The Mystery Of The Star Of Bethlehem

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    The Mystery of the Star of Bethlehem
    The Mystery of the Star of Bethlehem

    For more than two millennia, the Star of Bethlehem,
    which guided the Magi to the city where Jesus was born,
    has been rousing the curiosity of researchers worldwide.
    Detail of the 6th-century nave mosaic — which depicts the Three Magi wearing trousers and Phrygian caps as a sign of their Asian origin — in the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. (photo: Register Files)
    Solène Tadié BlogsDecember 23, 2019
    “And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was…” (Matthew 2:7).
    The Star of Bethlehem, mentioned in St. Matthew’s Gospel,
    is one of the main symbols associated with Jesus’ birth,
    embodying the light of hope of salvation in the midst of darkness.

    But beyond its symbolism, this star is also an exhaustible subject
    of debate as a scientific phenomenon.

    Was it a historical event or only a pious fiction invented by St. Matthew?

    And if it was a historical event, how can we scientifically
    explain the occurrence of this exceptional astronomical event?

    Such questions have given rise to many different interpretations
    over the centuries.

    Moreover, as it is difficult to determine with certainty
    the exact year of the Nativity, a scientific explanation of the phenomenon
    would also be a potential time marker to help pinpoint the date of Christ’s birth.
    According to a calculation by German astronomer Johannes Kepler
    in the 16th century, an extremely rare conjunction
    between Jupiter and Saturn occurred three times
    in the constellation Pisces in 7 B.C.,
    appearing to observers as a single luminous star.

    This would coincide with St. Matthew’s description
    of the celestial body appearing, disappearing
    and then reappearing to the Magi.

    A century earlier, Portuguese Rabbi Isaac Abravanel
    had already claimed that this specific kind of conjunction
    triggered the birth of the Messiah.

    This theory gained more credibility in 1925,
    when German orientalist Paul Schnabel
    deciphered ancient cuneiform tablets
    from the astronomical school
    of the Babylonian city of Sippar,
    which described the exact same astronomical conjunction
    in 7 B.C.

    “This is a good theory,” Father Giulio Maspero,
    a physicist and theologian at the pontifical University
    of the Holy Cross, told EWTN,
    mentioning other plausible scientific explanations,
    including the possibility of a comet.

    “Another theory, which may be shocking for us,
    is that the star was an angel. So, no astronomy here,
    but just a spiritual light that accompanies the Three Wise Men
    along their path,” he said. Father Maspero
    says this explanation is “coherent with the whole narrative,”
    as Bethlehem was filled with angels who were
    “proclaiming the glory of Jesus and announcing
    to the shepherds what was happening there”.
    There is also the possibility of an appearance of a nova
    or the explosion of a supernova around 5 B.C.,
    as suggested by several Chinese and Korean astronomer’s chronicles,
    but this has never been definitively determined.

    The Spiritual Strength of Mystery

    For Brother Guy Consolmagno, astronomer
    and director of the Vatican Astronomical Observatory,
    the importance of the shining Star of the Holy Night
    lies above all in the fact that it shows that the physical universe
    can be used to get closer to God.

    “We don’t know whether Matthew was intending
    this to be a pious story to show that Christ
    was even more significant than Augustus,
    who had used astrology to say that he had to be an emperor,
    or if he was describing a real star or a real astronomical event,
    or if it was something totally miraculous
    and we will never know until we can interview St. Mathew
    himself and find out!” he said.

    But if there is no definitive scientific conclusion
    regarding the nature of the Star,
    the mystery surrounding this story
    makes it even more powerful for Christians.
    Solène Tadié

    Solène Tadié is the Europe Correspondent
    for the National Catholic Register.

    She is French-Swiss and grew up in Paris.

    After graduating from Roma III University
    with a degree in journalism, she began reporting
    on Rome and the Vatican for Aleteia.

    She joined L’Osservatore Romano in 2015,
    where she successively worked for the French section
    and the Cultural pages of the Italian daily newspaper.

    She has also collaborated with several French-speaking Catholic media organizations.

    Solène has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy
    from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas,
    and recently translated in French (for Editions Salvator)
    Defending the Free Market:
    The Moral Case for a Free Economy
    by the Acton Institute’s Fr. Robert Sirico.


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