Magi’s Star of Reference to Life of Jesus Christ

 

by

Damien F. Mackey

“I, Jesus … am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright Morning Star”.

Revelation 22:16

Some Laudable Efforts to Identify the Star

What was the ‘Star’ that the Magi saw?“… we saw His star in the east …” (Matthew 2:2). For what I believe to be the correct answer to this question, I am indebted to Lieutenant- Colonel G. Mackinlay, whose inspired book, The Magi: How They Recognised Christ’s Star (Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), reveals how the Creator God’s providential arrangement of “signs and seasons, days and years” (Genesis 1:14) – the heavenly bodies affecting earthly seasons and religious festivals – enables for a precise chronological calculation of the infancy of Jesus Christ and also his last years on earth. Colonel Mackinlay rejects the notion that the Bethlehem Star was a conjunction of planets or a meteor. It was instead, he explains, the Morning Star, the planet Venus, so important for the ancients, but of less significance for we modern city dwellers with our artificial lights.

That the Magi’s Star was Venus is a conclusion that other good researchers have reached as well based on their grasp of a combination of biblical texts. A most praiseworthy effort in this regard, apart from Mackinlay’s, is that of Bruce Killian, Venus The Star Of Bethlehem (http://www.scripturescholar.com/VenusStarofBethlehem.htm), from which I shall also be taking some quotations.

Another laudable attempt to identify the Star of the Magi is that recently of Texan lawyer, Frederick (‘Rick’) A. Larson, who, however, favours the planet Jupiter as the biblical star. Larson has the lawyer’s detective-like knack of being able to pick up clues in, say, Matthew 2:1-12, the account of the Magi and the Star, that other readers might pass over without due pause. He brings to the narrative, awe, passion, emotion, a love and knowledge of the Scriptures (including Genesis; the Psalms; Isaiah; the Book of Job; Malachi; and Revelation), as well as the benefit of sophisticated computer software, such as the astronomical program, “Starry Night” (*), a tool obviously lacking to Mackinlay in his day.

* A very important comment on chronology

Studies on the Star of the Magi and on other archaeoastronomical issues, with their retrocalculations of the night skies back into BC time, assume that our AD time is fixed, and that we actually live, today, a little over 2000 years after the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Not until revisionists like Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky came along were the standard BC calculations and ‘Dark Ages’ seriously questioned, and that has led to scholars today also rigorously testing AD time and its ‘Dark Ages’. See, e.g., Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz (http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~mgk25/volatile/Niemitz-1997.pdf) and Jan Beaufort’s summary (http://www.cybis.se/forfun/dendro/hollstein/hollstein0/beaufort/index.htm). I, whilst not necessarily agreeing with all of what these writers have to say, think that there is enough in their theses, however, and that of those to whom they refer, to prompt one seriously to question the accuracy of the received AD dates.

Larson has picked up what he has called“The Nine Points of Christ’s Star” that he believes to be the key pieces in the puzzle of the sacred text, and he says he will not be satisfied with a final scenario that does not accommodate all nine of these. Such is Larson’s thoroughness that even eight points for him will not suffice.

Could the star have been a meteorite; a comet; a supernova; a planet;or a new star?

One point that most pick up, Larson says, is that the star seen by the Magi rose in the East:“Greek en anatole, meaning they saw his star rising in the east”. This description can apply as well to various of these aforementioned types of heavenly bodies. Another point is that it was seen for an extended period of time. Larson rules out a comet on various grounds; one being that, in antiquity, comets were generally associated with doom.

A crucial point that Larson has picked up is that Herod – and apparently Jerusalem in general -seemed blissfully unaware of the presence of this harbinger star. It was only the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem that had awakened Herod to the extraordinary situation that had now arisen in his kingdom. That would again rule out a comet, which the ancients (so much better attuned to the sky than we generally are today) would not have missed. A comet would have been “the talk of the town”, Larson rightly says.

The Magi, of course (whether or not they had actually arisen from the prophet Daniel’s school in the East, as Larson believes), would have had the benefit of Daniel’s Messianic prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27 **) to guide them as to the approximate time to expect the Messiah. They would have been able to have combined this sacred text with their expert reading of the‘book’ of the heavens.

** A second chronological note

Daniel’s prophecy no longer works for us chronologically, with its beginning in the first year of King Cyrus now dated to 539 BC. As Martin Anstey (The Romance of Bible Chronology) and Philip Mauro (The Wonders of Bible Chronology) have shown, this date is 82 years too early for Daniel’s prophecy to work, meaning that historians have created too many Persian kings. Daniel’s count of years should begin at 457 BC instead of 539. This point is crucial.

Whatever the Star was, says Larson, it did no arrest the attention of the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

One of Larson’s nine points, his first in fact, has to do with this tricky subject of chronology. And this area of research may be his weak link, and may actually vitiate his whole argument. Larson has determined, based on an ancient version of the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, that the Birth of the Messiah had occurred in relation to the reign of Herod in 3-2 BC. However Daryn Graham has, in a recent ground-breaking article investigating the Census of Caesar Augustus at the time Jesus’s Birth (Luke 2:1-7), shown conclusively that the Nativity must have occurred in 8 BC. I must stress once again, however, that, whilst I believe that Graham is entirely correct in his choice of the 8 BC census for that of St. Luke, one ought not retrocalculate back to that actual date, e.g. using computer software, to determine the skies at that particular time. Here is the relevant part of Graham’s must-read article, “Luke’s Census: Dating the Birth of Jesus” (Archaeological Diggings,December/January edition):

…. Even though the countless Christians throughout the ages have differed significantly from person to person, all have but one true test of faith and that is the belief in Jesus Christ being none other than the Son of God, and indeed, God himself. According to the Bible which contains the earliest surviving accounts of Jesus life, Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem in the Roman province of Judaea, during which time a census was being taken. Of course, once we determine exactly which census that was we can also discover the precise date for Jesus’birth. But as to which census that was has left many an accomplished modern historian without an answer. However, doubting the accuracy of the Bible on these grounds is literally jumping hastily to unnecessary conclusions. As with so many things ancient, a little investigative work can help to fill in the picture. As I will now explain, the birth of Jesus Christ as told of in the Bible is firmly rooted in solid historical facts, and this is true also of the census during that humble, yet historically momentous and epoch-making birth.

The Census

The problem many historians in the past have faced is that the most common English translations of Luke’s gospel’s description of the census can be translated several ways. But, of course, considering millennia have passed since Luke wrote it, it is forgivable that some things have been lost in translation. The common NIV translation reads: “Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria) And everyone went to his own town to register.” …. The problem for past historians is that the particular detail regarding Quirinius in this NIV translation can not have been the intended meaning by Luke. True, there was a census in Judaea during Quirinius’ governorship which began in 6AD … but it was certainly not of the entire Roman Empire. The 1st century AD Jewish historian Josephus made that crystal clear by writing Quirinius’ census was confined only to Syria to determine the local inhabitants’ tax payments. …. Of course, it is unlikely that Luke, who was a meticulous historian, was incorrect – it is rather that case that the translation itself is incorrect. But considering that even the influential, though at times unreliable, 4th century AD Christian historian Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History maintained this reading … it is understandable that it has gained so much credibility.

