Monday 25th May 2015

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:

Untitled 3

Pope FrancisAn Open Letter To His Holiness Pope Francis      Given the controversy and confusion surrounding the 2014 Synod on the Family, the staff of The Wanderer and its supporters thought it appropriate to address Pope Francis with an open letter . . .

Ireland has voted to legalize gay marriage, both sides say

DUBLIN (AP) — Irish voters have resoundingly backed amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage, leaders on both sides of the Irish referendum declared Saturday after the world’s first national vote on the issue. As the official ballot counting continued,…Continue Reading

Vatican’s eco guru champions Occupy Wall Street thugs

May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — Jeffrey Sachs wears many hats. He is known as the architect of the UN Millennium Development Goals, and the proponent of the upcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). His new book, entitled, (what else) The…Continue Reading

Boy Scouts president: We need to allow open homosexual leaders

May 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Boy Scouts of America president Robert Gates says the youth organization must change with the times and allow open homosexual men to serve as Scout leaders. Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA…Continue Reading

Federal Court Forces University of Notre Dame to Obey Pro-Abortion HHS Mandate

A federal appeals court has denied a request by the University of Notre Dame to get out of having to comply with the pro-abortion HHS mandate that is a part of Obamacare and requires businesses and church groups to pay…Continue Reading

The Reception of Holy Communion in the United States

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has decided to mark the occasion with the “Year of Mercy.” Despite much happy-talk and positive papal press, it is a time of foreboding in…Continue Reading

‘Eleven Christians Killed Every Hour,’ Says Irish Bishop

According to Bishop John McAreavey, the Chair of the Council for Justice & Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, statistics show that the situation of Christian persecution in the world is far more dire than most people understand. The…Continue Reading

Africa’s experience of family life must be heard at synod, Pope tells Togo’s bishops

Pope Francis received Togo’s bishops in audience on May 11 as part of their quinquennial ad limina visit to Rome. The West African nation of 6.8 million is 20% Muslim, 15% Protestant, and 14% Catholic, with approximately half of the…Continue Reading

The eco-encyclical won’t commit the Church to unsettled science

By the time the environment encyclical of Pope Francis is released, it will be anti-climactic. Not anti-climate change to be sure, as the Holy See is certainly enthusiastic about the issue. Actually, it is against climate change, but enthusiastic about…Continue Reading

“America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”

The Pew Research Center just released its latest study on “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.” The subtitle tells the story: “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.” For our purposes, I want to focus…Continue Reading

Vatican cardinal sees no change in family teachings at synod

VATICAN CITY (AP) — A senior Vatican cardinal predicted Saturday that there will be no change in the Catholic Church‘s practice and teaching about marriage, divorce and the reception of Communion at an upcoming meeting of bishops on family issues. Cardinal…Continue Reading

Synod Leader: Don’t Expect Changes in Catholic Church Policy

Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, who is playing a key role in the Catholic Church’s upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, said there will be no changes in church policy coming as a result of the summit. There has been…Continue Reading

Germany’s bishops vote to allow Church employees to publicly defy Catholic teaching

WURZBURG, Germany, May 6, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) — On April 27 in Würzburg, the German bishops approved with more than a two-thirds majority a reform of the Catholic Church’s Labor Law in Germany, allowing some Church employees to publicly defy Church…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

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

Today . . .

Pope Francis: the gift of the Holy Spirit renews the earth

pope786

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis against the backdrop of St Peter’s Basilica and dressed in scarlet vestments, celebrated Mass on Pentecost Sunday. In his homily, the Holy Father began by focusing on Sunday’s readings saying that, “the word of God, tells us that the Spirit is at work in individuals and communities filled with the Spirit. Expanding on this theme of the Spirit, Pope Francis said that, in the Gospel, Jesus promises his disciples that, when he…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Labour must be free, creative, participatory, and mutually-supportive

(Vatican Radio)  Pope Francis spoke to the Italian Christian Workers Associations (ACLI) on Saturday in the Vatican on occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Association. In his speech to the Italian Christian Workers Associations – also known as the ACLI – Pope Francis exhorted those present to support a culture of dignified labour. He denounced the ‘god of money’ at the heart of our global economic system, promoting a culture of…Continue Reading

At the General Audience Francis asks that fathers and mothers take back their full role as educators

2015-05-21 L’Osservatore Romano “It is time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile – for they have exiled themselves from bringing up their children – and to fully resume their educational role”. This was the Pope’s declaration at the General Audience on Wednesday morning, 20 May. Continuing his series of catecheses on the family, he spoke to the crowds – many of them families – about the importance of parents as educators. The…Continue Reading

