The ‘STAR of BETHLEHEM’
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)
The ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is the legendary phenomena that is associated with the ‘Christmas Story’, or more importantly as the symbol that heralded the birth of Baby Jesus, as the prophesied Messiah for the “children of Israel”. This story has long been held in the highest regard with the Christian faith but has come under considerable debate and attack for its authenticity, as to whether it is a factual account or simply a legend and popular myth contrived by followers to support their claims of the actual birth and validity of Jesus Christ.
Fortunately for those who believe in the story of Jesus and as a witness to those who do not, there is actually both historical and scientific data that can support the claim. Over the years with the discovery of archaeological remnants and through the study and advances of modern science, there is now more proof than ever that this phenomena had actually occurred than not.
Let us look more closely at the overall story and information that can be found, with the details that surround them, so to separate fictional myth from what can be shown as supporting evidence.
ANCIENT RECORDS and HISTORICAL DOCUMENTATION
The Holy scripture relays several prophetic accounts relating to the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the events surrounding it, that were written as much as one thousand years prior to the time when this “star” may have been seen in the night sky. These events that were prophesied are the first recorded clues we have to this glorious event.
One of the earliest accounts is from the book of Numbers (Chapters 22-24), where the prophet Balaam (who was from a land in the “mountains of the east”) was summoned by the leaders of Moab and Midian (east of the river Jordan near Jericho) for they feared that the camp of the Israelites were a threat to them.
“…Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me…” (Numbers 22:5-6 NKJ)
The children of Israel had entered the territory following the Lord’s instructions guiding them to the “promised land” after their exodus. The Hebrews had already defeated the Amorites and Balak, the king of the Moabites, wanted the prophet Balaam to curse the Israelites so that the same would not happen to his kingdom and people. However, a different chain of events was to occur.
Balaam was a prophet who typically used sorcery and an oracle device for divination. But when he went to meditate and “consult with the stars”, the Lord intervened and answered him instead. Another message was given to him to deliver to the leaders of Moab and Midian.
And God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” (Numbers 22:12 NKJ)
As he finally left to meet with the king, Balaam had the famous biblical encounter where the Angel of the Lord and the Donkey confronted him. He was then instructed through a series of prophecies to deliver the Lord’s message.
“Balaam and the Angel” – by Gustav Jaeger (1836)
The king of the Moabites was of course not pleased with the prophet, but Balaam would not go against what the Lord had instructed him to foretell. These prophecies not only reflected their present situation in Moab, but also portrayed future events that would involve what Israel would do in that land during the “latter days”. More importantly, a clue was also given pertaining to the coming of the Hebrew Messiah. It is in a verse of Balaam’s fourth prophecy that the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ is first revealed:
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A STAR shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult.” (Numbers 24:17 NKJ)
Another clue as to the actual location of the birthplace for the Messiah and what this “star” would appear to reflect, is given to us by the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2-5):
“But you, BETHLEHEM Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.” (Micah 5:2 NKJ)
One of the most prominent biblical prophets is Isaiah, who is responsible for writing more accounts pertaining to the coming Messiah, His ministry on Earth, and the events that would occur in the “latter days”, than any other person in the Holy scriptures (Isaiah 28:16; 29:18; 35:5-6; 42:1; 44:3; 49:1; 53:3-12; 56:7; 59:16; 61:1-2; 63:14). He also relates to us many clues surrounding the origins and birth of Christ (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8,14; 9:7; 11:10; 60:5-7; 65:1).
PROPHECY: “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6 NKJ)
FULFILLMENT: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David [Bethlehem] a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12 NKJ)
The prophet Isaiah also sets the stage for the other important events that surround the birth of the Baby Jesus (Isaiah 60). In the following verses we can see a symbolic reference to the ‘Star of Bethlehem’, which is not just the physical star, but also reflects the one whom would be born under it. It also portrays the “wise men” that would have likewise come from the east to offer blessings and gifts to this person, in Baby Jesus the Messiah.
