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Historic Jesus

Aug 05, 1996 01:36 PM

Discussing about Jesus' life under Pilate, arouse a doubt about the
star of Bethelem as described in Mathew's gospel. Is such story

<New Scientist> december 1995 pages 34-35

"If the star of Bethlehem was so spectacular, then why did so few people see it? Ancient
chinese astronomers watched the heavens like hawks but there is no trace in their writings of
the star above the Holy Land. Even king Herod languished in ignorance until the wise mem
put him right. So what's the explanation? Perhaps the star was not a dramatic astronomical
event but an obscure astrological one, recogniced by only a few of cognoscenti.

American astronomer Michael Molnar from Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey,
has come up with a remarkable new thrist on this idea. He believes that the star of
Bethlehem was completely invisible. Molnar has linked astronomical events to astrological
symbolim on romans coins and come to the conclusion that far from being a dazzling
beacon, the star was a double lunar occultation of Jupiter, in which the planet dissapeared
twice behind the moon. (Quaterly Journal of the royal astronomical society, vol36 p 109)

Molnar examined a group of coins from Antioch, the capital of Roman province of Syria.On
one side of each coin was a bust of Jupiter and on the other, Aries the ram looking back at a
star. Molnar syas that the star  could represent two unusual events that take took place in the
constelation Aries on 18 April AD 7, around the time that coind were made. The first was a
close approach, or conjunction, of Jupiter and Mercury. The second was a heliacal rising of
Jupiter, when the planet appeared in the dawn sky just before sunrise. Molnar believes that
the coincidence of these events would have been extremely auspicious for ancient
astrologers. The romans often displayed their political triumphs on their coins and Jupiter as
king of the gods was often used as a symbol of dominion. So Molnar believed that the
conjuction  and helical rising might well mirror some expansion in the influence of Roman
Syria. In fact, only the year before, in AD 6, the romans had deposed king Herod's son
Archelaus and subsumed Judaea into an enlarged Syria. Molnar suggests that Romans took
the conjunction and heliacal rising of Jupiter in Aries as a celestial seal of approval for the

And because the romans had often associated a constellation with a region on earth-for
instance Syria was sometimes represented by Scorpius-Molnar suggests that Aries may have
been linked to Judaea.The writings of the astrologer Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria confirm
the link. In his Tetrabiblos, compiled in about AD 150 but based on material going back to
100 BC, Ptolemy includes a list of countries and the zodiacal signs believed to control them.
Judaea is under the spell of Aries. "It tell us that if anything significant were to occur in
Judae, the place to look for a sign would be in Aries", says Molnar.

So what would the sign have been? Molnar says conjunctions were very significant to ancient
astrologers, and the closer the heavenly bodies were, the better. A lunar occultation was
therefore the consummate astrological event since the moon and a planet seemed to touch.
Molnar's collection of Antioch coins told him that occultations were especially significant if
they occurred in Aries. In the reign of Nero, for instance, the romans struck coins with a ram
looking back at a crecent and a star. These commemorate a lunar occultation of Venus in
Aries on 27 april AD 51.This time the design seems to represent a political prophesy: "We
know from the roman historian Suetonius that astrologers had predicted that Nero would be
overthrown in Rome but resurface as a king in Jerusalem", says Molnar "These coins with a
star and a crecent in Aries fit that astrological prediction". Molnar deduced that what would
signify an important event in Judaea would be a lunar occultation in Aries. Only one more
ingredient was now needed to concoct a recipe for the star of Bethlehem: the important event
in Judaea must symbolize the birth of a king. Molnar suspected that because it was often
used to represent dominion Jupiter would be the likely regal symbol. And indeed he found
that Jupiter starred in the ancient horoscopes of several Roman emperors. In fact it was the
position of Jupiter in Augustus Caesar'horoscope that prompted astrologer Nigidius Figilus to
declare to the senate: "the ruler of the world is now born".

So did a lunar occultation of Jupiter in Aries occur around the time of Christ's birth? Molnar
checked the period 10 to 1 BC because it covers most estimates of the year. Sure enough,
on 20 March 6BC, a minute after sunset in Jerusalem, the moon occulted Jupiter in Aries.
The occultation ended an hour later. The real puzzle is how anyone knew the occultation was
happening. 'The event was hidden by the bright sky"says Molnar. But he is conviced that
astrologers would have known. "There is strong evidence that the astrologers of the day had
the necessary mathematical skills to indicate such an occultation even when it was not
visible",he says.

Molnar was conviced he had discovered the celestial event he was looking for. Then, to his
great surprise, he found that a second occultation of Jupiter took place only a month after the
first. It happened on 17 april, when the moon, having swung once round the sky, returned to
Aries and repeated the occultation. It happened a little after noon, when Jupiter was in the
southwest sky. Like the first it was completely invisible. Molnar believes that the first
occultation, on 20 march 6BC corresponded to the birth of Christ. It was this that sent the
Magi on their way as told in St Matthew's gospel. Believing that a king of Judaea had been
born, they hurried to Jerusalem to find out if herod knew where to find him. Heros's advisers
suggetsed Bethehem in accordance with an acient hebrew prophesy. Then not long before
the second occultation, the Magi predicted the event, and were stunned when they realised
that it was happening in the directon of Bethlehem-it seemed to confirm that they should
search for their king in Judaea.

Details of second occultation seem to tie in well with biblical passages. Astronomical data
show that a few hours before the event, Jupiter rose in the dawn sky. According to Matthew's
gospel, the star rose in the east confirming that it came up with the sun. When Magi left
Herod, the star "went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was".
There may be a literal meaning to this since everything was happening in the direction of
Bethlehem. If Molnar is right, this is strong evidence that the Magi visited Herod on 17 april

Molnar predicted the event astrologers would have looked for, and then checked to see if it
had happened. "Molnar has come up with an interesting an very original explanation" says
Owen Gingerich of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambrige

(end of the text)


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