The True Meaning of Christmas (According to the Zeitgeist Movie)

The True Meaning of Christmas (According to the Zeitgeist Movie) November 26, 2018

Christians for centuries have tried to find a scientific explanation for the star of Bethlehem. (Since no astronomical phenomenon moves like the Tinker Bell star in Matthew, I guess you have to be impressed by their perseverance.) Here’s another interpretation that you may enjoy. It comes from an 11-minute section of Zeitgeist: The Movie (2007). It’s a fascinating attempt to explain the star and even the Bible from an astrological viewpoint. I want to summarize it for you, not because I think it’s particularly accurate, but to show how a story can be woven from facts and speculation that can be compelling to an unskeptical audience.

The star of Bethlehem

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, and it’s “the star in the east” that Matthew says the three kings were following. On Dec. 24, Sirius aligns with the three stars in Orion’s belt (the “three kings”). These four stars form a line that points to the sunrise on Dec. 25. That’s how the “three kings” follow the star in the east to locate the birth of the sun. This line points to the birth of the sun just after the winter solstice when days start to get longer.

Mary is represented by the constellation Virgo the virgin. The astrological symbol for Virgo is the “altered M,” which is why we see saviors’ mothers’ names start with that letter, such as Jesus’s mother Mary, Adonis’s mother Myrra, and Buddha’s mother Maya. Virgo is also known as the House of Bread, and the constellation is often drawn showing a woman holding a sheaf of wheat. The sun is in Virgo in the late summer, which is harvest time. Bethlehem also means “house of bread,” which means that the Bethlehem sought by the kings was a constellation, not a town on earth.

Take a step back . . .

If doubts are growing in your mind about some of the claims in this argument, I feel the same way. We’ll continue with the argument as it moves on to an astrological interpretation of Christianity and the role of Jesus, but keep track of those doubts, and you can compare them with mine in a subsequent post.

This video is an odd combination of intriguing connections built on a foundation of questionable claims. Said another way, it’s compelling even though its claims are questionable. Now that you see where we’re going, rein in your skepticism and consider the rest of the argument.

Jesus and astrology

The transit of the sun moves south from June through December (yes, this perspective is Northern Hemisphere-centric, but that’s because the gospel story comes from the Northern Hemisphere). The weather gradually gets colder, and plants die. The plants are dying because the sun is “dying” (becoming weaker as it gives less light). The sun is motionless (that is, it stops going further south) for a few days around the solstice (December 22–24) near the constellation of the Southern Cross. And then on December 25, it moves again. In other words, the sun dies on the cross and then is soon reborn. This parallels the son dying on the cross and then rising after three days. The sun brings spring, while the son brings salvation.

After the spring equinox (around Easter), light finally becomes greater than dark, and the sun has overpowered the darkness (evil). Jesus’s promised return is the rising of the sun every morning.

The twelve disciples parallel the twelve signs of the zodiac. The typical drawing of the zodiac is a ring of constellations with a horizontal and vertical line that divides them into four groups of three to identify the four seasons. In the center of this cross is often a circle for the sun. This symbol, the cross with a circle (think of a Celtic cross), is a pagan symbol that preceded Christianity. Jesus is often depicted with this circle/cross behind his head as a halo (here, here). In this way, Jesus is depicted as the sun at the center of the zodiac, the light of the world.

Another kind of halo was the crown of thorns, which parallels the sun’s rays.

Ages

You may have heard the song, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension (1969), which refers to the “Age of Aquarius.” An “age” in this astrological context is one twelfth of one cycle of the precession of the earth. Precession is what a spinning top does when its axis slowly wobbles to trace out a cone while the top itself is spinning rapidly. The earth is also a spinning top, and a complete precession cycle for the earth takes about 26,000 years, so the sun on the spring equinox is in each constellation for one twelfth of that, which is 2150 years. We’re nearing the end of the Age of Pisces, which will be followed by the Age of Aquarius.

Moses in his day represented the new age of Aries the Ram (2150 BCE – 0), and a rejection of the previous age, that of Taurus the Bull. The golden calf on which Moses smashed the Ten Commandments was from the old age, and from the new Age of Aries came the Jewish custom of blowing a ram’s horn. We see a similar symbology in Mithraism in which Mithra killed a bull.

After Aries came the Age of Pisces the Fish starting in about the year 0, roughly the birth year of Jesus. The fish is a symbol of Jesus, and fish recur in the gospel story: fishermen join his entourage, he feeds the masses with a few loaves and fishes, and he promises his followers, “I will make you fishers of men.”

We even see a hint of the next age. Jesus tells the disciples how to find a room for the Last Supper: “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters” (Luke 22:10). The water bearer symbolizes the next age, the Age of Aquarius, which begins in 2150. When Jesus promises, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), the “end” isn’t the end of the world but the end of the astrological age, in this case, the Age of Pisces.

Continued: last December, I couldn’t simply lay out Rick Larson’s explanation for the star of Bethlehem without a rebuttal pointing out its errors, and I can’t let this Zeitgeist astrological story get away with its errors. Continue here.

God’s not dead,
but he’s very, very good at playing possum.
— commenter Richard Wade

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Image from MabelAmber, public domain
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  • Grimlock

    Speaking of astronological phenomena and Christianity…

    He died by a mortal wound, inflicted by a spear. Later, his body was healed. A month after his death, a total solar eclipse darkened the skies in the region.

    Soon, stories of his death put the eclipse at the same time as his death.

    Jesus? No. The saint King Olav II of Norway. Why tell a true story if you can just reuse the same tired, old tale instead.

    • epeeist

      He died by a mortal wound, inflicted by a spear. Later, his body was healed.

      Try the various legends of the Fisher King.

    • Jim Jones
    • MR

      Stories are rehashed and evolve…, Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis become the Genesis flood. the story of Lot is basically the plot line of Noah, mankind is evil, God decides to smite, saves one family, isolation, weird sexual twist at the end, origin story of tribes…. the later story of the Levite and his concubine has elements of Lot….

      I did the Camino de Santiago many years ago, before it became a “thing.” Along the trail are legends that are nothing but repurposed Bible stories: slipping a silver cup in someone’s sack to falsely accuse them, giants taken down by slingshots….

      • epicurus

        I want to do the camino one day – I’ve heard there are lots of nonreligious people doing it just as an adventure.

        • MR

          I highly recommend it.

      • Nice Lot/Noah comparison.

        I did the Camino de Santiago many years ago, before it became a “thing.” Along the trail are legends that are nothing but repurposed Bible stories: slipping a silver cup in someone’s sack to falsely accuse them, giants taken down by slingshots….

        You’re saying that there are claimed legends, documented along the road, that just happened to parallel the Bible story? Or are these made-up legends to add some color to the trip?

        • MR

          Legends that developed over time. I get the idea that some are based on some event, historical or otherwise, that gets tinged with a biblical or religious retelling.

          In Najera, as I recall, the story was of a giant who ruled over the area and was taken down with a slingshot by Roland, of Charlemagne fame, a la David and Goliath.

          The story of the silver cup was one of unrequited love when an innkeeper’s daughter falsely accused a pilgrim of theft when he spurned her love. She hid a silver cup in his belonging (cf. the story of Joseph), denounced him and he was hung. His parents prayed to Santiago (i.e., St. James, the patron saint of the Camino) and the son came to life. He told them to tell the mayor of the town that St. James had interceded and to come cut him down. They found the mayor at dinner, and he replied, “Your son is no more alive than this chicken I’m eating,” which promptly leapt from his plate and began strutting about. The cathedral keeps chickens that are supposedly descendants. It’s rather startling to hear a rooster crow in an otherwise dead silent cathedral.

