Astronomy

Has the conjunction between Venus, Jupiter, and Regulus only occurred twice in 2,000 years?

Has the conjunction between Venus, Jupiter, and Regulus only occurred twice in 2,000 years?


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I recently heard the claim that mid-July, the "Star of Bethlehem" formed for the first time in 2,000 years, where the Star of Bethlehem is a three-way conjunction between Venus, Jupiter, and Regulus. The Wikipedia page I just linked mentions one such conjunction occurring in 2 BC, and other sources (like EarthSky) mention the conjunction that happened last month, in 2015 AD. Has this three-way conjunction never happened in the intervening 2016 years?

(For the purpose of this question, I'll say that it counts as a conjunction when each pair of bodies is separated by no more than 10 degrees, as suggested by this CosmoQuest forum thread on the subject.)


The 2 BCE conjunction had Regulus, Jupiter, and Venus within 5.346 degres, and the Sun was 19.371 degrees distant.

The 2015 conjunction had the three within 5.488 degrees, with the Sun 30.930 degrees away.

There are 81 conjunctions between those two dates where Regulus, Jupiter, and Venus are less than 5.488 degrees apart, although, in some cases, the Sun would be too close to see these conjunctions.

I list all of these conjunctions below, and also include conjunctions as far back as 999 BCE and as far forward as 2999 CE.

The first two columns are the date and time.

The third column is the maximum pairwise separation (in degrees) of Regulus, Jupiter, and Venus.

The fourth column is the smallest angular distance from the Sun (in degrees) of the three.

Additional notes follow the list:

-998-08-13 17:47:22 4.460 17.341 -986-06-14 19:33:17 5.078 31.064 -962-06-13 20:42:13 1.599 37.154 -939-08-24 16:05:37 0.960 32.337 -903-06-23 23:23:31 4.166 23.499 -879-06-22 18:41:22 2.388 28.906 -856-09-02 02:38:31 0.900 40.426 -820-07-03 18:56:04 3.059 15.483 -796-07-02 11:36:42 3.326 19.880 -773-09-09 05:10:53 2.068 46.122 -737-07-14 22:02:17 1.914 7.202 -713-07-13 13:16:57 4.432 10.473 -654-07-25 04:03:45 0.919 0.676 -618-06-16 16:24:53 2.111 36.170 -571-08-04 08:00:55 0.890 9.482 -535-06-08 09:43:32 1.519 43.497 -512-08-15 20:18:35 4.304 21.310 -488-08-14 11:02:13 2.216 17.658 -452-06-14 20:40:52 1.507 38.039 -429-08-26 12:36:08 3.022 30.516 -405-08-25 05:36:22 3.500 25.655 -369-06-24 14:26:28 1.383 30.683 -346-09-04 07:24:03 2.055 38.915 -322-09-03 07:20:58 4.678 33.128 -310-07-05 12:23:59 4.755 15.643 -286-07-04 05:57:12 1.723 21.719 -263-09-10 01:35:27 1.743 44.339 -239-09-10 16:58:48 5.467 39.382 -227-07-15 14:17:13 3.299 7.717 -203-07-14 05:55:31 3.137 12.390 -156-09-12 06:11:05 5.008 41.107 -144-07-25 20:01:44 1.779 0.850 -132-06-30 22:00:27 4.887 21.625 -120-07-24 10:48:43 4.594 2.846 -61-08-06 01:53:32 0.781 8.312 -25-06-11 09:01:53 2.012 43.414 -2-08-17 13:43:06 5.346 19.371 (conjunction in 2 BCE) -1-06-11 09:00:23 4.978 45.464 22-08-16 03:46:55 1.066 16.885 58-06-16 21:31:59 1.924 38.499 81-08-27 08:28:28 4.344 28.668 82-06-16 01:28:35 4.809 41.268 105-08-26 00:47:42 2.203 25.078 141-06-25 09:01:41 1.347 31.319 164-09-05 10:04:04 3.548 37.319 165-06-24 06:31:05 5.379 33.701 188-09-04 07:11:50 3.049 33.055 224-07-04 23:17:54 1.226 23.421 247-09-13 15:10:43 3.233 44.173 271-09-13 05:17:58 3.587 40.061 283-07-17 06:44:26 5.353 7.568 307-07-15 23:33:14 1.106 14.268 330-09-10 21:05:11 4.715 41.177 354-09-17 08:06:60 3.418 44.034 366-07-27 11:51:60 3.985 0.992 390-07-26 03:05:29 2.339 4.782 449-08-06 18:09:31 2.584 6.358 473-08-05 08:52:09 3.774 1.408 485-06-13 23:13:34 3.793 41.669 509-06-14 10:03:10 3.248 45.079 532-08-16 22:56:25 1.136 15.985 556-08-15 13:18:21 5.306 9.232 568-06-18 04:59:43 3.729 37.949 592-06-17 10:00:36 3.097 42.534 615-08-27 17:07:18 0.513 24.909 651-06-27 07:39:52 2.799 31.415 674-09-07 10:08:57 5.021 35.627 675-06-26 05:23:47 3.875 35.349 698-09-06 05:27:18 1.613 32.746 734-07-06 15:41:56 1.585 24.008 757-09-15 06:00:16 4.344 43.078 758-07-05 10:40:10 4.927 26.804 781-09-14 13:11:04 2.606 39.663 817-07-16 15:15:47 1.096 16.042 840-09-17 11:49:26 4.635 45.023 864-09-19 23:02:46 2.770 44.576 876-07-28 03:47:10 5.109 0.757 900-07-26 19:38:38 1.354 6.699 959-08-08 09:59:38 3.685 4.399 983-08-07 01:00:51 2.596 0.922 995-06-18 07:09:17 4.556 40.276 1019-06-19 20:30:29 2.698 43.446 1042-08-18 14:56:17 2.469 14.017 1066-08-17 05:54:20 3.837 8.756 1078-06-20 14:43:27 5.059 37.822 1102-06-19 21:49:33 1.707 43.667 1125-08-28 15:18:36 1.383 23.486 1149-08-27 06:37:45 4.987 17.075 1161-06-28 07:08:46 4.549 31.267 1185-06-27 05:43:18 2.039 36.937 1208-09-07 05:59:08 0.502 32.528 1244-07-07 11:31:14 3.647 23.669 1268-07-06 06:22:18 2.826 28.583 1291-09-17 00:48:31 0.553 40.580 1327-07-18 07:04:40 2.460 15.742 1351-07-17 00:10:09 3.975 19.529 1374-09-23 07:58:08 1.568 46.055 1410-07-28 09:20:39 1.073 7.770 1434-07-27 02:11:36 5.317 10.122 1493-08-07 16:51:42 0.882 0.938 1529-06-29 06:47:15 2.990 37.035 1552-08-19 07:13:29 4.307 12.057 1576-08-17 22:28:03 2.198 8.457 1612-07-01 16:15:13 0.936 44.541 1635-09-09 08:38:22 2.760 21.568 1659-09-08 00:14:25 3.635 16.511 1695-07-09 07:11:03 1.123 38.488 1718-09-20 00:58:55 1.552 30.735 1742-09-18 17:58:01 4.959 24.413 1754-07-20 07:11:04 4.686 24.403 1778-07-19 02:46:21 1.812 30.338 1801-09-29 19:39:12 0.682 39.105 1837-07-31 00:36:14 3.503 16.558 1861-07-29 17:54:30 2.897 21.392 1884-10-06 07:55:46 1.204 45.253 1920-08-11 02:21:34 2.259 8.435 1944-08-09 18:40:08 4.058 12.042 2003-08-22 07:15:20 1.041 0.825 2015-07-16 11:48:33 5.488 30.930 (conjunction in 2015 CE) 2027-08-20 23:44:27 5.261 2.523 2086-09-01 14:32:37 0.790 8.374 2122-07-08 16:51:26 1.516 43.744 2145-09-14 01:53:17 4.836 19.637 2146-07-08 12:23:30 5.417 45.470 2169-09-12 17:38:23 1.559 16.679 2205-07-15 09:10:00 1.372 38.734 2228-09-24 20:25:03 3.776 28.900 2229-07-14 10:39:27 5.357 41.055 2252-09-23 13:21:48 2.792 24.725 2288-07-23 23:00:59 1.054 31.616 2311-10-05 21:49:18 2.753 37.499 2335-10-04 18:19:54 3.841 32.416 2371-08-04 11:28:25 1.029 23.258 2394-10-13 02:17:26 2.210 44.307 2418-10-12 12:48:16 4.632 38.993 2430-08-15 18:58:06 4.175 8.408 2454-08-14 11:37:59 2.188 13.939 2477-10-10 03:40:59 3.897 41.142 2501-10-16 12:47:51 4.549 41.762 2513-08-26 23:54:34 2.667 0.875 2537-08-25 15:50:58 3.690 4.447 2596-09-06 05:26:08 1.151 6.635 2620-09-05 21:40:43 5.240 0.897 2632-07-15 02:33:17 2.386 43.108 2656-07-15 11:20:55 4.650 45.236 2679-09-18 10:25:21 0.705 15.875 2715-07-21 15:26:25 2.319 39.102 2738-09-30 15:29:27 4.810 27.036 2739-07-20 18:15:52 4.425 42.356 2762-09-29 08:12:17 1.644 24.014 2798-07-29 19:09:49 1.599 32.315 2821-10-09 21:38:10 3.932 35.818 2822-07-28 16:03:44 4.946 35.075 2845-10-08 17:02:38 2.697 31.836 2881-08-08 05:45:37 0.984 24.514 2904-10-18 16:53:19 3.435 43.217 2928-10-17 21:25:11 3.325 38.965 2964-08-19 03:36:41 0.956 15.872 2987-10-21 20:20:21 4.041 45.058

