By Kenneth Beckmann
Copyright 2021, Kenneth Beckmann. All rights reserved.
V. The Second Observation
Let’s discuss the second observation I set aside earlier. "When they 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)
Matthew 2:9-10 will determine which of the transient, one or more of the three in 6 BC the Star of 5 BC or another not previously discussed was the Star that Matthew spoke about in his Gospel. Matthew 2:9-10 will also determine if the Star on the star map in the catacomb of Priscilla at Rome was one and the same Star as that in Matthew’s Gospel.
If we use Hoffleit’s position for the Star of 5 BC, rising during the second watch, the Star reached beyond Midheaven and settled over Bethlehem about an hour before sunrise, April 28th - May 7th; (Chinese observation) α, β Capricorni May 16th - 24th 5 BC) according to Stellarium. (26)
(Midheaven is that midway point on the celestial sphere where a wandering star (planet) is midway between its Ascendant, rising on the eastern horizon and Descendant, setting on the western horizon relative to the ecliptic. The ecliptic is that path the wandering stars travel through the twelve Zodiacal constellations. The Star of 5 BC likely appeared near the ecliptic in Capricornus the Sea Goat.)
In order to fully appreciate the second observation, the location from where the Magi observed the Star of Bethlehem is central to Matthew’s description. The description while somewhat a mystery, couched in the language of Matthew’s day is no less unintelligible. Matthew chose this observation and description to offer undeniable proof of the Star of Bethlehem’s identity. The second observation would also offer insight as to how the words , the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was were understood in Matthew’s day and how it helps to identify a candidate for the Star of Bethlehem.
Dr. J. H. A. Ebrard in The Gospel History: A Compendium of Critical Investigations in Support of the Historical Character of the Four Gospels wrote about the topographical lay of the land around Bethlehem. He described what the Magi traveling south south-west from Jerusalem might have envisioned seeing once they reached Bethlehem. “The intention of the writer is to describe how, when they had reached at length the desired end of their journey and stood upon the edge of the table land which separates Jerusalem from the valley of Bethlehem, high up above the village they saw the star shining and twinkling in the heavens.” Traveling south, southwest from Jerusalem, the Star of Bethlehem would have appeared an impressive sight resting over Bethlehem. (Astronomical observations serve as indisputable and accurate timepieces, then and now..)
Dr. Ebrard also described the Magi’s reason for their joy (“rejoiced with exceeding great joy!”). He wrote, “That this is the meaning of verse 9 and not that the star is described as a guide is very clearly shown in verse 10, where, instead of reading that they entered the house, we read that they rejoiced exceedingly on account of the Star." So a better explanation of the text might read, “When the Magi saw the Star over Bethlehem, at first, they were amazed and stunned perhaps in disbelief, but later overjoyed!” Matthew 2:9-10). ).
Why would the Magi be so overjoyed? Why were they stunned by the appearance of the Star resting over Bethlehem? If the Magi had observed the Star of 5 BC during their travels, shortly before reaching Jerusalem, they may have believed that they had witnessed the birth of a new wandering star in Capricornus, the Sea Goat, but they did not connect the Star’s position with Bethlehem . They may have been too preoccupied with the Stars of 6 BC which they viewed before leaving their home in Mesopotamia.
Matthew 2:10 may have pointed to a pre-gospel tradition describing an emotional response when they observed the Star of 5 BC over Bethlehem. Matthew’s second observation is decisive when revealing the Star of Bethlehem’s identity. Matthew used the words, “rejoiced with exceeding great joy” because he recognized how his audience might react. In Mesopotamia star worshiping converts would recognize that the Magi were interested only in the wandering stars. They would also understand the meaning of distance between Edessa and Jerusalem (600 miles). They would also anticipate that once the Magi reached Jerusalem, the Magi would expect the child king to have been born at the King’s palace. The chief priests and scribes told the King who in turn told the Magi that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6, Micah 5:2). Matthew’s audience would realize the Magi didn’t need the Star to guide them to Bethlehem. The Magi had Micah 5:2 and the wandering Star, Jupiter, they viewed in their homeland. The Magi’s reaction implied an actual observation and a startling response made once they reached Bethlehem. A star worshiping convert would appreciate the pun in Matthew 2:10 if they understood the Star over Bethlehem was not the same Star the Magi viewed before coming to Jerusalem. Matthew seized the opportunity to imply that the Magi recognized the Creator’s wisdom far exceeded theirs (Isaiah 29:14, I Corinthians 1:19). This brief verse disarmed the star worshiping community’s faith in their Sky Gods.