          And, of course, a ton of legends concerning St. James himself. He is also known as St. James the Moor Killer as he supposedly saved the day riding in on a white horse in some battle or another. There are various legends that incorporate him and his horse, one of my favorites being the bridegroom who was swept out to sea while riding a white horse along the seashore. The bride went to the sea to pray for intercession from Santiago and the groom came out of the sea on his white horse dressed in seaweed. The Camino has all kinds of fascinating legends.

          When I did the camino it hadn’t become so wildly popular as it is now. It’s been around for centuries, but mostly as a religious thing. The year I did the camino, nearly 3,000 people got “compostelas,” the official certificate for completing the camino. Now, it’s up to 300,000.

        • Fascinating, thanks.

        • Greg G.

          The story of the silver cup was one of unrequited love in Santo Domingo de la Calzada when an innkeeper’s daughter falsely accused a pilgrim of theft when he spurned her love. She hid a silver cup in his belonging (cf. the story of Joseph), denounced him and he was hung.

          Aesop’s story was completely different. Aesop was framed by the priests at the Temple of Delphi by having a golden cup from the temple stuffed in his luggage.

          Aesop said something at the temple that made the people mad. They led him to a cliff in order to throw him off. This is completely different than the story in Luke 4:29-31 of Jesus making people mad at the synagogue and they led him to a cliff to throw him off but he slipped through the crowd whereas Aesop threw himself off the cliff.

  • eric

    The sun is motionless (that is, it stops going further south) for a few days around the solstice (December 22–24)

    Actually I think it’s 20-23. But this is a reasonable story for why Christians decided to mark Jesus’ birth on Dec. 25th (i.e. they wanted to glom on to/co-opt solstice celebrations).

    On Dec. 24, Sirius aligns with the three stars in Orion’s belt (the “three kings”). These four stars form a line that points to the sunrise on Dec. 25. That’s how the “three kings” follow the star in the east…

    Wait, I thought they came from the East and their direction of travel was West. If they were following the star East to Bethlehem, that would mean they lived in Israel somewhere near the Mediterranean coast.

    I guess they could’ve come from Egypt…but then the line should’ve pointed North-north-east. Which kind of undermines the mystical woo of claiming this astrological sign points directly East. It also undercuts the “toward the rising sun” woo since if you’re in the northern hemisphere, the sun rises south of direct east and these guys would’ve had to have been heading north of direct east. I.e. it (the rising sun) would’ve been over the back of their right shoulder the entire trip.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    That is so fucked up I don’t even know where to begin. Oh wait, somebody beat me to it below. Besides, the bible itself says astrology is full of shit and you should kill astrologers (;

    • Besides, the bible itself says astrology is full of shit and you should kill astrologers (;

      And yet, a post hoc astrological explanation is the most compelling one for the story of the Star of Bethlehem, assuming any rational basis at all.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        Mercury is retrograde in orion this week, so JESUS! Nah, don’t think I will see that in the paper any time soon (;

      • Cozmo the Magician

        There is a Star Trek episode that really PISSED ME off. Uhurah (sp) said that they was worshiping ‘THE SON’ not the ‘SUN’. That really pissed me off.

        Totes OT, and I AM a Trek Fan mostly.

        She DID go on to find women and minorities to become part of the human space program. So I forgive her that line, not like she had choice to keep her job (;

        Amazingly, it was the ‘black’ woman that had to promote JESUS. Go figure.

        another ***RANT OFF***

        • Otto

          I remember that one.

  • The sun is motionless (that is, it stops going further south) for a few days around the solstice (December 22–24) near the constellation of the Southern Cross.

    The solstice in a single point in time, and the Sun never stops moving, except for an infinitesimal length of time when it appears to reverse direction at that time. The rate that the Sun is moving is greatest at the equinoxes, and approaches zero at the solstices… but isn’t zero for any period of time around those solstices… although it might appear to do so given sufficiently primitive observation techniques. (The December solstice this year is at 2018.12.21 22:22 UT. Seems like a numerologist could have fun with that one.)

