Flamsteed Astronomy Society

The Star of Bethlehem — by Rod Jenkins

December 3, 2007

Apart from its obvious connotations, the Star of Bethlehem holds a special fascination in astronomy.  Is there any basis ‘in fact’ for the story of the Star? Can we identify a known astronomical event which would account for the story?  Rod Jenkins has made an impressive and thorough survey of the evidence and possible explanations.  He made an excellent presentation which challenged and entertained us with this highly seasonal topic ahead of the Flamsteed Xmas Party.

Rod points out there is little to go on.  The account of the star is only given in Matthew and details there are sparse.   Rod has analysed the candidates for explanation and compared them with the few details given by Matthew.  Several possible explanations have been proposed — could the Star have been Venus?; a great conjunction of planets (Saturn & Jupiter in 7 BC)?; or what?  He concludes that none of the candidate events around the time in question (4 BC) is a  really credible explanation for the Star.  They are either too commonplace or could not possibly have behaved as described in Matthew.

So what is Rod’s ‘best buy’ for the Star of Bethlehem?  There is a clue in Rod’s background — he played an important role in the development of the Giotto probe to Halley’s Comet.   Rod suggests that the author of Matthew, between 85 and 90 AD (long after the events themselves), wanted to establish a regal provenance for the Nativity.  Such an event would be expected to be heralded by a “Star” and Rod points to the apparition of Halley’s Comet in 66 AD as the most likely inspiration for the version in Matthew — long after the Nativity but easily within living memory when Matthew was written and an impressive omen in itself.   Also told only in Matthew is the story of the Magi who followed the Star.  Rod points again to 66 AD for the source — an event such as this needed an embassy of kings like the homage to Nero paid by the journey of the King of Armenia in that year.

So the story in Matthew is a fiction, although a very understandable fiction to establish the regal nature of the Nativity.   Or was it ....  ?

Read more at Rod’s BAA article


The Adoration of the Magi — Giotto (features Halley’s comet)

Rod Jenkins

Pic: Mike Dryland

This year’s quiz was thought a bit hard — but Kate won with an impressive 19 out of 20!

Pics: Dave Waugh

“Are we keeping you awake”   Can’t tell if it was the questions or the answers that had this ‘relaxing’ effect!

Bigmouth at large — “Five years ago I couldn’t spell stronomer.  Now I are one”

Rod graciously kicked-off the Flamsteed Xmas party with his talk that was much enjoyed and appreciated.  We then repaired to the ‘Upper Deck’ where the Sun was deemed to be over the yard-arm.  This is strictly a nautical rather than astronomical phenomenon, but we’re always looking for ‘intersections’ between the ROG and NMM, and, what the hey, any excuse for a drink ...