Tracking the Star of Bethlehem

Opinion by Jim Denney

Last week, I wrote about J. R. R. Tolkien’s belief that the Birth of Christ is the great unexpected “plot twist” in human history, when our story turns from tragedy to triumph, from darkness to light. Tolkien wrote that the story of the first Christmas, the story of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, “begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.”

In fact, it was Tolkien’s discussion of these ideas with his atheist friend C. S. Lewis that persuaded Lewis to acknowledge that God is God, and that Jesus is His Son. Read more about Tokien’s impact on the “sidecar conversion” of C. S. Lewis in last weeks’s column, “The Christmas Eucatastrophe.” 


Sculpture depicting the Star of Bethlehem at the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Rosa Mª O.M., licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Spain license.

The story of the birth of the Son of God is certainly good news — but is it true? According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus was born in the little village of Bethlehem, about five miles south of Jerusalem. Some Persian astrologers, the Magi, supposedly saw a star shining in the East, and they followed the star to Bethlehem and presented gifts to the baby Jesus. Is this strange, improbable tale the story Tolkien would have us believe is true?

In fact, some astonishing evidence has surfaced to support the Gospel account. Attorney Frederick Larson used a computer program to create a sky map for Jerusalem in the years 3 and 2 B.C. In his research, Larson discovered what he believes was the actual Star of Bethlehem.

Since ancient times, star-gazers have associated the planet Jupiter with the birth of kings. In September 3 B.C., at the time of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Jupiter was in close conjunction with the “king star,” Regulus. Larson believes that when the “king planet” came in conjunction with the “king star” on the Jewish New Year, the Magi believed it signaled the birth of the King of the Jews.


The “King Star” Regulus, photographed by Scott AnttilaAnttler, licensed under terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

In his DVD documentary “The Star of Bethlehem,” Larson explains that Jupiter would have been visible near Regulus from September 3 B.C. through June 2 B.C. After seeing the “king star” rising in the east, the Magi journeyed to Jerusalem to find the newborn king. After their audience with King Herod, the Magi left Jerusalem and turned south to Bethlehem.

“To qualify as the Star,” Larson said, “Jupiter would have to have been ahead of the Magi as they trekked south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Sure enough, in December of 2 BC if the Magi looked south in the wee hours, there hung the Planet of Kings over the city of Messiah’s birth.”


Jupiter, the King Planet (photo: JPL/NASA).

At that time, Jupiter exhibited what astronomers call “retrograde motion” so that it appeared from Earth to have temporarily stopped in its orbit, relative to the background stars. The Magi would have noticed when the “king planet” came to a stop, exactly as described in Matthew 2:9: “. . . and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”

This happened on December 25, 2 B.C. That’s the date we celebrate as Christmas—and it’s the date that Joy entered History. Tolkien called the joy of the first Christmas “Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

That is the Joy we celebrate in this season. That is why we sing, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!”


Note: You may also enjoy my op-ed piece, posted yesterday, on Walt Disney’s impact on the American space program, including Apollo 11 (the first human landing on the Moon). You’ll find it at the website:

And don’t miss my interviews with Christian romance writer Robin Lee Hatcher (author of Who I Am With You and An Idaho Christmas: Past and Present), and Christian science fiction writer Kerry Nietz (author of Amish Vampires in Space and Fraught). Visit my website at Writing in Overdrive. See you there!



Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, has just been released in paperback. Click this link to learn more.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at —J.D.


Jim Denney also blogs at Writing in Overdrive and Walt’s Disneyland

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