Home > Astronomical History, Conjunction, Ephemeris Program > 12/20/2022 – Ephemeris – Hunting for the Star of Bethlehem: When did Herod the Great Die – Part 1

12/20/2022 – Ephemeris – Hunting for the Star of Bethlehem: When did Herod the Great Die – Part 1

December 20, 2022

This is Ephemeris for Tuesday, December 20th. Today the Sun will be up for 8 hours and 48 minutes, setting at 5:04, and it will rise tomorrow at 8:16. The Moon, 3 days before new, will rise at 6:20 tomorrow morning.

In looking for the year Jesus was born and the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem, we look to the latter years of Herod the Great’s reign. Jewish historian Josephus recounts that Herod died shortly after an eclipse of the Moon occurred. The date of that eclipse, according to many historians, was March 13th, of 4 BCE and before Passover, a month later. The Greek text of Matthew states that Herod’s visitors, looking for the newborn King of the Jews, were Magi. Magi were priest-astrologers of the Zoroastrian Religion of Persia. That being the case, the Star could have been the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn against the constellation of Pisces, when three times Jupiter passed Saturn between the end of May and early December of 7 BCE.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT –5 hours). They may be different for your location.


Triple conjunction

The Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunction of 7 BC. Click on the image to enlarge and animate. This animation is at 5-day intervals. The conjunctions took place against the stars of Pisces the fish, a constellation thought, in those days, to be associated with the Jews. The Moon will be popping in and out of the view. It ends in February of 6 BC, when Mars and the Moon enters the picture. Click on the image to enlarge it. Created using Cartes du Ciel and GIMP.

Above is an animation of the triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn of 7 BCE in 5 day steps. The body popping in and frame is the Moon. The first conjunction was on May 29th. Both planets stopped their eastward motion around July 6th. Astrologically, they became stationary and began their westward or retrograde motion. The second conjunction was on October 11th. Both planets stopped their westward or retrograde motion on November 1st. Again they were stationary to resume their normal eastward motion. The third and last conjunction was on December 8th. Two months later, on February 21st, of 6 BCE, Mars joined the group as they all move off to the western sky in the evening. Using this triple conjunction as the Star of Bethlehem, Jesus would have been born in the late autumn of 7 BCE or early winter of 6 BCE.

Lunar Eclipse, March 13, 4 BCE

This lunar eclipse candidate for the eclipse that heralded the death of Herod the Great, and the favorite, since the time of Johannes Kepler, is the lunar eclipse of March 13, 4 BCE. It was a partial eclipse, only visible in the predawn hours. This eclipse occurred one lunar month before Passover.
Too little time for all the events Josephus describes. A better lunar eclipse occurred a bit less than three years later. Those defending the 4 BCE eclipse sometimes suggest that the Passover mentioned by Josephus was the next year’s Passover of 3 BCE. If it was the next year’s Passover, why mention Passover at all?

Tomorrow I’ll take a break to look to the naked eye planets, and to the winter solstice. Winter begins tomorrow! Thursday I’ll look to a better lunar eclipse and begin to explore another Bethlehem Star candidate.

%d bloggers like this: