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(Investigator 201, 2021 November)

On clear nights after 9 pm in October this year [2021] two bright stars dominated the sky above Adelaide.

What people saw is one of several interpretations of the Star of Bethlehem.

The Bible's Christmas Star story, featuring "three wise men", or "magi" meaning astrologers, who followed a star to Bethlehem and delivered gifts for Jesus, was examined in this magazine in editions 81, 82, 88, 118 and 119.

The current article recapitulates essential points; adds information about conjunctions; and examines whether Bethlehem existed in the 1st century.


The year of Jesus' birth, as argued previously, was 2 BCE.

The New Testament says that John the Baptist began his ministry "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" and baptized Jesus when, "Jesus … was about thirty years of age." (Luke 3:1-3, 23)

The reign of Tiberius "Caesar" began on September 17th, 14 CE. (Wikipedia)

Therefore his 15th year began when 14 complete years finished, on September 17th 28 CE, and extended to September 16th 29 CE.

Subtracting 30 years locates Jesus' birth between September 17th 3 BCE and September 16th 2 BCE.

From here I checked the night sky over Israel, for that period, using astronomy software called Skymap.

The New Testament symbolically calls Jesus "the bright morning star". (Revelation 22:16) Faith in Jesus is described as "the morning star rises in your hearts." (I Peter 1:19)

I regarded these statements as clues to what to look for with Skymap.


Venus and Jupiter are the two brightest objects in the night sky after the Moon.

On August 12, 3 BCE, sky-watchers in the northern hemisphere, especially in Western Asia, would have seen these two planets merged together in the eastern sky before dawn.

Ten months later on June 17, 2 BCE it happened again. The two planets merged into one, or almost into one, this time in the western sky.

The joint brightness of the two brightest planets, when positioned side by side as viewed from Earth, is comparable to the supernovas of 1054, 1572 and 1604 CE, but dimmer than the supernova of 1006 CE.

The Magi spoke of "his star" (Matthew 2:2) although Venus and Jupiter are  planets not stars.

Today we distinguish stars, which are self-illuminating, from planets which reflect the Sun's light. Ancient observers did not know this difference, but observed that a few stars wander over much of the sky whereas the majority remain in fixed positions relative to one another. The "wandering stars" we now call "planets", the others we still call "stars".


Astronomers distinguish occultations from conjunctions.

An occultation is the: "Concealment of one celestial body by another interposed in the line of sight." The Moon sometimes goes in front of a star or planet, but for a planet to do this with a star or another planet is rare.

A conjunction is: "The position of two celestial bodies when they are in the same celestial longitude." (Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary) More understandable to non-astronomers is: "The moment when two celestial bodies lie closest together in the sky." (O'Byrne et al, 2007)

The twice-over meetings of Venus and Jupiter in 3 BCE and 2 BCE were, because they remained ever-so-slightly apart, conjunctions, not occultations.

An occultation blocks the light of the more distant object, therefore is less bright than their conjunction would be.


Venus can be the "morning star" or "evening star" depending on its location in its orbit relative to Earth.

Skymap shows that on 12th August, 3 BCE, in the eastern sky of Asia, Venus and Jupiter approached each other.

The sky as seen from Earth is divided into degrees. From horizon to the opposite horizon is 180o (like a half-circle). One degree is divided into 60 arcminutes and each arcminute into 60 arcseconds.

The Moon is 31 arcminutes, about a half degree, across. (O'Byrne et al 2007) The apparent size of Venus varies with its distance from Earth, 9.9 arcseconds to 68 arcseconds.

Bidelman (1991) says the Venus-Jupiter separation in the 3 BCE conjunction was 4.3 arcseconds, and in 2 BCE 5 arcseconds. The two planets therefore appeared as one star on both occasions. (A recent webpage, however, claims the separation was 1/3rd the width of the Moon.)

The 3 BCE conjunction occurred slightly above the horizon and before dawn, therefore was less noticeable than in 2 BCE.

Ten months later, on 17th June, 2 BCE, Venus and Jupiter approached each other again, this time high in the western sky.

To the Magi, Jupiter probably represented kingship, and Venus greatness and glory. The 3 BCE conjunction could have signified to them the conception of the new king, and the 2 BCE conjunction his birth.

The shepherds who visited Jesus did so on the night after his birth (Luke 2:11), when he lay in a manger in a stable or cave. (Luke 2:7-12) The  Magi arrived when Mary and Jesus were in a "house". (Matthew 2:11) Many Christmas cards get it wrong by portraying shepherds and Magi together.

Between the visits of the shepherds and Magi, Jesus' parents had him circumcised on the 8th day after birth (Luke 2:21); and arranged the ceremony mentioned in Luke 2:22-24 scheduled 40 days after birth. Then they departed from Bethlehem. (Luke 2:39)

The arrival of the Magi could, therefore, have occurred up to 40 days after Jesus' birth, and took place, if we have identified the star correctly, on June 17th.

This was at the start of summer and is consistent with the shepherds, only weeks before, being "in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke 2:8), which they wouldn't do in winter.


The Magi arrived in Jerusalem and enquired "Where is the child…" King Herod summoned "the chief priests and scribes" and these quoted the Old Testament: "And you, Bethlehem … from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel." (Matthew 2:1-6; Micah 5:2)

That night: "the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them". (Matthew 2:9) The past tense confirms that the star was not visible continuously after its first appearance in the east. During their journey, which by camel took several months, they would have seen Jupiter and Venus get closer together night after night. But the phrase "went ahead of them" refers to the one evening when they appeared as one star — June 17th.

A north-south road to Egypt connected Jerusalem with Bethlehem about 10 kilometres to the south. For the star to go "ahead of them" the Magi must have gone eastwards off the road, then at sunset headed west to Bethlehem.

If it was, as the song says, a "silent night … all is calm, all is bright", and expecting to see a magnificent future king, it would have felt magical. Leading the way, moving westward, shone the brightest star they had ever seen, and behind them (according to Skymap) rose the full Moon.

How did "the star stop over the place where the child was"? (Matthew 2:9-10)

This could have been psychological. A bright star situated past the vertical but still way above the horizon, and viewed by looking up and over a house, would for a while seem to stand still above the house. I experienced this in Adelaide recently when I stood at the eastern side of my house and looked up westward over the roof toward Venus.


Astronomy textbooks give the apparent maximum magnitude (brightness) as observed from Earth of various objects as follows:
•    Full Moon          -12.5         
•    Venus                -4 to -4.5         
•    Jupiter                -2        
•    Sirius                  -1.4       
•    Canopus             -0.7        
•    Alpha Centauri    -0.3        
•    Arcturus                0.00        
•    Vega                   +0.04   
•    Capella               +0.09

G.E. Tauber (1979) assigns the supernova of 1572 a magnitude of –4, equal to Venus.  History's brightest supernova, in 1006, was, however, 12 times brighter than Venus. (MacRobert, 2003)

SKYMAP supplies maps of the sky and gives the rising and setting times for Sun, Moon and planets.

On August 12, 3 BCE, Venus and Jupiter rose together in the east. In Iraq they were 4o above the horizon at 4am, and 19o above the horizon at 5.17am at which time sunrise started. These times and altitudes varied from country to country. There was no interference from moonlight that morning.

For June 17, 2 BCE, Skymap lists the following rising and setting times at Jerusalem:


Notice that Venus and Jupiter rose and set together. At 19.00 or 7pm — nineteen minutes after sunset — they were 34o above the western horizon. At 8pm they were 21 degrees above the horizon. The Moon rose just after sunset and set just after sunrise.

Conjunctions of planets, especially Venus and Jupiter are common. Earth revolves around the Sun in 1 year, Venus in 0.6 years, Jupiter in 11.9 years.

Dawson (1916) calculated that 158 Venus-Jupiter conjunctions occur in 155  years. Many are hidden by the glare of the sun; about half occur in the morning; and with many the two planets are widely separated. Conjunctions as "striking" as in 1916 (less than the Moon's width), he says, occur "one every 15 to 20 years." How many are so close together as to look like one star is not stated.


Bethlehem may be mentioned, other than in the Old Testament, in the Amarna correspondence of c.1350 BCE. The Egyptian-appointed governor of Jerusalem, in one of his six letters to Pharoah, appealed to Pharaoh to send archers to help retake a town (apparently Bethlehem) which had fallen to mercenaries. (Wikipedia)

Bethlehem's 1st-century existence, however, has been denied. Aviran Oshri (2005), a senior archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, writes: "Theologians question biblical accounts of the Nativity. Now archaeologists are doing the same… I searched the archaeological evidence for Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Jesus and found nothing."

Archaeological confirmation, however, came in 2012. At an archaeological dig a bulla  (seal impression in dried clay), in ancient Hebrew script, was discovered with the message, "From the town of Bethlehem to the King…" Its estimated date is the 8th or 7th century BCE. (Wikipedia) The Jerusalem Post reported: "The artifact … may prove existence of Bethlehem dating back to first temple period."

A necropolis or burial site has also been discovered in Bethlehem with 100 tombs dated 2200-650 BCE. (Bohstrom, 2016) The burial site was abandoned with the Assyrian invasion of Judah in the 7th century BCE. Bohstrom 2016/2018 writes: "the name disappeared from documentation for centuries, only to reappear some 2,000 years ago."


I've shown for decades that scientific proof of the Bible is progressive. It has proceeded, and  proved point after point, verse after verse, for hundreds of years. Bethlehem and the Star of Bethlehem now, it seems, join and supplement hundreds of other confirmed points.


Bidelman, W. P. Planetarian, Volume 20, No. 3, September 1991

Bob, Y. Archaeologists find more proof of ancient Bethlehem, Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2012

Bohstrom, P. 200-year Old Prehistoric Necropolis Found by Bethlehem

Dawson, B. H. The frequency of striking conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter, Popular Astronomy, 1916, Volume 24, p. 390

MacRobert, A. 2003

O'Byrne, Dr John (Consultant Editor) et al 2007, a guide to the night sky, Five Mile Press, pp  59, 278, 279

Oshri, A. "Where was Jesus Born?", Archaeology, Volume 58 Number 6, November/December 2005

Tauber, G.E 1979 Man's View of the Universe, Crown Publishers

Worrall, S. December 23, 2017