The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 58, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guest Kenneth Miller
Episode originally released on December 21, 2015
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Gulsen Altay and Andrea Johnson
Transcription released December 7th, 2019
Copyright © 2016 TheAstrologyPodcast.com
CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode was recorded on Sunday, December 20, 2015, just after 5:30 PM, in Denver, Colorado, and this is the 58th episode of the show. For more information about subscribing to the podcast, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe.
In this episode, I’ll be talking with astrologer Kenneth Miller about the Star of Bethlehem and the birth chart of Jesus. Let’s get right into it. Kenneth, welcome back to the show.
KENNETH MILLER: Thanks for having me, Chris. It’s always a pleasure to be on The Astrology Podcast, and I’m particularly happy to be here at the 58th episode.
CB: Yeah, we’re getting really far into them now. I forgot, last time you were on the show, we were in the 20s or something.
CB: Now it’s gone a little bit further.
KM: That’s great.
CB: Yeah, I think you brought this topic up to me and this is a great topic. This is like a research topic. I think that I’ve been interested in it for a little while, but I don’t know if I can claim any sort of specialization in it. It seems like every other astrologer has an opinion about this topic, and it’s something that really goes back historically. Lots of very famous astrologers have had opinions about this question about what was the Star of Bethlehem, and from an astrological perspective, what was the birth chart of Jesus.
So I thought that we would talk about that today and discuss it from a few different angles: from a historical angle, from an astrological angle, and so on and so forth.
KM: Before we jump into that, personally, do you remember when you were first interested in this topic or gave it any kind of thought?
CB: Yeah, I got into astrology by reading some New Age books. I forget if they referred to it or not, or if the book I was reading on Nostradamus claimed to have a birth chart for Jesus, but I remember looking at it myself. I don’t remember. I was approaching it as a modern astrologer, and astrologers always do that. They approach it from what they think it would have looked like if somebody really important was born.
And so, I found that pile up that pretty much all astrologers end up finding in the tropical sign of Pisces in the 7th century BC, and I thought that that was pretty impressive from my standpoint. That was probably like 10 years ago–or not 10 years, 15 years ago. How about you?
KM: I remember–I hope I’m remembering this right, but there was an old astrology publication called Astrology Now that Llewellyn used to put out monthly, and I had gotten some back issues. This must have been the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. And in there was an article from a, at the time, famous astrologer who wrote under the name ‘Moby Dick’, and he had this article on his version of the birth chart of Jesus. Honestly, it was not something I thought about until I read his argument for what he thought it was all about.
I don’t remember if he tied in the Star–almost all these guys were tying in the Star of Bethlehem because they wanted that to be configured into the chart. But over the years, I’ve kind of kept an ear to the ground to hear what people are saying, and like you, I don’t claim any kind of original scholarship. I’ve just been keeping my thumb on the pulse, and I’ll present a synthesis of the things I’ve been exposed to as we go through this today.
CB: That sounds good. Yeah, I ended up studying it, and I have studied it somewhat extensively just as a side effect of being really into Hellenistic astrology and specializing in that, which was the type of astrology that was essentially practiced during that time period. So it sort of gives me a perspective or an authoritative place to approach it from the perspective of what type of astrology was being practiced in that time period.
Also, there was a book that came out a few years ago on this, where the author presented his theory on what the Star of Bethlehem was, and he wanted me to interpret the chart for a chapter, like an appendix, from the perspective of a Hellenistic astrologer. So I submitted something that and indirectly then ended up doing additional research into the topic just for that reason.
KM: Outside of that book is that article available anywhere?
CB: No. Of the delineation?
CB: No. It’s on my blog. I give the chart that he comes up with, where he proposed September 1, 2 BC, the year 2 BC, at 4:30 AM, in Bethlehem, Israel with Leo rising. But yeah, you’ve got read the book. It’s titled, The Star of Bethlehem by Dieter Koch, who is one of the head programmers at astro.com. He’s actually a pretty significant player in the astrological community. He originally wrote the book in German and translated it into English in 2009.
KM: I’ll have some comments about that chart when we start talking about charts, by the way.
CB: Sure. Let’s set this up. Let’s pretend that our audience has no background in this subject. One of the first things that people don’t always realize is that we’re coming up on Christmas, which is December 25, and it’s been practiced on December 25 for centuries now. During Christmas, oftentimes, it gets associated with the birth of Jesus, and there’s nativity scenes and stories and things like that. It’s originally a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, in this specific religion.
What most people don’t realize though is that December 25 as the birthday for Jesus, we don’t actually know if that’s true. In fact, that was only established in the 4th century, which is about 300 years after Jesus died. The Christian Church decided to adopt December 25 as the birthday of Jesus, which had previously coincided with some other pagan festivals in the Roman Empire, and they decided to use that as the designated birthday for religious purposes and for celebrations.
In reality, nobody knows, or at least it wasn’t recorded in the Bible itself or in the original Gospels when Jesus specifically was born. All we have is this story that shows up in one of the Gospels, in the Gospel of Matthew, which tells the story about the Magi going to visit Jesus, or seeing this star appear in the East, or seeing a star rise in the East and then following the star to the birth of Jesus, and that’s the story of the Star of Bethlehem.
KM: Okay, so before we jumped into that, let me just elaborate for a second that it’s not uncommon. Even in our own world, we have Presidents Day, right? Instead of celebrating Lincoln’s birthday and Washington’s birthday, in the United States, we have this arbitrary day that was picked to celebrate presidents of our past.
And you’re right, there was already this pagan festive time of year, and so it just made sense with the adoption of Christianity as the state religion by Rome to then, “Well, this is a celebratory time anyway, let’s honor this as Jesus.” Plus, it’s a nice time of year when the Sun starts increasing in light, having decreased all the way down to the first day of winter.
I can’t remember the source, but I have read that Mithraism was a fairly significant holiday amongst Roman military, and certain other people had their big celebration during that time of year, so it would have made sense. “Oh, everyone’s taken time off work anyway. We can honor the birth of our Savior at this time since we don’t know exactly when it was.”
CB: Yeah, and so it coincides with the winter solstice, which is a quasi-astrological thing to begin with; that’s the starting point of 0 degrees of Capricorn. Additionally, there’s some alternate or competing theories that December 25 was chosen in the 4th century because it was approximately nine months after the vernal equinox. So you have like a full gestation cycle from the vernal equinox which then gets tied into Easter and other celebrations and things like that.
KM: Now that makes a lot of sense to me. I hadn’t thought of that before. We have another famous religious figure, Buddha, whose birthday and death day are supposedly the same and Jesus would be the same thing. It’s not exactly birth/death, but if he was conceived then and then we had the crucifixion around the same time of year that does make a nice, tidy symbol.
CB: Sure. Yeah, it’s interesting that both get tied into the tropical zodiac. Anyway, the main point is just that this wasn’t established until much, much later, like 300 years. In thinking about that in historical terms, you’re like, “Oh, well, that’s not that far apart,” because we’re talking about 2,000 years later.
But imagine where you are right now. It’s December of 2015, whoever’s listening to this. Now imagine 300 years into the future and somebody looking back and then picking a not entirely arbitrary but somewhat arbitrary date for when you did something important or when something important happened when they don’t really know exactly when it happened because it wasn’t recorded; then you kind of get essentially how Christmas came to be associated with the birth of Jesus.
So this brings up this alternate issue which is that many astrologers in history have tried to date the birth of Jesus through two different approaches. One of them has always been this mystery surrounding the Star of Bethlehem and what exactly that was. It’s often assumed to be some sort of astronomical or astrological phenomenon, and so there’s often been a question and a lot of different theories proposed over the centuries about what that was.
And then there’s a separate but related question. Taking it for granted, I think as most historians do, the historical figure of Jesus did exist regardless of whether he was the Son of God or not, really regardless of what he actually did or said in his life, which is heavily disputed even amongst historians or amongst religious historians. Taking for granted that somebody was born and that he existed as a figure…
CB: …you would expect him to have had an important birth chart, or an interesting birth chart let’s say because of how influential his life ended up being in world history.
CB: So then it becomes this intriguing question of what would the chart of this person look like, and many astrologers over the centuries have commented on that…
CB: …for a long time now. Let’s get into that by dealing with both of those, maybe starting with the Star of Bethlehem and some of the background information surrounding that.
CB: What do you think? Maybe a good starting point is just going down and looking at this from a historical perspective. One of the points that’s interesting to me that you also raised is that out of the four canonical Gospels that make up the New Testament Bible–which are the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and then John–the story of the Star of Bethlehem itself only appears in one of those Gospels, in the Gospel of Matthew.
This is sometimes viewed as problematic because, otherwise, the three synoptic Gospels– Matthew, Mark and Luke–all share many of the same stories. They have similar wording and a similar sequence to the wording in those stories, so that they’re often thought to be drawing on similar sources. But for some reason, this one story about the Star of Bethlehem and the astrologers showing up to the birth of Jesus only shows up in one of those and that sometimes raises some questions.