Since the Star of Bethlehem rose during the second watch of the night in the spring, when did the Star of Bethlehem settle directly over Bethlehem before night ended? If the Star of Bethlehem also appeared in the constellation of Capricornus, it is likely to have settled over Bethlehem about the same time as the Star of 5 BC, between April 28th and May 7th, 5 BC (Hoffleit’s suggested position) and α and β Capricorni [Chinese observation], May 16th to 24th5 BC (Stellarium (0.20.0). While a host of other fixed stars would have arose during the second watch of the night, only those stars that rose between 10:00 pm and 12:00 am on April 28th until May 24th would satisfy the description that Matthew left in the Gospel. The words came and stood over (Matthew 2:9) referred to those moments before morning light and before the rising sun washed away the Star of Bethlehem and all the other stars in the heavens. The Star of 5 BC appears to be the only transient which fits the description of the Star of Bethlehem and both observations in Matthew 2:2b, 7, 9-10, 16b.
The distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is roughly 5 miles or 9.2 meters. That would be time for the Magi to travel to Bethlehem after the Star rose during the second watch of the night. The Star traveled across the heavens like all the other stars until it came and stood over Bethlehem shortly before the first rays of the morning sun washed away all the stars in the heavens. Dr. Ebrard mentioned in his footnote the Magi traveled at night from Jerusalem to Bethlehem because of heat associated with Palestinian days, "”It is hardly necessary to recall the well-known fact, that people in the East preferred traveling in the night, especially on short journeys.” Reaching Bethlehem by sun up and finding a woman who had recently given birth in Bethlehem, may have not been all that difficult.
Understanding astronomical vernacular in Matthew’s day is crucial if we hope to recognize reasons why Matthew wrote that the Magi were so overwhelmed with joy. Dios Cassius, a Roman historian, described the Comet of 12 BC which appeared before Marcus Agrippa’s death. “The star called comet hung for several days over the city and was finally dissolved into flashes resembling torches.” Also “Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city and a comet, that continued for a whole year.” (31)
While Cassius and Josephus, respectively, described comets, Matthew left the reader to understanding the emphasis was not on the Star’s nature but on the movement of the Star in relationship to the heavens.(30) Matthew stated that the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.Dios Cassius equated “stood over”with a comet. Matthew may have chosen these words “stood over” to describe an unusually bright comet but it is questionable since Matthew does not state the Star was a comet. If it were a comet, would he have simply used the word comet as did Dios Cassius? While Dios Cassisus spoke of a transient at rest, Matthew made a special point, describing the transient’s motion, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. While Matthew may have been speaking about an unusually bright comet, its nature and behavior over the course of seventy days may not have been important to Matthew. Rather, Matthew was speaking about two observations, not multiple ones. Matthew framed the Nativity Midrash to appear as if when Herod the King inquired of the Magi the exact time the Star was seen at the rising from the abyss, the Magi pointed to the Star as it rose on the eastern horizon. Likewise, when Matthew spoke about, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. Matthew was speaking about a second observation made during the same twenty four hour period, perhaps an hour before the Star like all the other stars in the heavens was washed away by the rays of morning sun. Matthew kept it simple.
Dio Cassius also implied transients which appeared over towns and cities were hailed as divine events. A natal star (a wandering star or a comet) associated with a royal person whose life was written in the stars by divine providence was of special importance in the ancient world! The Magi depended on wandering stars (Sun, Moon and five unaided eye planets) to create royal horoscopes. Matthew led his readers to believe that when the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem over Bethlehem, this celestial wonder first threw into chaos everything they had come to believe about their astrological craft. The fact the Magi rejoiced with exceedingly great joy is also something of an oddity in the light of that thought. Yet, Matthew’s effort was to leave his readers to believe that the Magi were converted to Christianity once seeing the Star of Bethlehem over Bethlehem! If the Magi were revered by the star worshiping community at Edessa, the Magi’s response left Matthew’s readers with the impression that star worshipers should follow the example of the Magi, convert to Christianity. An additional thought!
Since Matthew 2:9-10 can be explained by the nightly apparent movement of the stars and constellations from east to west or the earth’s rotation from west to east, the Star seen in the east at the rising can appear to move like all other stars until it settled over Bethlehem. There would be a brief window of opportunity for the Magi to make their visit while the Star appeared directly over Bethlehem before the sun washed away its light. This window of opportunity as stated earlier was around April 28th through May 7th5 BC.
To fully understand the significance of the second observation, let’s look once again at what Dr. Ebrard wrote of the topographical lay of the land around Bethlehem from the observer’s point of view.
