Star of Bethlehem “found”

It’s the Christmas season again so again stories pop up to explain the nativity story with a hope of sounding scientific and also justified to keep Christ in Christmas.

This one I get from Charisma News:

In the spring of 5 B.C., Chinese skywatchers recorded a nova along the meridian of the bright star Altair. Another group of skywatchers saw the nova rising in the East and followed it to Bethlehem, where it stood directly overhead. Thus the wise men used the Star of Bethlehem to find the Christ Child.

Some sky measurements in the article are used to “prove” it based on where a black hole is now so of course I had to go do a Google to find corroboration that wasn’t printed in a religious publication. The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Vol. 32, NO.4/DEC, P.389, 1991) looks like a good source to me. That article lists several theories, including this one on page 391, noting that it had first been suggested in 1729 by Jean-François Foucquet, a Jesuit mathematician who lived and worked in China at the time, and possibly by Kepler even earlier than that. The author then rules out the nova/supernova theory by referring back to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, where, if we have to take it as a true account, the star was moving with the Magi, and a nova would be stationary relative to us. It had to be something a lot closer to the planet. Also, the ancient Chinese records from 5 B.C. list the appearance of a comet in the sky, not a nova, that was visible for 70 days or so.

Screencap from page 392:

The article notes next that certain turns of phrase in that chapter had been used in other writings from the era (80 ADish) to indicate the apparent behaviour of comets overhead. The comet answer is unpopular among believers, however, due to the belief that they are portents of doom. Not in every culture and era, mind you; some comets were thought to mark auspicious events, typically birth of kings.

So the next time somebody trots out this old “mystery” to solve, tell them to save their breath. It’s probably done, whether they like the answer or not.

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Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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