The wondrous star that hovered over Bethlehem at Jesus’ birth has long mystified Bible scholars and astronomers alike. Attempts to identify the star with historical celestial phenomena have been inconclusive at best, leading many to dismiss the gospel account as a beautiful but imaginative myth. Still others akeep returning to this question, knowing that if we could only link the star with a specific celestial event, we could also pinpoint the date of Jesus’ birth. For although today we celebrate the birth of Jesus in 1 C.E., most scholars believe he was actually born sometime between 7 and 4 B.C.E., based on the Gospel of Matthew, which indicates that Jesus was born late in the reign of King Herod of Judea, who died in 4 B.C.E.
I believe that Babylonian astronomy may provide the key to identifying the star and to dating Jesus’ birth: That’s because the Gospel of Matthew tells us that the magi—astronomers from the East—believed that the star would lead them to a new king. Why? What did the magi know?
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