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Star-of-bethlehem

Star over Bethlehem

Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, Judea, during the reign of Herod I (Herod the Great) of Judea[1], and that of Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome[2]. He was born to a virgin by the name of Mary (Hebrew: Miriam)[3], and adopted by Joseph Bar-Jacob[4]. The date was about 30 years before the fifteenth of the reign of Augustus.

The Incarnation

When there was a mandatory census (taxing) had been declared by the emperor, Joseph had traveled 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a suburb of Jerusalem, with his wife Mary. As it was also at the time of year for the feast, housing was a problem, but is likely they found a room with a relative. However, when Mary went into labor, they had to be moved to the lower part of the house where the animals were. Jesus was placed in a manger, wrapped in swaddling strips, as was the custom.[5]

Nearby, Jewish shepherds had been keeping sheep in the pastures when an angel informed them that the Messiah had been born. After the angel was joined by many others, the shepherds ran into town to find Jesus. Afterwards they went out and told many people about what they had seen[6].

When he was eight days old, a local rabbi performed the rite of circumcision, following the Law of Moses. At that time the name Yeshua (or perhaps Yehoshua) was given to the infant[7]. Five weeks later, young Jesus (Greek: Iesous, a close transliteration) was brought to the temple in Jerusalem and received an unexpected blessing from Simeon[8].

Some time later, after Joseph had found a house for his young family in Bethlehem, a band of men from the region east of the Jordan River came to visit Jesus. These men were magi, scientists and advisers to dignitaries in their own land. They had brought expensive gifts and honored the toddler, calling him "the King of the Jews." That very night, Joseph had a dream in which he was warned that Herod had sent soldiers out to find and kill Jesus. He fled with Mary and Jesus all the way to Egypt.[9]

Date

The exact date of the birth of  Jesus has been debated since the Jewish leaders questioned his statement concerning Abraham rejoicing[10]. They argued that he was less than 50 years of but they did not know where he had been born[11]. Having known of the prophecy they only knew him as a Nazarene.

However, the clues from special revelation (the Bible) and general revelation (God's promised "signs" in the heavens), it is pretty certain that the date is a fulfillment of the Jewish calendar, falling on the day announcing the holy season in the seventh month known as Tishri. Furthermore, this date in 3 BC of modern calendars fell over a year before the death of Herod the great.

The Gospels

The birth of Jesus was recorded in the the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

We learn from Matthew , a disciple, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem prior to the death King Herod the Great[12], yet during his reign[13].

Having seen signs in the heavens Magi from the East came to worship Him.[14] When they asked Herod about where they could find the "king of the Jews" who had been born, the Edomite ruler ask about when they had seen the star and sent them on their way. Based on this information the king ordered the execution of all baby boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity that were two years old and younger.[15] From this, it can be gathered that Jesus was younger than two when the magi arrived at the house that Joseph had found in town. Warned in a dream, Joseph escaped to Egypt with Mary and Jesus[16].

Paul's companion Luke was a very careful historian. He first wrote about the birth of John the Baptist, beginning with his father Zechariah during his duties in the temple. As a priest, he had duties in the order of Abijah, the eighth of twenty-four during the religious year[17]. Beginning with either the first new moon of spring or the Passover, six months of duties were assigned, up to the seventh month, the beginning of the fall festivals. This is a window of two weeks, but puts Zechariah in the temple in the eighth week at the beginning or middle of the third month of spring (May or June)--near the week of the Feast of Pentecost. Soon thereafter, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. This would be about mid-June.

Six months later as winter approached, Mary would be visited by Gabriel, being told that the Holy Spirit would cause her to bear a son. This happened soon thereafter. In her third month of pregnancy, she went to visit Eliabeth just prior to the birth of John. In the course of time, in mid-September, she would give birth to Jesus. Luke confirms the record of Matthew that this was in Bethlehem, adding that it was during the reign of Augustus Caesar[18] over the Roman Empire during the time Quirinius was governor of Roman province of Syria[19].

The exact year can be deduced from Luke's account of the ministry of John the Baptist. As a priest's son, John's prophetic ministry would begin when he was about 30 years old[20] in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar and while Pontius Pilot was governor of Judea[21]. From this it is clear that a new leader of Rome had arisen while John and Jesus were teenagers. Luke trusted his external sources[22], so it is well for the student of to do the same. Reliable sources show that Tiberius, adopted son and heir of Augustus Ceasar, began his reign in AD 14. This would put the beginning of John's ministry in AD 29. As Jesus was also "about 30 years of age" at this time[23], they were both born before 1 BC (with no "year 0", 29 from 29 is in year AD 1, making the previous year 1 BC).

Date of Herod's Death

The other clue from history is the death of Herod. Historians of the day put his death just before Passover but after a lunar eclipse visible in Jerusalem. Since such eclipses are very predictable, charts can be used to determine when and where they were visible. Between 5 and 1 BC there were two total eclipses visible in the months leading up to Passover. One was on March 23, 4 BC, and the other was on January 10, 1 BC. Counting backwards from AD 29 from a 30th birthday in that year, both John and Jesus were born after the passover season of the year, so that makes there approximate ages at least a year older than 30 in the fifteenth year of Tiberius.

Given that there had to be time for funeral arrangments for Herod, the eclipse in 4 BC came too late, leaving the one in January of 1 BC the best match. Counting back two years, that would put the birth of Jesus in mid-September of 3 BC. Jesus gives John a sign in the heavens that seems to narrow it down to the very day.

A Sign in Heaven

In the midst of the chaos of visions of the judgment to come, Jesus gave John a sign that Jesus had always been the winner of the cosmic battle between God and Satan[24]. In a vision, John was shown a woman in the sky was clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet, with twelve stars around her head[25]. To John, who knew his Old Testament, this immediately reminded him of the dream Joseph shared with his family[26]. The woman represented the twelve tribes of Israel. But there was more, for the woman was about to have a baby. When the baby was born, it is revealed that he was the ruler and judge of the world, but was first "caught up" to rule in heaven[27]. This was confirmation that Jesus, son of David, was the "seed of the woman"[28].

In the account of creation Moses reveals that the sun, moon and stars are to be for signs[29]. It follows therefor, that this sign might be a clue to the time of the birth of Jesus. Like with eclipses, formations of the ancient constellations, and there movement in the path of the sun and moon, are predictable. The woman in the sky is the constellation Virgo, the virgin. The brightest star in the constellation is called Spica, or "ear of grain", and it appears "above" the legs of the woman. At the other end of the constellation, a cluster of galaxies can be seen as stars. At the feet is the beginning of a very large constellation known as Draco, the "dragon" arcs a third of the way across the sky. All of this seems to be what John was shown. This constellation moves through the path of the sun and the moon every year about the time of fall equinox. The progression of the equinox caused the ancient calendars to run behind, with 10 days being added in the middle ages. Though the moon "enters" Virgo around September 15 now, at the time of Jesus it was a few days before that.

At the same time, the moon was a very important sign, marking the beginning of the month with a slim crescent following the day of the "dark" moon. This is the "new moon" because the old moon had disappeared from the sky. In the ceremonial calendar, started by declaration from Yahweh in the Law[30], the religious year had seven months, starting in the spring and ending in the fall. The first day of the seventh month began the "Feast of Trumpets"[31]. On the evening of September 11, 3 BC, the new moon entered Virgo. This date was 16 months before the eclipse in 1 BC.

A few months earlier a rare interaction of stars and planets (wandering stars) in Virgo apparently caught the eyes of the magi. A planned trip brought them to Jerusalem looking for the new "king of the Jews." They left for Bethlehem, a little south of town. In the sky the very bright evening "star" (the planet Jupiter) went into an apparent backward motion. To the naked eye it stopped on the horizon over Bethlehem as seen from the capitol. That date was December 25, 2 BC.

Recap

The ministries of John and Jesus began in late AD 29 when both were a little over 30 years old. There was a total eclipse of the moon over Jerusalem on January 10, 1 BC before the death of Herod. The sign in the heavens as seen by John in the late first century pointed to the date of Jesus's birth at the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets (1 Tishri) in 3 BC. On the Roman calendar this was the evening of September 11, 3 BC.

Verses

  1. Matthew 2:1 (Link)
  2. Luke 2:1 (Link)
  3. Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:31-35 (Link)
  4. Matthew 1:17 (Link)
  5. Luke 2:1-7 (Link)
  6. Luke 2:8-18 (Link)
  7. Luke 2:21 (Link)
  8. Luke 2:34-35 (Link)
  9. Matt 2:1-14 (Link)
  10. John 8:56-58 (Link)
  11. John 7:41-43 (Link)
  12. Matthew 2:19 (Link)
  13. Matthew 2:1 (Link)
  14. Matthew 2:2 (Link)
  15. Matt 2:16 (Link)
  16. Matt. 2:13-15 (Link)
  17. 1 Chron. 24:10; Luke 1:5 (Link)
  18. Luke 2:1 (Link)
  19. Luke 2:2 (Link)
  20. Num. 4:3 (Link)
  21. Luke 3:1 (Link)
  22. Luke 1:3 (Link)
  23. Luke 3:23 (Link)
  24. Revelaton 12 (Link)
  25. Rev. 12:1 (Link)
  26. Gen. 37:9-10 (Link)
  27. Rev. 12:3, 5-6 (Link)
  28. Gen. 3:15 (Link)
  29. Gen. 1:14 (Link)
  30. Exo. 12:2 (Link)
  31. Lev. 23:24 (Link)
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