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Was Jupiter (as part of a series of extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) the Christmas “star” (aster) that led the Magi from the east to Bethlehem?

Most notably, beginning in 3 B.C., Jupiter (the King Planet) and Regulus (the King Star) conjoined three times in the Leo Constellation(the Lion aka the Royal Constellation). Thereafter, on June 17, 2 B.C.Jupiter (the King Planet) conjoined with Venus (the planet of love and beauty) to produce the brightest celestial light anyone alive had ever witnessed.

As argued by proponents of the Jupiter proposal for the Christmas “star”, the astronomical events involving Jupiter in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.uniquely explain the following:

  • Why Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem believing a king of the Jews had been born (Matt. 2:1-2);
  • Why Herod had to ask the Magi when the “star” had appeared (Matt. 2:7);
  • How the “star” went ahead of the Magi on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9);
  • How the “star” “stopped over”, “stood over” or “came to rest over” the place where the child was (Matt. 2:9)

This article examines the extent to which the Jupiter proposal adequately explains, or fails to explain, the facts revealed about the “star” in Matthew 2:1-11. The article also summarizes the criticisms that have been waged against the proposal as well as how proponents of the proposal respond to those criticisms.

Was Jupiter (as Part of a Series of Extraordinary
Astronomical Events Occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) the Christmas Star (Aster)?

Introduction

According to Matthew 2:1-11, after Jesus was born, Magi from the east traveled to Jerusalem and met with King Herod saying: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star [aster] in the east and have come to worship him.”After the chief priests and teachers of the law reported that Micah the prophet had prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (see, Micah 5:2), the Magi left Jerusalem heading south toward Bethlehem and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was”(Matt. 2:9). Matthew 2:10 says that when the Magi saw the star, “they were overjoyed”.

The original Greek word used by Matthew for “star” in Matthew 2:1-11 where the account of the Christmas “star” is recorded was “aster.”

Although “aster has been traditionally translated into English as “star”, the Greek word “aster is a more general term which “can refer to any kind of heavenly body – a star, a planet, an asteroid, a comet, or a meteor. [Hugh Ross, “The Christmas Star” www.reasons.org (updated 2010); see also, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008), Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 81 – 82  (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977) and www.teknia.com/greek-dictionary/aster].

Given the broader definition of the Greek word “aster, as compared to the English word “star”, some scholars propose that Jupiter (as part of a series of extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C.– 2 B.C.) is a strong candidate for the Christmas “star” (aster).

Article Index

Historical Development of the Jupiter Proposal here

Details of the Jupiter Proposal for the Christmas “Star” (Aster)? here

Summary of Astronomical Events Occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. here

Overview od Rick Larson’s Presentation of the Jupiter Proposal here

Overview of Barry Setterfield’s Presentation of the Jupiter Proposal here

How Well Does the Jupiter Proposal Correspond with the 7 Things Scholars Have Historically Considered in Evaluating Candidates for the Christmas Star? here

General Criticisms of the Jupiter Proposal here

Conclusion here

References
Image Credits

Historical Development of the Jupiter Proposal

In 1962 Bryant Tuckerman published a series of tables which documented the positions of astronomical objects from 601 B.C. to 1 A.D.  Roger Sinnott (an astronomer from Harvard University) examined Tuckerman’s tables and noticed that, on June 17, 2 B.C., a strikingly close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter had occurred in the Leo Constellation.  As described by Sinnott, “[t]he fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event.” In 1968, Sinnott wrote an article proposing that Jupiter’s conjunction with Venus in 2 B.C. was the Christmas “star”.  [See, Robert Newman, “The Star of Bethlehem: A NaturalSupernatural Hybrid?” (2001) referring to Sinnott, Roger, “Thoughts on the Starof Bethlehem”, Sky and Telescope 36 (Dec. 1968), pp. 384-6.]

In 1991, Ernest Martin (a meteorologist and archaeologist) further developed the Jupiter proposal by noting that Jupiter not only conjoined with Venus in the Leo Constellation in 2 B.C., but had participated in a series of extraordinary astronomical events between 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.  The totality of these events is what Martin contended sent the Magi to Judea looking for a newborn Jewish king. [See, Ernest Martin, The Star of BethlehemStar that Astonished the World (1991)]  A short video presentation of Martin’s explanation of the Christmas “star” (aster) can be viewed at www.askelm.com/video/v020301.htm. A 2003 edited version of the Second Edition of Martin’s book can be read free of charge at www.askelm.com/star/index.asp.

More recently, Rick Larson and Barry Setterfield have produced DVDs further promoting the Jupiter proposal. Larson’s 2007 DVD entitled The Bethlehem Star can be found at www.Bethlehemstar.net.  Setterfield’s 2008 presentation entitled The Christmas Starcan be found at www.setterfield.org.  Recently, both presentations have been aired on television around Christmastime.

Details of the Extraordinary
Astronomical Events Occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.

5/19/3 B.C.  Mercury and Saturn rose before dawn appearing very closely together
6/12/3 B.C.  Saturn and Venus rose before dawn even more closely together
8/13/3 B.C. Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty) rose just before dawn and appeared very closely together
8/18/3 B.C. Mercury rose from the solar glare in the early dawn and stood 1/3° from Venus(the Mother Planet) and Jupiter (the King Planet) in the Leo Constellation
9/13/3 B.C. Conjunction No. 1
Jupiter (the King Planet) rose in the east and conjoined with Regulus (the King Star) for the 1st of three times in Leo
2/17/2 B.C. Conjunction No. 2
After entering retrograde motion, Jupiter (the King Planet) reversed course, headed back to Regulus and conjoined with Regulus (the King Star) a 2nd time
3/31/2 B.C. Venus, Mars and Saturn gathered in a triangular meeting
5/8/2 B.C. Conjunction No. 3
Jupiter (the King Planet) reversed course again and conjoined with Regulus (the King Star) a 3nd time
6/17/2 B.C Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty) were seen so closely together that they appeared to be a single object
8/27/2 B.C. A close grouping of Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars before Jupiter (the King Planet) began traveling westward
8/28/2 B.C. An alignment of Jupiter, Venus, Mars, the Sun and Moon
Dec.
2 B.C.
Jupiter (the King Planet) was in retrograde and appeared stopped in the Virgo Constellation

