Birth of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem Part 4

Left to right: Pleiades star cluster, Jupiter, Venus, Aldebaran Pre-dawn sky: The Atacama Desert of Chile, South America.
Copyright 1994 - 2018 Bill's Bible Basics

Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
August 8, 2012

Last Updated :
April 9, 2014

Scriptural Evidence Suggests Star Of Bethlehem May Have Been Venus, No Biblical Indication That Wise Men Continually Saw The Star Or That It Was Continually In Front Of Them As They Traveled From The East, Did The Setting Of Venus Serve As A Pointer Which Pointed Down To The Earth To Bethlehem, Star Of Bethlehem Did Not Have To Zigzag In The Sky To Always Be In Front Of Magi, The Star May Have Temporarily Disappeared From View, Venus Occults Behind Sun Or Disappears In Its Glare For Several Months Each Year, A Possible Short-Period Comet, King Herod The Great Builds Herodium Fortress And Palace, Nothing Is Impossible With God, God Stops Sun And Moon For Joshua, God Turns Back Sun Ten Degrees For Righteous King Hezekiah, Faith In God And His Word Or Faith In Men And Their Science, Jewish Royalty Killed Their Own Families To Preserve Their Own Power, Wicked Queen Athaliah, Murder Was In Their Blood, Herod Was Troubled By Magi's News Regarding Birth Of A King, Wise Men Traveled Several Years To Find Jesus, Children Of Bethlehem And Surrounding Region Are Slaughtered By Evil King Herod, Joseph Mary And Jesus Flee To Egypt Until King Herod Is Dead, Wise Men Provided Jospeh And Mary Financial Means To Flee To And Survive In Egypt, Joseph's Example Of Obedience And Faith, Faith Pleases God, Closing Remarks, Reading List

As I concluded in part three, in my view, there just seems to be so much Scriptural evidence which suggests and hints at the possibility that the Star of Bethlehem may have been the planet Venus. In fact, as I worked on this series, my eyes were opened to yet another possible way in which this could have occurred, even without defying the known laws of physics.

I mentioned earlier that if our famous "star" moved in front of the Magi as they traveled from their country in the East, then based on human thinking, it would seem that if they had to travel north or south along their route in order to avoid mountains, deserts, marshes and possible enemies, the "star" would have to zigzag in the sky in order to constantly remain literally in front of them. However, a closer reading of the Apostle Matthew's account reveals that this may not have been necessary whatsoever. Why? Because he does not specifically state that they followed the "star" day after day while they traveled their route from the East. Neither does Matthew write that the "star" was continually in front of them during their entire journey. That is just supposition, and quite possibly an erroneous one at that.

In the four verses that I shared with you earlier where the "star" is mentioned, we are told "we have seen his star in the east" and "the star, which they saw in the east". In other words, nowhere is there any specific indication that the wise men continually saw the "star" as they traveled the long route to Jerusalem. They saw it from their position in the East. If it was in fact Venus, perhaps they simply saw it setting as they looked towards the western sky, just as many of us today likewise see Venus low in the sky just as it sets. In other words, as the Magi watched it disappear below the Earth's horizon, perhaps they interpreted it as a pointer which was pointing down to the Earth, to the exact place where the new king was born in Bethlehem.

Assuming that the Star of Bethlehem was the planet Venus, even if they did continually observe it for many months as they traveled from their homeland in the East -- which is not made clear in Matthew's Gospel -- there is still a way in which it could technically still be in front of them, without having to zigzag all over the place, as they made turns in their route in order to overcome obstacles. In other words, depending on one's perspective, it didn't have to violate any known laws of physics. How so? Consider the following:

The Magi saw Venus setting in the western sky on one -- or possibly more -- occasion(s). This alone set their general direction as being due west. In other words, from their perspective, regardless of whether or not they had to at times alter their course in order to overcome obstacles, looking forward in front of them would always mean looking westward, because that was their ultimate goal and general direction. Furthermore, whether it was one time or more, whenever they looked westward, they would see their sign, Venus, setting below the horizon. So in a sense, Venus was always in front of them, because they were gradually moving westward day by day, week by week, and month by month. Do you understand?