Notes:

  • You can (and should) check these numbers against a reliable source, such as Stellarium or HORIZONS (http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/?horizons)

  • These numbers are imperfect for several reasons:

    • Like most planetarium programs, I neglect light travel time (Stellarium neglects light travel time by default, but you can change this in the settings). This is probably the largest error in the numbers above.

    • NASA solves differential equations from known constants to publish planetary positions. The constants aren't necessarily accurate (they are updated occasionally), and NASA publishes only approximations to the differential equations solutions. The approximations are usually good within a few meters, but if the constants were/are drastically different in the past/future (and/or are erroneous), these results would not apply.

  • My methodology:

    • I used the SPICE kernels (http://naif.jpl.nasa.gov/pub/naif/toolkit_docs/C/req/kernel.html) to find the positions of Jupiter and Venus (in the ICRF J2000 frame) daily from 999 BCE to 2999 CE.

    • I assumed the position of Regulus was constant in the ICRF J2000 frame. Since ICRF J2000 is a non-precessing frame, this is essentially accurate, but neglects Regulus' small proper motion.

    • I computed the daily maximal angular separation between Jupiter, Venus, and Regulus.

    • I found local minima among the daily separations, and used the ternary method to find the instant of the actual local minimum.

    • I looked at the separations for 2 BCE and 2015 CE, and filtered the results to only show conjunctions with separations less than the maximum of these two separations.

    • I computed the position of the Sun on the filtered list, and included the separation between the Sun and the closest of the Jupiter, Regulus, and Venus.

    • I did most of the work in Mathematica, but used the Unix program j2d to convert Julian dates to calendar dates, because Mathematica uses the proleptic Gregorian calendar, which most people do not use.

    • You can see what I did (in extremely cluttered form) at:

https://github.com/barrycarter/bcapps/tree/master/ASTRO

  • I wanted to present the results in a sortable HTML table, but stackexchange doesn't allow tables of any sort.

  • Here are Stellarium screenshots of some of these conjunctions. Regulus is the light blue star, Venus is bright yellow, and Jupiter is the one with the moons. The object I've selected (if any) is not necessarily relevant to the conjunction.


Though my computer is still crunching the numbers (and subsequently slowing everything else down… ) I can tell you the answer is no. It's up to the 1700s already (starting from 2 BC) and I've already seen multiple conjunctions in quite decent proximity of all three. I set the max to 5 degrees. I'm using a modified form of this python script. http://shallowsky.com/blog/science/astro/predicting-conjunctions.html

Ok, the script has finished. I don't have it nicely filtered down to ONLY the conjunctions of all three, so I have 3000+ lines of results. I can copy a few instances in real quick though.

Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Regulus lasts from 2015/6/23 to 2015/8/4. Venus and Jupiter are closest on 2015/7/2 (0.4 deg). Venus and Regulus are closest on 2015/7/16 (2.4 deg). Jupiter and Regulus are closest on 2015/8/4 (1.8 deg). Conjunction of Venus, Regulus and Jupiter lasts from 1885/7/25 to 1885/8/11. Venus and Regulus are closest on 1885/7/29 (1.1 deg). Venus and Jupiter are closest on 1885/8/7 (0.4 deg). Conjunction of Jupiter, Regulus and Venus lasts from 1861/6/19 to 1861/8/6. Jupiter and Regulus are closest on 1861/7/16 (0.5 deg). Regulus and Venus are closest on 1861/7/30 (1.1 deg). Jupiter and Venus are closest on 1861/8/2 (0.6 deg). Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Regulus lasts from 1837/7/24 to 1837/8/3. Venus and Jupiter are closest on 1837/7/28 (0.7 deg). Venus and Regulus are closest on 1837/7/31 (1.2 deg). Jupiter and Regulus are closest on 1837/7/31 (3.6 deg). Conjunction of Venus, Regulus and Jupiter lasts from 1802/7/16 to 1802/8/1. Venus and Regulus are closest on 1802/7/19 (1.1 deg). Venus and Jupiter are closest on 1802/7/27 (0.5 deg). Conjunction of Jupiter, Regulus and Venus lasts from 1778/6/12 to 1778/8/2. Jupiter and Regulus are closest on 1778/7/11 (0.5 deg). Regulus and Venus are closest on 1778/7/19 (1.2 deg). Jupiter and Venus are closest on 1778/7/21 (0.6 deg). Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Regulus lasts from 1754/7/12 to 1754/7/31. Venus and Jupiter are closest on 1754/7/16 (0.8 deg). Venus and Regulus are closest on 1754/7/21 (1.2 deg). Jupiter and Regulus are closest on 1754/7/31 (2.5 deg).

You should probably verify these finds with a program like Stellerium. Note that I set the view point to be in the middle east. Roughly where Persia used to be.


Jupiter, Venus to converge in Star of Bethlehem moment

Starting on Tuesday, Jupiter and Venus will be so close in the night sky that you could cover them both with the tip of an outstretched finger.

The two planets will be just a third of a degree apart as seen from North America.

"To the eye they'll look like a double star," said Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine. "Anyone who hasn't glanced at the evening sky for a while will be surprised by how dramatically tight the pairing is."

They will be easy to spot as the brightest objects in the sky, after the sun and moon. Venus, appearing as a crescent, will be even brighter than its neighbor. Not far to their upper left, appearing much fainter, is Regulus, the alpha star in the constellation Leo.

They will remain no greater than 2 degrees apart - a thumb's width at arm's length - until July 4.

Called a conjunction, this celestial convergence is more common than you might think.

They appeared slightly closer together before dawn on August 18, 2014, and they'll be separated by about 1 degree before dawn on the morning of October 26th. During a remarkable conjunction on May 17, 2000, Venus and Jupiter were just 0.01 degrees apart - but too near the sun to be seen. Next year, on August 27th, they'll dazzle again during an evening conjunction with a separation of just 0.1 degrees.

At the beginning of June, the two planets were 20 degrees apart in the sky, about twice the width of your fist held at arm's length. Week by week, Jupiter and the stars behind it have gradually slipped lower in the evening twilight. But Venus, due to its rapid orbital motion around the sun, has stayed high up. The resulting slow-motion convergence put them 6 degrees apart last week, setting the stage for Tuesday's awesome display.

Although the two planets appear very near one another in the sky, they're actually not. Venus is 58 million miles from Earth, and Jupiter is 12 times farther out at 565 million miles. The distance explains why the two planets will look roughly the same size even though Jupiter is far larger.


Venus Conjunct Jupiter Transit

Venus conjunct Jupiter transit portends love and money, harmony, and happiness. You do not have to strive, struggle, or work hard. This is a time to enjoy the benefits of the good karma accrued from your previous good deeds and hard work. Beautiful things are attracted to you.

It is your inner harmony, warmth, and friendliness that is so attractive. Ideally, this time should be spent out and about, engaging with as many people as possible. In this way, you will expose yourself to the greatest number of opportunities for growth and happiness.

Relationships of all kinds are a major focus of this conjunction. Your increased physical and inner beauty makes you more popular in social settings. In one to one situations you should notice more interest, especially from your partner or potential partners. This is one of the best transits for falling in love. It is more likely now that any new romance will turn out to be the perfect match.

You should take advantage of any financial offers as there is a heightened probability of increasing your wealth. Investments should turn a profit, especially in works of art, jewelry, and other luxury items. This is a very lucky transit so you may even be the beneficiary of a sudden and unexpected windfall.

Venus Conjunct Jupiter Celebrities

Jennifer Jason Leigh 01′, Tom Waits 06′, Julie Newmar 07′, Kenneth Williams 10′, Henry Winkler 13′, Michael Hutchence 18′, Eric Burdon 0°48′, John Belushi 53′, Roman Polanski 0°58′, Barry Gibb 59′, Steven Spielberg 1°17′, Herbert Hoover 1°17′, Guy de Maupassant 1°27′, Uri Geller 1°31′, Charles Baudelaire 1°33′, Sir George Wilkins 1°37′, Ritchie Valens 1°38, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve 1°39′, Jeff Bridges 1°40′, Liz Greene 1°45′, Eddie Izzard 1°53′, Carl Wilson 1°59′.

Venus Conjunct Jupiter Dates


WAS STAR OF BETHLEHEM A CONJUNCTION OF PLANETS?

The Star of Bethlehem that marked the birth of Jesus Christ may not have been the simple beacon described in verse, song, story and scripture for nearly 2,000 years.

Brigham Young University astronomy professor Jay Moody says the "star" was most likely a triple conjunction of planets that few people saw and even fewer understood."We suspect that the Christmas star is something that is subtle and it is not this blazing point of light that everybody had seen," Moody said. "Maybe only the wise men saw it because they were educated and knew what to look for."

Drawing from the Bible, the Book of Mormon, historical and astronomical records, Moody outlines what may have happened.

Scriptures record there were "shepherds in the field" at the time of Christ's birth. Shepherds took to the fields only during the spring lambing season, Moody said.

"He was not born in December. That is a pagan holiday that Christians adopted to be not so obvious about when they would observe Christ's birth. Back in those days, it was sometimes dangerous to be a Christian."

In scriptural accounts, the shepherds make no mention of a new star appearing in the sky. Unlike the wise men, the shepherds were unfamiliar with astrology and may not have known how to interpret a heavenly sign.

A caravan including wise men "probably came out of Medea and Persia, which today is Iraq and Iran," Moody said. "That was kind of a hotbed of astrology, where it originated. They understood the sky and might be well-versed in the alignment of the planets."

The "star" was likely a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred in May, October and December of 7 B.C., said BYU astronomer Kimball Hansen. In February 6 B.C. a third planet, Mars, moved into the grouping. According to many scholars, Christ's birth occurred in April of 6 B.C.

Jupiter is the star of the king of Judea, and Saturn was believed to protect the people of the eastern Mediterrean, Moody said.

"The Medians and Persians would have been reasonably superstitious and interpreted the alignment to mean that some good thing was going to happen with a king in the Jewish nation," Moody said. "That's something subtle, something the wise men would pick up but not the shepherds."

The alignment of planets, which occurs every 120 years, fits with other scriptural and historical information used to pinpoint Christ's birth. When the wise men tell King Herod about the star, the king pretends to be pleased and asks when the star appeared.

The wise men say the star is no longer visible, indicating it appeared some time ago and that they'd been journeying for a while.

"We don't know what the wise men told Herod, but they said something because when he got the information, he went out and had all the kids two years and younger killed," Moody said.

Also, there was a tax decree/census in 8 B.C. There was no postal service or media communication in those times it took a couple of years to get the word out and then some time for people to travel to their appropriate hometowns.

Scholars also use the death of King Herod in 4 B.C. as a tool to gauge the birth.

There are other theories than the one described by Moody, however.

According to John P. Pratt, an Orem astronomer who researches chronology and ancient calendars for the Ashton Research Corp., the star described by the wise men may actually have signified Christ's conception.

In a paper published in "The Planetarian," Pratt proposes the wise men tracked the alignment of Jupiter and Venus near the star Regulus in the Leo constellation on June 17, 2 B.C. The two planets were so close they appeared as one, Pratt said.

"It's hard to know how the magi might have read signs in the heavens, but it has been noted that Jupiter/Zeus was the father god and was often associated with the birth of kings, that Venus was the mother or goddess of fertility and that Leo, with the bright king-star Regulus, was the `king' constellation associated with Judah and royalty," Pratt said. "This combination seems to be a natural to be interpreted as the coming of the king of the Jews."

Pratt sets Christ's birth at the Passover in April 6-8, 1 B.C. and Herod's death in 1 A.D.

That brilliant star in the west just after sunset is not the Star of Bethlehem, says Patrick Wiggins at the Hansen Planetarium. It's actually the planet Venus. The "star" just to the right of Venus is the planet Saturn.


What was the Star of Bethlehem?

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - What exactly was the Star of Bethlehem?
In the 2,000-plus years since the birth of Jesus, there have been all kinds of theories about what kind of phenomenon it may have been - such as a star, an alignment of planets or a comet.

