Virtual Voices

What was the Star of Bethlehem?

Science

When I occasionally report on a possible scientific explanation for a biblical event, many people get upset. But I don't see science as an enemy of Christianity. Faith is faith, belief without proof. But if science might explain something like the Star of Bethlehem, why should that be a problem? God as Creator is, after all, the ultimate scientist.

In the past, different theories suggested that the star might have been a comet or a supernova. This is new.

Mark Thompson is a British scientist and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. Based on computer simulations and historical records, he believes there was a very unusual astronomical event that would have occurred, if his computations are correct, around the time of Jesus' birth. He also believes that event may be what guided the wise men to Jerusalem, where they then set off for Bethlehem.

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Thompson says that between September in the year 3 B.C. and May in the year 2 B.C., the planet Jupiter and a star called Regulus passed very close to each other three times. These three "conjunctions" were caused "by an astronomical phenomenon called retrograde motion, in which a planet will appear to stop its normal eastward drift through the night and instead drift back toward the west for a period of several weeks," according to a report in Britain's Telegraph. "This happens because the outer planets in our solar system are orbiting the sun at a slower rate than the Earth and so our planet occasionally overtakes them."

Thompson says that among astronomers, Jupiter is known as the king of planets, and Regulus is known as the king of stars. Their passing so close to each other three times would have been considered highly significant by astronomers of the day.

Thompson says that the retrograde motion would have meant that Jupiter was traveling west, which fits with the description in the Bible that the wise men came from the east:

"Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, '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'" (Matthew 2:1-2).

Wishing you all a blessed Christmas.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein

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