Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the
king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his
star in the east, and are come to worship him.
Matthew 2:2 (KJV)
When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which
they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over
where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced
with exceeding great joy.
Matthew 2:9-10 (KJV)
The primary point of confusion is over the Greek word aster
which is used by Matthew as shown
above and is translated into English as 'star'). This translation is
partially correct, however, the Greeks called anything in the sky a 'star'.
Different things in the sky where different types of stars.
- aster - star
- astron - star (plural), a constellation
- planes aster - wandering star, a planet
So, why didn't Matthew say what was in the sky if it wasn't just a simple
star? To answer that question, it is important to look at the audience
of the gospel
s. The book of Mark
is an abridged
version of Matthew,
was written for the common people and emphasizes benevolence
was written for various philosophers
fulfillment of the prophecies
in the Old Testament
Here, we encounter some translation problems - Hebrew
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there
shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of
Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children
The word here is kowkab
and means 'Star' (I would welcome any
further explanation and connotations from those familiar with Hebrew
Matthew used the same count (singular) and does not elaborate upon
'Star' instead trying to relate this aster
to the kowkab
found in the Old Testament.
So, what could the Aster of Bethlehem be?
Before going too far down this path, it is important to pin down what
the time of the birth of Jesus was. It was not December 25,
The year '1 A.D.' was set down by in 535 A.D. by a Scythian monk named
Dionysius Exiguus. He did this by working backwards through the
Roman emperors. Unfortunately, he made some mistakes (including
the ommission of the year '0' that haunts time keepers to this day).
While Dionysius goes down in history with these mistakes, scholars
in the first and second century A.D. had better access to documentation
and a few hundred years closer to the actual event placed the birth of
Jesus to be between 6-4 B.C..
What about the tax mentioned in Luke? Certainly that is recorded.
The 'tax' mentioned in Luke appears to have occurred at 8 B.C., however
this another poor translation - 'tax' as we know
it is the Greek word apotimesis, while the word used in Luke
is apographe which is more along the lines of census. The
other census taken were in 28 B.C and 14 A.D. And while this is
about the right time there are some difficulties with this.
- The census decreed by Caesar Augustus was for Roman Citizens only
who lived within the empire.
- Joseph and Mary were not Roman citizens and thus were not part of the
census at all.
- Herod's kingdom was somewhat sovereign and not incorporated as part
of the Roman Empire until 6 A.D. - any tax or census from Herod was
from his own rule and not part of a Roman decree.
What then was the 'tax' or 'census' mentioned then? The best guess
(Dr. Ernest Martin) suggests that this was an oath of allegiance made
in 2 B.C. that corresponds to the celebration of the 750th anniversary of
the legendary foundation of Rome
and the 25th year of rule by
. Augustus wrote:
While I was administering my 13th consulship the senate and the
equestrian order and the entire Roman people gave me the title
Father of My County.
As part of this, Augustus ordered a census be taken of "each providence
everywhere and that all men be enrolled" (Josephus - 5th century historian).
Furthermore, Josephus tells us that "therfore the while Jewish nation
took an oath to be faithful to Caesar and the interests of king (Herod)".
The key point here is that this oath of allegiance is of all people -
citizen and non-citizen alike, in all the empire and provinces.
The date of December 25 was chosen to replace pagan holidays rather than
actually represent the literal day of the birth of Jesus. Looking
about we see that the birth of Jesus was announced to shepherds in
fields who were keeping watch over their flock. This likely coincides
with lambing season in the spring (late March and early April) when
the ewes have given birth to lambs and the flock would need the extra
attention and protection of the shepherds near by. While this hints
at spring, it is not necessarily the case - some shepherds stayed with
their flocks year round.
So, now we return to the question: what could the Aster of Bethlehem be?
With the discovery and predictive ability set forth by Edmond Halley
with Halley's Comet
many astronomers calculated back and proposed that
of Bethlehem was Halley's Comet. A rough calculation
shows that it would appear somewhere around 1 A.D. and would certainly
be a significant celestial omen. Closer investigation shows that
would have been in the sky in 12 B.C. - a few years too early.
