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For Star of Bethlehem Enthusiasts...

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#1 BillP

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 02:46 PM

With the Christmas season here, the topic always comes up in various publications of conjecturing what astronomical or astrological event of the time could align with the historical accounting of the story.  I thought it would be fun for those of us that like to conjecture around this to have a thread on it. 

 

There are two accountings that I personally feel have a good plausibility for the accounting, one by Craig Chester from the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy.  He leans towards it being an astrological event driven by astronomical conjunctions. 

https://imprimis.hil...r-of-bethlehem/

 

The other is by C.J. Humphreys from the University of Cambridge who gives a good argument that it was comet Ho Peng-Yoke 63. 

http://adsbit.harvar...S&filetype=.pdf

 

One thing is for sure, that there was an unprecedented amount of astronomical activity happening in the 5 year period from 7 BC to 2 BC, with nova, comets, eclipses, and a host of rare conjunctions.  Would be nice if we had so much happening today to observe laugh.gif

 

7 BC (May)     -- First of three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn (about 1 degree at closest conjunction)

7 BC (Sep)     -- Second of three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn

7 BC (Dec)     -- Third of three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn

6 BC (Feb)     -- Jupiter, Mars and Saturn came within 8 degrees of each other (occurs only once every 800 years)

5 BC (Mar)     -- Partial eclipse of the Moon visible from the region

5 BC (Mar-Apr) -- Nova visible in Capricorn

5 BC (Mar-Apr) -- Ho Peng-Yoke 63 Comet visible with tail

4 BC (Apr)     -- Ho Peng-Yoke 64 Comet visible without tail

4 BC (Mar)     -- Partial eclipse of the Moon visible from the region

3 BC (May)     -- Saturn and Mercury conjunction (40 arcmin)

3 BC (Jun)     -- Saturn and Venus conjunction (7.2 arcmin)

3 BC (Aug)     -- Venus and Jupiter conjunction (4.2 arcmin)

3 BC (Sep)     -- Jupiter and Regulus the "King" star conjunction (20 arcmin)

2 BC (Feb)     -- Jupiter and Regulus the "King" star conjunction (51 arcmin)

2 BC (May)     -- Jupiter and Regulus the "King" star conjunction (43 arcmin)

2 BC (Jun)     -- Venus and Jupiter conjunction in Leo (some sources show 6 arcsec, other sources show 34 arcsec)

2 BC (Aug)     -- Conjunction of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter in Leo


Edited by BillP, 14 December 2017 - 04:09 PM.

 

#2 Jeff Struve

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 02:59 PM

I'm thinking that there are references to the birth being mid/late spring... which would put the event in May... or April if folks had to travel distances to get there... So from your list, maybe it can be narrowed down to:

 

7 BC (May)     -- First of three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn (about 1 degree at closest conjunction)

5 BC (Mar-Apr) -- Nova visible in Capricorn

5 BC (Mar-Apr) -- Ho Peng-Yoke 63 Comet visible with tail

4 BC (Apr)     -- Ho Peng-Yoke 64 Comet visible without tail

3 BC (May)     -- Saturn and Mercury conjunction (40 arcmin)

2 BC (May)     -- Jupiter and Regulus the "King" star conjunction (43 arcmin)


 

#3 Phil Cowell

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:10 PM

Or one could also check the weather conditions for the area. Might have been optimal for some potent Lebanese Red.


 

#4 Jeff Struve

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:12 PM

I believe it had to do with the time of year that domesticated animals were giving birth...


 

#5 Alex McConahay

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:40 PM

​Why do astronomers, and others, work so hard at trying to find a natural astronomical event to attach to this story?

 

The most likely explanation is that it was a miracle, a miracle seen only by the shepherds and the Magi--and by definition, miracles are not natural phenomena. One does not need an astronomical event. Just go with the story. 

 

Were it an actual astronomical event, seen by anybody, the king's astrologers would have noted it, and it would not have been a surprise to the king requiring the killing of the two-years-and-under innocents.

 

Alex


Edited by Alex McConahay, 14 December 2017 - 03:41 PM.

 

#6 evan9162

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:49 PM

Due to fast motion of planets, a conjunction could only appear as a single "star" for a day or two at maximum, nowhere near long enough to follow during an extended journey.

 

Furthermore, at the separations listed, the vast majority of those conjunctions could never be mistaken for a single star unless the viewer had tremendously poor eyesight.  A separation of 20' is still nearly the diameter of a full moon.  Someone with average visual acuity could easily see that objects separated by 7' are two distinct objects (1/4 the diameter of a full moon).

 

Finally, the added visual magnitudes of any two planets (especially when one is Venus) would never be bright enough for a casual observer to be able to discern it from the brightness of Venus alone.  Therefore, no conjunction would produce a phenomenon that would be unusually bright.  

