Is This the Star of Bethlehem?

The Wise Men as Astrologers

By Clark M. Thomas

In a recent CNN story on Jesus the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem may have been answered. They showed an astronomer who used a computer and Biblical-era astrological symbolism to determine what this phenomenon probably was, and when it occurred. This gentleman is Dr. Michael Molnar, and you can access a May 18, 2001 speech by him regarding The Star of Bethlehem here. You may also purchase his book here. Highly recommended is Dr. Molnar's own web site, wherein he answers many questions about his thesis.

As is well known, the birth of Jesus on 12/25/00 is highly problematical, and indeed the Bible does not give an exact date. It talks about shepherds in their fields, etc. These are signs of spring. Another and even greater problem occurs when we recall the story of King Herod killing off all the baby boys after the three wise men tell him of a messiah being born in his kingdom. But Herod died in 4 B.C. The early Christian church cleverly selected December 25th to take over the holiday of a competing religion.

So when did the Star of Bethlehem occur? The three wise men, or magi, were highly trained in astrology, and they came from Babylon to the east. In this time the Jewish kingdom was associated with Aries, the Ram. (The ram's horn was the weapon of choice for Joshua, and Jews were known for sacrificing sheep.)

Inside the constellation of Aries on April 17, 06 B.C. -- due west from Babylon -- you will find the Sun, the Moon, and Jupiter, with Saturn close to the boundary. Also close by were Mars and Mercury, and Venus was just below Saturn. This amazing combination didn't otherwise occur in the springtimes near Jesus' birth.

Even though all of the less-luminous players would have been overwhelmed by the nearby Sun's light, wise astrologers knew they were there. This also helps explain the mystery of how the three wise men uniquely followed what we now call the Star of Bethlehem, when most others weren't even aware of everything that was going on near the Sun.

Below is a precise illustration, generated by software, of how these celestial objects would have been arranged at this critical time in history, April 17th, 06 "B.C." You will note that, for aesthetic reasons, the sky shown is dark, quite the opposite of what people would have visually experienced during the daytime at the time! In Earth orbit above our atmosphere you could have had this view, had you been up there over two thousand years ago.

The Actual Star of Bethlehem?

If the Aries astrological explanation for the birth of Jesus occurring in the spring of 6 B.C. is accurate, and even the Bible indicates a spring birth, then the next question is whether or not this trigger for the wise men was purely an event of astrology, or was it also a unique event of astronomy.

Even though the astrological explanation is compelling, there are certain questions left dangling:

(1) Was there an actual star, and, if so, what happened to it?

(2) Why were the three wise men the only ones who picked up on the clues?

(3) Did the star "point the way" to Jesus, and, if so, how?

(4) What possible evidence survives to this day of the Star of Bethlehem?

(5) Is the Biblical story a pure fabrication, or is there some historical fact behind the narrative written decades later?

There have been several attempts to explain this mystery astronomically. Some of the ideas surround an apparent comet identified in 5 B.C. by Chinese and Korean astronomers. One absurd idea has Venus confusing these wise men. Another has them discovering Uranus, which would be pitifully dim to the unaided eye. And one modern writer of many astronomy books even theorizes that this phenomenon was meteors, which at least localizes the event. All of these ideas are fanciful, with limited merit. There is a better, though still not perfect, astrological/astronomical explanation, and here it is:

I have astronomically researched what happened in that time, in that region, and have found one excellent candidate for the Star of Bethlehem! This identification does not finally establish that here is the mystery object itself, only that it fits many of the astronomical requirements, and cannot easily be ruled out.

Below is a map generated by EquinoX software, available from here. This is a superb OSX shareware planetarium program of great flexibility. It can, for example, historically show only Herschel II objects, of which NGC 1514 is one, among the stars and planets.

This map shows how the early evening sky would have looked from what is now Baghdad on April 17, 06 B.C. The time is exactly 7:46 p.m. local time, which is precisely when NGC 1514 sets. It was easily seen at 7 p.m. about nine degrees above the western horizon; and it moved down to the horizon thereafter, apparently following the Sun, but actually moving because the Earth rotates. (Note that this rendering shows both above and below the horizon, as 1514 is exactly at the horizon, and everything below it has already set for the evening. All but the top inch or so of this image is of things below the horizon at that time and place.)

A nova at moderate distances seen from the region of modern Baghdad could have been fairly bright, but not overwhelmingly bright, such as the Crab Nebula supernova higher up in Taurus was a millennium later. In other words, bright, but not too bright. Seen from Jerusalem, this nova would have been out over the waters of the Mediterranean, making its significance less obvious. Furthermore, the monotheistic Jews did not believe in polytheistic pagan astrology.

Because Baghdad is at 33 degrees north, and Jerusalem is between 31 and 32 degrees north; and because 1514 set on their horizon that night at WNW; it can be assumed that literally linear astrologers would have come from the south of Babylon near the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Here below is a blue-filtered DSS image of NGC 1514, taken by POSS2/UKSTU:

This object is remarkable today because when imaged in the blue, or OIII, spectrums it appears to have a dark cross! But this "cross" could be an anthropocentric illusion.

This nebula is about 4,300 light years distant. That means the star would have gone nova over two millennia before its light burst reached earthly eyes.

I have calculated the age of the gaseous bubble eminating from the bright central star and its mass-exchange binary companion. This age works out to between 10,000 and 25,000 years. Obviously, that is much older than the date of Christ's birth. What is significant is not the age of the bubble, but the fact that this is a mass-exchange multiple star system, the type of which is prone to multiple nova events. Single stars like our own which are not too massive go nova, and that's it. Interestingly, as the smaller star accretes to its disk hydrogen from its much larger companion, that star's surface can flash for several days as a nova. Over enough time, when the smaller star approaches 1.4 solar masses, the stage is set for a massive Type I supernova, which destroys the smaller star, and which would leave only a glorious remnant behind, such as the Crab Nebula. With all this in mind, it is possible that NGC 1514 represents both an earlier puffing out of matter from the larger star, and a later nova event involving the smaller star which MIGHT have been two thousand years ago.

We are left with two radically different, and each sufficient, ideas:

First, divine design had set off this event ahead of time, and even today reminds us of the cross.

Second, here is a classical stellar coincidence, as the skies are populated with many odd nova and supernova remnants, and this event could be pure coincidence shoe-horned into human history.

We can now say that the Biblical story could have been based on an actual astronomical event, focused and amplified by astrological symbolism and the passionate religio-political currents inside Roman-occupied Palestine. Was the Star of Bethlehem part of a divine plan set in motion by God many centuries earlier? Was it just a convenient marker which helped people self-fulfill their prophecies? Even with advancing science there is always mystery. In other words, revelation is not necessarily Revelation.

Just imagine the excitement and awe of those three wise men: On the pre-dawn morning before they set off on their journey, first Venus, then Saturn, then Jupiter and the darkened Moon heralded the rising Sun in Aries. Late in that day both Mercury and Mars, as well as first-magnitude Aldebaran, accompanied the new Star of Bethlehem as it slowly followed the Sun downward and westward toward the land of the Jews.

Clark M. Thomas
Roanoke, VA