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December 29, 2001
Column #1061

THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM

     With the joy of Christmas fresh in mind, consider new scientific evidence that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

     Matthew's Gospel reports, ''After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, `Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.''

     How can a star speak to man? How could it communicate that the King of the Jews had been born? How could a star lead anyone in a specific direction?

     Exactly 400 years ago Johannes Kepler discovered that planets travel in elliptical orbits.  His math was so precise he could calculate sky maps showing exact positions of all the stars and planets in any year of history, from any place on earth. 

     A religious man, he tried to identify the Star of Bethlehem, but saw nothing unusual in the skies before 4 B.C. when Jesus was believed to have been born. That belief was based on an ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, whose writing inferred Herod died in 4 B.C. However, scholars recently discovered a copying error made in 1544. Every Josephus manuscript prior to that year implied Herod died in 1 B.C., suggesting Jesus might have been born in 2-3 B.C.

     In that period, the heavens came alive. Jupiter, known as the King Planet for its huge size, came close to a large star called Regulus or Rex which also means king. Further, Jupiter, after passing Regulus, appeared to reverse course, and move back to it, a second kingly encounter.

     ''This may seem odd, but the reason is simple enough: we watch the planets from a moving platform - earth - hurtling around the sun in its own orbit. When you pass a car on the freeway, it appears to go backward as it drops behind. Similarly, when the earth swings past another planet, that planet seems to move backward. Astronomers call it retrograde motion.'' explains Rick Larson on a website, bethlehemstar.net.

     Finally, in 3/2 B.C. after its second pass, over months Jupiter reversed course again for a third rendezvous! A triple pass is rare. ''The Magi saw the Planet of Kings dance out a halo above the Star of Kings. A coronation,'' said Larson in lectures to 10,000 people this month in Texas.

     How did the star signify birth and the Jewish nation? Jewish prophesy says that the tribe of Judah will bring forth the Messiah. Genesis 49:12: ''The scepter will not depart from Judah.'' The triple coronation occurred within the constellation of Leo, the Lion, which is the symbol of Judah. 

     Revelations Chapter 12 describes the birth of a king: ''A great wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon at her feet...She was pregnant...The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that he might devour her child.''

     As Jupiter first began to crown Regulus in September 3 B.C., the constellation rising in the east behind Leo is Virgo, the Virgin. She rose clothed in the sun and the moon was at her feet, a new moon! The dragon waiting to kill the child, of course, is Herod.

     These stunning symbols ''could indicate a birth, but if they were interpreted to indicate the time of conception, might there be something interesting in the sky nine months later?'' asks Larson. Yes. ''The Planet of Kings moved across the starry field for another spectacular rendezvous, with Venus, the Mother Planet. Jupiter appeared to join Venus in what became the most brilliant star ever seen.''

     That was enough to get the Magi on their camels, headed toward Jerusalem. They told their story. ''When King Herod heard this he was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him,'' Matthew reports. He asked teachers of the law ''where the Christ was to be born. `In Bethlehem in Judea' they replied'' as predicted by Micah. Herod sent them to Bethlehem, a village only five miles away. 

     When the Magi trekked south from Jerusalem they saw the Planet of Kings ''went ahead of them until it stopped over the place'' where the Messiah was born, Matthew writes. How could Jupiter halt its movement? Retrograde motion, of course, revealed by a computer recreating the sky in the wee hours of December of 2 B.C. 

     For weeks, King of Planets hovered over the little town of Bethlehem!

     Truly, this is scientific evidence designed by God into His universe, marking the Messiah's birth. To learn more see http://www.bethlehemstar.net

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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