“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you… the LORD will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising… They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:1,3,6)
What did the “WISE MEN” Know?
Whether these men were actually “kings” or not, as they are frequently depicted, we do not completely know. What we do know through the accounts in the Bible is that they were “wise men” of wealth and influence from lands to the east (Matthew 2:1-12). According to the original Hebrew and Greek translations of the scripture we can understand that these men were ‘Magi’ (plural for ‘magus‘), which was the name given by the people of the east; the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others; to the “wise men”, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc., of their time. Therefore we can determine that the “wise men” were well educated, or the “scientists” of their age, and would have been very familiar with studying the stars as well as other phenomena associated with the same.
These Magi would also have been well versed in many of the historical documents from people in the region, such as the prophecies contained in the Hebrew rabbinic writings (like the ‘TaNaKh’ or “Old Testament”). Many Christian accounts do not focus on the profession of the Magi for the obvious reasons of their skill in astrology or divination, which is discouraged and frowned upon (and rightly so) by the church. However, we also know from many accounts in the Word of God, that the Lord uses ALL things to serve His purpose (including the pagan practices of other nations), like what is also portrayed in the story of Balaam above.
“Journey of the Magi” – by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1894) Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Therefore we can conclude that the ‘Magi’ or “wise men” were astronomers and astrologers, men of great influence, who were educated in the prophetic writings of the people from the region. They watched the heavens faithfully and studied for “signs” that would give them a glimpse into future events. When the time had come for God to reveal the birth of the Messiah, this is how these men were the first to be aware of these miraculous clues in nature.
“The heavens declare His righteousness, And all the peoples see His glory“. (Psalm 97:6 NKJ)
“For He is the living God, And steadfast forever… He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth…” (Daniel 6:26-27 NKJ)
It is also mentioned in the scripture that when they had arrived in Judaea and approached King Herod the Great, that he even had to consult his own “wise men” to determine what prophetic event these “men from the east” were in search of (Matthew 2:3-4). The Magi then left Jerusalem and continued to follow the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the clues from the writings of the prophets.
“When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.” (Matthew 2:9)
They found the Christ child in Bethlehem and worshipped Him, giving great gifts to the family (Psalm 72:10, 15; Isaiah 60:5-6; Matthew 2:10-11). Fortunately, the Magi were indeed wiser than Herod’s advisors, as the Lord gave them discernment to not reveal any more to the king than what they already had. Once they had concluded their visit, they quietly left on their way and returned to the lands in the east.
“Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12 NKJ)
Other Prophetic Evidence
The other prophetic events that surround the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ are also associated with the visit of the “wise men”. Their visit to King Herod and proclamation about the star, prompted Herod to become distressed and concerned about its implications.
“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2 NKJ)
As a result, Herod responded quite maliciously (Matthew 2:16), especially after the “wise men” did not return to him and reveal what they had discovered. From his own advisors, the king had determined an approximate birthdate and location for this “new king”. He therefore ordered the children, “from two years old and under”, that lived in and around the town of Bethlehem be put to death. This act fulfilled another vision relayed by the prophet Jeremiah, found to pertain to the birth of the Messiah.
Thus says the LORD: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15 NKJ)
Fortunately, Joseph was warned by the Lord about what was to occur, in a dream that he had following the departure of the “wise men”. He was instructed to make flight into Egypt and to remain there until the Lord instructed that it would be safe for the family to return to their homeland (Matthew 2:13-15).
As the Lord already knows all things in advance and prepares the way as He makes provision for His people, hence the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the “wise men” played a significant role in these events as well. For if they had not followed the “star” and come to bestow such fortune on the blessed family, the poor couple along with their infant child would not have had the means to afford such a journey nor support themselves in a foreign land for any length of time. This is likewise an important lesson for us today, that the Lord does not give us something to do without setting in motion the events and resources necessary to allow such to occur.
