Home > Astronomical History, Ephemeris Program > 12/20/2019 – Ephemeris – The Star of Bethlehem, the problem of when

12/20/2019 – Ephemeris – The Star of Bethlehem, the problem of when

December 20, 2018

Ephemeris for Thursday, December 20th. The Sun will rise at 8:16. It’ll be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:04. The Moon, 2 days before full, will set at 6:46 tomorrow morning.

In looking at the possible origin of the Star of Bethlehem, the latest Jesus could have been born is before the death of Herod the Great. The Jewish historian Josephus says that Herod died between a lunar eclipse and Passover, with most Star investigators pointing to the partial eclipse of March 13, 4 BC, one month before Passover that year. Problem is that Josephus devotes 4 chapters of the 17th book of Jewish Antiquities to the events in that span. I think they chose that eclipse to fit in with the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC that was the big favorite for the star. There is another, better total lunar eclipse on January 10, 1 BC that is 3 months before Passover that would better fit Josephus’ narrative and a different Star possibility. More Monday.

The times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan. They may be different for your location.


The passage about Herod’s death from the eclipse of the Moon to Passover is in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews is in Book 17, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4 through Chapter 9, paragraph 3.

In doing some additional research since recording the program, the footnotes in William Whiston’s translation suggests a period between the eclipse and Passover at 13 months.  Antiquities of the Jews can be found here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.htm.  Of course I could extend the time frame of Herod’s death for the 1 BC eclipse to the Passover 16 months later.  That would solve one of the problems I had with the timing of the visit of the Magi.  But you’ll have to wait until Monday to find out what that is.

%d bloggers like this: