Stargazers have often wondered exactly what was the bright star that directed the wise men to the town of Bethlehem where they could worship Jesus, the Christ child. There are lots of theories, but most fall short of either matching science of the ancient times or the description listed in the Bible.
The Book of Matthew describes the star as the wise men told King Herod about it.
“For we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him,” Matthew 2:2 states.
To understand the star, one must understand the wise men and Jewish prophecy. According to archeologists and theologians, the wise men likely came from Persia. They were astute in the science of astronomy and likely understood religious prophesies as well, including Jewish prophecies regarding the Messiah.
The best records for keeping track of ancient astrological events come from the Chinese, for they recorded their views of the night sky to create horoscopes and calendars. The problem is those records is two-fold.
Some of the events don’t match the time of Jesus birth, officially listed as between 8 and 4 B.C., and many of the events listed are common enough that astute Magi, such as the wise men, wouldn’t see them as special.
Others suggest the star was a comet because it moved with the wise men, but comets are typically a bad sign in the ancient world. Others have theorized the Bethlehem star was a planet, but again, the Magi would be able to tell the difference. This had to be something special.
There is also the theory of a planetary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. The idea was there was a period where there were three different times where the two planets came close to each other. From Earth, it would look like they were conjoined. This would have happened in the constellation of Pisces, which is symbol of the Jewish culture. However, the theory falls short because this type of event only lasts a few days and the Bethlehem star supposedly led the wise men for months to find the child.
The other problem is a much more significant triple conjunction occurred early in 66 B.C.
There are some other attributes in the Bible that pose problem for scientists. Not only does it last for months, but the star hung in place over the city of Bethlehem. Stars and planets don’t hang. They don’t stop.
So, what was the Bethlehem star? There is a lawyer who thinks he’s found the answer.
Frederick Larson produced a video “The Star of Bethlehem” in 2007 after his curiosity prompted him to explore the subject. He said any theory he developed had to make sense scientifically and fulfill the Biblical description.
His first conclusion is scientists have been using the wrong date for Jesus birth. He said centuries-old math was excellent and correct in math laws, but computers today have perfected it to exact precision. Astronomers had looked for the star in the wrong year of 4 B.C., Larsen said. Larson said the wrong date of King Herod’s death was to blame, as most use the king’s death to estimate the year of the birth of Jesus. The earliest Jewish manuscripts infer King Herod’s death was actually in 1 B.C. instead of 4 B.C.
Larson’s other theory is that the star had to be something the wise men could see back home, in the east, and was also something that rose in the east. Scientists have already suggested this and this would narrow options for the star. However, Larson adds it also must have been something that wasn’t visible in Jerusalem because King Herod, and presumably those in the palace well versed with the skies, hadn’t seen it. The king asked the wise men when the star first appeared.
The wise men headed five miles south of the great city to Bethlehem and the star stopped. Contrary to popular belief suggesting the Christ was a baby in a manger when the magi arrived, Jesus was a toddler and his family were living in a house by the time the wise men found him. That indicates the length of the journey.
Larson used clues found in the Book of Matthew, along with the prophecies to decipher the mystery. Micah 5:2 states Bethlehem will produce the ruler of Israel.
Larson began looking at the retrograde motion of Jupiter. Retrograde motion is, in layman’s terms, the illusion of a planet moving backward. This visual is caused by the way the Earth moves past the outer planets in their orbits.
Using Chinese astrological records and a computer program that simulates the night skies in ancient times anywhere in the world, Larson sets the place as Bagdad since the wise men were believed to have been from that area or Persia. He sets the time as late summer near the Jewish New Year. There is a Jupiter retrograde in the constellation of Leo. In the retrograde, Jupiter circles the top of the star Regulus three times.
Larson explains the importance. Regulus a star system known is the king star, crowned the holy number of three times by the king planet of Jupiter in the constellation of the Lion. The Jews are represented as a Lion. This was special, especially since it occurred around the holiest of times for the Jewish people.
The next finding excites Larson even more.
The impending birth of Christ was written by John in the Book of Revelation as he “sees in the heavens.” Jesus was already born and had died before John wrote this book, but the disciple’s vision was of the birth.
“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” Revelation 12:1.
Larson points out the next constellation after the retrograde is Virgo, the Virgin, rising on the Jewish New Year. Looking at the constellation on the computer program, the constellation of Virgo is there with the sun shining on it and a crescent moon is at her feet. Twelve stars are above her head. He said this is what John saw.
This is also what the wise men saw. Those two events occurring in that manner is what prompted them to understand there would be a king of the Jews born soon. Larson begin to theorize that many this was the announcement of the conception rather than the birth.
Larson moves forward nine months, which there is a triple conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Regulus in the Leo constellation. So the king planet joins what is known as the mother planet around the king star. This would signify the actual birth of Jesus, Larson said. The three together would create an incredibly bright star to the naked eye. This immediately follows the constellation of Pisces, as others speculate relates to Jewishness.
The world had a view of the exact conjunction in June, 2015, prompting a new round of speculation about its significance. Astronomers said the last time this particular conjunction occurred was 2,000 years ago. Viewing with the naked eye lasted only a few days, but the conjunction could be seen for more than a year with a of telescope. That would certainly accommodate for the time frame for the wise men to make the long trip.
The theory of Johannes Kepler, a 1600’s studier of the stars, differs with Larson on the time frame of the conjunction. Kepler’s theory is this happened at the beginning of the Jewish New Year rather than in the spring. Kepler’s theory regarding the Virgo constellation being the image mentioned in Revelation, as it follows Leo, matches Larson’s theory.
Both theories suggest it is the triple conjunction that prompted the wise men to travel. They knew the promise had been fulfilled. Larson believes they arrived in Bethlehem the next December because of another Jupiter retrograde. In this scenario, Jupiter retrogrades again, causing it to appear to pause to those watching it from Earth. The interesting, and ironic, part of Larson’s explanation is this retrograde happened on December 25, according to the computer program.
The final part of the constellation story is the constellation after Jesus death. According to the computer program, including other identifying factors from weather and events in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death, the constellation of Virgo appeared again. This time, the virgin had a full, red moon – sometimes referred as a blood moon – at her feet.
Larson said this is a picture of the fulfillment of the life and death of Jesus.