“The intention of the writer is to describe how, when they had reached at length the desired end of their journey and stood upon the edge of the table land which separates Jerusalem from the valley of Bethlehem, high up above the village they saw the Star shining and twinkling in the heavens.” (33)
Let’s re-frame the last sentence in another way which captures the awe, surprise and excitement the Magi may have experienced when for the first time they saw the Star resting peacefully over Bethlehem. The Magi stood on the edge of the table land from above looking onto Bethlehem. It was a once in a life time experience never to be repeated again. The Star pointed directly over Bethlehem, at that moment. Matthew, like Ebrard described the topographical lay of the land. If they Magi arrived too early or too late, traveled one hundred miles to the east or to the west, the Star would not have appeared to settle at that moment over Bethlehem. The readers of Matthew’s Gospel would never have imagined the Magi making a connection between the fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 2:5-6, Micah 5:2) and the Star of Bethlehem’s connection with the birth of the Christian Messiah. Neither would the Magi have rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Matthew left his readers believing the Magi made the connection with the prophecy in Micah 5:2 and the Christian Messiah when they saw the Star of Bethlehem resting peacefully over Bethlehem. For Matthew, it was as if the Creator God divinely led the Magi from their home in Mesopotamia to Jerusalem and from there to Bethlehem, when an hour before sunrise they found the Christ child. The Magi witnessed a divine act, true miracle. They visited the Christ child at the right time; after the Magi made their observation once they reached Bethlehem!
When the Magi stood on the table land above and looked down into the valley where Bethlehem was nestled with the Star of Bethlehem resting over the village, it brought new meaning to being amazed, stunned, in disbelief over the Star’s location. All of their preconceived ideas about astrology and wandering stars were washed away by the Star of Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke evidently understood the final December 19th, 6 BC description of Jupiter’s stationary position in Taurus, the Bull which persuaded the Magi to travel to Jerusalem in search of the Jewish Messiah. It was as if the Star of 5 BC welcomed the Magi to Bethlehem. For this reason an early Christian artist painted a Star and star map on a ceiling of a catacomb in Rome. This explains the reason for drawing the Star of 5 BC in the constellation of Capricornus and the star map of the summer northern Milky Way on the ceiling of the catacomb of Priscilla at Rome instead of a crescent moon occulting Jupiter on April 17th, 6 BC in the constellation of Aries, the Ram or a description of Jupiter’s stationary position around August 23rd or December 19thin the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. It also would explain why the artist drew a star and not a comet. Matthew utilized the Star at its helical rising and the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was as two observations to describe the Star of Bethlehem. By making use of Dr. Hoffleit’s article as a template (suggesting the Star of 5 BC may have been the Star of Bethlehem) and unmasking the text from Matthew 2:16b, which revealed a key that described the Jewish and Mesopotamian watches of the night as well as the time when the Star of Bethlehem rose from the abyss, it can be demonstrated that both the Star of 5 BC and the Star of Bethlehem rose during the same second watch of the night in the spring of 5 BC and later went before the Magi until the Star came and stopped over where the child was (Bethlehem) about an hour before sunrise between April 28th and May 24th, 5 BC. This second observation implied that the Star of 5 BC according to the ancient Chinese record and the Star in the catacomb is one and the same Star which Matthew described in Matthew 2:2b, 7, 9-10 and 16b in his Gospel. .
 There were several celestial events in 7 and 6 BC which may have been interpreted by the Magi as announcements of the impending birth of the Jewish Messiah. In 7 BC there was a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (May 31st, October 10th, and December 3rd, 7 BC, all setting during the first watch of the night, appearing in western skies). These conjunctions were much like the one in December 2020. In 6 BC a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn occurred around February 24th in western skies. The October 10th 7 BC conjunction was especially striking as Jupiter, Saturn and the full moon were especially close to one another. The occultation of Jupiter by the crescent moon on April 17th, 6 BC as well as the stationary position of Jupiter around August 23rd and December 19th, 6 BC appears to have been of special interest to the Magi. Any combination or all of these events may have contributed to the Magi's prediction about the birth of the Jewish Messiah. The 6 BC celestial events associated with the planet Jupiter appear to have been of special interest to the Magi and to the gospel writers. Matthew and Luke wrote about the April 17th 6 BC occultation (Matthew 2:2b, Luke 1:76-79) and the stationary position of Jupiter, August 23rd (Luke 1:26-28, 30-31) and December 19th, 6 BC (Luke 1:24, 1:57-58) (Stellarium).
