Let me first say that you don’t have to be a person of faith to be interested in this tale because apart from the religious overtones and story that it is associated with, it actually describes a fascinating concatenation of astronomical events. So if you’re interested in the night skies and all things astronomy, please hear me out.
The research from which I’m writing this post comes from the actual researcher himself, Frederick A Larson. Mr. Larson is/was a lawyer by trade, but through a series of weird little things that life throws at you, he got heavily into researching what the star of Bethlehem could possibly have been. Did the star of Bethlehem really exist?
Have you ever thought much about the star of Bethlehem amidst all the other hoopla surrounding Christmas? I remember as a child asking my Father if the star really existed. He wasn’t sure, but we finally decided it was probably something God put in the sky just to announce the birth of his Son.
But does God really work like that? Does astronomy really work like that? Let’s see what science can tell us.
What Science Says
Mr. Larson believes that the star of Bethlehem is really more of a logic problem than a mystery for the simple reason that science today can guide us to the answer. He started out reading an article by someone with a Ph D in astronomy (whom he doesn’t mention). Mr. Larson was shocked to find out this Ph D actually believed the star of Bethlehem existed.
So he got some astronomy software and used it to study the night skies from his backyard. Until that time, the technology (software in this case) wasn’t available to track the stars backwards and forwards through history. But Mr. Larson used a program called Starry Nights that enabled him to move backwards in time and see the changes to the night sky. I don’t know how far back the software goes, but it was able to get to Babylon in the 2-3 centuries BC.
The software is based on physics and mathematics that are used regularly by NASA and all the other space agencies and companies that need to know precisely where the heavenly bodies are as they forge a path through space. It becomes very clear, as Larson explains more of the details of these calculations, that our universe runs like clockwork. Precise, reliable, and predictable.
The story begins in ancient Babylon (which by the way still exists, and is 60 miles south of Baghdad in Iraq.) An old and valued school of magi studied and taught there. They were described as “understanding the natural order and able to explain it to others.” They sound like scientists, researchers, as well as teachers.
They were the ones who began to notice something strange or unusual happening in the night sky. Jupiter, the King Planet as it was often described, was coming into close conjunction with Regulus, the King Star. Larson’s research shows that this is a rare occurrence, but could have happened a few times in the lifetimes of the magi.
But something made this conjunction different. As Larson ran the software we could see Jupiter going into retrograde over Regulas, as though crowning the King Star, three times.
Larson said that’s a significant clue. The star and planet were indicating that a King was coming. This was so significant to the magi, whom Larson believes were of Jewish descent, that they made plans to leave and follow the star, which as we know today, wound up in Jerusalem and then Bethlehem, which is 700 miles west of Babylon.
I know some might say they don’t see anything significant in the fact that Jupiter seems to be crowning Regulus, but remember, we’re investigating what the star of Bethlehem could have been, and it starts by having to attract the attention of the magi since they kick this whole scenario off. So the star must do things that are significant to the magi.
The ancient people were well acquainted with the night skies because they didn’t have the light pollution we have to block out the sky, nor did they have much else to look at while they were awake at night. So everyone was aware of things like the Milky Way, the North star, the constellations, etc.
In trying to keep this discussion scientific, Larson makes a very important distinction. In this whole scenario, the stars/constellations are simply indicating something, not telling the citizens what’s going to happen to them. He makes an excellent analogy. He said a thermometer only tells us what the temperature is. It does not make us hot or cold. And so it is with the constellations, the strange events occurring in the night skies over Babylon at that time (2 or 3 BC), seem to be indicating something is happening, and not actually influencing anyone’s behavior.
Nonetheless, Jupiter and Regulus are engaging in this crowning retrograde in the constellation of Leo – the symbol of the Jewish tribe of Judah. So for the magi they’re seeing that a Jewish king is being crowned.
Time moves on and the constellation Virgo rises after Leo. In a direct correlation to what John wrote in Revelation, the constellation of Virgo at that time showed the woman “clothed with the sun”, with the moon at her feet. And this was a crescent moon, to add to the symbolism – noting Rosh Hashanah. This would have been September of 3 BC.
So what the magi saw was a king being born of a woman, a Jewish king.
(The photo to the left shows Jupiter and Venus in the night sky — this time separated by the width of a cat’s ears. 🙂
Larson moved the software forward nine months and what does he find but Jupiter in conjunction but this time, with Venus, the mother planet. What the ancient people couldn’t see, but what science today allows us to view, is that the two planets form a perfect figure 8 so that together, they reflect so much light they are the brightest object anyone had ever seen in the sky.
This “star” that the magi were following drew them further west over to Jerusalem. They encounter Herod and ask him where the king of the Jews is. He and his court are shocked, they have no idea what the magi are talking about. But Herod’s scholars are able to point out that a king of the Jews will be born in Bethlehem. This is why, upon learning that, Herod issued the order to kill all the baby boys under two years of age.
So where is Bethlehem in terms of Jerusalem and the star that the magi are following? If you can believe it, just five miles south of Jerusalem. The magi leave, look south, see the star, but are amazed to see that it has “stopped”.
Larson, using the software, was able to determine that Jupiter was going into retrograde again, so it appeared to have stopped and stayed over Bethlehem. The magi hurried down to Bethlehem and found Jesus – but not as a newborn baby. He was a toddler by then, 2 years old. We know this because in the original Greek, the word used to describe him in scripture is translated to “toddler”.
What was even more amazing in this crazy concatenation of events is that the date the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, based on the movement of Jupiter, was December 25 of that year. Remember this software is extremely precise – it’s not accommodating anyone’s religious beliefs. It’s simply doing mathematical calculations and from there we can infer what we like.
Larson suggested that the date was perhaps a sign for those of us in the future because December 25 would have meant nothing to the magi, nor the Holy Family. It wasn’t anything but another day to them.
Did it Exist?
I believe that the star of Bethlehem did in fact exist. This wonderful software that can go back through time and calculate the precise location of all the stars and planets that we can see from Earth assures me that something strange and fascinating occurred 2000 years ago in the night skies over the mid-east.
There is actually more to Larson’s research. He tracks the movement of the stars at the time of the crucifixion and Jesus’ subsequent death. I think the last thing that totally blew my mind was what the star chart showed when the Earth is viewed from the moon at the time of Jesus’ death.
I highly suggest you get a copy of Larson’s DVD and view the whole thing yourself. It’s fascinating on so many levels. He talks a lot more about historical and scientific issues that impact the interpretation of the events surrounding the appearance of the star of Bethlehem.
If you do get the DVD, please be sure to watch the Bonus material section at the end, the part about The Ram. It just blew me away.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic, and also what you think about the DVD if you get it. Please don’t be shy about sharing!
Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy, and much Blessed New Year!!