The Star of Bethlehem is being seen in a new light. The light seen by the Magi was a gathering of planets and stars, Michael Molnar, a former Rutgers University astronomer-physicist, says in his book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. The celestial bodies were grouped around Jupiter when it was in the east and eclipsed by the moon, he said. Other scientists have proposed similar theories.

A widely accepted view has been astronomer Johannes Kepler’s 1603 conclusion that the star was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces, the fish.

Wise men have been following the wrong constellation for centuries in their explanations of the heavenly phenomenon, Molnar says. The light that led the Magi to the Christ child in Judea shone from the constellation Aries, the ram, he says. That realization “came like a flash out of the blue” when he purchased an ancient Syrian coin that contained the sign of the constellation Aries, which first appeared on money in 6 A.D., he told The Associated Press. In those days, it was accepted that the heavens predicted the future. Molnar realized that astrologers would have been familiar with Jewish prophecies that a king would be born in Judea. “People were indeed watching the skies for the advent of the Messiah” and would have looked to Aries for signals predicting His birth, he said.

Molnar began stargazing by computer to see what happened in Aries to capture the attention of the Magi. Tradition had it that at the time of Jesus’ birth there was an eclipse of Jupiter by the moon. Since the event must have taken place “in the east,” as Matthew 2:2 states, Molnar used a computer program to chart an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries. The computer showed that one occurred April 17, 6 B.C. This eclipse “wasn’t a big exploding apparition in the sky,” he said, but to people of that day it was “earthshaking, signifying that whomever was born in Judea that day would be a great king.” Ancient pagan texts seem to back Molnar’s discovery. One Roman astrologer described conditions of April 17, 6 B.C., saying that the sun, moon, and several planets were “in especially favorable positions” -- as fitting the birth of a “divine and immortal” person.

But it may be necessary to rewrite a few Christmas carols. The Magi probably were not Babylonian astrologers, but well-educated Hellenistic astronomers, “truly wise men,” Molnar says, and they would not have followed an actual light across the sky. Instead they would have headed for Judea, he said, knowing that the great event had occurred there.

Molnar’s theory is gaining acclaim from astronomy scholars. Several Ivy League professors have noted his work as “original” and “important,” making other theories “irrelevant.” Christians from many denominations have expressed appreciation for his scholarship, thanking him for finding a historical basis for the star of Bethlehem.

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