 Humphreys, Colin J. The Star of Bethlehem--A Cornet in 5 B.C.--and the Date of the Birth of Christ." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society32 (1991) 389-407. . While Humphrey’s provided an excellent description and explanation for what may have been an unusually bright comet in 5 BC based on his interpretation of Matthew 2:9-10, the text leads me to believe that Matthew was not speaking about multiple observations of the Star of 5 BC which was viewed for over a period of 70 days. Matthew wrote of two observations the first made shortly before or after midnight and the second, an observation shortly before sunrise the next morning at which time the Magi’s visited Bethlehem. Matthew was speaking to a congregation who may have had a limited understanding of the Magi’s astrological craft. While they venerated the Magi, Matthew's effort in developing this Nativity Midrash was to communicate on a level his congregation could comprehend. An elaborate explanation of the Star of 5 BC’s behavior whether a comet (long haired star) or nova (guest star) would only confuse and bewilder the congregation. Matthew wrote for his congregation on a level they could easily comprehend.
 Ebrard, J. H. A., The Gospel History: A Compendium of Critical Investigations in Support of the Historical Character of the Four Gospels 1863, Edinburgh: T and T Clark, p. 181-182. Ebrard captured something most biblical scholars missed or overlooked. Ebrard described how the lay of the land and the position of the Star of Bethlehem in the heavens caused immense excitement. The excitement and disbelief would have been predicated on where they stood at the very moment they reach Bethlehem.
 Ebrard, J. H. A., The Gospel History: A Compendium of Critical Investigations in Support of the Historical Character of the Four Gospel, 1863, Edinburgh: T and T Clark, p. 181-182. Rejoicing on account of the Star of Bethlehem suggests that Matthew was describing an epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of enlightenment when light fills the void of darkness.
 Williams, John, F.S.A. Observations of Comets, from BC 611 to AD 1640, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, Extracted from the Chinese Annals, 1871, London: Strange Ways and Walden, p 9-10. While Ma Twan Lin described the Star of 5 BC, a comet, its position near the ecliptic in the Zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, may have led the Magi to believe the Star was a new wandering star. The original manuscript of Matthew's Gospel is no longer extant making it is impossible to determine the Greek word(s) Matthew used to describe the Star.
(30] Cassius Dios, Roman History 54.29 English Translations by E Cary, New York, the MacMillan Co., 1914. Josephus, Flavius, (Jewish War 6.5.3).
 Cassius Dios, Roman History, 54.29 English Translations by E Cary, New York, the MacMillan Co., 1914. Josephus, Flavius, (Jewish War 6.5.3).
 Hoffleit suggested the Star of 5 BC may have been a nova. Colin Humphreys (The Star of Bethlehem-A Comet in 5 BC-and the Date of the Birth of Christ, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32 (1991) p. 389-407) described the Star, a comet based on his interpretation of Origen's Against Celsus (see footnote 11). Matthew left two observations, at the rising and the Star went before the Magi until it came and stood over Bethlehem to describe the Star of Bethlehem’s location in Capricornus. The word “Star” may apply to guest stars (novae), wandering stars (planets) or long haired stars (comets). While evidence favors comets, it is uncertain what Greek word(s) was used in the original manuscript to describe the Star.
 Ebrard, J. H. A. The Gospel History: A Compendium of Critical Investigations in Support of the Historical Character of the Four Gospel, 1863, London. The second observation is likely what led Matthew and the 1st century Christian community to adopt the Star of 5 BC as the Star of Bethlehem, later depicted in the form of a painting of a Star and star map that appeared on the ceiling of the catacomb of Priscilla at Rome.
VI. Closing Thoughts
If the theory which I have offered here in this article is accurate and I trust is, then all that has been presented suggests that this timeless infancy narrative (Matthew 2:1-12, 16) set in the heavens over Mesopotamia, Jerusalem and Bethlehem is an accurate account of events surrounding the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem (the Star of 5 BC) between March 9th and June 17th 5 BC (a period of seventy days beginning as early as March 9th and as late as April 7th 5 BC and ending as early as May 18th and as late as June 17th 5 BC). The documentation and arguments which have been included to support this theory makes the Star of Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi more than myth or legend! Matthew’s Gospel would suggest the Star of Bethlehem was an indisputable historical and celestial event as were the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem when they made a record of an eye witness account of the Star of Bethlehem!
A review or summary of key components of the theory, verse by verse, revealed the identity of the Stars of Bethlehem as well as the historical footprint left in the infancy narrative and Matthew’s motive for including this Nativity Midrash in his Gospel. Let’s identify the key components based on Matthew 2:1-12, 16 verse by verse.
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have come to worship him. (Matt. 2:1-2ac, KJV) Matthew 2:1-2a & c began with the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem. This text provides a span of years for Jesus’ date and place of birth. The transfer of power to Herod’s sons upon Herod’s death in 4 BC supports the lunar eclipse of March 13th5 BC as the most suitable candidate. Luke 1:5 supports Matthew 2:1-2a. Both gospel writers stated Jesus was born while Herod was still alive.
“For we have seen his star in the east.” Matthew 2:2b described a helical rising, a star that rose from the abyss shortly before morning sun. The occultation of Jupiter by the crescent moon on April 17th 6 BC described a helical rising and served as a suitable candidate for one of the Stars of Bethlehem that the Magi observed before coming to Jerusalem.
“When Herod the King had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when they had gathered all chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” (Matthew 2:3-4, KJV) After the Magi entered Jerusalem they asked about the Jewish Messiah’s birthplace. Their inquiry ignited a rumor associated with an OT prophecy (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:5-6). If the Magi’s visit occurred while pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the rumor would contribute to significant unrest, not only at the royal court but throughout Jerusalem. While Passover was an important religious holiday, it was an economic boom for vendors at Jerusalem, much like Christmas today, when vendors depend on pre-Christmas sales to provide significant profits. With the influx of pilgrims during the Passover there would be a lack of vacancies at inns in and around Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Luke 2:7).
“And they said unto him, “In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written by the prophet: “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”(Matthew 2:5-6, KJV). This prophetic passage from Micah 5:2 suggests the prophecy and not the Star of Bethlehem initially provided the Magi with the roadmap to Bethlehem. The Magi may have observed the Star of 5 BC once they arrived at Jerusalem but they didn’t make the connection between the Star of 5 BC and Bethlehem.
Then Herod when he had privately called the wise men. He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” (Matthew 2:7a, 8) These verses suggest during a private audience between Herod and the Magi, a discussion ensued about multiple messianic contenders who would challenge Herod’s throne in the future. For that reason Herod sent the Magi ahead to Bethlehem to identify the messianic contender's whereabouts and return with news which lead to the Massacre of the Innocent (Matthew 2:16-18).
“Herod diligently inquired of the Magi what time the star appeared.” (Matthew 2:7b, KJV) During the Magi’s
audience, Herod asked the Magi what watch of the night the Star of Bethlehem rose from the abyss. Even though the April 17th 6 BC occultation which occurred during the third watch of the night was nearly a year in the past and no longer visible, the Magi’s predictions focused on the April 17th, August 23rd and December 19th signs while Matthew capitalized on this verse to describe the watch of the night when the Star of 5 BC rose from the abyss, even though the watch of the night was not identified until Matthew 2:16b (from two years old and under, according to the time which he (Herod) diligently inquired of the wise men”).
When they 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) Matthew’s description of the second observation of the Star of Bethlehem validates the Star of 5 BC and the Star on the star map in the catacomb is one and the same star. The Magi recorded their observation at Bethlehem shortly after Passover (April 21st, 5 BC) around April 28th until May 7th, 5 BC according to Stellarium 0.20.0 (Matthew 2:9-10). Verse 10 suggests that the Magi were stunned by the Star of 5 BC because it appeared in the Zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat. The Magi may have mistaken the Star of 5 BC for a new wandering star. Since comets were often associated with the death of a great leader, if the Star of Bethlehem was an unusually bright comet, this threw into chaos all the Magi understood about the heavens. When the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem (the Star of 5 BC) resting over Bethlehem shortly before all the stars in the heavens were washed away by the morning sun, Matthew led his readers to believe the Magi recognized the meaning of the Stars location over Bethlehem and the time of their visit as a matter of divine providence. This could explain the reason for the Magi to rejoice with exceeding great joy.
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” (Matt. 2:1-12, KJV). The Magi showed respect and reverence for Jesus and his mother, Mary. Then the Magi showered royalty with gifts. While Matthew likely drew from Isaiah 60:6 (gold and frankincense), Matthew adds myrrh, a reference to myrrh mixed with wine at Jesus’ crucifixion using the words, “sour wine” (Matthew 27:48) while Mark’s description is most accurate, “And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.” (Mark 15:23)
“Then Herod when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, he was exceedingly angry, and sent forth and killed all the children that were in Bethlehem, and all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he (Herod) diligently inquired of the wise men.” (Matt. 2:16, KJV) This passage is the most essential to the Nativity Midrash. This text harbors an indirect reference to the number astrological events the Magi associated with the number of messianic contenders. Matthew 2:16b also spoke about which watch of the night the Star of Bethlehem (the Star of 5 BC) rose from the abyss. Matthew finally led his readers to believe that Jesus’ birth had occurred around the time of the Magi’s visit to Jerusalem and the Jewish Passover (April 21st, 5 BC). .