As I said, there is a possibility that the Magi did not see the "star" -- or Venus, if you prefer -- on a regular and continual basis. In the four verses that I shared with you earlier, there appears to be a small hint that this may be so. Twice we are told in those four verses that they saw the "star" in the East, and that is all that we are told. This leaves open the possibility that the Magi saw it, and then for some unknown reason it may have disappeared. If this is the case, perhaps this explains the joy they expressed when the "star" reappeared, after their visit to the court of King Herod, as we see by these two verses:

"When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."
Matthew 2:9-10, KJV

If the Magi had observed the "star" on a regular basis since they had first started out on their journey to Jerusalem, it does not seem that there would be any rational reason for their "exceeding great joy". On the other hand, if they had lost sight of it for some undetermined amount of time, this would be a plausible reason for their being overjoyed upon seeing it again.

As it turns out, if the Star of Bethlehem was in fact the planet Venus -- which still remains just a theory -- there is a valid scientific explanation regarding why they may not have seen it for some time. There are two conditions which would result in the planet not being seen from our position on the Earth. The first is when Venus is hidden behind the Sun. The second is when it is so close to the Sun, that the glare of the Sun makes it invisible to our eyes. In short, there are certain months each year when Venus cannot be seen from the Earth. Perhaps this is what the wise men likewise experienced. Venus slipped below the horizon, and then they did not see it for some time, until they arrived in Israel.

As I considered this possible disappearing act, it brought my attention back to our conversation regarding comets. As I explained earlier, no comet is known to have been visible to the unaided eye for a period of two years. However, with this new possibility that the Star of Bethlehem may have been lost from sight for an undetermined amount of time, the idea of the return of a short-period comet occurred to me. For those of you who may not be familiar with this astronomical term, a short-period comet is one which has an orbital period of two hundred years or less. In other words, it is observable from the Earth every two hundred years, or sooner. Of course, this assumes that it hasn't slammed into the Sun or into another heavenly body, or been disintegrated by the heat of the Sun.

While there are many such short-period comets, my research reveals that none of the currently known comets really meet our requirements of being visible every two years. In fact, the only one that appears to come close is Comet Encke. This comet -- which is next due to return in November of 2013 -- has an orbital period of 3.30 years. However, as you can see, even this is too lengthy a period to fit Matthew's account. Be that as it may, this doesn't completely close the door on the possibility that the Star of Bethlehem could have been a returning short-period comet. After all, said comet could have been destroyed sometime during the past two thousand years.

As far as I can tell, there are only two or three aspects of the Star of Bethlehem story which may still pose a possible challenge to my Venus theory. The first is the fact that we are told that "the star appeared". As we have already seen, this suggests that the star may not have always been visible to the wise men. However, with the explanation I provided earlier regarding Venus' occultation behind the Sun, as well as being washed out by the glare of the Sun during certain months of the year, we may have found a plausible solution to this problem.

The second challenge is the fact that Matthew informs us that after the Magi left Herod's court and proceeded to the town of Bethlehem, the star "went before them". If we assume that the word "before" means in front of them -- it's derived from the Greek word "proago" meaning to go before, lead forth, go forward or proceed -- this does pose a problem; because as I mentioned earlier, back at that time, Bethlehem was situated about five miles to the southwest of Jerusalem, which would place Venus more to the right, rather than directly in front of them. Of course, depending on bends in the road, perhaps at times the planet really was directly in front of the Magi as they traveled the road to Bethlehem.

While we can assume that the wise men had their audience with King Herod at his palace that was located in the northwestern corner of Jerusalem -- Matthew does write "there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem" -- another possibility that is worth considering is that Herod may have been residing at Herodium at that particular time. Herodium was a combination fortress and palace which Herod the Great built on the edge of the Judean Desert, on the top of an artificially elevated cone-shaped mountain. This fortress-palace was situated about seven and a half miles south of Jerusalem, and several miles to the southeast of Bethlehem. It was eventually destroyed by the Romans in 71 AD. As with Bethlehem itself, the remains of Herodium are in the West Bank. After many years of searching, the mausoleum of Herod the Great was located at Herodium, and his tomb unearthed. However, no human remains were found in his broken sarcophagus.

If you look at a map of Israel, you will see that while the ruins of Herodium are located to the southeast of Bethlehem, they are located sufficiently to the east of Bethlehem, that maybe it is possible that for at least part of their journey, Venus may have appeared to be in front of the Magi. As I said earlier regarding Jerusalem, the same applies to Herodium. In other words, it depends a lot on the structure of the road at that time.

As we discussed earlier, the final challenge to my theory regarding Venus possibly having been the Star of Bethlehem is that Matthew tells us that the star "came and stood over where the young child was". The word "stood" is translated from the Greek word "histemi", which means to stand by or near, to make firm, fix, establish, put or set. One point I wish to call to your attention is that nowhere does Thayer's Greek English Lexicon specifically state the word actually means to stop. However, even if the Star of Bethlehem did come to a complete standstill, while modern science rejects such a possibility, as we have already seen, all things are possible with God.

If you personally doubt that this is so, then let me remind you of a few stories from the Old Testament in which God did some mighty miracles which involved -- believe it or not -- completely stopping, or reversing, heavenly bodies in their tracks. In the first story, Joshua and his men were fighting against the Amorites. However, in order to win the battle, they required more daylight hours. So, Joshua, being the man of great faith that he was, petitioned the Lord to stop both the Sun and the Moon in their tracks. That is precisely what God did for him for almost an entire day, as we read in the following verses:

"Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day. And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel."
Joshua 10:12-14, KJV

In the second Bible story, righteous King Hezekiah was sick unto death, and would have surely died had the Lord not taken mercy on him and intervened. Of course, one reason why God did this, is because during his reign, Hezekiah had done a lot to clean up the idolatry which plagued Israel. Furthermore, when he became sick, Hezekiah got really desperate with the Lord. So God honored the king's prayer request and sent the Prophet Isaiah with the following message for the king:

"In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore. Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken; Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down."
Isaiah 38:1-8, KJV

So, if God is able to turn the Sun back ten degrees -- which is forty minutes based on our modern concept of degrees -- or even completely stop the Sun and the Moon in their tracks for almost a whole day, is it really so difficult for Him to also stop Venus -- or any other celestial body -- in its tracks, in order to point to the birthplace of the Messiah? So once again we see that it comes down to either placing our faith in God's Word and believing in the impossible, or placing our faith in man and his science. The choice is really up to you.

With these final verses from the Book of Isaiah, I have now presented all of my evidence for your personal consideration. Whether or not my theory is valid, I will leave up to you to decide for yourself. Regardless of your personal position, I think we should all marvel at God's Wisdom and Foresight, as well as His planning. As you will see in a moment, regardless of the precise mechanism that God used to help them to find Joseph, Mary and the boy Jesus, the wise men did play a very important role in God's plan for humanity.

To continue, after the wise men had informed King Herod at what time the star had appeared in the sky, that wicked king decreed that all children who were under two years of age had to be slaughtered. Obviously, the reason why Herod did this was to protect his throne from any future challengers. This becomes evident in various Old Testament stories where some of the Jewish royalty did not hesitate to murder their own family members in order to preserve their own power. I am reminded in particular of one very evil woman by the name of Athaliah, who was wife and queen to wicked King Jehoram, and the mother of Ahaziah. Ahaziah only ruled from Jerusalem for one year. Following Ahaziah's execution -- which was a judgment from the Lord due to his wickedness -- we read the following regarding Athaliah:

"But when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal of the house of Judah. But Jehoshabeath, the daughter of the king, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons that were slain, and put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. So Jehoshabeath, the daughter of king Jehoram, the wife of Jehoiada the priest, (for she was the sister of Ahaziah,) hid him from Athaliah, so that she slew him not. And he was with them hid in the house of God six years: and Athaliah reigned over the land . . . Then they brought out the king's son [Joash], and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king. And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, God save the king. Now when Athaliah heard the noise of the people running and praising the king, she came to the people into the house of the LORD: And she looked, and, behold, the king stood at his pillar at the entering in, and the princes and the trumpets by the king: and all the people of the land rejoiced, and sounded with trumpets, also the singers with instruments of musick, and such as taught to sing praise. Then Athaliah rent her clothes, and said, Treason, Treason. Then Jehoiada the priest brought out the captains of hundreds that were set over the host, and said unto them, Have her forth of the ranges: and whoso followeth her, let him be slain with the sword. For the priest said, Slay her not in the house of the LORD. So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king's house, they slew her there . . . And all the people of the land rejoiced: and the city was quiet, after that they had slain Athaliah with the sword."
2 Chronicles 22:10-12, 23:11-15, 21, KJV

In case you didn't quite understand the previous verses, let me clarify a few points for you. Jehoram and Athaliah were married, and were king and queen over Jerusalem and Judah. Two of their children were Ahaziah -- a son -- and a sister named Jehoshabeath, who also happened to be married to the high priest, Jehoiada. Athaliah apparently favored her son Ahaziah. However, upon his brief reign and death, she went on a killing spree and arranged to have all of the remaining royal offspring murdered, so that she alone could sit upon the throne in Jerusalem. However, wise Jehoshabeath took it upon herself to hide her brother's young son -- Joash -- in the Temple for a period of six years. During that time, the high priest Jehoiada secretly worked against evil Athaliah, until Joash was finally declared the new king. In the end, Athaliah -- and anyone who was loyal to her -- were finally executed. Such was ancient Jewish politics. Murder was in their blood.