  • TheBookOfDavid

    and fish recur in the gospel story

    I can’t believe they hit just about every other reference, and failed to notice that a fish paid Peter’s taxes. You know what that means. The Age of Pisces expiration will herald the end of tax exempt status, and the church will finally have to start pulling its own weight. This is huge!

  • Snagglefritz Sagenschnitter

    My thoughts on the Christmas story:
    – Matthew made it up in 80 CE
    – Luke made up even more in 95 CE
    – None of it is true

    • Kevin K

      Those do appear to be pulled out of thin air, don’t they?

  • Pofarmer

    There is quite a bit of evidence that there is certainly some astrology in the NT. The Book of Revelations, is pretty much all astrology. The entire area was practically bathed in it, I don’t know how they could help but absorb some of it. Did it become the New mystery religion of Christianity? I think so. But we’ll never know.

    • Kevin K

      I thought Revelation was pretty much all a magic mushroom trip.

      • Pofarmer

        I’ve got my own little pet theory that the astrology that’s elucidated in Revalation is actually the base story of Christianity, more or less. The personification of the Jesus figure arose from this astrological/mythological foundation. Bruce Malina writes about this.

        https://vridar.org/2011/06/05/born-from-a-woman-in-heaven-the-cosmic-origin-of-the-messiah/

        • Kevin K

          Interesting.

        • Pofarmer

          I dunno, I think it makes more sense than there was some guy running around ancient Palestine that absolutely nobody noticed or wrote about that attracted huge crowds that nobody saw and did miracles that nobody recorded and later became vastly famous for a rising from the dead that nobody told anybody about.

        • Kevin K

          True that.

        • Greg G.

          I think I may have pointed this out to you before. The Jews in Jerusalem seemed to be enamored with astronomy.

          …but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.
          from Jewish Wars 5.5.4

      • I sat through a lecture from a Christian on Revelation, and he admitted that loads of questions (“What the hell does that mean?”) were debated by Christian scholars. You can ask if it’s a real prediction, but first you must figure out what the prediction actually is.

      • Otto

        That must have been a really bad trip…glad mine never went down that path. Some people should probably stay away from that stuff.

    • Otto

      But we’ll never know.

      Exactly. My take on all this stuff is there are some interesting connections, but there is nothing that unequivocally points in the direction that the movie makers are claiming. It sounds like “Ancient Aliens” thinking were the is interesting information but then conclusions are drawn from that information and those conclusions are a stretch.

  • RichardSRussell

    Pareidolia (parr-i-DOH-lee-ə) is the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as interpreting marks on Mars as canals, seeing shapes in clouds, or hearing hidden messages in reversed music.

    It is a subset of apophenia (app-ə-FEE-nee-ə), the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena — such as finding significance in such random things as automobile license plate numbers, birthdates, and arrangements of fallen twigs — perhaps best exemplified by the film A Beautiful Mind.

    • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

      a flavor of synesthesia?

  • RichardSRussell

    On Dec. 24, Sirius aligns with the three stars in Orion’s belt (the “three kings”). These four stars form a line that points to the sunrise on Dec. 25.

    Planets move with respect to the stars, but the stars do not move with respect to each other over any time span perceptible in a single human lifetime. If those 4 stars were aligned on Dec. 25, they were also aligned on the 4th of July and the other 363 days of the year as well.

    • Michael Neville

      They’re referring to the heliacal rising of Sirius, when Sirius rises above the horizon and can be seen in the Northern hemisphere. When Sirius is visible then the stars in Orion’s belt do align with it, more or less.

      https://en.es-static.us/upl/2011/08/11aug25_430.jpg

      • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

        Why would the Magi have found this unusual? Doesn’t this happen every year?

      • Yeah–not a very clear line.