We can be sure of Luke’s true meaning when we consider the following. There are two other translation possibilities raised by experts, the second of which discussed here is perfectly consistent with archaeological and historical records and is, I firmly believe, Luke’s intended translation. But for the sake of interest, we will look at both. The first possibility some say should read: “This first census was taken when Quirinius was governor”. …. But this is on very shaky ground. For one thing it is known by historians that it was not the first census decreed. The Res Gestae Divi Augusti, (The Accomplishments of the Divine Augustus) written by the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar himself, shows that Augustus carried out previous censuses in 28BC and again in 8BC … years before Quirinius’ governorship of Syria. The Res Gestae was written by Augustus in his final years in the early 1st century AD and was inscribed on the walls of temples around the empire. It has been preserved for us today in the temple of Rome and Augustus at Ancyra (Ankara in modern Turkey). Fragments from Pisidia (also in modern Turkey) have also survived. It is doubtful Luke, who wrote his Gospel only about 50 years later, was not aware of such facts as the ones recorded in Augustus’ Res Gestae. But the second alternative translation held by some experts and very much so myself to be Luke’s intended one, however, makes all of the ancient evidence fall into place with Luke’s original meaning, showing that his Gospel is historically precise and grounded in solid fact. According to this translation the census described by Luke originally in ancient Greek was not taken ‘while Quirinius was governor’ but ‘before Quirinius was governor’. ….

In regard to which of Augustus’censuses before Quirinius’ governorship Luke could have referred to, the solution is crystal clear. The 28BC census was taken of Roman citizens alone, so that one is ruled out. However the 8BC census, which was not only for Roman citizens, but also for the whole empire’s population, is exactly like the one Luke referred to. Inscriptions discovered in Spain, Cyrene and Turkey show that the purpose of it was for everyone in the empire to register their allegiance to Augustus – an effort that resulted in a large measure of peace throughout the Roman world. An inscription from Turkey reads, “I will be loyal to Caesar Augustus and to his children and descendants all my life in word, in deed, and in thought.” …. Another from Spain says, “Of my own volition I express my regard for the safety, honor and victory of the Emperor Caesar Augustus…” …. The wording of the oath of allegiance in Judaea was probably somewhat similar to these. Incidentally, in later years the Romans conducted such censuses to determine taxes, but that was not yet the case of the actual one we are looking at. So, the translation that the census Luke referred to was the one before Quirinius’ term holds up to scrutiny, and that it involved ‘entire Roman world’is verified by the archaeological findings.

You may be wondering, as have I in the past, why Luke bothered to describe the registration ‘before Quirinius’ at all – why not write who really was governor of Syria at the time of the 8BC census? There is a good answer for that. The ‘entire Roman world’ census Luke referred to was a huge undertaking that spanned years under many governors throughout the whole massive empire. Papyrus found in Egypt a century ago show it took place there in 9BC … while inscriptions discovered more recently indicate it was conducted in Cyrene around 7BC … Spain in 6BC … and Paphlagonia (in northern Turkey) in 3BC. …. As to when it took place in Judaea, Josephus, is of help. He stated Judaea registered during Saturninus’ governorship of 8-6BC, adding that the census there was brought to a close nearly a year prior to the end of that governorship. …. Given that in those times the period for registration lasted for a whole year, this means that Saturninus began conducting it soon after he entered office in 8BC. As you can appreciate, it must have been so much easier for Luke, then, to simply use the basic terms he did than go into such endless particulars his audience would have been quite familiar with anyway.

As to what was involved in that census, Luke summed it up well – “everyone went to his own town to register”.…. By comparing this statement with the archaeological evidence, it is clear, thankfully, that in this case nothing at all is lost in translation. Papyri preserved in Egyptian sands are impressive in number and a few even show what was involved in a Roman census. In one papyrus, recording an edict for a census by a Roman governor of Egypt in 104AD, all Egyptians were required to return to their hometowns for registration. It even states “anyone found without a permit [to stay away from their hometown] thereafter will be severely punished”. ….

In those days it was essential for the Romans to maintain ties between its empire’s population and their homelands in order to sustain the local economies. In that way landlords had a ready and constant supply of tenants. A census was one means of achieving that end. Although Joseph lived in Galilee when Augustus ordered his census, his lineage went back to King David, and hence he had to travel to Bethlehem, David’s hometown. …. But of course, as always, there were some exceptions to the rule. In Alexandria, Egyptians needed to remain there to keep the city going could obtain permits to stay there to register.

Luke’s remark that ‘everyone went to his own town’ is also historical. In an actual census declaration preserved on papyrus from the Egyptian village of Bacchias dated to 91AD it is clear that the male head of the household took himself and his family to his own hometown where he registered himself firstly, then his house, and then his family. In the case of that particular declaration, it was written down by a village secretary because those registering were illiterate. …. In Joseph’s case, though, he may have possessed the literary skills to write his own declaration. As a carpenter, Jew, and inhabitant of the Galilee during his time he could have been well-versed in geometry and the Jewish scriptures. …. Jesus’ ability to read may also be a strong indication that the rest of their family, including Joseph, could also read and write.

This all means that Luke’s gospel is much more than a collection of stories. Its narrative is factual and reliable. As Luke wrote, Jesus must have been born sometime between early 8BC to early 7BC during the empire-wide registration conducted before Quirinius’governorship of Syria. Of course, I would love to take the credit for determining this approximate date of Jesus’ birth, but I must confess I am not the first by a long stretch. The famous ancient Christian Tertullian, a legal expert from northern Africa, writing over a century earlier than Eusebius a few years after the turn of the 3rd century AD, recorded that indeed Jesus was born during Saturninus’ governorship of Judaea. …. This is important because Tertullian had valuable access to official Roman records and was thus in a perfect position to know such a fact.

In case you were wondering, as for why the turning of our era takes place in our calendar 8 years later – it is actually a mishap. In the 6th century AD, the monk Dionysius, while reforming the calendar, wrongly dated some key historical events, and so his miscalculations are with us today.

But besides Luke’s gospel, another Biblical book also describes events surrounding Jesus’ birth – the Gospel of Matthew – and it is also very useful. This gospel provides us with valuable insight into the life of Jesus since Matthew was a disciple of Jesus himself. Like Luke, Matthew wrote that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He also wrote that he was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who ruled Judaea during Saturninus’ governorship during the census mentioned by Luke. So given Luke’s gospel’s trustworthiness, that Matthew’s one agrees with it places it too on solid historical ground.

[End of quote]

Coincidentally –but not based upon so firm a foundation of scientifico-historical reality –does Mackinlay arrive at the same date of 8 BC for the Nativity (as did Sir William Ramsay).

Another vital point of evidence as far as Larson is concerned is that the Magi’s Star stopped.This was the point that had given Larson the greatest difficulty. But then it occurred to him that the planets, due to the optical phenomenon known as“retrograde motion”, actually appear to stop. Mars does a loop; Venus does a backflip; Jupiter inscribes a shallow circle. Larson has opted for the bright planet Jupiter as the “Star” seen by the Magi.

Here is a simplification of Larson’s picturesque account of it all, from the Annunciation (his September of 3 BC) to the Birth (his June of 2 BC), reading from his computer program for that period, beginning with a most unusual triple conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus, the “King” star:

Jupiter crowns Regulus [King] in Leo [Tribe of Judah].

Up rises Virgo [the Virgin] clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her feet. It is Rosh-hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Nine months later the biggest planet [Jupiter] goes together with the brightest planet [Venus, the Mother planet] to make the brightest star anyone alive has ever seen. Right over Jerusalem it sets.

The Magi arrive, about November, and go to Herod – ‘where is the baby king?’ Herod, after consultation with his scribes, says ‘Bethlehem’. The Magi leave on the 5-mile trek, look up and there is the star Jupiter right over the little town of Bethlehem.

