The Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem

What was the star of Bethlehem? Was it a meteor? A comet? A nova? An alignment of stars or planets? When did it occur? When was Jesus actually born? There are several problems scholars have come across here, leading to many false theories on this topic. I will try to clarify these for you.

Johannes Kepler

First of all, how can we predict the position of the planets and stars? This is due to the German mathematician and astronomer named Johannes Kepler. Kepler invented the laws of planetary motion in the 17th century. They are as follows:

1. The orbit of every planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.

2. A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time.

3. The square of the orbital period of a planet is directly proportional to the cube of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

These laws allow us to predict the paths of the planets and stars with extreme precision. These laws are still used by NASA and the ESA today. With these laws, we can try to find the star of Bethlehem. In fact, Keplar himself tried to find it, but was looking at the wrong years (5 and 6 B.C.). Why was he looking at these years? This has to do with the time of King Herod’s death.

King Herod’s Death

Matthew 2:18-20 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Isreal, for those who sought the child’s life are dead. (ESV)

From Matthew, we know that King Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus. More clues can be taken from the historian Josephus:

“Now it happened that during that time of the high priesthood of this Matthias, there was another person made high priest for a single day, that very day which the Jews observed as a fast. The occasion was this: This Matthias the high priest, on the night before that day when the fast was to be celebrated, seemed in a dream, to have conversation with his wife; and because he could not officiate himself on that account, Joseph, the son of Ellemus, his kinsman, assisted him in that sacred office. But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood, and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon.” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter 6

“When he had done these things, he died, the fifth day after he had caused Antipater to be slain; having reigned” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter 8

“Now, upon the approach of the feast of unleavened bread, which the law of their fathers had appointed for the Jews at this time, which feast is called Passover” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVII, Chapter 9

From Josephus, we know the following events took place chronologically:

1. a Lunar Eclipse
2. Herod’s sickness got worse; part of his body was putrefied and bread worms
3. Herod was taken at least 10 miles to warm baths and returned when the treatment failed
4. Herod ordered important men to come from every village (70-80 miles away); they arrived
5. Herod’s son Antiparter was executed
6. Herod’s funeral took place, and his body was carried about 23 miles to be buried
7. A 7-day mourning took place, followed by a funeral feast
8. Another mourning took place for the patriots who had been executed before the lunar eclipse
9. Passover occurs, a standard Jewish holiday

The common belief is that Herod died in 4 B.C. This is because there was a lunar eclipse on March 10, and Passover took place April 10 that year. However, many scholars have ignored events 2-8 listed above. It would be impossible for all these events to take place within 30 days. This is discussed in detail by Ernest Martin in The Birth of Christ Recalculated written in 1980.

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