Green Room

Video: Star of Bethlehem?

posted at 8:52 am on January 16, 2013 by

This documentary from Hollywood producer Stephen McEveety (Stoning of Soraya M, Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) isn’t exactly new, but it’s new to me.  Filmed in 2008, a slightly shortened version aired on EWTN earlier this month, and it impressed me enough to buy the DVD.  An amateur astronomer decided to take a look back at the skies during biblical times — which turns out to be a lot easier in the age of powerful computers than one might think — to see if there were natural explanations for New Testament claims about the signs of Jesus’ birth, specifically the star of Bethlehem.  Frederick Larson found more than what he imagined:

If you’re curious about the accuracy of the astronomical claims, Larson has some impressive corroboration at his site.  Three different NASA researchers validate his astronomy, while not necessarily weighing in on the theological conclusions of the data.

I believe if you poke around long enough, you can find the entire presentation on the Internet. The DVD is a better way to view it, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Update: From the comments, here’s a little more corroboration from another astronomer who notes the same exact phenomena in his calculations.

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Ed,

I have seen the whole thing and it is quite good. There are only really a couple of controversial things in it. First, he assumes Herod the Great died in 1 B.C. Most historians believe he died in 4 B.C.. However, I have read a paper that argues convincingly (at least in my view) that Herod did indeed die in 1 B.C. You can read the paper here: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/not/2009/00000051/00000001/art00001. Second, apparently there was some controversy about whether the eastern Magi would have interpreted the signs as Larson thinks they would have. However, I haven’t really read much about that.

However, the material Larson presents regarding Christ’s crucifixion is really interesting. I second your recommendation. This is a great view.

Mike Rathbone on January 16, 2013 at 9:01 AM

I read that same paper after watching the documentary. It’s actually linked in the Wikipedia entry on Herod rather than at the Star of Bethlehem site, and I agree that it’s pretty convincing. The Schurer consensus on 4 BC formed very late, in the 19th century, so the revisit of that date isn’t exactly an affront to history.

Ed Morrissey on January 16, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Star of Bethlehem confirmed, Allahpundit hardest hit.

rjkitch13 on January 16, 2013 at 9:43 AM

God puts the super in supernatural.

Too bad science has been perverted to be a display of anti-theistic ambition rather than the art God made it. Psalm 19:1 is one of my favorite verses; definitely keeps me grounded. Thanks for the video Ed.

LaughterJones on January 16, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Nice find, Ed… my wife will love this.

PointnClick on January 16, 2013 at 11:36 AM

God puts the super in supernatural.

LaughterJones on January 16, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Quotable!

MelonCollie on January 16, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Three different NASA researchers validate his astronomy, while not necessarily weighing in on the theological conclusions of the data.

Not to be coy, Ed, but isn’t it the believers who claim that scientists are not to be trusted? Or that they have, to quote one commenter above,

perverted [science] to be a display of anti-theistic ambition rather than the art God made it.

?

Are scientists only to be believed and cited when the say things that appear to believers to align with their religious beliefs in some way?

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 12:47 PM

Scientists are to believed when they make claims like this: That this guy’s astronomy works (or doesn’t). It’s measurable, empirical, and neutral as to the theological implications of the question.

They are not to be believed when, for example, Stephen Hawking demonstrates that particles can (to our knowledge) spontaneously generate, and thus there is no need for God. It’s fallacious to equate a Planck Scale proof of concept with the intelligibility of the origin of a universe of matter that has existed for 14 billion years. And it’s obvious that he’s jumping on whatever data he can to corroborate his personal theological views (something admittedly done by many, many theists, but is still not an epistemic way of doing things).

Ultimately scientists are excellent at observing and describing natural events, but no better than anyone not studied in philosophy or theology in ascribing meaning to those events, or drawing human imperatives from them. It’s necessary to act under the assumption that the scientific process is sound (because done correctly it is) unless you can find and scientifically describe a flaw in the process, but it’s no more necessary to trust the social or political imperatives that scientists claim exist as a result of their work than it is to trust that of your next-door neighbor.

Atlas on January 16, 2013 at 1:28 PM

Scientists are to believed when they make claims like this: That this guy’s astronomy works (or doesn’t). It’s measurable, empirical, and neutral as to the theological implications of the question.

Let’s run with this.

When an evolutionary biologist or a paleontologist says that biological evolution is a fact, and is testable, measurable, observable, empirical, and supported by many lines of evidence from across many scientific disciplines, regardless of that theological or religious implications that may have, are they to be believed?

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

When an evolutionary biologist or a paleontologist says that biological evolution is a fact, and is testable, measurable, observable, empirical, and supported by many lines of evidence from across many scientific disciplines, regardless of that theological or religious implications that may have, are they to be believed?

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Catholics, at least, don’t have a problem with evolution.

Ed Morrissey on January 16, 2013 at 2:16 PM

Catholics, at least, don’t have a problem with evolution.

Ed Morrissey on January 16, 2013 at 2:16 PM

As an admittedly lapsed (to put it lightly) Catholic, I’d generally agree with that as a matter of personal experience, although I’d be interested in seeing that quantified (the more devout ones that I knew tend to waver on this as well).

The problem is that the Genesis myth (Adam and Eve) as an ‘explanation’ is flatly refuted by evolution if you accept evolution as a fact. Mankind did not come about by magic, spoken into being from nothing, and women did not come from a man’s rib. Snakes do not talk. Etc. Humans evolved from lower primates. That’s demonstrable, and is supported by fossil, genetic and other evidence.

These are facts. If you accept evolution as a fact, the Biblical explanation for the existence of and biological history of humans on the planet is factually, demonstrably and evidently wrong.

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Good Lt on January 16, 2013 at 2:43 PM

Can’t speak to the official Catholic position (coincidentally or not I’m Catholic as well), but I really don’t see why the strictly historical portions of the Bible have to be taken literally at all. The moral teachings of the Bible are straight from the mouth of God, so they aren’t up for grabs, but I see know reason to assume that, say, Adam’s age HAD to be 900 years to the day or whatever. Jesus taught largely in parables and symbolism, why not the Father?

The point of Genesis is not to account for the biological origin of mankind in its current state. The point of Genesis is to account for the origin of mankind in its current moral state. Science cannot do this. Philosophy can (theoretically) identify the state we are in, but can’t go any farther than that without quickly descending into arbitrarity. The purpose of theology is to tell us the position we ought to occupy in the moral scheme of things, and how to get there.

Atlas on January 16, 2013 at 3:33 PM