The star mentioned in Matthew 2 remains a favorite holiday topic. Many theories about this famous phenomenon exist, but The Star of Bethlehem, a DVD documentary produced by lawyer Rick Larson, has garnered particular attention.
Larson’s Key Points
Based on a 1 BC date for King Herod’s death, Larson searches for astronomical events that occurred above the ancient Near East around 3–2 BC (using Starry Night software). A conjunction of Jupiter (the “king planet”) and Regulus (the “king star”) in 3 BC, Larson claims, would have announced the conception of Jesus to the magi.
Roughly nine months later, a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, he says, formed the “star” of Bethlehem that led the magi from the east to Jerusalem. Finally, as the magi arrived in Jerusalem, Jupiter entered retrograde motion. According to Larson, it stopped right over Bethlehem to lead the magi to Jesus’ location.
1. Larson provides a relatively thorough compilation of verses about the star (leaving out Daniel 9) and highlights at least nine scriptural criteria any proposed astronomical explanation for the star must satisfy.
2. His explanation of the astronomical events surrounding Christ’s birth provides at least one possible defense of the Bible’s historicity.
3. Larson clearly and accurately explains several scientific concepts (though he does use “redshift” incorrectly at one point).
4. At the end of the video, Larson gives a clear and heartfelt Gospel presentation.
Areas of Concern
1. Most historians place Herod’s death in 4 BC, yet Larson claims a date of 1 BC based on the argument that a “printing or copying error” around AD 1544 “propagated widely” the 4 BC date (Larson’s website, www.bethlehemstar.net, documents his research). Larson’s model depends on the later date for Herod’s death, placing the model on questionable footing at best.
2. Many of the “astronomical evidences” Larson presents suffer from one of two problems. Some have little relevance to historical events described in Scripture. Other evidences rely on theologically questionable interpretations of Scripture. At times, Larson’s arguments resemble astrology or the gospel-in-the-stars idea.
3. Larson’s video leaves the impression that his model is the only explanation for the Christmas star (mainly because of information regarding the celestial gospel). Such a position doesn’t accord with the diversity of scholarship among Christians. While this video provides one possible explanation for the astronomical events surrounding Jesus’ birth, viewers should respond with caution.