Now when the time had come, Joseph was again visited in a dream by an angel informing him that it was safe to return to Judaea (Matthew 2:19-21). This would also be in fulfillment of yet another of the messianic prophecies, as was recorded hundreds of years earlier:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1 NKJ)
Likewise when they had returned from Egypt, the family still feared for their safety and settled in the area of Galilee instead, in the town of Nazareth (Matthew 2:22-23; Luke 2:39).
“But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.” (Matthew 2:22 NKJ)
This fulfilled other prophetic accounts written by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-2; 11:1) several centuries beforehand (mid-8th century BC). The verse from Isaiah 9 of course refers to Christ’s future ministry in the area of Galilee while Chapter 11 refers to the town where the family finally settled. It should be noted however, that most English written versions of the Bible do not indicate “Nazareth” in the Old Testament, as this comes from the original Hebrew text which Matthew would have been quoting from.
*NOTE: That “Nazareth“ is not mentioned in pre-Christian texts but does appear in many different Greek translations of the scripture. There is no general consensus regarding the ancient origin of the name or historical accounts, versus the location of the modern-day city by that name. The form of the word “Nazara” is however found in the earliest non-scriptural reference to the location. The prevailing theory holds that “Nazareth” is derived from the Hebrew name Ne·tser (Ne͂ser) meaning “branch”, thus the reference in the verse by Isaiah as a “branch from the root of Jesse”.
The STAR of BETHLEHEM – Fact or Fiction? – When was JESUS Really Born?
The deliberate and heinous “Massacre of the Innocents” as it is known, is likewise what is believed to have sealed the fate of King Herod the Great, as being punished by the Lord for this tragedy. The Romano-Jewish historian, Joseph ben Matthias (otherwise known as Titus Flavius “Josephus” c. 37–100 CE), tells us that Herod died around the time of a lunar eclipse, of an excruciating illness (sometimes named as “Herod’s Evil”) and that visible worms and putrefaction were described in his final days. Ironically, this same type of death is also described for his grandson, Herod Agrippa I (44 CE), who was smitten by an angel of God for his blasphemy, persecution of the early Christian church, execution of the Apostle James and imprisonment of the Apostle Peter (Acts 12:1-24).
The timing for the death of Herod the Great has also been historically used to help triangulate the date at which Jesus the Messiah was possibly born. Many scholars suggest that Herod died at the end of March or early April in 4 BC. Other evidence is provided by the fact that his sons (between whom his kingdom was divided) dated their rule from 4 BC onward. Otherwise, it is also recorded that one of his sons, Archelaus (mentioned in Matthew 2:22), apparently also exercised royal authority during Herod’s lifetime. This last fact could possibly extend the date forward a few more years.
Scientific Evidence in Astronomy
In astronomical data, it is recorded that a partial eclipse took place on March 13th of 4 BC, about 29 days before Passover. It is this eclipse that is usually taken to be the one referred to by Josephus by some Christian historians. There were however three other total eclipses around this time, with two occurring in the year 5 BC (March 23rd and September 15) and another one occurring in 1 BC.
There are other prophetic scriptures that describe the moon in relation to the birth of the Messiah. Some scholars have found what they believe to be additional scientific evidence in the fields of Astronomy and Astrology that depict signs, such as the lunar eclipse described above, which may also indicate events surrounding the possible time for the birthdate of the “Christ child”.
In biblical prophecy, we find the scripture verse from the book of Revelation that may also relate back to the birth of the Messiah, as follows:
“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered… And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” (Revelation 12:1-2,5 KJV)
Likewise, we can now find a rare lunar cycle and trajectory in relation to the moon’s position with the sun at the horizon. This possible scenario is recorded by the modern historian, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, while researching his works (‘The Birth of Christ Recalculated‘ and ‘The Star that Astonished the World‘), as he consulted NASA’s record of lunar-phase tables.
|Rendered by Stellarium™ Planetarium Software with Constellation Art Featured|
Dr. Martin’s own scholarship has withstood peer review and at least one aspect of the book is now in the latest edition of ‘The Handbook of Biblical Chronology‘. He elaborates in is book ‘The Star that Astonished the World‘, that he has found the exact evidence that the signs in the sky described by (Revelation 12:1-3), did in fact occur and would have been known to people who studied the heavens for unusual signs and events. So what were these celestial signs?
