As per the accounts of Matthew when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea wise men from the east travelled all the distance to Jerusalem to cast a glance at this miracle child. They had been foretold that the King of the Jews would be born in Jerusalem and a bright star would show them the way. They soon saw the star in the east and it went before them until it came and stood over the location where the infant was. They rejoiced at the sight of the baby and showered him with gifts. This is the source of Star of Bethlehem. But in the modern day many new theories have emerged regarding the star. Today, we would discuss some of them.
We understand from the accounts of various researchers that Jesus Christ was born sometime between 4 and 5 century BC during the rule of King Herod. As King Herod died in 4 BC so Jesus ought to have been born before that. Studies have also indicated that Jesus was not born in the month of December. The Wise Men that travelled following the star were certainly the Zoroastrian astrologers and priests from civilizations in Persia or Babylon. They should have been skilled night sky observers and if they were this star was indeed very special to attract their attention. Where Matthew might have deviated from reality is his statement that the star moved and halted over the child as no celestial body can do this. Apart from this confusion also remains: if there was such a spectacular star in the sky how can it escape the eyes of other star gazers and that of King Herod. It is revealed by Matthew that King Herod learned of this star only after the Magi told him. Yes, a star often gives the notion that it is travelling with you when you are on the move. But what could have been this amazing Star of Bethlehem?
Meteors are formed with tiny metals and stones that slam into our earth’s atmosphere at great speeds. When the large meteors fall they appear like fireballs and can be very colorful, blazing with the golden and green colors. But the fall of a meteor is a sudden event that is over in a few seconds. So, the Star of Bethlehem could not have been a meteor.
Comet can be defined as an ice rich mass that comes from the chilly darkness of outer Solar system and wings sun wards in a slow orbit. When the comet comes in contact of Sun’s heat it melts and debris of gas and dust is left. These two elements give the comets their glowing tails which stretch across the sky for weeks. As early as second century AD a church father named Origen has opined that the Star of Bethlehem was nothing but a comet. The astronomical fraternity all over the globe is indebted to the Chinese civilization. For centuries the Imperial dynasties in China employed skilled stargazers to record events that happened in the night sky. These helped create horoscopes and calendars. If we look through the Chinese records we find that two comets entered earth’s atmosphere during the time Jesus was born. One in 5 BC and the other in 4 BC. In 5 BC a comet with bright tail was observed in the constellation of Capricornus in the months of March and April. It was visible for 70 days. In 4 BC another comet was witnessed on April 24 but this was tailless. So, many theories fall in place. But the problem is any Magi in those days took comets as a sign of omen, it means the group of Magi definitely would not interpret a comet for any good news.
As the planets in our solar system move in their orbits around the sun, at times two or more planets appear closer to each other. They draw close to each other over a number of days. These events are called planetary conjunctions. The proximity of planets tricks us into thinking that they are together when they are miles apart in outer space. In 7 BC there was such a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces. The conjunction in 7 BC was rare as it was a triple conjunction and there were three close encounters of two planets. In astrology, the happenings in the constellation of Pisces symbolize Jewishness. So, the Magi could have seen this feet and assumed something important to Jewish faith was about to happen. But the problem is that such a conjunction could only last a few days and it is mentioned by Matthew that Magi travelled for weeks. Furthermore, such a conjunction in the same constellation also occurred in 66 BC so logically the wise men should have come to Bethlehem more than sixty years earlier.
Nova is formed by a gigantic nuclear explosion that happens across the surface of a white dwarf (a dead but still hot core of any dead star). When this happens the dead star draws material such as hydrogen from the nearby star. The hot and compressed hydrogen coating ignites as a result of nuclear fusion reaction. As the dead star releases energy it brightens up the star system by tens of thousands. There are more than 10 novae seen every year in our Milky Way. So, a nova could have been observed by the Magi. But the problem lies: why did the Chinese stargazers, who were so particular, not mention any such nova during 4-5 BC. Some theorists suggest that the comet mentioned in Chinese archives could have been a nova.
As you can see none of the above mentioned theories truly match with the Star of Bethlehem, though it resembles with a comet or a nova.