listened patiently to others – providing further detail and explanation as requested.

    Unfortunately, many people involved in this conversation have no interest in discussing evidence that contradicts their preconceptions. It was particularly entertaining to see you accused of having an agenda when the people accusing you have a doctrine to uphold and support.

    Congratulations on such a measured and sane response. Personally, my own would have probably have been less stateman like. My thanks.

  114. j

    I believe the mot obvious explanation is being overlooked. It was mentioned in the article, but only to support thr fact that astronomy is irrelevant in unraveling this phenomenon. The star of Bethlehem was a light sent by God to the magi, that only they could see, to fulfill prophecy. We also read of the light that led the Jews out of Egypt, I believe this light is the same.

  115. Aaron Adair

    Looks like coming back to this page was a good idea. J, indeed my argument is that the Star is described as miraculous, I also point out that there is little reason to think that this was history. There is no independent attestation, the witness is not hostile but a promoter of the faith, the story is in chronological conflict with other Christian timelines for Jesus’ birth, and the details in Matthew’s account of the Nativity are full of things that were common amongst ancient writers in their own forms of hero worship. There is much similarity between Jesus’ birth and other people’s as seen in bios of Alexander, Apollonius, Perseus, Hercules, etc. So, the evidence points to a lack of historicity; corroborating evidence is needed to make such a miraculous claim rationally believable. One must follow Hume’s maxim.

  116. Richard Bareford

    Aaron, Wonder if you watched cable last month. There were at least 2 specials on the subject: The Science Channel’s “Search for the Star of Bethlehem” (to be rebroadcast Jan 25-27, 2009; video clips at, http://science.discovery.com/videos/search-for-the-star-of-bethlehem-finding-a-king.html), and on EWTN, “The Star of Bethlehem” (see Frederick A. Larson’s curious site, http://www.bethlehemstar.net/). Molnar is featured in the Science Channel special and there’s more at his website, http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/. (Post continued…)

  117. Richard Bareford

    I found it curious that between the two shows three different signs of the zodiac were identified with the fortunes of Judea: Pisces, Aries and Leo. Molnar gave as his source the Tetrabiblos of Claudius Ptolemy, a kind of astrologer’s primer. Ptolemy, incidentally, wrote it in the 2nd century AD, so it is at least problematical that any of it is applicable to 4 BC. Nevertheless, there’s a good annotated version available at, http://www.sacred-texts.com/astro/ptb/index.htm. It reads like a Dungeons and Dragons manual. Book 4, Chapter 9, “The Kind of Death” is especially enjoyable. But getting back to Judea, it is indeed listed under Aries, Book 2, Chapter 3, “The Familiarity of the Regions of the Earth with the Triplicities and the Planets”, along with Britain, Galatia, Germany, Barsania, Cœlesyria, and Idumaea. “The inhabitants of Cœlesyria, Idumæa, and Judæa, are principally influenced by Aries and Mars, and are generally audacious, atheistical, and treacherous.” There’s a lot of this ethnic stereotyping and clearly Ptolemy’s zodiacal assignments were influenced by his Alexandrian prejudices. But reading on in Chapter 4 I was struck by the following provision: “In certain cases, however, where the date of foundation of a metropolis cannot be ascertained, the mid-heaven in the nativity of the reigning king, or other actual chief magistrate, is to be substituted, and considered as that part of the zodiac with which it chiefly sympathizes.” Bingo! (Post continued…)

  118. Richard Bareford

    The Magi had come to Jerusalem to market King Herod’s horoscope. Did Herod believe in astrology? Very likely considering his cordial relationships with Antony and Octavian, and fondness for all things Roman. But if wise men they were, surely they must have known they were dealing with a paranoid sociopath (or the Persian equivalent). Herod had a fearsome reputation for carnage from Rome to Babylon. What could they have been thinking proclaiming the end of Herod’s dynasty in the streets of Jerusalem? Shrewd con artists they understood this was the quickest way to an audience with Herod. Once in his presence they would razzle-dazzle him with talk of triplicities and malefics, and displays of complex geometric diagrams. They may also have known the Biblical prophesies. He would want the child dead, of course. And for a consideration they would agree to find the victim. This would have to be done without any palace guards tagging along, lest the simple people of Bethlehem suspect danger and shun the night visitors. Gifts would help loosen tongues and Herod could provide the requisite gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Interestingly, these gifts appear in Matthew’s narrative only after the wise men have left Jerusalem). Once on the road with their down payment and/or gifts they would consider themselves lucky to be alive and quickly head home by another route. (Post continued…)

  119. Richard Bareford

    The story would have changed over the years. All anyone knew was that the foreigners left Jerusalem one night for the short trip to Bethlehem with Herod’s treasure and then vanished. The priests and scribes would have known that Herod had been royally scammed and kept mum about it to save their heads. The early Christians would have the magi be guided all the way to Mary and Jesus by the Star, deliver the gifts and only then depart, without telling Herod. Makes a good yarn, anyway. It continues the themes that all astrologers are frauds and most people know nothing about astronomy. (End)

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