What was the star of Bethlehem?

Sometime around 2022 years ago (more or less) an event is recorded to have happened over the Middle East which was extraordinary. It is the birth of Jesus Christ in the tiny town of Bethlehem. As a part of this story, the Magi are said to have visited the Christ child lying in a manger, which is a trough where livestock feed. These Magi were supposed to have been led there by what our standards today would be called an unidentified flying object. Today we will examine the claims in the book of Matthew, the magi and their transportation and the climate conditions to try to get an idea what happened back then. (1)

Strangely enough, only the Magi are said to have seen this object, which is rather odd. Who were the Magi? The usual explanation is that they were Persian priests. Persia, now known as Iran, was one of the more advanced countries at the time.(2) The main religion was Zoroastrianism, a religion that is curiously similar to Christianity and Judaism in that it is monotheistic. (3)

The distance that the magi traveled is generally thought to be about 400 miles. Traveling by camel, would have taken weeks, or up to a month by walking. (4) This would have been an arduous journey to say the least! In between Israel and Persia was the Zagros mountain range, which would have made a formidable impediment to travel. (5) The climate tends to be wet and mild in the winter, and dry and torrid in summer. If they traveled in winter, the weather in the mountains may have been severe. (8) Also slowing them down would have been the object and whether it was visible during the day or not. If not, it would have had to be at night that they followed it.

The Persians would have had full knowledge of the Jews and prophecy, having conquered the Jewish state of Judah long before the birth of Christ (6) so the following verse is not all that surprising:

Matthew chapter 2 “1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him”. Up until this point, you could dismiss this as a bright celestial object seen by astrologers. Knowing about Jerusalem and Judea and the religion of the Jews would have given these Persians the incentive to come to Jerusalem. But there’s a problem as we will see in chapter 2:

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way”.

Referring to verse 9, a celestial object simply cannot do this. It cannot change course for anyone to follow it. Worse yet, the distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is about 5 1/2 miles. (7) The significance of this is that only a low flying or hovering object would have been discernible as being above a certain area. The moon for example would look exactly the same in both places.

We have an additional problem, however. As far as has been recorded, only the Magi are said to have seen this object. That may or may not be so however. Luke Chapter 2 says in part:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”.

It is impossible to tell if this is the same object or not. Matthew does not talk about this, nor Luke about the star. This incident likely occurred before the arrival of the Magi, however. The reason is that Matthew records the Magi going into a house to meet the baby Jesus, whereas the shepherds were told to go to the stable. That assumes the wording is accurate. It’s hard to tell whether the proud parents Mary and Joseph saw anything, but it’s unlikely, their being inside the stable, and later a house.

I also find it curious that the Magi followed this object willingly. Even today, it would have stirred fear and panic, and of course there was no technology back then. So we have one object, apparently under intelligent control, and another that communicated with lowly shepherds out in a field. Then again, they may have been the same object. We just don’t know, and we won’t know for sure unless and until someone invents a time machine and investigates one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

  1. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%201&version=KJV
  2. https://time.com/5923009/three-kings-wisemen-history-magi-bible/
  3. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/thousand-years-of-the-persian-book/religion.html
  4. https://bibleask.org/how-far-did-the-magi-travel-to-see-jesus/
  5. https://www.britannica.com/place/Zagros-Mountains
  6. https://enterthebible.org/time-period/judah-during-persian-rule
  7. https://www.distancefromto.net/between/Jerusalem/Bethlehem
  8. https://www.climatecentre.org/wp-content/uploads/RCCC-ICRC-Country-profiles-Region_Middle_East.pdf

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