Monday, November 26, 2012

The Star of Bethlehem revisited

I wrote about the Star of Bethlehem a few years ago, questioning what it might have been.  Many possibilities have been suggested before, but it seemed like none of them matched every aspect of the story.

One of the explanations I mentioned was the astrological conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus.  It was definitely one of the better explanations, but at the time, I didn't understand how the star could have stopped over Jesus' house, so I maintained some skepticism.  I'm not skeptical anymore though.  Since then, I have seen a documentary called The Star of Bethlehem by Frederick A. Larson that explains this theory in great detail.  He says that for a 'star' to fit the description, it must meet 9 criteria:

1. It signified birth.
2. It signified kingship.
3. It had a connection with the Jewish nation.
4. It rose in the east, like other stars.
5. It appeared at a precise time.
6. Herod didn't know when it appeared.
7. It endured over time.
8. It was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
9. It stopped over Bethlehem.

He explains each of those points with the astrological conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus and makes it easy to understand.  He even explains how the star 'stopped' over Bethlehem:

The problem with a planet stopping is not what you might think. The problem is not that planets can’t stop. Just the opposite. The problem is that all planets are always stopped to the eye of a human observer. The sky moves above Earth at half the speed of the hour hand on a common clock. Its movement is imperceptible to the naked eye. So, if all stars are always stopped, what can Matthew have meant? 
Perhaps you have already anticipated the key to this final mystery: retrograde motion.

An astronomer tracking the movement of planets through the star field watches not so much on the scale of minutes, but on the longer scale of days, weeks and months.

On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop.

On December 25 of 2 BC as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem.
I think he has explained it well and I'm convinced this must have been what the Star of Bethlehem was.  You can read his detailed breakdown on the website here, although I recommend watching the documentary.  I saw it on TV, so you might can find it on there, but it's also for sale on the website in DVD format.


  1. It's a bold claim, but if you go to
    you will have the most complete, recent, remarkable and completely provable explanation of the Bethlehem Star. Try and disprove it if you wish. The case is the most watertight ever.

    I didn't cover as I could have done the matter of the star standing still, but I knew about the retrograde and also took it (and assumed most people take it) as a touch of poetic licence from someone who like most people past and present didn't know too much about astronomy and/or astrology.

  2. This has been a popular documentary about the Star of Bethlehem it seems, but there are significant flaws that undo the the hypothesis, from dating the events to the astrological interpretation of the conjunctions to fitting what the Gospel of Matthew describes. You may enjoy considering those issues when viewing the documentary in the future: