The star of Bethlehem – What was it?
The star of Bethlehem is noted in the account of the visit of wise men (or magi) from the east to Jesus and His family (Matthew 2:1-12). The star appeared to mark the birth of Jesus, leading these wise men to seek the king who had been born in the land of the Jews. The men first went to the capital city of Jerusalem and asked King Herod for the location of the one who had been born king of the Jews. Herod in turn asked the Jewish religious leaders, who referred to the prophecy of the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem. The wise men then followed the star to the place Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were staying, worshiped Jesus and gave gifts. The wise men left by another way as warned in a dream. Jesus and His parents fled to Egypt after Joseph was warned in a dream, with Herod soon having all boys two years old and under put to death in Bethlehem.
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But what was this star? First, it is clear the star was something special in the night sky that these wise men could observe during the time Jesus was born. The Greek word for star (aster) could refer to any celestial body, whether an actual star, comet, or other light.
Further, some biblical prophecies referred to the Messiah or King of the Jews in connection with this time and with a star. Number 24:17 predicts, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel." Daniel 9:24-27 offered a general timeline that may have given the wise men insight regarding the time period in which Jesus would have been born.
Yet even these prophecies do not explain the origin of this "star." Various astronomers have suggested an alignment of various planets that caused a bright light, a comet, supernova, or other astrological event could best explain the light seen by the wise men. Others simply accept that the "star" was a miraculous light that appeared just for the occasion of the wise men to find Jesus.
Perhaps the most likely candidate is the recording of a nova (birth of a new star) from astronomers in the northern constellation of Aquila in 4 BC. The reason a nova is a strong candidate it based on its appearance to those on earth. When it first takes place, it looks like a new star, then fades over the following months.
While the event was certainly miraculous, it is highly likely a particular astrological event took place at the same time. These wise men were likely ancient astronomers (often associated with wise men from the east). God gave these men some kind of insight based on light they saw in the sky. Based on this information and leading of God, they became the first non-Jews to worship Jesus. As many still say today, wise men still seek Him.
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