The Star of Bethlehem

star

The family and I had the occasion this past week to watch an hour long DVD presentation called “The Star of Bethlehem.” It’s a talk given by an attorney by the name of Rick Larson explaining what he believes was the star of Bethlehem.  His take on it was that the “star” was really a conjunction of celestial objects, particularly Jupiter, that went into retrograde when the Magi came to Jerusalem so that it gave the appearance of “stopping over” or “stood over” the house where Jesus was.  He further believes this happened in 2 B.C. on our December 25th.

Spike Psarris‘ most recent email news letter [and you ought to subscribe to his news letter] mentions the DVD, and he notes the similar problem I had with the presentation when I watched it. That being Larson’s attempt to provide a “natural” explanation for the star’s appearance.

I am of the opinion that the star was more than likely supernatural, not a natural occurrence. That is because conjunctions are a regular happenstance, not something necessarily unusual.  The Magi were trained, professional astrologers who had witnessed a number of conjunctions during their lifetime. What would be so important that it would catch their attention and stir them to make a long trip to locate the Messiah?

Additionally, the significance of the “star” would be special revelation, not general revelation as is witnessed in the night sky. Again, why would these Magi plan a long trip, more than likely coming from the area of modern day Iraq, just to verify a conjunction or some other familiar astronomical event, like a comet? There was something more unique about this particular star that drove them to investigation. And I would even believe that the Spirit of God directed them to locate it.

Any how, I appreciated Spike’s comments and thought I would reproduce that section from the news letter. He calls the presenter “Steve” Larson, and I think he is conflating the speaker with the producer of the DVD whose name is Steve.   Oh, and don’t forget to follow the link supplied at the bottom to Danny Faulkner’s review of the DVD.

——-

This time of year, I often get questions about the Star of Bethlehem.

Is it possible to know what it was?

There’s certainly no lack of proposed explanations. Different people have proposed:

  • A comet
  • A conjunction of planets (Jupiter usually being one of them)
  • A nova or supernova

…and that’s just a partial list.

One of the most popular explanation nowadays is that presented by attorney Steven Larson on his DVD entitled, appropriately, The Star of Bethlehem. More on this in a moment.

Personally, I’m skeptical of these sorts of explanations. Some events in the Bible are miracles, not natural events. They don’t need natural explanations.

However, many Christians are very uncomfortable about accepting miracles. They feel compelled to find a non-supernatural explanation for everything.

But this type of thinking naturally leads to denial of other miracles too.

Today there are many professing Christians who are denying the virgin birth and other key doctrines, because these things require miracles.

Where do you draw the line?

Also, a natural event seems to be excluded by Matthew 2:9, which says that the star “went before” the Magi until it “stood over” the child.

No natural astronomical phenomenon can do that.

Many try to explain this by talking about planets stopping in the sky. For example, Larson says that on December 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter halted in its motion, as it entered retrograde motion.

Yes, planets do stop and go retrograde (in reverse motion). But this is not an unusual event—far from it.

This happens quite often, and the Magi would have known this.

In general, the ancients were far more familiar with the night sky that most of us are today. This would have been especially true of the Magi, who were most likely astrologers.

They would have been very familiar with how planets move, stop, go retrograde, stop, and resume forward motion again.

Nor is this “stop” an instantaneous thing. The motions we’re talking about take place over days, or weeks.

It’s questionable whether or not the Magi would have been especially impressed by Jupiter’s activity.

More importantly, it’s difficult to see how the Magi could have been guided to a specific place by Jupiter (or any other astronomical phenomenon).

So I’m comfortable believing that whatever happened on that night 2,000 years ago was supernatural—a celestial sign sent by the Lord, to announce the birth of His Son.

If this is a subject you’re interested in, astronomer Danny Faulkner (a Christian and a creationist) wrote an in-depth review of Larson’s DVD. You can find it here:
http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v5/n1/star-of-bethlehem-dvd.

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10 thoughts on “The Star of Bethlehem

  1. Quite often the Bible uses the word ‘Star’ when talking about Angels. I believe that the Star of Bethlehem was such an Angel. Why not? The angels were already on scene rejoicing. And it would explain how the wise me could be led by a star.

    • It possibly could be an “angel,” but I think it has more to do with Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers where he talks of a star will come out of Judah. What ever it was, it clued the Magi that something extraordinary was happening that goes beyond just a conjunction.

  2. Hi Fred,

    I had a fellow in one of our bible studies recommend the DVD to me and ask me to look at it. I found the presentation troubling. Enough so that I negatively reviewed it on Amazon.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1FDW3YZV27GX4/

    As might be expected, I received a number of negative comments from “Christians” — it seems that the Christian community is intent on remaining gullible to these sorts of pseudo-scriptural presentations. :-(

  3. Pingback: The Star of Bethlehem in the Blogosphere | Fleeing Nergal, Seeking Stars

  4. 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:

    https://gilgamesh42.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-star-of-bethlehem-documentary-a-critiical-view-index/

  5. Yes. I agree there are flaws. I thought the post made that clear. My take is that it was supernatural, not necessarily natural. The Faulkner article I linked also debunked Larson’s idea. Also, go up and click that review under the commenter by the name Tony Garland. It leads over to a Amazon review and is also well done.

    • Yes, you were very clear about your position, and thank you for linking to other critical voices. As Tony noted, though, there was a lot of negative responses, so it seems good to have a lot of voices in concert. And as you can guess, this subject is a perennial one, and you will hear from people come next Christmas. Best to have as cogent and useful set of responses so people do not believe for the wrong reasons. All about getting the Word out. ;)

  6. My concern, however, is that you appear to represent an unfavorable opinion of the Christian faith, one that is even skeptical and possibly atheistic. Unless I am mistaken on the reading of your site. Unless I am wrong (and happy to be corrected), it would be rather awkward to be in “concert” with such a group. My reasons for concern with the documentary are not the same as yours. Whereas I see it as problematic for a positive apologetic in defense of the Christian faith, you see it as another debunking of the Scripture specifically and Christianity generally.

    • Your reading of me is not inaccurate. I am an skeptic and atheist, so I definitely don’t give Christian scripture the high ranking believers do, and I think much of it has little historical value. However, I also prefer that the best arguments in the favor of a position I oppose be presented, so at the very least people make good arguments rather than bad ones–you can’t progress in dialog or ideas if either side relies on bad arguments. We seem to have a similar goal at that point: you don’t want to use bad apologetics, and I only want to deal with the arguments worth having.

      Think of it as having someone use flat Earth arguments to defend the Christian faith; you don’t want to have an apologetic that makes you look 2500 years of out touch, and I don’t want this to actually be a seriously held position. So on that we would be in “concert”. While the arguments about the Star are no where near so starkly bad, the principle applies (at least to me it seems so).

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