The Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem

In episode 58 astrologer Kenneth Miller joins me to talk about the astrology surrounding the Star of Bethlehem and the birth chart of Jesus.

During the course of the show we talk about the history surrounding this topic, some of the different theories about what the Star of Bethlehem was, and try to explain some of the ways that astrologers and historians have approached the subject in the past.

The music featured in this episode is We Three Kings by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

Below you will find the show notes and and extended synopsis of some of the topics that we covered during the course of the show, followed by links to listen to the recording of this episode of the podcast.

Outline of the Episode

  • The church only established December 25 as Jesus’ birthday in the 4th century.
  • We have no evidence for what part of the year Jesus was born in, and only a very rough idea of the range of years that he would have been born in.
  • The story about the Star of Bethlehem and magi only only appears in the gospel of Matthew, out of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).
  • This is a bit odd since the other synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) share many of the same stories, with similar wording and sequence, but not here.
  • This raises the possibility that some historians consider where the story of the magi could have been a sort of political tool used in order to promote the Christian belief that Jesus was the messiah.
  • For others who take the story in Matthew as representing, at least in part, some elements of an actual historical event, the identifying the Star of Bethlehem becomes a sort of access point for finding the birth chart of Jesus.
  • There is a long historical tradition of different astrologers speculating about the Star of Bethlehem and nativity of Jesus.
  • Some astrologers were either killed or imprisoned for this by the Inquisition.
  • Speculation about the Star of Bethlehem among astrologers, astronomers, and historians continues to this day.

Analysis of the Story in Matthew

  • Occurs in chapter 2 of Matthew. Extremely short. 2-3 paragraphs.
  • It calls them “magi” in the Greek. It doesn’t specify how many there were. Later tradition came to hold that there were three because they offered three gifts.
  • The say that they have come because they observed his star at its rising. Rising here = anatolē (ἀνατολή). This is often translated as “east”, but anatolē is a technical term in Hellenistic astrology that means either 1) rising over the eastern horizon / Ascendant / rising sign, or 2) making a heliacal rising when it emerges from under the beams of the Sun. This is where we get the morning star / evening star distinction from.
  • The magi originally show up in Jerusalem asking where Jesus is because they saw this astrological indication saying that someone important had been born. Herod tries to use the astrologers to locate Jesus, and the story initially sets it up so that the magi were going to be unwitting accomplices in Herod’s murder of Jesus, but at the end of the story they were warned about Herod in a dream, so they go back home through an alternative route.
    • Later Christian tradition had an issue with this story because it appears to legitimize astrology, putting a group of astrologers front and center at the birth of Jesus. Later writers tried to deal with this by interpreting the story so that the magi going a different route to return home meant that they gave up their previous interest in astrology. However, I don’t think that this interpretation is necessary for the narrative structure of the story. Instead the magi going home a different way just ties up the loose end from the beginning of the story where they almost unwittingly led Herod to Jesus.
  • The story makes it sound like the star didn’t just indicate that someone important had been born, but that they also somehow used it to geolocate Jesus. “…it stopped over the place where the child was…”

The Star of Bethlehem Story in Matthew

Matthew, chapter 2, from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 1749:

“In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel. Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

Different Theories About What the Star of Bethlehem Was

  • Jupiter-Saturn conjunction (Kepler)
  • Lineup of planets in Pisces in 7 BC (e.g. March 1, 7 BC).
  • Comet (Cardan)
  • Supernova
  • Aspect patterns
  • Moon-Jupiter occultation
    • Molnar argued that it was an occultation of the Moon and Jupiter in Aries on April 17, 6 BCE.
  • Heliacal rising of Venus
    • Koch argues that it was a heliacal rising of Venus in Leo, getting ready to station direct, on September 1st, 2 BCE at about 4:30 AM in Bethlehem, Israel.
  • Non-astronomical event, but instead a bright light / intervention by God.