Samford University will host a program on the Star of Bethlehem tonight at 8 in the 94-seat Christenberry Planetarium. It's free and open to the public.
The program will also be held Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m.

"We're going to take a look at astronomical, historical and biblical evidence that supports those theories," said David Weigel, director of the Christenberry Planetarium at Samford University.
"We really can't know, based on what evidence we have. There are certainly plenty of theories we can play around with."

The date of the birth of Jesus is not precisely known, which complicates the theories. "As soon as you assume the birth of Christ, you can't really assume any specific date and be sure," Weigel said.

Weigel will lead the discussion and present a night view of what they sky may have looked like at the time of the birth of Jesus. There is no definitive answer, he said.
"At the end of the day, it's a supernatural event," Weigel said.

Astronomers have theorized that the Star of Bethelehem could have been conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter during 3 B.C. and 2 B.C. , or Jupiter in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the Leo constellation, in September of 3 B.C.

The only New Testament account of the Star of Bethlehem occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, where the magi arrive in Jerusalem during the reign of Herod the Great, asking about a newborn king of the Jews, having seen "the rising of his star."
In a 1991 article in The Planetarian journal, William Bidelman, former chairman of the astronomy department at Case Western Reserve University, put forth two conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter in 3 B.C. and 2 B.C. as the most plausible Christmas star.
In the October 1991 Omni magazine, astronomer Fred Schaff also pointed to the rare series of Venus and Jupiter conjunctions on Aug. 12, 3 B.C. and June 17, Aug. 20 and Oct. 14 in 2 B.C.

A Notre Dame astrophysicist points at a computer-generated demonstration of the night sky of April 17, 6 B.C. in the Digital Visiualization Theater at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in 2007. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Despite the momentum for the alignment of the planets in 2 and 3 B.C. as a natural explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, most historians are reluctant to date the death of Herod that late.
"It's really all tied up with the time of the death of Herod," which is widely dated as 4 B.C., Bidelman said. "If Herod died in 4 B.C., then Christ must have been born sometime before. Several people have concluded in recent years that he didn't die for several more years."
Ernest Martin, in his 1991 book "The Star That Astonished the World," argued for the later date of Herod's death.
Craig Chester, president of the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy, also argued in the December 1993 issue of the journal Imprimis that Herod died in 1 B.C.
Chester noted that the year 2 B.C. marked the 25th anniversary of Caesar Augustus' rule and the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome and an enrollment, or census, was planned.
The Gospel of Luke describes a census that prompted Joseph and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
"This enrollment, described in the Gospel of Luke, which brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, always has been a mystery since no regular taxation census occurred at this time," Chester wrote.
But the enrollment associated with honoring Caesar Augustus fits perfectly, he said.
Chester said that in September of 3 B.C., Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the Leo constellation. Leo was the constellation of kings and associated with the Lion of Judah. So the royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel - the kind of astrological symbol that would arouse the interest of the magi.
Just the month before, Jupiter and Venus almost seemed to touch. The conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus repeated twice in February and May of 2 B.C. Then in June, Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest planets, appeared to touch to the naked eye they became a single object above the setting sun.
"This exceptionally rare spectacle could not have been missed by the magi," Chester wrote. Yet those not attuned to the movement of the planets and their perceived symbolic importance would not have noticed. Herod was taken by surprise when the magi approached him, the Bible said. He ordered them to return to him with news after they found the king they were looking for.
After the magi did not return to him with news, Herod ordered the death of boys in Bethlehem under age 2, which many interpret to mean the magi took two years to find Jesus.
But that doesn't mean Jesus was still living in Bethlehem when he was 2, or that the magi were visiting a toddler rather than a newborn.
"Mostly, he wasn't taking any chances," Bidelman said of Herod. "In Hebrew custom, a child was considered 1 year old when he was born, so there's a question about the actual age."

The Star of Bethlehem traditionally adorns creche scenes depicting the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. (File photo by Sara Frye)

The magi were astrologers and could predict planetary movements, so they could have timed their trip, and may have associated a certain alignment with conception rather than birth, he said.
"When the magi saw this object in the sky, they either thought that it signified the birth of somebody important or that it indicated the time of the conception," Bidelman said. "It might well have taken them six or seven months to make the trip, if they came from Persia."
Bidelman said the gospel indicates Joseph and Mary probably moved from the manger to a house for a few months in Bethlehem.
"Matthew states that they came to his house," Bidelman said. "They did stay for a while in Bethlehem, I think."
Boardman also said the gospels simply don't give much information on that. "The story of Christmas told in the Bible is very sketchy," he said. "Jesus could have been as old as 2 years old when the magi came, or they could have seen it coming and went in anticipation."
Finding an authoritative astronomical answer is impossible, Boardman said. "It's almost too many possibilities rather than too few," he said.


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Conjunctions, the Star of Bethlehem and Astronomy

Before one sets out to analyze the astronomical charts for the skies on any date (widely available now in computer programs), in relation to candidates for the star of Bethlehem, one must determine a plausible date or range of dates for Jesus’ birth. Historians estimate it based on when Herod the Great died: placing it within the two previous years. The most accepted date for Herod’s death is 4 BC.

Christians who have written about this have, therefore, previously mostly concentrated on celestial events in the years 7-5 BC, based on the assumption of Herod’s death in 4 BC.

Historians have primarily replied on the Jewish historian Josephus (37 – c. 100) to calculate this “death date “of 4 BC: particularly a chronology developed by Protestant theologian and historian Emil Schürer in his 1891 book, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.

Josephus stated (Antiquities 17.6.4) that a lunar eclipse was observed right before Herod’s death. This is usually ascribed to an eclipse dated March 13, 4 BC. But it’s been observed that this was very late, and a minor partial eclipse. There was another much more visible lunar eclipse on Dec. 29, 1 BC (just three days before “AD” begins). The moon rose already in 53% eclipse in Israel and the event ended by 6 PM.

There are also ongoing scholarly disputes about the manuscripts of Josephus. Twenty-seven texts of Antiquities from before 1544 indicate that Herod died later than usually supposed: in 1 BC or maybe 1 AD. This would “move” the date of Jesus’ birth to 3 or 2 BC: which is the most common date stated by many early Church fathers, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Eusebius of Caesarea and Origen.

Another argument that can be made is the date of coins issued by Herod the Great’s successors. The evidence shows that none can be dated before AD 1. These coins were controlled by Rome and only after Herod the Great’s death could such coins be issued.

Wikipedia (“Star of Bethlehem”) briefly describes the opinions of attorney Rick Larson, who produced the much-viewed video documentary The Star of Bethlehem in 2007, concerning extraordinary celestial events during 3 and 2 BC:

Highlights include a triple conjunction of Jupiter, called the king planet, with the fixed star Regulus, called the king star, starting in September 3 BC. Larson believes that may be the time of Jesus’ conception.

… nine months later, the human gestation period, Jupiter had continued moving in its orbit around the sun and appeared in close conjunction with Venus in June of 2 BC. …

Jupiter next continued to move and then it stopped in its apparent retrograde motion on December 25 of 2 BC over the town of Bethlehem.

“Retrograde motion” of planets (particularly Jupiter) is an illusion caused by the earth’s rotation: of a planet temporarily moving in the opposite direction from where it “should” go (in its orbit). As an analogy, when we pass a car on the freeway, it temporarily seems to be moving backwards.