While this only rules out Halley's Comment, what about other comets?
Several other comments were seen in the years 5-4 B.C., these comets
where rarely seen as a good omen - most often there where signs of
a death of a king rather than the herald of a birth of a messiah.
- suddenly a small speck of light shines real
bright. There are two types
- A nova which shines with 50,000 times
the power of the sun and would be visible with the naked eye
as a bright star in the night sky that can last
up to a year.
- A supernova which shines with 100 billion times the power of the
sun (thats 100,000,000,000) and lasts up to two years. A supernova
within the Milky Way galaxy would have been brighter than the full moon,
visible during the day, and last for up to two years.
So, could it have been a (super)nova? Once again, consulting the
Chinese records there is no mention of supernova
s around 5 B.C.. There is indication of a new star in Capricorn
between March 10th and April 27th of 5 B.C. which may have been a nova (it may also have been a comet, the records aren't the most clear on this).
This is believed the most likely aster
. In the year 7 B.C., there was a conjunction
that occurred three times within the constellation of Pisces
. The first of these conjunctions was in late May, the second in September, and the third in December.
- Jupiter - the planet of Kings
- Saturn - the protector of the Jewish people
- Pisces - associated with the kingdom of Israel
These could certainly be seen as heralding the coming of a King of
the Jews and Messiah
Then, four years later (3-2 B.C.), astrology got rather interesting:
- May 19, 3 B.C. - Saturn and Mercury were in conjunction with less
than a degree of a separation.
- June 12, 3 B.C. - Saturn moved to east meet with Venus and only
7.2' (thats is less than 1/6th of a degree)
- August 12, 3 B.C. - A conjunction between Jupiter and Venus
separated by only 4.2' (1/12th of a degree) within the constellation
- June 17th, 2 B.C. - Another conjunction between Venus and Jupiter,
this time in Leo and coming within 6" (thats six seconds, or 1/600th
of a degree)
- August 27, 2 B.C. - Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury all grouped
in the constellation of Leo.
is often seen as the 'head' of the Zodiac
and ruled by the
Sun. As such it is seen as the "Royal Constellation", and dominated
by the star Regulus (from the Latin "King Star"). Leo denotes
royalty and power to any planets found within it. To an astrologer
this looks as if the King Planet (Jupiter) was homing in on the
King Star (Regulus
) within the royal constellation.
So, within Rome this occurred about the same time as the festivals
mentioned above (the 750th year of Rome and 25th year of Augustus).
Meanwhile, in the east this may have looked like the birth of a king.
So, when the Magi showed up in Jerusalem and asked King Herod if
there was a new son he was quite alarmed:
"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all
Jerusalem with him." -- Matthew 2:3. Picture it, here you are
celebrating Rome and some wise men show up and ask "Where is the new
king of the Jews?" To someone versed in astrology, and the history of
Judah (who's symbol was the lion - Leo) this was a very different
The Magi stopped at Jerusalem for several reasons. First, as
emissaries of royalty themselves, there were bound by tradition
and properness to pay respects to royalty in the towns and cities they
passed through. Furthermore, they didn't exactly know where
Bethlehem was (6 miles south of Jerusalem) and so they stopped to
ask for directions and just to make certain that it wasn't a child of
Herod's they were looking for.
The Magi arrived about 3 years after the birth of Jesus (he wasn't
an infant anymore) and likely arrived sometime in the range of early
September to late December of 2 B.C.. It is likely the Magi came from
several places rather than all from one spot - Babylon, Persia and
Arabia. It should be noted that in 614 A.D. when armies of Persia
invaded the area and destroyed many Christian churches they refused to
destroy the Basilica in Bethlehem because of the mosaic within that
showed the adoration of the Magi - in traditional Persian clothing
One should note that this is not proof for or against the nature of
Jesus as Christ and Messiah or the existence of God. This is rather
intended as a study into the time and circumstances surrounding one
of the most influential individuals in the history of the world.
It can be argued that Jesus became who he was through the influence
of his childhood or that he was born when he was through an act of
God to coincide with the astrological events of the time. This
writeup does not intend to explore that aspect of the life
of Jesus and theology.