Saturday, January 2, 2010

Texan Lawyer’s Attempt to Identify the Star of Bethlehem

Christmas is a celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It can also be a time for receiving presents that we might not really want, those really bad presents, such as a plastic candle holder, or a box of apples for someone who has bad dentures. Not everyone is as intuitive as were the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
In our mail was the new DVD, “The Star of Bethlehem”, promising to: “Unlock The Mystery of the World’s Most Famous Star”. Was this going to be another of those dud Christmas presents? Was this going to be yet another failed attempt to arrive at a convincing identification of history’s most enigmatic Star?
No, as it turned out this was one present that really does live up to expectations, and we thank the sender for it. And we also hope that our readers received the sorts of Christmas presents that they really wanted. Whilst the DVD is advertised as being: “From Producer Stephen McEveety The Passion of the Christ”, the actual brains behind the whole project is a Texan lawyer, Frederick (‘Rick’) A. Larson, whose perceptive research into the Star of Bethlehem provides the substance for this DVD. Larson has the lawyer’s detective-like knack of being able to pick up clues in, say, Matthew 2:1-12, the account of the Magi and the Star, that other readers might pass over without due pause. He brings to the narrative, awe, passion, emotion, a love and knowledge of the Scriptures (including Genesis; the Psalms; Isaiah; the Book of Job; Malachi; and Revelation), as well as the benefit of sophisticated computer software, such as the astronomical program, “Starry Night”. This last enables for him to illustrate for the benefit of his audience exactly what he is attempting to explain to it. It also results in a sumptuous visual feast.
The demand for Larson’s talks have skyrocketted, even including overseas engagements. And the DVD has already been very widely circulated. This is one case where a truly worthwhile project is getting the sort of publicity that it deserves.
The back of the DVD reads:

Scholars debate whether the Star of Bethlehem is a legend created by the early church or a miracle that marked the advent of Christ. Is it possible that the star was a real astronomical event?
From Producer Stephen McEveety The Passion of the Christ comes an amazing documentary on the Star of Bethlehem. This presentation has been viewed by tens of thousands in the U.S. and in Europe and this new DVD reveals the evidence for God’s existence as seen in the stars above.
Presenter Rick Larson talks you through biblical and historical clues revealing the eternal significance of this celestial event as well as the vastness of God’s creativity. Discover the secret of the Star … a secret of magnificent beauty.

The View From Beyond.

We thoroughly recommend to all this DVD, for it really serves - as the above advertisement claims - to illustrate God’s handiwork and his pre-ordained pattern, or cosmic design, in the heavens. Pope Benedict XVI spoke along somewhat similar lines of God’s creative wisdom last year, using Thomistic concepts and also directly quoting St. Thomas Aquinas:


… A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.
To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation.

It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).

