Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Star, A Star Dancing in the Sky

NASA Photo, retouched

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2) So said the wise men to King Herod as they mistakenly sought the newborn king in Jerusalem. When they were directed by the religious leaders to the small, nearby village of Bethlehem, “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed.” (verse 9) We do not know how many wise men (magi) traveled to see the Jewish king but biblical scholars think they were from Persia and familiar with the Book of Daniel. God had revealed to Daniel, an exiled Jew in Babylon (530 BC) many mysteries and secrets, which were part of the wisdom literature or astrological records in Persia.

The Magi: Could it be that the magi, while observing the heavens and studying the book of Daniel, noticed an astronomical phenomena which they associated with the impending birth of a Jewish king in Judea? Did they see a conjunction, which occurred on June 17, 3 BC, between Venus and Jupiter in the constellation of Leo, near the star Regulus? Leo was the tribal sign of Judah. Jupiter was the king planet for the Babylonians and the name for Regulus was Sharru the king. Also Venus, named Ishtar, was the chief Babylonian goddess associated with femininity.  Note that they did not follow the star but rather told Herod that they had seen the star in the East. This portion of their trip then could have been based on a natural phenomenon (with the timing ordained by God; see Gal 4:4).

The historical records: There are several historical reference made in the Bible related to the birth of Christ: a census ordered by Caesar Augustus; the rule of Quirinius, governor of Syria; and finally Herod, the king of Judea in Jerusalem. The death of Herod while young Jesus was in Egypt together with his parents is also mentioned. All these point to a time period that extends between 6 BC and 1 BC. The traditional date for Herod’s death has been set around 4BC, which in turn sets the birth of Christ at 6BC. However, a recent exhaustive study has brought the date of Herod’s death closer to 1 BC, or even 1 AD (see PSFC December 2012). During the period 3-2 BC , some astronomical data has identified the occurrence of  a number of planetary conjunctions one of which could have been the star that the magi saw in the East.

Trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem: The star reappears during this segment of the trip and seems to be a supernatural  phenomenon.  Why? Because it seems to have led them and stopped over the place where the child was. All this happened only after the magi were willing to travel to Bethlehem, away from center of power, in obedience to what the scripture had predicted in Micah 5:2. A miracle then occurs as a result of their perseverance. God honored the faith of the magi by directing them to the exact location of the Christ child. The Wonder of the Star is God’s providential timing, including both natural events and supernatural guidance, in order to fulfill his grand purpose for mankind: “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son that all those who believe on him shall not be lost but have eternal life” John 3:16  

For a short, more detailed description of the Star of Bethlehem see: What was the Star of Bethlehem?

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