“His Star” – What Signs Did the Magi See?
Magi saw “His star” signaling the birth of the “King of the Jews” – something so moving they walked hundreds of miles to “worship” him. What did the Magi see? Clearly as described in Matthew’s Nativity account of Jesus of Nazareth, the Magi had read signs in the night sky saying to King Herod:
MT 2:1-2 “…‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” (NASB, NKJV)
MT 2:9-10 “…behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them…When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (NKJV)
Astrology, astronomy or something else? Astrology is the belief that celestial bodies influence a person’s journey in life where horoscopes define a personality, successes, sorrows, challenges – a life’s destiny. Astronomy is a science where positions of stars and planets follow a predictive path that can be charted past, present and future – no mystical meaning in the science.
Zoroastrian theology of the Magi did not believe astrology determined a person’s future, rather a person’s spirit was chosen through a chain of decisions by the age of 15. It was a freewill choice result. On the other hand, the Magi believed every planet has a significance.
Going back millennia from the Assyrians and Babylonians down through the Greeks and Romans, planet-stars and certain fixed stars had names of gods varying by culture and language. As these symbolic celestial bodies moved through the night sky, stargazer Magi viewed their interactions as having earthly significance. Through a series of signs a story unfolded where one sign was associated with the next ultimately portraying a particular outcome.
Unknown to many, Hebrew scholars have long accepted a belief that during creation God instilled the 12 constellations with influences in world events. Man abused this knowledge by worshiping the stars instead of God, thus He made it a forbidden practice.
“The study of the universe as a whole was, like all other sciences in olden times, held in closest connection with religion, and was cultivated in the interest of the latter. The starworld was to the heathen an object of worship, but not to the Jews, whether national or Hellenized. With this reverence there was connected a superstition that the stars determined the destiny of man…It is obvious, therefore, that the Astronomy of the Talmudists [Jewish biblical sages] could not be an independent science any more than that of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, or of all other nations of antiquity or of the medieval ages: it was a department of knowledge belonging to theology.” –Jewish Encyclopedia
Knowing how the Magi and the Hebrews viewed the constellations, the planets, their meaning and significance of their interactions serves as a key to solving the mystery of “His star.” By tying this information to the incredible factual astronomy events that played out on the night’s stage during the final years of the BC era, several theories emerge that could possibly identify “His star.”
One is the comet star theory when two comets were observed, first in 5 BC lasting for 70 days and then a second tailless comet visible during a single night on April 24, 4 BC. Another theory cites ancient Chinese records telling of a nova burst in the constellation Aquila the Eagle in 5 BC.
The comet theory has to overcome the fact that these were distinctly two very different visual events – one comet with a tail lasting for weeks; the other without a tail lasting for a single night. In the Chinese sighting theory, a nova involves an explosion of a star that creates a temporary brightening of the star before it fades back to a fainter state. The nova theory is challenging in that it was a one-star, one-time event.
A popular theory is based on a series of conjunctions during the 7-6 BC timeframe involving the very close proximity Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunctions. The trifecta took place inside the constellation Pisces, the Fish, on May 29, September 29 and December 5 of 7 BC and was followed by a massing of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 BC. Jupiter and Saturn also twice came into close conjunction with the Moon.
Rarity would be a factor since the Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunction was only the third since 562 BC. Problematic for this scenario is that it does not offer an explanation for a single “star.” The scenario also had Babylonian astrology implications by taking place inside the constellation Pisces known to the Babylonians as Nunu.
Pisces the Fish constellation, considered to be the house of Jupiter, is associated with water and rain making the Earth fruitful. In the Hebrew Zodiac, Pisces is the twelfth sign called Dagim that falls in the twelfth Jewish month of Adar, and is one of the three constellations of the East. Dagim represents fertility and pregnancy; a blessing. Adar is the month of joy holding the last holiday of the year, Purim, the celebration of hidden miracles and sets the stage for the month Nisan and the Passover.
One starry scenario theory in 3-2 BC has stood out to modern-day experts. Seven extraordinarily close-proximity conjunctions tell an intriguing allegorical story that cannot be easily ignored. These conjuntions hit squarely on several points, one that provides an astronomy science explanation for “His star;” matches the 2 BC timeline for the Caesar Augustus Pater Patriae registration decree, possibly during the life of King Herod and deftly fits with the Magi’s view of cosmic signs.
An 18-month series of rare conjunctions began in 3 BC with the .67˚ Saturn-Mercury conjunction. Saturn was known as Ninib, Babylonian god of fertility, and Mercury as Nebo, “the messenger of the gods,” the god of record-keeping and scribe who delivered messages to the mortals. In this scene, the messenger to the mortals and the scribe record-keeper god met with the fertility god.
Three weeks later came the .12˚ conjunction between Saturn and Venus who was the Babylonian’s divine personification of the goddess Ishtar, a composite goddess who had many attributes. Venus was the queen of heaven, the mother goddess, the goddess of love, marriage and childbirth. Here, figuratively the god of fertility had met with the goddess queen.
Two months later, queen Venus made extremely close contact with its .07˚ conjunction with Jupiter, the king planet known to the Babylonians as Marduk, the patron god of creation. The symbolic coming together of the king and queen is modestly obvious. Would the Magi have seen this as the sign of a royal conception?
Perhaps the Wise Men could have chalked this all up to coincidence…until a month later. In just a half-tick of the comic clock, they saw where king Jupiter left his visitation with queen Venus to begin a triple conjunction with the star Regulus.
Considered to be the king of stars that ruled the affairs of the heavens, Regulus was to the Persians the leader of the Four Royal stars, the four Guardians of Heaven. As the brightest and chief star in the center of the constellation Leo the Lion, Regulus was known as the Heart of the Lion. The star’s Babylonian name was “Sharru,” meaning the ‘breast, heart’ of the lion; in Hebrew, Sharru-ukin means “king; legitimate, true.”
Leo is considered to be a royal constellation because of its status at the head of the Zodiac calendar dominated by king star Regulus and its direct path to the sun. Well-known to the stargazers of the ancient world, Leo was called “Ser” or “Shī” by the Persians and “Arū” by the Babylonians, all meaning Lion.
Over the next eight months since the first Jupiter-Venus conjunction, Jupiter’s triple conjunction path revolved around Regulus where, in essence, the king planet circled a ring around the king star of the heavens. Taking place in the heart of Leo the Lion, the sign of Judah, this triple conjunction may have signaled the Magi where to find the newborn king of Judea.
June 17, 2 BC, Jupiter moved from circling Regulus directly back to a reunion with Venus, 9 months since the last, for the striking appearance of a partial overlapping conjunction forming the appearance of single brilliant star. Not a surprise to the Magi who would have anticipated its appearance, yet if this Jupiter-Venus Conjunction was the second appearance of “His star” while the Magi were in Jerusalem, they reacted with “exceedingly great joy” when they actually saw it.
Appearing unannounced at the palace of King Herod did not question the declaration of the Magi whose centuries old reputation preceded them – they were renowned for their expertise in reading the stars and, according to Plato, as “king makers.” Herod acted on the Magi’s information as fact, consulted with Jewish religious experts on prophecy, then focused his attention on Bethlehem wanting to know when “His star” had appeared.
Was the sign of “His Star” announced by the Magi to King Herod in his Judean palace actually the conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus in 3 and 2 BC?
Update December 14, 2021.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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