The Star of Bethlehem

Merry Christmas! A bit of astronomy for today. I would like to introduce you to Frederick Larson and his website and DVD The Star of Bethlehem.

The Star of Bethlehem

This is something that I show my classes each year. It is a presentation defending the claim that the star of Bethlehem was a real astronomical event. Frederick Larson, a lawyer by day, goes through the Christmas story in the book of Matthew and builds a case showing how the planet Jupiter could have meet 9 specific criteria for the Star of Bethlehem.

Even though there are a few points where I think Larson may be trying to stretch the significance a bit too much, overall I feel that this is a very reasonable and well-researched presentation. I preface the showing of this video to my students by telling them that this may not be the actual star as recorded in Scripture, but this serves as an excellent example of how science can help booster our understanding of the credibility of the biblical writers. By tying real astronomical events to descriptions of the star given in Scripture, Larson provides a reasonable explanation for what may have brought the Magi to the town of Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. He also uses astronomical data to try to pin down the actual date of Jesus' crucifixion, which I felt was actually the strongest part of Larson's presentation. Some interesting discussions on astronomy and the Bible and the meaning of miracles always follows the showing of this video, especially if you use some astronomy software to recreate the scenarios presented by Larson.

I recommend the use of the free, open source planetarium software Stellarium if you would like to see the try this out yourself! I used version 9.1, which had a scripting function. The new version 10 has a nicer interface and it is easier to set time and location, but the script function hasn't been implemented yet. Here are the location and time settings for the 3 main "scenes" for the Star of Bethlehem:

1. Triple conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus
Starting Date and Time: Sept. 1, 2 BC, UTC 00:30:00
Location: Lat 32.34, Lon 44.22 (ancient Babylon)
Constellations On
Track Jupiter

2. Conjunction between Jupiter and Venus
Starting Date and Time: June 13, 1 BC, UTC 17:30:00
Location: Same as before, in Babylon

3. Jupiter in retrograde motion over Bethlehem
Starting Date and Time: Dec. 17, 1 BC, UTC 06:00:00
Location: Lat 31.71, Lon -35.10 (Jerusalem)
Look South toward the town of Bethlehem

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4 comments:

  1. Michael Chen said...

    Hi Ken,

    Great site first of all. I read an article years ago about this possible astronomical event and recently I found an updated one with flash animation on msn.com. Here's the link:

    http://perf2.msnbc.msn.com/id/3077385/

  2. Joo Wan Park said...

    I recall you teaching this at the class. I hope there is another lecture similar to this such that where you can prove God's existence through science.

  3. Terence said...

    The DVD sounds very interesting. I hope I am able to take your class next year.


    Terence Tanaka

  4. Anonymous said...

    It seems unfortunate that the Church was often the scapegoat of unproven scientific theories. Now, in the matter of Evolution and Darwinism, Christians are laughed at and called fools for believing in Creationism when Evolution is still an unproven theory. It is also strange that even today people believe in theories that have no real proof, such as global warming. When we consider issues we need to look at the facts, not go along with the popular opinion. Mark Haugaard

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