While different renditions of the Jupiter proposal have been presented (some referring to more celestial events than others), all modern-day proposals are substantially based on the following events which would have been observed by Magi in the east (presumably, Babylon or Persia more>>):

  • On August 13, 3 B.C., Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty) rose before dawn and appeared so closely together that they appeared to be touching.
  • In September, 3 B.C.Jupiter (the King Planet) had risen in the east and conjoined with Regulus (the King Star), the brightest starin the Leo Constellation (aka the Royal Constellation).  Some proponents note that at the same time, the Virgo Constellation (the Virgin) rose in the east behind Leo (the Royal Constellation) and Virgo was clothed in the Sun (i.e., the sun was passing through Virgo) with a new crescent moon at her feet.
  • Jupiter (the King Planet) conjoined with Regulus (the King Star) two more times on February 17, 2 B.C. and May 8, 2 B.C.
  • After Jupiter (the King Planet) finished its triple conjunction with Regulus (the King Star), due to optical effects of retrograde motion, Jupiter traveled west and, on June 17, 2 B.C., Jupiter (the King Planet) conjoined with Venus (the planet of love and beauty). This conjunction was so close that, to the naked eye, the two objects appeared to be touching; technically, they were 1/50th of a degree apart.
  • On August 27, 2 B.C., a close grouping of Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars occurred before Jupiter (the King Planet) continued travelling west toward Judea.
  • In December of 2 B.C. (when it is proposed the Magi left Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem), they saw Jupiter (the King Planet) ahead of them to the south, sitting 65° above the horizon. And, because Jupiter (the King Planet) was in retrograde, Jupiter appeared to be “stopped” over the town of Bethlehem.
7 B.C. B.C. B.C. B.C. B.C. B.C. B.C.

Overview of Rick Larson’s Presentation of the Jupiter Proposal

As presented by Rick Larson, beginning in September of 3 B.C. (the time of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year), Jupiter (the King Planet) and Regulus (the King Star) conjoined three times in the Leo Constellation (the Royal Constellation) and the constellation which Larson states was linked to the Tribe of Judah in the nation of Israel. At the same time, the Virgo Constellation (the Virgin) rose clothed in the sun(meaning the sun was passing through Virgo) with a new crescent moon at her feet, representing Jesus’ conception.

Nine months later (the term of a woman’s pregnancy) on June 17, 2 B.C.Jupiter (the King Planet) conjoined with Venus (the brightest planet and the planet of love and beauty) and, together, they produced the brightest ball of light anyone alive had ever seen which signified a birth to the Magi.

The totality of these unusual astronomical events is what convinced the Magi a Jewish king had been born and sent them to Judea to pay homage to the one born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-2).

After arriving in Jerusalem and learning Micah the prophet had prophesied the Jewish king would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the Magi left Jerusalem and headed south to Bethlehem.

Upon leaving Jerusalem on December 25, 2 B.C. at about 7:00 a.m., the Magi looked south toward Bethlehem and saw Jupiter (the King Planet) ahead of them in the southern horizon. Astonishingly, due to optical effects of retrograde motion”, Jupiterappeared stopped over the town of Bethlehem.

[See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007) available at www.bethlehemstar.net]

Overview of Barry Settefield’s Presentation of the Jupiter Proposal

On May 19, 3 B.C., Saturn and Mercury rose closely together before dawn and on June 12, 3 B.C., Saturnrose even more closely together with Venus (the planet of love and beauty).

On August 1,  3 B.C. Jupiter (the King Planet) rose helically in the rays of  the dawn (i.e., it was visible a short time above the horizon before the sun rose). Then, on August 13, 3 B.C. Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus(the planet of love and beauty) rose before dawn and appeared as one ball of light.  All of this occurred in the Cancer Constellation which is at the end of the zodiac and symbolizes the end of an era.

On August 18, 3 B.C. Mercury emerged from the solar glare in the early dawn standing 1/3 of 1° apart from Venus and Jupiter in the Leo Constellation (aka the Royal Constellation) which Setterfield contends was not only a symbol of the Tribe of Judah, but a symbol of the beginning of a new era.

In September, 3 B.C, Jupiter (the King Planet) traced a loop around Regulus (the King Star and the brightest star in the Leo Constellation) which denoted the birth, or immanent birth, of a king of the Jews who would usher in a new era.

On June 17, 2 B.C. the Magi observed the next sign in the Leo Constellation, namely, that Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty) were in such close conjunction that they appeared to fuse into one ball of light for the second time in one year which no one alive had ever witnessed.

On August 27, 2 B.C., after a grand meeting of Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars in the Leo ConstellationJupiter (the King Planet) continued its westward trek toward Judea.  By mid-November, the Magi set off for Jerusalem looking for one born king of the Jews.

When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem in December, 2 B.C., Herod (and all Jerusalem with him) were troubled (Matt. 2:3) because the Magi (who were dignitaries) would have been travelling with a large entourage of armed men and Herod’s guard was away quelling a rebellion in Armenia alongside of Caesar.

On December 25, 2 B.C., after learning the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the Magi left Jerusalem and headed south to Bethlehem (a journey of about 6.2 miles).  As the Magi looked due south, they saw Jupiter (the newborn king’s “star”) 65° above the horizon; and, due to the optical effects of retrograde motionJupiter (the Christmas “star”) appeared “stopped” over the town of Bethlehem where the young child was.

See, Barry SetterfieldThe Christmas Star, DVD (2008) @ www.isetterfield.org; see also, Setterfield’s Technical notes on “The Christmas Star”.

How Well Does the Jupiter Proposal Correspond with
the 7 Things Scholars Have Historically Considered in
Evaluating Candidates for the Christmas “Star”?

Taking the unresolved issues, proposed translations and differing interpretations of the Matthew 2 text into account (more>>), scholars have historically considered seven (7) things in evaluating whether proposed candidates for the Christmas “star” adequately explain and are consistent with the facts disclosed about the “star” in Matthew 2:1-11 (more>>).

This section of the article examines how well the Jupiter proposal corresponds with, or fails to correspond with, each of the following seven historical considerations:

  1. Does the Jupiter proposal reasonably explain why Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for “one born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:1-2)?  skip to
  2. Would the Magi have seen Jupiter rise for the first time while they were in the east; or, as alternatively translated, was Jupiter seen by the Magi “when it rose” or “at it’s rising” in the east, or was it seen “rising in the east”  Matt. 2:2skip to
  3. Did the astronomical events involving Jupiter appear at the time of Jesus’ birth? skip to
  4. Does the Jupiter proposal reasonably explain why Herod had to learn from the Magi when the “star” (aster) appeared (Matt. 2:7)? skip to
  5. Did the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) last long enough to have been seen while the Magi were in the east (Matt. 2:2) and still be seen (or, alternatively, seen again) when the Magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem (Matt 2:9-10)? skip to
  6. Did the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) go ahead of the Magi or, alternatively, appear to go ahead of the Magi on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9) skip to
  7. Was Jupiter seen “stopped over” (NIV, NLT), “stood over” (ASV, KJV) or come to “rest over” (ESV) “the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9)  skip to

Consideration No. 1

Does the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) reasonably explain why Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for “one born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2)? (more>>)

Many scholars (including Rick Larson and Barry Setterfield) propose the Magi (who are believed to have been from the area Babylon or Persia) were part of the legacy of Daniel and other Jews transported from Jerusalem to Babylon in 605 B.C. (more>>)  As such, the Magi would have been aware of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the coming of an anointed one (a king of the Jews) around the time of Jesus’ birth (Dan.9:25).

It is further proposed that because the Magi were pseudo scientists who engaged in astronomy, they would have been looking for a sign in the heavens of the coming of a Jewish king as prophesied by Daniel.

Larson and Setterfield point to a number of things the Magi would have observed in the heavens in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. which they would have interpreted as a sign that a Jewish king had been born:

A Sign of a King
As noted by Rick Larson, Jupiter “has been known from ages-old to the present as the King Planet” and the star, Regulus, gets its name from a root word associated with the word “regal.” More notably, “[t[he Babylonians called Regulus Sharu, which means ‘king’” and the Magi were from the area of Babylon/Persia. Consequently, Larson contends that to Babylonian Magi observing the heavens at that time, the planet of kings (Jupiter) met the star of kings (Regulus) at the beginning of the Jewish New Year in 3 B.C. [Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007); see also Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Moreover, these two kingly objects met up three times (9/13/3 B.C., 2/17/2 B.C. and 5/8/2 B.C.) within an eight month period, which is a very short period of time from an astronomical point of view. [Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007); see also Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Further, due to optical effects of retrograde motion, the Magi would have observed Jupiter draw a crown (or triple loop) over Regulus. So, as described by Larson, the Magi would have observed the king Planet (Jupiter) meet the King Star (Regulus) and then draw a crown over the King Star, something like a “starry coronation.”  Larson submits this would have signified a kingship to the Magi. [Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)]

An Expectation and/or Sign of a Jewish King
If the Magi were aware of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the coming of an anointed one (a king of the Jews) around the time of Jesus’ birth (see, Dan.9:25 more>>), then any sign in the heavens which they believed depicted the coming of a king, may have indicated to them that the king of the Jews prophesied by Daniel had come.

Moreover, as maintained by Larson and Setterfield, the events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. would have signified a direct connection to the Jews or the nation of Israel because the “starry coronation” (the triple conjunction) occurred within the Leo Constellation aka the Lion. Larson and Setterfield find this significant because in Genesis 49:8-10, Jacob (a patriarch of the Children of Israel) assigned his son, Judah, the symbol of a lion; and, many Christians maintain Genesis 49:10 is a prophecy that the Messiah would arise out of the Tribe of Judah.  In Revelation 5, Jesus Christ is referred to as the Lion from the Tribe of Judah:

See, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. — Rev. 5:5

Leo Constellation (CC/BY/3.0)Leo Constellation showing Regulus, the Heart of the Lion (more)

As asserted by Larson and Setterfield, the lion is both the symbol of the Tribe of Judah and the Leo Constellation. Additionally, Regulus (the star involved in a triple conjunction with Jupiter) is not only the brightest star in the Leo constellation, but is the “heart of the lion.” [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007); Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Based on the above, both Larson and Setterfield maintain there is good reason to believe the Magi would have associated the extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. with the Jews or the nation of Israel.

A Sign of a Birth
As explained by Larson, on September 13, 3 B.C. when Jupiter (the King Planet) first conjoined with Regulus (the King star), the Virgo Constellation (the Virgin) had risen in the east behind the Leo Constellation (aka the Royal Constellation). At the same time, Virgo (the Virgin) was clothed with the Sun (i.e., the sun was passing through Virgo) and a new moon was located at her feet. [Rick Larson, The BethlehemStar (2007)] The new moon began on the 10th and remained until the 25th. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Thereafter, on June 17, 2 B.C., nine months after the first time Jupiter (the King Planet) conjoined with Regulus (the King Star), which Larson notes is the term of a woman’s pregnancy, Jupiter had conjoined with Regulus two more times completing its “coronation” of Regulus.

After completing its triple conjunction with Regulus, Jupiter then traveled westward and conjoined with Venus (the planet of love and beauty). [Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star (2007)] 

Image Credit: Timothy Boocock
CC-BY-SA-3.0  more

In 2 B.C., Jupiter’s conjunction with Venus this time was so close that Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the planet of love and beauty) would have appeared “to fuse into one immense ball of Light.” [Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Although their presentations of the Jupiter proposal differ, both Rick Larson and Barry Setterfield maintain the symbolism the Magi observed in the heavens in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. was sufficient for them to conclude a Jewish king had been born (Matt. 2:2).

Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon in 2009 ($$ ESO)

CONJUNCTION OF VENUS, JUPITER AND THE MOON IN 2009

Image Credit:  ESO / Y. Beletsky (more)

Consideration No. 2

Would the Magi have seen Jupiter rise for the first time in the east, or, as alternatively translated, was Jupiter seen by the Magi “when it rose” or “at it’s rising” in the east, or was it seen “rising in the east” (Matt. 2:1-2, 9)? [See, Unresolved Issue No. 1]

Because of the direction of Earth’s rotation (counterclockwise), all the stars (except those located at Earth’s poles, e.g., Polaris) appear to earthbound observers to rise in the east. The same is true of constellations, planets and comets.

