Star of Bethlehem VIII Ancient Observational Records I: Persia and Babylon

Until the early 1960s the resources for studying the ancient sky were minimal. Astronomers such as Johannes Kepler could calculate the positions of the planets two thousand years ago, but laboriously by hand. Astronomers could make reasonable estimates of when Comet Halley would return and could look back to see if there was any bright [...]

Star of Bethlehem VII: Clever, but almost certainly wrong!

There have been dozens, if not hundreds of theories to explain the Star of Bethlehem. In this sense it is similar to the death of the dinosaurs where many dozens of theories have been proposed, but just two or three are real candidates to be correct. Here are a few of the less likely ones: [...]

Star of Bethlehem VI: Kings or Magi?

When you think of Christmas, what do you see in your mind’s eye? For many people it is the image of the three kings, crossing the desert on their camels, following an overwhelmingly bright star. For me, the image of Christmas is encapsulated in the words of the carol: We three kings of Orient are [...]

Star of Bethlehem V: What do Matthew and other contemporary sources say about the Star?

We have already looked in the second post of this series at some of the problems with interpreting the Nativity story. Now we have to face them head on. Matthew, Mark and Luke are what are called Synpotic Gospels: they have a lot of content in common, but also significant differences. Although there are many [...]

Star of Bethlehem IV: Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Why do we celebrate Christmas in December? It is actually a long and quite complicated story. Most people do not realise that the date that we celebrate Christmas Day now is not the same as it was in times of Christopher Columbus. Similarly, they do not realise that many of our Christmas traditions were imported [...]

Star of Bethlehem III: The calendar (or when should we celebrate christmas, really?)

Before we can hope to answer the question of what the Star of Bethlehem was, we must first find out when the events associated with it related by Matthew and Luke actually happen: when was Jesus born, or phrased differently, when was the first Christmas? This is actually one of the most difficult elements of [...]