Pope’s appeal for World Day of Prayer for Church in China

(Vatican Radio) At his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis made a special appeal for prayer for Catholics in China.   The Holy Father’s appeal comes ahead of Sunday’s feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, celebrated throughout the world on May 24. Chinese Catholics have a special devotion to Mary, Help of Christians, whose feast day is marked with special devotions and pilgrimages, especially to the National Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. In…Continue Reading

The Obama-Boehner-McConnell “Fast Track” To A Poorer America

By TERENCE P. JEFFREY (Editor’s Note: Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSnews.com. Creators Syndicate provided this column. All rights reserved.) + + + President Barack Obama is negotiating a multilateral trade agreement with the governments of 11 nations. These include Malaysia and Vietnam — as well as Japan, Brunei, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand,…Continue Reading

What If We Didn’t Have A Constitution?

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO What if we didn’t have a Constitution? What if the government were elected by custom and tradition, but not by law? What if election procedures and official titles and government responsibilities merely followed those that preceded them, and not because any of this was compelled by law, but because that’s what…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Aren’t Homosexuals Born That Way?”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995.) + + + The most powerful weapon in the homosexual special rights arsenal is the victim status. A close second is the allegation that homosexuals are “born that way.” If scientists can show that homosexuality…Continue Reading

The Passing Of The Word “God”

By DONALD DeMARCO The Word of God will never pass away. But the word “God” continues to pass into oblivion. In some quarters the word is said to be discriminatory and offensive. Therefore, it must be removed. Atheists can be very touchy these days. Take the case of Alain Simoneau of Saguenay, Quebec. This nonbeliever…Continue Reading

Vietnam Today . . . Forty Years After The Fall Of Saigon

By LEE NGUYEN HO CHI MINH CITY (AsiaNews) — Forty years after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the Communist Party marked its anniversary by the largest ever military parade in the South. The parade commemorated the day when Communist troops from the North captured the city and ended the Vietnam War and…Continue Reading

The Wanderer Interviews His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke . . .

burk10

By DON FIER Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, who previously served as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome from June 2008 until November 2014, recently visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. Prior to that he served as Archbishop…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

An Apologetics Course… The Order Of The Universe Proves God’s Existence

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA Part 3 Let us put our thinking cap on, and reason: Whenever you see something whose parts are arranged in order, following a specific logical pattern, you know that someone did it. Furniture in a living room, chess pieces on a board, books in a library. Orderly arrangement cannot be explained except as being due to…Continue Reading

The Church — Body Of Christ

By DON FIER As we considered “People of God” as an image of the Church last week, an important and underlying principle inherent to its biblical symbolism emerged: God wills to make us holy and save us not as separated, isolated individuals, but as a people. He wills to sanctify and redeem mankind “by making them into one people gathered…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: Writing in the Sunday bulletin of the Church of St. Michael in New York City, Fr. George W. Rutler talked of the “web of contradiction [that] becomes more entangled in our day when politics are complicated by moral inconsistencies.” He cited three examples: “First, the birth of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana occasioned celebrations, as the birth of any…Continue Reading

Truths Beyond Comprehension

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER The Solemnity Of The Most Holy Trinity (YR B) Readings: Deut. 4:32-34, 39-40 Romans 8:14-17 Matt. 28:16-20 In the first reading today, we hear Moses addressing the people of Israel after their Exodus from Egypt and after they had spent much time in the desert. Moses marveled, and rightly so, that God had entered into human…Continue Reading

Pope To The Bishops Of Mozambique . . . “The Paschal Mystery Is The Beating Heart Of The Mission Of The Church”

VATICAN CITY (ZENIT) — Pope Francis on May 9 received the bishops of Mozambique who were in Rome for their ad limina visit. + + + Dear brothers in the episcopate! You are welcome ad limina Apostolorum, the purpose of the visit undertaken by you these days, so that with your dioceses in your heart, you also celebrate and strengthen…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Charles Lwanga And Companions

By CAROLE BRESLIN The Catholic Church in Africa has experienced unprecedented growth in the past century. In 1900, shortly after the martyrdom of Charles Lwanga and companions, there were two million Catholics in Africa. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa in 2009, the Catholic population was 158 million. Once again the Church has witnessed that the blood of martyrs is…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Philip Neri

By CAROLE BRESLIN Throughout the history of the Church when great persecutions and heresies have been promoted, there were also great saints who underwent persecution in their attempts to protect the Deposit of Faith. Such was the case in the early 16th century, when the Catholic Church was suffering her greatest crisis to date with the Protestant Revolt. During this…Continue Reading