In the following YouTube animation by Ross Mitchell (more>>), Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Mercury are seen as small dots of light “rising in the east” over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and proceeding in a westerly direction (right to left) at a rate 250 times faster than actually occurred in real time:

As maintained by Rick Larson, the original Greek text of Matthew 2:2 literally says the star was “‘en anatole, meaning the Magi saw the star “rising in the east.”   Specifically, on August 13, 3 B.C., the Magi would have seen Jupiter (the King Planet) rise in the east and each night thereafter, Jupiter would have appeared slightly further east in the field of fixed stars. [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007); see also, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas StarDVD (2008)]

Re Consideration No. 3

Did the events involving the Jupiter proposal appear at the time of Jesus’ birth (≈ 7 B.C. – 2 B.C.)?

The events involving Jupiter (as part of a series of extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) began as early as May, 3 B.C. and continued through December, 2 B.C. when it is proposed the Magi arrived in Jerusalem looking for the newborn Jewish king (Matt. 2:2).  The period of May, 3 B.C. through December 2 B.C. fits nicely within the general 7 B.C. – 2 B.C.timeframe scholars have established for Jesus’ birth (more>>).

Criticism No. 1 — Most Scholars Believe Herod Died in 4 B.C. which Means Jesus Would have been Born in ≈ 5 B.C. to 6 B.C., Not 2 B.C. to 3 B.C. as Required in the Jupiter Proposal 

Because the Magi met with Herod when they arrived in Jerusalem looking for the Jewish king (Jesus), Jesus must have been born before Herod died.

Unfortunately, just as the date of Jesus’ birth was not recorded, the date of Herod’s death was not recorded.  However, based on facts which were recorded by Josephus about things that occurred around the time of Herod’s death (e.g., there was a blood moon — a total lunar eclipse), scholars have narrowed the potential dates of Herod’s death to either 4 B.C. or 1 B.C.

A Blood Moon Credit: AGS

BLOOD MOON
IMAGE CREDIT: AGS

Matthew 2:16 states that after the Magi left Judea to return to their homeland, Herod “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matt. 2:7).

Since Herod presumably issued the order to eliminate any potential threat to his throne by the newborn Jewish king (Jesus), then at least Herod believed Jesus was no more than two years old at that time.

However, it is also possible that Jesus was less than two years old because Herod (a paranoid, murderous man who had his own sons put to death more>>) may have intentionally overcompensated the age covered in his infanticidal order to insure the threat to his throne was eliminated.

With these considerations in mind, if Herod died in 4 B.C., Jesus would have been born about 1 – 2 years earlier around 5 B.C. – 6 B.C., not 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. as required by the Jupiter proposal.

Response No. 1 —  If Herod’s Died in 1 B.C., as Some Scholars Maintain, Jesus Would have Been Born in 3 B.C. to 2 B.C. Consistent with the Jupiter Proposal

Although most scholars believe Herod died in 4 B.C., some scholars maintain the historical information recorded about things that occurred at the time of Herod’s death is more consistent with a 1 B.C. date for his death.

For example, although a lunar eclipse occurred in both 4 B.C. and 1 B.C, the 4 B.C. eclipse was only a 40% eclipse which would not have made the moon appear blood red as reported in the historical record.  However, the 1 B.C. lunar eclipse was a total eclipse which would have produced a blood moon which is what the historical record states occurred around the time of Herod’s death.

To further examine the reasons some scholars insist Herod had to have died in 1 B.C. rather than 4 B.C., see chapters  8 – 10 and 13 of Ernest Martin’s book entitled, The Star of Bethlehem — The Star that Astonished the World” which can be read free of charge at www.askelm.com/star/index.asp.

Re Consideration No. 4

Does the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) reasonably explain why Herod apparently had to find out from the Magi when the “star” (aster) appeared (Matt. 2:7)? (more>>)

As noted by Christian astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, Jupiter’s conjunctions with Regulus and Venus would have certainly been significant enough to make an impression on people living at that time. Accordingly, there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for Herod to have had to ask the Magi when the star appeared as reported in Matthew 2:7.  Rather, Herod (or members of his court) would have known when the star appeared without having to ask the Magi. [Hugh Ross, ‘The Christmas Star”, (updated 11/2010) (www.reasons.org accessed 11/29/10)]

Rick Larson readily agrees that Jupiter’s conjunctions with Regulus and Venus in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C would have likely been noticed by people living at that time. However, Larson maintains that although people in Jerusalem were probably aware of some or all of the extraordinary events occurring in the heavens at that time, the events wouldn’t have necessarily seemed significant to those untrained in astronomy or those not contemplating the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy concerning the coming of a Jewish king (Dan. 9:25). Indeed, as Larson notes, Herod only seemed to become troubled by the events after the Magi arrived in Jerusalem saying they had seen the “star” of the “one born king of the Jews” and had come to worship him. (Matt. 2:1-2)

Larson proposes it was only when the Magi explained how the extraordinary astronomical events as a whole signified the birth of a Jewish king, that Herod realized the significance of the events and became so troubled (Matt. 2:1-3) that he subsequently ordered the execution of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or younger in accordance with the information he obtained from the Magi about “exactly when the star appeared.” (Matt. 2:7,16).  [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)]  The infanticide of babies in and around Bethlehem which ensued following Herod’s order is commonly referred to as the “Massacre of the Innocents” more>>.

Re Consideration No. 5

Did the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C.– 2 B.C.) last long enough to have been by the Magi in the East (Matt. 2:2) and still be seen (or, alternatively, seen again) when the Magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9-10)? (more>>)[See, Unresolved Issue No. 2]

As noted by Rick Larson and Barry Setterfield, Matthew 2:2 reports that after the “star” was seen by the Magi in the east, the Magi made a long journey to Judea where the star was seen again when the Magi left Jerusalem to travel to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9-10).  Accordingly, it is proposed that any legitimate candidate for the Christmas “star” (aster) must have “endured over a considerable period of time.” [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)]