        Aside: I’ve never been convinced by the arguments that constellations make figures. I remember as a kid marveling that the drawings of the figures were indeed impressive, but the skeleton made by the stars was very poorly correlated with that figure.

        • Michael Neville

          Asterisms (a prominent pattern or group of stars, typically having a popular name but smaller than a constellation) like Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper, make sense to me but I do not see a man in the constellation Orion.

        • “Cassiopia looks like a W,” “Orion’s belt is a straight line,” and “the Big Dipper looks like a big dipper” are about the limit of my constellation knowledge. I give the ancients a gold star for trying to find figures up there, but pareidolia only goes so far.

        • MR

          Cassiopeia only looks like a W half the time. The other half it looks like an M.

        • The other half it looks like an M.

          Wait–that’s what it turns into?? I thought it was just hiding.

          Very sneaky.

        • Robert Baden

          Try going to a really dark place. The night sky looks much different.

        • Michael Neville

          I’m retired from the Navy. I’ve been at sea hundreds of miles from land. I know what the night sky really looks like.

    • right you are

  • Kuno

    and from the new Age of Aries came the Jewish custom of blowing a ram’s horn.

    What else would they blow? They were from a culture heavily in husbanding sheep.

    That’s like saying a people living on a coast would mainly eat fish because they are awaiting the Age of Aquarius, instead of, you know, because it was a readily available source of calories.

  • David Peebles

    Given all the astrological references below, I still don’t see how a star can “point” at any certain place. The parallax from a star to earth is huge, approaching infinity. If you didn’t know where Seattle was, could you find it by looking at a certain star, following that star? Suppose Sirius points to a certain place, what place would that be? Can you use it to not only pinpoint the town, but an actual manger in that town?

    Sorry, the whole thing is just too damned preposterous.

    • I think it would “point” by being over something. Of course, that only gives you the direction, not the distance.

      The ancients thought that the stars were not that far away–tens or hundreds of miles, perhaps? Revelation talks about them falling to earth.

  • Silverwolf13

    Very interesting. The ancients wer very adept at observing natural phenomena and drawing links of causation, then incorporating these links into their myths. Not, of course, that there was any actual causation.

    Thanks for the link between the symbol for Virgo and the names of the mothers of the heroes. It’s also interesting to note the heroes and gods born of water—Aphrodite from the sea, Moses from the river, Jesus from Mary/Mare (Latin for sea).

    BTW, the songs “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine in” are from the Broadway musical “Hair.” The Fifth Dimension did a cover.

  • Jack Baynes, Sandwichmaker

    I thought the Magi were supposed to be FROM the East. How does a group of stars pointing East at sunrise (the same way they do every year), encourage the Magi to go West to Bethlehem?

    • Kevin K

      Of course, they first ended up in Jerusalem. It was Herod who told them to go to Bethlehem. A long, arduous trek of … 6 miles.

  • Neo

    “It’s a fascinating attempt to explain the star and even the Bible from an astrological viewpoint. I want to summarize it for you, not because I think it’s particularly accurate, but to show how a story can be woven from facts and speculation that can be compelling to an unskeptical audience.”

    and yet, the “Miracle of the Sun” in October 1917 in Fatima was witnessed by many who were quite skeptical, another example of an astrological oddity, is it fair to say we live in a universe that is full of surprises?

    • Pofarmer

      The miracle of the sun in Fatima is a great example of group psychosis and suggestibility in action.

      • Neo

        But how is your explanation any more likely than that the gosh darn thing actually happened!

        • Pofarmer

          Because, quite simply, miracles don’t happen. At least not this kind. I put exactly as much stock in Catholic miracles as I do the purported miracles of American Faith healers as I do those of Sayeth Sai Baba, or Muhamed, or John Smith. I could go on for a while. I at least have the advantage of being consistent.

        • Otto

          So people who stared at the sun saw weird stuff? No way! I can’t imagine that staring at the brightest object in the sky for a prolonged period would have that effect…wow…who knew?

