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The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi
"The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi has stunning new insight and approach, which finally gives a confident answer to a question that has
fascinated all Christians through the ages. ... don't buy any other book on the Star of Bethlehem, because the old astronomical views are guaranteed
to be irrelevant." — Prof. Bradley E. Schaefer, Yale University
Could the purchase of an ancient coin have led to an important clue about the Star of Bethlehem? The above illustration is a Roman coin from Antioch,
Syria which shows the zodiacal sign, Aries the Ram. In trying to understand the meaning behind this coin, I found that Aries was the sign of the Jews.
Realizing that this is where ancient stargazers would have watched for the Star of Bethlehem, I embarked on searching for the celestial event that
signified the birth of the Messiah in Judea.
Superposed on the photograph of the coin is what I found: Jupiter underwent two occultations ("eclipses") by the Moon in Aries in 6 BC. Jupiter was
the regal "star" that conferred kingships - a power that was amplified when Jupiter was in close conjunctions with the Moon. The second occultation
on April 17 coincided precisely when Jupiter was "in the east," a condition mentioned twice in the biblical account about the Star of Bethlehem. In
August of that year Jupiter became stationary and then "went before" through Aries where it became stationary again on December 19, 6 BC. This is
when the regal planet "stood over." - a secondary royal portent also described in the Bible. In particular, there is confirmation from a Roman
astrologer that the conditions of April 17, 6 BC were believed to herald the birth of a divine, immortal, and omnipotent person born under the sign of
the Jews, which we now know was Aries the Ram. Furthermore, the coins of Antioch and ancient astrological documents show that there was indeed a Star
of Bethlehem as reported in the biblical account of Matthew.
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The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi can be examined by clicking HERE.
"The Star of Bethlehem is a fascinating contribution to the immense literature that attempts to come to terms with the Christmas star reported in
Matthew's Gospel. In my opinion, this book is the most original and important contribution of the entire 20th century on the thorny question of how
events recorded there should be interpreted." - Prof. Owen Gingerich, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Frequently Asked Questions
Many people have claimed to explain the Star of Bethlehem. What makes you think you have the correct answer?
I am told that I have the best answer. Whether it is the correct answer can only be determined by your examination of my findings. But researchers who
have read my book tell me that my historical approach based upon a lucky finding is the most important analysis of the Star of Bethlehem in the past
century. See the review page.
Why did you investigate the Star of Bethlehem? Was this for religious reasons?
I have always presumed that the story about the Star was more or less explained by my fellow astronomers. I held that view until I came across a Roman
coin which showed me that they were not only looking in the wrong constellation but they were also looking for the wrong celestial phenomenon. Having
this clue from the coin I felt compelled to uncover the basis to the story about the Wise Men’s Star. My initial investigation quickly uncovered
that many investigators were not examining the historical records. They were recasting historical events to fit their modern expectations. Some well
meaning people also let their religious beliefs affect their investigation. Thus, my motivation was to take a neutral religious stance and try to
uncover any historical evidence.
How did you find the coin and what did it tell you?
My hobby is collecting ancient Roman and Greek coins that have celestial symbols. In the spring of 1990 I purchased a lovely bronze coin from ancient
Antioch which portrayed the zodiacal sign, Aries the Ram looking back at an overhead star. I bought the coin for $50. But the coin turned out to be
priceless because I found that this was the sign of the zodiac that represented King Herod’s kingdom. The so-called “bible of astrology” the
Tetrabiblos of Claudius Ptolemy explained that Aries the Ram controlled the people of “Judea, Idumea, Samaria, Palestine, and Coele Syria” –
lands ruled by King Herod. I think the coin was issued by the Romans of Antioch to commemorate their takeover of Judea in AD 6. (p. 120-121) Maybe
that’s not the entire answer to the coin, but the important point about the coin is that it led me to find where any celestial omen about the birth
of a king of the Jews had to appear. That would have been in Aries, not the constellations proposed by other investigators. This finding started me to
think more about the Star of Bethlehem.
What if the Tetrabiblos is wrong about Aries as the sign of ancient Judea?