Larson maintains the Jupiter proposal lasted least a nine (9) months.  The first conjunction of Jupiter and  Regulus occurred on September 13, 3 B.C. and Jupiter’s conjunction with Venus occurred on June 17, 2 B.C. [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)] If the events date back to August 13, 3 B.C. when Jupiter (the King Planet) and Venus (the Mother Planet) rose before dawn and conjoined so closely they appeared to be touching, the events would have covered a 10 month period. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Barry Setterfield proposes the unusual astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. began in May, 3 B.C. when Mercury and Saturn rose before dawn appearing very closely together which means the events persisted over a 13 month period.  [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Criticism No. 1: The Conjunctions of Jupiter with Regulus and Venus Occurred Over a 10 Month Period, Much Less than the 2 Year Age Group of Infants Herod Ordered be Killed: The three conjunctions of Jupiter with Regulus and the conjunction of Jupiterwith Venus in June, 2 B.C. occurred only 10 months apart. Since Herod commanded all the male children “two years old and under” living in Bethlehem be killed (more>>) and his order was presumably based on the time the Magi told Herod the star had first appeared, the Jupiter proposal doesn’t align very well with this part of Matthew’s account. [Hugh Ross, “The Christmas Star”, (updated 11/2010) (www.reasons.org accessed 11/29/10)]

Response No. 1 — The Astronomical Events Referenced in the Proposal Encompass More than Jupiter’s Conjunctions with Regulus and Venus: The unusual activity that occurred in the heavens in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C. was not limited to the conjunctions of Jupiter with Regulus and Venus. Some scholars maintain the events date back as far as May of 3 B.C. when Mercury and Saturn rose closely together before dawn and moved eastward toward Venus. The events continued through December, 2 B.C.when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and discussed the events with Herod.  May, 3 B.C. through December, 2 B.C. covers a period of about 19 months.

Response No. 2 — To Ensure His Throne was Fully Protected, Herod’s Order to Kill all the Male Infants in Bethlehem 2 Years Old and Younger May Have Included a Generous Time Cushion: Historical documents contain multiple accounts of Herod exhibiting extreme paranoia, especially concerning potential threats to his throne. Accordingly, in issuing his infanticidal order, it would not be surprising that Herod added a generous time cushion to time the Magi had told him the newborn king’s “star” (aster) had appeared (Matt. 2:2, 7) to insure all potential threats to his throne were clearly eliminated. [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)]

Consideration No. 6

Did the appearance of Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.go ahead of the Magi on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9) more>>?

Based on Matthew 2:9, Larson and Setterfield agree that whatever the “star” (aster) was, it had to at least appear to the Magi that it was going ahead of them as they traveled south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

In presenting the Jupiter proposal, Rick Larson and Barry Map Jerusalem - Bethlehem (WM- PD) smallSetterfield note that as the Magi travelled from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (a 6.2 mile journey) in the early morning hours in December, 2 B.C., they would have seen Jupiter (the King Planet) ahead of them sitting 65° above the southern horizon over Bethlehem, the very city the Magi had learned Micah the prophet had prophesied the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2[See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD, (2007); see also Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Consideration No. 7

Would Jupiter (as part of a series of astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. – 2 B.C.) have “stopped over” (NIV, NLT), “stood over” (ASV, KJV) or come to “rest over” (ESV) “the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9) (more>>)? [See Unresolved Issue No. 3 more>>]

Planets in the solar system (including Jupiter) orbit the Sun in elliptical orbits and are observed moving across the background of stars which remains relatively fixed.

Because Earth is the third planet from the sun and Jupiter is the fifth, Earth’s orbit around the sun is significantly shorter that that of Jupiter’s. Whereas Earth orbits the sun once a year (or, once every 365 days), Jupiter orbits the sun once every 11.86 Earth years (or, once every 4,332 days). Earth ‘s average orbital speed of ≈ 67,000 mph (≈ 107,826 km/h) is also significantly faster than that of Jupiter which has an average orbital speed of ≈ 29,000 mph (≈ 46,670 km/h).  As a result, Earth passes Jupiter on the “inside track” once every 398.9 days.

Each time this occurs a very peculiar thing is observed by earthbound observers — Jupiter appears to reverse its normal eastbound course, travel backward (westward)  for several days before stopping and then proceeding on its forward path again. Because of the great vastness of space, these movements are not observed over a period of hours, but over periods of days, weeks and months. Scientists now know these peculiar movements are an illusion caused by optical effects of retrograde motion.

Apparent_retrograde_motion_of_Mars_in_2003

Click on image to view animation of retrograde motion
Image Credit:© Eugene Alan Villar, 2008 CC-BY-SA-3.0) (more)

In December of 2 B.C., Jupiter was in retrograde and because Jupiter (the King Planet) would have been seen at its furthest point west, Jupiter (the King Planet) would have appeared “stopped” in the Virgo Constellation for 6 days, including December 25th. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008); See also Rick LarsonThe Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007)]

Consequently, to Magi traveling south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the early morning  hours of December 25, 2 B.C., Jupiter (the King Planet) would have been seen “stopped over”, “standing over” or having “come to rest over” Bethlehem, the city where Micah the prophet had prophesied the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2).  [See, Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007); see also, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]  Specifically, to the naked eye, Jupiter would have been seen “stopped” over the town of Bethlehem, sitting 65° above the southern horizon in the Virgo Constellation from December 24th – 30th. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Criticism No. 1 — The Jupiter Proposal Doesn’t Account for How the Magi Knew which House Jesus Was in When they Arrived in Bethlehem: Matthew 2:9 says the “star” (aster) “stopped over”, “stood over” or came to “rest over” “the place where the child was.”  Matthew 2:11 says that ‘[o]n coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary…” Some scholars criticize the Jupiter proposal because it doesn’t explain how the Magi knew which house Jesus was in when they arrived in Bethlehem.

Response No. 1 — The Text Doesn’t Say the Magi Followed the “Star” to a Particular House: Matthew 2:9 only says the “star went before the Magi until it came and “stood over” (ASV) or “came to rest” (ESV) “where the young child was.” The “where” could refer to the city of Bethlehem or some other more general location than the exact house Jesus was in.

Some have proposed that upon arriving in the small town of  Bethlehem, it wouldn’t have taken the Magi long to learn which house Jesus was living in. After all, Luke 2:8-18 reports that the night Jesus was born angels announced his birth to shepherds tending flocks in nearby fields. When the shepherds learned a savior (the promised Messiah) had been born in Bethlehem, they hurried into town and found Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. Luke 2: 16-18 says that after seeing Jesus, the shepherds spread the word about what the angels had told them about the child.

So, when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem 1 – 2 years later looking for one “born king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2), people living in Bethlehem could have directed them to the house where Jesus was living at that time. (Matt. 2:9-11)

Response No. 2 — The Shekinah Glory Could Have Guided the Magi to the Particular House Jesus was In: Barry Setterfield proposes that after the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, the same Shekinah glory that shone around the shepherds when the angels announced the Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-9) and led the children of Israel through the desert (Exodus 13:20-21), could have identified the exact house Jesus was in.