The one who is doing the maths for the Magi informs them that Jupiter is in full retrograde – it has stopped. It is now the 25th of December.

In consideration of the ingenious use of modern computer software programs as employed by Larson and others, I would suggest that we need to be well aware of those chronological issues already referred to.

Killian, whilst warmly praising Larson’s effort, has offered his own criticisms of Larson’s “The Star of Bethlehem” (op. cit.):

Fredrick Larson is a lawyer and does and excellent job of selling the wrong identification of the Star of Bethlehem. He identifies the Star of Bethlehem as Jupiter. He also notes that Jupiter is the largest of the planets, but that was unknown to the ancients who would see Venus as the most important because it was the brightest. He sees the king of the Jews identified in a month long shallow loop of Jupiter near Regulus the king star in the constellation of Leo. It does not“crown” this star but loops near it as it appears to loop like a Spiro graph drawing continuously in the sky. He then observed a close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter to indicate the conception of Jesus and he claims these two stars coming together was the brightest star anyone had ever seen. The problem is that Venus at its inferior conjunction is brighter than these two stars together. Finally he saw a link between the woman in Revelation 12 giving birth, but he fails to mention this happens each year and that it was not visible because it was during the day. He further presents the star guiding the magi to Bethlehem when they already knew that was where they were to go, but not identifying which of the many boys in Bethlehem was the newborn king. The stopping of Jupiter is when it reverses and goes into retrograde motion, but this point really does not even point to Bethlehem because when do you determine that this has occurred, visually you can’t, and when during the night?

A miracle—many believe the star that guided the magi was simply a miracle. A light clearly called a star. Today we live at a time that planes fly over head all the time, God could have done this but why say a star guided them rather than an angel. It is clear from the information presented in this article that God was able from the foundation of the world to use the lights He set in the sky to guide the magi. I believe that most who hold this view do not recognize the special attributes of the planet Venus. These stars could be seen by all, but were faint, one would only see them if they were paying close attention.

[End of quote]

Killian would agree with Larson, though, about the Divine use of easy-to-read star tableaux:

Why did God Make the Sun, Moon and Stars?

The Bible explains the purpose of the sun, moon and stars in the first chapter of the Bible. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, seasons, days and years (Genesis 1:14). The Bible groups the sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, etc. together, generally their purpose is to be lights and to order time, but one oftheir purposes is to be for signs. …. The word sign in the Bible in its simplest form is used synonymously with our word picture. …. The stars form pictures that we call constellations, in a connect-the-dots fashion. The Bible mentions constellations, some by name: the Bear, Orion, Pleiades. …. The sign for the tribe of Judah was a banner with a picture of a lion for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. …. The constellation associated with Judah is Leo, which is Latin for lion. …. From the context sign not only means picture, but has a clear relation to time, because of its association with seasons, days and years. So to summarize one of the purposes for the sun, moon and stars is to be pictures marking particular times.

[End of quote]

And he goes on to give his own picturesque star pattern for the Nativity (his 2 BC):

The Prophetic Link

The Leader of the Magi at one time was the prophet Daniel (Daniel 2:48) so the Magi learned of God and the Bible. The most important discovery was connecting the dawning sky with the rising of His star on August 24, 2 B.C. to Jacob’s well known prophesy in Genesis 49:9-10. Jacob (also called Israel) calls Judah a lion, thus the Bible links Judahwith a lion. Venus rose in the constellation of Leo (Latin for lion). On this day, three planets Mercury, Mars and Jupiter formed a vertical line in the hind feet area of the constellation Leo. Jacob prophesies, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his” (Genesis 49:10). The three planets in a line form a scepter. The Magi observed a scepter, a mark of kingship, in Leo representing the tribe of Judahmarked by His star. After marking the picture, Venus continued to rise in the sky after sunrise.

A picture of a lion superimposed over the constellation Leo. To allow visualization of the scepter between the feet and His star.

….

The planets formed a line, picturing a ruler’s staff or scepter on August 18 and the stars remained in line gradually pivoting and shortening until the scepter was vertical. The scepter is about the same size as Orion’s belt, but brighter. This passage is in Hebrew poetry; the ruler’s staff and the scepter refer to the same thing. Hebrew poetry repeats or contrasts objects or ideas rather than rhyming words. On the day Venus rose, this line of stars was about to go out of alignment. Venus was ‘He that comes’ to mark the scepter in Leo, Venus represents Jesus, the scepter belongs to Jesus. By the next day August 25, the planets no longer formed a scepter, the scepter had departed. August 24 is the only day that fit the prophecy and one had to have excellent visibility conditions and one had to be alert to spot it then. This date is significant because before the 24thof August the scepter was visible, but His star was not visible and so had not come, after the 24th of August the line of stars no longer formed a scepter.

The Magi were familiar with another prophecy that helped them to understand Jacob’s prophecy. Balaam said,“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel”(Numbers 24:17). This is the first mention in the Bible of a single star. The first mention of a word in the Bible is often significant. Balaam refers to a star as ‘him’ and he parallels a star and a scepter. This is a section of poetry so scepter and star are related objects. Verse nine mentions a lion. The meaning of a star will come out of Jacob is the star represents one who would descend from Jacob. The scepter and His star in Leo fulfill both the prophecy by Jacob and the prophecy of Balaam. These are two scriptural witnesses to this sign. The king to whom the scepter belongs was announced. On this day when the bright morning star rose it was visible throughout the day and it set in the direction of Jerusalem. The star preceded them on their journey. Everyone who writes on the Star of Bethlehem mentions this passage, but typically identify the star Regulus with the scepter.

[End of quote]

Killian, like Larson, may basically be on the right track in employing such celestial picture tableaux about the Magi’s Star.

Mackinlay had also determined, as we have read, that the Star of Bethlehem was a planet, namely Venus in his case. He did not, back in his day, have the advantage of modern computer software, as has Larson, but was reliant on astronomical charts to put a date to the circumstances of Venus that he had determined had pertained to the chronology of Jesus Christ. Mackinlay – like Larson and others, relying heavily on the Scriptures – showed just how significant Venus was as “the morning star” and “the evening star”, and he quoted texts from the prophet Micah; including that fateful text without which Herod (the Godfather of today’s abortionists) would never have condemned to death the children of Bethlehem. Mackinlay also shows through Micah that John the Baptist was symbolised as the morning star, heralding as it does the dawn (Christ). He was able to determine an internal chronology of Jesus Christ, and the Baptist, based on the periods of shining of the morning star, all this in connection with historical data, seasons and Jewish feasts.

As said, the inherent weakness in such reconstructions as Larson’s, and even Mackinlay’s, is their presuming that the conventional dates for Herod and Jesus Christ are basically accurate – just as 539 BC is now wrongly presumed to be a certain date for King Cyrus of Persia – and that it is therefore simply a matter of finding an astronomical scenario within that conventional period and then being able to refine the dates using sophisticated modern scientific data. Happily, though, neither Larson’s nor Mackinlay’s scenario has that odd situation of the shepherds watching their sheep out in the open, in winter, that critics seem to latch on to every Christmas in order to ridicule St. Matthew’s account.

I definitely think that the type of heavenly body that had guided the Magi must have been a planet,and I very much favour Mackinlay’s choice for it of Venus, which planet does also figure in Frederick Larson’s scenario in conjunction with Jupiter, Larson’s showcase “Star”. The solar system is, according to Larson, like a vast clock of immense power, precision and beauty. I would recommend anyone to view his fascinating DVD, “The Star of Bethlehem” (http://www.bethlehemstar.net/), in order the better to appreciate what Genesis 1:14 is telling is, that the heavenly bodies were created to “be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years”. As Larson so wonderfully describes it:

… if the Star wasn’t magic or a special miracle from outside of the natural order, then it was something even more startling. It was a Clockwork Star. And that is overwhelming. The movement of the heavenly bodies is regular, like a great clock. The Clockwork Star finally means that from the very instant at which God flung the universe into existence, he also knew the moment he would enter human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He marked it in the stars. ….

To which I should add:

The Bible has provided us with an exact chronology from Adam to Jesus Christ (the “second Adam”). Though it is difficult now for human beings to arrive at the exact calculations, we can nevertheless get close. For our AD calculations, however, we do not have this advantage. But the answer must nevertheless lie with Jesus Christ, who is the key to time. He is the Lord of all History, the First and the Last; the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus Christ is the reason for history, the creator of history, and the guide and culmination of all history (cf. Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 2:13). For a perfect chronology, one will need to be able to read this celestial clock, or cosmic book, along the lines of a Frederick Larson, with the benefit of advanced computer technology perhaps – but also independently of the stumbling block that is the conventional chronology – to find at what precise point in time the Birth of the Messiah actually occurred.

Who will be wise enough to do this?

As Pope Benedict XVI stated in his 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” … but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences ….

Killian, also favouring Venus, goes so far as to say that the Magi were studying the Scriptures more than they were the actual heavens:

The Star of Bethlehem was Venus, the brightest star in the sky. This star guided the magi by pointing to a picture in the sky of a lion with a scepter, indicating the Jewish Messiah, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the one to rule all the earth was coming. It was a study of the Scripture not the heavens that led to finding that enigmatic star. ….

Why identify Venus as the Star of Bethlehem?

Jesus called himself “the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16). Venus is ‘the bright morning star’.How can the ‘bright morning star’ be identified as Venus? First, Venus can be seen during the day and is the brightest natural object in the sky after the sun and moon. It is the brightest object that can be called a star. Second, the ancients referred to exactly two planets as ‘morning stars’, they were called morning stars because they were normally only visible for a few hours before dawn. The morning stars are Mercury and Venus. They are morning stars because when they are visible in the morning they are normally only visible for a few hours before sunrise. This is a result of their orbits being closer to the sun than the earth. All other heavenly bodies are further from the sun than they earth and are therefore visible throughout the night. Mercury and Venus are also the evening stars. Again they are the evening stars because when they are visible in the evening they are only visible for a few hours after sunset. Since Jesus calls himself the bright morning star or Venus and the Magi saw His star as it rose, it is likely Venus was the star the Magi saw and we call the Star of Bethlehem. Venus rises as both the morning and the evening star. Since Jesus is ‘the bright morning star,’it had to be Venus rising in the morning not in the evening. Venus spends about half of its cycle as a morning star. Once every 1.6 years (584 days), Venus rises for the first time with the sun in the morning. Venus rose to mark Jesus’resurrection Sunday April 5, A.D. 33.

….

When Venus rose near Jesus’birth, the Magi had to spot Venus on the first day it rose to observe these signs. The Magi where professional astronomer-astrologers so they would be able to spot Venus at the earliest possible time. Since Venus is the brighter of the two morning stars and Jesus is the bright morning star, it is logical to conclude that Venus is His star. The Magi observed His star at its rising therefore the day they observed Venus rise for the first time in a particular cycle would be that time to which they are referring.

[End of quote]

Why Mackinlay’s Synthesis is to be preferred

Neither Killian’s nor Larson’s efforts worthwhile though they are, can, I believe, match the coherent consistency of Mackinlay’s model, that shows a Divine plan at work in every major phase of the life of Jesus Christ. Mackinlay is able to demonstrate how perfectly the eight year cycles of Venus, ‘His star’, wrap around the events of the life of Christ (who is also the “Sun of righteousness”), shining throughout the joyful occasions, but hidden during episodes of sadness and darkness. But not only does the Divine artist make use of the planet Venus in this regard. The Moon, too, in its various phases, and also the seasons (reflecting now abundance, now paucity), as Mackinlay shows, also serve as chronological markers. Mackinlay’s harmonious theory has, to my way of thinking, the same sort of inherent consistency as has Florence and Kenneth Wood’s explanation, in Homer’s Secret ‘Iliad’ (http://www.amazon.com/Homers-Secret-Iliad-Night-Decoded/dp/0719557801), that the battles between the Greeks and Trojans as described in The Iliad mirror the movements of stars and constellations as they appear to fight for ascendancy in the sky.

Since Mackinlay’s thesis is too detailed to do justice to it here, with all of its diagrams and detailed astronomical explanations always interwoven with the Scriptures, the interested reader is strongly advised to read the entire book.

Mackinlay commences with the example of Saint John the Baptist and his association also with the morning star. (This symbolism has an Old Testament precedent, too, in Joseph’s astronomical dream, Genesis 37:9-10, according to which people are represented by heavenly bodies). Let us begin.

Simile of St. John the Baptist to the Morning Star

The figurative use of the morning star in reference to the Baptist is evident from the prophet Malachi’s description of the Christ’s forerunner: “My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me” (Malachi 3:1); because, as noted by Mackinlay (p. 39), “the same figure of speech is supported by Malachi 4:2, where the Christ is spoken of as the Sun of righteousness, who shall arise with healing in His wings”. That this definitely is the right association of scriptural ideas is shown by the reference made by Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:76), to these two passages in the Old Testament. Thus, on the occasion of St. John’s circumcision, Zechariah prophesied of him: “You shall go before the face of the lord”, and, two verses later, he likens the coming of the Christ to “the Dayspring [or Sunrising] from on high”, which shall visit us.

We note further that this same passage from Malachi, with reference to the Baptist, was quoted also by Mark the Evangelist (1:2); by the angel of the Lord who had appeared to Zechariah before his son’s birth (Luke 1:17); by the Baptist himself (John 3:28); by Jesus during his ministry (Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:27); and by the Apostle Paul at Antioch (Acts 13:24-25). These quotations are all the more remarkable because they were made at considerable intervals of time the one from the other. Jesus used the words more than three decades after they had been spoken to Zechariah by the angel, announcing that Christ’s forerunner would be born. And St. Paul referred to the very same passage in the Book of Malachi some fourteen years after Jesus had spoken them.

St. John the Evangelist wrote of the Baptist: “The same came for a witness, that he might bear witness to the Light, that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but came that he might bear witness to the Light” (John 1:7, 8). Mackinlay, commenting on this passage (p. 41), says that “The Light par excellence is the Sun, and the Morning Star, which reflects its light, is not the light itself, but is a witness of the coming great luminary”. All four Evangelists record the Baptist as stating that the Christ would come after him: a statement in perfect harmony with the comparison of himself to the morning star (se e.g. Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16 and John 1:15).

On three memorable occasions St. John the Baptist preceded and also testified to Jesus: viz. some months before Jesus’s birth (Luke 1:41, 44); shortly before Jesus’s public ministry (Matthew 3:11); and by his violent death at the hands of Herod, about a year before the Crucifixion (Matthew 14:10). Alluding to the Baptist’s martyrdom, Jesus said: “Even so shall the Son of Man also suffer” (Matthew 17:12, 13).

The figure of St. John the Baptist as the morning star is therefore a most appropriate one.

Object of Reference Always Present

Mackinlay, following through Isaac Newton’s principle that the Jewish teachers frequently made figurative allusions to things that were actually present, suggested (p. 56) that “other allusions” unspecified by Newton, “such, for instance, as the comparison of the Baptist to the shining of the Morning Star”, must also indicate that the object of reference was present. “We may reasonably conclude”, he added, “that the planet was then to be seen in the early morning before sunrise”. Mackinlay realised that if Newton’s principle really worked in this instance, it would enable him to “find an indication of the dates of the ministries of Christ and of John, and consequently of the crucifixion”. Making use of calculations made by expert astronomers at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, Mackinlay, himself a professional observer, drew up a chart recording the periods when Venus appeared as the morning star for the period AD 23-36 – “a period which covers all possible limits for the beginning and ending of Christ’s ministry”. {One will need to refer to Mackinlay’s own chart reproducing the astronomical data that he had received}.

From Mackinlay’s diagram we learn that the morning star shines continuously on the average for about seven and a half lunar months at the end of each night, giving at least an hour’s notice of sunrise; but if we include the period when it is still visible, but gives shorter notice, the time of shining may be lengthened to about nine lunar months.

An eight years’ cycle containing five periods of the shining of the morning star -useful for practical purposes – exists between the apparent movements of the sun and Venus, correct to within a little over two days. The morning star is conventionally estimated (see previous comment on chronology) to have begun to shine at the vernal equinox, AD 25, and eight years afterwards, viz. in AD 33, it began again its period of shining at the same season of the year; and so, generally, at all years separated from each other by eight years, the shinings of the morning star were during the same months.

From the historical data available, it is conventionally agreed that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred between the years AD 28 – 33. Of necessity, then, the three and a half years’ ministry (Mackinlay is of the view that Christ’s public ministry lasted “the longer period” of between three and four years, whilst he also discusses “the shorter period” of less than three years) would have begun in one of the years AD 24-29 (conventional dating).

We shall proceed now to examine in more detail those passages in the Gospels that refer to St. John the Baptist as the morning star.

(a) Beginning of the Baptist’s Ministry

At the very beginning of his ministry, the Baptist referred to the prophecy in Malachi 3:1, in which he himself is likened to the morning star, when he said:“He who comes after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:2, etc.). Now, according to Newton’s principle of scriptural interpretation, that figures are taken from things actually present, the morning star would have been shining when the Baptist began his ministry; thus the witness in the sky, and the human messenger, each gave a prolonged heralding of the One who was to come.

If we refer to the Gospel of Matthew (3:8, 10 and 12), we find St. John the Baptist using three figures of speech at the beginning of his ministry:

1. “Now is the axe laid to the root of the trees” – presumably to mark the unfruitful trees to be cut down (see also Matthew 7:19).

2. “Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down …”.

3. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and He will clear his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire”.

As Mackinlay has noted (p. 60), these three figures used by St. John all refer to the time of harvest, which would have taken place within the month of the Passover, “as the place where John began his ministry was the deep depression‘round about Jordan’ (Luke 3:3), where the harvest is far earlier than on the Judaean hills”. Now according to Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star was shining during the month after the Passover (April or May) only in the years AD 24, 25 and 27, in the period AD 24-29. Hence we conclude that St. John the Baptist began his ministry in one of these three years.

(b) Beginning of Jesus’s Ministry

The Baptist again bore witness just before the beginning of Jesus Christ’s public ministry, when he proclaimed to the people: “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for He was before me’” (John 1:15); and he repeated that statement the next day (John 1:30) – again bearing out the simile of the morning star and the rising sun. Mackinlay, analysing what time of year this was, is certain that it must have been a good deal later than the beginning of St. John’s own ministry; “probably at least four or five months, to allow time for the Baptist to be known and to attract public attention”, he says (p. 61). It could not have been earlier than the latter part of August, he goes on; and “it must also have been long before the following Passover”, for several events in Jesus’s ministry “occurred before that date”. Mackinlay suggests that Jesus Christ most likely began his public ministry, “which we must date from the marriage in Cana of Galilee”,before November, “because there would have been leaves on the fig tree” when Nathanael came from under it (John 1:47, 48) (pp. 61-62). Jesus approvingly called Nathanael “an Israelite indeed” (John 1:47). Unlike the hypocrites who loved to pray so as to be seen by men (Matthew 6:5), Nathanael had carefully hidden himself for quiet prayer under cover of his fig tree, and so he was greatly surprised that Jesus had seen him there.

In Scripture, the state of the vegetation of the fig tree is used to indicate the seasons of the year (see Matthew 24:32). We are informed that when the branch of the fig tree “becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near”.

From the Song of Songs (2:13), we read of the season when “the fig tree puts forth her green figs”; and the fading of the leaf of the fig tree is mentioned in Isaiah 34:4.

From this scriptural detail, relating to seasons, Mackinlay is able to narrow even further the choice of years (from AD 24-29) for the beginning of the two ministries. “We must reject AD 24, for the morning star definitely was not shining between the months August to November of that year”, he writes (p. 63). This leaves us with only two options, viz. AD 25 and 27. At this stage Mackinlay makes a further assumption – previously he had asked the reader to assume for the time being that “the shorter period’ choice for the length of Jesus’s ministry be out aside – in relation to the date AD 27. Whilst admitting that AD 27 would fulfil the necessary conditions given above “if we suppose that Christ began His ministry within a month or six weeks from the time of John’s first appearance”, Mackinlay elected to put aside this date for reasons that would become apparent later on.

“He must increase, but I must decrease”.

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under the figure that we are considering is: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). According to F. Meyer, the Baptist “knew that he was not the Light, but sent to bear witness of it, not the Sun, but the Star that announces the dawn …” (Life and Light of Men, p. 42). St. John’s words may have foreshadowed his imprisonment as well, as Mackinlay thinks, for “they were uttered after the first Passover, which took place, according to the assumption which we have just made, in AD 26, but before the Baptist was cast into prison” (pp. 63-64). Consequently, he adds, we may assume that St. John the Baptist spoke these words about the beginning or the middle of April. Meyer may not have been correct, however, in concluding his otherwise beautiful metaphor above by saying that “the Star”, which represents the Baptist, and which “announces the dawn”, also “wanes in the growing light” of the Sun. The waning of a celestial body appears to be the scriptural symbolism for the destruction of wickedness. The seeming annihilation of the stars caused by the rising of the sun, was an ancient figure of speech used to typify the triumph of good over the powers of darkness and evil. Mackinlay suggests that this may be the image intended by St. Paul when he spoke of “The lawless one, whom the Lord shall bring to nought by the manifestation (in Greek, “shining forth”) of His coming” (II Thessalonians 2:8); and he adds that the figure of the rising sun extinguishing the light of the stars “is associated with conflict, punishment and judgment, which certainly did not represent the relationship between Christ and His forerunner John” (p. 65). Undoubtedly, rather, the impression that the Evangelist was intending to convey in this instance was one of the morning star decreasing in the sense of its non-appearance in the sky at the end of each night, as the increasing power of the sun’s heat and light became manifest. The planet Venus moves further and further away from its position as morning star, and increases its angular distance on the other side of the sun as the evening star. According to Mackinlay, in the year 26 AD Venus began to appear as the evening star “shortly before midsummer” (p. 64).

Interestingly, Mackinlay’s chart indicates that it is the more probable explanation of the non-appearance of Venus in the sky at the end of the night as being the more appropriate figure to depict the decreasing of St. John the Baptist, which is fulfilled in the circumstance under consideration.
Imprisonment of St. John the Baptist.

