What Star Did the Magi See?
Dr. Ray Pritchard
Matthew 2:2 adds a detail that has baffled and intrigued Bible scholars and astronomers for 2,000 years: "We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him." What was "his star in the east"?
Over the years there have been four main theories:
- Halley's Comet: Unfortunately, the nearest appearance was in 11 B.C., which is simply too early for the birth of Christ.
- Supernova: This is an exploding star that suddenly fills the sky with light in a brilliant, blinding flash of light. These are unpredictable and very rare, and there is no record in any astronomical records of a supernova in the years surrounding the birth of Christ.
- Conjunction of Planets: This is probably the most popular theory. One version suggests that in 7 B.C. Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn came together in a very rare conjunction that only occurs once every 125 years. Another possibility is a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in 2 B.C. (This last possibility is the one suggested by the "Star of Wonder" presentation at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.) The conjunction theory has this to favor it: It would explain why the Magi saw it and the people of Israel didn't. Conjunctions don't attract the attention of people who don't normally watch the skies. They aren't highly-visible phenomena like comets or supernovas or meteor showers. But to anyone who watched the stars regularly, a "triangular" conjunction like the one in 7 B.C. would certainly attract extraordinary attention.
- A Supernatural Light: This theory suggests that the "star" was not a natural phenomena at all, but rather was a light placed by God in the atmosphere especially for the Magi to see. Those who hold this view (which I myself lean to) point to the shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament. At certain points in history God revealed himself as a bright light in order to guide his people. In this context, we might think of the pillar of fire with which God led Israel in the wilderness.