Recently I watched the 2007 Star of Bethlehem video by amateur astronomer and lawyer Rick Larson. The video reports Larson’s research on the Star of Bethlehem and his proposal as to the identity of the Star.
I enjoyed the video and appreciated all the work and research Larson has done. I also appreciated his careful attention to the details of Matthew’s record and his use of passages from throughout the Bible.
I agree with Larson that Herod’s death was in 1 BC, contrary to what most historians say today. Therefore I think he is correct in looking at the sky in the years 2-3 BC for the Bethlehem star. I agree with him that the magi were astronomers from Babylon or Persia and probably well-versed in the Scriptures, possibly even spiritual and/or physical descendants of Daniel. I agree that Yahweh uses the stars and heavens for signs (Genesis 1:14). I disagree with Larson about the date of the Crucifixion, but that’s another issue which I won’t go into here.
Larson proposes that the Bethlehem Star was initially a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Venus and subsequently just Jupiter in later appearances. I remain unconvinced by his proposal for the following reasons:
1. The Bible and the magi call it a “star.” A planetary conjunction is not a star and does not even look like a star. It would not have fooled the magi-astronomers, after their months of careful observation, into thinking it was a star. Four times Scripture identifies what the magi saw as a “star.” I am reluctant to accept “non-star” proposals like conjunctions or comets which do not look like stars and were discernible as such to sky-observers even back in Christ’s day.
2. Jupiter-Venus conjunction
Larson proposes the June 2 BC conjunction of Jupiter and Venus as one appearance of the Star. But when viewed from Babylon the planets were far enough apart to be distinguished with the naked eye. And they were only close together for a few minutes on one evening near the horizon. The magi would never have called this a “star.” They would have known it was a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus–they would have watched the 2 planets approach and then separate.
3. Larson proposes the Star is Jupiter alone in September and November of 2 BC. This isn’t “fair.” He’s using 2 different things for the Star, a conjunction and then a single planet. Jupiter alone would not have been considered especially remarkable by the magi.
4. When the magi left Herod the star reappeared. When the magi saw it “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10) indicating tremendous excitement at seeing the Star again. But Jupiter had been visible most of the time. Why rejoice so much when they had seen it on preceding nights? Jupiter as the Star doesn’t fit Matthew’s description of the magi’s response to their second sighting of the Star.
5. How could Jupiter have stopped (“stood“) over Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9)? Retrograde motion explains “stopping”, but how can you say it’s over Bethlehem instead of say over Jerusalem, 5 miles to the north? In fact, Jupiter was in the southern sky, not directly over Bethlehem.
6. Software model
Astronomers say there are more than a hundred billion galaxies, each with some one hundred billion stars. The software program Larson used only has 16 million objects in its model. Thus I don’t believe it can fully represent the sky over Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It can only represent what was programmed into the model. If the Bethlehem star was a supernova as I suspect, it may not be visible now and thus not programmed into the model–so it wouldn’t show up in the simulation.
Larson’s video is instructive and entertaining. It’s worth watching (with the above issues in mind), even though I think his answer to the question, “What was the Star of Bethlehem?” is incorrect.
I continue to think that a supernova is the best explanation for the Bethlehem Star. See The Magi and The Star for a discussion of that possibility.
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
Friday December 24, 2010 A.D.
Read my December 2010 Bible-Science column
World’s Most Titled Man.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. And they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’” Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him.” And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1-12)