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Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem
    by David Plant

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem in 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 have come to worship him"
(Matthew 2:1, 2)    

Chart for the acronycal rising of Jupiter on September 15th, 7 BC, at Jerusalem (Julian calendar)

Chart for the acronycal rising of Jupiter on September 15th, 7 BC, at Jerusalem (Julian calendar)

Who were the Magi, the 'wise men from the east' of the Christmas story? The New English Bible describes them as 'astrologers', and there is undoubtedly an astrological dimension to the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem.

According to Dr Percy Seymore - one of the few modern astronomers to take astrology seriously - the Magi were Zoroastrian astrologer-priests from Babylon who were guided to Bethlehem because astrological conditions were right for the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy that a great leader would someday be born there. (Micah 5:2)

There are several theories to account for the nature of the guiding Star. Some say it was a comet, perhaps Halley's Comet, which made an appearance in 12 BC, but comets were associated with destruction and the death of kings - hardly appropriate omens for the birth of the Messiah. They were also impossible to predict and seem too random and erratic to fit the precise cosmological doctrines of the Magi. For the same reason, the Star is unlikely to have been a nova, even though Chinese astrologers recorded the appearance of bright novae or 'guest stars' in March, 5 BC and April, 4 BC.

Another suggestion is that the Star was the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in June, 2 BC. A conjunction of the two brightest planets is an impressive sight, but it occurs too frequently to indicate anything exceptional to experienced star-gazers This leaves the possibility that the 'Star' was not a physical manifestation, but the symbolic expression of a major astrological event. A likely candidate is the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces of March, October and December, 7 BC.

Jupiter and Saturn were the outermost planets known to the ancients. Their conjunctions occur roughly every 20 years. Triple conjunctions, when their retrograde phases intertwine, occur every 139 years. A triple conjunction in Pisces happens only once every 900 years. Judaea was associated with the sign of Pisces in ancient mundane astrology and at that time the vernal equinox point was moving towards the constellation of the Fishes to herald the dawning of the Age of Pisces. This conjunction was certainly apt for the birth of the great leader predicted by the prophet Micah.

Dr Seymour suggests that sunset on September 15th, 7 BC was the time that the Magi would have expected the Messiah to be born. On that day Jupiter rose on the eastern horizon just as the Sun was setting in the west - an event known as its acronycal rising - linking the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn with the ascendant-descendant axis. We now celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but the early Church adopted this date in order to absorb Pagan solstice celebrations. The possibility that Jesus was born with Sun in Virgo also gives symbolic meaning to the puzzling doctrine of the Virgin Birth.

The chart above is set for the acronycal rising of Jupiter on September 15th, 7 BC at Bethlehem (Julian calendar), though at this distance in time even computer-calculated positions are approximate. For a full account of Dr Seymour's theory see his Astrology: the Evidence of Science (Arkana 1990).

© David Plant. More of David Plant's work is available on his English Merlin website, devoted to all aspects of the life and times of William Lilly and his contemporaries

This article was first published in The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, Ascella Publications, issue 3, Winter 1993, p.6. Reproduced online December 2004

Mundane Astrology
More articles by David Plant
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