Star of Wonder

Originally posted December 22nd, 2010. To throw another element into this discussion, the original Greek in the Bible indicates that Jesus was a toddler when the Magi visited, not a newborn, which may further complicate our calendar.

Last night’s lunar eclipse was spectacular. It was difficult to find a good webcam view of it, but some of the photos of the event are breathtaking.

This leads me to the mention of another major astronomical event, one of such symbolic significance that it motivated a group of Zoroastrian priests to make the arduous trek from Persia to Bethlehem.

What the Star of Bethlehem actually was has been debated for centuries. The Bible references a celestial object that appeared stationary enough from the east that the Magi used it as a GPS device. The Greek word is “aster”, and it could mean one of several heavenly happenings.

One problem– there’s not a bright enough light in the sky in Year One to qualify as the Star of Bethlehem. But if you go back a few years, you’ll find that there were planetary conjunctions, alignments, and comets that could fit the bill.

Specifically, astronomer and historian Dr. Michael Molnar believes that the Star was the occultation of Jupiter by the moon in the constellation Aries in 6 B.C. This thought occurred to him when he bought a Roman coin depicting the event. His fascinating website is

How would 6 B.C. make sense if our calendar begins with the birth of Christ? It doesn’t. Our calendar is off by about six years.

In 525 A.D., a Roman monk named Dionysius Exiguus created the Anno Domini dating system as part of a project for Pope John I. To calculate the number of years that had passed since the birth of Christ, he added up the well-documented number of years that each Roman ruler had reigned.

It appears that he made one omission though, and any of us could have done it. One of those rulers was in power twice, similar to Grover Cleveland being both the 22nd and 24th president of the U.S. One of those terms wasn’t counted.

So Jesus was actually born in 6 B.C., which would also be logical considering that King Herod died (a particularly gruesome death) in 4 B.C. Interestingly, the historian Josephus says that he died just after a lunar eclipse.

We know that Herod presided over Judea from 37 B.C. to the time of his death. He knew Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, and he was a personal friend of Augustus Caesar. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he ordered the massacre of all male children under the age of two when he learned that Persians were in his province worshipping a new king. He killed one of his wives and three of his own children, driven by his self-serving paranoia.

If we use 6 B.C. as the starting point of the Christian faith, then Michael Molnar’s Jupiter theory makes a great deal of sense. My concern with it is that one of the two Jupiter occultations would have had to occur in a month that the Romans forced the Jews to go to their hometowns for a census for taxation. That is the whole reason that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem.

Knowing that the shepherds were with their flocks out in the fields– not something that occured year-round– and it being census/tax time should give us a clue as to what month Jesus was actually born. If that lines up with one of these dazzling astronomical events, which it could because the likely candidates are the months of April through October, then we might finally know for sure what it was.

It’s highly unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25th. We merged our celebration of his birth with a pagan holiday, a secular-Christian blending that has happened with most holidays. But that is a separate discussion, and thinking that our current year is actually 2004, not 2010, is weird enough as it is. That already feels somewhat Matrix-like.


We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

-Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857

©2010 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

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