Archive for the ‘nativity’ Category

>Potential advent astronomical events

2009 December 18 Leave a comment

>Below is a table of astronomical events that occurred near and up to 1 BC as seen from Jerusalem.

Dates are according to the Julian calendar.

Time is Jerusalem time. For universal time (UTC) subtract 2 hours. For Babylon time add 1 hour. Time is specified as such

  • Conjunction: time of closest approach.
  • Eclipse: time of central shadow.

Jerusalem is longitude 35°14′ East

Date Time Sun Moon Planet Star Const* Event
5 BC
Mar 23 20:21 Yes Total lunar eclipse
Sep 15 22:12 Yes Total lunar eclipse
4 BC
Mar 13 2:41 Yes Partial lunar eclipse
3 BC
Feb 15 14:30 Yes Yes Partial solar eclipse
May 20† 0:47 Mercury Saturn Conjunction: 40′
Jun 12 18:06 Venus Saturn Conjunction: 7.2′
Aug 12 7:20 Venus Jupiter Leo/ Cancer Conjunction: 4.2′
Aug 31 23:03 Mercury Venus Conjunction
Sep 8–10 Yes Yes Virgo Sun and Moon in Virgo
Sep 11 Yes Yes Virgo Sun in Virgo. New Moon at feet of Virgo
Sep 14 7:05 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (1): 20′
Dec 1 Jupiter Jupiter stationary
2 BC
Feb 17 17:15 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (2): 51′
Mar 29 Jupiter Jupiter stationary
May 8 18:10 Jupiter Regulus Leo Triple conjunction (3): 43′
Jun 17 19:53 Venus Jupiter Leo Conjunction: 6″. Close to Regulus. Full Moon
Jul 17 7:14 Yes Partial lunar eclipse. Not visible from Jerusalem
Aug 26 17:15 Mars Jupiter Leo Conjunction. Venus and Mercury also massing with Mars and Jupiter
Dec 25–30 Yes Jupiter Virgo Jupiter stationary. December 25 is solstice
1 BC
Jan 10† 1:09 Yes Total lunar eclipse
Dec 29 14:31 Yes Partial lunar eclipse. Only end of eclipse visible

*Const. = constellation.
†Date given based on time in Jerusalem. Times are usually given in UTC which for these events would be 1 day prior.

These dates were obtained from The Star that Astonished the World by Ernest Martin and NASA’s lunar eclipse site.

Categories: astronomy, chronology, nativity

>Was Jesus born in a house or a stable?

2008 December 23 7 comments

> Kenneth Bailey wrote an article in 1979 titled, “The Manger and the Inn“. Near the beginning of the article he writes,

For centuries, large sections of the Church have assumed that the manger was in an animal stable. Three overlapping questions arise here, which of necessity must be discussed together:

1. Was the birthplace a cave?
2. Was it a stable or a private home?
3. Was it inside or outside the village?

I will try to demonstrate that the place was likely a private home in the village, and may have been a cave.

I was somewhat doubtful of the claim that Jesus was born in a house, after all, the passage says:

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2)

But the article was most interesting and convinced me otherwise.

First, Bailey shows that mangers were present in houses in Palestine,

What then of the manger? The text tells us, “She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” The traditional understanding of this verse in the Western world moves along the following path. Jesus was laid in a manger. Mangers are naturally found in animal stables. Ergo, Jesus was born in a stable. However, in the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt)

But what is most interesting is that he goes on to mention that the word translated “inn” (kataluma) can also be translated as “guest room”. In fact, it is translated “guest room” elsewhere in the New Testament,

And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” (Mark 14)

He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room (kataluma), where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” (Luke 22)

And the mention of the word “inn” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) is a different word.

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn (pandocheion) and took care of him. (Luke 10)

This is not saying that kataluma does not ever mean inn, though some have argued thus. However note that it is the same author who relates the both the parable of the Good Samaritan and the lack of lodging at the nativity, suggesting that had Luke meant “inn” in the nativity story he likely would have used the word pandocheion.

The suggestion then is that the house in Bethlehem had a guest room which was otherwise full and so Joseph and Mary stayed in the main room. Bailey writes,

This translation gives new understanding to the story of Jesus’ birth. Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem. They find shelter with a family whose separate guest room is full, and are accommodated among the family in acceptable village style. The birth takes place there on the raised terrace of the family home, and the baby is laid in a manger.

The article covers more including Palestine geography, objections to the theory, and cultural reasons why Joseph and Mary would not have stayed at an inn. I think he has demonstrated that Jesus was born in a house.

That the Magi visited Mary and Jesus in a house probably does not have any bearing on the argument as that episode was some time later—if Jesus was born in a stable, Joseph and Mary would not have stayed there particularly long.

Categories: interpretation, nativity

>Should Christmas be in June?

2008 December 16 2 comments

> The Daily Mail had an article last week claiming that Jesus was born on June 17.

Scientists claim the Christmas star was most likely a magnificent conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter, which were so close together they would have shone unusually brightly as a single ‘beacon of light’ which appeared suddenly.

Mr Reneke says the wise men probably interpreted it as the sign they had been waiting for, and they followed the ‘star’ to Christ’s birthplace in a stable in Bethlehem, as described in the Bible.

Generally accepted research has placed the nativity to somewhere between 3BC and 1AD.

Using the St Matthew’s Gospel as a reference point, Mr Reneke pinpointed the planetary conjunction, which appeared in the constellation of Leo, to the exact date of June 17 in the year 2BC.