Setterfield suggests the Magi would have been aware of the Shekinah Glory from Daniel 7:13 which describes “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”   [Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star, DVD (2008)]

Criticism No. 2 — Jupiter Would Have Appeared Completely “Stopped” on December 28, 2 B.C., Not December 25th: Jupiter’s retrograde in 2 B.C. occurred on December 28th, not the 25th as presented by Larson.  Moreover, even  if the Magi did not have the assistance of a magnifying lens, they still would have been able to perceive some movement of Jupiter until December 28th. Larson seems to have chosen the 25th to give the impression that the reason people exchange gifts on December 25th is because that is the day the Magi brought their gifts to Jesus which is not the case. [Diego Rodriguez (4th Day Alliance), “Critical Review of the Bethlehem StarDVD”, accessed 12/2/14)]

General Criticisms of the Jupiter Proposal

In addition to the criticisms referenced above which relate to whether the Jupiter proposal meets the criteria of the Christmas “star” (aster) described in Matthew 2:1-11, the following general criticisms have been lodged against the proposal:

  1. Those who offer the Jupiter proposal are engaging in astrology which is prohibited by Scripture [skip to]
  2. Matthew 2 references a single “star”, not a group of stars and/or planets [skip to]
  3. Jupiter’s conjunctions with Regulus and Venus wouldn’t have appeared as single objects [skip to]
  4. Larson leaves his audience with the impression that the Jupiter proposal is the only viable candidate for the Christmas “star” (aster) [skip toe]

General Criticism No. 1 — Those who Offer the Jupiter Proposal are Engaging in Astrology which is Prohibited by Scripture: Some theologians maintain that in order to even consider the Jupiter proposal (which involves multiple conjunctions and events occurring in constellations within the celestial sphere), one must engage in astrology to try to make sense of the astronomical signs. However, in verses such as Isaiah 47:13-15astrology is treated in Scripture with contempt. Indeed, Jeremiah 10:1-2 seems to outright forbid the use of astrology.  Since God so strongly disapproves of astrology in Scripture, it would be inconsistent for God to use astrological signs to announce the birth of his son. [See Raymond G. Bohlin, Ph.D., “The Star of Bethlehem”, Probe Ministries (1999)]

Response No. 1 — Looking for Signs in the Heavens Isn’t the Same Thing as Engaging in Astrology or the Worshipping of Heavenly Bodies and Isn’t Prohibited by Scripture: Larson concedes that even people who are not of the traditional Christian or Jewish faith may feel uneasy searching for signs in the stars either because they have concluded there isn’t anything to astrology or it is something they are very leery about.

However, Larson strongly contends that those who offer the Jupiter proposal as a candidate for the Christmas “star” (aster) are notengaging in astrology. Citing to The New Columbia Encyclopedia, Larson defines astrology as a “…form of divination based on the theory that the movement of the celestial bodies — the stars, the planets, the sun and the mooninfluence human affairs and determine the course of events.” (emphasis added.)

Larson readily admits the Bible’s condemnation of the worship of celestial objects or even holding such things in too high regard (see, Job 31:26-28 and Deut. 17:2-5). Deuteronomy 4:19 warns:

“…when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars — all the heavenly array — do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven.”

Larson notes that many times throughout biblical history, the Jewish nation ignored this warning. Rather than simply looking to the stars for signs, they began to worship created things instead of the Creator. 2 Kings 23 reports that King Josiah led a spiritual revival in which Israel returned to worshipping God alone. One of the things Josiah did was to clear the temple of astrological idols which had been worshipped nto the temple:

“[Josiah] ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for…all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem…. He did away with the idolatrous priests … — those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts.” 2 Kings 23:4-5.

However, Larson argues there is a clear distinction between astrology (which assumes “stars are causes of earthly events”) and passages in the Bible which assume celestial bodies can carry messages about earthly events.” Larson analogizes this distinction to a thermometer which “can tell you if it’s hot or cold, but it can’t make you hot or cold.”  The difference is “between a sign and an active agent.”

Those, like Larson and Setterfield, who contend the Bible permits men to look to the stars for signs from God while prohibiting reverence of the stars themselves, point to the following passages in Scripture:

Genesis 1:14: The Genesis 1 creation account (more>>) says God created the lights in the heaven to “serve as signs.” The NIVsays the lights were created to “serve as signs to mark sacred times,….” (Gen. 1:16-18)

Job 9:9, 26:13, 38:31-32: The Book of Job (which may be the oldest text in the Bible) speaks respectfully about stars and constellations:

In Job 9:9, Job credits God with the creation of the constellations: “He is the Maker of the Bear [Ursa Major] and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.”

Job 26:13 states God set the stars and constellations in place and Job actually references some of the same constellations we are familiar with today.

In Job 38:1, 31-33, God makes the point that He, not man, is sovereign over the creation and references constellations by name: “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons…”

Psalm 147:4 and Isaiah 40:26: As noted by Setterfield, these passages teach that God personally named the stars. In Isaiah 40:26, Isaiah instructs: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Luke 21:25: Jesus specifically referred to signs in the heavens: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars…”

Acts 2:16-22: Fifty days after the Passover which occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Jews from all over the world traveled to Jerusalem for Pentecost (aka Shavuot or Feast of Weeks). Acts 2:16-22 records the sermon the apostle Peter preached to the Jews in Jerusalem at that time. In that sermon, Peter referenced the following passage from the Book of Joel which prophesied that signs in heavens, including a blood moon would be a sign of the last days when God would pour out His spirit on all people:

“…[T]his is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people….I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:16-22)

Peter challenged the skeptics he was preaching to on the basis that they knew these signs had occurred and Acts 2:41reports this evidence was compelling enough that 3,000 Jews came to believe Jesus was the Messiah on that day.

Psalm 19:1-4: In Psalm 19:1-4, David proclaimed God’s handiwork in the stars and specifically stated the stars bear a message:

…The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Theirvoice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world… (emphasis added).

As contended by Larson, in writing Psalm 19 David chose verbs to relate the fact that stars actually communicate information.

