So, in keeping with my holiday theme of subjects, I thought that I would talk about the mystery around the “star of Bethlehem.

So what was the Star?

The wise men or Magi came from an area which is now in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or the Yemen (then known as Persia, Arabia and Sheba).  They’re often called the ‘Three Kings’, but the Bible doesn’t say how many there were, or that they were even kings! They became three because of the gifts the brought with them.

They were indeed “wise men”.  The Magi were “Magupati”, a title given to priests in a sect of the ancient persian religions such as Zoroastrianism.  Today we’d called them astrologers.  Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same overall studies (and ‘science’) and went hand in hand with each other.  The magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously.  They would have also probably been very rich and held high esteem in their own society and by people who weren’t from their country or religion.

They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special King in Israel.  But what did they see?  The Bible says they ‘saw it in the east’ and then when they were in Jerusalem that it “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was”.

We also know that it must have been a sign for something very new and unusual; that it signified (in their astrology) there was a new King in Israel and that it was worth travelling to find him! I t would have also had to happen over a period of time, from when the Magi were in Persia to when they’ve travelled to Israel and met with King Herod. It also had to happen before King Herod died!  Most people think Herod died in 4BC.

So here are a few possible explanations:


Comets streaking across the sky have been seen as signs of forthcoming events for thousands of years.  The big problem with a comet is that they are nearly always seen as the sign of a death of a King or something else bad happening.  They never signify a birth or the start of something good!  Comets can look like they’ve stopped somewhere or ‘stand’, but they don’t stay around for very long.

The idea of a Comet might well have become popular when the Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone painted the Nativity (in about 1305) showing a star that

looked like a comet.  But the world’s most famous comet, Haley’s comet, had recently passed by the earth, so he was probably just painting that!

A Super Nova

A super nova happens when a star explodes at the end of its life.  There was a very bright super nova in 5BC.  But it wasn’t in the right part of the sky and, like comets, super novas normally meant the end of something, not the beginning!

Dancing Planets!

This is where things seem to start making more sense and there are three good theories using conjunctions (when two or more items in the sky line up to look like one) of planets and other objects in the night sky.  Although planets normally move across the sky, they can ‘stop’ in the sky. This is known as retrograde movement and happens because the earth goes around the sun quicker than the outer plants, so we sort ‘over take’ them for a bit and it looks like they either stop or actually go backwards for up to about 100 days.

Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces

The constellation of Pisces (the Fishes) had a special meaning in ancient Persian astronomy and astrology.  It was the sign of Israel and of Kings.  Jupiter was the Royal planet and Saturn represented old rulers.  So a new ‘star’ being made of Jupiter and Saturn in this constellation could have meant a great deal!

There was a ‘triple conjunction’ of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces in 7BC (-6).  First in May, looking East from Persia/Babylon; then in September/October, looking West over Jerusalem/Bethlehem from Persia/Babylon; and finally in December, looking South directly over Bethlehem if you were in Jerusalem!

Jupiter and Moon in Aries

In Roman astrology Aries is the symbol of Israel. Jupiter was the Ruler planet in Roman astrology (as in Persian astrology) and the moon meant births (especially of new kings).  These two bodies could of formed a “new star” during the period of Jesus’ birth.

It happened at dawn, in the east, on 17th April 6BC (-5) and was very unusual.  It’s what’s called an ‘occultation’ which is a special kind of eclipse which involves the earth, moon, sun and a planet.  Because it was dawn, the glare of the sun would have made it quite hard to see, but the Magi would have known it was happening because they had studied the sky so well!

Jupiter and the Star Regulus

The date of Herod’s death might have been copied incorrectly and could well have been in 1BC not 4BC!  There was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and the star Regulus (which is in the constellation of Leo the Lion), followed by a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in Leo ninth months later.  And then six months after that Jupiter ‘stops’ (goes into retrograde) in Virgo.

It starts in September 3BC (-2) with the first meeting of Jupiter and Regulus (looking East). Regulus is the brightest star in Leo and thought to be very special.  The country/nation of Israel is often referred to as the ‘Lion of Judah’ so this meeting would have been important.  Then nine months (the time of a pregnancy) later in June 2BC (-1) Jupiter and Venus (the planet of mothers) meet in Leo (in the West over Israel) and would have been a very bright ‘star’ indeed!

Then on 25th December 2BC if you were in Jerusalem looking south, towards Bethlehem, Jupiter would be ‘standing’ in Virgo the constellation of the Virgin (Mary being a virgin)!

The three images below show the first conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus, the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus and Jupiter being over Bethlehem.

Three Stars?

Does this mean that there were three Stars?  Maybe…why not!  The star marked the coming of the Son of God to earth, so I’m sure God would want to put on show!

Something Supernatural

Some people also think that the star might have been something created by God, especially to guide the Wise men and that there isn’t a scientific explanation.

As a Christian, I believe God could have done this. However, I think the star was probably a conjunction of planets, or something similar, that God planned into creation to mark the birth of Jesus, His son!