Was the Star of Bethlehem a New Star or Could It Have Been
an Amazing Conjunction of Planets?

Some scholars have suggested that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred in the winter of the year 7 BC, noting that in 7 BC there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter with Saturn in the constellation Aries.  It has been suggested that this conduction was the star seen by the Magi in Persia (Matthew 2:1-12).  This conjunction was an event that was even observed by the then current Roman ruler, Octavius, the great-nephew and heir of Julius Caesar, who is also known to history as Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor who ruled, according to the Gospel of Luke, at the time Jesus was born.  For Caesar Augustus the conduction of these planets was a significant phenomenon related to his destiny.  In the Roman astrological system Caesar Augustus was Jupiter in human form, Venus was the star of the Emperor's Julian family and Saturn was the sign of the "Golden Age" promised during his reign.  But in the winter of 3/2 BC, when many early Christian Church Fathers place Jesus' birth, there was another conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the constellation Pisces.  Perhaps this amazing conjunction of the cosmos' two most brilliant planets, which occurred three times with that year, was the star of Bethlehem that the Magi followed.  It does coincide with the year given by a number of early Christian writers and is closer in time to the traditional date of Jesus' birth celebrated in the Church today.*

However, at the time traditionally given as the birth of Christ, another phenomenon would have also caught the attention of Near Eastern astronomers as well as religious leaders. Ancient astronomers had observed the precession of the equinoxes and understood through their observation that the position of the earth gradually changed in relation to the cosmos.  We understand this phenomenon as the gyroscopic wobble of the earth's axis, which changes approximately one degree every 72 years.  At the time the Church traditionally identifies as the birth of Jesus, the occurrence of the vernal equinox was starting to take place under the sign of Pisces rather than the sign of Aries.  For the ancient world, the shift in the equinox was an event that signaled something momentous was taking place in a new age for mankind.

 The last 4 astrological periods related to the shifting constellations of the vernal equinox were:

Time Period Constellation
4000 BC - 2000 BC Taurus
2000 BC - 1 BC Aries
1 BC - 2000 AD Pisces
2000 AD - 4000 AD Aquarius

The birth of Christ under the sign of Pisces, the astrological sign of the fish, was a symbolically significant event for Israel, the people of God's Holy Covenant.  Fish symbolism figured prominently both in Old Covenant Judaism and in early Christianity (which was heavily Jewish). The fish as a "sign" or symbol of Christ is prominent in the Gospels as well in early Christian art:

But in ancient times, even before the birth of the Messiah, the fish symbolized both life and death.  This interpretation of the fish as a "sign" coincides with the Near Eastern concept of Pisces as a symbol of the "death" of one age and the "birth" or "resurrection" of another.  This understanding becomes clear when one considers that early Christians came to use the fish as symbolic of the two most sacred of the seven Sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist.  Both these sacraments of the New Covenant indicate a death and a rebirth.  How perfect that the New Age for the New Covenant people of God should be heralded by the astrological sign that signaled the death of man's great enemy, sin and death, the birth of the New Covenant and the gift of eternal life that would come from Christ's death, burial and resurrection!

Scholars agree that this sign of the fish has always had been interpreted as being of Israel, the Old Covenant Church as well as the Universal New Covenant Church.  It is interesting that there are two fishes symbolized in the constellation of Pisces and that they are arranged one horizontal and the other perpendicular with a band uniting the two fishes and the perpendicular fish pointing to the polar star. Could it be that the horizontal fish is the Old Covenant Israel while the perpendicular fish is the New Covenant Israel (the Catholic Church) rising above the Old Covenant Church and pointing the way to salvation?

*Clement of Alexandria [3rd century] and Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea in the Holy Land [4th century].  Both early Christian scholars agreed that Jesus was born three years earlier than the 1AD date assigned for His birth in the 6th century AD [see Clement of Alexandria's Stomata, I and Eusebius' History of the Church chapter 5].  Eusebius wrote in his Church History: It was in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus and the twenty-eighth after the subjugation of Egypt and the death of Antony and Cleopatra.  These calculations place Jesus' birth in 3BC BC [BC = Before Christ].  Also see the document "Dating the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth" in the Documents/New Testament section.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2002 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.