While we have no surviving document(s) from which Matthew extracted to write his Nativity Midrash, we do have other ancient artifacts, a painting of a Star and star map in the catacomb of Priscilla at Rome, a record of the Star of 5 BC in an ancient Chinese encyclopedia edited by Ma Twan Lin around the year 1222 CE and Luke’s testimony (Luke 1:5, 24, 26-28, 30-31, 76-79, 2:1-6, 7, 8-20, 50) in his Gospel. We also have the two observations of the Stars of Bethlehem Matthew left in his Gospel (Matthew 2:2, 7, 16b and 2:9-10).
I did not mention in my argument or the summary. Following Jesus’ birth, the gospel writer, Luke, stated that Joseph and Mary made their home in Nazareth after they performed what the Law of Moses demanded regarding the birth of a new born male. (Luke 2:21-39, 40-52). Matthew gave a different description. After returning from Egypt to avoid Archaleus' henchmen, Joseph and Mary made their home in Nazareth where Jesus was to be called a Nazarene because his childhood, adolescent and early adult years were spent at Nazareth. (Matthew 2:23). While bible scholars have struggled to explain a connection with an OT prophecy, Matthew may have had in mind Isaiah 9:2 when he described Jesus, a Nazarene. The gospel writer, Luke, echoed Matthew 2:23, when he spoke of the Star of Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth (Luke 1:79). Ironically, the Zodiacal constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat was believed to be the standard which appeared on the banner emblems of the ancient tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali the constellation where the Star of 5 BC appeared. This suggest that when Matthew and Luke spoke about Jesus early life at Nazareth and later, Capernaum, they were speaking about the fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-7), that Jesus’ childhood and adult residency in Galilee had been predicted in the heavens by the appearance of the Star of 5 BC in the constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat.
One final question is worth investigating. Why did the 1st century church adopt the Star of 5 BC and not the April 17th 6 BC occultation which the Magi identified with the Star that rose out of Jacob? There has been excellent scholarship to support the claim that the April17th 6 BC sign in the constellation of Aries the Ram was the Star which the Magi predicted would announce the birth of the Jewish Messiah. Why did the artist then paint a Star of Bethlehem (the Star of 5 BC) and star map of the northern summer Milky Way? Why did Matthew in framing the second observation in the infancy narrative describe the Magi observing the Star of 5 BC once they reached Bethlehem? Did Matthew know that, it would have been impossible for the Magi to view the April 17th 6 BC occultation of Jupiter by the waning crescent moon because the occultation occurred around the noon day sun? Those questions have haunted me repeatedly while conducting my research about the Star of Bethlehem. Perhaps, the answer rests with Matthew’s initial purpose for including this infancy narrative. While Matthew utilized this Nativity Midrash to draw star worshipers into the church and away from astrology, it was never his intention to welcome astrology’s over reach into the church. By describing the Magi as successfully predicting the birth of Christ with their astrological craft would have only endorsed and encouraged astrology’s courtship with Christianity. This would be beyond the pale. So when Matthew chose to write about the Star of 5 BC he was taking the same liberty as Tertullian took when he condemned the astrologer more than one hundred years later. The way in which Matthew framed the Nativity Midrash with emphasis on Matthew 2:10 suggested that the Magi left their profession and became Christians, paying homage to the Christ child and presenting gifts. This would appear to be Matthew’s motive for including the Midrash at this strategic point in his Gospel.
Besides the Magi conversion to Christianity, Matthew mentioned the Star, a star, not a comet. The Star of 5 BC’s position in the constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat may provide another clue. Matthew may have led his readers to believe the Star of 5 BC was a wandering star. The Star of 5 BC appeared in a Zodiacal constellation near the ecliptic. People from that period believed following the winter solstice, a new sun was born. The Star of Bethlehem, a new wandering star appearing in Capricornus suggested the birth of a new deity, Jesus Christ. To identify the Star of Bethlehem as a new wandering star would imply that the Star of Bethlehem representing Jesus Christ reigned over all the Mesopotamian Sky Gods. At the conclusion of the Gospel, Matthew wrote “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18, KVJ), power even over the Mesopotamian Sky Gods, providing a fatal and final blow to star worship and astrology.
This is perhaps the best explanation for it would be highly irregular for the Magi to pay homage to a child born of poor parents in an insignificant village, a child who demonstrated no apparent connection with royalty. It would be equally stunning to think that the Magi, who the star worshiper’s revered, would leave their profession to convert to Christianity! It is likely for this reason that Matthew at the beginning of his gospel gave an account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17), all the way back to the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew began his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy to remind his readers that it was not in a royal palace or from a royal family that Jesus derived his royal authority. He derived his royalty from an ancestral line from a regal family of faith in a Creator God which transcends every earthly royal family who ever lived or is still yet to live. Matthew hoped that those who would read his gospel would appreciate the pun in Matthew 2:10 that even those who were most highly revered revered the One whom the Creator God had sent to save the world from itself, sending an infant of poor parents with no apparent royal birth or right to ascend to the throne.
