THERE ARE NOTHING BUT GUESSES about what exactly led the wise men to Bethlehem. Clues in the Bible:
- It pointed toward Israel. The star led them initially to the capital of the Jewish homeland, not to Bethlehem: “Some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him’” (Matthew 2:1-2, NLT).
- It took them two years to reach Jerusalem. King Herod ordered all boys in Bethlehem ages two and under executed “based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance” (Matthew 2:16).
- It eventually guided them to Bethlehem. After Herod’s scholars directed the wise men to Bethlehem, based on a prophecy that Israel’s messiah would be born there, the star seems to have made a comeback. It “guided them to Bethlehem” (Matthew 2:9).
One theory: the star was a celestial being perhaps a bit like the pillar of light that led Moses and the Jews during the exodus out of Egypt.
Other theories: it was a comet or a supernova. A popular theory today. It was an alignment of Jupiter and Saturn in the Pisces constellation.
Jupiter represented kings because this giant planet was named after Jupiter, the Roman king of gods. Greeks called him Zeus.
Saturn represented Jews because Jews worshipped on the day of the week named after the god Saturn: Saturday.
Pisces means “fish.” As far as stargazers were concerned, it represented the land beside the Mediterranean Sea—which includes the Jewish homeland.
This rare alignment happened about every 20 years. But in 7 BC it happened three times. That triple alignment occurs about once in a millennium. As far as these ancients were concerned, it had never happened before.
If this is what happened, it wasn’t just one star that got them to Bethlehem. It was a choir of stars and planets that sent the general message: Go to Israel. Look for a king.
Excerpt from Stephen M. Miller’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, coming in April, 2013.
Check out Steve’s YouTube video about the Star of Bethlehem.