There is very strong evidence that it is not wrong. In my book I give other supporting ancient sources (p. 46, 96, 111), but the best proof lies in my
explanation of the report by the Roman historian, Suetonius, about an astrological prediction concerning the Emperor Nero. Suetonius says that
astrologers claimed Nero would be overthrown in Rome and rise up in Jerusalem. I show how they looked to Aries the Ram in Nero’s horoscope to
predict he would recover his lost throne in Jerusalem! Although he was overthrown he never made it to Jerusalem. But Christians and Jews feared he
would arrive in Jerusalem, which is the basis for the stories of the rise of the antichrist (or as Jews called him, the antimessiah.) (p. 109, 113)
This illustrates how ancient stargazers looked to Aries the Ram for events involving Judea. That is, Aries is where the Magi watched for the Star
announcing the birth of the King of the Jews.
What were the other suggested constellations for the Star?
For religious and astronomical reasons people have proposed Pisces the Fishes as the site of the Star. A fish is a powerful Christian symbol. Also the
spring equinox moved into Pisces close to the time of Jesus’ birth. So people assumed that Pisces was the sign for the dawning of Christianity – a
beautiful but erroneous conclusion. Others have proposed Leo the Lion (thinking that this was the Lion of Judah), and others like Virgo the Virgin
(believing that this was the Blessed Virgin Mary). Another notion claims “the manger” of Cancer the Crab. There are other clever ideas using Greek
mythology and Christian symbols which have no basis in the ancient texts on Greek astrology. (p.28)
Do your findings contradict religious teachings?
No. In fact I receive email from people around the world thanking me for reinforcing their faith that there is an historical basis to the Star. I get
great pleasure hearing from these happy people. This was an unexpected and pleasant result.
Do you believe Jesus was born under the Star?
No one knows that answer. The birth of Jesus was never recorded. However, the evidence is that the early Christians did believe Jesus was born under
the Star because the prophecy of Balaam (Num. 24:17) said the Messiah would be revealed by a regal Star. (p. 124)
Your research focused on astrology. Why? Aren’t you an astronomer?
Yes, I am an astronomer. I received my Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1971. My research shows that astrology and
astronomy were indistinguishable during Roman times. Moreover, astrology coupled closely to religion and philosophy. When people of those times spoke
about celestial portents or signs, they were referring to astrology which was highly regarded in the Roman world. My work also finds that many modern
researchers in their disdain for astrology have erroneously rewritten the historical record to downplay the role astrology played in Western culture.
Thus, they never looked for an answer in Greek astrology, the astrology of Roman times.
Emperor Hadrian's horoscope
also had Jupiter in the east.
Did you find any evidence outside of the Bible supporting your work?
Yes. Firmicus Maternus, an astrologer of Constantine the Great’s time in AD 334, described the conditions I found to be those for a world ruler with
a divine and immortal nature. We know that Firmicus converted to Christianity close to when he wrote his Mathesis on astrology. I argue in the book
that he was referring to his new found faith in Jesus Christ. (p. 101-109)
What was the Star?
On April 17, 6 BC two years before King Herod died Jupiter emerged in the east as a morning star in the sign of the Jews, Aries the Ram. The account
in Matthew refers twice to the Star being in the east with good reasons. When the royal star of Zeus, the planet Jupiter, was in the east this was the
most powerful time to confer kingships. Furthermore, the Sun was in Aries where it is exalted. And the Moon was in very close conjunction with Jupiter
in Aries. Modern calculations suggest that this was close enough to be an occultation (eclipse). But the Sun’s glare would have hidden that event.
Saturn was also present which meant that the three rulers of Aries’ trine (Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn) were present in Aries. Saturn and Jupiter were
said to be "attendants" on the rising Sun, another regal aspect for astrologers. By modern expectations this is trivial, but for ancient stargazers
this configuration was truly awesome. (p. 96-101)
Was the Star the lunar eclipse (occultation) of Jupiter?
The lunar occultation of Jupiter on April 17, 6 BC was not the Magi's star. Knowing that lunar conjunctions (close approaches) with Jupiter were one
condition for a king's birth, I looked for the closest conjunctions, namely occultations in the time frame biblical scholars claim as likely for the
birth of Jesus. I quickly focused on the occultation of April 17, 6 BC after realizing that Jupiter was also "in the east" in Aries. "In the east"
is mentioned twice by Matthew because astrologers such as the Magi said this was the most important time for Jupiter to produce future kings.
Moreover, the Moon's incredible nearness to Jupiter amplified that power. Jupiter "in the east" in Aries was the Magi's star. (p. 64-84)
Why didn't King Herod and the people of Jerusalem see the Star?
Jews of King Herod's time did not practice the astrology of their neighbors because it was tied to pagan Greek philosophy. So Jews did not recognize
the Star. But they knew the time of the Messiah was at hand, and the Magi’s message confirmed their expectations and hopes. (p. 11)
How rare was the Star of Bethlehem?
The conditions of April 17, 6 BC never repeat perfectly, but the core elements as I discuss on pages 17, 26, 71, and 101-102 have a period of 60
years. By modern expectations this seems short, but it was very long for ancient times – a once in a lifetime occurrence. This does not mean
everything aligned every sixty years to produce a powerful regal condition; the planet Mars, for instance, was notorious for ruining potentially great
Could a comet have been the Star?
Comets indicated that a reigning king was going to die or that there was an impending war or disturbance – hardly the stuff for a great regal birth.
In the book I list the comets of Roman times and the interpretations of those events. None was claimed to foretell the birth of a king. (p. 17-21)
Some people claim the Star was a Supernova. Was it?
There is no historical evidence from ancient times that a supernova meant the birth of a king. Like the theory of the comet, this idea is a modern
notion. And it was started by Johannes Kepler’s observation of the supernova of 1604. (p. 21-25)
Could the Star have been a miracle?
The great astronomer/astrologer Johannes Kepler (p. 24) thought the Star was a miracle accompanied by natural phenomena such as a triple conjunction
and a supernova similar to what he observed in 1604. Most people, however, believe that it was not a miracle but something with a natural basis. My
work shows that we do not need a miracle star to explain the Star of Bethlehem.
Who were the Magi?
Magi originated from a caste of Zoroastrian priests. During Roman times they were recognized as physician-astrologers who healed the sick, interpreted
dreams, and cast horoscopes. Their art included “magic” - a word derived from their name. They were considered to be "Wise Men" who were truly
knowledgeable. Most importantly, they were well known for practicing astrology. (p. 33, 36-37)
From where did the Magi come?
Magi were known throughout the Near East: Mesopotamia, Parthia, Syria, Persia. We have no firm evidence about their specific origins. (p. 33) I notice
that the Romans depicted them in Parthian garments, so the Magi may have been from there. But no one knows for sure.
How did the Star lead the Wise Men to Bethlehem?
The Star, namely Jupiter in the east, was in Aries the Ram. This along with the other important astrological aspects showed astrologers that a king
was born in Judea, Samaria, Palestine, Idumea, or Coele Syria. Not knowing the precise location they went to the capital of these lands which was
Jerusalem. King Herod’s advisors told the Magi that the prophecy said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. So, the Magi went there. (p. 46-47)
Did the Star sit above the infant Jesus?
Not unless it was a miraculous star. Matthew reports that the star went before and stood over the child, which is how the Greek interprets into
English. But this does not make any realistic sense for any normal object in the sky. However, if the message of this passage is astrological, (that
is, Matthew did not understand Greek astrological terminology) the intended meaning of these Greek words describes retrograde motion and stationing,
respectively. As it turns out, these were important secondary regal conditions that happened later in 6 BC. See p. 89-93 for a thorough discussion of
Why do we celebrate December 25 as Jesus’ birthday?
Early Christians did not know the birth date so they adopted and converted a pagan holiday, the birthday of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun. As I
explain in the book it was not the Roman Saturnalia that was converted into Christmas, but the birthday of the pagan sun god. (p. 55-57)
Something does not make sense: The Star appeared in 6 BC, not AD 1 the start of the Christian system of counting the years. Why?
