For many years the story of the star announcing the birth of Jesus was regarded as matter to be taken on faith. For many years astronomers and astrologers have worked on fixing the date of the Star of Bethlehem. Now some even believe they have found the correct date by trying to match biblical details, history and astronomy, all of which describe this event:
2:1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2:2Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 2:3And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 2:4And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. 2:5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet,
2:6And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah:
For out of thee shall come forth a governor,
Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.
2:7Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. 2:8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. 2:9And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 2:10And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 2:11
The story is striking, and memorable–the birth of a king foretold by a star. But this story is not new in the ancient world. Abraham’s birth was foretold by a star, as well as Caesar, Pythagoras, Yu, and Krishna. Jesus’ birth story followed in a path well tread by Middle Eastern culture. And certain Jewish factions looked to The Star Prophecy that foretold a savior that would wrest Palestine from Roman control.
First lets look at the astronomy. What do we mean by a star?
The word “star” (aster in the Greek) is a general word that can include meteors, comets, and planets (any luminous body; L&S 1982, 109). The Magi said they saw his star “in the east” (Matthew 2:2). This phrase en tei anatolei, “in the east” can be translated “in its arising” (Ibid. 59: Robertson 1930, Vol.1, 16). According to Babylonian astronomers there were five cyclically returning phases of the planets that were calculated years in advance (Vardaman and Yamauchi, 43). Three of these special phases are mentioned in Matthew’s text; the first appearance (verse 7), its arising (verse 2), it stopped (verse 9). To Babylonian astronomers there were two stationary points in the apparent motion relative to fixed stars that were calculated (Ibid). This points to the possibility that the star was a conjunction of planets.
Over the years many theories have been advanced on what and when this conjunction might be.
Part of the problem in determining the date of Christ’s birth is that some parts of the story recorded in the gospels, contradict each other historically. While Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem for a census, the only census taken around that time was the Census of Quinirius, which happened around 6 to 7 AD. But Herod is was a major player in this story and he died roughly 10 years earlier around 4 BC. Yet the census may have just been a misplaced memory of an event that happen half a century before the gospels were written. Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, (1774 to 1803) a stigmatic in the Augustinian Order saw through her visions that Joseph was called by an angel while he was returning from a business trip to take Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of her child. The gospels tell us that Mary and Joseph were guided much by angels through the early years of their marriage in connection with the birth of Jesus, so this revelation is not out of line with other parts of the Messiah story.
“Mary Devlin wrote an excellent article in Dell Horoscope which appeared in the December 2000 issue on this very subject in which she examined various proposed dates of the Star of Bethlehem. She states:
“. . . the only thing we know for sure is that Jesus was born before the death of Herod in 4 BC.”
In December of 2008 David Reneke, news editor of Australia’s Sky and Space Magazine announced he believed he found the date of the Star of Bethlehem:
Armed with an approximate date, Dave assumed the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ was not just a localized event and could be observed by sky-watchers elsewhere in the world, not just by the Magi. Historical records and modern-day computer simulations indicate a rare series of planetary groupings, also known as conjunctions, during the years 3 BC and 2 BC In fact, this was one of the most remarkable periods in terms of celestial events in the last 3,000 years!
“Like the final pieces of a difficult jig-saw puzzle, our fabled biblical beacon is starting to reveal itself,” David said. “On 12 August, 3 BC, Jupiter and Venus appeared very close together just before sunrise, appearing as bright morning ‘stars.’ It would have been visible in the eastern dawn sky of the Middle East from about 3:45 to 5:20 a.m.”
But it didn’t stop there. The crowning touch came ten months later, on 17 June 2 BC, as Venus and Jupiter joined up again in the constellation Leo. This time the two planets were so close that, without the use of our modern optical aids, they would have looked like one single, brilliant star. According to Dave’s research, Jupiter was known as the “planet of Kings” and Saturn as the “Protector of the Jews”. This could easily have been interpreted as a sign that the Jewish Messiah had been, or was about to be, born. Also, Leo was thought to denote royalty and power.
But this a date researched previously. Mary Devlin writes:
. . . there are a lot of historical and astrological difficulties with this date. First there is no avoiding that King Herod died in 4 B.C. so the confrontation between Herod and the Magi . . . could not have taken place.
Chris Brennan tells us about the 2009 book The Star of Bethlehem written by the Astrodienst astrologer Dieter Koch who says that Jesus was born on September 1st, 2 BCE at about 4:30 AM in Bethlehem, Israel. In Koch’s thesis he talks about Venus making a helical rise, the term at the time of Jesus’s birth. Chris doesn’t necessarily agrees with the date, but typically of Chris, he likes the research done on the thesis, pointing it out as the way astrological research should be done.
Mary Devlin likes Dr. Hans Holzer’s proposal that Jesus was born on October 5, 7 BC which in turn was based on Johannes Kepler’s research on the subject. Kepler noted that a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces occurred three times in 7 BC, May 29, October 3 and once in December. She says;
Holzer believes that the combination a comet and the Saturn/Jupiter conjunction would have indeed been enough to bring the Magi traveling far to the west in order to find their “King of the Jews”. Mary notes that on October 5 that not only was Jupiter and Saturn rising in Pisces but the Moon and Uranus as well. She also notes a Venus-Neptune conjunction which she has found to be prominent among other religious leaders such as Mohammed, Mahatma Gandi, Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivkenanada, Meher Baba, Paramashansa Yogananda, Meher Baba among others.
And the Astrology Is?
Of course the upshot is that unless we find some written documentation of the birth of Christ, we will never know for sure. And all these dates and others that mark spectacular astronomical and astrological occurrences around the birth of Christ serves to remind us that we all keep looking upwards for answers to our deepest questions.