A POPE SUPPORTING AN HISTORICAL CHRISTMAS STORY
To judge from press reports, the most surprising thing about the Pope’s just published reflections on the gospels’ birth and infancy narratives (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives) is how much they have surprised people by just setting Christ’s birth back a few years. I wrongly supposed most people more or less knew some adjustment of the sort was necessary. Also that the birth was not on Christmas Day or in 1 AD but somewhere between 7 and 4 BC at which last most scholars believe Herod died.
As soon as I read on Twitter that Pope Benedict’s book was proclaiming it was likely Jesus was born under a Jupiter/Saturn conjunction of 7BC, I guessed – rightly enough as I discovered when I downloaded the Kindle version of the book on the 21st – there was some influence here from the researches of the noted Austrian astronomer Konradin Ferrari D’Occhieppo (1907-2007).
Again it seems some Catholics have also been surprised by this too. They are so because the Pope, whom Catholics forget is very German and hence vaguely “Protestant” in terms of biblical scholarship, was prepared to be historical (some would say quasi-fundamentalist) enough to look for actual dates and historical happenings. There is after all a strong Catholic, and even relatively early Christian tradition, which regarded the star as a unique, purely miraculous sign which corresponded to nothing that secular or scientific authorities past or present could hope to nail down. It was thought of as more like the shekinah glory of God, pure light, than any star. Despite Matthew’s poetic licence which makes the Star stop over where Christ was born, overall the vocabulary used and the behavior of the heavenly body is consistent with the idea the gospeller had been told of a planet in such as its apparent retrograde motion and its special ascension and he is evoking that.
A NEEDED CHALLENGE TO RICK LARSON’S STAR
The Pope’s new historical emphasis (which has disposed of animals round the crib but insists against the sceptics upon Bethlehem not Nazareth as place of the birth), is not however as significant as some of us felt it could have been as regards the star within the story. But then, it’s true that a year ago the Pope was declaring the real Star of Bethlehem is the Word of God to light us. Accordingly he was never especially looking for either a specific birth date such as D’Occhieppo did try to work towards, or any notable astrological meanings such as precise data could supply us. The pope simply finds the D’Occhieppo theory plausible but is left wondering what we can make of it. (Without some further astrological input one can’t make too much)
The sole revolution here may be to draw at least some Christians away from the more fantastic views of the Bethlehem Star and Christ’s birth date. These have been on the rise in recent years under the influence of Amazon’s all time best selling documentary film, The Star. Aggressively promoted, this film is now out and being distributed in many countries and languages and faithfully played in many, especially Protestant, churches at Christmas to enthusiastic audiences.
Rick Larson is a Texan lawyer with enough clout and/or cash to obtain the services of Stephen McEveety, director of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, to put out his mixture of somewhat quirky historical “biblical astronomy” views which have Jesus conceived and born under Jupiter/Venus conjunctions in 3 and 2 BC.
Since the years 10-1 BC are not as well recorded for history as some periods but were rich in all manner of astronomical events, speculation can run wild, as it has done. This is, especially the case if you aren’t prepared to allow the magi were, as per the New English Bible, astrologers looking at the cycles of the heavens and reading a special and specialized symbolism…..The Pope for example says nothing about how the conjunctions of 7 BC were occurring in a degree band of the heavens specifically relevant to events in Israel.
The Larson treatment, no matter how questionable, has the seductive power of cinematic glamour with its rich pictorial and musical backing. Some just cannot imagine the information conveyed with such gasping reverence at mysteries of the starry heavens and divine power could possibly be untrue. But it is. It is terribly, terribly wrong. It also serves to prevent people from seeing or knowing the far greater range of information with all their implications and useful messages for our times which the true birth data will provide us.
THE MESSAGE OF THE CHRISTMAS STAR: HIDDEN IN PLAIN VIEW
Whatever else the Pope has got right in his sensible and quite illuminating book, it is unfortunate he does not suspect the Bethlehem star could be precisely dateable and/or of special meaning. Instead he dismisses it as almost irrelevant to the extent the true star is always the Word of God.
In fact, the Bethlehem star was the messianic Jupiter associated in Jewish astrology with righteousness, not scriptures. Rightly discerned and for the right date and time – which for certain specialized reasons can be pinpointed in the way D’Occhieppo’s researches strove to do – it will tell us much. It can do so because it lies at the centre of an entire larger pattern that more than anything outside the Bible will disclose us Jesus’ destiny and mind.
At the risk of alienating some by the sheer enormity of that claim, I am bound to say the discovery of Christ’s true and completely provable birth data amounts to information akin to a find like the Dead Sea Scrolls. There was much more than an acronychal rising of Jupiter in a zone of the heavens relevant to Israel that the Magi could look for and that we know stargazers were looking for. Unbeknown to the Magi and not clarified until modern times, like a computer printout the skies were reeling off facts and data by the hundreds like the names and titles of Jesus in super-conjunction in the heavens….You don’t believe me? Then listen to the talk or read my Testament of the Magi (available Amazon,https://goo.gl/x8KASy and don’t let a spontaneous incredulity prevent you. The Psalms did tell you that night to night the skies utter knowledge. If you don’t wish to have that knowledge, the loss and the responsibility are yours.