Can the Star of Bethlehem answer the age-old question, “When was Jesus born?”
Look in the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew and the nativity of Jesus is chronicled. According to Luke, Jesus’ parents traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to participate in a census. While there, baby Jesus was born. The Gospel of Matthew adds another element to the story; one that has become accepted as much as the manger itself and the humble beginnings for Jesus.
Matthew is the only author to mention the Magi. Common belief dictates that three Magi made a pilgrimage ‘from the East’. Ostensibly this is due entirely to the gifts said to have brought: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Other accounts claim that up to a dozen Magi made the journey.
The gospel of Matthew in the Holy Bible is considered the earliest account of the life of Jesus Christ. Scholars believe it was written sometime between A.D. 70-80. Because it was written so close to the time of Christ’s life, many experts consider it to be the most credible account of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Star of Bethlehem
Can the Gospel of Jesus according to St. Matthew tell us when was Jesus born? The Star of Bethlehem may be the key to this answer. Although there are many theories, this article discusses one particular idea.
The Star of Bethlehem, according to the gospel, led the Magi from Parthia to Bethlehem. Since this passage was never disputed, scholars and historians have asked what was this star that pointed to Bethlehem announcing the birth of the King of the Jews?
Was Jesus Born on December 25?
Most historians agree that Jesus Christ was not born on Dec 25th, 1 B.C. The gospel of St. Luke (2:2) states Jesus’ parents traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census for the purpose of Roman taxation. Historical records suggest this took place in 8 B.C. King Herod is also documented to have died in 4 B.C. And the bible states King Herod was alive during the birth of Christ. Since King Herod was threatened by the birth of this Jewish king, he ordered the slaughter of every child under two years of age in and around Bethlehem.
So when was Jesus born? With the above information as a guide, Jesus Christ should have been born between 7 B.C. and 4 B.C.
We now have a time span of 7 B.C. and 4 B.C. to use in helping to identify what was the Star of Bethlehem. There are a few clues that can be used. Matthew 2:9 states “Lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” We can deduce from this passage that:
- The “star” moved
- It traveled east to west
- And it seems to have “stood over” the child.
This is where we run into a problem. There is no Greek, Roman or Babylonian record in this time period documenting unusual astronomical activity. This is surprising since this star was a clear motivator for the Magi to travel from Parthia all the way to Bethlehem to greet him. This leads us to question if Christ was actually born between 7 B.C to 4 B.C. There is ample evidence to suggest those dates are wrong as well.
Determining How Old Was Jesus When He Died
First of all, Roman and new Testament records indicate that Jesus Christ was most likely crucified by the Romans in A.D. 36 vice A.D. 33 It is commonly suggested that Jesus Christ was a young man when he was crucified, but evidence suggests he wasn’t.
To be considered a religious teacher or rabbi in ancient Jewish culture, one would have to be at least 50 years of age. In the second century AD, Bishop Irenaeus stated Christ was about fifty years of age when he taught. It should be noted that Bishop Irenaeus had studied under people who actually knew Jesus Christ. The Gospel of St. John (8:57) states that Christ was “not yet fifty.”
In another section of St. John (2:20), Jesus Christ compares his body to that of the Temple of Jerusalem -which was “forty and six years in building.” This can be interpreted that Christ was the same age as the temple. Since this temple was built by King Herod in 12 B.C., Christ must have been 46 years old in A.D. 34 when he spoke those words. That puts his crucifixion at A.D. 36 when he was 48 years old.
Whether in fact there were just the trio or an entire group of Magi, one of the most mysterious aspects of their journey was what actually compelled them to make it in the first place. Ask anyone what exactly was the Star of Bethlehem and the chances are that a reply surrounding some sort of natural phenomenon within astronomical circles – a comet, planetary conjunction or even a supernova. That would certainly attract the attention of astronomers, but then why collect gifts and head towards it?
It seems a reasonable assumption that, whatever led them to the infant Jesus, they appear to have had prior knowledge of the birth itself. A conjunction of planets, thought to be Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces, would occur over a given time but would offer little or no indication of a venue. A comet and supernova would offer a similar problem to the Magi. Whatever they were following must surely have been able to adequately target Bethlehem itself, down to the manger. The Star must have been within sight or reach of the stables Mary and Joseph were forced to use at the time.
Was the Star of Bethlehem Halley’s Comet?
So with Christ’s revised birth date of 12 B.C., is there evidence to support it? Was there an astronomical sign or a census that year for Christ’s parents to take part in?
The answer is yes. Although it wasn’t a Roman tax census, a local tax census was conducted in Bethlehem in 12 B.C. under the authority of King Herod. Furthermore, in the years 12 B.C. – 11 B.C., Halley’s comet was clearly visible in the sky. In fact, it was noted with awe throughout the Mediterranean. It appeared to travel from east to west and its long tail could easily have been mistaken for the signal pointing to Bethlehem as its course appeared to hover in the night sky.
It is easy to understand how the Magi, following this glowing sword in the sky as it travels west, believed this star beacon the beginning of a new age. To them, it was a miracle. To modern Christians, it’s just as inspiring. Could it be that Halley’s comet ushered the birth of Jesus Christ in 12 B.C?