“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2 (NIV)
“… the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Matthew 2:9-10 (NIV)
The Magi travelled from the East in search of the King the star had led them to, but what exactly was this star? There are three prevailing astronomical explanations for the ‘star’:
1. A conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, such as argued by Hughes, Molnar and Kidger:
Hughes, D.W. – “The Star of Bethlehem” Nature, 1976, 264, 513-517.
Hughes, D.W. – “The Star of Bethlehem” New York: Pocket Books, 1979.
Molnar, M.R. – “The Star of Bethlehem” New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.
Kidger, M. – “The Star of Bethlehem” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
2. A Comet, as argued in
Humphreys, C.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem – A Comet in 5 BC – and the date of the birth of Christ” Q.Jl. R. Astr. Soc., 1991, 32, 389-407.
Humphreys, C.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem”, Science & Christian Belief, 1993, 5, 83-101.
Prof. Sir Colin Humphreys case can be heard in a freely available lecture here.
3. A supernova or hypernova. This is the case made by Frank J. Tipler who thinks “it must have been a Type 1a supernova or a Type 1c hypernova, located either in the Andromeda Galaxy or, if Type 1a, in a globular cluster of this galaxy” (The Physics of Christianity)
Tipler, F.J. – “The Star of Bethlehem: a Type Ia/Ic Supernova in the Andromeda Galaxy”, Observatory, 2005, 125, 168-174.
In my opinion none of these explanations quite fit all the details, or for that matter the intention of Matthew’s Gospel account. After all how can an actual star stop directly over a single dwelling place in the small village of Bethlehem! Naturalistic explanations seem futile.
A nice little video summary, including a simulated Bethlehem night sky, can be view here.