KM: Right, and we should say that we’ll be reviewing several of the theories as to what the Star of Bethlehem was. But one of the theories is that there was actually no event and that was a literary device put in for reasons that we’ll get into as we unravel all this stuff.
CB: Sure, that might be a good starting point. In looking into this issue and exploring this issue, there’s two fundamental options that are at the basis of all of this. One of them is that the story in Matthew is reflecting some actual historical event or astronomical event which took place, and we’re treating it like a historical document that’s accurately attempting to depict something that occurred. And then there’s this alternate scenario where perhaps because it only shows up in one of those Gospels, maybe it was not reflecting an actual historical event. Perhaps that story was being used for narrative purposes or for some specific purposes in order to promote a specific narrative by a specific group.
One of the arguments that’s sometimes made is that during that time period, we know that there were other rulers, there were other political leaders in the Roman Empire who were using astrology in order to legitimize their rule. They were using it for political purposes. For example, the Roman Emperor Augustus published his birth chart publicly because based on when he was younger, astrologers predicted that he would be very famous, and that he’d be a very powerful person and a world leader based on his birth chart. When he got older, he actually published it in order to prove or to show to everybody that that was the case and to legitimize his rule.
And so, there’s been speculation that perhaps that’s also the purpose of this story, that it serves a political motive in order to argue that this guy, this religious leader was actually–it was the birth of the Messiah or the birth of an important religious figure–indeed, from a Christian perspective, the Son of God. That’s definitely a theory that we have to keep in mind from the start as a possibility when we’re looking at this from a purely historical standpoint.
KM: Well, let’s dive into the Bible.
CB: Okay. The starting point is, like I said earlier, the story only appears in the Gospel of Matthew, and what’s interesting about it is the story is actually incredibly short. It’s literally just two or three pretty brief paragraphs right at the beginning, in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew.
The historian Nick Campion actually notes that the passage is remarkably brief for how influential it is. It’s spawned hundreds of years of speculation and commentary and people have actually died. Astrologers and astronomers have died for attempting to determine what the Star of Bethlehem was or what the birth chart of Jesus look like during the Inquisition.
KM: And that continues to this day. Not the killing thankfully, but the interest in it. As you mentioned earlier, even in the last few years there have been the publication of books by modern astrologers and astronomers. And as I was doing research for our theme today, I found Christian astronomers also speculating on this, that, and the other thing. I mean, to this day, it’s something that is of interest of people.
CB: Yeah, and this becomes a news story every year. I’m sometimes not sure if the journalists go looking for a story because they want to publish something that’s topical around Christmas time, and so they always pull out these stories about some new astronomer or academic who says that they‘ve discovered what the Star of Bethlehem is….
CB: …or if it’s the other way around. These people that research this or really think that they’ve found what the Star of Bethlehem is that they put their results out, or they approach publications at that time. Whatever it is it always comes up at this time, and so that’s actually part of the reason why we’re doing this episode. This is about the time of the year that everybody starts searching for that and starts talking about it and sometimes asks astrologers, “What do you think it was?”
So our starting point for understanding that, or our primary access point–it’s funny that I have to mention this, but it’s often not mentioned and often not followed. Your primary access point for this should be that you read that actual passage in the Gospel of Matthew…
CB: …so you understand what the original story was, and then you go look for whatever it is that you want to find. I feel like sometimes people just approach it with their conceptualization of what the story is, and then they go off on tangents from there.
Anyway, the starting point is the story in the Gospel of Matthew. I think that it would be good to actually just read the passage because it’s not that long. It’s going to take me a little bit to read, but I think it’ll give us a really good context for the rest of this discussion. Does that sound good to you?
KM: Sounds good to me.
CB: All right. There’s different translations, obviously.
KM: Is this the first time you’ve read the Bible in a podcast, by the way?
CB: I think this is the first time. I think we’ve jokingly said that we were going to read chapter and verse or something like that, quoting Valens and other astrologers, but this maybe the first time.
KM: All right.
CB: Actually I should take that back. Sam Reynolds was quoting some Bible verses when we were having our discussion on astrology and religion, a few months ago. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time.
I should say before this that if you are researching this topic, I’d really recommend getting a copy of a book titled, The Precise Parallel New Testament because it has eight different versions of the Bible all on the same facing page. It’ll have the same paragraph, and it’ll have it in Greek in the top-left, and then right next to that it’ll have the New American version of the Bible, and then it’ll have the King James version of the same passage. It’ll have several other translations of the same passage so that you can see how different translators translated that passage at different times.
KM: And when we say different translators, all these translations have a committee of people translating it. This has been kind of a truism almost throughout history, certainly in the last couple of hundred years of Biblical translation. You have a whole committee of scholars agreeing on what this should mean, so decisions by committee.
CB: Yeah, that’s a really important point. It’s also important because things like the King James Bible, sometimes the decisions that were made have important political ramifications. Sometimes the way that they interpret a certain passage is due to certain background religious beliefs or arguments that are going on that causes them to interpret a word one way or another, and sometimes that can have important implications for how you understand what you’re reading.
For our purposes here, I’m going to be reading from The New Oxford Annotated Bible Version of this passage. This is usually seen as the primary scholarly resource that most scholars will cite when they’re citing a Bible passage. So it’s The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version, page 1749.
KM: And it’s got great notes, by the way.
CB: And that’s what it’s good for. It has that tons of just commentary from top academics and scholars. It gives you additional background information about every single sentence basically.
All right. This is from Chapter 2 of Gospel of Matthew. It says:
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 then it has a quote from some prophecy, and it says:
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 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.
That’s literally the entire story of the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, or sometimes commonly known as the 3 Magi. That’s it.
KM: Okay, I would like to now summarize what the other Gospels say, and then I want to come back here and deconstruct what we’ve just heard.
KM: The four Gospels, as everyone knows, no doubt, are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. When you turn to Mark, basically Jesus is already an adult and starts the story from there. There’s no real birth story in Mark. When you read Luke, it mentions Herod, but there’s no mention of any star. There’s no mention of any wise men from the East. What you get is the story of an angel coming to John’s mother and saying, “Hey, you’re going to give birth to someone who’s going to be pretty cool.”
Six months later, Mary and Joseph get visited by another angel that says, “Okay, you’re going to give birth to the Savior.” A little later in the story, an angel appears to the shepherds and guides them, not a star. An angel guides them to where Jesus is born and there’s no mention of any wise man, or kings, or astrologers, or anything else. It’s just some shepherds came to offer their respect. It’s like, in my mind, a very different coloring of this story.
And then John, Jesus is God made flesh, according to my understanding of Christianity, most sects of Christianity. So John is, of the four Gospels, the most far out. It starts out with: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. It’s a very philosophical opening. There’s a lot of very colorful imagery, a lot of what could be stellar or astrological symbology in the text. You’d think of any of the four stories, the Star of Bethlehem would definitely be in the Gospel of John. Nope, it’s not there at all. And so, this begins the argument of was this whole star business a literary device.
The Middle East, or Jerusalem, or the Kingdom of Judea at this time was a big crossroads of trade, and it was not unlike California’s New Age movement. There were a lot of cults and a lot of different religions mixing shoulders and trying to get worshippers. As a Hellenistic astrologer, how prominent was astrology, as we understand it, horoscopic astrology, at the time that Jesus was born?
CB: If we’re talking about between 10 BC and the 1st century…
CB: …or let’s say year 1 BC–so right before the 1st century of the last 2,000 years–that’s basically when Hellenistic astrology has just recently come on the scene. So it’s probably about, at most, a hundred-years-old. Some people suggest that it came together around 100 BC. Horoscopic astrology, or Western astrology, with the system of casting birth charts and looking at planets, and signs, and houses, and aspects was a relatively new but existing system at that time by the time this would have taken place.
KM: Some scholars, Nick Campion, others I‘ve read whose names I’ve forgotten–this is not certainly not original with me–have floated the idea that there wasn’t ever actually a star. Again, it was a literary device to say, ‘Hey, our guy, our Savior had all this special omenology around him and a star appeared.” Now we have horoscopic astrology, but prior to that we have celestial omenology of the Babylonian period, which the Jews were very familiar with and which remnants survive in even the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is where celestial events form omens rather than influences.
Modern astrologers, like you and me, Chris, we tend to think that there’s some sort of influence, whether by synchronicity or whatever. Who knows what the causal connection is but there’s some planetary influence that affects people’s lives. That’s different than having an omen that doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than, ‘Oh! Follow this bright light. It’s going to lead you to the Savior.”
CB: Sure. It’s weird because the way it’s described, it does seem to be acting as more like a sign or an omen, where the Magi or the astrologers show up in Jerusalem saying that they saw something that indicated the birth of the King of the Jews, or that indicated the birth of somebody important.