Obviously, many hundreds of years later, wicked King Herod was no different. Murder was in his blood as well. In fact, the historical record states that by his orders, his wife Mariamne was executed, as were two of his sons. Furthermore, he had his previous wife, Doris, and her young son Antipater banished, so that he could marry Mariamne, win favor with the Jews -- he was actually an Idumaean, or Edomite -- and also manipulate his way to the Jewish throne. As we read in part one, King Herod was troubled by the news which the wise men brought to him. It seems obvious to me that the reason why he was so troubled, was because the news of a new king arising meant potential competition to the throne, and Herod was not about to allow that to happen.

But the question is this: Why did Herod set the age limit at two years? If Jesus was still a baby laying in a manger when the Magi arrived from the East, as many Hollywood movies like to depict, then it does not make any sense for King Herod to do this. However, on the other hand, if the wise men had been traveling from the East for a period of several years as we have seen, then it makes perfect sense that Jesus would be about two years old, and would now be living in a house with His parents at the time that the Magi arrived. This explains why Herod ordered his soldiers to search out any child which was two years and younger in age. Consider these verses:

"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."
Matthew 2:16-18, KJV

It is plain to see then that evil Herod's decision to have his men murder all children under two years of age was based on "the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men". As Matthew explains, Herod's murderous actions were a direct fulfillment of a prophecy which had been uttered by the Prophet Jeremiah -- who is referred to as Jeremy in the previous verses -- over four hundred years earlier. That prophecy is the following:

"Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border."
Jeremiah 31:15-17, KJV

As you may know, the Scriptures inform us that having been warned by an Angel of the Lord in a dream to flee from evil King Herod and his murderous ways, Joseph took his wife Mary and the young child Jesus, and fled to Egypt. They remained there until Herod the Great died -- which is believed to have occurred between 4 BC and 1 BC -- after which time, they did in fact return to Israel -- and to Nazareth in particular -- where Jesus grew up. Consider the following verses:

"And when they [the Magi] were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son . . . But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23, KJV

As I stated a moment ago, these events reveal God's amazing Wisdom and Foresight. By His design and thoughtful planning, He revealed the birth of His Son to the Magi, who persevered for several years until they found the young boy Jesus. Not only did they honor the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but through their expensive gifts, they also provided His parents with the financial means to make an unanticipated and quick escape to Egypt, where they remained until the death of King Herod. For all we know, as a result of wicked Herod's orders, Joseph and Mary may have had to drop everything, and flee with only the clothes on their backs, and a few belongings. After all, Bethlehem was not far from Jerusalem.

Perhaps the gifts of the Magi enabled them to live in Egypt in relative comfort until the time arrived for them to return to Israel. In fact, while it is just speculation, maybe there was even enough money left so that Joseph was able to start a carpentry business once they arrived in the northern village of Nazareth. The point is, God used these strangers from the East to provide for His children in the most unexpected way.

While we may not know much about Joseph, other than the fact that he was a carpenter by trade, one thing which is clearly made evident by his actions is that he was a man of faith. Imagine if you had a dream as he did. How quick would you be to believe that it actually came from God? How quick would you be to obey it, no matter how crazy it seemed? As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
Hebrews 11:6, KJV

With these thoughts I will bring this series to a close. I trust that you have found it informative and enlightening, and I pray that it has been a blessing in your life. If you have an account with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, etc, I would really appreciate if you would take the time to click on the corresponding link that is found on this page. Thanks so much, and may God bless you abundantly!

For additional information, you may want to refer to the list of reading resources below which were also mentioned in this series, or which are related to this series, and which are likewise located on this very same Bill's Bible Basics website:

Alien Life, Extrasolar Planets and Universal Atonement
As a Thief in the Night? Not for Me!
Horde From Hell, China, Turkey and the Kings of the East
Humility in Our Understanding of God's Word
Sorry . . . Jesus is Not Coming at Any Moment
The Misguided End of the World Predictions of Harold Camping

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