It is likely, as W. Sanday has noted (Outlines from the Life of Christ, p. 49), that the imprisonment of the Baptist took place after the Passover, and before the harvest of AD 26 (John 4:35); and soon after St. John had stated that “He must increase, but I must decrease”. Sanday considered that the events surrounding the Passover (of John 2:13-4:45) did not occupy more than three or four weeks, and when Jesus arrived in Galilee (see Matthew 4:12) the impression of his public acts at Jerusalem was still fresh. Sanday thought that his estimation of the date of the Baptist’s imprisonment was “somewhat strengthened by the fact that the Synoptic Gospels record no events after Christ’s Baptism and before John was delivered up, except the Temptation (Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14 see also Luke 4:14); and because the Apostle Paul said that “as John was fulfilling his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. No, but after me One is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie’.” (Acts 13:25)”. These words tend to place the end of the Baptist’s career rather early, because the message here referred to was proclaimed by him when he announced the Messiah, in autumn of AD 25 (John 1:26, 27).

Following Mackinlay (p. 64), we therefore estimate that St. John the Baptist was imprisoned about the middle or end of April, AD 26, when, as is apparent from Mackinlay’s chart, the morning star, appropriately, was not shining.

“He was a burning and shining lamp”

The next reference to St. John the Baptist under this simile is a very striking one.

Jesus speaks of him as “a burning and shining lamp; and you were willing to rejoice for a season in his light”. (John 5:35). Mackinlay has suggested that, because the definite article is used twice in the Greek version of this passage, “it therefore seems to indicate some particular light” (p. 67). Though St. John was in prison, Jesus said of him at this time: “You sent to John, and both was and still is a witness to the truth” (John 5:33). Regarding the phrase “to rejoice for a season in his light”, Dr. Harpur tells of a custom in the East for travellers by night to sing songs at the rising of the morning star because it announces that the darkness and dangers of the night are coming to an end (as referred to by Mackinlay, p. 68).

In effect, then, Jesus was saying that the disciples of the Baptist were willing to rejoice in the light of the herald of day, which shines only by reflecting the light of the coming sun; but should rejoice now ever more since the sun itself had arisen – since “the Light of the World” had actually come. This interpretation harmonises with Jesus’s statement recorded a few verses on (John 5:39) that “you search the Scriptures … which bear witness of Me”; the inference again being – now that I have come, you ought to receive Me.

All through this conversation, Mackinlay notes, “the subject is that of bearing witness” – by his own works; by the Father; by the Baptist; by the Scriptures and by Moses – “the whole pointing to the necessity of receiving the One to whom such abundant witness had been borne”.

The time when Jesus made this particular statement about the Scriptures bearing witness to Him was just after the un-named feast of John 5:1, and before the Passover of John 6:4. It is often assumed, Mackinlay informs us, that this un-named feast was Passover – but some have opted for naming it the feast of Purim, fixed several centuries earlier by the command of Queen Esther (Esther 9:32); or even the feast of Weeks at the beginning of June (p. 69). This does not affect our chronological scheme, however, for we learn from Mackinlay’s chart that the morning star was appropriately shining on each one of these feasts in AD 27.

The Crucifixion.

But when we come to the last Passover, in the year AD 29, the herald of the dawn had just disappeared. Mackinlay shows (p. 81) that the disappearance of the planet Venus harmonises perfectly with the record of the complete isolation of Jesus Christ at his Crucifixion, given as follows:

(1) The disappearance of the witness John by death (Matthew 14:10).

) The forsaking of Our Lord by all his disciples (Matthew 26:56; Psalm 38:11; 49:20).

(3) The absence of any record of a ministry of angels, as after the Temptation (Matthew 4:11).

(4) The hiding of God’s face, when Christ uttered the cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Psalm 22:1).

(5) In nature, the Sun’ light failed (Luke 23:45).

(6) Being daytime, the Paschal Full Moon was, of course, below the horizon.

Most relevant to our subject also is the following chapter from Mackinlay’s book:

Chapter Three: “A Star … out of Jacob”

Mackinlay commences by establishing “the greater probability” of the following two facts:

(a) That the Nativity of Jesus Christ was at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star,

and

(b) That the Nativity was at a Feast of Tabernacles (p. 140).

Firstly, we consider Mackinlay’s reason for believing that the Lord’s Nativity was:

(a) Five months after a period of shining.

To begin with, we must consider what reason there is for supposing that the morning star was shining at all when Jesus Christ was born. In Malachi 3:1, as we have seen already, St. John the Baptist is referred to under the figure of the morning star, as the forerunner of the Christ. But the morning star itself may be called “My messenger who shall prepare the way before Me”. It is not unusual for inanimate objects thus to be spoken of in Scripture, for instance in Psalm 88:38 we have “the faithful witness in the sky”, and in Psalm 148:3 the sun, moon and stars of light are exhorted to praise God.

Consequently, as Mackinlay has explained it (p. 141), “we can reasonably suppose that the Morning Star was shining at the Nativity”. Furthermore, he adds, if the morning star were the herald of the coming One, it is fitting to imagine that a somewhat prolonged notice should be given; for “it would be more dignified and stately for the one to precede the other by a considerable interval, than that both should come almost together”.

We shall find Mackinlay’s supposition of a prolonged heralding by the morning star borne out by the following inference. According to the principle of metaphors being taken from things present, we could infer that the morning star was actually shining when Jesus Christ (in Matthew 11:10), quoting Malachi 3:1, spoke of the Baptist as “My messenger … before My face”. Consistently following the same line of thought, we may reasonably infer that the morning star was also shining more than thirty years earlier when Zechariah quoted the same scriptural verse– i.e. Malachi 3:1 – at the circumcision of his son, John (Luke 1:76). Even had this appropriate passage not been quoted at the time, Mackinlay suggests (p. 142), “we might have inferred that the herald in the sky would harmoniously have been shining at the birth of the human herald”.

Mackinlay further suggests from his inference that both Jesus and John were born when the morning star was shining, that “both must have been born during the same period of its shining”. [He shows this in his charts]. The Annunciation to Mary was made by the angel Gabriel in the sixth month after the announcement to Zechariah (Luke 1:13, 24, 26); and so it follows that the Baptist was born five to six months before Jesus. Since Mackinlay’s charts indicate that the periods of shining are separated from each other by intervals of time greater than six months, then both Jesus and his herald must have been born during the same period of shining.

Consequently Jesus Christ was born at least five months after the beginning of a period of shining of the morning star.

It will be noticed that some years in Mackinlay’s charts are omitted – this is due simply to lack of space – but no events recorded in the Gospels took place in these omitted years, nor were any of them enrolment (see below) or Sabbath years.

(b) At a Feast of Tabernacles

The Law, we are told by St. Paul, has “a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The various ordinances and feasts of the Old Testament, if properly understood, are found, according to Mackinlay, “to refer to and foreshadow many events and doctrines of the New Testament” (p. 143). Again, A. Gordon had remarked that:“Many speak slightingly of the types, but they are as accurate as mathematics; they fix the sequence of events in redemption as rigidly as the order of sunrise and noontide is fixed in the heavens” (The Ministry of the Spirit, p. 28). The deductions drawn from Gospel harmonies attest the truth of his statement.

We have already observed that the Sabbath Year began at the Feast of Tabernacles; the great feasts of Passover and Weeks following in due course. Jesus’s death took place at the Passover (Matthew 27:50), probably, Mackinlay believes, “at the very hour when the paschal lambs were killed”. “Our Passover … has been sacrificed, even Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:7); the great Victim foretold during so many ages by the yearly shedding of blood at that feast. The first Passover at the Exodus was held on the anniversary of the day when the promise –accompanied by sacrifice – was given to Abraham, that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan (Exodus 12:41; Genesis 15:8-18).

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath after the Passover (John 20:1); the day on which the sheaf of first fruits, promise of the future harvest, was waved before God (Leviticus 23:10, 11). Hence we are told by Saint Paul that as“Christ the first-fruits” (1 Corinthians 15:20. 23) rose, so those who believe in him will also rise afterwards. This day was the anniversary of Israel’s crossing through the “Sea of Reeds” (Exodus 12-14), and, as in the case of the Passover, it was also a date memorable in early history, being the day when the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). The month Nisan, which had been the seventh month, became the first at the Exodus (Exodus 12:2). Thus Christ’s Resurrection was heralded by two most beautiful and fitting types, occurring almost – possibly exactly – on the same day of the year; by the renewed earth emerging from the waters of the Flood, and by the redeemed people emerging from the waters of the “Sea of Reeds”.

Mackinlay proceeded to search for any harmonies that there may be between the characteristics of this Feast of Tabernacles and the events recorded in connection with the Nativity. As we have noticed previously, he says (p. 146), there were two great characteristics of the Feast of Tabernacles: 1. Great joy and 2. Living in booths (tents).

1. Great joy.

The Israelites were told at this feast, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:40), and “You shall rejoice in your feast … you shall be altogether joyful” (Deuteronomy 16:14, 15). King Solomon dedicated his Temple on a Feast of Tabernacles, and the people afterwards were sent away “joyful and glad of heart” (1 Kings 8:2, 66; 2 Chronicles 7:10). There was no public rejoicing at the Nativity of Jesus Christ, however; on the contrary, as Mackinlay notes, “shortly afterwards Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3). But though He was rejected by the majority, we find the characteristic joy of Tabernacles reflected in the expectant and spiritually-minded souls. Before the Nativity both the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth rejoiced in anticipation of it (Luke 1:38, 42, 44, 46, 47). At the Nativity an angel appeared to the shepherds and brought them good tidings of great joy; and then “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest’.” The shepherds then came to the infant Saviour and returned “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:9-20).

Forty days after the Nativity, at the Purification, Simeon, who had been waiting a long time for the consolation of Israel, and the venerable Anna who was a constant worshipper, joined in with their notes of praise and gladness (Luke 2:22-38). And lastly the wise men from the East “rejoiced with exceeding great joy” when they saw the star indicating where the Saviour was, and they came into the house, saw the young Child with his Mother, and presented the gifts that they had brought (Matthew 2:9-11). This “Mother”, the Virgin Mary, is the ultimate“Star” pointing to Jesus Christ, her Son. John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Mater (1987), is full of allusions to the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘our fixed point’, or star‘of reference’. To quote just this one example (# 3):

….The fact that she “preceded” the coming of Christ is reflected every year in the liturgy of Advent. Therefore, if to that ancient historical expectation of the Saviour we compare these years which are bringing us closer to the end of the second Millennium after Christ and to the beginning of the third, it becomes fully comprehensible that in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to her, the one who in the “night” of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true “Morning Star” (Stella Matutina). For just as this star, together with the “dawn,” precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Saviour, the rising of the “Sun of Justice” in the history of the human race.

According to Mackinlay (pp. 147-148), the living in booths finds a parallel in the language of the Apostle John, when he wrote concerning the Birth of Jesus, “The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14); and Our Lord himself used a somewhat similar figure when he spoke of his body thus “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I shall raise it up” (John 2:19) – words misunderstood by his enemies and afterwards quoted against him (Matthew 26:61; 27:40).

It was at the Feast of Tabernacles that the glory of God filled the Temple that King Solomon had prepared for Him (2 Chronicles 5:3, 13, 14), and it would seem to have been at the beginning or first day of the feast, the fifteenth day of the month. Consequently, in Mackinlay’s opinion (p. 148) “it would appear to be harmonious that the Advent of the Lord Jesus in the body divinely prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5) should also take place at the same feast and most suitably on the first day of its celebration”.

It will be noticed that the glory of God did not cover the tent of meeting when the Israelites were in the wilderness, and did not fill the tabernacle, at the Feast of Tabernacles. But it did so on the first day of the first month of the second year after the departure from Egypt (Exodus 40:17, 34, 35). We must remember that there was no Feast of Tabernacles in the wilderness, nor was the Sabbath Year kept at this stage; but both of these ordinances were to be observed when the Israelites entered into the Promised Land (Exodus 34:22). No agricultural operations were carried out during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

As the Feast of Tabernacles inaugurated the Sabbath Year, Mackinlay judged (p. 149) that the glory of God filled the temple on the first day of the feast, “as that would be in harmony with what happened in the tabernacle in the wilderness when the glory of the Lord filled it on the first day of the only style of year then observed”.

A. Edersheim, writing about the Feast of Tabernacles, says (The Temple, note on p. 272): “It is remarkable how many allusions to this feast occur in the writings of the prophets, as if its types were the goal of all their desires”.

Some concluding thoughts about

the“Star in the East”

We now come to the difficult and intricate matter of identifying the star that the Magi saw in the East, and that ultimately led them to the place where Christ, his Mother and Joseph were (Matthew 2:1-12). Much has been written about this famous incident, and there have been proposed many varying identifications for the star. It has at various times been identified as a comet; a new star; a conjunction of planets; a supernova. St. Augustine sometimes argued that it was a regular star of the heavens (e.g. in Serm. Epiph.), at other times that it was a new star appearing, for instance in the constellation Virgo (Contra Faustum, Bk. 2, ch. 5 a med.). St. Thomas Aquinas, following Chrysostom, was more inclined to the view that the star of the Nativity was not a regular part of the heavenly system; but was a newly-created star (Summ. Theol. IIIa, q. 36, a. 7). But he did allow for other opinions: viz. that it was an angel or a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit. He also quoted Pope St. Leo (Serm. de Epiph, 31), who wrote that the star must have been more bright and beautiful than the other stars, for its appearance instantly convinced the Magi that it had an urgent and important meaning.

We know from Scripture that the heavenly bodies were invested by God with a fourfold function: “… for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years”(Genesis 1:14). The point of the “days and years” is obvious. The Hebrew word‘moed’, translated as “seasons”, is used to indicate something fixed or appointed. When it is used of time, according to Ben Adam (Astrology, p. 49), “it is always a predetermined time – a time in which something predetermined is to happen”. It is never used in Scripture to denote any of the four seasons of the year. Already we have seen how God uses the various heavenly bodies for seasons in this sense, and for signs or symbols.

An understanding and study of God’s purpose and meaning in relation to the lights of the firmament is a true astrology, as opposed to the divinely forbidden and foolish astrology that is fatalistic. Dr. E. Bullinger (Witness of the Stars, 1893) had shown that the constellations of the zodiac, when read in the correct (not popular) order, and with their original (not corrupted and later) designations, give us a condensed history of the fulfilment of the divine promise made in the Garden of the coming Deliverer, the seed of the Woman, and the crushing of the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). According to Bullinger, this truth of the witness of the stars is told in Psalm 19:1-4: “The heavens are proclaiming the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands .… No speech, no voice, no word is heard, yet their message goes out through all the earth, and their words to the utmost bounds of the habitable world”.

In the sign Virgo, where the true beginning lies for reading the circular zodiac (not in Aries, according modern belief) is the commencement of all prophecy in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the Woman, and between your seed and her seed. She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel”. Later prophecy identifies this Woman as being of the stock of Israel, the seed of Abraham, the line of David; and, further, She is to be a virgin:“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew’s inspired adaptation, in 1:23, of Isaiah 7:14).

The first constellation in Virgo is Coma, represented by a woman and child, and meaning “the desired”, or “the longed for”. We have the word used by the Holy Spirit in this very connection, in Haggai 2:7: “The DESIRE of all nations shall come”. Bullinger and others have suggested that it was in all probability the constellation of Coma in which “the Star of Bethlehem” appeared (op. cit., p. 36). He also recalls a traditional prophecy, well-known in the East, “carefully preserved and handed down, that a new star would appear in this sign [i.e. of Coma] when He whom it foretold should be born” (ibid., pp. 36-37).

This, he thought (ibid., p. 37), was doubtless referred to in the prophecy of Balaam the sorcerer, just prior to the entry of the Israelite host into the Promised Land; a prophecy “which would thus receive a double fulfilment, first of the literal “Star”, and also of the person to whom it referred”. Thus God spoke through Balaam (Numbers 24:17):

There shall come forth a star out of Jacob

And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.

This two-fold repletion of an idea – where the two nouns in the first verse correspond effectively to the two nouns in the second verse (thus ‘star’ to‘sceptre’, and ‘Jacob’ to ‘Israel’) – so characteristic of Hebrew and Canaanite literature, also points in this case to a two-fold fulfilment of the prophecy. These words were fulfilled in a minimised sense a millennium before Christ, during the reign of King David, the sceptre of Israel, and a descendant of Jacob. But the prophecy would not be properly and completely fulfilled until the time of the Incarnation and the Birth of the true Messiah, who would be known as the “Son of David”.

But, as Bullinger says (ibid., p. 31), “It is difficult to separate the Virgin and her Seed” in the prophecies. Therefore, the genius of Hebrew expression in allowing for a two-fold interpretation of this particular prophecy, opens the door for the fullest possible meaning to be deduced from these words. As the following comment by Pope Pius XII (spoken to the crowds of Fatima on May 13, 1946) would imply, the words of the above prophecy, applicable to Jesus Christ, also have relationship to his Mother as Co-Redemptrix: “Jesus is King throughout all eternity by nature and by right of conquest: through Him, with him, and subordinate to him, Mary is Queen by grace, by divine relationship, by right of conquest and by singular election”. (As quoted by Fr. William Most, Mary in Our Life, p. 25).

Matthew (2:1-12) is the only Evangelist to narrate the incident of the star seen by the Magi, leading them to the Christ with his Mother, Mary, in David’s city of Bethlehem. What does Matthew tell us about this star? That the Magi had seen it in the East, calling it “His star”, and that it indicated that He was to be worshipped as King of the Jews (2:2). And, later, that Herod determined from the time when the star first appeared how old the Child was (2:7). Finally, Matthew narrates that the Magi were filled with joy when they saw the star, after their meeting with Herod, and that they followed the star which “went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the Child was”(2:10-11).

Two things are to be noted here. Contrary to popular belief, nowhere at all does Matthew say that the Magi followed the star from their own country to Judaea! He simply says that they saw the star in their own country, “in the East”, and that they came to Jerusalem to worship the King of the Jews. Once there in Jerusalem, they see the star and are filled with joy, and from Jerusalem they follow the star to Bethlehem, and to the very place where the Child is to be found. There the star comes to rest. From this last attestation some Bible-believing astronomers will assert that the star of Bethlehem was entirely miraculous, and was not a known heavenly body (star, planet, comet, nova, or conjunction).

Others have suggested that, because the Magi referred to the star as “His star”,it must have been a new star, created especially for the time of the Nativity. But before we propose our own suggested identification, certain conclusions by way of elimination can be reached already:

1. The star of Bethlehem could not have been a meteor or a meteorite; the life of one is too short.

2. Likewise, the star could not have been a comet or a nova without having attracted world-wide attention.

Neither seems to have been present at the time of Jesus Christ’s Birth; although, according to J. Bjornstad and S. Johnson (Star Signs and Salvation in the Age of Aquarius, p. 60), “there may be an indication from Chinese records that a nova did appear around this time”. Nevertheless, while a comet would appear to move, a nova would not.

3. Perhaps the most popular identification of the star of Bethlehem – because this identification fits the dates proposed today as being most likely for the event of the Nativity – is that it was in fact a conjunction of two or more planets. Kepler (1571-1631) was the first astronomer to point out that three times in BC 7 there were conjunctions of the planets Jupiter and Saturn (now estimated at May 29, September 29, and December 4). These conjunctions occurred in the sign of Pisces (Bullinger, op, cit, p. 39). An event such as this is comparatively rare, happening only about once every one hundred and twenty-five years. A major objection to this particular conjunction, however, is that the two planets never seem to approach one another closer than twice the distance of the moon’s diameter; “therefore they could never have been viewed as a single star” (Bjornstad et al, ibid.). Obviously, then, the difficulty of the star’s appearing to be standing over Bethlehem while the Magi were looking on, is a major obstacle to accepting this interpretation.

Mackinlay has rightly noted that “it appears to be a principle in miracles to use existing agents in a miraculous way, rather than to create fresh ones” (p. 151). This statement is borne out throughout the Scriptures; for instance, when Joshua wanted light, another sun was not created, but the light of the existing one was employed to the necessary effect (Joshua 10:12); and when Jesus fed the multitudes, He did not specially create bread, but miraculously multiplied the existing stock. Also, at Fatima in 1917, God worked a miracle of the sun that already shone in the sky; it was not a miraculous new sun that danced above the crowds.

Mackinlay (quoting Alford’s Commentary on the New Testament) remarks that “the expression of the Magi, ‘we have seen his star’, does not seem to point to any miraculous appearance, but to something observed in the course of their watching of the heavens”. This seems natural and probable. Mackinlay also dismisses the suggestion that, because the Magi referred to ‘His star’,it must have been one specially sent for the occasion. This suggestion, he says (p. 152), “can have no weight, because when Christ was speaking of God the Father in the Sermon on the Mount He said, “He maketh His Sun to rise on the evil and the good” (Matthew 5:45). As the ordinary great luminary is certainly intended in this passage, it must follow that the expression “His Star” may refer to one of the well-now orbs of heaven”.

With reference to the suggestion by Kepler and other astronomers that the star of Bethlehem was a conjunction of planets, Mackinlay notes that “the appearances at conjunctions depend on the positions of two or more stars, and they are changing from night to night”. We have no account of “stars”, he adds (p. 153).

What were the characteristics of the star seen by the Magi?

(1) Twice it was mentioned specially as being seen “in the East” (Matthew 2:2, 9), inferentially it was not also to be seen in the South and West as are the other stars.

(2) It had been visible for some considerable period; the wise men doubtlessly had seen it in their own country, from which the journey might involve weeks, possibly months, of travel.

That it had appeared for some considerable time is inferred also from Herod’s question, as to “what time the star appeared” (Matthew 2:7), and from his subsequent action in fixing on the maximum age of the infants to be murdered“from two years old and under, according to the time which he had carefully learned of the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

“What ordinary celestial body bears the characteristics we have just referred to”?,Mackinlay asks (p. 154). “Surely the reply must be the Morning Star, which is only seen in the East, and which shines continuously at the end of each night for a period of about nine lunar months in the latitude of Palestine, an object which the Magi must have observed over and over again in the course of their watching of the heavens”.

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