Posted by: T. Boyd | December 22, 2009

The Star of Bethlehem

When the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy (Job 38:7)

I have read lots of theories about what the star of Bethlehem might have been. The proposals range from a comet, an unusual conjunction of planets, or a new star, to an angel glorifying God with enough effulgence to lead the wise men to the house with the Christ child.  I admit I like that last possibility – the angel – the best.  But if it was not a supernatural event, I would propose another way it could have been.

There are old legends and ancient beliefs that have led to a scenario that seems to fit the story in Matthew 2:1-12.  It goes like this. First of all, astronomers certainly knew the difference between stars, planets, and comets, so I think the word here, “aster” in Greek, points to a star, not the other type objects.

The “star rising in the east” fits the belief at that time that when a person was born, a star would rise at that moment on the eastern horizon, and that star would pass directly over the place of birth when it reached the highest point in the sky (about 6 hours later), in other words, it would have the same latitude as your birthplace. [ Please note the references for this: many astrology books and web sites – I don’t like astrology at all, so I won’t recommend a particular one, but a google search on “birth star same latitude as birthplace” will give you a list of them, if you are interested.]

In this miraculous birth of our Savior, I think maybe “His star” suddenly flared brightly – a nova or even a supernova.  There are about 10 novae discovered each year in the Milky Way galaxy, while a supernova in a galaxy our size only occurs once every 50 years or so. Either way, the flaring of this star caught the attention of these wise men.

I think it took more than a year from the “discovery” of this star for the wise men to arrive in Judea, based on Herod’s order to massacre all baby boys in Bethlehem who were under the age of two. By the time they got to Judea, the nova or supernova had gotten dimmer and was hard to see, especially around a city with its smoke-producing cooking and heating fires.  Once they left the city, they “rejoiced to see the star” in the clearer skies.

The star went ahead of them till it “stood over the place where the child was.”  This fits the motion of the star as it crept across the sky that night from east to west, and by “standing” over the house, I think that means when it reached its highest point it was directly over Bethlehem.

One legend has it that the wise men looked down an open well where they could see the star pass directly over their heads, with the star lined up exactly with their own reflections upon the water – proof of the exact latitude of the location of birth.

That is the story of how Bethlehem’s Star could have been “born” (nova = new star) at the time of the birth of Jesus, leading the wise men to Him.  We can join with the heavenly host in rejoicing over the good news that our Savior has come!


  1. Reply to Carl:

    Well, it is said that a supernova by any star close enough to be visible by the naked eye, would wipe out life on earth from the radiation. So assuming it was a nova instead, then the Star of Bethlehem could be at almost any distance away from the earth beyond Proxima Centauri, the nearest star at 4.3 light years away. In tables of stars, I saw stars at 10 l.y. distance that were invisible to the naked eye which could flare up as a nova and become visible for a few years.

    So, in any case, I would say that God knew the exact time of the birth which was to come of His Son, Jesus, long before it happened, and therefore, could arrange for a nova or supernova to occur at just the right time from 1000’s of years before the birth up to about 10 years before the birth.

    Good quesion, Carl. Thanks.


  2. A couple of comments via e-mail:

    Very interesting idea, I prefer the Angel or Shekinah Glory
    explanations myself, too! But you have worked out a reasonable
    explanation that could actually be.

    Thanks and
    Merry Christmas,
    If that theory is correct, the crazy part is that the nova would have formed thousands of years before it’s light became visible on earth. At what point in history might it have actually flared? Creation of man? First sin of man? Perhaps tens of thousands of years earlier. Are there any clues in scripture?


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