Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical Phenomenon

Recently I've discovered that it is highly probable that the Star of Bethlehem was not only a recorded historical event, but an actual, verifiable astronomical phenomenon.  And I love scientific explanations for things like this... the vision that Constantine saw may have been an uncommonly spectacular sun halo, for instance.  But I digress.

There is a movie that has been circulating around the internet for a few years called Zeitgeist, which seeks to cast aspersions on Christianity (among other things) by espousing false correlations and comparisons between Christianity and other religions and inventing new and improved historical data to support their arguments... basically it's a dissertation of shameless and blatant lies, and it's also a topic that I'll save for another time. However, I do find it somewhat ironic that this movie, the purpose of which is to tear down faith, served instead to reinforce it. Allow me to explain.

So, in reaction to this steaming pile called Zeitgeist, I was checking some of this 'factual data' online. In the process I discovered that the Bible doesn't give a specific date for the birth of Jesus, and that it's possible that it could have occurred sometime during the late summer. It's even been postulated that December 25th was chosen as the date of Christ's birth so that pagans could convert to Christianity more easily, being that some popular pagan holidays occur on December 25th (it's not my purpose here to speculate or support any of these suggestions, and they're beside the point anyway). From this information I was led to some very specific data which I found almost unbelievable. It has been suggested before that the Star of Bethlehem could have been an astronomical event, such as a comet or supernova, so this was a concept which which I was familiar. What I discovered, however, amazed me.

Firstly, it is useful to know that a conjunction, in astronomical terms, is when two or more celestial bodies appear near one another in the sky. What I discovered was that on a specific date over 2000 years ago - that of June 17th, 2 BC, to be exact - Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest 'stars' in the night sky, visibly merged to form one dazzling object. There has not been a brighter, closer conjunction of these two planets in the 2000 years before that date or since. For such an extremely unlikely event to occur so near the time of Christ's birth, to me, is far more than just coincidence... it's providence. Therefore, I believe that this extremely rare celestial event is, in fact, what was historically witnessed as the Star of Bethlehem.

Excited by this possibility, I decided to see it for myself. There is a program available for free download called Stellarium... http://stellarium.org/ ...which can show what the sky looked like or will look like at any given date, past present or future, from any location on Earth. So, I loaded Stellarium and typed in the global coordinates for Bethlehem (32°44′11.85″N 35°11′28.72″E), set the date to June 17th, 2 BC in the early evening, and was promptly disappointed. There was no conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. Frustrated, I clicked forward to the year one and noticed something odd... the program actually used a year 'zero', so instead of going from 1 BC directly to 1 AD, it first went to the year ZERO and then it went to 1 AD. That was the problem. Since there was no actual year zero, then the year zero in Stellarium was actually 1 BC. Since I had it set to 2 BC, I was actually seeing the night sky of Bethlehem on June 17th in the year 3 BC. Armed with this new found wisdom, I set the year to 1 BC (actually 2 BC) and was presented with exactly that which was predicted - Jupiter and Venus were undergoing a conjunction so close that the two planets were indistinguishable as two separate objects... even to this computer program, this virtual planetarium, they appeared as a single 'star'.

Wow, I thought. Just wow. There it was - verified, indisputable scientific proof that at a time very close to the birth of Christ an extremely bright 'star' appeared in the sky; a signal which Wise Men of the time could have predicted with astrology, measured with instruments, and charted with maps, thus using it to guide them over oceans of not water, but desert. A celestial event coinciding with the biblical prophecies which predicted the birth of a Messiah; a new, bright star shining in the sky, brighter than any star ever before. To me, this is the evidence for the Star of Bethlehem.

Here is the link where I discovered this information, a very interesting read...


And here is a link to some screenshots with captions that I made with Stellarium demonstrating the conjunction of June 17th, 2 BC between Jupiter and Venus (numbered 1 - 5, in order). Be sure to click on the actual picture in your browser window so that it magnifies to full size.


Oh and by the way, Stellarium doesn't render this conjunction as particularly bright... but in real life, you can be sure that it would have been spectacular.

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