A place to hang out and chat about astronomy
Thu Dec 31, 2015 12:50 am
Just saw the new episode of "The Sky at Night, The Real Star of Bethlehem: A Christmas Special" and have a question about the candidates for the 'star'.
During the comet section,(and other parts) the presenter spoke of a comet in the East, which was near the Sun so it gave of a bright tail. Also, the Helical Star rising in the East before sunrise...But, the 3 Kings would be coming from the East and travelling westward, therefore, shouldn't the star / comet / supernova be in the Western Sky ? (Israel being to the West of Babylon, Persia, Punjab regions).
Fri Jan 01, 2016 10:13 am
A comet to the east of the sun would have a tail shape that points to the west, I.e towards the sun.
The other point that was made was that the signs of the zodiac were allocated to countries in the region. Hence celestial events such as the triple conjunction that happen in the zodiac sign of Israel indicated things happening there.
Fri Jan 01, 2016 1:25 pm
Dear presenters of The Sky at Night,
thank you one and all, for your exploratory “real star of Bethlehem” program last week! I was hugely encouraged to find your - generally implicit - acceptance for the link between portents in the sky and one of the most major events of our shared spiritual heritage.
The triple conjunction theory fits well with my now more richly informed hope that perhaps the three magi read in the night sky that something big was on its way – who knows, possibly that gravitational rarity was precisely the event that kick started the sun-grazing comet…
Great to see you factoring a little more old-school astrology into your equations…and God bless cuneiform and the ancient Chinese!
For further research into the history of astrology and it’s link to other major cultural events may I liberally nudge you to take a look at “Cosmos and Psyche”, an evidentially persuasive book published in 2006 by Richard Tarnas that includes more historical examples than you can shake a modern paradigm at... and I hope you will be keen to discover accurate astronomical data cross-referencing precise planetary positions during those many transitions Tarnas cites from those sources at your disposal.
I realise that asking you to also check out “The Round Art”, by A.T. Mann, with his preface to the 1991 edition, may be pushing Charon’s boat out a little too far, but hey. Worth a try. To my mind it is as beautiful a book as a rare star in the Eastern sky; The Round Art explores the history of astrology and its long and winding divergence from - and reconnection with - astronomy: it also looks in some depth at the supportive science-based evidence – sun-spots activity, co-incident seasonal shifts in animal behaviour et al – as well as describing with real erudition our human need for narrative and how that so often plays out on the greater stages of both our societies and solar system.
Keep up the great work.
Telescopically yours, Rob Bailey
Thu Jan 21, 2016 7:05 pm
One day ago I published my comment on your film “The Sky at Night The Real Star of Bethlehem A Christmas Special - BBC Documentary 2015” on youtube. But it seems to me that for some reasons only I can see my comment. So I thought it may be useful to republish the same text with small grammatical corrections here.
I agree with your conclusion that the Christmas Star was probably a comet. But if we choose a definite comet we can’t prove it’s the right one without critically considering all aspects of the Nativity story of Matthew and Luke on the basis of independent historical sources.
Now analyzing the Christmas Star’s behaviour it’s crucial to specify where the magi were when they saw the star. Try to look at Matthean pericope 2:1-12 with a fresh eye. The canonical text Matthew 2:1-12 reports about ONLY two observations of an unusual “star” (further simply the “star”) by the magi: the first time the magi “saw his star when it rose” Mt 2:2 (here and further “New International Version”) and the second time AFTER the star had “stopped over the place where the child was” (cf. Mt 2:9 and Mt 2:10).
The simplest supposition is that the magi saw the rising “star” at dawn, when they were near Jerusalem. They decided that "a king of the Jews" was born in the capital. The magi left the “star” to rise behind them and hurried to the capital to worship a newborn king. They came to Jerusalem from east in the late morning or early afternoon, so the “star” was not visible in daylight. Herod was quickly informed about the excited magi and their report. But there was not a suitable baby in the families of Herod’s numerous descendants to present it to the magi for worshiping. Then the king could simply ignore the magi with their fantasies.
But someone from Herod's environment added fuel to the dying fire making a clarification: according to the prophecy Numbers 24.17 the rising of an unusual star could mean much more than the birth of another "king of the Jews", namely the birth of Christ - the Messiah - Mashiach. That aroused the king's curiosity. At the meeting Herod asked “chief priests and teachers of the law... where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea” they replied... Then Herod called the Magi secretly" Mt 2.4,5,7. The king did not leave the meeting immediately so the magi had to wait. Herod met the magi in the evening and he wanted them to show him the "star". However, the “star” had not yet risen and the king only "found out from them the exact time the star had appeared” Mt 2.7. Herod wasn't impressed by the humble magi excited by their recent discovery. He was sure they would not find in Bethlehem a newborn "king of the Jews" and even less Mashiach. That's why he did not give them any escort (honorable or secret). No King’s guile as it was traditionally supposed.
The magi spent the night in Jerusalem, and the next day at dawn they went to Bethlehem. That morning the magi did not observe the rise of the “star”, probably due to cloudy weather. Though the Gospel says that "the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them” Mt 2.9 the magi did not see it (cloudy weather) when they were following the winding road through hills to Bethlehem. They saw the “star” for the second time only after it had "stopped over the place where the child was" (cf. Mt 2.9 and Mt 2.10). After the first observation they left the “star” behind them and now they saw in front of them between clouds the same “star” standing over a house where they would find a child. That’s why it was reported initially in an oral tradition and later carefully written down: “the star… went ahead of them until it stopped over the place...” Mt 2.9.
Evidently, such a simple realistic interpretation is in a better agreement with the letter and spirit of the canonical text than traditional ones. But what could the “star” be in reality? In an ancient manuscript it’s written: "Anno sequenti Herodes rediens a Roma cum videret qui illusus esset a magis...", i.e. "The following year on his return from Rome, when Herod saw that he was mocked of the wise men...". According to modern scholars the last voyage of Herod to Rome took place in the late summer of 12 BCE. According to the Chinese dynastic history "Ch' en-han-shu. Treatise on the Five Elements”: “On August 26 in the year 12 BCE a star emerged at Tung-Ching...In the morning it appeared at the East direction...". Modern calculations have shown it was Halley's comet.
For further details, see a short summary in English of my hypothesis on my site "On possible historical origins of the Nativity legends".
Alexander I. Reznikov.
Russian Academy of Sciences. Moscow.
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