But then it’s weird because in the story, it plays this additional role where they’re almost implying that they’re following it to the location of where Jesus is actually being born, which goes a little bit further and is almost a little more outside of what you would think would be plausible as a purely astronomical phenomenon.
KM: I have an idea about that. Even though I will say, if it’s not obvious, I’m in the camp where I actually don’t think there was “a Star of Bethlehem”. I think it was inserted. That’s just where I’m coming from personally, but I will now make a counter-argument.
Assuming you had an ephemeris and knew how to calculate Ascendants for different latitudes, instead of looking for sky omens, if you really were thinking, “Okay, someone important is going to be born, where is that chart likely to be?” you could with sufficient math and time possibly come up with a location and a time. But if that were true, you wouldn’t have to ask someone, “Where is this King of the Jews?” Actually, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me go back to that passage.
Why does Herod freak out? If someone were to tell him, “Look, dude. This guy’s just going to be a religious leader. It’s not going to affect you politically at all, relax!” the whole story might have been different, but he was freaking out. And why was he freaking out? It’s because Herod was the Roman King of the Jews.
Now if you look at the Roman Empire at the time Jesus was born, it was huge, but a tiny slice of that, which was the former independent state of Judea, was under his dominion. I’m not quite sure what the Latin term would be, but he was basically king. He was given the rulership of Judea. It’s said he even became a Jew himself, although not necessarily a practicing Jew, according to historical accounts, he was kind of a terrible person. But that was his title, “King of the Jews”. So when someone comes up and goes, “Oh, we’ve heard there’s a new King of the Jews born,” he’s thinking, “What? Someone’s here to take my place?”
CB: Right, and what’s funny about that is that he’s like, “Well, tell me where to find this guy because I would like to meet him and shake his hand.” So the story actually sets it up so that the Magi or the astrologers are about to unwittingly lead Herod to the birth of Jesus, who Herod will probably subsequently kill if he found him because of the risk of being usurped as the ruler.
KM: Thinking that he’s going to be a political dynamo, not a religious dynamo. Like I said, it’s like, “Look, he’s just going to start a new cult that will be an offshoot of Judaism.” He probably would have been like, “Okay, fine. Those are like a diamond of dozen. I’m not worried about that.” But if he thought that his political future was in danger then he starts freaking out.
And by the way, why would Persian magicians care about who the next ruler is going to be of the small province of Judea? This is another thing that doesn’t quite make sense in the story. Why would Zoroastrians go on this long journey to find someone who is going to be the new king of the Kingdom of Judea? I mean, that would be like me going to New Hampshire to see who’s going to be the new governor. Why would it even be on my radar that that would be important?
CB: Sure. I think if you’re adopting a Christian perspective–which certainly the New Testament writers or at least Matthew would have been–it would’ve been because ultimately this guy is the Savior of the world or something like that, and so it carries much broader implications. But certainly, from that standpoint, from a historical standpoint, that would make sense that they’re just travelling to some small province. Maybe we should expand on that point a bit.
In the Greek texts, it uses the term ‘Magi’ in the Greek. And so, this word gets translated like five or six different ways depending on which translation you’re reading. But the Magi, as you just said, were a class of Zoroastrian or Persian priests from Persia. I think people know where Persia. It’s just to the right of or east and encompasses part of what is ancient-day Mesopotamia which is the birth place of astrology in some sense.
CB: One of the things that’s interesting to me about that is that the Bible uses the term ‘Magi’ to refer specifically to this class of Zoroastrian priests rather than the more widely used term that’s sometimes used as a kind of catchphrase for astrologers which is ‘Chaldean’, which is the specific class of people from Mesopotamia that were widely known for their skill in astrology.
CB: So the word ‘Magi’, it does carry with it connotations of being able to interpret celestial omens and basically do astrology. But one of the things that Dieter Koch points out in his book is that it also carries with it additional connotations of them being fluent in a number of other forms of divination potentially, as well as what might be characterized as magical practices.
So there’s this separate thing going on with the terminology of ‘Magi’ where, on the one hand, you could easily interpret that or translate it as ‘astrologer’. Functionally speaking, from the perspective of the story and what it’s trying to convey by that, it’s basically saying these three, or however many people show up are obviously using their proficiency in astrology and that’s what’s led them to Judea at this point, and to Jerusalem, and then subsequently Bethlehem. But there may be other connotations that go along with that.
One of the things that’s interesting that Koch argues then is he tries to draw a parallel with modern-day Buddhists, who in trying to identify the reincarnation of their spiritual leader, they’ll sometimes take into account other non-astrological considerations based on a mixture of prophecy and other forms of divination in order to do this.
CB: Perhaps there could have been a similar role here, hypothetically, if this is a legitimate historical scenario that happened. It could have been something more like that where they weren’t just using astrology even though astrology is the main thing that’s being flagged here in this story.
KM: My problem with that is twofold. One is Zoroastrianism is alive and well today. Why would the Zoroastrian priest be interested? Whether they thought he was going to be a spiritual king or political king, let’s say he thought he was going to be a spiritual leader of the Jews. I mean, they obviously go in saying ‘King of the Jews’.
CB: Well, that’s how Matthew…
KM: That’s how it’s reported, right. Again, why wouldn’t they be looking for their own prophets? Why are they coming all this way to see what is likely to be a Jewish king or a Jewish prophet?
And then second of all, I don’t believe horoscopic astrology at this point was being done in Persian. It would have been more celestial omenology, right? Otherwise, we would have had Egyptian priests or some Greek priests coming to…
CB: We don’t really know.
CB: There was some Hellenistic astrology that was getting backfed into Mesopotamia at this point or some concepts. So it’s possible that they could have had it already back there, and certainly, they would have had a long tradition. Remember, just prior to when Alexander the Great conquered all of Mesopotamia and Persia, just prior to that was when the Persian Empire dominated the entirety of Mesopotamia and Persia. And actually it was under the Persian Empire, around the 5th century BCE, that we get the invention of natal astrology.
CB: So the concept of natal astrology actually originally came about under the Persian Empire, technically.
KM: We’ll get into this later in the program, I’m sure, but one of the things that’s often bedeviled–and I use that word intentionally…
KM: …one of the things that has bedeviled astrologers/astronomers who take the Star of Bethlehem as a reality is then, “Okay, we have to somehow incorporate this star into the birth chart.” If you let go of that and just say, “Okay, what would be the birth chart of a world savior? What kind of chart would generate that?” then these Persian astrologers should have in theory known that Bethlehem was the place to go because that is where the chart would have been.
CB: Yeah, and I’m sure that’s the approach that some people have taken and that’s certainly a legitimate approach. Because the short story is so concise, there’s the possibility that if it was a historical thing that’s being conveyed in this very brief, almost cryptic manner, that maybe it’s just saying it in generalities, that they were following a ‘star’, but what’s actually meant by that is something more advanced and something more complicated.
Just like if you were to say, Augustus in the 1st century published his horoscope, that doesn’t mean that he published his Sun sign for Tuesday. It means he published his full birth chart and maybe his time-lords and zodiacal releasing periods and everything else that showed that he would become eminent when he became emperor or something like that. Sometimes maybe there’s shorthand that can be used.
Actually it’s really funny because Patrick Watson just sent me this link last night. That’s actually really funny. It was posted by Wade Cave. Did you see that? It was like a video of…
CB: …Hillary Clinton at a rally recently. Somebody asked a question and it’s something weird like “Are you sad?” or “Would you like to have done other things with your career like become a singer like Beyoncé?” or something like that. Hilary starts talking about Beyoncé and what an amazing performer she was, and then she says that that’s just not something that she could do. And then she starts to say, “It’s not in my astrological…” and she sort of trails off, and then she says “…reading,” or something like that and laughs and everyone laughs and then she goes on.
KM: Fascinating. No, I have not seen this.
CB: Yeah, it’s really amazing. It’s an unlisted video right now, but I’m hoping it gets out more widely because that’s actually tied into my own personal ‘Star of Bethlehem’ per se that I’m trying to figure out in modern times, which is what is the birth time of Hilary Clinton.
CB: That’ll be the subject of a future episode, but that’s another example where she refers to her astrological reading. She almost was about to say ‘chart’, but it’s almost like she stopped herself. And that carries with it a lot of connotations just own its own, even though you’re using shorthand to refer to it.
KM: Right. You’re right.
CB: I guess we have to hypothetically take into account the possible scenario where what’s being referred to here is shorthand for something more complicated or more complex.
CB: But that being said, let’s look into the actual term of what’s used because one of the things that people often overlook is that there’s a specific technical term that‘s used in that passage. It says right at the beginning, ‘the Magi’.
One of the things I should clarify right from the start–so I can stop having a digression about that–it’s traditionally or it‘s been for several hundred years referred to as the 3 Magi, or the 3 Wise Men, or the 3 Astrologers. But in the passage itself, it doesn’t actually specify the number, so in reality we don’t know how many there were in this hypothetical story. It was inferred after the fact, in subsequent centuries that there may have been three of them because they offered three gifts. And so, there’s this indirect evidence of maybe there were three of them because they offered three distinct gifts. Who really knows.
Now that I’ve done that caveat, I can alternate between saying the 3 Magi, which is the typical convention versus saying however many magi there were that showed up that day.
CB: And so….
KM: Before…I’m sorry…
KM: …before you go into that let’s also think now who would have eyewitnessed this to tell the tale later. We only have Jesus’ mother and father, Mary and Joseph. I mean, those would be the only ones present, unless the shepherds somehow ran into them and Luke for some reason left that part of the story out.
So this would be a tale told by parents years after the fact to possible Gospel writers or people that later talked to Gospel writers. Okay.
CB: Yeah, or the Magi themselves.
KM: Or the Magi themselves, yeah.
KM: I think maybe there were two…
CB: There were two?
KM: …if there were any, and they had three gifts because you want to bring cool things, like a traveling buddy.
CB: Yeah, I always wanted to give them names, but it turned out that they have already had names, not in obviously the Gospels themselves, but later tradition gave them random names for some reason.
KM: Oh, nice.
CB: Yeah, they’re kind of funny names. It’s Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar. I think Balthasar is probably the coolest name out of the three.
KM: Yeah, I’ve actually heard that name used in certain literary situations. Well, it means a lot more to me now, okay. Interesting.
CB: I don’t know. For our purposes, we can call them Pete and Gus and Sam.
CB: All right, there’s a specific technical term that’s used in the passage that’s often overlooked. And this is where what translation you’re using really makes a difference, and where in fact more recent translations have been more sensitive to this issue because of the revival of scholarly interest in and focus on ancient astrology as a historical discipline, with academics actually studying the history of Hellenistic and ancient astrology in the past century and starting to be more sensitive to when specific terms are used and what that means.
So this actually comes up in this passage in the Gospel of Matthew because the Magi say that they have come because they observed ‘his star at it’s rising’. So his star at it’s rising. The term that they used in the Greek for ‘rising’ that’s being translated as “at it’s rising” is anatolḗ.
This is interesting because this is actually a technical term that’s used in Hellenistic astrology, and it has two distinct technical meanings. One of them is used more commonly, but they both get used at different points. So one of the meanings of anatolḗ is always translated as ‘rising’. It means ‘rising’ literally. But from a technical standpoint, in the astrological texts at the same time period, it means ‘rising over the eastern horizon/Ascendant’, so that means basically in the Ascendant, the rising sign.
Alternatively, and more commonly, number two is that when the term anatolḗ is most commonly used in the Hellenistic texts, it means making a heliacal rising, which is when a planet emerges from under the beams of the Sun, which was standardized to within 15 degrees of a conjunction with the Sun and moving away from the Sun.
So moving outside of that 15 degree range is when a planet is said to be at its rising because then the planet is no longer obscured by the beams of the Sun. Suddenly, it goes from being basically invisible to suddenly being visible again so that you can see it, so it rises, or it makes an appearance to people that are observing the planets.
KM: It’s possible that whoever the author is of Matthew, possibly Matthew or whoever, had some technical, astronomical/astrological wording. But it’s also possible that it became technical after the fact and he’s simply using it to mean rising.
CB: Rising in what sense? Like rising upwards?
KM: What is the non-technical use of anatolḗ? It became a technical word in Hellenistic astrology. Was it used prior to that? Did it have a common usage outside of technical astrology?
CB: There’s only one astronomical text, which was Geminus from the 1st century, and I’d have to pull that up to see what he uses the term anatolḗ for. I think he would use it for heliacal rising, but it’s often translated as ‘a star’. We saw his ‘star’ in the East, or we saw his ‘star’ from the East or something like that. But the term that’s being translated as ‘East’ is the term that’s used for rising. And the Ascendant, remember, is always in the East, so it can mean that. It could mean ‘East’ in its most generic sense.
KM: The concept of heliacal rising had been important for a long, long time, especially for celestial omenology over and above horoscopy.
CB: Yeah, especially in the Mesopotamian tradition where astrology was much more observational because they actually had generations of astrologers going out and observing the sky every night and writing down where the planets were. But also, they were taking into account visual phenomenon as being much more significant, or ominous, or astrologically important to some extent than we do today, where it’s almost much more of an abstract thing in the ancient world.
I remember reading this passage from a translation of a cuneiform tablet, a history text recently, and it said if there’s an eclipse of the Sun in a certain part of the sky, during a certain time frame, then the king will die. However, if the eclipse becomes covered up at the critical moment by the clouds and is obscured from the perspective of the city where the king lives, then the omen will be dispersed because it means that the gods are hiding it from the king and the king will not die.
Observational phenomena relative to the perspective of the observer were much more important and seen as much more significant to the Mesopotamian tradition. So something like this, where you’re talking about a scenario of a planet making a heliacal rising and suddenly becoming visible again could have potentially been given more astronomical or astrological significance in that time frame than we might give it today.
KM: Right, and it’s my understanding that in some of the Dead Sea Scroll material, it’s that kind of omenology that’s mentioned. Of course, that had a very profound influence. We see that surviving in the Indian tradition as well, some of those Babylonian principles of celestial omenology.
CB: Sure, and that’s something you specialize in. For example, that branch of horary, what it’s called where you take omenology into account a lot?
KM: Nimitta. Well, nimitta is the word we use for ‘omen’ and prashna is our word for ‘horary’.
CB: And then there’s that specific type of prashna in Kerala that’s Ashtamangala Prashna.
KM: Right. Sorry. Ashtamangala Prashna, where, yeah, it’s really dialed ,the omenology and the astrology.
CB: And you actually attended a horary reading with that once, right?
KM: Yes,I actually witnessed a few of them, but one of them I almost ruined. It was in London, at a Vedic Conference the British Vedic Astrological Society was putting on. They had brought a guy from India and he was doing this traditional Ashtamangala Prashna. He was setting it up, and I was in charge of filming him.
And as I was filming him, I moved and knocked a glass off a chair and the guy, the priest stopped what he was doing and he said, “Did the glass break?” And I’m like, “No, it’s okay,” and he’s like, “Okay. Phew.” I have no idea what would have happened had I broken that glass, but thank goodness it was okay.
CB: So it’s like horary in a sense but it’s not. In Western horary, horary becomes like this very short, very quick and dirty astrology, but this type of horary is a long-term, like a day-long or a week-long…
KM: Yeah, it can be.
CB: …ceremony that incorporates not just the observation of the position of the planets but anything that occurs in the environment or from the perspective of the observer within that time frame, right?
KM: Correct. And it’s usually done for larger issues. You’d be talking about an organization or a country. This was to determine the fate of the UK in the coming years, so I’m really glad that glass didn’t break. If it had I wouldn’t be telling the story, believe me.
CB: Sure. You’d be in a bunker somewhere, hunkering down for the long term. Yeah. All right. I think this is important because it sets us up with some additional context. Even though this isn’t as prominent in Western astrology today, in older forms of astrology and in certain traditions, the connection between astrology and other forms of divination or omenology is much stronger. So you have a plausible scenario if we’re talking about a caste of Persian priests. They could have been incorporating other things into their considerations besides whatever this single astronomical phenomenon was that they were observing hypothetically.
So that’s one important point that it says that they observed a star rising and that’s all it says. It’s not rising in the East necessarily. I mean, you could take that connotation, but it may just mean rising. That’s all we can for sure translate it as, whatever that means. So I think that then is a good transition point into talking about some of the different specific theories.
KM: Just to summarize this little section of our talk, I hope I have been able to present a reasonable doubt case, that it’s possible that there was no actual Star of Bethlehem. But now we’re going to have fun and look at all the things that it could have been if it had been, right?
CB: And even before that, for one last piece of doubt, the story is weird. It makes it sound not just like the star or whatever the astronomical phenomenon was ‘rising’ indicated that someone important had been born, but they also specifically use it to somehow geolocate Jesus in the specific city, in Bethlehem, where it says it stopped over the place where the child was and then the Magi all start rejoicing.
CB: So there’s something else going on there as well that’s a little implausible about it.
KM: It’s almost like–I don’t know what the term would be, but we have science fiction. It’s almost like astrological fiction. It takes a principle known to astrology, “Oh, there are these heliacal risings,” and then it does something fantastic that doesn’t seem possible. But it does make sense in the context of Jesus being the rule-breaker, with regards to it’s the end of the old law.
Later on, in Matthew, Jesus says something important like “All authority of heaven and earth has been given to me,” so that he’s beyond astrological factors. But I think I’m putting the cart before the horse. Let’s look at all the cool things that if there was, what it might have been. Let’s do that.