Clementine Hall
Friday, 31 October 2008

© Copyright 2008 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The strength of Rick Larson’s research into the Star of Bethlehem is, as already noted, his ability to pick up crucial points of evidence in the biblical texts that others might have overlooked. He has picked up what he has called “The Nine Points of Christ’s Star” that he believes to be the key pieces in the puzzle of the sacred text, and he will not be satisfied with a final scenario that does not accommodate all nine of these. Such is Larson’s thoroughness that even eight points for him will not suffice.
Could the star have been a meteorite; a comet; a supernova; a planet; or a new star?
One point that most pick up is that the star seen by the Magi rose in the East (“Greek "en anatole”, meaning they saw his star rising in the east”. Larson). This can apply to various of these aforementioned types of heavenly bodies. Another is that it was seen for an extended period of time. Larson rules out a comet on various grounds; one being that, in antiquity, comets were generally associated with doom.
A crucial point that Larson has picked up is that Herod - and seemingly Jerusalem in general - seemed blissfully unaware of the presence of this harbinger star. It was only the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem that had awakened Herod to the extraordinary situation that had now arisen in his kingdom. That would again rule out a comet, which the ancients (so much better attuned to the sky than we are today) would not have missed. A comet would have been “the talk of the town”, Larson rightly says.
The Magi of course, who Larson thinks may have arisen from the school of Daniel in the East, would have had the benefit of Daniel’s Messianic prophecy to guide them as to the approximate time to expect the Messiah. They were able to combine this with their expert reading of the ‘book’ of the heavens. Daniel’s prophecy no longer works for us chronologically, with its beginning in the first year of King Cyrus, now dated to 539 BC. As Martin Anstey (The Romance of Bible Chronology) and Philip Mauro (The Wonders of Bible Chronology) have shown, this date is 82 years too early for Daniel’s prophecy to work, meaning that historians have created too many Persian kings. Daniel’s count of years should begin at 457 BC instead. This point is crucial
Whatever the Star was, it did no arrest the attention of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Another vital point is that the star stopped. This was the point that had given Larson the greatest difficulty. But then it occurred to him that the planets, due to the optical phenomenon known as “retrograde motion”, actually appear to stop. Mars does a loop; Venus does a backflip; Jupiter inscribes a shallow circle.
Larson has opted for the bright planet Jupiter as the “Star” seen by the Magi.
One of Larson’s nine points, his first in fact, has to do with chronology. And this may be his weak link, and may actually vitiate his whole argument. Larson has determined, based on an ancient version of the (not entirely reliable) Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, that the Birth of the Messiah had occurred in relation to the reign of Herod in 3-2 BC. Here is a simplification of Larson’s fascinating account of it all, from the Annunciation (in September of 3 BC) to the Birth (in June of 2 BC), reading from his computer program for that period, beginning with a most unusual triple conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus, the “King” star:

Jupiter crowns Regulus [King] in Leo [Tribe of Judah].
Up rises Virgo [the Virgin] clothed with the Sun, the Moon under her feet. It is Rosh-hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Nine months later the biggest planet [Jupiter] goes together with the brightest planet [Venus, the Mother planet] to make the brightest star anyone alive has ever seen. Right over Jerusalem it sets.
The Magi arrive, about November, and go to Herod – ‘where is the baby king?’ Herod, after consultation with his scribes, says ‘Bethlehem’. The Magi leave on the 5-mile trek, look up and there is the star Jupiter right over the little town of Bethlehem.
The one who is doing the maths for the Magi informs them that Jupiter is in full retrograde – it has stopped. It is now the 25th of December.

It is interesting to compare this part of Larson’s scenario with mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich’s picturesque version of what the Magi saw (The Life of Jesus Christ):

There was a certain constellation at which [the Magi] always gazed, and whose variations they noted. In it they saw visions and pictures. Upon this night [of the Nativity] also, they had several visions of various kinds. It was not in one star alone that they saw those visions, but in several that formed a figure, and there seemed to be a movement in them. They saw the vision of the moon over which arose a beautiful rainbow-colored arch on which was seated a Virgin. The left limb was drawn up in a sitting posture, the right hung a little lower and rested on the moon. To the left of the Virgin and rising above the arch, was a grapevine, and on her right a sheaf of wheat. In front of the Virgin was a chalice like that used at the Last Supper. It appeared to issue, but with greater clearness and brightness, from the brilliancy that emanated from her. Out of the chalice arose a Child, and over the Child stood a bright disk like an empty ostensorium. It was surrounded by radiating beams. It reminded me of the Blessed Sacrament ….
Over the head of the Virgin sitting on the arch shone a star, which suddenly shot from its place and skimmed along the heavens before the Kings. It was for them a voice announcing as never before that the Child, so long awaited by them and by their ancestors, was at last born in Judea, and that they were to follow that star.
[End of quote]

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich also seems to confirm Larson’s view that Herod and Jerusalem were quite unaware of any significant signs at the time, and that this fact had caused the Magi to wonder if they had actually made the right calculations. And the Star was not always shining brightly on the Magi’s journey, as would indeed be the case with a heavenly object such as a planet.
She has the Magi taking “about sixty days” to arrive at Bethlehem.