The system of counting the years was miscalculated by Dionysus Exiguus, a Christian monk in AD 533 (p. 55-57). Even his colleagues thought he dropped
a few years in counting the lengths of the reigns of the Roman emperors. Well meaning people, however, have tried to move various dates around to
rectify this discrepancy. For example, that Herod died in 4 BC has been challenged by a few people, but mainstream historians and numismatists (coin
experts) stand firm with the spring of 4 BC for Herod's death. (p. 55-57) If Jesus were born during the reign of King Herod, he had to be born in or
before 4 BC.
The Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was born during the census of Quirinius in AD 6. But the Gospel of Matthew says the birth was in the time of Herod
the Great who died 10 years earlier in 4 BC. How do you explain this?
Biblical scholars have long argued about this problem. Most tend to think that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign as recorded in Matthew’s
account. Quirinius was the Roman governor of Syria and conducted in AD 6 the enrollment (census) for taxing the Jews. Some researchers have tried to
move Quirinius’ census closer to Herod’s reign (while others have tried to move Herod’s death closer to the census.) But leading historians find
no compelling evidence to change those dates. Biblical scholars have suggested various ideas such as that Luke was referring to an earlier census such
as the one in 8 BC. I suggest, however, that the problem may have been the coins of Antioch which Luke’s sources may have used to help him
reconstruct the timing of Jesus’ birth. (Remember, he was writing his Gospel around AD 80.) Anyone examining the coins with Aries looking at an
overhead star would think that they depict the Star of Bethlehem. The coins were first issued around the time of Quirinius’ census in AD 6, which
would make some people think that these coins were timed with the birth of Jesus. (p. 116-123) Whether the coins played such a role is purely
speculative, but it is an intriguing thought!
What objections have been raised about your ideas?
Oddly, objections come mostly from people who have not read the book. One person claimed that my ideas could not be historically relevant; however,
numerous scholarly reviewers commended the strength of the book's historical perspective. Another "reviewer" wrote that my book claims the Magi
predicted the occultation ("eclipse") of Jupiter by the Moon. But pages 39, 86, 151, 156 explain how such events were not predictable in ancient
times: Occultations had to be verified visually. He also claims that the occultation never happened because vagaries of the Moon's orbit limit the
accuracy of computer predictions. Perhaps that may be true, but the occultation predicted by my computer uncovered a day pointing to the birth of the
Messiah in Judea. If we ignored the significance of the occultation, we still find so many other incredible astrological aspects that make the day
momentous for a great king's birth in Judea. But are we to believe that an erroneous prediction uncovered such a day? I tend to believe the computer
program is reasonably accurate because it located a day announcing the birth of the King of the Jews. (The accuracy has been verified by other
astronomers.) Even if only a close conjunction happened, that too would have been another indication of a king's birth accompanying the long list of
important astrological aspects on April 17, 6 BC.
The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi is published by Rutgers University Press. (ISBN: 0-8135-2701-5) In the book you will see why the star
was not a comet or supernova. Nor was it the famous "triple conjunction." The practices and beliefs of astrologers during Herod's reign show why
Jupiter and the planets in Aries the Ram on April 17, 6 BC signified a Messianic birth. You will also find confirmation by a Roman astrologer,
Firmicus Maternus, that the conditions of that day when Jupiter was in the east were those for the birth of a "divine and immortal" person. The
evidence is that Firmicus was a Christian convert, and I argue that he had the birth of Jesus in mind. The book also explains how astrologers
interpreted Emperor Nero's horoscope to predict that he was to survive his overthrow and rise up in Judea - a story that evolved into tales about the
antichrist. Finally, I explain the relationship of the coins of Antioch to the Star of Bethlehem and the census of Quirinius described in Luke.
"In support of an original interpretation of the Star, Molnar has assembled an impressive range of astrological and numismatic data, much of which
will be new even to expert readers." - Prof. Virginia Trimble, University of California, Irvine and University of Maryland, and author of Visit to a