CB: Okay. Yeah, this has been commented on for at least a thousand years now. In the Medieval period, we start getting some commentary on it, but the Church was very uncomfortable with astrology. And that’s actually one of the problems with the story of Matthew in general, when you start looking at after the New Testament came about. The Gospels were originally written in the 1st century. A few decades after Jesus died basically is when you get the composition of most of what we now know as the four canonical Gospels.
But there came this tension between astrology and Christianity in subsequent centuries and that became a problem when it came to this story specifically, because in the Gospel of Matthew, it seems pretty clear that this astrological story is being used in order to legitimize the birth of the Messiah, and that is this guy is really important, and that there is this special star that showed up at his birth, and that some astrologers came and witnessed it because they knew how important this guy was going to be. There’s this whole narrative built up about how the astrology itself was indicating or legitimizing the birth of Jesus.
But then in subsequent centuries, once Christianity got more well-established in the Roman Empire, a lot of the Church fathers had issues with astrology because of debates about fate and free will. Christianity turned much more antagonistic against astrology, so that a lot of the later Church fathers then ended up trying to distance or tried to reinterpret the story of the Star of Bethlehem in a way that was either not astrological, or in a way that somehow turned it so that their anti-astrology stance could still be justified.
For example, at the end of the story of Matthew, when it says that the Magi went home a different way instead of going back to Herod, some of the later Church fathers interpreted that to mean that once they saw Jesus, they renounced their previous faith and they renounced their previous practice of astrology and gave it all up and then went home a different way, meaning that they changed their ways and…
CB: …became different people. I had somebody actually argue with me that that was a legitimate interpretation of what this Bible passage meant, but it really doesn’t seem plausible. It seems much more like an after-the-fact attempt to reinterpret this story in a way that is not supportive of astrology even though it clearly was.
KM: And it also doesn’t make sense because that would be like saying–I can’t even think of an appropriate analogy. In other words, they use astrology, whatever that is–celestial omenology, or horoscopy, or some combination of both–to find Jesus and then announce it as being irrelevant even though that was the very technology that got them to where they were. That part doesn’t make sense.
CB: Yeah, that’s where that later quote that you read about Jesus changing everything when he was born comes into play or how they tried to use that. But some people try to argue that that last statement about the Magi going home a different way serves no purpose if not to denote that they change their ways.
KM: It serves a purpose not go back to Herod, I thought. Isn’t that the obvious idea?
CB: Yeah, exactly. What I think is the obvious thing is that the initial part of the story sets it up so that the Magi show up with good intentions thinking that somebody important has been born. So they go to the local ruler, who is Herod, and they say, “Where’s this important guy that’s just been born? We want to find him to welcome him into the world and give him some gifts.” And Herod wants to find him and kill him, so he tells the Magi to come back and let them know once they’ve located Jesus where he’s located.
KM: And the angels, doesn’t an angel warn them?
CB: Yeah, the story says in the last line that that they are told in a dream…
KM: Yes, in a dream.
CB: …not to go.
KM: So of course they’re going to go in a different way.
CB: So it does serve a purpose in that it rounds out the narrative, and it allows the astrologers not to become the unwitting accomplices of Herod, but instead to round out that story and relieve them of any negative things by having them go home a different route and basically, not shun Herod, but not allow him to do whatever he was going to do to Jesus.
KM: Getting back to the point of the Church separating itself from astrology, you have Saint Ignatius, who’s within a few decades of the Gospels being composed, as one of the first literary sources we have that says, no, this wasn’t about astrology. This was an omen in the sky that guided the Magi there. And then you have as late as Augustine in the 5th century, and for centuries after that, also agreeing with this perspective that it wasn’t about an astrological factor. It was like a special thing happening in the sky that God put there as an omen for these people.
CB: Right, like a non-astronomical event, but instead a bright light or some sort of intervention by God that signals this.
KM: Now to play devil’s advocate to my own position, if it was indeed something that an astrologer would pay attention to but not a rank-and-file normal person then it does make sense that maybe angels would have to be sent out to shepherds to guide them. They didn’t notice anything weird in the sky because what was weird was something that only a trained astrologer/astronomer would pay attention to, and maybe now we segway into what some of the things could have been.
CB: Sure. Historically, as I said earlier, there’s some famous astronomers and astrologers that they were really fascinated by this question and tried to answer it. There were some straightforward astrological ones. For example, one of the ones that is pretty common nowadays and is noted, like I said at the beginning of the show, is that there was this huge pile up of a conjunction or an alignment of a bunch of planets around Pisces. On March 1st, of 7 BC, there was a New Moon in Pisces.
KM: Sorry. Let me just interrupt you for a second. Part of the reason for the debate on what this could be is that one of the reasons why we don’t know the exact birth of Jesus is–as you mentioned earlier on the show–it doesn’t say he was born on such-and-such a date, in this month, blah, blah, blah, but it does say he was born before the death of Herod, and unfortunately, that death itself has not been exactly dated. So that’s why we have this wiggle room of 10 years plus or minus where astrologers and astronomers have scoured to see what weird things might have been happening in the sky during these possible years. Okay, continue.
CB: Yeah, and that’s a really good starting point. We have basically no idea. We have no exact dates on the birth and death of Jesus. It’s thought that he was born somewhere around the last decade of the 1st century BC. Let’s say roughly between 10 BC and 1 BC, give or take. Let’s say 5 years, maybe 10 years tops.
CB: And then he’s thought to have died somewhere around the ‘30s, so somewhere between let’s say 30 and 40 CE or AD. The alternate route is trying to figure out what other historical figures are mentioned in the story that we can confirm, and Herod was actually a historical figure that was in control of Judea at that time, but we don’t know exactly when he died.
Most scholars tend to think or tend to argue that he died around the year 4 BC, which if true would give us our latest, or our endpoint where Jesus couldn’t have been born anywhere later than 4 BC. But then that itself requires you to take for granted that the historical argument about Herod dying in 4 BC is definitely correct which not everyone necessarily does.
KM: I compiled a little list of scholars that I found, and the dates range from 5 to 1 for his death.
CB: For his death?
KM: The death of Herod, yeah.
CB: Okay, so that’s really important because if we use that we cannot look at any dates after this point. It becomes really important to nail that down or at least to know what time frame we’re working with.
KM: Yeah, I mean, even the latest day, if it’s 1, then at least that puts a ceiling. And so, probably as you said between 10 and 1 is when Jesus was born.
CB: Sure. When you look through that time frame, one of the things that’s easy for any modern astrologer to see, but also many traditional astrologers saw was this big clustering of planets, for example, around March of 7 BC. So March 1st, 7 BC, for example, you have– actually I’ve just lost it. Let me find it again and you can talk for a minute.
KM: Sure, I’ll just segway into another point. So what we mean by pileup is a bunch of the planets were in the tropical sign of Pisces and that’s a significant event. We had a similar significant event in, I believe, February of 1962, except the pileup was in Aquarius, and there were some astrologers who thought we were going to get a new prophet born. In next year’s show, Chris, you might want to actually revisit that.
I remember at the time, this would have been, again, late ‘70s, early ‘80s, there were a handful of astrologers that had actually come up with a birth date and place in the Middle East where they thought the next savior would have been born. Now of course that guy would be 53 now, or gal, and so you think if that person did exist they would have started their mission by now. But it was just interesting that we had this pileup in Aquarius then and there were some astrologers that thought, “Oh, we’re going to get another religious leader out of it.”
CB: That’s really funny because the apocalyptic, New Age books that I got into astrology with actually said that that pileup of planets in Aquarius was the birth of the Antichrist or something like that.
CB: There’s still people that are using astrological alignments for different purposes even to this day. Traditionally, one of the ones that people always noticed is that New Moon in Pisces that took place on March 1st of 7 BC. It has the Sun and Moon conjunct at 8 degrees of Pisces, then it also has Saturn at 11 Pisces, Venus at 18 Pisces, Jupiter at 2 Pisces, and Uranus at 2 Pisces.
The only planets that are not in Pisces–there’s four of them–one of them is Mercury which is just stationing direct at 16 Aquarius. The others are Pluto which is in Virgo, exactly opposing the Sun-Moon conjunction at 8 degrees of Virgo, and then Mars which is also opposing the Pisces stuff at 21 Virgo, and then finally Neptune which is up in Scorpio trining and sextiling everything from 5 Scorpio.
So that’s a big pileup of planets. It’s just something that kind of stands out during that decade because it is such a clustering of both inner planets and outer planets around the same time. Historically, Johannes Kepler, one of the most famous astronomers and astrologers in history, I think focused in on that specific Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in Pisces around that time frame…
CB: …and that was his preferred chart for Jesus. And I think he argued that that Jupiter-Saturn conjunction was what’s being relayed to us as the Star of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Matthew.
KM: And many other astrologers have jumped on the Jupiter-Saturn bandwagon, I would say.
CB: Well, yeah, and that wrapped up in that becomes the introduction of historical astrology or the type of astrology that deals with the great conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, which that’s actually interesting as a point came about in the Medieval period. You don’t see that show up in the Hellenistic tradition, but it shows up in the early Arabic sources. Apparently, according to David Pingree, it first derived from Persian astrologers from the Sassanid time frame.
CB: So this type of historical astrology was presumably introduced by Persian astrologers sometime around let’s say the 5th century CE. In the Medieval period, that became the type of astrology that was used in order to determine long-term historical epochs. But also it was used by some astrologers that said that the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in certain signs, when it conjunct other inner planets, that that would designate or would indicate the birth of different religious figures.
CB: Well, that’s part of the reason why you get people like Kepler being very interested in that Jupiter-Saturn conjunction around that time frame.
KM: Kepler and many others, because it was quite visible, point to 7 BC. But in early 6 BC, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter were all in the constellation of Pisces. It wasn’t a tight conjunction. According to my sources, they were about 8 degrees apart. Maybe you can confirm that with your software, but that would have been another bright–you would’ve had three of the planets in one sign in February of 6 BCE.
CB: Let me look that up. So February of 6 BCE. Yeah, so Uranus is also in Pisces, Jupiter and Saturn are much closer together, and then Uranus catches up to them. Yeah, they’re within a few degrees. It’s like a few degrees off, but basically there’s a conjunction of Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter in late Pisces, in February of 6 BCE.
CB: From a traditional standpoint, we have to remember that we’re talking about the 1st century, so this is before the discovery of the outer planets. Jupiter and Saturn would be the furthest visible planets and the most significant ones to some extent, so that’s another reason potentially that people might focus on Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions in that time frame for important world events, so that’s one thing.
Another theory–let’s see. Should we do historical theories, or should we do get into more recent theories? Historical theories are like Jérôme Cardan.
KM: Yeah, let’s keep doing it.
CB: Sure. So he thought it was a comet. He thought it wasn’t even something that was a normal, recurring astronomical phenomenon, but instead it was the appearance of a sudden, new, bright astronomical body in the form of a comet. That would then explain its sudden appearance. That would explain the weird movement where they’re following it supposedly towards a specific destination.
KM: People who haven’t seen a comet forget a comet has a tail, so it can create the illusion of pointing in a certain direction.
KM: And there were a bunch noted in the historical record. Chinese astronomers, thank goodness, wrote on things that didn’t decay, so we know there were some pretty bright comets in the 5 BC, 4 BC time period, so the comet theory people like that.
Plus, comets were a big piece of celestial omenology. Often in modern times, they’re given a completely negative connotation. But in the Indian literature, they are sometimes quite positive and happy, and I’m sure that’s also in the Babylonian omenology.
CB: Okay, that’s interesting. So it could be either positive or negative?
KM: Yeah, depending on other co-factors.
CB: Right, like the color of it and things like that.
KM: Yes, and where it is and things like that, what’s around it and other things.
CB: Okay. Let’s see. And that was Jérôme Cardan’s theory.
KM: Who also came up with a Jesus chart, got in trouble.
CB: Yeah, he got into a little bit of trouble for that one. Jérôme Cardan was imprisoned in 1570 for publishing what he thought was the birth chart of Jesus due to the Inquisition. I think he actually ended up dying under imprisonment, and he wasn’t the first. He was one of the later people towards the end of that bad time frame for publishing charts of Jesus, but he lucked out slightly more than a guy earlier who–are you better at reading Italian names than I am? Because I know I’m going to butcher this.
KM: Well, I might be. It depends on the name. Just try it. I’m sure you’ll do fine.
CB: I think his name is Cecco d’Ascoli.
KM: With apologies to our Italian listeners.
CB: Yeah, sadly, he was actually burned at the stake for attempting to cast and interpret the chart of Jesus in the year 1327. It’s like we’re doing this now. We’re having a somewhat lighthearted conversation about this whole thing where we’re even going so far as to question whether that story even actually occurred, but astrologers have literally died for looking into this and investigating this in past centuries. So it has this very long history and this weightiness to it as a topic because of the central role that astrology played in one of the foundational documents of what became an important world religion, as well as due to the inherent drive and curiosity that astrologers often have about looking at charts for important people.
CB: Astrologers have always been looking at celebrity charts, which is funny because that leads back to the previous time I had you on the show and our debate about celebrity versus personal charts.
CB: I’m actually going to take that as a point for me where Jérôme Cardan and this other Italian guy clearly thought that celebrity charts were valuable, so I’m going to claim those too.
KM: All right. Yeah, I like Cardan. He was an interesting guy.
CB: Yeah, he was. That would actually be a good show on its own sometime.
KM: Yeah, we should do that.
KB: It would be a great show.
CB: So Cardan thought it was a comet. Other theories, I‘ve seen some of these more recently in modern times where people have put forward the idea that it might have been a supernova.
KM: Right. In March-April of 5 BC, again, I think it was the Chinese. Their records show that they recorded a supernova and it was visible. When something goes supernova, it’s visible for a while, and then it goes out and you don’t see it anymore. I’m just checking my notes to see if there was something else. As we go over these different theories, maybe what you need is a Saturn-Jupiter conjunction while comets are flying around and there’s a supernova to get a savior.
KM: I don’t think anyone’s posted that theory yet.
CB: You just compile it all together, and there’s the appearance of an outer planet or maybe a trans-Neptunian, or something like Poseidon, for example.
KM: We’ll get to that…
KM: …with your buddy’s September 1st chart.
CB: Okay, good. So supernova–you’ve referenced a couple of times Chinese observations. That’s really important because otherwise we don’t have any Western–that’s another element of this story that’s problematic in terms of referring to this or looking at this as a definite historical event. We have no surviving, as far as I’m aware, historical documents of other people in the Mediterrenian or the Middle East or elsewhere that noted that there was this very significant astronomical event that occurred at this time.
That could be because it didn’t happen and this was a made up story, that could be because so many documents did not survive from ancient times into the modern times, and we’ve had a lot of loss sources. We do have these observations from Chinese observers that are observing different things like comets and supernovae taking place in different years, but we have no idea if those are the specific things that could have been or were the Star of Bethlehem. It’s hard to say.
KM: The Chinese supernova theory, again, according to my notes here, they observed it in the constellation–they’re not using the tropical zodiac, they were looking at the backdrop of the stars–of Capricorn. But the guy who I got this information from, when he was using software, it didn’t seem to be corresponding, so there might be a language problem. What they consider Capricorn, the constellation, might not be exactly what we’re thinking of the constellation Capricorn. So there are complicating factors, but it’s interesting that it’s not too far from Pisces.
KM: I mean, it would have been visible in the sky potentially at the same time as other things.
CB: Sure, I mean, there’s that as a possibility and then there’s other possibilities as well. There’s been some more recent scholarship and research on this, and there was one book that was published in 1999 that was pretty influential. It was by an academic named Micheal Molnar, and his book…
KM: The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi.
CB: Yeah, published in 1999. And his approach was interesting because he was an academic who took advantage of some of the recent translations that were being published by Project Hindsight, so that he actually made it a point to familiarize himself a little bit with Hellenistic astrology which was the astrology of that time period, which people generally didn’t do before that, or at least was not a common approach even though it’s an obvious approach today.
CB: But until recently, because so few translations of those texts actually existed, it would’ve been harder to do so, unless you’re classic scholar that had training in Greek and Latin. So he published this book and he really focuses on that point about them using in the Gospel of Matthew that specific technical term, anatolḗ, which meant ‘rising’.
Ultimately, what he ended up arguing was that the Star of Bethlehem was essentially a Moon-Jupiter occultation or a conjunction–an occultation or conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter, specifically in the sign of Aries–which took place on April 17th of 6 BC, and that becomes his chart basically for the birth chart of Jesus or for the Star of Bethlehem. Do you have any comments about that chart?
CB: Okay. So that’s one chart that’s been influential. Obviously, I wasn’t around a lot, and I haven’t studied this as extensively as some other topics that I’ve studied in terms of what the academics or what historians are writing about the history of this topic, but I feel like that was kind of an influential book that set a new approach or standard, at least in terms of academics who were approaching this issue.
CB: More recently, you and I both stumbled across a book that literally just came out last month that’s a compilation of papers from what was a conference event that took place on the Star of Bethlehem a few years ago. This book is titled The Star of Bethlehem and The Magi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy, edited by Peter Barthel and George van Kooten, published in November of 2015. I’m still trying to get my hands on a copy of the paperback version but Amazon hasn’t shipped it yet.
KM: Yes, as I have. So maybe next year’s show we’ll incorporate that latest research.
CB: Yeah, because as far as I can tell this is going to be the authoritative work, from a historical standpoint–everybody who specialized in anything that would be relevant in terms of looking at this from a historical perspective and analyzing different perspectives from who the Magi were, what that class of priests did in the ancient world, looking at it from a Hellenistic astrological perspective, and a bunch of different perspectives.
So it’s not astrologers looking into it, but it’s historians looking into it from a historical perspective, from their different approaches and specializing in different things from the ancient world. Still, it should be probably the most authoritative historical treatment of the topic that‘s ever been published. We unfortunately did not get a chance to incorporate that into our talk, but I think we were still able to incorporate things from other scholarship that’s been done on the subject by Nick Campion, by Michael Molnar, and additionally, as I mentioned earlier, the book that I contributed a brief chapter to a few years ago by Dieter Koch from Astrodienst.
In his book, Koch basically argues that the Star of Bethlehem was a heliacal rising of Venus in Leo. It was retrograde and getting ready to station direct on September 1st of 2 BC, at about 4:30 in the morning, in Bethlehem, Israel, so it would have also had Leo rising.
So that’s in his book. He does a really good job of both looking at all of the historical scholarship and all of the different theories about what the Star of Bethlehem was. But then also, he makes an argument for what he thinks it was, which is that it was primarily a heliacal rising Venus because then that takes into account why it says that it was the rising of a specific star.
That’s the other point that’s important that I forgot to mention. In the Hellenistic astrological texts, the word that they use that means ‘star’ is also the word that’s commonly used for planet. So you could just easily translate that passage from Matthew as saying, “We saw his planet rising,” or “We saw his planet rising in the East,” or rising over the Ascendant.
Do you have any comments about that chart?
KM: Yeah, for the readers at home, he’s giving September 1st, 2 BC, at about 4:30 AM, in Bethlehem. And actually, oops–I’m looking at the wrong version of that chart. Hold on one second. I’ll pull up the tropical version.
So one of the things I was going to do was step up when Jupiter actually conjuncts Venus. One of the things that struck me about this chart is that just in my own observational astrology over the years, when you see Venus and Jupiter together it is bright. I mean, it is quite something to see…
KM: …and it does look special. And so, I might push the date a little bit just to get Jupiter closer to Venus so they’re both showing up in this sky, if that’s possible. It probably isn’t because Venus is going to pull–oh, Venus was retrograde. Do they get closer together?
CB: Yeah, in October of 2 BC, they conjoin in 2 degrees of Virgo tropically.
KM: Okay, and how far is the Sun by then?
CB: It’s over at 17 degrees of Virgo. So they both have risen heliacally not too long before.
KM: Anyway, if we want to play with this exact date, I might push it in that direction if I were to take this as something just because of what I’ve observed over the years. Now this chart is kind of interesting to me for a couple of reasons; one is Poseidon, who’s the furthest out, trans-Neptunian planet of the Uranian school of astrology, and it’s the planet that supposedly embodies or is alleged to embody truth. That falls in the 7th house of this chart in Aquarius, exactly to the degree almost opposing Mars. In this chart, you’ve got Venus, Jupiter, and Mars all in the first house with Leo rising.
Now one of the things I did was I have said to myself, are there any examples of people that have a Leo rising, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars? And I searched through the entire 23,000 charts that were available to me from Astro-Databank, and I got one match. And this is the interesting thing. There is a Finnish playwright who became a politician, whose name I am going to butcher because I do not know Finnish at all. But J-u-s-s-i, is his first name, Jussi, and then P-a-r-v-i-a-i-n-e-n is his last name, born in 1955.
He was born, and the interesting thing is he wrote a play called A Lover of God. It apparently had these religious themes that hadn’t been explored before in the Finnish world. It had nudity in it. It was very controversial and kind of iconoclastic. He then later runs for a political office; that’s early in his career, in the ‘80s. I think it’s 2011, he runs and I believe wins to be part of parliament. And I thought, okay, here is a guy that talked about God and then became a leader in his own country, and he had a similar configuration to this particular Jesus chart, and I just thought that was an interesting thing.
KM: If I stripped out the requirement of having to have Leo rising and all three of those planets, if we just go and start looking at the charts of people that have both Jupiter and Venus in Leo, that’s always going to happen every 12 years when Jupiter is in Leo. They’ll be some time of the year that both of them are together. You get all kinds of interesting people. Some of them are murderers. Some of them are interesting people, so that struck me as kind of interesting.
If I take the Leo out of the equation, and I’m just looking for charts with Mars, Venus, and Jupiter rising, Paul Newman had that. You get a lot of Aquarius-type people because–sorry not Aquarius, Capricorn. It most recently in our lifetime happened when those guys were in Capricorn. Paul Newman had it. Terence Mckenna, religious studies scholar experimenting with hallucinogens, our own astrological cohort Kim Farnell has this rising in her chart and you find all kinds of things. John Belushi. It’s not like you can generally say, “Oh, this type of person’s going to be this kind of way,” because they’re all over the map as I’ve just illustrated.
But I just found it kind of interesting, even though I still think that there was no actual Star of Bethlehem. I think if someone is going to try to figure out a Jesus chart, just go with what you think a savior should look like. Everyone’s always tried to dial in the Star of Bethlehem because they’ve taken it as it’s got to include something that would have been noticeable. But to a horoscopic astrologer, they would have been looking for the proper chart of a world religious leader…
KM: …or king.
CB: And that’s an issue even in and of itself. Just for full disclosure, we should be clear what our background is. Everyone approaches this with certain biases. My bias is that just by name and growing in that circumstance, I don’t identify as a Christian, and so I don’t have any particular pull towards definitely taking this story in the Gospel of Matthew for granted. I think it could go either way in terms of being a real or a quasi-real story that has some element of truth to it, or it could be totally made up for political purposes. It doesn’t matter to me, or at least my faith, for example, is not tied into it, so that’s the bias that I approach the material with to some extent. What is your background?
KM: Right. I was raised in a Jewish family, but a fairly liberal Jewish family. I grew up thinking that Jesus was a great prophet of God, but he wasn’t the savior of the Jews; that was kind of the message I got. So whether there was a star or wasn’t, I don’t really care. I mean, I think it’s kind of cool either way, just, to me, the preponderance of evidence seems like it’s not because you’d think the other Gospels would mention it.
All those points I’ve gone over in my mind point that there wasn’t. But if someone tomorrow comes up with a new piece of evidence, I’m like, fantastic. I mean, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s is not going to influence me one way or the other.
CB: Sure. I think as astrologers, we certainly also have a bias where we would expect somebody to have kind of an interesting chart…
KM: Correct. That’s our bias, yeah.
CB: …whereas somebody that’s a historian might not necessarily. Some of them obviously, like Michael Molnar, approach this trying to figure out what ancient astrologers believed and what they would have thought was significant, and so that is a legitimate historical perspective that you can approach things from that doesn’t require belief in astrology necessarily.
CB: But certainly, being astrologers as well as people interested in history, we have this additional bias where we almost would expect that somebody who ended up being an important historical figure would have had an interesting chart to say the least, or a significant chart in some way.
KM: And that is so seductive to astrologers that we’ve gone to jail in eras past, as you’ve mentioned with Cardan and others. They’ve gone to jail for it because they just couldn’t keep their hands off the topic.
CB: Right, and astrologers have literally always flirted with and used the charts of eminent people because they sometimes make some of the most interesting studies astrologically. Because they’re famous and because they’re eminent, you have some familiarity with their life, and so you want to see what the astrology is behind that. So who better to look into the astrology of one of the most famous people that’s ever lived.
KM: Right. Too bad, it‘s dirty data
CB: Yeah, we’re going to have to classify this is a DD in the Astro-Databank entry.
CB: This is actually like the dirty data entry to end all dirty data entries.
CB: Like 2,000 years of astrologers arguing about it.
CB: Let’s see, where does that bring us to? We’ve gone through most of the theories. The only other ones are either aspect patterns or heliacal rising of Venus which we’ve mentioned.
KM: Aspect patterns, which I’m sure all your listeners know, but to the one or two that they don’t, those are the way planets are configured in relation to each other in the sky, and certain patterns are more significant than others.
CB: Sure, which I guess could be something like a Grand Cross, or it could be something like a stellium, the pileup or mass conjunction in Pisces.
KM: I’ve seen a speculative chart of King David where it actually forms two, interlacing Grand Trines to create the so-called Star of David.
CB: The thing in 1987 that you were around for, what was it called? It was called the cardinal alignment. It was a bunch of planets in a big star or in a massive, I don’t know, quincunx or something like that.
KM: Yeah, I forget when that was, but yeah, there was that.
CB: The 1987 stellar alignment, or whatever it was called.
KM: Harmonic Convergence.
CB: Harmonic Convergence, that’s it. Okay. It was like everyone got together and meditated or something like that.
KM: Yeah. People went to Sedona, to Bell Rock thinking it was going to take off into the stars. I mean, it was quite something to witness.
CB: Sure. Stuff like that happens and still happens.
CB: Astrologers do stuff like that sometimes. So you can see parallels in modern times where you can almost understand how there could have been a historical scenario like that, but then on the other hand you could also see it going the other way.
