Happy Christmas and New Year – better late then never!

“We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2 (NIV)

I’ve posted on the star of Bethlehem before (see here), but I’ve just come across some interesting thoughts by Greg Boyd that I’d like to share.  In my previous post I laid out three possible astronomical explanations for the ‘star’ of Bethlehem (1. a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, 2. a comet, 3. a supernova); at the time I concluded that none of them really fit the biblical account which says “… the star … stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9).  However, Greg Boyd explains that this is just a turn of phrase, like we might say “oh look at the moon over the mountains” – obviously the moon isn’t really stopped over those particular mountains!  He then goes on to summarise Molnar’s hypothesis (option 1 above) as being interesting and worthy of consideration.  Check out the short video:


The Strength and Frailty of Hope (by jqgill)


“As they came into the house and saw the child with Mary his mother, they bowed down and worshiped him.  They opened their treasure boxes and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:11) 

A Christmas themed story in the news today concerns the demise of the Boswellia tree whose resin produces frankincense.  Under current rates of declines, projections indicate frankincense production being cut in half in the next 15 years due to droughts, fire, and beetle attacks.  Dr. Frans Bongers an ecologist from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, describes the research findings (link).

A nice description of frankincense, together with associated bible references and mention of the ancient trade routes is provided in Farrells Travel Blog, here and here.


P. Groenendijk, A. Eshete, F. J. Sterck, P. A. Zuidema and F. Bongers, Limitations to sustainable frankincense production: blocked regeneration, high adult mortality and declining populations, Journal of Applied Ecology, 2011, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.20111.02078.x

“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.