Wise Men HeaderThe Theories.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

1: The Saturn/Jupiter triple conjunction Theory
skymap During 8 BC, the Magi would have observed that Jupiter was slowly catching up Saturn as they moved along the ecliptic. By the middle of February they had both disappeared behind the setting sun and they would then have turned their attention to the early morning sky to await their reappearance. In March 7 BC, rising out of the glare of the nearly rising sun, Jupiter and Saturn appeared close together in the sky. This is a rare event for these two planets; it happens only once every 20 years or so. They got closer together day by day until on the 29th May they got as close as two moon diameters. This happened in the constellation of Pisces. Then throughout the summer of that year Jupiter and Saturn began to pull away from each other, but then as often happens when these two planets get together, they started to go back towards each other. Eventually this led to another conjunction on the 29th September 7 BC. On towards winter, the two pulled away from each other again, but then amazingly they started to move towards each other a third time. The third conjunction happened on the 6th December 7 BC. This triple conjunction is caused by the movement of the Earth around the Sun, causing the two planets to both apparently do a loop against the background of stars. The first conjunction was a simple meeting of the planets; Jupiter being faster caught Saturn up. The second conjunction was caused by the Earths movement. The apparent movement of the planets is thus reversed by the earth's movement and the planets have a second conjunction. However this reversing of the movement is only temporary, and the two planets eventually continue their apparent movement. Jupiter then catches Saturn up again causing the third and final conjunction.
By the 26th February 6 BC, Mars has joined the group, although Jupiter and Saturn were then much further apart. All three planets are lost in the glare of the setting sun by the end of March 6 BC.
Conjunctions occuring during this 'looping' are rarer than a normal 20 year conjection. Easily observable triple conjunctions occured in 7BC AD452, 967, 1007, 1306 and 1683. The next good one will not be until 2230.
This is very convincing, for a triple conjunction of these two planets is very rare and probably would not have been chronicled by the Magi as ever having happened before. It can only happen every 973 years, but the position at which it happens appears to slowly move around the sky. It happened in 1951 BC but in the constellation of Aquarius. In 978 BC, 7 BC and AD 967 it was observed to happen in Pisces. It would have been seen last in AD 1940, when the event had moved to the next door constellation of Aries. When it happens next in AD 2913/4 it will happen in Taurus.
This theory relies on Astrological significance being given to this event. It is believed that Pisces was, according to Babylonian astrologers, the constellation of the Jews. Jupiter the planets of Kingship.
This event falls exactly on the precarious date of 4th October 7 BC. It is a repeatable phenomena although the gap between the events is rather short, only seven months or so between the first and last occurrences. The position of the 'star' is about right. The first conjunction happened while rising in the eastern sky, The subsequent conjunctions occurring in the south-south-west. Exactly right for a journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
One of the strengths of this theory is the repeatability of the event. However there is no way that the Magi could have known that this was going to be a triple conjunction until it actually happened. If the highly unique nature of this phenomenon is to be used as a powerful argument, then the Magi would not have set off on their journey until the third conjunction had taken place. If this is so then they could not have seen the apparition repeated later on. One could argue that they set off after the second conjunction and then saw the third on the way to Bethlehem but this still weakens the argument since double conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn are quite normal . Also as we have said, the time between conjunctions is less than 7 months, and less than 3 months between the second and third conjunctions. Herod's killing of the baby boys suggests a time interval of one to two years.
Also against it is the fact that this phenomenon is not a star. It is two stars. It looks like two stars. Knowing this, attempts have been made to show that either Jupiter or Saturn is the Star of Christ. The suggested evidence seems equally split between them. This is the problem with astrology; it is, with hind sight, possible to link any earthly event with some heavenly one. There is always some interesting conjunction or some such happening and who is to say what phenomena means what when it comes to specific events. A triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces might have indicated to Babylonian Magi the birth of a world leader from Judea, but can we be certain? We know that the Babylonians saw this event because we have their record of it on clay tablets but would they really have given it this interpretation? In 26 BC, (as our wise men would recall from their records) there were much closer conjunctions between Jupiter and Saturn and also with Regulus, the 'King Star' in the constellation of the Lion. On the 12th May Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction. They were joined by Venus on the 10th June. Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction a second time on June 30th and a spectacular line up of Jupiter, Saturn and Regulus took place. If we were looking for a date around 30 BC we might be saying that this is the Star of Bethlehem heralding the new born King of the Jews, the Lion of Judah! We could play this game at any time in history.

A further objection to this theory is that both Judaism and Christianity condemn astrology. Always supposing that this conjunction did appear at the right time, why would the early church want to include an account which appears to give credence to a system of faith at odds with Christianity? If the early Christian writers had any inkling that the Magi had used astrology to work out the birth of Christ they would never had included it. As we have seen, the Magi did use astrology, but they also gathered knowledge of signs and prophecies. It should not be thought automatically that the Star of Christ is necessarily an astrological phenomenon.
Timing - YES
Repeatability - NO
Direction - YES
Theology - NO
Historic/Scientific credibility - No problems
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