Much debate exists between those who favor science and those who rely on faith, while a minority contingent accept that science and faith are compatible and can provide insight into the meaning of issues rooted in faith. One example of this is the case of the Star of Bethlehem.
Nick Strobel presents a number of astronomical theories regarding what could have created such a display on his detailed website “The Star of Bethlehem.” Strobel, however, identifies two of these theories, both which utilize clues from the Gospels regarding timing and which have the least difficulty in explaining the phenomenon, as “probably closer to the truth” than others. These theories place the birth of Jesus sometime between 7 to 4 BCE.
It must be also remembered that during Roman times, astrology was very closely related to religion and philosophy. Astronomer Michael R. Molnar (Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1971) states, “When people of those times spoke about celestial portents or signs, they were referring to astrology which was highly regarded in the Roman world…. Many modern researchers in their disdain for astrology have erroneously rewritten the historical record to downplay the role astrology played in Western culture.”
The first of the most probable theories for the Star of Bethlehem identified by Strobel is the planetary conjunction theory whereby two or more planets appear very close together in the sky. According to this theory, three planetary conjunctions and a near planetary conjunction of significance occurred around the time of the birth of Jesus. In 7 BCE, there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces which usually happens only once every 900 years. Pisces is one of the signs associated with the Jewish people in astrology, so a triple conjunction occurring within the time span of only several months was an occurrence that would have caused the Wise Men, who were astrologers or Magi, to take note. According to Strobel, “The first conjunction of the 7 BCE triple conjunction occurred in late May when the Magi may have started their journey [that would take several months]. The second conjunction occurred in late September when they were visiting King Herod and the third conjunction appeared in the south toward Bethlehem in early December after Herod had sent them on their way.” A near conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in Pisces occurred in February, 6 BCE, which occurs only once every 800 years. “Jupiter was the ‘star’ of royalty and luck and Saturn was the ‘star’ of the … deity who protected Israel. Both of these rare conjunctions could have been predicted by the ‘wise men from the East’ and could have been interpreted by them that a great king was to be born in Israel,” according to Strobel. The Magi would have been unaware of such a birth being foretold in Bethlehem since they were themselves not Jewish.
The second of the most probable theories identified by Strobel is the theory of Jupiter’s Retrograde Motion based on the work of Michael R. Molnar presented in his book “The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi.” Molnar discovered an ancient Roman coin depicting the zodiac sign of Aries the Ram, which is a sign strongly associated with the Jews, and two eclipses of Jupiter, the regal “star” that conferred kingships especially when it was in close conjunction with the Moon. According to Molnar, “Jupiter underwent two ‘eclipses’ by the Moon in Aries in 6 BC…. The second occurred on April 17th and coincided precisely when Jupiter was ‘in the East,’ a condition mentioned twice in the Biblical account about the Star of Bethlehem. In particular, the conditions of April 17, 6 BC, were believed to herald the birth of a divine, immortal, and omnipotent person born under the sign of the Jews, which we now know as Aries the Ram [this was the Magi’s star]. In August of that year Jupiter became stationary and then ‘went before’ through Aries where it became stationary again on December 19, 6 BC. This is when the regal planet ‘stood over’ – a secondary royal portent also described in the Bible.” According to Molnar, the terms, “went before” and “stood over,” utilized in the Gospels actually represent the astrological concepts of retrograde motion and stationing, respectively.
According to Unity, however, which assigns metaphysical meanings to various Biblical elements as contained in “The Revealing Word: A Dictionary of Metaphysical Terms” by co-founder Charles Fillmore, the story of the Wise Men following the Star of Bethlehem represents “the stored-up resources of the soul that rise to the surface when its depths are stirred by a great spiritual revelation” such as coming to an “inner conviction of our divine sonship.” Strobel seems to agree with such an understanding. He concludes at the end of his website, “Those who faith is dependent on proving the historical veracity of Matthew’s account of the Bethlehem star are on shaky ground and are missing the real point of the birth story. Those who would dismiss the birth story because it cannot be proved historically accurate are also missing the real point of the story. While both extremes will worship at the altar of literal-factual truth, the vast majority of Christians understand that there is a deeper truth worthy of worship.”
For residents of Columbus, Georgia, who seek a spiritual community that honors the compatibility between faith and science, the following five Unity churches are within driving distance:
- Unity of Albany (GA) – approximately 75 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 178 Hugh Road, Leesburg, GA. Phone: (229) 435-1001.
- Unity of Montgomery (AL) Spiritual Center – approximately 77 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 1922 Walnut Street, Montgomery, AL 36106. Phone: (334) 263-1225.
- Unity Spiritual Life Center of Central Georgia - formerly Unity in the Heart of Georgia (Byron, GA) – approximately 78 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 127 Peachtree Parkway #701, Byron, GA. Phone: (478) 737-7537.
- Unity South Atlanta Church (Jonesboro, GA) – approximately 84 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 10 a.m. on Sundays is 7541 Mt. Zion Boulevard, Jonesboro, GA. Phone: (404) 578-3033.
- Unity of Dothan (AL) – approximately 90 miles from Columbus, GA. Address for services at 11 a.m. on Sundays is 942 South Oates, Dothan, AL 36301. Phone: (334) 794-2840.
Home Study Resources for Residents of Columbus, Georgia
The following text is available on Amazon: “The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi” by Michael R. Molnar ($20.21 in hardcover and $9.99 for Kindle).
The following texts are available from Unity’s website: (1) “The Revealing Word: A Dictionary of Metaphysical Terms” by Charles Fillmore ($14.95 in paperback), and (2) “The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary” by Charles Fillmore ($35.95 in hardcover).