For two millennia, men have tried to find a rational explanation for the phenomenon that we call the Star of Bethlehem — the object in the sky that led the Three Magi to the Child Jesus. The most common theory that has developed regarding the Christmas Star, even among Christians, is that it was a conjunction of two planets — Jupiter and Venus — very close to Regulus, a bright (1.35 Magnitude) star in the constellation Leo, that occurred in 2 or 3 B.C. The symbolism is too appealing for most people to disregard: Regulus, symbol of a king, followed by Virgo, the virgin, which rises just behind Leo. There is at least one website dedicated to this theory.
Let us take a moment and look at the relevant scriptural verses to see if this popular theory really does fit the events that St. Matthew details in his Gospel. But first, a little basic astronomy. A planetary conjunction is the name we give to the apparent meeting of two or more planets, particularly, when they line up in such a way that they appear to us, observing from Earth, to be very near or even touching one another. It is important to understand that these are completely natural and predictable (by astronomers) events. It is also important to know that while planets in conjunction may seem to the naked eye to be one brilliant star, when the conjunction consists of an inferior planet (planets closer to the sun than Earth) like Venus and a superior planet (planets farther from the sun than Earth) like Jupiter, their paths are very different. Consequently, the proximity to one another does not last very long. Again, this is due to the fact that the paths they trace in the sky are very different. As an example, throughout the Fall of 2021, Venus was an “evening star”. The path she traced over those months was a very large figure “8” inclined on its side. At a certain point some weeks ago, Venus did indeed approach Saturn and Jupiter, both of which lay east of her. But that close approach did not last more than a few days, due to something we call planetary retrograde, and to the fact that Venus outpaces us while the gaseous giants are much, much slower. (Sorry, geocentrists, planetary retrograde is indeed an observable fact.)
Now, let’s look at what St. Matthew tells us: “When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (Matt. 2:1). Now, tradition tells us that these were most likely Zoroastrian “astrologers” or Magi, who lived in Mesopotamia (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers), or even as far east as beyond the Indus River. Assuming they were as close as Mesopotamia, it still would have taken weeks, if not months, to prepare for and make a trek to Palestine. Yet they followed the star, most likely losing it near Bethlehem. St. Matthew tells us that Herod and “all Jerusalem” were troubled, but after Herod consulted with the chief priest and scribes, he sent the Magi to Bethlehem.
“Who, having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east went before them , until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy” Matt. 2:9,10. Now for some geography. Bethlehem lies almost due south of Jerusalem. Therefore, if we accept the theory that the Christmas Star was a natural phenomenon, we would have to figure out how a conjunction lasted for possibly months, and then we would have to believe that the two planets stayed in conjunction while tracing the same path in the sky in order to meet the scriptural references to the star leading the Magi westward, then switching to leading them to the south. It is simply not possible for planets in conjunction to behave in this manner. Finally, celestial objects do not “stand” in any one spot in the sky. Due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis (apologies, again, to our geocentrist friends), the sun, moon, planets and stars all appear to move westward across the sky at a rate of 15 degrees per hour. No natural object could have “stood over where the child was”.
The only answer is that the Christmas Star was a supernatural phenomenon placed in the sky by Almighty God to denote a momentous event. It is as simple and as beautiful as that. Like the dance of the sun on October 13, 1917, the Star of Bethlehem was special. It was truly miraculous — the Star of Wonder:
Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with Royal Beauty bright;
Guide us to thy Perfect Light.
We Three Kings of Orient Are
John Henry Hopkins, Jr.
A Blessed Feast of the Epiphany to all.