I think trying to shoehorn planetary alignments into this story as an explanation of the phenomenon requires one to ignore too many characteristics of the nature of planetary conjunctions.


 

#7 BillP

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:59 PM

​Were it an actual astronomical event, seen by anybody, the king's astrologers would have noted it, and it would not have been a surprise to the king requiring the killing of the two-years-and-under innocents.

 

I would say that the king did have advanced notice as the magi astronomer/astrologers in his court would have interpreted the astronomical events in light of astrological significance.  The problem would have been exactly who?  So to be safe, take all the children.  Back in ancient times in the royal courts it was standard practice to kill off any potential challengers to the throne, even family members.  Coma Berenices, named after the Queen Berenice II of Egypt is a similarly sad event.  After the death of her husband Demetrius, she married Ptolemy III.  When he died she was murdered by her son, Ptolemy IV, who also murdered a portion of the rest of the family in order to keep the throne without challenge.  Being royalty meant you never got a good night's sleep!


 

#8 BillP

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 04:06 PM

...the added visual magnitudes of any two planets (especially when one is Venus) would never be bright enough for a casual observer to be able to discern it from the brightness of Venus alone.

 

I don't know about that.  At the time, Venus can be -3.4 and Jupiter -1.8 and given that they are not overlapping but have a slight separation since their angular diameters were close to the same, perhaps showing as a little elongated, I think that would be quite obvious -- http://www.bogan.ca/...ns/2bc_tele.gif.  And also have to consider the times.  I would imagine people back then took note a lot more than people of today to their environment and its changes.  So they would be more attuned to celestial happenings.


Edited by BillP, 14 December 2017 - 04:10 PM.

 

#9 Heitman

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 04:14 PM

​Why do astronomers, and others, work so hard at trying to find a natural astronomical event to attach to this story?

 

The most likely explanation is that it was a miracle, a miracle seen only by the shepherds and the Magi--and by definition, miracles are not natural phenomena. One does not need an astronomical event. Just go with the story. 

 

Were it an actual astronomical event, seen by anybody, the king's astrologers would have noted it, and it would not have been a surprise to the king requiring the killing of the two-years-and-under innocents.

 

Alex

waytogo.gif


 

#10 evan9162

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 04:15 PM

 

...the added visual magnitudes of any two planets (especially when one is Venus) would never be bright enough for a casual observer to be able to discern it from the brightness of Venus alone.

 

I don't know about that.  At the time, Venus can be -3.4 and Jupiter -1.8 and given that they are not overlapping but have a slight separation since their angular diameters were close to the same, perhaps showing as a little elongated, I think that would be quite obvious -- http://www.bogan.ca/...ns/2bc_tele.gif.  And also have to consider the times.  I would imagine people back then took note a lot more than people of today to their environment and its changes.  So they would be more attuned to celestial happenings.

 

 

Sorry, still doesn't work out.  Remember, visual magnitude is logarithmic.  And Venus gets up to -4.4.  The combined visual magnitude of -3.4 and -1.8 only results in a brightness of -3.6, far dimmer than Venus at its brightest.  This could never be considered an unusually bright object - nor out of the ordinary for Venus.  The math just doesn't work out.


 

#11 jim kuhns

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 04:23 PM

It was a miracle birth which led the men by the use of a miracle star in the sky.


 

#12 Phil Cowell

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 06:16 PM

To each their own. I put the whole thing in the fantasies of 2000 years ago desert tribal dweller myth and superstition.

Sort of Lord of the rings for the period or tribal game of thrones.


Edited by Phil Cowell, 14 December 2017 - 06:21 PM.

 

#13 BillP

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 07:03 PM

Sorry, still doesn't work out.  Remember, visual magnitude is logarithmic.  And Venus gets up to -4.4.  The combined visual magnitude of -3.4 and -1.8 only results in a brightness of -3.6, far dimmer than Venus at its brightest.  This could never be considered an unusually bright object - nor out of the ordinary for Venus.  The math just doesn't work out.

 

 

I think you are missing a big point, it was a conjunction.  So it would have been observed over several days leading up to it and never needs to be the brightest thing ever witnessed.  So you would have seen 2 objects, both dimmer than the combined, then on conjunction day a single object, probably no longer round, and brighter.  btw, more like mag -4.6 for Venus at its max.  If it happened today, lots of folks would be wondering what the unusually big bright thing was, just like most of my friends do when Venus is up can give me a call asking what that unusual thing is. lol.gif   So it certainly was an unusual sight for the month that it happened.  No doubt on that.  But not sure what your point is in all of this.  It was just one of the many astronomical events of the time, back then many probably assigned to harbor some astrological meaning by those trying to read the meaning of what was going on in the heavens.  And for what meanings might have been attributed, best to look to the work of scholars of history which are more knowledgeable about the political and social issues of the day.  Both of those links I provided go into it in some depth, especially the 19 page paper from CJ Humphreys as he goes into the social-political-religious aspects of the region at the time.  So can't get caught up in literary and Hollywood embellishments like there was some big bright nu-natural thing that hovered over a spot on Earth -- all is says is that the magi saw his star when it rose, implying a foretelling of a king.  So they were IMO, following this star, or astronomical event, figuratively as a foretelling, and not literally like following a star on Earth.  What was written, like any written work from history, must be interpreted in the context of the times.  Curiously, the phrase of "hovered over", as Humphreys points out, was a common way that comets were described, and why he attributes the timing to that comet.  All very interesting stuff.  Most all of history is IMO quite interesting because all of it is one bid detective process to try to piece together.


Edited by BillP, 14 December 2017 - 07:21 PM.

 

#14 wargrafix

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 07:40 PM

I have a theory, but it would offend some of our members
 

#15 evan9162

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 09:15 PM


I think you are missing a big point, it was a conjunction.

 

How can you be so sure?


 

#16 BillP

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 09:46 PM

I'm thinking that there are references to the birth being mid/late spring... which would put the event in May... or April if folks had to travel distances to get there...

 

While poking around, I found this other theory which is quite intriguing.  It was put forth by Dr. Michael R. Molnar, an astronomer and physicist and former teacher at Rutgers University.  What caught his eye was a Roman coin minted in Syria around A.D. 6 which had a ram pictured looking back at a bright star.  So he did some investigating and discovered that the ram was actually the symbol for Judea according to texts written by Ptolemy.  And looking further he discovered another rare conjunction that took place on April 17, 6 B.C.  As the article says:

 

On that day, he argues in a new book, "The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi" (Rutgers University Press), Jupiter reappeared as a morning star (after days when it rose, invisibly, only during daylight hours) and was also hidden briefly by the Moon.  "Jupiter was considered to be the regal star or regal planet," Dr. Molnar said in an interview. Thus the two events on the same day would have been looked upon by the wise men, or magi, who were astrologers, as strong portents of the birth of a great king. The fact that Jupiter appeared in Aries, in the east, had further significance, Dr. Molnar said, as Aries was considered the symbol of Judea.

 

Anyway...interesting take on things.  Here's the full article -- https://partners.nyt...eo-jupiter.html


Edited by BillP, 14 December 2017 - 10:03 PM.

 

#17 Stacyjo1962

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 10:36 PM

Very interesting information...something to really sink your teeth into during this holiday season smile.gif rather than get caught up in crowds and bad season songs LOL


Edited by Stacyjo1962, 14 December 2017 - 10:36 PM.

 

#18 jallbery

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Posted 15 December 2017 - 12:17 AM

I'm thinking that there are references to the birth being mid/late spring... which would put the event in May... or April if folks had to travel distances to get there... 

The reference (from Luke) is of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, leading to the conjecture that it was lambing season (late March or early April).  While not an unreasonable conjecture, there are certainly other possible reasons for the shepherds to be in the fields (recent wild animal attacks, theft, etc.).  

 

Also, it is worth noting that the Magi story (from Matthew) could well have taken place weeks or even months after the birth of Jesus-- while Christian tradition combines the accounts from Luke and Matthew into a single narrative, there is no actual Biblical reference to the Magi arriving at the stable.  

 

Were it an actual astronomical event, seen by anybody, the king's astrologers would have noted it, and it would not have been a surprise to the king requiring the killing of the two-years-and-under innocents.

The Jews did not practice astrology.   To the best of my knowledge Herod had no court astrologers.   And note that the slaughter of innocents included babies up to two years old is a further indication that the arrival of the Magi is not necessarily in the same season as the birth of Jesus.

 

I'm not sure there needs to be an astronomical explanation of the Star of Bethlehem, but I do think the idea of a conjunction makes sense, certainly more than the dazzling star that glows both day and night that is depicted in Christian tradition (although not biblical: there is nothing in the bible about the star being exceptionally bright).   A conjunction makes sense, as it would be of significance to the Magi (who were likely Babylonian or Persian astrologers), but not necessarily to others.   A new star that shown both day and night and moves across the sky in some dramatic attention would have drawn attention of other writers.


 

#19 Astroman007

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Posted 15 December 2017 - 12:27 AM

To each their own. I put the whole thing in the fantasies of 2000 years ago desert tribal dweller myth and superstition.

Sort of Lord of the rings for the period or tribal game of thrones.

waytogo.gif


 

#20 csa/montana

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Posted 15 December 2017 - 12:29 AM

Folks, the TOS prevents hot topics, including religion.  This thread is now locked.


 


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