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 Blockbuster.com (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.