Books for Further Research

Listen to This Episode

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Comments

  1. Chris,
    This is a link to an article written by the late Jayj Jacobs who practiced astrology in the San Francisco Bay Area. The theory of Jesus’ birth was developed by his father who was a practicing Methodist minister. Jayj used to give talks on how his father calculated the correct date of birth based upon a Saturn/Jupiter conjunction in Pisces that took place in 7 BC. The article includes Jesus’ theoretical birthchart. http://sos.netonecom.net/webpub/Jayj/jesus.htm.

    Thanks for all the very professionally-done podcasts. I always look forward to listening to them.

    Maryanne

  2. Patricia Flannagan says:

    Very interesting show. My fundamentalist father was always fond of pointing out that in the Biblical account the Magi entered a HOUSE, not a stable, not an inn. The child may have been born there to fulfill prophecy but the parents had moved on to settle someplace else and pay their taxes. Owing to the transportation of the times, The Magi were late and not present at the birth at all. This is reiterated later in the Bible when Herod orders the killing of all children two years old and under as suspected young threats. Two years. Its called the Slaughter of the Innocents in Catholic tradition. I wondered why neither of you mentioned that the description of a star or planet moving and then becoming still in a certain spot sounds like a planetary station, It would have been the kind of observational approach to astrology you pointed out as more of that time period.. I like to speculate around this time of year that when the Magi got word of the so-called slaughter, really a kind of age-directed ethnic cleansing, much later, they may have believed they had inadvertently contributed to the death of the future king they had hoped for. You mentioned the historical death of Herod is mysterious. Could this have been the Revenge of the Magi? Thanks for a fascinating program.

    • Chris Brennan says:

      We talked a bit about Dieter Koch’s theory, which does involve interpreting the statement about the star stopping over the place where the child was as referring to a planetary station, which he takes to be Venus. It seems hard to say for sure whether a planetary station is definitely what was implied by that statement though.

  3. Sara Victoria says:

    I was just looking up Simon Bar Kochba (son of the Star) to see what relevance to this passage in Matt might have. Bar Kochba was a somewhat later messainic figure of a political rather than spiritual sense. And I came across this, which I should have been aware of, having a background in NT scholarship, but this was never an area of focus and – maybe it was mentioned in some lecture or chapter or something. Anyway – an interpretation from Numbers corresponds with both Bar Kochba’s name (not his actual name) and the star passage in Matthew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Prophecy

  4. 25.12.0007 BC

  5. Levia Shanken says:

    Great podcast as usual! Thanks also for the reference to the OT Greek & multi-translations.
    A lot of this story does not make sense (ya think?)! The magi could not have been that wise to not know that Herod was the current King of the Jews & was the absolute wrong person to go to, as you both said. And why would they need to ask him where the baby was if the star eventually stopped over the place Jesus was? Why did they follow it, then it stopped, then it continued only after asking Herod? And why would Herod, born half-Jewish, need to ask others about the messianic prophecy – surely as a King of the Jews he would have done at least that much homework.
    And this star was clearly moving in earth-space since it stopped over the house Jesus was in – I don’t think I’m taking this too literally. This cannot be a matter of rx & direct movement or watching it rise in the east.
    Having expressed that skepticism, I have also wondered whether it had to do with Uranus, which could be seen at times before it was ‘properly discovered’. Could there be any phenomena that would have made it seem much larger, due to its perihelion or such?
    Btw, noteworthy is that Finnish man’s name is Jussi, perhaps Finnish for Jesus?
    I’m pretty sure the most popular religions-cults of the day were Mithraism & Zoroastrianism, the latter (Persians) also wanting to overthrow the Romans & worked with the Judeains. The Zoros had a strong influence on Judaism & the Dead Sea Scrolls & astrology. This could also be a reason why the Zoro Magi cared about a Jewish King. I’ll send an article from a book about that shortly –

  6. Levia Shanken says:

    This article from her article provides much information on the relationship between Zoroastrian and the Magi:

    http://www.thestarofthemagi.com/piscesprecession.htm

  7. The star of Bethlehem is Sirius, the 3 kings are the 3 stars in Orion’s belt, the virgin Mary is the constellation Virgo, Jesus is the sun.

