Available for the next few weeks, BBC iPlayer has an interesting exploration of astronomical possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem (though beware a juvenile short section from The Life of Brian, and a lazy equivalence of pre-modern science astrology and “devout Christianity”.
The blogger Mark Shea has written a relevant article explaining:
"Whether [the star] was a natural or supernatural event, we do not know. We do know that Jupiter was in conjunction with Saturn three times in seven months in 7 B.C. We also know that Mars joined them and produced a very striking configuration at about that time. Further, there [was] … an occultation of Jupiter by the moon in 6B.C., with Jupiter, the royal planet, dramatically re-emerging from behind the moon. An ancient Chinese chronicle, the Ch’ien-han-shu, states that an object, probably a nova (a new star), was observed in March 5 B.C. and remained visible for 70 days.”
His other four pieces of evidence are
- “Matthew Chapter 2 itself”, [though not to be read as a modern fly-on-the-wall account].
- “The historical wise men (magoi) appear to have been an [influential] priestly caste in eastern lands. … [who] practised basic astronomy and astrology.”
- A “significant Jewish population … had lived [in Persia] since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, five centuries before these events. The Magi could have known the sacred Jewish texts; this certainly fits in with Herod’s behaviour in slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem. We know from non-biblical sources that Herod was paranoid about rivals to his throne.
- Herod was an Edomite, historical rivals of the Jews, cf. Gen 27. The Edomites unwiitingly enabled Balaam’s prophecy, Num 24:17-19, “a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel; … Edom shall be dispossessed”. “A paranoid Edomite king, Herod, would have been unnerved by the Magi’s report of a star and their question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?”. Herod had proved himself willing to murder his own son to protect his throne, so might well have not hesitated to kill the children of people in an obscure village if he thought it would keep him from being dispossessed”
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