This article originally appeared on The conversation. The post contributed to the article on socialmediagossips.fr Expert voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
On December 21st, 2020, Jupiter and Saturn will cross in the night sky and appear to shine together as one body for a brief moment. While such planetary conjunctions are not commonplace, they are not particularly rare either.
This year’s conjunction is different for at least two reasons. The first is the degree of alignment of the two planets. Experts predict that they will appear closer during this conjunction than in nearly eight centuries, and also brighter.
But the second factor that put this event in the spotlight is that it will take place on the winter solstice, just before the Christmas holidays. Timing has led to the question of whether this could be the same astronomical event that biblical accounts led the wise men to Joseph, Mary and the newborn Jesus – the star of Bethlehem.
As a scholar of early Christian literature writing a book on the three wise men, I argue that the next planetary conjunction is likely not the legendary star of Bethlehem. The biblical story of the star is intended to convey theological rather than historical or astronomical truths.
“Great conjunction” 2020: Tips from NASA for viewing Jupiter and Saturn as “Christmas stars”
The story of the star has long fascinated ancient and modern readers. In the New Testament, it is only found in the Gospel of Matthew, an account of the life of Jesus from the first century that begins with the story of his birth.
In this account, wise men come to Jerusalem and say to Herod, King of Judea: “Where was the child born, King of the Jews?” Because we saw his star rise and came to pay homage to him. The star then leads them to Bethlehem and stops over the house of Jesus and his family.
Many read this story with the assumption that Matthew must have been referring to an actual astronomical event that occurred around the time of Jesus’ birth. For example, astronomer Michael R. Molnar argued that the star of Bethlehem was a solar eclipse of Jupiter in the constellation Ares.
There are at least two problems with associating a particular event with Matthews Star. The first is that the scholars do not know exactly when Jesus was born. The traditional date of birth can be postponed up to six years.
The second is that measurable and predictable astronomical events occur with relative frequency. Therefore, finding the event that Matthew may have been thinking of is complicated.
2020 ‘Poinsettia’: Interesting facts about the great Jupiter-Saturn conjunction
Beliefs about the star
The theory that the connection between Jupiter and Saturn could be the star of Bethlehem is not new. It was proposed by Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer and mathematician, in the early 17th century. Kepler argued that the same planetary conjunction occurred in or around 6 BC. Could serve as inspiration for Matthew’s story about the star.
Kepler wasn’t the first to suggest that the star of Bethlehem might have been a recognizable astronomical event. Four hundred years before Kepler, between 1303 and 1305, the Italian artist Giotto painted the star like a comet on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy.
The researchers suggested that Giotto did this in homage to Halley’s comet, which astronomers discovered was visible in 1301 during one of its regular flights past Earth. Astronomers also found that Halley’s comet was found around 12 BC. Walked through the earth between five and ten years before most scholars argued that Jesus was born. It is possible that Giotto believed Matthew was referring to Halley’s comet in his star story.
Attempts to uncover the Matthew star’s identity are often creative and insightful, but I’d say they’re wrong too.
The star in Matthew’s story may not be a “normal” natural phenomenon, and Matthew suggests it as he describes it. Matthew says the wise men come to Jerusalem “from the east”. The star then leads them to Bethlehem south of Jerusalem. The star therefore makes a sharp left turn. And astronomers will agree that the stars don’t make sharp turns.
When the wise men arrive in Bethlehem, the star will be low enough in the sky to lead them to a specific house. As the physicist Aaron Adair puts it: “The star is supposed to stop in place and hover over a certain apartment and behave like an old GPS device.” The “description of the movements of the star” is “outside of what is physically possible for any observable astronomical object”.
In short, there seems to be nothing “normal” or “natural” about the phenomenon described by Matthew. Perhaps the point Matthew is trying to make is different.
The story of Matthew’s Star is based on a lore in which the stars are associated with rulers. The rise of a star means that a ruler has come to power.
For example, in the Biblical Book of Numbers, which dates back to the 5th century BC, the prophet Balaam foretells the arrival of a ruler who will defeat the enemies of Israel. “A star will come from Jacob, [meaning Israel]… He will destroy the borders of Moab.
One of the best-known examples of this tradition from antiquity is the so-called “Sidus Iulium” or “Julian Star”, a comet that appeared a few months after the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Appeared. The eldest reports that the comet was so bright that it was visible in the late afternoon and that many Romans interpreted the spectacle as evidence that Julius Caesar was now a god.
Given these traditions, I believe that the story of Matthew does not exist to educate readers about a particular astronomical event, but rather to support the claims it makes about the character of Jesus.
In other words, I contend that Matthew’s aim in telling this story is theological rather than historical.
The closest connection of Jupiter and Saturn is therefore likely not to be a return of the star of Bethlehem, but Matthew would likely appreciate the fear it evokes in those who anticipate it.
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Follow all Expert Voices questions and discussions – and join the discussion – on Facebook and Twitter. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.
45seconds is a new medium. Do not hesitate to publish our article on social networks to give us a solid boost. 🙂