Following that hypothesis, Jesus could have been born on June 17 of 2 BC, when Jupiter was in a very close conjunction with Venus — so close they may have even overlapped. It would have looked to the naked eye like one very bright star: about as close as any conjunction can be. This would have (plausibly) enticed the Magi to journey to Jerusalem, partially because it would have appeared in the west, precisely in that direction.

Other relevant factors are the symbolism of the constellations, and celestial bodies, which were given names such as the “king planet” (Jupiter) and the “king star” Regulus: alluded to above. There is much more along those lines that caused the Magi to conclude that an extraordinary king was to be born in Israel. But for my purposes I have only concentrated on evidence for a very bright star.

In my previous article on this site I noted how the Magi would have needed at least two months, but probably three or four, to journey to Jerusalem on camels. This particular proposed scenario would give them a “window” period of six months, to see the extraordinary conjunction of June 17, 2 BC in their homeland and also the “star of Bethlehem” when they arrived in Israel.

Then in December of 2 BC (possibly on Dec. 25), the wise men arrived and visited Jesus, who was (by this theory) six months old, in Bethlehem. Jupiter was right above Bethlehem then (viewed from Jerusalem), in its paused retrograde motion. On the 25th it came to a stop in the constellation Virgo, and remained for six days.

Thus, we possibly have the wise men visiting Jesus on the date later recognized as Christmas, or at least in the month of December, but without Jesus being a newborn baby, which lines up with patristic thought.

In that year, the feast of Hanukkah began on Dec. 23. It’s a gift-giving feast. They would have observed the entire Jewish nation in a happy holiday spirit. The wise men, if they saw Jesus on the 25th, would in turn have presented gifts to him on the third day of the festival.


Saturday's Venus-Jupiter Encounter May Explain Bible's Star of Bethlehem

It might seem odd to talk about the Star of Bethlehem during the month of August, rather than December, when the celebration of Christmas prompts many people to recount the biblical story of three wise men guided to the birthplace of Jesus Christ by a bright object in the sky.

There have been numerous possible scientific explanations of what the Star of Bethlehem may have been. And whether you believe in the story of the star or not, one of those proposed possibilities will play out in the night sky soon after sundown on Saturday evening (Aug. 27): an exceedingly close encounter between the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter.

Along the East Coast of the U.S., just before sunset, the two planets will be at their very closest and will come within 4 arc minutes (0.06 degrees) of each other. (For comparison, look for the middle star of the Big Dipper's handle, Mizar. There is a tiny companion star next to it known as Alcor, and separation between the two stars is 12 arc minutes, or 0.2 degrees). [Venus-Jupiter Conjunction 2016: When, Where and How to See It]

Two planets coming this close together makes for a very striking sight, if they do not differ too much in brightness.

It must be remembered that the Chaldeans who occupied Mesopotamia 2,000 years ago were assiduous observers of the night sky and were very familiar with the motions of the sun, moon and planets. They would never simply mistake something like the bright star Sirius or a bright planet as being something out of the ordinary. These ancient stargazers were much better acquainted with the stars and constellations than most people in our 21st century world (thanks largely to the scourge of light pollution, which blocks the stars from view). But if something very rare took place in the sky, the ancient skywatchers would have noticed it immediately.

Saturday's Venus-Jupiter encounter is one of those rare events, and something similar appeared in the sky more than 20 centuries ago.

A rare apparition

Taken literally, the biblical account of the story of the Star of Bethlehem calls for not one, but two "stars." One to be seen at the start of the Magi's journey, while the other appearing to them upon their arrival in Bethlehem.

Interestingly, in August of 3 B.C., Venus and Jupiter were prominent in the predawn eastern sky, and on Aug. 12 they came within just 9 arc minutes (0.15 degrees) of each other as seen from the Middle East. Incidentally, this sign would have been seen by men "in the east," explaining the phrase in the Book of Matthew.

Ten months later, Venus and Jupiter got together again for an even more spectacular encore on June 17, 2 B.C., when at sundown from Babylonia they were separated by just 4 arc minutes of each other, about 35 degrees above the western horizon. As the sky grew dark, the two brightest planets drew closer to each other until finally at 9:15 p.m. local time they drew to within 36 arc seconds (0.01 degree) equal to the mean apparent width of Jupiter as seen through a telescope, at an altitude of 15 degrees above the horizon. To most people, the two planets must have appeared to coalesce into a single "star" somewhat brighter than Venus alone. Eyeglasses were many centuries in the future, so only people with unusually acute vision would have seen the planets separated.

The fact that Jupiter and Venus had such a close conjunction at this time in history has led some people theorize that it could be an explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. Space.com makes no such claim, we only point out that such an event is truly eye catching, as skywatchers will have the opportunity to observe this Saturday. [The Brightest Stars in the Sky: A Starry Countdown]

A very challenging observation

It certainly will be interesting to see what kind of spectacle Venus and Jupiter will offer Saturday evening. Unfortunately, unlike 2,000 years ago, seeing the two planets will be a bit of a challenge. Skywatchers who wish to observe the event should make sure they have a clear view of the western horizon, with no tall obstructions, like trees or buildings, to block the view.

Near and along the Atlantic seaboard, about a half hour after sunset, Venus and Jupiter will be difficult to observe, because they will only be about 5 degrees above the horizon, and partly obscured by the bright background of the twilight sky. The planets will be separated by only 5 or 6 arc minutes, and the twinkling caused by Earth's atmosphere, particularly at the horizon, will also make it difficult to distinguish the two planets. Only the sharpest eyes will be able to split them. Farther west, the separation between the two planets will be greater, and for those along the West Coast people with normal eyes should be able to distinguish the two planets, even though the planets will be closer than the stars Mizar and Alcor in the Big Dipper's handle. Wherever you are, binoculars will certainly help you in making a sighting.

Places farther south will see the two planets at a higher altitude. From New York City, Venus and Jupiter will be a mere 5 degrees above the horizon a half hour after sunset. From Brownsville, Texas, or Key West, Florida, the planets will appear twice as high at around 10 degrees. South of the equator, the "double planet" will appear even higher.

From Rio de Janeiro, the planets will appear nearly 20 degrees above the western horizon a half hour after sunset. Remember that your clenched fist, held at arm&rsquos length, measures approximately 10 degrees. So a half hour after sunset, New Yorkers will see Venus and Jupiter only "half a fist" above the horizon. Those in south Florida and south Texas will see them about "one fist up," while in Rio they&rsquoll appear at a more manageable "two fists" up in the western sky.

Sadly, for those living in more northerly locations, it will be very difficult, if not impossible to see the two planets in the twilight. From Edmonton, Alberta, for instance, at a latitude of 54 degrees north, Venus and Jupiter will be sitting on the horizon, about to set out of sight.

In other parts of the world, Venus and Jupiter will appear to come quite close to each other, though not quite as close as Western Hemisphere viewers will see them. Europeans will see them approach to within about 12 or 13 arc minutes of each other. From eastern Asia and Australia, they&rsquoll be separated by about half a degree (the apparent width of a full moon), but the closest approach will come on Sunday, not Saturday evening (local time).

How frequent?