KM: Right. And maybe the last piece we should cover is would someone like Jesus be bound by the same kind of astrological confines that we would expect an ordinary human to be. Does being a divine human–now of course he was God made flesh but he had to eat, right? I mean, he couldn’t live on nothing, or could he? Would he be subject to the same kind of astrological influences?
This is where you get into heresy because of course the Church wants to say absolutely not. Jesus himself later in Matthew says, All authority of heaven and earth has been given to me. Heavens and earth, implying that astrology doesn’t apply to him.
CB: That actually raises a really important fundamental point. There is no real agreement and that’s where the bias part comes in. There’s very little agreement about who Jesus was and what he taught and what his life was like, the biographical details of his life for the most part.
Historical scholars, obviously religious scholars and religious leaders have argued about this for centuries, and there’s been schisms and historical debates about sometimes really major theological disputes or sometimes really minor things.
CB: And even amongst modern-day historians, there’s just not a lot of agreement about some of the fundamental points about this person’s life. Ultimately, one of the greatest issues with approaching this is that you are going to approach it with a certain bias in terms of what you personally think this person’s life was or should have been like, and then you’re going to find something based on that.
KM: Some would argue that Christianity, as it’s come down to us, was heavily influenced by Paul, and maybe Paul’s birth chart is the one to look at because so many of the policy writings in the New Testament are from Paul’s hand. Yeah, it gets complicated and it gets interesting.
CB: Yeah, and then you have things like the Gospel of Thomas and some of the Gnostic Gospels, or the things that didn’t end up in the canonical Gospels, so then that leads to debates over what Jesus actually said and thought versus what he didn’t. That’s a breaking point for me.
There’s different people that do make this their personal research project, but ultimately, I think the most important point that everyone needs to realize is no matter how much you feel like this specific chart or this specific alignment or whatever it is, is it and that you’ve found it, you’ll never know for sure. And honestly, nobody will ever know for sure what the Star of Bethlehem was, if it did exist as a thing, or what the birth chart of Jesus was.
CB: So it becomes kind of like–I don’t want to say a fool’s errand. I don’t want to be too dismissive of people that research that because I know of a few astrologers that this is like their thing.
KM: It can become a Don Quixote, kind of windmill; it can become that. Since we’ll never know for sure that shouldn’t discourage anyone from researching it and plummeting it more. But until we invent time machines that can reliably go back to our own timeline, we won’t be able to settle this.
CB: Sure. And I think the most reasonable position to take is just to know the different theories that are out there, to know the historical background story, to understand what’s said in the Gospel of Matthew versus what isn’t, and then to understand that as separate from some of the later Church interpretations.
Even though, to us now, they’ve been part of the tradition for 1,500 years or 1,800 years, many of those later Church traditions about, for example, interpreting the Magi leaving and going a different route after they visited Jesus as meaning that they gave up astrology, that’s something even in and of itself that wasn’t introduced until centuries after the story occurred.
KM: There is a scholarly point, a very important one that we totally forgot to mention and that is that many scholars believe that each Gospel had its own kind of audience. Remember, we didn’t get the New Testament all bound as one; that took a few hundred years and a few debates to figure out what was going to be in there. According to the scholarship I looked at, the Gospel of Matthew was really designed to sway the pagan audience. So it would make sense that that would be where you were thrown in this little story that involves a bit of astrology because the pagan Roman Empire would have been aware of those kinds of things and would have responded to that.
And remember, you’re trying to save people’s souls. So these polemics, in addition to telling you what happened, they’re also trying to get people to be saved, right? Save their souls. It wouldn’t be beyond the pale to have included things for certain audiences that would be meaningful to them.
CB: Sure, and even the Gospels themselves were not written until…
CB: …were not thought to be written until a few decades after Jesus died…
CB: …by people who were followers of his, but then even some of those have been speculated. Academics and religious scholars have noted parallels in certain passages, not just the passages in the story, but also the wording between, for example, the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. They hypothesized that there was a fifth source, the Q document, that they were drawing on. So they were drawing on a source document and then they were incorporating that into the Gospels that later became the New Testament.
CB: And this brings up a point that I raised in a recent episode. One of the things that I really encourage astrologers to do at this point is to not talk about or not do things in a shallow manner. If you’re going to get into a topic like this for example, like the Star of Bethlehem, really you’ve got to go all the way, and you’ve got to know what you’re talking about and really research your sources deeply.
This is a huge, huge topic just in and of itself because it incorporates religious history and religious criticism and theological issues. It incorporates textual criticism and the interpretation and translation of ancient texts. It incorporates astrology and the difference between modern and ancient astrology. It incorporates all sorts of things so that really you should be careful about making statements about something like this without having looked into a deeply. But if you’re going to look into and get into it, you have to realize that it’s a very big field and it’s going to take a lot of work in order to be able to understand it fully.
CB: But that’s the better option I think to actually really dive into it and really immerse yourself in the sources and become an authority on that topic if you want to specialize in it, rather than just reading blog post or something very briefly and then thinking that you know everything about the topic.
KM: Right. Well said, Chris.
CB: Yeah, unfortunately, no matter how much research you do and the further you go into it, one of the things that you may end up with is just the realization that you may never know for sure and that nobody will ever know for sure.
KM: The joy is in the journey.
CB: Yes, the journey itself might still be worth the process. All right. Excellent. Well, is there anything…
KM: Should we wish everyone a Merry Christmas?
CB: Yeah, I guess so, and a merry, non-denominational and international holiday season.
KM: Yes, and Happy New Year.
CB: All right. Is there anything that we forgot to mention that we should do to close this up?
KM: The only other thing–which your other thing is probably going to be more important than this–only because I’ve been looking at the September 1st birth chart, as a chart of a carpenter, the ruler of the 3rd–what we do with our hands–and the ruler of the 10th–the career–are both Venus signs; and Venus is in the 1st house and it is with Mars.
Anyway, it just occurred to me that if you were going to find the chart of a carpenter, you don’t have to push this chart very far to get that, not to mention the Moon’s also in the 3rd house. Okay, I’m done with Jesus charts.
CB: Sure. And the thing that I want to, not close with but I forgot–I couldn’t figure out a way to integrate it into this–was that there’s often this separate consideration, in modern times, in the 20th century, and discussion about the Age of Pisces and New Age associations of Pisces with Christianity, and then Jesus being like a fisherman, or fish symbology being important in Christianity. So that also becomes one of the access points or reasons why modern astrologers will argue for the Pisces conjunction or lineup to be important.
I’m not sure that’s a great argument, but that’s part of a separate show on the astrological ages and the Age of Aquarius and stuff that I’ll have to deal with at another time. Maybe you can join me for that.
KM: Oh, that would be great, yeah.
CB: Okay. And then finally, the last point that I couldn’t integrate was the last time I wrote about this, somebody mentioned Zeitgeist, that movie that came out several years ago.
KM: Oh, yes.
CB: The first part of it basically establishes or it attempts to establish that Christianity, and that Jesus in particular, is a conspiracy theory or a made-up religion that’s based on incorporating astronomical or astrological concepts into a solar theology or something like that.
One of the things that I wanted to point out, I’ve always meant to a show on this but I never have, so I wanted to use this as an excuse to bring it up. What most astrologers don’t realize is if you watch Zeitgeist carefully, especially through to the end of that section where it’s talking about astrology and Christianity, astrologers get really excited about it because they think that he is pointing out positive astrological correspondences between astrology and Christianity.
Actually his thesis is that astrology is false, and he’s using that as an access point to criticize Christianity by suggesting that Christianity is false and is just as made up as astrology is, and it’s just being used to control people. Then it transitions into like a 9/11 conspiracy theory sort of thing.
KM: And as one researcher once asked me, “Other than Judaism, what was the most popular religion of the area at the time of the rise of Christianity?” The fact that we don’t know the answer to that question off the top of our heads speaks volumes, and he said, “You should go find out the answer to that.”
So I’ll leave the audience with that question as well. If you don’t know the answer to that look into it.
CB: All right. Actually one of the answers that I would put to that–because I’ve never thought of that question before–but you could argue astrology. The fact that astrology then gets incorporated into many different religions like Hermeticism–and to some extent Judaism and Stoicism, and different philosophical schools like Hermeticism–you see it then showing up in weird ways, in ways that help to become incorporated in and to bolster that specific approach to spirituality. And so, you see it show up right at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew here in the New Testament.
All right. Well, I think that brings us to the end of our discussion. I think this was pretty exhaustive.
CB: Thanks to everyone for listening to this, and thank you, Kenneth, for joining me. I really appreciate it.
KM: Yeah, thank you for having me. It was great. Hopefully, the listeners got some fun out of it as well.
CB: Yeah, where can people find out more information about your work again?
KM: You can find me at kennethdmiller.com, or celestialintelligencer.net, or email me at email@example.com
CB: Excellent. All right, well, thanks for joining me.
KM: You’re quite welcome.
CB: Thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.