G. Mackinlay, in The Magi: How They Recognised Christ’s Star (1907), had also determined that it was a planet, namely Venus in his case, that was the Star of the Magi. He did not, back then, have the advantage of modern computer software, as has Larson, but was reliant on astronomical charts to put a date to the circumstances of Venus that he had determined had pertained to the chronology of Jesus Christ. Mackinlay showed from the Scriptures just how significant Venus was as “the morning star” and “the evening star”, and he quotes texts from the prophet Micah; including that fateful text without which Herod, the Godfather of today’s abortionists, would never have condemned to death the children of Bethlehem. Mackinlay also shows through Micah that John the Baptist was symbolised as the morning star, heralding as it does the dawn (Christ). He was able to determine an internal chronology of Jesus Christ, and the Baptist, based on the periods of shining of the morning star, all this in connection with historical data, seasons and Jewish feasts. This is all too intricate to do justice to here. The interested reader is advised to read Mackinlay’s book at our site:
Mackinlay’s is one of those theories so consistent right the way through that one suspects it must be correct. That might put severe pressure on Larson’s choice of the Magi’s Star as Jupiter. Mackinlay’s theory has the same sort of consistency as has Florence Wood’s explanation in her “Homer’s Secret ‘Iliad’” that the battles between Greeks and Trojans mirror the movements of stars and constellations as they appear to fight for ascendancy in the sky. See our
Likely, too, John P. Pratt’s “The Lost Constellation Testifies of Christ”, as featured in an earlier MATRIX, will be an essential element in all of this.
The inherent weakness we think in both Larson’s and Mackinlay’s systems is their presumption that the conventional dates for Herod and Jesus Christ are basically accurate - just as 539 BC is now wrongly presumed to be a certain date for King Cyrus - and that it is therefore simply a matter of finding an astronomical scenario within that conventional period and then being able to refine the dates using sophisticated modern scientific data. This was a problem that we had when typing up Mackinlay’s book. Though the whole substance of the book was readily accepted, notes still had to be added to explain that the actual dates given there, now with such certainty on the part of Mackinlay (e.g. 26 AD for the beginning of Christ’s public ministry), had not necessarily yet been established.
Happily, neither Larson’s nor Mackinlay’s scenario has that odd situation of the shepherds watching their sheep out in the open, in winter, that critics seem to latch on to every Christmas in order to ridicule St. Matthew’s account.

We definitely think that the type of heavenly body that had guided the Magi must have been a planet. And we should favour Mackinlay’s Venus, which does however also figure in Larson’s scenario in conjunction with Jupiter, his showcase “Star”.

The solar system is like a vast clock of immense power, precision and beauty. Upon viewing the Star of Bethlehem DVD, one will better appreciate that statement in Genesis 1:14 that these objects were created to “be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years”. For if the Star wasn't magic or a special miracle from outside of the natural order, then it was something even more startling. It was a Clockwork Star. And that is overwhelming. The movement of the heavenly bodies is regular, like a great clock. The Clockwork Star finally means that from the very instant at which God flung the universe into existence, he also knew the moment he would enter human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He marked it in the stars. …”. (Larson).

The Bible has provided us with an exact chronology from Adam to Jesus Christ (the “second Adam”). Though it is difficult now for human beings to arrive at the exact calculations, we can nevertheless get close. For our AD calculations, however, we do not have this advantage. But the answer must nevertheless lie with Jesus Christ, who is the key to time. He is the Lord of all History, the First and the Last; the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus Christ is the reason for history, the creator of history, and the guide and culmination of all history (cf. Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 2:13). For a perfect chronology, one will need to be able to read this celestial clock, or cosmic book, along the lines of a Rick Larson, with the benefit of advanced computer technology perhaps - but also independently of the stumbling block that is the conventional chronology - to find at what precise point in time the Birth of the Messiah actually occurred. Who will be wise enough to do this?
As the Pope has taught:

The human mind therefore can engage not only in a “cosmography” … but also in a “cosmology” discerning the visible inner logic of the cosmos. We may not at first be able to see the harmony both of the whole and of the relations of the individual parts, or their relationship to the whole. Yet, there always remains a broad range of intelligible events, and the process is rational in that it reveals an order of evident correspondences ….
[End of quote]
For more on Christian films of this nature, go to: