Early Christians hid the origins of the Bethlehem star
A US astronomer claims he has found the first mention of the star of Bethlehem outside the Bible, in a fourth century manuscript written by a Roman astrologer and Christian convert called Firmicus Maternus.
Michael Molnar, formerly of Rutgers University in New Jersey, is the originator of the idea that the star of Bethlehem was not a spectacular astronomical event such as a supernova or a comet but an obscure astrological one.
The event would nevertheless have been of great significance to ancient Roman astrologers. After studying the symbolism on Roman coins, he concluded that the "star" was in fact a double eclipse of Jupiter in a rare astrological conjunction that occurred in Aries on 20 March, 6 BC, and again on 17 April, 6 BC (New Scientist magazine, 23 December 1995).
Molnar believed that Roman astrologers would have interpreted such an event as signifying the birth of a divine king in Judea. But he lacked proof. Now he says he has found it, in the Mathesis, a book written by Maternus in AD 334. Maternus described an astrological event involving an eclipse of Jupiter by the Moon in Aries, and said that it signified the birth of a divine king.
"Maternus did not mention Jesus's name," says Molnar. "But Roman astrology was a popular craze at the time and everyone reading the book would have known the reference was to Jesus and that the astrological event was the star of Bethlehem."