    • Levia Shanken says:

      Jeff, This sounds interesting but where’s the Pisces? And what was special about Sirius that day – when did it rise, was it heliacal, etc.? Tropically & I guess sidereally it was in Gemini then? So if Jesus was born at sunrise, it could have been on the MH. Or more likely at night, when you can see those stars, Pisces wouId be rising, with Sun in 7th but I think it’s too early that time of year to see them, but cannot compute it with precession. I thought the Sept. 1 date made a lot of sense. For G-d to experiencbue the life of a human, thue chart of a carpenter from ‘humble’ beginnings sounds right, but with something incredible special in the Chart, too.

      • Yes, Jesus is not a man, Jesus is the Sun ! The 4 gospels are the 4 seasons. The 12 disciples are the 12 zodiac signs. Satan = Saturn…

        If you really want to explore that topic and take the red pill, search for “astrotheology” on Google. And look at this guy (it would be really nice having him on the podcast) :

        https://www.youtube.com/user/MrAstrotheology

        And look at this too :

        • Another video to watch :

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wnn8Q6Y4U0g

          It’s so important for the future of astrology !

          • Levia Shanken says:

            Sebastien, Thank you. I am familiar with Mr. Astrotheology & have found many of his videos very interesting. I might watch these other videos another time. Still, symbolically my questions still hold – how does Pisces (fish) fit into this paradigm, if the Sun (Jesus) is in Virgo? And how does Sirius & Orion’s Belt, I also asked, especially since they’re so visible in September. And Saturn is a planet, not a sign. I know he goes into great detail but if you could just summarize this paradigm. Thanks!

          • Sébastien says:

            The virgin Mary = The virgin Isis = The Moon.
            Virgo seems more related to the harvest (the virgin lands).
            Jesus is the face of the Sun during the age of Pisces.
            The “tree kings” (the three bright stars in Orion’s belt) follow Sirius (the star in the east) to point out the birth of the Sun on December 25th.

            By the way, I should have put a disclaimer on the videos I posted above, because they are edgy, questionable and many things said in these videos are obviously wrong. It’s an uncharted territory, we have to be careful and we have to do our homework.

            🙂

  8. Very interesting topic/discussion. Personally, I don’t find much agreement/relevance in the biblical sources, given it’s creation/translation. I perceive there is a more spiritual inference as channeled by various sources
    http://www.radioastrology.com/MRB/christma.htm

  9. Maire Masco says:

    So much fun to listen to you chat about this topic. I applaud your knowledge and how you use it. I tend to agree with Ken that the “Star” is a literary device. The Bible references are very problematic, yet how can anyone deny the romantic and idealistic idea of a star for a savior? Can you please post the title of the new book that Chris thought might be the authoritative text on the subject? Thanks.

    Of course I think an obvious candidate to be added to the list of suspects is…a UFO.

    Love you guys!

  10. Levia Shanken says:

    Happy 3 Kings – Epiphany Day (though perihelion was early this year, on Jan. 2)!
    There’s much uncharted astrological territory in Gnosticism, for example:
    http://gnosis.org/library/pistis-sophia/ps025.htm
    This link should be to Chap 21 of Pistis Sophia. Here Jesus explains, with astrol technicality, how he changed the aspects’ meaning, etc. For example, “… for I have changed their influences and their squares and their triangles and their octagons… But now I have made them spend 6 months turned to the left and 6 months turned to the right…”
    There’s so much throughout about how he changed the spheres so astrology basically wouldn’t work any more – especially strange since the Gnostic gospels were written contemporaneously with the main Hellenistic astrology! Some scholar in both Copic & astrology needs to look at this and Gnosticism in general, full of cosmology and astrology.
    There’s also this, more to the point of Jesus’ birthday:
    http://gnosis.org/library/grs-mead/jesus_live_100/index.htm – Did Jesus Live 100 BC? by GRS Mead

  11. My favorite episode. Thank you

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