I did a computer check to see just how often Venus and Jupiter come within 6 arc minutes of each other, in a dark or twilight sky as seen from North America. We have to go as far back as Nov. 14. 1660, when the two planets were within 6 arc minutes as they rose above the eastern horizon a few hours before sunrise. Our next opportunity will come on the morning of Nov. 22, 2065, when Venus and Jupiter will be merged together as one brilliant singular point of light as they rise above the east-southeast horizon just before sunrise.


What’s the great conjunction or ‘Christmas Star’?

"Jupiter and Saturn meet in our sky roughly every 20 years. What makes this one particularly special, though, is how close they will appear to each other in the sky," says Shannon Schmoll. (Credit: Steven Severinghaus/Flickr)

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

An astrological event called a great conjunction, or “Christmas Star,” will occur on December 21. The once-in-a-lifetime occurrence may brighten the unusual season.

Shannon Schmoll, director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, offers her insight on the rare view of Jupiter and Saturn:

What is a conjunction? Or what qualifies something as a conjunction?

A conjunction at its most basic level is when two objects, such as planets, pass each other in the sky. The more specific answer, however, has to do with coordinates. We use a coordinate system that is basically stellar longitude and latitude called Right Ascension, RA, and Declination, Dec, respectively. Stars keep the same stellar latitude and longitude like a city on Earth would. Planets move among the stars, which means their RA and Dec change over time. A conjunction is then when two objects have the same RA or stellar longitude. Another way to think about it is if you look at the solar system with a bird’s eye view, the planets are lined up with each other.

Where does the name “great conjunction” come from? Is it specific to this event, has it happened before and will it happen again?

A great conjunction is what we call a conjunction between the two planets Jupiter and Saturn. These two planets are the farthest naked eye planets from the sun and their conjunctions have been observed since antiquity. Because they are farther from the sun, they move slower around the sun and take longer to move around the sun once. This means they line up in our sky less frequently than other planets and are, therefore, the rarest conjunctions people can view with the naked eye.

Jupiter and Saturn line up for conjunction roughly every 20 years. That said, not all are easy to see. The last one was in 2000 and they were so close to the sun from our perspective it was difficult to see. The last time we had an easy-to-see conjunction was in 1981!

Why do some call this a “Christmas Star”?

In the Bible, the star of Bethlehem’s appearance marked the birth of Jesus and sets the Magi travelling to find him. Astronomers over the years have tried to figure out what astronomical event could have been the star of Bethlehem. There was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn around 7 BCE. A triple conjunction is when (in relatively close succession), the planets will be in conjunction three times. This is because as we pass slower planets, they appear to move backward like passing a slower car on the freeway. This backwards motion is called retrograde motion and can result in the planets appearing to pass each other three times in one year. That said, this was not a particularly close conjunction and would not have been particularly remarkable to see.

In the year 2 BCE, Jupiter did have a very close conjunction with Venus and would have looked like an extra bright star. It also passed by the star Regulus twice that year. Both Regulus and Jupiter were associated with kings and might have had special meaning for the Magi. We don’t really know what the star of Bethlehem was, but because it was very possibly a conjunction some do refer to this conjunction as the “Christmas Star.”

How rare is this occurrence?

Jupiter and Saturn meet in our sky roughly every 20 years. What makes this one particularly special, though, is how close they will appear to each other in the sky. Because orbits are not perfectly lined up, frequently the planets will be in conjunction but still remain about a degree apart. This is still close and neat to see, but they are still farther apart from each other than the moon is wide. They will still appear as two distinct objects in the sky. This conjunction is really close. The planet will only be about a tenth of a degree apart. You will actually be able to see both in a telescope at the same time. This close of a conjunction is pretty rare. In 1961 we had one that was a quarter of a degree apart, which is close, but not as close as this year. You have to go back about eight centuries to find one this close. The next one this close will be about 60 years from now on March 15, 2080.

Do you have any tips for people that are intending on viewing this occurrence?

All you need is a clear view of the lower part of the sky in the southwest. Tops of parking garages or big wide-open parking lots are generally good spots for this if you don’t have a clear view from your home. Jupiter is very bright, so you shouldn’t need to worry too much about lights, but still try to get away from a lot of really bright lights. Also, don’t go out just on the 21st, the day of the conjunction. Go as often as you can leading up to the conjunction and in the week or so following to watch them pass each other. If you have a telescope or binoculars, it will be worth getting them out to get a closer view of the planets and their bright moons.

What are some other celestial occurrences that watchers should look for during this period?

We just passed the peak of the Geminid meteor shows. So, the best days are past us, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some meteors (aka shooting stars) to be seen right around now. Mars is up high in the South throughout the winter—right after sunset. Look for the brightest orange star. Similar to Jupiter and Saturn, you can watch it move across the constellations. It will pass close to the Pleiades star cluster in late February and early March.


Contents

The Gospel of Matthew tells how the Magi (often translated as "wise men", but more accurately astrologers) [12] arrive at the court of Herod in Jerusalem and tell the king of a star which signifies the birth of the King of the Jews:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea for so it is written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared 8 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 When they had heard the king they went their way and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy 11 and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. [13]

Herod is "troubled", not because of the appearance of the star, but because the Magi have told him that a "king of the Jews" had been born, [14] which he understands to refer to the Messiah, a leader of the Jewish people whose coming was believed to be foretold in scripture. So he asks his advisors where the Messiah would be born. [15] They answer Bethlehem, birthplace of King David, and quote the prophet Micah. [nb 1] The king passes this information along to the Magi. [16]

In a dream, they are warned not to return to Jerusalem, so they leave for their own country by another route. [17] When Herod realizes he has been tricked, he orders the execution of all male children in Bethlehem "two years old and younger," based on the age the child could be in regard to the information the magi had given him concerning the time the star first appeared. [nb 2]

Joseph, warned in a dream, takes his family to Egypt for their safety. [18] The gospel links the escape to a verse from scripture, which it interprets as a prophecy: "Out of Egypt I called my son." [19] This was a reference to the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt under Moses, so the quote suggests that Matthew saw the life of Jesus as recapitulating the story of the Jewish people, with Judea representing Egypt and Herod standing in for pharaoh. [20]

After Herod dies, Joseph and his family return from Egypt, [21] and settle in Nazareth in Galilee. [22] This is also said to be a fulfillment of a prophecy ("He will be called a Nazorean," (NRSV) which could be attributed to Judges 13:5 regarding the birth of Samson and the Nazirite vow. The word Nazareth is related to the word netzer which means "sprout", [23] and which some Bible commentators [24] think refers to Isaiah 11:1 , "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots." [25] [nb 3]

Pious fiction Edit

Many scholars who see the gospel nativity stories as later apologetic accounts created to establish the messianic status of Jesus regard the Star of Bethlehem as a pious fiction. [26] [27] Aspects of Matthew's account which have raised questions of the historical event include: Matthew is the only one of the four gospels which mentions either the Star of Bethlehem or the Magi. Scholars suggest that Jesus was born in Nazareth and that the Bethlehem nativity narratives reflect a desire by the Gospel writers to present his birth as the fulfillment of prophecy. [28]

The Matthew account conflicts with that given in the Gospel of Luke, in which the family of Jesus already lives in Nazareth, travel to Bethlehem for the census, and return home almost immediately. [29]