Rebuttal Point No. 1 — Psalm 19 Is Mere Poetic Symbolism: Some scholars maintain David was speaking in mere poetic symbolism when he wrote Psalm 19 and the passage says nothing about the stars actually communicating information.

Reply — The Apostle Paul Didn’t Treat Psalm 19 as Mere Poetic Symbolism: The apostle Paul didn’t treat Psalm 19 as mere poetic symbolism. Rather, in Romans 10:16-18, Paul addressed the question of whether the Jews had heard the message that the Messiah had come and Paul answered the question by referencing Psalm 19:17-18 saying that the message had gone out to the ends of the earth:

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. But I ask: Did they [the Jews] not hear? Of course they did: Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Based on this passage Larson maintains Paul contended that “something had happened in the stars which indicated to the Jews that the Messiah had come” and the argument wouldn’t have been persuasive unless something really had happened in the stars. Paul assumed his “listeners were aware of celestial phenomena associated with Christ.”

Rebuttal Point No. 2 — Psalm 19 Only Says the Heavens Declare God’s Glory:  Although the Bible may indicate stars are for signs, it is unclear as to the kind of signs. Psalm 19 only says the heavens declare God’s glory, which is not the same thing as communicating information about the affairs of man.

Rebuttal Point No. 3 — Larson Reads Too Much into Romans 10:16-18In the view of Christian philosopher and theologian Kenneth Samples, in referencing Romans 10:16-18, “Larson suggests that Paul is saying to the Jews  that they would have known the Messiah has come by looking at the stars.  Yet most biblical commentators say this is an analogy and that Paul is  instead referring to a universal gospel proclamation going out through  the apostles, first to the Jews then to the Gentiles. It seems Larson is  using a nonstandard interpretation of Scripture to read more into the  stars than is warranted.”  [Sandra Dimas interviewing Kenneth Samples, “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer, Astrophysicist, and Theologian’s Perspective” (www.reasons.org) 2010)]

General Criticism No. 2 — Matthew Referred to a Single “Star” (Aster), Not a Group of Stars/Planets (Astron or Planes Aster): Matthew 2 describes one star, not multiple separate conjunctions which would have been observed as separate events, not one “star”. [Hugh Ross, The Christmas Star, (updated 11/2010) (www.reasons.org, accessed 11/29/2010); see also, Hugh Ross, “Astronomy Sheds New Light on the Christmas Star” (www.reasons.org, accessed 12/1/14 and Raymond G. Bohlin, Ph.D., “The Star of Bethlehem, Probe Ministries (1999)]. As noted by John Mosley, “aster” is a singular form whereas the plural form is “asteres.” The word “aster” was used four times in Matthew 1 and each time it was used in the singular. If Matthew had intended to refer to a group of planets and/or stars, he could have used the word “astron” which means constellation; or, if he was referring to a planet, he could have used the word for planet “planes aster“. [John Mosley, “Common Errors in Star of Bethlehem Planetarium Shows (Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981)]

Response No. 1 — The Jupiter Proposal Focuses on One “Star” (aster) — Jupiter — and How that One “Star’s” Interaction with Other Astronomical Events Would Have Been Interpreted by the Magi: The Jupiter proposal focuses on one “star (aster) — Jupiter (the king planet); but, the proposal explains how that one “star’s” interaction with other astronomical objects — e.g., Venus (the mother planet), Regulus (the king Star) and the Leo Constellation (the royal constellation) — would have been interpreted by the Magi (pseudo scientists and astronomers more>>) and why those events would have inspired the Magi to make the long journey to Jerusalem to look for a newborn Jewish king.

Response No. 2 — Matthew May Have Chosen to Use the Singular form “Aster”, Used in the Old Testament, Rather than Plural Forms Not Used in the Old Testament, the Scriptures of that Day: Even John Mosley, who raises this objection, admits it is possible Matthew chose to use the more traditional and familiar word “aster” which appears 24 times in the Old Testament, instead of “astron” or “planes aster” which was never used in the Old Testament, the Scriptures of that day. [John Mosley, “Common Errors in Star of Bethlehem Planetarium Shows (Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981)]

General Criticism No. 3 — Jupiter’s Conjunctions with Venus Would Not Have Appeared as Single Objects: On several instances Larson says Jupiter’s conjunctions with Venus would have appeared as one object. However, as explained by astronomer, Hugh Ross, although  close  conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus did occur in 2 B.C. (a separation of 1 arc minute, i.e. 1/30th of the Moon’s diameter in the sky) and also in 3 B.C. (a separation of 4 arc minutes, i.e., 1/7th of the Moon’s diameter, “[t]hey would have been observed as two objects, rather than one aster, and two events, rather than as one and the same aster indicated by the text.” [Hugh Ross, “The Christmas Star”, (updated 11/2010) (www.reasons.org, accessed 11/29/10)] 

As more recently noted by Ross, only with respect with the conjunction of June 17, 2 B.C. “did the two objects draw close enough together to appear as a single object”, but only for an hour and only as viewed from “the Americas and in southern and western Africa.” [Hugh Ross, “Astronomy Sheds New Light on the Christmas Star” (www.reasons.org, accessed 12/1/14)]  “In the middle east, the two planets were in contact at sunset (in the western sky).” [“A Christmas Near Occultation – Venus and Jupiter, June 17, 2 BC,” accessed November 21, 2014, http://www.nature1st.net/bogan/astro/occultations/2bcocclt.htm] 

Response No. 1 — The Conjunctions Were Close Enough to be Very Significant to the Magi: Even assuming Jupiter’s conjunctions with Venus in in 2 B.C. and 3 B.C. did not technically appear as single objects to a trained astronomer, their touching or unusual closeness would still have been very significant to the Magi.

General Criticism No. 4 — Rick Larson Leaves Listeners with the Impression that the Jupiter Proposal is the Only Viable Candidate for the Christmas Star: Some scholars caution that while the Jupiter proposal is one plausible explanation for the Christmas “star” (aster), Larson leaves the impression that the Jupiter proposal is the only explanation for the Christmas “star” (aster).  This is ill-advised for at least two reasons:

  1. The proposal is based on a 1 B.C. date for Herod’s death, yet, most historians place Herod’s death in 4 B.C. more>> [See, Jeff Zweerwink, Today’s New Reason to Believe, “Review of The Star of Bethlehem”, 11/17/10] (www.reasons.org)
  2. Larson fails to consider the diversity of opinions of other Christian scholars who do not agree with his model and people could be led to question the legitimacy of Scripture if the Jupiter model is proven wrong. [See, Jeff Zweerwink, Today’s New Reason to Believe, “Review of The Star of Bethlehem, 11/17/10 (www.reasons.org)]

Conclusion

Because of the limited amount of information contained in Matthew’s account of the Christmas “star” (aster) (see, Matt. 2:1-11) and because there are areas of disagreement about how certain Greek terms and phrases originally used by Matthew are correctly interpreted and understood (more>>), many scholars and theologians caution against forming steadfast opinions about the precise nature of the Christmas “star” (aster).

