26 December, 2013


As someone particularly interested in the movement of the stars (and their impacts on the mundane affairs of human beings), I was intrigued to receive a little “Nepali Christmas” booklet that started off with an astrological explanation for the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. The booklet stated that astrology was well-respected during the time of Jesus’s birth, and an astrological prediction predicted the birth of Jesus. The star seen over the sky during his birth, the booklet states, was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. 

The Star of Bethlehem is the star the three wise men of the East, or the Magi, followed to find baby Jesus when he was born. The star predicted the birth of a great king of the Jews. The Magi, three wise men from non-Jewish cultures, arrive after a long journey with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrah to Jesus’s home, before departing from another route to escape the wrath of King Herod. Despite Herod’s best attempts to kill all the male newborns, Jesus survives, and goes on to spread the word of love to the planet.

According to Discovery.com, Jupiter is one of the top 4 "celestial suspects" for the star:
The King of the Planets: Jupiter
The three wise men referenced in the Biblical story are widely accepted to have been top-notch astrologers. In astrology speak, Jupiter is the King planet and around the birth of Jesus, it completed a retrograde loop (backward motion among the stars) near to Regulus in Leo, the King star! The interaction in the sky between these two objects would have been a sign to the astrologers of the birth of a new King, possibly explaining The Star of Bethlehem.
The same website goes on to speculate that it may have been a retrograde Jupiter. The passage below is from the website:

Jupiter’s Retrograde Motion
Between Sept. 3 B.C. and May 2 B.C. there were three conjunctions (on Sept. 14, 3 B.C., Feb. 17, 2 B.C. and May 8, 2 B.C.) where Jupiter passed close to the star Regulus (the brightest star in the constellation Leo). This rare sequence of events would have looked very strange to those familiar with the night sky.
Thompson found that the gas giant passed Regulus in an easterly motion before appearing to reverse direction, passing the star again in a westerly direction. This change in direction is known as retrograde motion. Due to the near-circular orbits of Earth and Jupiter, as Earth has a faster orbital period than Jupiter, from our point of view we will appear to “overtake” the gas giant. The motion of Jupiter will therefore appear to change direction for several weeks before changing direction again continuing its easterly drift.
The Three Wise Men, thought by many to have been zoroastrianist priests (who were also renowned astrologers) might have noticed this strange motion and considered it to be a ‘sign.’
“The retrograde motion meant the planet was travelling in a westerly direction in the sky and so the [Three Wise Men] may have followed it from Persia,” Thompson told the UK’s Telegraph.
“By camel it would have taken about three months and interestingly this is roughly about the same time Jupiter was travelling in this westward direction.”

Not all scientists write off astrology as rubbish. Check out this paragraph from Archaelogy, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, which also considers the Jupiter/Saturn conjunction as a possible cause of what the three wise men may have seen in the night sky:

Combinations of sky phenomena have been suggested, including a conjunction of two or more planets, such as the triple conjunction (three close visual passes in a row) of Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces in 7 B.C., a planetary conjunction plus a comet, or eclipses of Saturn and Jupiter by the moon, as well as the zodiacal light, a reflection of sunlight off interplanetary particles in the plane of the planets' orbits, has been cited, as have UFOs. A second category of explanation avoids the necessity of scientific accountability by positing a theophany, an aura of light surrounding God, a supernatural radiance. A third category raises the possibility that the star is neither chronological nor literal and that identifying it either naturally or supernaturally serves no purpose, that it is "just a story."

Which of these explanations one opts for depends on who is asking the question--astronomer, theologian, or historian--and what constitutes meaning for each in the historical framework in which he or she makes the inquiry.

And of course, its always fun to end with the skeptical view, primarily because these guys are so smug in their belief that they are so right. Science has led to some terrible developments that threatens to destroy humankind. But you can be assured that despite the sinister pace of research on everything from brain and mind control to genetics (all of which appears to be done under shrouds of scientific secrecy and without any ethical oversight), there are going to be scientists who “debunk” all the mystical, magical, spiritual views that keep the planet afloat through its transcendental vision of love and peace for their frightening insistence on their one and only “right” scientific view. Physicist Aaron Adair does not believe the Star of Bethlehem has any origins in astronomical phenomena, but is open to the possibility it could be a UFO. Below, the Washington Post interview excerpt:

Q: My favorite is that the star was actually a UFO. Why would anyone believe this theory?
A: It actually fits the description of the star in the Gospels. A UFO can move around and look like anything it wants to, given sufficient technology. It could lead people to a location and hover over a particular spot and say, for example, “Eat at Joe’s.” And sufficiently advanced aliens could have communicated with the Magi. But all this just means it is imaginable. Of course the problem is, we don’t know if there are intelligent aliens out there or whether they traveled to Earth to mess around with a few local Palestinians.

Fortunately for the planet, the spiritual vision, which imagines the interconnection of all human beings through the existence of the Divine, has always been so much more powerful than any scientific advancement. I am looking forward to the day when three wise men come forward, following the light of a star, loaded with gifts, to celebrate the birth of a great scientist. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, and as the Pope says, may all of us have the courage to move towards peace.  

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