The early Christians had fewer thoughts about the exact birth date of Jesus than the time of his expected return. Origen (also Origenes, circa 185 - c.254 AD, born in Alexandria, Egypt) one of the most accomplished biblical scholars of the early church wrote 245 AD it would be sinful to celebrate the birthday of Jesus as if he would be "King Pharao". Nevertheless Christians honored his birthday since the 4th Century but on different dates. A church calendar of 336 AD first refers to the 25th of December. It is common belief it replaces the gentile feasts of the "dies natalis solis invicti" (Birth of the invincible sun, the sun god) which were observed to greet the longer days after the winter solstice.
On December 25, 1995 the Beaufort Gazette published an article by AP's John Parcenti titled:
VENUS, MOON JOIN IN UNUSUAL DISPLAY
MIAMI --- The moon and the planet Venus are giving North America a Christmas card this holiday, conjuring up the Biblical story of how a bright object in the sky led three wise men to the infant Jesus.
If the sky is clear, Venus--in its three-quarter phase--should be visible Christmas night just below the 2-day-old crescent moon for about one to one-and-a-half hours after sunset, a repeat of Christmas Eve.
"It's going to look like the kind of thing you have seen on Christmas cards for the past 100 years," said Jack Horkheimer, executive director of the Miami Planetarium. "This is one of those wonderful events that, even if you are in a brilliantly lit up city it will be visible."
Venus, currently about 26 million miles away, is so bright because it is covered with white, reflective clouds. The moon is 225,000 miles away. The close juxtaposition of the two near Christmas occurs about every 25 years, Horkheimer said. The last time it happened on Christmas Eve and night was 1965, he said. "Whenever Venus appears at the time of Christmas, it always causes a lot of conversation," Horkheimer said. "When it appears with the moon crescent, planetariums' phones around the country will ring off the hook."
The conjunction of the two has been portrayed in cave drawings and on ancient pottery. Horkheimer says he has a 1,000 year-old Peruvian burial urn portraying the spectacle.
"It's the kind of thing that a cave man would walk out and see this magnificence in the sky and couldn't help but wonder," he said.
So what was the Christmas star that the wise men used as a beacon to guide them to Bethlehem? "One of the latest theories is that it was a meeting or blending of the light of Venus with the planet of Jupiter because they were so close together," Horkheimer said. --- (end of article)
Overlooking the Broad River backyards on the 25th, the day of the article, was disappointing. Venus was in the WSW sky at 7 pm below the moon but about 22° apart.
RedShift an Astronomy Program of highest honors determines the positions
of Moon and Planets on numerical calculations of the "DE102" computer
program of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Mary and Josef returned to Bethlehem because of a census ordered by Augustus and carried out by Quirinius, governor (Legat) of Syria. Quirinius was "Legat" of Syria in 6 AD. Many bible historians hold the opinion he was in office 13 years earlier and newer research found there was a census ordered by Rome in 12 BC, which was concluded after 8 or 7 BC. Orders took time, Syria was at the edge of the Roman Empire.
Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. Herod died in 4 BC. Mary and Josef fled with Jesus to Egypt. In those days no weekend trip and it is to assume they stayed one winter before they heard of Herod's death and returned to Nazareth.
Luke 2,8: "That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village guarding their flocks of sheep"... During winter nights sheep were normally held in stables. They were only left in the fields during warmer spring or summer nights.
Matthew calls them "Magi", the wise men (or astrologers in the Living Bible) who came from the East (Persia) to follow the star in the West. "Magi" saw themselves as followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster, who combined astrology with his religious teachings. Ancient astrology was greatly respected as a tool of the time. Roman emperors, Greek philosophers and scientists or the simple Jewish farmer, who trusted the stars to know when to put seed in the ground, all were convinced of the effectiveness of astronomical/astrological observations, sampled over generations. The early evening and twilight hours were very important, people were still awake. In lieu of calendar and wrist watch, everybody "watched" the sky, and if it was just for a simple reason, a new-moon started a new Jewish month.
Ever since astrology is based foremost on the positions of sun, moon and planets in reference to a given place and time, a Comet or a Super Nova should be ruled out. Phenomena of this kind are normally registered. Roman astronomers/astrologers of those days left us a large number of documents, nothing extraordinary could be found.
The presumption not a short single occurrence, but a sequence of stellar events over several months guided the "Magi" towards the West, set the stage. The search concentrated on a Conjunction of Venus and the crescent Moon in the early evening sky, undoubtedly the most impressive show of all. Never during the years, time and place in question (Bethlehem) could an angular separation between them of less than 10° be found in three consecutive months, except in 5 BC.
Surprisingly and even more impressive, Saturn appears close to both Venus and the crescent Moon on February 10, to be replaced the next "new-month" by a close Jupiter on March 11, 5 BC. To find Jupiter's moons in a position of a cross, can inspire someone's imagination further. The satellite positions agree with those in the Astronomical Almanac to typically about 2 arc- seconds. However, current orbital data is not sufficiently reliable for moon positions to be trusted over greatly extended periods of time.
But nothing seems to be close to the spectacle of the following "new-month" on April 10, 5 BC, when Bethlehem's evening sky presents Venus and the 3 day old crescent Moon about 1° apart. One can imagine misreading the crescent Moon as a tail of a comet. The Christmas card did not lie.
Setting dates sensitive to Christian belief and faith based on astronomical
data might stir opposition. One can imagine todays astrologers creating
natal charts for a "Perfect Being". Jesus will not disappoint them.
At the same time, using similar methods to unlock the important date
of His crucifixion, was only logical. Should we trust prophecy as in
Daniel or phyisical observations during the event and the Astronomical
Almanac given that GOD made and masters the heaven and the stars? At
the end, the date calculated by Josh McDowell based on prophecy and
Jesus' crucifixion at his earth-age of 33 revealed by astronomical data
may differ, my trust in Him and His guidance while doing the research
Friedhelm Dohmann, November 1996
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