        • Trick question? Your explanation requires the supernatural.

    • sandy

      Yes indeed. Very surprising that people still believe in these “oddities”.

      • Neo

        sandy, I tend to believe it because, I actually witnessed an astrological oddity, when I was sleeping on the hill in Medjugorje, I saw stars in the shape of the P with an X through it, and I know there’s no constellation that exists that forms that pattern. What it means is another matter…. it was really cool.

        • Pofarmer

          So you’re suggest able? So what?

        • And that seriously sounds like what God would do? Is this a trickster god, just messin’ with you? If he’s got something to say, why not make it unambiguous to everyone all at once? Why make himself indistinguishable from some combination of coincidence, wishful thinking, confirmation bias, and loads of other cognitive imperfections?

          When you and only you have experienced something weird, that God is talking to you is far less likely than that you’re talking to yourself.

    • Otto

      The people who described the ‘Miracle’ of the Sun didn’t describe the same things, and no one else who wasn’t involved said anything odd happened. It is safe to conclude nothing actually happened except in those people’s minds.

      • Neo

        I know everyone agreed that it had rained buckets, and after the miracle, everyone and everything was dry…

        • Pofarmer

          The claim is more along the lines that everything dried out unnaturally fast. And there are newspaper reports from that place and day that say that nothing happened. But that won’t get traction over a genuine miracle.

        • Otto

          Any documentation or we are just going with the word of mouth?

        • Suppose a skeptic researched this wet/dry miracle and got you to look at his research. Suppose that you agreed that either it didn’t happen or that it’s a very unreliable claim with insufficient evidence for you to believe it.

          What happens now that you’ve agreed that this wet/dry miracle didn’t happen? Do you drop your faith? Of course not! Your faith isn’t built on evidence; you’re just tossing out evidence to justify to us that you’re a sensible guy who believes for good reasons when the truth is that you believe because you believe, not because of any evidence. Your faith is undefeatable, and that’s not a good thing.

    • eric

      A long time ago my job was fielding calls about potential chem/bio attacks on the US population. We got one call where a person in a Home Depot had suddenly fallen down and started shaking. Then the person near them fell down unconscious. Then another, then another. Chemical exposure? Well actually, it turned out that the first guy was an epileptic and had had a grand mal seizure. The other three had collapsed for no physical reason at all; it was just the power of suggestion. A group psychosis. I.e., they believed so strongly that the previous people had been affected by a gas, that they collapsed.

      Belief can be a powerful thing. But it doesn’t require magic to explain such events.

    • Joe

      There’s no record of anyone else from 1917 seeing the sun moving around in the sky, so it’s safe to say the people in Fatima were mistaken.

    • What’s surprising is how imperfectly the human brain works.

      It’s good to be reminded of that, now and again.

      • Neo

        Now, I’m surprised by how much faith you have in the human brain! Maybe it’s me, but my brain comes up short quite often, more often than I like now that I’ve reached 60, but I really think you’re missing the whole point of astrological signs in general – the whole point is that people expected the miracle to happen – it was foretold…

        • I thought I made it clear that I was focusing on the brain’s imperfections. What faith are you referring to?

          And I’m curious to hear how you accept the most incredible claim of all–that there’s a supernatural creator who wants a relationship with us but can’t bother to get down here and hang with us–when it’s that fallible brain telling you that story.

  • sandy

    Your story had me thinking about The Christ Conspiracy by Acharya S. She covers the same theme in several of her chapters.

    https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Christ_Conspiracy.html?id=yYlXDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

    • Yes, Acharya S is the origin of the Christianity data in the Zeitgeist movie.

  • DRHutch

    Dear Bob, You might want to check out my recent novel about the wise men and the star. One needs to throw out most Christian explainations of the star to get to some reality. The novel: https://buff.ly/2PZTPim You can download a short explanation of the theory at: https://buff.ly/2Skw810