Thursday 30th October 2014

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

The Story Of The Star Of Bethlehem

December 18, 2013 Frontpage No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

Around this time of year, articles and stories appear in the media on the subject of the Star of Bethlehem. Quite often they focus on the astronomical state of the heavens at the time of Christ’s birth and try to show that some natural phenomenon can be held to be responsible for the appearance of the star — a comet, a supernova, or a conjunction of stars or planets.
If we examine the biblical text, however, it becomes clear that it isn’t quite so easy to categorize the Star in this way, and that the truth may well turn out to be far more intriguing.
The references to the Star are found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where we read in chapter two that when the Wise Men arrived at Jerusalem, during the reign of Herod, and after Jesus’ birth, they inquired where the newborn King of the Jews was: They had seen “his star in the East” and had come to worship him. This news troubled Herod, and on inquiring of the scribes, he learnt that Bethlehem, which was not far from Jerusalem, was the place prophesied by Micah as the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2). He then asked the Wise Men to search for the child so he too could worship him. Following this, the Wise Men went on their way, “and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:1-9).
So there are only a few references to the Star in this Gospel, and we need to consider them carefully. From the Greek word for “wise men” we get the word “Magi.” In the ancient Orient, this was the name given to wise men, teachers, priests, astrologers, seers, and so on, and it can have a good or a bad sense. That is, a Magi could be a genuine seer or a false prophet, as was the case later on in the Book of Acts (13:6, 8). But obviously in the case of the biblical Wise Men, we are dealing with people who were well disposed.
The first thing is to note exactly what they said on meeting Herod, that they had seen his star in the East, and had come to worship him. In other words, they associated this new star with the newborn King of the Jews in a very precise way. It is thought that the Magi in fact came from Persia, modern Iran, or ancient Babylonia, modern Iraq, and that they may well have come to know about the Hebrew Scriptures in their own country, since the Prophet Daniel had lived in that area centuries before.
In particular, the Magi may have been familiar with this prophecy of Balaam on the future coming of the Messiah, which is recorded in the Book of Numbers: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (24:17). Or alternatively, they may possibly have become aware of Balaam’s prophecy in another way, since he was clearly a well-known seer in his own day.
In any event, whatever the exact reason, they realized the true significance of the Star and set out to find the new King. The interesting thing is that when they reached Jerusalem, it became clear to them that its inhabitants, including Herod, had not seen the Star, since, in secret, he asked the Magi when the Star had appeared. So it was probably only visible to them, which is a strong indication that it was a supernatural sign, rather than a natural heavenly object.
Several possibilities have been put forward to give a natural explanation for the Star, but there are problems with all of them. One theory is that it was due to a conjunction of planets; that is a situation where a planet apparently comes very close to another planet or star in the night sky, so that they may seem to touch and so look much brighter than normal.
There were a number of such conjunctions around the time of Christ’s birth, and it is certainly true that the Magi would have been more aware of this type of thing than most people at the time. However, only one such conjunction, in the year 2 BC, and involving the planets Jupiter and Venus, really comes into the category of a genuine conjunction, in which the two planets actually seemed to merge. But this only happened once, on one evening, and as already indicated, the Magi saw the star on more than one occasion. And this date is also later than the generally accepted date for Herod’s death in 4 BC.
Alternatively, if the Star were a supernova, an exploding star, then that would have been obvious to everyone. Similarly, if it were a comet, then that too would have been seen by all. And neither a supernova nor a comet, nor a conjunction of planets, does what the Star of Bethlehem did according to the biblical text, that is: “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9).
In other words, it stopped over Bethlehem, which is an impossibility for a natural heavenly object, since stars, planets, and comets apparently move in the heavens due to the earth’s rotation on its axis. And if they were not to be forced to look in every house in Bethlehem, which would have drawn unnecessary attention to the Holy Family, the Star must have been quite close to the earth, and not far away off in space.
And this is in fact what St. John Chrysostom, the early Church Father (c. 347-407) believed: “How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, ‘Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was’.”
It is interesting to note that a number of biblical miracles involve the sun, which is a star in its own right. These includes Joshua telling the sun to stand still so he could defeat his enemies (Joshua 10:13-14), and God providing a sign for King Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, that the sun should go backward as measured by the shadow on the sundial (Isaiah 38:7, 8).
And more recently, in connection with Fatima, we have the famous Miracle of the Sun, which occurred on October 13, 1917. These miracles — which were far greater in magnitude than that involving the Christmas Star — indicate that God can do whatever He wants, and thus the idea that the Star of Bethlehem was supernatural is quite feasible.
In fact, if anything, the Star of Bethlehem was more like the pillar of fire/cloud which went before the Israelites in the desert, when they escaped from Pharaoh — that is, a purely supernatural sign (Exodus 13:21).

Taking The Gospels
Seriously

There is a danger nowadays of interpreting scriptural passages in a naturalistic sense, so as to fit in with modern ideas. This is the sort of thing that happens, when, for example, the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospels are reinterpreted so as to remove their miraculous nature, and instead are seen as purely natural.
Some modern theologians have argued that what happened was that instead of Jesus miraculously multiplying the loaves and fishes, the people who had followed Him shared the food they had brought with them. Given human nature, that might well have been a greater miracle, but it is not what the biblical text says!
No, if we take the Gospels seriously, it is obvious that the Star of Bethlehem was a marvelous heavenly sign, a fitting manifestation of God’s power, and the way He first announced the birth of His Son to the Gentiles, and ultimately to us.

+    +    +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk.)

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Angola: Catholic Priest Refutes Criticism of Church Practices

Lubango — The Southern Huila province?s Lubango city emeritus archbishop, Zacarias Kamwenho, rejected as false the claim that Catholic Christians worship images. Speaking on Sunday in the Muxima Diocese, in Lubango, the archbishop explained that Catholic Christians worship God instead,…Continue Reading

Ave Maria School of Law Wins Its HHS Mandate Case in Federal Court

The Obama Administration has suffered another defeat in its quest to force Catholics and people of faith to pay for abortion-causing drugs, as required by the HHS Mandate. Today the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida came down…Continue Reading

Catholic Educators Appeal to Obama Administration for Relief from HHS Mandate

Today a coalition including The Cardinal Newman Society, leaders of Catholic schools and colleges, and the expert attorneys of the Alliance Defending Freedom told the Obama administration that its latest rule mandating insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including abortion-causing…Continue Reading

Toronto schools hosting ‘LGBTQ’ conference for students as young as 11

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is hosting three student conferences within the span of eight days for the purpose of LGBTQ activism.  The conferences, which have been organized in collaboration with Jer’s Vision, will take place on October 28,…Continue Reading

The Synod and the Media: Culpable Naïveté or Shrewd Calculation?

Upon becoming director of media relations for the American bishops in late 1969, I quickly made a crucial discovery about my new employers. With just a handful of exceptions, the bishops were painfully naïve about the news business, yet convinced…Continue Reading

Chaldean Catholic patriarch suspends 10 priests, including 1 from El Cajon

SAN DIEGO – The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church has suspended 10 priests, including one from El Cajon. Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako issued a decree a month ago, demanding the priests return to Iraq or be suspended. Wednesday…Continue Reading

Retired Pope Says Interreligious Dialogue No Substitute For Mission

VATICAN CITY – Retired Pope Benedict XVI said dialogue with other religions is no substitute for spreading the Gospel to non-Christian cultures, and warned against relativistic ideas of religious truth as “lethal to faith.” He also said the true motivation…Continue Reading

California Forces Churches to Directly Fund Abortions, Churches Refuse to Comply

To the dismay of California’s people of faith, the California Department of Managed Health Care has reclassified abortion as a “basic health service” under the Affordable Care Act and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering surgical…Continue Reading

Relax. God’s Still In Charge.

It’s an enormous challenge to maintain pristine doctrinal purity while at the same time respond to the experiential, personal, and difficult needs of married couples and families. Behind every arcane discussion of gradualism and natural law there are parents and…Continue Reading

Cardinal Burke: The “Relatio Synodi” Is “A Significant Improvement Over The Text Of The ‘Relatio Post Disceptationem'”

In a third short interview with CWR, conducted by e-mail late yesterday, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, offers his impression of the Relatio Synodi, comments on reports that the Synod has…Continue Reading

Synod Final Document Reaffirms Church Teaching

The final document of the Extraordinary Synod was released Saturday as the Synod Fathers voted to approve all 62 paragraphs, but with three paragraphs not receiving the normally required two-thirds majority vote. The three paragraphs, which in the past would…Continue Reading

Catholic Synod: Gay Rights Groups ‘Disappointed’

Catholic gay rights groups say they are disappointed after bishops rejected proposals for wider acceptance of gay people, which had the Pope’s backing. The call to “accept and value” homosexuals was in a draft report, but failed to win the…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to subscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.

 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

'From our friends at The Foundry'


Today . . .

