The evangelist Matthew explains that, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and, to the then king Herod, they asked the following question: “Where is the king of the Jews, who has been born? Why We have seen his star in the east, and we come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2). This honest question some Gentiles who were looking for a newborn to honor him as a king, aroused the jealousy and confusion of the monarch. But not only of Herod but also of “all Jerusalem with him” because that city was perfectly aware of the mood of such a character.
Herod was known for his extreme cruelty since he even ordered the murder of his own wife Marianne (one of the ten he had) and also several of his children, such as Alejandro, Aristobulo and Antipater. The hypocritical reaction of that leader was to ask the magicians to tell him, as soon as they found out, the exact place where the baby was so that he too could go and worship him. Although his intentions -as is known- were quite different. Both the Jewish priests and the scribes, who were well acquainted with the Scriptures, agreed in fixing a point in the Palestinian geography: Bethlehem Efrata or Bethlehem of Judea. From there would come the guide who, as a good shepherd, would feed the people of Israel. This was what Micah had prophesied many years before (Micah 5:2).
Nevertheless, Luke says nothing in his gospel about the star of Bethlehem that guided the wise men. This has been interpreted by some commentators as proof that each evangelist drew from different sources. However, it could also be that each writer had different motivations when writing his gospel and highlighted those events that best fit the orientation he intended to give. Similar behavior is frequent in the synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke).
For example, Matthew His gospel ends with a universal projection, in which Jesus commands his followers to go witness and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20). Therefore, it is logical that he also began by including the magi as Gentiles from other nations who worshiped God. This is also well appreciated in the emphasis given to foreigners in the genealogy of Jesus. However, Luke -as a doctor of Greek origin and culture- highlights the multiple supernatural manifestations that surrounded the Master. He does not speak of the magicians or the star but he does speak of the angel of the Lord who appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. He also refers to the angel Gabriel’s revelation to the priest Zacharias, Elisabet’s husband, to end his gospel with the appearances of Jesus after he was resurrected and the final ascension. These are different stories because the motivations and recipients were also different, not because there is a contradiction between them.
Matthew’s account is important because it roots Jesus in space and time. He was born in Bethlehem of Judea and during the reign of Herod the Great, who was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, in the year 40 BC. He is not about any mythical divinity, like those of so many religions, but about a God who incarnated himself in a real person of flesh and blood. We know when and where he was born, grew up, carried out his public ministry, died, was buried, and rose again. Hundreds of witnesses saw it with their own eyes and believed in his words. All of this gives credibility to Christianity and sets it apart from other religions.
As for the origin of the star that directed the magicians, there are multiple opinions that have been proposed throughout history. One of the oldest is the one offered by Origen, around the year 200 AD. C., when he wrote: “I am of the opinion that the star that appeared to the Magi in the lands of the East, was a new star that had nothing to do with those that appear to us in the celestial vault or in the layers lower atmosphere. Surely it belongs to the class of stars that, from time to time, used to appear in the air and that the Greeks, who used to differentiate them by giving them names that refer to their configuration, sometimes designated them with the name of kitesigneous beams, stars with a tail, barrels, or with many other names”.one So Origen believed that it had probably been a comet. This idea was subsequently picked up by numerous artists and represented in paintings, nativity scenes and Christmas trees. However, the study of the astronomical phenomena that occurred in the last millennia, coming from the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese, has not revealed the existence of any comet that could be seen at that time from the Mediterranean.
In the year 1603, the German astronomer John Kepler observed a conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation of Pisces. As is known, the planets of the solar system revolve around the Sun, according to different orbits and at different speeds. Sometimes, from Earth, it can be seen that some of such planets appear to come together until they “touch” and then emit much more light, giving the optical illusion of being a very bright star. Actually, they are two superimposed planets that add the sunlight reflected on them. Kepler came to the conclusion that the star that the magicians saw must have been precisely one of those conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn, produced in the year of Christ’s birth.2 This is a hypothesis that is still widely accepted today.
Subsequently, various authors have also proposed other possible candidates for star of Bethlehem, such as the planet Venus, the explosion of some supernova, kites like Halley or Hale-Bopp, meteors and even some occultation of planets behind the Moon, with an easy symbolism of disappearance or death, when hiding, and a new reappearance or birth.3 There are many possibilities at stake that converge on the same question: will one day be able to know exactly what was the natural phenomenon that caused the star of Bethlehem?
Perhaps, before answering this question, one should take into account the three possibilities considered by specialists in theology and astronomy. Some consider that the story of the star of Bethlehem never happened but that it is a myth invented by Matthew to convince non-believers that Jesus was the Messiah. However, if this were so, the honesty of the evangelist is called into question and the whole gospel collapses like a house of cards. What is true and what is fiction? Where is then the revelation and divine inspiration? I don’t think this is the correct option.
On the opposite side, there is the belief that the star was a miraculous event, a temporary supernatural manifestation to which human science will never be able to have direct access, as is also the case with the rest of the miracles. This possibility is supported by Matthew’s description that the star moved in front of the magi, guided them, and stopped precisely where the child was. All this is something that has no scientific explanation because it belongs to the realm of the metaphysical and, of course, it is a possibility that cannot be rejected.
The last option is that a natural astronomical event is described and, since there are several hypotheses at play, it will only be a matter of time to find the true one. In fact, many of the events recounted in the Bible have been confirmed by archaeologists and historians and are known to have actually happened. The biblical authors were very scrupulous about it and tried to explain the facts in the most reliable way possible. Hence the appearance of the star of Bethlehem could also have been an astronomical and historical event. It is even possible that it was not just a single cosmic phenomenon but several that could occur successively in a certain period of time. A conjunction of several planets in the constellation of Pisces could have attracted the attention of magicians, later combined with the concealment of Jupiter behind the Moon, during the months of March and April of the year 6 BC. C., and even ended in Bethlehem with the explosion of a brilliant supernova. This is another open possibility.
The term Bethlehem means “house of bread” and it is precisely from there that true bread arose, capable of definitively satisfying the hunger of every human being. Jesus Christ said: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will never be hungry; and he who believes in me will never thirst ”(Jn. 6:35). The light of the star led the magi towards the genuine bread of life. In the same way, the light of Christ continues to dispel the darkness of the human soul that allows itself to be guided by it (Jn. 8:12).
one Quoted in Keller, W. 1977, And the bible was right Omega, Barcelona, p. 344.
2 ibid., 347.
3 Kidger, MR, 1999, The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer’s View, Princeton University Press, New Jersey.