In the view of some biblical scholars, the “star” was a purely miraculous event and, therefore, no attempt should be made to provide an astronomical explanation for the “star”.

Others maintain that if God chose an astronomical event to be a sign of the birth of his son (the savior of the world), it would still be miraculous because only an omnipotent and omniscient Creator like the God of the Bible (more>>) could have prearranged for the “star” (aster) to appear at the precise time in cosmic history when Jesus was born.

Christian apologists and scientists holding to the later view have proffered a handful of astronomical explanations for the Christmas “star” (aster).  As discussed in this article, one such astronomical candidate is that Jupiter — the King Planet (as part of a series of extraordinary astronomical events occurring in 3 B.C. and 2 B.C.) was the Christmas “star” (aster).

Other astronomical proposals for the Christmas “star” (aster) include the following:

  • A broom-tailed comet noted in Chinese astronomical records as appearing over a 70 day period in 5 B.C. (here>>)
  • A recurring nova (here>>)
  • An especially spectacular meteor (here>>)

Although there is no consensus in the Christian community regarding the precise nature of the Christmas “star”, because historically documented astronomical explanations have been offered which are consistent with facts recorded about the “star” (aster) in the Gospel of Matthew, Christian apologists maintain it is unfair for skeptics to insist the account of the Christmas “star” be dismissed as pure fiction.

© 2014 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published: November 11, 2014 / Last Updated: December 23, 2014

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QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

Raymond G. Bohlin, Ph.D., “The Star of Bethlehem, Probe Ministries (1999) (last accessed 11/4/2014 at probe.org)

Susan Carroll, “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective” (1997) (last accessed 11/4/2014 at http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_susan_carroll.pdf

Colin Humphreys, “The Star of Bethlehem”, Science and Christian Belief , Vol. 5, (October 1995): 83-101 (last accessed 11/4/2014 at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/topics/Astronomy-Cosmology/S&CB%2010-93Humphreys.html)

Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007), available @ www.bethlehemstar.net

Ernest Martin, The Star of Bethlehem — The Star that Astonished the World (1991) available at www.askelm.com/star/index.asp

John Mosley, “Common Errors in Star of Bethlehem Planetarium Shows (Planetarian, Third Quarter 1981)

Robert Newman, “The Star of Bethlehem: A NaturalSupernatural Hybrid?” (2001) available at www.newmanlib.ibri.org/Papers/StarofBethlehem/75starbethlehem.htm

Hugh Ross, “Astronomy Sheds New Light on the Christmas Star” (www.reasons.org, accessed 12/1/14)

Hugh Ross, “The Christmas Star (updated 12/02) (www.reasons.org, last accessed 11/4/2014).

Barry Setterfield, “The Christmas Star (2008) available at www.setterfield.org

Barry SetterfieldTechnical notes on “The Christmas Star” (www.setterfield.org, last accessed 12/1/14)

Jeff Zweerwink, Today’s New Reason to Believe, “Review of The Star of Bethlehem”, 11/17/10 (www.reasons.org)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo: This collage of photos, taken by ESO / Y. Beletsky shows the progression of a triple conjunction involving the moon, Jupiter and Venus. The collage shows the moon (the smallest object) rising from the left and proceeding to the right to conjoin with Venus and Jupiter (the largest object). The image was taken by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory at Paranal in Chile. The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-SA-3.0) license.

Leo Constellation: This image, which shows the starRegulus” in the Leo Constellation was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-SA-3.0) license.

JupiterVenus Conjunction  (2011):  This cropped image of a rare conjunction of Jupiter and Venus was taken by Timothy Boocock in the night skies of Trysil, Norway.  The image was downloaded from www.wkikmedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-SA-3.0) license.

Venus, Jupiter Moon Conjunction: This photograph, taken by ESO / Y. Beletsky (http://www.eso.org/public/images/yb_vlt_moon_cnn_cc/) shows the December 3, 2009 conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Moon over ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) observatory at Paranal in Chile. The Moon is the highest object in the sky, Venus is the object shown to the left and Jupiter is the object to the right. The reddish glow on the horizon is the Milky Way. The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-SA-3.0) license.

Video of Rising Planets: This video was created by Ross Mitchell and downloaded from YouTube which stated the video was licensed under the ***. The author describes the video as follows: “An animation at 250x natural time of the four bright planets (Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Mercury) all rising in the eastern sky on 15th May 2011. A title slide identifies the planets, made with Stellarium and Photoshop CS2. Photo sequence taken every 20 second with an interval timer from Blues Point, just west of Sydney Harbour Bridge (you can see the north pylon). All processing under Ubuntu Linux”

Blood Moon: This photograph of a blood moon (aka a total lunar eclipse) which occurred on March 4, 2007 was taken by high school astronomy students at Alssundgymnasiet i Sønderborg in Denmark.  The image was downloaded from Wikimedia.com which states the image was released into the public domain by the author.

Map of Jerusalem and  Bethlehem The journey south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is about 6.2 miles and is somewhat uphill as Bethlehem’s elevation is about 98 feet (30 meters) higher than that of Jerusalem. This rudimentary map was downloaded from Wikimedia.com which states the image was released into the public domain by the author, Wawaconia.

Animation of Retrograde Motion: This animation entitled “Apparent retrograde motion of Mars in 2003” was created by Eugene Alvin Villar (seav). Although the image animates the retrograde motion of Mars, the same pattern is observed of Ju[iter when Jupiter is in retrograde. The  image was downloaded from Wikipedia.com (“Apparent retrograde motion”) which says it is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apparent_retrograde_motion_of_Mars_in_2003.gif#mediaviewer/File:Apparent_retrograde_motion_of_Mars_in_2003.gif

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