Dr. Martin’s research indicates that this rare event did occur within the range of years that is proposed for the birthdate of Christ (7 BC to 1 BC). He states that, “In the year 3 B.C.E., these these two factors came to precise agreement for about an hour and a half, as observed from Palestine or Patmos, in the twilight period of September 11th.” And that, “This is the only day in the whole year that the astronomical phenomenon described in the twelfth chapter of Revelation could take place.” He also records that he can find no other dates when a similar type of alignment may have occurred that so evidently heralds the birth of Jesus Christ.
Additionally during this same time, the constellation of Leo (the “lion” being the symbol for the ‘tribe of Judah’) would have been positioned just above Virgo in the eastern sky. Leo contains many bright stars (12-15), such as Regulus (the “king star”), with a total of nine primary stars that are typically used to depict it. Along with the planets of Jupiter (the “king planet”), Venus (the “mother planet”), and Mercury (the “messenger of the gods”), which would have been known to the Magi from Greek mythology, were also visible in close proximity to Virgo. Any combination of these “heavenly bodies” could easily give us a total of twelve “stars”, or the “crown of twelve stars” also referred to in the verse from Revelation, not to mention their astrological significance when compared in relation to this story.
The “wise men”, being astronomers and astrologers, would have been studying the “signs” displayed in the heavens relating to prophetic events. They would have likewise already been following the motion of the stars and planets in relation to these things (*SEE Our Article – “Evidence for the STAR of BETHLEHEM in the HEAVENS“). The combination of all these elements would have thus led them to the location for the birth of the Messiah, around the time that these events occurred.
It is also very likely that the “wise men” may have taken some time to travel from “the east” to Jerusalem (after having observed the initial indications for the ‘Star of Bethlehem’) and that the Baby Jesus may have not been a newborn infant by the time that the Magi finally arrived in Bethlehem. Therefore the traditional depiction of the “nativty” from our cultural rendering may not be entirely correct, with the shepherds arriving first (after the announcement by the angels in Luke 2:8-14) seeing a “Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger”, but then the Magi arriving at a later date, visiting the family with their “young child” in a house (Matthew 2:9-11).
Dr. Martin’s laborious research also supports another theory, which indicates that King Herod had died a couple of weeks after the total lunar eclipse recorded for January the 10th, in the year 1 BC. This newer info also correlates between the historical writings of Josephus for the date of Herod’s death (i.e. ‘Antiquitates Judaicae’ or ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ c. 93-94 AD) and the verse from (Revelation 12:1-2).
This newer information placing Herod’s death in 1 BC, along with the above theory of a 3 BC birthdate for Jesus, leaves some scholars to concur that for this reason, the Christ child may have been at least several months old at the time of the Magi’s stop to visit King Herod in Jerusalem. This range of years would also account for the verse in scripture pertaining to the “Massacre of the Innocents” (Matthew 2:16), where Herod decrees the slaughter of all children around Bethlehem “from two years old and under”.
With all of the examples and theories listed above, most historians will therefore place the birthdate of Jesus Christ and the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ as having approximately occurred anywhere between the end of 7 BC and January of 1 BC. There seems to be more compelling recent evidence however, that narrows this time frame down significantly to being more likely around the year of 3 BC, with the death of King Herod being nearer to the turn of the age (1 BC).
With all these things in consideration, keeping in mind that this is just one of several “theories” pertaining to the birthdate of Christ. We have presented the above information based on the weight of its evidence versus other speculation and hypothesis, as well as how it relates to the significance of the “Biblical Feasts and Festivals“ as observed by the Hebrew people. The latter aspect seems to likewise carry significant meaning in how it correlates and “harmonizes” so well with the practices that the Lord ordained for His people and especially how it fits with the Lord’s prefect overall plan for mankind.
The main premise to keep in mind however, is that it is not as important as exactly WHEN Jesus Christ came on a specific calendar date, but the fact that HE DID COME, He is RISEN and alive! …and will COME AGAIN as the Lord has promised to us all. Therein is the “blessed hope” of the Messiah (Titus 2:12-14).
“When did the Messiah Jesus really arrive?”
for more conclusive evidence on the actual birthdate of Jesus.
More Scientific Discoveries of the Modern Era
With the aid of modern science and computers, the speculations about the actual date for the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the birth of the Messiah Jesus have actually become even more fine-tuned. Since the historical documentation and accounts from scripture have been somewhat vague and less precise in naming a specific date, these newer methods have proven instrumental in determining a much closer projection.
There are several hypothesis based on astronomical and astrological facts, that can now be calculated in reverse to produce models of the stars that were visible in the night sky, as they would have appeared to the people of the Middle East at the time of Christ’s birth. This helps to not only determine a more accurate date for the birthdate of Jesus but also provides verification of a potential origin of the legendary ‘Star of Bethlehem’.
There is now evidence to support these theories showing that a series of stellar and planetary events did occur in the heavens and would have been visible to the naked eye by the people of that time. The “wise men” of course, being experts in these fields of study, would have likewise foreseen these events ahead of time and witnessed their occurrence as they transpired.
It is interesting to note that the same science which has long striven to disprove many of the “miraculous” things in the biblical texts, or to simply write them off as myth and legend, is now being used to provide the clues and positive proof that certain events could have, and actually did occur. Of course the faith of true believers has been sufficient to carry these truths for thousands of years, but it is none-the-less exciting when more evidence surfaces to confirm these beliefs, especially for the sake of debate with the skeptics. Many scholars forget that the basis of all our science has merely been derived from projected “theories”. It is only until such time as the formulas can be reproduced through their research and efforts, that tangible proof is provided to substantiate their claims. Would this not clearly show us that science is actually based on faith as well?
It does tell us in the scripture that in these “latter days” – “knowledge will be increased” (Daniel 12:4). So thus these new revelations in the historical aspects of the Bible, may hold as proof positive for those who would otherwise not believe, just by faith in itself. Let’s get as many people into the Lord’s glorious Kingdom as possible, through whatever truthful and legitimate methods become available to us today. Be blessed always in His peace my friends!
SEE our other article on this topic: “Evidence for the STAR of BETHLEHEM in the HEAVENS“
for more detailed information on the modern-day scientific discoveries that give evident proof for this miraculous event.
“Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17 NIV)
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF ALL THE PROPHETIC WRITINGS IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
The words of prophecy are really a harbinger of hope to those who are searching for God today. It is through our belief that Christ died for our sins (John 3:16) and faith in His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18), that we are all “saved” and will enter into the coming Kingdom of Heaven along with Him.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers SALVATION TO ALL PEOPLE. It teaches us to say ‘No’; to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11–13 NIV)
The “STAR of BETHLEHEM” IS the Messiah Jesus who came into the world as God’s plan of salvation for us all. Christ was born as a human child, He lived and performed His minstery as a prophet and man, He was crucified and shed His divine blood as the “Lamb of God” for the remission of our sins, He was resurrected in full glory to pave the way for our entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom, He ascended into Heaven to rejoin our Lord Father, and HE WILL return soon in the very near future, to establish His Kingdom here on Earth and live with us as “Emmanuel”, the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and King of Kings for all eternity.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20-21)
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From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.“
(Matthew 4:17 KJV)
- TIME IS RUNNING SHORT -
We should be spending every opportunity to bear witness to the gospel of JESUS CHRIST -
providing an excellent testimony that glorifies GOD and proclaims His Millennial Kingdom soon to come here on Earth!
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you.”
(Matthew 6:33 KJV)