Matthew's description of the miracles and portents attending the birth of Jesus can be compared to stories concerning the birth of Augustus (63 BC). [nb 4] Linking a birth to the first appearance of a star was consistent with a popular belief that each person's life was linked to a particular star. [30] Magi and astronomical events were linked in the public mind by the visit to Rome of a delegation of magi at the time of a spectacular appearance of Halley's Comet in AD 66 [31] led by King Tiridates of Armenia, who came seeking confirmation of his title from Emperor Nero. Ancient historian Dio Cassius wrote that, "The King did not return by the route he had followed in coming," [31] a line similar to the text of Matthew's account, but written some time after the completion of Matthew's gospel. [32]

Fulfillment of prophecy Edit

The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to terrestrial events – As Above, So Below. Miracles were routinely associated with the birth of important people, including the Hebrew patriarchs, as well as Greek and Roman heroes. [33]

The Star of Bethlehem is traditionally linked to the Star Prophecy in the Book of Numbers:

I see him, but not now
I behold him, but not near
A Star shall come out of Jacob
A Scepter shall rise out of Israel,
And batter the brow of Moab,
And destroy all the sons of tumult. [34]

Although possibly intended to refer to a time that was long past, since the kingdom of Moab had long ceased to exist by the time the Gospels were being written, this passage had become widely seen as a reference to the coming of a Messiah. [4] It was, for example, cited by Josephus, who believed it referred to Emperor Vespasian. [35] Origen, one of the most influential early Christian theologians, connected this prophecy with the Star of Bethlehem:

If, then, at the commencement of new dynasties, or on the occasion of other important events, there arises a comet so called, or any similar celestial body, why should it be matter of wonder that at the birth of Him who was to introduce a new doctrine to the human race, and to make known His teaching not only to Jews, but also to Greeks, and to many of the barbarous nations besides, a star should have arisen? Now I would say, that with respect to comets there is no prophecy in circulation to the effect that such and such a comet was to arise in connection with a particular kingdom or a particular time but with respect to the appearance of a star at the birth of Jesus there is a prophecy of Balaam recorded by Moses to this effect: There shall arise a star out of Jacob, and a man shall rise up out of Israel. [36]

Origen suggested that the Magi may have decided to travel to Jerusalem when they "conjectured that the man whose appearance had been foretold along with that of the star, had actually come into the world". [37]

The Magi are sometimes called "kings" because of the belief that they fulfill prophecies in Isaiah and Psalms concerning a journey to Jerusalem by gentile kings. [38] Isaiah mentions gifts of gold and incense. [39] In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament probably used by Matthew, these gifts are given as gold and frankincense, [40] similar to Matthew's "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." [41] The gift of myrrh symbolizes mortality, according to Origen. [37]

While Origen argued for a naturalistic explanation, John Chrysostom viewed the star as purely miraculous: "How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, "Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was." [42]

Astronomical object Edit

Although magi (Greek μαγοι) is usually translated as "wise men," in this context it probably means 'astronomer'/'astrologer'. [43] The involvement of astrologers in the story of the birth of Jesus was problematic for the early Church, because they condemned astrology as demonic a widely cited explanation was that of Tertullian, who suggested that astrology was allowed 'only until the time of the Gospel'. [44]

Planetary conjunction Edit

In 1614, German astronomer Johannes Kepler determined that a series of three conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn occurred in the year 7 BC. [8] He argued (incorrectly) that a planetary conjunction could create a nova, which he linked to the Star of Bethlehem. [8] Modern calculations show that there was a gap of nearly a degree (approximately twice a diameter of the moon) between the planets, so these conjunctions were not visually impressive. [45] An ancient almanac has been found in Babylon which covers the events of this period, but does not indicate that the conjunctions were of any special interest. [45] In the 20th century, Professor Karlis Kaufmanis, an astronomer, argued that this was an astronomical event where Jupiter and Saturn were in a triple conjunction in the constellation Pisces. [46] [47] Archaeologist and Assyriologist Simo Parpola has also suggested this explanation. [48]

In 6 BC, there were conjunctions/occultations (eclipses) of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries. "Jupiter was the regal 'star' that conferred kingships – a power that was amplified when Jupiter was in close conjunctions with the Moon. The second occultation on April 17 coincided precisely when Jupiter was 'in the east', a condition mentioned twice in the biblical account about the Star of Bethlehem." [49]

In 3–2 BC, there was a series of seven conjunctions, including three between Jupiter and Regulus and a strikingly close conjunction between Jupiter and Venus near Regulus on June 17, 2 BC. "The fusion of two planets would have been a rare and awe-inspiring event", according to Roger Sinnott. [50] Another Venus–Jupiter conjunction occurred earlier in August, 3 BC. [51] However, these events occurred after the generally accepted date of 4 BC for the death of Herod. Since the conjunction would have been seen in the west at sunset it could not have led the magi south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. [52]

Double occultation on Saturday (Sabbath) April 17, 6 BC Edit

Astronomer Michael R. Molnar argues that the "star in the east" refers to an astronomical event with astrological significance in the context of ancient Greek astrology. [53] He suggests a link between the Star of Bethlehem and a double occultation of Jupiter by the moon on March 20 and April 17 of 6 BC in Aries, particularly the second occultation on April 17. [54] [55] Occultations of planets by the moon are quite common, but Firmicus Maternus, an astrologer to Roman Emperor Constantine, wrote that an occultation of Jupiter in Aries was a sign of the birth of a divine king. [54] [56] He argues that Aries rather than Pisces was the zodiac symbol for Judea, a fact that would affect previous interpretations of astrological material. Molnar's theory was debated by scientists, theologians, and historians during a colloquium on the Star of Bethlehem at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen in October 2014. Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich supports Molnar's explanation but noted technical questions. [57] "The gospel story is one in which King Herod was taken by surprise," said Gingerich. "So it wasn’t that there was suddenly a brilliant new star sitting there that anybody could have seen [but] something more subtle." [57] Astronomer David A. Weintraub says, "If Matthew’s wise men actually undertook a journey to search for a newborn king, the bright star didn’t guide them it only told them when to set out." [53]

There is an explanation given that the events were quite close to the sun and would not have been visible to the naked eye. [58]

Regulus, Jupiter, and Venus Edit

Attorney Frederick Larson examined the biblical account in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2 [59] and found the following nine qualities of Bethlehem's Star: [60] [61] It signified birth, it signified kingship, it was related to the Jewish nation, and it rose "in the East" [62] King Herod had not been aware of it [63] it appeared at an exact time [64] it endured over time [65] and, according to Matthew, [66] it was in front of the Magi when they traveled south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and then stopped over Bethlehem. [67]

Using the Starry Night astronomy software, and an article [68] written by astronomer Craig Chester [69] based on the work of archeologist and historian Ernest Martin, [70] [71] Larson thinks all nine characteristics of the Star of Bethlehem are found in events that took place in the skies of 3–2 BC. [61] [72] Highlights [73] include a triple conjunction of Jupiter, called the king planet, with the fixed star Regulus, called the king star, starting in September 3 BC. [74] [75] Larson believes that may be the time of Jesus' conception. [72]

By June of 2 BC, nine months later, the human gestation period, [76] Jupiter had continued moving in its orbit around the sun and appeared in close conjunction with Venus [75] in June of 2 BC. [77] In Hebrew Jupiter is called "Sedeq", meaning "righteousness", a term also used for the Messiah, and suggested that because the planet Venus represents love and fertility, so Chester had suggested astrologers would have viewed the close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus as indicating a coming new king of Israel, and Herod would have taken them seriously. [70] Astronomer Dave Reneke independently found the June 2 BC planetary conjunction, and noted it would have appeared as a "bright beacon of light". [78] According to Chester, the disks of Jupiter and Venus would have appeared to touch [68] and there has not been as close a Venus-Jupiter conjunction since then. [70]

Jupiter next continued to move and then stopped in its apparent retrograde motion on December 25 of 2 BC over the town of Bethlehem. [75] Since planets in their orbits have a "stationary point", [68] [70] a planet moves eastward through the stars but, "As it approaches the opposite point in the sky from the sun, it appears to slow, come to a full stop, and move backward (westward) through the sky for some weeks. Again it slows, stops, and resumes its eastward course," said Chester. [68] The date of December 25 that Jupiter appeared to stop while in retrograde took place in the season of Hanukkah, [68] and is the date later chosen to celebrate Christmas. [75] [79]

Heliacal rising Edit

The Magi told Herod that they saw the star "in the East," [80] or according to some translations, "at its rising", [81] which may imply the routine appearance of a constellation, or an asterism. One theory interprets the phrase in Matthew 2:2, "in the east," as an astrological term concerning a "heliacal rising." This translation was proposed by Edersheim [82] and Heinrich Voigt, among others. [83] The view was rejected by the philologist Franz Boll (1867–1924). Two modern translators of ancient astrological texts insist that the text does not use the technical terms for either a heliacal or an acronycal rising of a star. However, one concedes that Matthew may have used layman's terms for a rising. [84]

Comet Edit

Other writers highly suggest that the star was a comet. [45] Halley's Comet was visible in 12 BC and another object, possibly a comet or nova, was seen by Chinese and Korean stargazers in about 5 BC. [45] [85] This object was observed for over seventy days, possibly with no movement recorded. [45] Ancient writers described comets as "hanging over" specific cities, just as the Star of Bethlehem was said to have "stood over" the "place" where Jesus was (the town of Bethlehem). [31] However, this is generally thought unlikely as in ancient times comets were generally seen as bad omens. [86] The comet explanation has been recently promoted by Colin Nicholl. His theory involves a hypothetical comet which could have appeared in 6 BC. [87] [88] [89]

Supernova Edit

A recent (2005) hypothesis advanced by Frank Tipler is that the star of Bethlehem was a supernova or hypernova occurring in the nearby Andromeda Galaxy. [90] Although it is difficult to detect a supernova remnant in another galaxy, or obtain an accurate date of when it occurred, supernova remnants have been detected in Andromeda. [91]

Another theory is the more likely supernova of February 23 4 BC, which is now known as PSR 1913+16 or the Hulse-Taylor Pulsar. It is said to have appeared in the constellation of Aquila, near the intersection of the winter colure and the equator of date. The nova was "recorded in China, Korea, and Palestine" (probably meaning the Biblical account). [92]

A nova or comet was recorded in China in 4 BC. "In the reign of Ai-ti, in the third year of the Chien-p'ing period. In the third month, day chi-yu, there was a rising po at Hoku" (Han Shu, The History of the Former Han Dynasty). The date is equivalent to April 24, 4 BC. This identifies the date when it was first observed in China. It was also recorded in Korea. "In the fifty-fourth year of Hyokkose Wang, in the spring, second month, day chi-yu, a po-hsing appeared at Hoku" (Samguk Sagi, The Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms). The Korean is particularly corrupt because Ho (1962) points out that " the chi-yu day did not fall in the second month that year but on the first month" (February 23) and on the third month (April 24). The original must have read "day chi-yu, first month" (February 23) or "day chi-yu, third month" (April 24). The latter would coincide with the date in the Chinese records although professor Ho suggests the date was "probably February 23, 4 BC.". [93]

If the story of the Star of Bethlehem described an actual event, it might identify the year Jesus was born. The Gospel of Matthew describes the birth of Jesus as taking place when Herod was king. [94] According to Josephus, Herod died after a lunar eclipse [95] and before a Passover Feast. [96] [97] The eclipse is usually identified as the eclipse of March 13, 4 BC. [ citation needed ] Other scholars suggested dates in 5 BC, because it allows seven months for the events Josephus documented between the lunar eclipse and the Passover rather than the 29 days allowed by lunar eclipse in 4 BC. [98] [99] Others suggest it was an eclipse in 1 BC. [100] [101] [102] The narrative implies that Jesus was born sometime between the first appearance of the star and the appearance of the Magi at Herod's court. That the king is said to have ordered the execution of boys two years of age and younger implies that the Star of Bethlehem appeared within the preceding two years. Some scholars date the birth of Jesus as 6–4 BC, [103] while others suggest Jesus' birth was in 3–2 BC. [100] [101]

The Gospel of Luke says the census from Caesar Augustus took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. [104] Tipler suggests this took place in AD 6, nine years after the death of Herod, and that the family of Jesus left Bethlehem shortly after the birth. [90] Some scholars explain the apparent disparity as an error on the part of the author of the Gospel of Luke, [105] [106] concluding that he was more concerned with creating a symbolic narrative than a historical account, [107] and was either unaware of, or indifferent to, the chronological difficulty. [108]

However, there is some debate among Bible translators about the correct reading of Luke 2:2 ("Αὕτη ἀπογραφὴ πρώτη ἐγένετο ἡγεμονεύοντος τῆς Συρίας Κυρηνίου"). [109] Instead of translating the registration as taking place "when" Quirinius was governor of Syria, some versions translate it as "before" [110] [111] or use "before" as an alternative, [112] [113] [114] which Harold Hoehner, F.F. Bruce, Ben Witherington and others have suggested may be the correct translation. [115] While not in agreement, Emil Schürer also acknowledged that such a translation can be justified grammatically. [116] According to Josephus, the tax census conducted by the Roman senator Quirinius particularly irritated the Jews, and was one of the causes of the Zealot movement of armed resistance to Rome. [117] From this perspective, Luke may have been trying to differentiate the census at the time of Jesus’ birth from the tax census mentioned in Acts 5:37 [118] that took place under Quirinius at a later time. [119] One ancient writer identified the census at Jesus’ birth, not with taxes, but with a universal pledge of allegiance to the emperor. [120]

Jack Finegan noted some early writers' reckoning of the regnal years of Augustus are the equivalent to 3/2 BC, or 2 BC or later for the birth of Jesus, including Irenaeus (3/2 BC), Clement of Alexandria (3/2 BC), Tertullian (3/2 BC), Julius Africanus (3/2 BC), Hippolytus of Rome (3/2 BC), Hippolytus of Thebes (3/2 BC), Origen (3/2 BC), Eusebius of Caesarea (3/2 BC), Epiphanius of Salamis (3/2 BC), Cassiodorus Senator (3 BC), Paulus Orosius (2 BC), Dionysus Exiguus (1 BC), and Chronographer of the Year 354 (AD 1). [121] Finegan places the death of Herod in 1 BC, and says if Jesus was born two years or less before Herod the Great died, the birth of Jesus would have been in 3 or 2 BC. [122] Finegan also notes the Alogi reckoned Christ's birth with the equivalent of 4 BC or AD 9. [123]


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