The Star of Bethlehem

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Is the Star of Bethlehem a mythological element in the Nativity stories of the gospels? I highly recommend The Star–a documentary by filmmaker Steve McEveety. Modern software allowing researchers to re-create the night sky at any date in history and at any place around the globe show what the star of Bethlehem was and what it means. The clip here gives you a taste of it. You can purchase the film here or you can watch it in chunks on YouTube.

  • Physicist

    A few things to bear in mind.
    1. According to BABYLONIAN STAR LORE by Davin White, Mesopotamian astrologers had a broader concept of “star” than we do today. To them a “star” was basically anything in the sky. It could include weather phenomena like a halo around the moon.
    2. Also, their precise methods were of course trade secrets. Some of the things they did write down involved mislabelings designed to fool non-initiates, such as re-labeling constellations as planets or vice versa. It’s a fair bet that they never wrote down their best stuff, but passed it down orally from master to apprentice.
    3. Herod’s court does not seem to have been aware of the “star”, nor have I ever heard a convincing case of anyone else saying, “Wow! This must be significant.” This convinces me that the significance of the “star” was evident only in the system used by these particular astrologers. Without knowing their system, it’s pretty hopeless to just use planetarium software to see what the sky looked like 2000 years ago.
    4. The most difficult to interpret part is Matthew 2:9, “… it came and stood over where the child was.” That either requires something very close to earth, not more than maybe 1000 ft, or it requires a detailed knowledge of how their system interpreted celestial events. Obviously if a natural star passes directly over one house in Bethlehem, it passes directly over every house in Bethlehem. (Strictly speaking, if the human eye has an angular resolution of 4 arcminutes, even the most careful measurent could only reduce it down to a band about 400 ft wide from north to south and from horizon to horizon east to west.)

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      If you’re interested in this topic, take the trouble to see the film I mentioned. It really is very interesting.

  • Raul

    I love this theory. It is the most logical I heard. I think it cool that the Wise Men used an illogical system like astronomy’s ‘mad sister’, astology, to find the Child.

  • Lawoski

    Another interesting thing is the captions for the embedded YouTube video. Turn on the “cc” button and watch the video again. You’ll see that the captions are far from accurate and miss a large percentage of the words in the video. I hope that the captioning was done by a computer. If captioned by a human, I believe the person intentionally did a bad job in order to denigrate either the message or the messenger. Regardless, YouTube should be taken to task for the inaccurate (at best) and insulting (at worst) captioning for this video.
    I wonder how many other Catholic / Christian videos on YouTube are mis-captioned like this one.

  • Alice C. Linsley

    The association of stars, constellations and planets with Messiah’s appearing can actually be traced back to ancient Egypt.

  • Doug

    Babylon’s astrologers became the first scientific astronomers in order to acquire accurate knowledge of their gods- the celesial bodies. They were very good at it, and knew the difference between a star, a nebula, a planet, and a conjunction. They were following a “star”, that is, a body “up there” which did not act like any previous object in their knowledge base.
    It led them not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem, where the notoriously jealous Herod lived. (Bethlehem is about five miles away, but not in anything like a straight line or on a marked, paved road as it may be today.) A sworn enemy of Jesus could have done no better at putting the future Messiah at risk.
    The object “came to a stop above where the young child was.” A sworn enemy of Jesus could have done no better at putting the future Messiah at risk.
    The eastern, Gentile astrologers were about to return to Herod as requested (why didn’t their famous foretelling skills come into play?) when Jesus’ Father stepped in and redirected them.
    The “Star of Bethlehem” came close to destroying Jesus, hardly a topic for warm and fuzzy Xmas stories. Did Jesus have any sworn enemies who had extra-terrestrial powers?

  • Aaron Adair

    This has been a popular documentary about the Star of Bethlehem it seems, but there are significant flaws that undo the the hypothesis, from dating the events to the astrological interpretation of the conjunctions to fitting what the Gospel of Matthew describes. You may enjoy considering those issues when viewing the documentary in the future:

    • Alice C. Linsley

      By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had already established a calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, Nilotes had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes and agriculture for thousands of years. This is verified by the Priest Manetho who reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotic Africans had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. Plato, who studied in Egypt, claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years.