Overview:

Let's dig deeper into the claims that magi came to Bethlehem after seeing the king planet crown the king star and get very close to the Mother Planet, and after reading a biblical prophecy.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Planetary conjunctions, a prophecy in Revelation, and more: do these all point to an actual Star of Bethlehem?

I summarized the video The Star of Bethlehem by Rick Larson here. Let’s continue the critique of the logic behind the claims by moving on to the four astronomical phenomena that were visible in 3 BCE and 2 BCE (part 1 here).

Let me first warm up the crowd with another example of a plausible argument like Larson’s star of Bethlehem. Here’s a viral video from 2014 of an earnest Christian woman who wants to expose the satanic forces behind Monster energy drink.

First, look at the green M. Those aren’t three scratch marks. No, that’s three separate instances of the Hebrew letter vav (ו), which is used to represent the numeral 6. That’s right—Monster energy drink proudly says 666. The 32-ounce can says “BFC,” which stands for “Big F-ing Can.” It says “MILFs love it” on the side of the carton. None of this sounds very Christian, and the slogan “Unleash the beast” sounds positively Satanic.

The word “Monster” has a cross in the letter O. Tip up the can to drink, and the Christian cross is inverted, which is just what Satanists like to do. (“Bottoms up, and the devil laughs,” she says)

Some of these elements may be deliberate, edgy appeals to a young audience, but some may have had unintended satanic meanings. With much patient effort, an innocent thing can seem like a conspiracy. (Snopes rejects the claims.)

A Lucifer/Venus connection is probably not what Larson was hoping for, but it’s no less valid than his claims.

1. Jupiter/Regulus conjunction

The first astronomical phenomenon in the star-of-Bethlehem argument is Jupiter making three passes above Regulus, a star in the constellation of Leo, beginning in 3 BCE. That is, the king planet Jupiter “crowned” the king star Regulus in the constellation of the lion, the sign of Judah.

The first concern is pairing Judah with any Babylonian constellation, given the Bible’s prohibitions against astrology, but Larson pushes ahead. He gives verses such as “Like a lion [Judah] crouches and lies down” (Genesis 49:9) to make his case that “lion” means Judah, but Judah is also personified in other ways. It’s a wild ox in Numbers 23:22 and a scattered flock chased by lions in Jeremiah 50:17.

Lions are often personified as the adversary: “The Lord [rescued] me from the paw of the lion” (1 Samuel 17:37); “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions” (Psalms 22:21); “Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions” (Ps. 35:17); and Daniel in the lion’s den. Babylon is a lion (Daniel 7:4); God is a lion when he punishes Israel and Judah (Hosea 5:14); and Satan is a lion (1 Peter 5:8).

Countries were often identified with animals in antiquity, but the lion for Judah wasn’t one of the associations.

Jupiter in the constellation of Leo isn’t that big a deal. Jupiter makes one orbit of the sun every twelve years, and there are twelve constellations in the zodiac, so Jupiter is in Leo for roughly one year every twelve years. And the three Jupiter/Regulus conjunctions—the “crowning” of Regulus—wasn’t like fireworks. This was a slow-motion event that took close to a year. It’s not like you could’ve gone outside and seen the event over the course of hours, like a lunar eclipse. It likely would have seemed mundane, if it were noticeable at all. The magi could’ve known enough about Jupiter’s movements that they could anticipate how the entire retrograde phase would play out. They could’ve tracked it night after night to gradually piece together its movements over months, but why would they?

Seeing the “crowning” in seconds with a modern computer simulation, as Larson talks about doing, is a very different experience, and seeing it in (glacial) real time would not have been noteworthy.

2. Revelation and the woman “clothed with the sun”

Revelation 12:1–5 speaks of a heavenly sign, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” The woman is usually interpreted as Mary giving birth to Jesus.

At the beginning of the Jupiter/Regulus series of conjunctions, the sun and moon were both in Virgo. That is, the virgin was clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet, as predicted by Revelation. (Larson has nothing for the “twelve stars on her head.”)

The obvious question is why magi in 3 BCE would care about a prophecy in Revelation, a book that wouldn’t be written for another century.

Another issue is that the sun in Virgo is something that you could deduce, but you couldn’t see it since the background stars that form the constellation aren’t visible during the day. Like the “crowning” of Regulus in painfully slow motion, Virgo “clothed in the sun and moon” wouldn’t have been a stunning visual display but at best an intellectual conclusion.

Note also that the sun is in Virgo for one month out of twelve, and the moon joins it in Virgo for a few days. This isn’t a rare event; it happens every year.

3. Jupiter/Venus conjunction

Next up was an unusually close planetary conjunction. Jupiter and Venus were less than one minute (1/60 degree) apart on June 17 of 2 BCE.

There is a Jupiter/Venus conjunction roughly once per year. In 2016, there was a Jupiter/Venus conjunction just four minutes apart, and there are 17 conjunctions less than 30 minutes apart in the seventy years 1990–2060. Add in conjunctions between other planets, and surprising conjunctions aren’t that unusual. Close conjunctions appear to be little more than opportunities to observe, “Oh, cool—look at that. You don’t see that every day!”

Larson calls Venus the “Mother Planet,” but the Bible has another interpretation.

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! (Isaiah 14:12)

This is a reference to Lucifer, the morning star (another name for Venus). A Lucifer/Venus connection is probably not what Larson was hoping for, but it’s no less valid than his claims.

Larson opted for a planetary conjunction as the Bethlehem star because he says that comets and novas were often seen by the ancients as bad omens. Unfortunately, the same might’ve been true for Jupiter/Venus conjunctions. In Assyria, this was considered a sign of war or danger to the king. Assyria was a long-time neighbor of Babylon, the region where the magi might’ve come from.

Concluded in part 3 with the last claim plus some final thoughts.

In the last 3500 years, what do we absolutely know
about God and the supernatural realm
that wasn’t supposedly known by the shepherds and fishermen
who claimed to be in contact with the divine then?
Think about that.
Within religion, is there any information there
that we can act on with any degree of certainty,
knowing and seeing that a given result will follow?
— Mr. Deity
video @5:05

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...