Rare 'Christmas Star' Appears Dec. 21: Here's What Astronomy Says About the Biblical 'Star of Bethlehem'
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It's a moment that many people were talking about all month, and now it's finally come. Monday night, observers around the world were able to witness an incredible event in the night sky that has not been seen in almost eight centuries.
The two largest planets in our solar system, Jupiter and Saturn, aligned on Dec. 21 to create what's sometimes referred to as the "Christmas Star".
When the planets lined up on the day marking the start of the winter solstice, they appeared to form a double planet.
WATCH Griffith Observatory's LIVE Feed of the Conjunction:
It's a rare event and one that hasn't been seen since the Middle Ages, according to Rick Larson from the "Star of Bethlehem" documentary.
"What's happening on Dec. 21st, as beautiful as it is, is not the Star of Bethlehem," Larson tells CBN News. This Christmas Star only involves Jupiter and Saturn, but he believes the real Star of Bethlehem was much more complex, involving two planets along with several other remarkable celestial bodies.
Larson has done a lot of research on this topic, tracing the actual movements of the planets and stars back to the time of Christ. "The Star of Bethlehem is a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus," he explains. "The conjunction, which means a coming together, was so close that they basically stacked like a figure 8 and they didn't obscure one another's brightness, and the result was the brightest star that anyone alive had ever seen."
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Theories About the 'Star of Bethlehem'
As CBN News has reported, while there have been many theories about the identity of the biblical star of Bethlehem that appeared at Christ's birth, a combination of historical research, astronomical insight, and biblical understanding has come together to present a plausible explanation that is both miraculous and understandable.
As Larson points out, this theory finds the planet Jupiter to be part of that star. In the ancient world, all heavenly bodies were considered "stars".
The Magi or the three wise men were, most likely, court advisers to Babylon who used the stars to give guidance to the ruler. Why would God guide astrologers, of all people, to the King of Kings? This example, according to some writers, was Christ's first human ministry to unbelievers.
Who Exactly Were the Magi?
But who were these mysterious wise men? One ancient Jewish writer Philo speaks of them.
Larson, an expert on the biblical Star of Bethlehem, once told CBN News that Philo "describes a particular school of Magi, calls it the Eastern school, and these Magi he praises. He says these guys understood the natural order and are able to explain the natural order to others. And they were, according to Philo, probably what we might call proto-scientists."
Larson explains what the Magi likely saw were five astronomical conjunctions that took place over a span of time from August of 3 BC to June of 2 BC. When one planet passes another and, as seen from earth, they line up – that would have been of great significance to these astrologer-advisers.
Leo, Venus, Jupiter, and Regulus
We now know what these conjunctions meant to these Magi as they would have observed from their far-off land. The conjunctions involved the constellation Leo the Lion, the planet Venus, the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus.
To the Babylonians, the lion represented Israel. Venus was motherhood. Jupiter stood for fatherhood or kingship. And Regulus symbolized royalty.
Put these together in the Babylonian mindset and what do you get? A clear and repeated message that a grand king had been born in Israel.
Larson used computerized astronomical tools to track the convergence of these heavenly signs involving Jupiter, Venus, Leo, and Regulus, back to when they would have occurred.
"Nine months after that first conjunction – nine months – the gestation period of a human. We see Jupiter and Venus come together to form the brightest star anyone had ever seen," Larson said.
That would have been in mid-June of 2 BC – again near Regulus in Leo. Eventually, Larson traces it all to a conclusion on Dec. 25, in 2 BC.
"Of course, they didn't use our calendar – you know December 25th meant nothing to them. They never heard of December, but to us, it could be a sign and it is interesting that the gifting did occur on December 25th," he said.
The Heavens Declare the Glory of God
With today's telescopes, the grandeur of the skies is more visible than ever before. Yet even with the naked eye, the Psalmist proclaimed "the heavens declare the glory of God."
How can he do that? Could the Star of Bethlehem be an example in announcing the Messiah? Or is this some kind of misguided astrology?
"The Bible comes down extremely hard on astrology. Reverence for the stars, the idea that stars order your life or guide you or whatever – did you know it was a killing offense in the Old Testament?" Larson said.
But the Bible also says that God put signs in the sky. Perhaps the Star of Bethlehem was like a thermometer.
"A thermometer can tell you if it's hot or cold but it can't make you hot or cold – because it's not an active agent. Stars are like that. According to the Bible, they can tell you things; they can be signs from a higher power, from God on high. But they can't make you do anything, they're burning balls of gas, you know," Larson said.
The Romans Thought the Star Was About Them -- Instead, It Announced the King of Kings
Of course, the Romans who ruled most of the known world at the time thought the star was about them and they even put the star on one of their coins with an image of Caesar Augustus, which represents how impressive the star was. A sort of Star of Rome rather than the Star of Bethlehem. While they did record the historical star, they missed the fact that a new king had been born in a manger in Bethlehem.
While the mortal Augustus has long passed from history, Jesus is worshipped by millions around the world as the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, The Eternal One Who created the heavens and the signs of His own coming – who said that one day he would also return.
The Magi knew right where to look for this infant king, heading to the capital city of the Jews, Jerusalem, and the Jews sent them into Bethlehem, a place from which the Jewish scriptures prophesied the king would come. The rest is history.
Editor's Note: CBN News has been reporting for years about the true biblical Star of Bethlehem. Much of the material for this story was originally researched and written by Gailon Totheroh nearly two decades ago.
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