Although it somewhat simplifies the matter, the article may be correct. It has long been debated when Jesus was born, and they are right in that it probably wasn’t December 25. There is much that can be gained from a close reading of the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke. Readers that have joined me this year may be interested in a post I wrote last Christmas titled “Getting the facts of Christmas sorted.” The only thing I would change would be my comment about the stable.

The Mail article is incorrect about generally accepted research and the date of Jesus’ birth though. While I agree with the timeframe suggested; many, and possibly most, date Herod’s death in 4 BC and Jesus’ birth, which antedates this, circa 5 or 6 BC. I think Jesus’ birth was in 2 or 3 BC and that 1 BC is a more likely date for Herod’s death.

The astronomical data (eclipses and catastrophic events aside) is very firm. We can be sure about the dates of various conjunctions. What is more difficult is knowing which astronomical events correspond to which terrestrial events. I think a reasonable argument can be made for Jesus’ conception occurring 3 BC September 11, his birth 2 BC June 17 (281 days, 15 days longer than usual), and the visit by the Magi 2 BC December 25.

Here is a presentation of the conjunctions during 2 and 3 BC. The June 17 conjunction is the last one shown; that of Venus with Jupiter near the star Regulus.

Categories: astronomy, chronology, nativity

>Getting the facts of Christmas sorted

2007 December 23 11 comments


Given the season it may be a good time to summarise the chronology and other details of the incarnation.

Joseph was engaged to Mary and they both dwelt in Nazareth. Nazareth was a small town in Galilee. Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel when her cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant. Knowing when Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was serving in Jerusalem may give us some clues to the month of Jesus’ conception and birth. Zechariah was a priest of the division of Abijah (compare Luke 1 with 1 Chronicles 24).

Joseph intended to divorce Mary when he learnt of her pregnancy; quietly so as not to shame her. Divorce is not the term we would use for breaking an engagement but a betrothal in Israel 2000 years ago was a strong commitment and divorce (apoluo) would be the single term used in both situations (unlike English which has more terms). This is not saying that betrothal is the same as marriage, sex was forbidden until after the wedding.

An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him of the situation and Joseph then married Mary. He did not have sex with her until after Jesus was born. Mary had already conceived Jesus so the activity would not have made Joseph the biological father, but abstaining presumably honoured God in the situation. So Jesus was conceived when Mary was betrothed and born after Mary was married, but still a virgin.

The genealogy given in Matthew is that of Joseph. The genealogy in Luke is that of Mary. Heli was likely Mary’s father. Luke 3 states:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,…

Some have considered Heli the adoptive father of Joseph if Heli had no sons of his own, though I believe the passage may be acceptably translated as:

Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, but was actually the son of Heli,…

Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that a registration was to be performed. The time frame for this is uncertain. What is known is that Quirinius was governor of Syria. The registration is frequently referred to as a census, presumably for taxation purposes. However Luke does not say that it is a tax census, he specifies they were registered (apographo) for a registration (apographe). Dating Jesus birth has proven difficult, for several reasons, not the least historically identifying the tax census that occurred during Jesus birth. However if the registration was not for taxation then the range of possible dates is potentially expanded. Some have suggested in was a registration to make a proclamation about Caesar Augustus. Ernest Martin suggests that the title Pater Patriae (father of the Fatherland) was bestowed on Augustus about this time and the registration was for the inhabitants of the Roman Empire to swear an oath of obedience to the Emperor.

Joseph with his new bride went from Nazareth to Bethlehem because he was descended from David whose home town was Bethlehem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Angels appeared to the shepherds that night and they visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus. There is some evidence to suggest that Jesus may have been born in autumn, perhaps in the month of Tishri which corresponds to about September. I think it likely that Jesus was born about 2 or 3 BC.

8 days later Jesus was circumcised according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12). Joseph and Mary presented Jesus at the temple at Jerusalem 40 days after he was born and a sacrifice of doves was offered. Leviticus states that a lamb is to be offered but a pigeon is acceptable for the poorer Israelites. Joseph and Mary were therefore poor.

Some time after this while Joseph and Mary were still in Bethlehem the Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem. We are not told the number who came. That 3 are depicted may relate to the number of gifts. The Magi were from the region of Persia and were interested in, amongst other things, astrology. They interpreted the skies as pointing to the birth of the king of the Jews. Much speculation has been made on what the star was. Matthew quotes the Magi saying,

Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.

and he further comments,

the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2)

It is likely that the star was a conjunction between planets or planets and stars. The best suggestion is that of Martin who mentions several astronomical events of significance including Jupiter stopping (at the time of its retrogression). The Magi had an audience with Herod in Jerusalem and were informed by the priests and scribes that the king was to be born in Bethlehem based on Micah’s prophecy. When Jupiter stopped in the sky (for 6 days) its position was over Bethlehem as viewed from Jerusalem. The date was December 25, 2 BC. Jupiter was in the constellation of Virgo.

This was not the time of Jesus’ birth as the Magi visited Jesus in a house not a stable. Jesus was a young child (paidion), though that word probably does not aid us as to exactly how old Jesus was. Herod ordered the massacre of children under the age of 2 in his attempt to kill Jesus. Herod choose this age in accordance with the time he ascertained from the wise men. If Jesus was born in 3 BC he would have been approximately 15 months old; if in 2 BC, 3 months. Joseph had previously been warned by an angel to depart and they were already in Egypt. On Herod’s death an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream for the third time and Joseph returned with Mary and Jesus to his home town of Nazareth. Herod probably died in early 1 BC, only some weeks or months after the Magi’s visit.

Flash presentation of astronomical events near the time of Jesus’ birth.