Was the Star of Bethlehem described in the Bible real? Using new knowledge about old astrological beliefs as well as computer planetary tables, astronomers have speculated that it could have been a group of planets, a meteor or comet, or a supernova. One problem is the uncertainty of Jesus' birth date?the only thing scholars are sure of is that he WASN?T born on December 25th (no shepherds in the fields then).
December 25 was the date of the Roman festival of Saturnalia, when gifts were exchanged. Late December marks the winter solstice, when days begin getting longer again, meaning spring is on the way, and has been celebrated by many different cultures. Also, the Bible mentions Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod, who died between 4 BC and 1 BC (so Christ was born "before Christ").
Another problem is the way celestial events were described at that time. Any bright object was called a "star." Meteors were "shooting" or "falling" stars, comets were "hairy" stars, novae were "new" stars and planets were "wandering" stars.
Most astronomers and Biblical scholars believe the Star probably showed up between the years 7 and 2 BC, so they try to figure out if anything unusual was going on in the sky at that time. There are 3 theories about what the star could have been:
It could have been an unusually bright fireball meteor, except these flash across the sky in seconds?too short a time to be followed by the Magi. It could have been a bright comet, because these can stay visible for weeks either in the predawn sky or at dusk. The famous Halley?s Comet, last seen in early 1986, could be seen in the sky during August and September in the year 11 BC. However, most astronomers don?t think that?s close enough to be the Star. Also, in those days comets were thought of as evil omens that predicted floods, famine and the death?not birth?of kings.
It could have been a nova or supernova, which is a star that suddenly blazes forth where none has been seen before. This would leave no trace for us to discover in the future. Novae are actually dying stars, although they aren?t previously seen in the sky. A bright one becomes visible once every 25 or 30 years. Supernovae are more rare?these are stars that suddenly blow themselves apart, briefly producing light equal to the combined light of an entire galaxy of stars. At the height of its outburst, a supernova can be so bright it casts shadows at night and can even be seen in broad daylight. In the Milky Way, there have been 4 supernovae in the past thousand years?in 1006, 1054, 1572 and 1604.
One problem with the nova and supernova theories are that the Chinese didn?t record any spectacular light effects during this period, and their astronomers kept careful records. These indicate that a nova did appear during the spring of 5 BC, but it wasn?t very bright.
The final possibility is that the Star was actually a planet. However the Magi were astronomers themselves, so it's unlikely they would have been unfamiliar with any of the planets in the sky?even if they didn't know what they were. However, sometimes two or more planets seem to come together in a conjunction, and this may have taken place between the years 7 and 2 BC. One such event occurred on the evening of February 25, 6 BC, involving Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
The Star could have been a symbol that was never meant to be taken literally. But since we live in scientific times, we're still searching for it.
If we at unknowncountry.com could send you any present this Christmas, it would be the wish for that most perfect gift of all, Inner Peace.
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