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI Writes Personal Ordinariate Of Our Lady Of Walsingham

ben1

(Vatican Radio) Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has sent a message to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which was established for former Anglicans in England in 2011.  The message was on the fifth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, which was released on November 4th 2009. The Pope Emeritus was responding to a letter he received…Continue Reading

Pope At Audience: The Church Visible And Spiritual

pope650

(Vatican Radio)  “Often, we hear people say: the Church doesn’t do this …the Church doesn’t do that!’ ‘Tell me who is the Church? – ‘Well the Church is the priests, the bishops, the Pope …’ We are all the Church! All of us all of us Baptized! We are the Church, the Church of Jesus’”. This was the message at…Continue Reading

Pope At Angelus: Love Of God And Neighbour Are Inseparable

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis prayed the Angelus with pilgrims and tourists gathered in St Peter’s Square beneath the window of the Papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican on Sunday. In remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, the Holy Father offered some reflections on the Gospel reading of the day, which was taken from Gospel…Continue Reading

Pope At Santa Marta: Called To Be Children Of Light

(Vatican Radio) At morning Mass on Monday Pope Francis said that a conscientious examination of our words will help us understand whether we are Christians of light, Christians of darkness or Christians of grey areas. Reflecting on the First Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the Pope said men are recognizable by their words. By inviting Christians to…Continue Reading

Pass-Fail Grading: For The Professors’ Benefit?

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK S.M. writes to offer some observations about the proposal to introduce a “pass-fail” grading system for freshmen at Princeton University. The possibility of doing that was discussed in the October 9 edition of First Teachers. He sees the idea as a “form of grade inflation that is solely intended to accomplish…Continue Reading

Contemporary Culture Encapsulated In A Single Sentence

By DONALD DeMARCO It is remarkable how much a single sentence can reveal about the temper of a culture, even when its author is trying to be withholding. Jacalyn Duffin, a historian and practicing hematologist, is the author of History of Medicine (University of Toronto Press, 2000). It is a 243-page tome that was produced…Continue Reading

Synod Document Of October 13, 2014

By JOHN F. KIPPLEY (Editor’s Note: John F. Kippley is the author of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality and other books and articles. With his wife Sheila, he is a coauthor of Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach and cofounder of NFP International. This commentary appeared on his blog [johnkippley.com] of…Continue Reading

Elite Judges Think The Highest Judge Never Will End Their Misrule

By DEXTER DUGGAN Today people worry about globe-trotting terrorists, the transmission of the deadly Ebola virus, and the way contagions can cross borders when the government insists borders must be open for everyone’s alleged benefit. Meanwhile, unaccountable U.S. judges continue their contagion of immorality, as if God’s judgment never will come, maybe in little germs,…Continue Reading

Chilling Free Speech

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO Earlier this week, the federal government’s National Science Foundation, an entity created to encourage the study of science — encouragement that it achieves by awarding grants to scholars and universities — announced that it had awarded a grant to study what people say about themselves and others in social media. The…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Temples Of The Holy Spirit

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Feast Of The Dedication Of St. John Lateran In Rome Readings: Ezek. 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 1 Cor. 3:9c-11, 16-17 John 2:13-22 Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of a church building that many people have never heard of and also have no idea of its significance. In Rome, there are four major basilicas; the…Continue Reading

Message Of The Extraordinary Synod Of Bishops . . . We Ask You To Walk With Us Toward The Next Synod

(Editor’s Note: Below is the text of the concluding message of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, held October 5-19. This message was released on October 18. (See Fr. Kevin M. Cusick’s column in this issue, p. 2B, and the front page for reporting and commentary on the separate final document of the Extraordinary Synod.) + + +…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… Redefining Marriage: Not About The Kids And The Picket Fence

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK Following the Extraordinary Synod and the rollback on confusing language about same-sex attraction and the divorced and remarried in the final version of the Relatio Synodi document, the predictable reactions are coming in. Those who continue to hold Church teaching that marriage is only between a man and a woman are labeled as “bigots,” while…Continue Reading

Debunking The Sola Scriptura Myth… True Tradition And False “Tradition”

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 4 A classical objection: What Catholics call the “Apostolic Tradition” is just a human tradition, which Jesus clearly condemned in the Gospel, when He said to the Pharisees, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?…So, for the sake of your tradition you have made void the…Continue Reading

Public Revelation Vs. Private Revelation

By DON FIER Our previous installment ended by citing a pair of remarkable verses from the Letter to the Hebrews, verses that concisely summarize God’s divine pedagogy, His master plan of divine Revelation: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a…Continue Reading

Cast A Gauntlet – Sola Scriptura: Part 1

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Wolfgang

By CAROLE BRESLIN October 31 has come to be yet another Christian holy day corrupted by our secular society. All Hallows Eve, Halloween, is now celebrated with emphasis on evil and horror. Corn mazes with frightening objects around the corner, haunted houses to terrify even the bravest of persons, glorification of vampires, and decorations of death and witches — these…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Anthony Mary Claret

By CAROLE BRESLIN St. Anthony Mary Claret has something in common with at least three other saints. Like St. Peter Claver, he was born in northeastern Spain — over 200 years later. Like St. Pio of Pietrelcina, when he heard Confessions, he frequently could read the souls of the penitents, asking them about a sin that they had not confessed.…Continue Reading

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading