The latest astronomical and astrological research shows that the Biblical “Star of Bethlehem” may not have been a literal star at all, but rather a display of cosmic pageantry featuring as its star, the King planet in our solar system – Jupiter – interacting with the King star, Regulus in the constellation, Leo the Lion.
Okay, I just lost a large group of people who read the Bible as a completely 100% literal account and who refuse to believe there could be any symbolism, astrology or astronomical science possibly encoded in it. Many of this group of people also naively believe God handed the King James Version of the Bible down to Moses on Mt. Sinai as the 100% accurate, inerrant word of God. Goodbye folks, please use the rear exits of the classroom and quietly file out. The rest of this editorial is for those of you who are interested in reading further with your brains turned on.
The Wise Men
Popular tradition has three wise men coming from the East to visit the baby Ieasous (he was renamed “Jesus” in the 1600’s when the letter J entered the English alphabet). Years of Christmas pageants and Christmas cards reinforce the idea of three wise men. But, the Bible does not give a number. It simply says, “…behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”1 There is no indication of how many wise men there were. That they brought three types of gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—has caused the tradition of just three men to develop, but there may have been more than three. The Bible simply doesn’t give a number.
Who were these “wise men from the East?” In the original Greek, “wise” is translated from μἀγοϛ, magos which means a Magian, an Oriental scientist, a magician, sorcerer or wise man.2 It is derived from the Hebrew, rab-mawg, Magian.3 The wise men were scientists, astronomers and astrologers who specialized in the study of mathematics, the stars and heavenly objects. Thus, they were sensitive to symbolism taking place in the night sky the average person would not have been able to interpret.
Coming from the East puts the origination point of the wise men somewhere in Persia (today’s Iraq and Iran). Being from Persia, they would have been associated with the Zoroastrian religion. I’m sorry, they were not Christians (at this point nobody was, Christ’s ministry won’t start for at least another thirty years). The Zoroastrian religion dates to nearly 700 years before Christ. It is named after its founder, Zarathustra, whose name was later corrupted by the Greek, Zoroaster.
Please allow me to digress on a few intriguing points about this ancient religion.
According to legend, in 660 B.C., a chief magician in Persia dreamed a child would be born who would grow up to destroy idol worship, banish sorcery, and uproot magic. Through the aid of his magic, this magician, named Durasan, discovered this child had been born in the city of Azarbijan and had been named Zarathustra.
The story goes that Durasan and a group of fellow magicians set out to find the child and destroy him before he could grow up and overthrow their reign as master magicians. Even though they did find him, nothing they did would kill Zarathustra.
The story of the dream of a coming avatar-like child and the quest to kill him once he was born is strangely similar to the Biblical story of Jesus where an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream foretelling the birth of Christ and later, after Christ’s birth, King Herod setting out to have him killed.
The Zoroastrian magi (a/k/a “wise men”) would have been familiar with this story of Zarathustra’s birth from their religion and could have caused some of its points to become enmeshed in the story of the Judeo-Christian messiah. Still more similarities between the two religions can be found in Zarathustra ministering to the poor and sick among his people, like Jesus did, working wonders and miracles and some stories associated with the Zend Avesta (the Zoroastrian “bible”) endowing him with superhuman qualities.5
Zarathustra also ascended to the top of Mt Sabalan to receive an inspired message the way Moses did to approach God on Mt. Sinai. Zarathustra was said to have held a ball of fire in the palm of his hand that burned brightly but did not harm his hand, similar to the fire in the “burning bush” story of Moses.
The Zoroastrian religion was extant at the time of the development of the oral stories of the Torah around 700-300 B.C. and it flourished through 700 A.D. Zoroastrianism is said to have influenced the stories as codified in the major religions such as Judaism and Christianity that developed during that time period.4 However, Zoroastrianism is a polytheistic religion where Judaism and Christianity gravitated toward monotheistic (even though there are some verses in the books of Psalms and Daniel that seem to acknowledge the existence of other gods and the Hebrew version of the Book of Genesis uses the plural, “gods,” throughout the original text, that eventually got translated into English as “God”).
It is against this backdrop that the Zoroastrian “wise men” magi sought out the messiah foretold by the Hebrew prophets according to signs they saw in the Heavens.
Astrology dates to the dawn of man, as far back as ancient Sumer over 4,000 years ago. The astrology practiced then was much different than the silly newspaper astrology predictions and motivational one liners society consumes today. Around the time of Christ, astrologers were accomplished astronomers and mathematicians, had developed a sophisticated understanding of the movements of stars and planets and had built up a code of significant symbolism associated with same.
