Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Star of Bethlehem

I watched a DVD last week that some of you might be interested in watching as a family. It's called The Star of Bethlehem. It's available for rent through (if you have an account, although I had to wait almost a year for it to arrive. Maybe they only have one copy?) and Netflix. But I've also seen it for sale at the Christian bookstore.

A lawyer, Rick Larson, presents a visual explanation for a theory of the star of Bethlehem based on the research of astronomer, Craig Chester. (A rather unfortunate side-note is that I can't find anywhere on the DVD or web site where Mr. Chester's research is explicitly credited by Mr. Larson. It borders on plagiarism, if you ask me. If I'm wrong, someone please correct me.)

Chester's theory is that the Bethlehem star consisted of a series of symbolic heavenly conjunctions involving Jupiter and the star Regulus. Without going into all the details, I'll say for me personally, I find this theory somewhat compelling. It should be noted, however, that it rests on the assumption that Herod did not die in 4 B.C. (as is the traditional date), but somewhere around 1 or 2 B.C.

A similar theory has been put forth by a gentleman named Michael Molnar. His book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi, places a different series of heavenly conjunctions in 6 B.C. I've seen his perspective presented in various documentaries that air on the Discovery and History channels around Christmastime.

Christian theologian, Dr. Robert Newman, also has an interesting essay along these lines available on his web site: "The Star of Bethlehem: A Natural-Supernatural Hybrid?"

What all of these views have in common is the fact that they are assuming the wise men were astrologers (ancient astronomers, not psychics or witches) who were constantly watching the heavens for messages and that God chose to communicate the birth of the Jewish Messiah to them through this means.

Now, where the Larson DVD gets really interesting is when he ties the movements of heavenly bodies not only to the birth of Jesus, but also to the crucifixion. So far, I haven't been able to find any research corroborating his theory. Thus, I am a little skeptical at how "perfect" he has all of these events fit together. But maybe it's true; I would have to take the time to look into it more.

Either which way, The Star of Bethlehem is sure to make interesting family viewing and provide a platform to provoke some good conversations about the historical nature of the Christian faith.


B Nettles said...

I've been using Larson's "Star" in my Earth and Space Science class. The class is familiar with a lot of the science that Larson mentions (Kepler's laws, eclipses, moon phases, opposition and conjunction, aberrations). I've also used Stellarium (a free astronomy program) to look at "the sky" in Jerusalem at his time periods and I get the same observations. The Passover full moon does rise already eclipsed, it is at Virgo's feet, etc. It's a very compelling video.

Even more compelling is the "extra feature" where he shows the view from the moon of the consequent solar eclipse and the background constellation. Talk about a "WOW!"

Don't just rent it. Buy it.

Another item that's interesting. If you look for the next time, after the birth of Jesus, that Jupiter is near Regulus it is 12 years later at Passover...and Jupiter does another dance around Regulus when we have the recorded visit of Jesus to the Temple. Hmmm.

Bill Nettles
Chairman, Physics Dept.
Union University

Eric Olsen said...

When you first released the post, my library didn't have it, but now they do! Thanks for the reminder!

mr_mahoney said...

Could you please post instructions on how to configure Stellarium to show the star movements described?

Theology Mom said... I have no clue about such things, but maybe one of my very bright readers can help you out.