Unfortunately, as with all stories from the ancient past, often such stories are masked by the writer's choice to reveal what the writer believes to be pertinent and what is not! Only Matthew knew the comprehensive details behind the Stars of Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi. It is likely Matthew had at his disposal ancient Christian and Magi pre-gospel tradition. Yet, Matthew chose to reveal what was thought helpful to his readers, nothing more and nothing less. Matthew knew the story of the Star of Bethlehem and the visit of the Magi best of all! Regardless, the reader must judge for oneself. Is Matthew 2:1-12, 16 a Nativity Midrash with little or no historical validity whose description of the Stars of Bethlehem is a masterpiece of fabled myth or a brilliantly written story of the Star of 5 BC as the Star of Bethlehem whose historical and celestial footprint is entrenched in indisputable historical and astronomical facts?
Not only has this Nativity Midrash served as a brilliant theological work. It has served to memorialize these historical and celestial events from a time previous to Matthew penning his Gospel. Matthew 2:1-12, 16 served as an apology or defense against astrology’s over reach in the early 1st century Christian Church. We may think of Matthew’s genius, not only as brilliant theologian and biblical scholar, but as astronomer and former astrologer, par excellence, who saw the wisdom in the movement of the heavens and a bright new transient and chose to write about the Stars of Bethlehem!
 There were no lunar eclipses in 7 or 6 BC. Two lunar eclipses occurred in 5 BC: one on September 15thlate evening and the other on March 23rd early evening. (The March 23rd event occurred as the full moon passed the vernal equinox on that date.) One lunar eclipse occurred on March 13th 4 BC late at night. There were no lunar eclipses in 3 or 2 BC. There was one lunar eclipse on January 10th 1 BC. While Josephus associated the 1 BC lunar eclipse with Herod’s death, the lunar eclipse of 4 BC appears to be the best candidate. Upon Herod’s death, there was a transfer of power from Herod to three of his sons which occurred in 4 BC (Josephus, Antiquities 17.3.2). This would coincide with Josephus’ remarks that Herod died after a lunar eclipse and before the following Passover (Josephus, Antiquities 7:6-8) (Stellarium).
 Molnar, Michael, The Star of Bethlehem: the Legacy of the Magi, 2013, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Molnar suggested the April 17th 6 BC occultation was the celestial event the Magi identified with the Star of Bethlehem (Numbers 24:17). Molnar based his findings on a coin that was struck in 13 CE in the Syrian-Palestinian region. The coin displayed the image of a ram, a star and a crescent moon (the occultation of April 17th, 6 BC in the Zodiacal constellation of Aries the Ram which was associated with the Jews). While Jupiter and the waning crescent moon near sunrise could be understood as “a helical rising,” later shortly after midday, Jupiter was occulted by the waning crescent moon when it stood over Bethlehem. While the occultation could be explained on papyrus, it was not possible to view the occultation. While the April 17th event described one of the Stars of Bethlehem it did not agree with the testimony in Matthew’s Gospel when the Magi saw the Star when they reached Bethlehem (Matthew 2:9-10). As stated earlier, the gospel writer appears to have used Matthew 2:2b as a coin with two faces, on one side, the April 17th 6 BC and the other, the Star of 5 BC. The Star of 5 BC was not in any true sense “a helical rising.”
 Allen, Richard H., Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, 1963, New York: Dover Publications, p. 138. According to Allen, ancient Jewish rabbis associated the tribe of Naphtali with the constellation of Capricornus, the Sea Goat just as the constellation of Aries the Ram was associated with the Jews at Jerusalem.
(37) Molnar, Michael, The Birth of Christ, the Legacy of the Magi, 2013, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
(38) Booth, David, Analytical Dictionary of the English Language, 1836, London: Simpkin, Marshall and Company, p. 109.. David Booth wrote “The winter solstice was the cradle of the infant year of the birthday of the Sun and of the incarnate Deities of heathen mythology.” Booth implied that the constellation of Capricornus served as the cradle of the winter solstice and the birthday of the Mesopotamian Sky Gods. The days preceding winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) was viewed by ancient cultures as a time when the sun was near death. The days following the winter solstice were viewed as a new birth of the sun. When Capricornus appeared around January 6th, it was believed twelve days earlier, the sun received a new birth, giving hope that spring would one day again arrive and the season of planting, cultivating and harvest would return. Compare this thought with the celebration of Christmas around the time of the winter solstice and the celebration of the Festival of the Star of Bethlehem and the Visit of the Magi in the early Church on January 6th. While this appearance of the stars of the constellation of Capricornus would be viewed as a “helical rising” on January 6th, the appearance of Star of 5 BC was understood as a morning star appearing during the second but not the third watch of the night. The Star of 5 BC was not in any true sense a “helical rising.” The April 17th 6 BC occultation of Jupiter by the crescent moon was viewed as a “helical rising.”
I am grateful to Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit and Carolyn Murphy-Beehler for bringing valuable insights about an ancient painting in a catacomb in Rome. I am also grateful to Dr. Janet Mattei, former director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers for her kind support and encouragement for me to search for transients that ultimately led me to write about the Stars of Bethlehem. I thank Dr. Stella Kafka, current Director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers and Ms. Elisabeth Waagen, Associate Editor of the Journal of the AAVSO for permission to include information from Dr. Hoffleit’s paper. I am indebted to all who provided excellent scholarship mentioned in References.
Allen, Richard H., Star Names, Their Lore and Meaning, 1963, New York: Dover Publications, p. 136.
Bacon, Benjamin, Studies in Matthew, 1930, New York: Henry Holt & Co. 36, 131.
Baigent, Michael, Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia, 1994, Rochester: Bear and Company.
Beckmann, Kenneth, Morning Star: The Search for and the Discovery of the Stars of Bethlehem, 2021, Columbia: Beckmann, p. 1-110.
Brown, Raymond E., S.S. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke, 1979 New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland: Double Day, 45-48, 165-177, 547-555,
Buttrick, George Arthur, Johnson, Sherman E., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7, 1951, Nashville: bingdon, 256-262.
Buttrick, George, Johnson, Sherman E., King James Bible Version, 1611, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 7, 8, 1951, Nashville: Abingdon.
Buttrick, George Arthur, Johnson, Sherman, E., The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 8, 1951, Nashville: Abingdon, 35-40, 47, 48-58.
Cassius Dio, Roman History, English Translations by E Cary New York, the MacMillan Co., 1914, 54.29
Ebrard, J. H. A. The Gospel History: A Compendium of Critical Investigations in Support of the Historical Character of the Four Gospels, 1863, Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 181-182.
Hegedus, Timothy, Attitudes to Astrology in Early Christianity: A Study Based on Selected Sources, 2000, University of Toronto, p. 174-193.
Hoffleit, Dorrit Journal of the AAVSO, “The Christmas Star, Novae and Pulsars,” 1984, Cambridge: AAVSO, Volume 13 No. 1, 15-20.
Humphreys, Colin J. "The Star of Bethlehem--A Cornet in 5 B.C.--and the Date of the Birth of Christ." Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society32 (1991) 389-407.
Josephus, Flavius, Josephus, 1943, translated, Ralph Marcus, PhD, Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Molnar, Michael A. The Star of Bethlehem: the Legacy of the Magi, 2013, New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 62.
Origen, “Homilien zum Hexateuch in Rufins Obersetzung, ed. Bachrens,” Homilies on Numbers 13.7 translated by Rufinus of Aquileia, Edited Bachrens [GCS] Vol. 2, 118.14-22.
Raphael, Mundane Astrology, mentioned in Ramsey’s Astrology Restored, 1653, p. 308-309
Schaff, Philipp, The Ante Nicene Fathers,Vol. 3, 1897, England T. & T. Publishers, 65, 66,
Schaff, Phillip, The Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, 1897, England T. & T. Publishers, Origen, Contra Celsus 1.58, 1.59, p.725.
Zotti, George, Wolf, Alexander, Stellarium 0.20.0, (free open source computer based planetarium program) for calculating the Stars of Bethlehem at the rising and the Star that went before the Magi till it came and stood over where the child was at Bethlehem. This tool is able to re-creating celestial events as far back as ten thousand years in the past and ten thousand years into the future. https//www.stellarium.com
Strong, James, Strong’s Concordance of the Bible, 1890, Nashville: Abingdon.
Williams, John, F.S.A., Observations of Comets, from BC 611 to AD 1640, Assistant Secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, Extracted From the Chinese Annals, 1871 London: Strange Ways and Walden p 9-10.
Stars of Bethlehem: A Scribe Who Studied the Kingdom of Heaven
By Kenneth Beckmann
Copyright 2021, Kenneth Beckmann. All rights reserved.
The Star went before the Magi until it came and stood over Bethlehem before sunrise Apr 28th, 5 BC.