For example, the constellation Virgo symbolized the Virgin and Leo, the Lion is said to represent the tribe of Judah in the Old Testament. It was the precise interaction of the planets with these two key constellations that the “wise men” were tracking as they made their way to Bethlehem.
The “Star” in the East
There are several theories about what the Star of Bethlehem was. Some say it could have been either a comet or a supernova. However, those two celestial events were always considered harbingers, omens, or bad things to come. They have never been associated with the birth of a king or any other news of good fortune.
Using Jupiter’s appearance in the heavens leading up to the birth of Christ, several theories have been developed, all of which might be able to be combined to tell the story. But, standing alone, the most promising theory is one put forth by Rick Larson, from Texas.
In his theory, Larson suggests that the appearance of Jupiter and Venus in the constellation Leo, specifically near the chief star, Regulus is what the magi were tracking as the “star of Bethlehem.”
The Constellation of Leo has been said to symbolize the Biblical tribe of Judah. Judah is characterized as a lion in Genesis 49:9-10. The Bible traces the Christ’s lineage back through the line of Judah.
According to research posted on www.geocentricity.com, “The constellation Leo was thought to be ruled by the sun, the “chief” star of the heavens. It was considered the ‘Royal Constellation,’ dominated by the star Regulus. The name Regulus itself is derived from the Latin word for king; Regulus was considered the ‘King Star.’ Leo was thought to bestow royalty and power for any of the planets found within it. Jupiter was regarded by the Romans as the guardian and ruler of the Roman empire and it was thought to determine the course of all human affairs. Venus, then in conjunction with Jupiter, was claimed to be the mother of the family of Augustus.”
Larson’s theory looks at a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Regulus as the sign the magi were tracking that foretold of the birth of a great King. In September, 3 B.C. Jupiter came within 33’ of Regulus. At this time the sun was in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin. Later, on December 1 of that year, Jupiter stopped its motion and began its annual retrograde motion causing it to again unite with Regulus on February 17, 2 B.C. where they were only 51’ apart. After it finished its retrograde motion it then moved back to meet up with Regulus a third time on May 8, 2 B.C. These three events taken together appeared to have the King Planet, Jupiter “crowning” the King Star, Regulus (see diagram). Nine months later (the duration of human pregnancy) there was another conjunction with Jupiter and Venus in the constellation Leo.
On August 27, 2 B.C. four planets; Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Venus were all located within the constellation Leo. This was considered very special significance and would have been thought of as a sign of a person of royalty about to be born—and that it was in the constellation of the Lion, the tribe of Judah was the obvious candidate.
Larson concludes his theory that if you were in Jerusalem looking south towards Bethlehem on December 25-26, 2 B.C. Jupiter would be ‘standing’ in Virgo, the constellation of the Virgin.
The Star “Stopped”
On December 25, 2 B.C. Jupiter began its retrograde motion in the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin. Retrograde motion is what happens when the earth’s orbit catches up with the orbit of another planet, in this case, Jupiter and causes it to appear to “stop” its motion until the earth overtakes it and continues onward. This is sort of like what happens when passing a car on the interstate. Coming up to the car it “appears” to be coming closer to you; then as you are passing it and maintain the same speed the car seems to “stop” for a moment in relation to your car, then as you speed past, the car seems to be moving away from you.
Just before dawn, the magi would have seen Jupiter “stopped” in a stationary position—due to retrograde motion—in the middle of the constellation, Virgo as witnessed from their vantage point in Jerusalem. This does not mean Christ was born on December 25 (he was born in late September) and the Bible indicates as much when the Book of Matthew indicates the wise men visited Christ in a house (not a stable or manger) and at that point he was referred to in Greek as paidion (child, toddler), not brephos (infant). So, the wise men did not witness the birth, as tradition claims, but visited a young Christ weeks or months after he was born.
This brief synopsis is merely an introduction to the Jupiter/Regulus theory. Anyone who wants to research this theory and others further may find good material at:
1. Mat. 2:1
2. Strongs’s Greek #3097
3. Strong’s Hebrew #7248
4. ref. What the Great Religions Believe, ©1963 Joseph Gaer, pp. 217-230
5. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1958 ed., Vol. 23, p. 987
The Constellation Leo featured a triple conjunction with Jupiter and Regulus in the year leading up to the birth of Christ. In the diagram above, Jupiter was near Regulus on September 10, 3 B.C. (1) then began its retrograde motion in December and reunited with Regulus on February 17, 2 B.C. (2). Jupiter finished its retrograde motion and reunited with Regulus on May 8, 2 B.C. (3). This has caused a theory to develop that the “wise men” were tracking the symbolism of the path of Jupiter through the constellations as the “star” in the East they were following to find the baby Christ.