The Star of
It is not always an easy thing to acknowledge an error, yet it is our duty to embrace truth once the error has been exposed. In this article, I will show that the star followed by the magi (commonly known as “the wise men”) actually led them to Nazareth and not to Bethlehem. Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, but he returned with Joseph and Mary to their home in Nazareth soon after His dedication in the temple at Jerusalem. This truth has been overlooked because of the traditional teaching in the church that the magi were present at the birth of Christ, even though the Bible makes it clear that this was not the case.
We can undoubtedly all agree that the star (regardless of its name) that announced the coming of Messiah, the one born king of the Judeans, is highly significant. There is historical evidence that the future arrival of this star was recorded in the ancient writings of India as well as of Persia, Greece, Rome, and Babylon. In fact, it is perhaps the most touted celestial occurrence in the history of man; yet tradition has errantly named the star and placed the magi at the manger scene in Bethlehem. There is much evidence to disprove this tradition—so much so that it is embarrassing we have not realized it sooner.
What Were the Magi Following?
The star that the magi followed has been dubbed “the Star of Bethlehem,” yet there is no mention of this name anywhere in the Bible. Even though there is also no mention of the name “the Star of Nazareth” in the Bible, I have chosen to call it that in this article for clarity’s sake. A more accurate name, biblically speaking, would be “His Star,” since this is what the magi called it—and more than likely what Daniel called it when he taught their forerunners in the Persian Empire.
When the magi asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the rising” (Matthew 2:2), the words they spoke held potential for identifying what this actual phenomenon was. They were following the guidance that Daniel had given their predecessors about 490 years earlier. The general time frame the wise men viewed His Star was relevant to them because Daniel had prophesied about the 70 weeks (representative of 490 years) that would pass before Messiah would come (Daniel 9:24–27).
There are numerous theories of what the actual celestial body was that the magi followed. Some say it was a supernova that occurred in the lower third of the vertical piece of the Northern Cross (Cygnus), others have supposed it to be a supernova in the constellation of Coma, the coming child. Some have said it was the planets Venus and Jupiter in close conjunction, while others say it was Jupiter—and this is the one I believe is the best candidate. I will endeavor to show that throughout a general five-year time frame, Jupiter was announcing the coming of Messiah in a major way.
Jupiter’s Hebrew name is tzedek, which is translated “king of righteousness.” Jupiter, as the king star, is an odds-on-favorite to announce Him who had been born king of the Jews. Around 5 bc, a couple of years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, Jupiter had a rare conjunction with Saturn as both of them went into retrograde. As viewed from man’s perspective on earth, they appeared to dance backwards in unison as they moved against the backdrop of Pisces. Jupiter showed even more significant movement in 3 bc when it formed a triple conjunction with Regulus (meaning it came into conjunction with Regulus three times), another “king star” that resides in Leo. Leo is the constellation that represents both a king as well as the lion of the tribe of Judah. I believe both events were clearly announcing the birth of the king of the Jews.
In 1 bc, Jupiter retrograded in Virgo (the constellation that represents the birth of Christ), “coincidentally” popping up on Jerusalem’s horizon four days before it appeared to stand still as it began its retrograde. Its reappearance in this retrograde allowed the magi to view it on the eastern horizon from Jerusalem just before sunrise. The magi knew that Jupiter’s retrograde in Virgo symbolized the virgin prophesied to birth the Judean King. At this point, Jesus would have been about 20 months old.
We are fortunate to have computer technology that can simulate the sky at any point in history, which allows us to view the same celestial activities that the magi saw more than 2,000 years ago. When we line up these activities with the timeline we find in the Bible, it is evident that the star they followed did not lead them to Bethlehem but to Nazareth. Therefore, we can eradicate the traditional sacred cow of the Star of Bethlehem and more accurately call it the Star of Nazareth.
Born in Bethlehem but Visited in Nazareth by Wise Men
According to Micah 5:2, Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2
The record of this prophetic fulfillment is found in Luke 2:4–7.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:4–7
Luke 2:22–39 reports that after the birth, when the days of Mary’s purification were completed according to the law of Moses (which would have been 40 days according to Leviticus 12:1–4), they journeyed to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and to dedicate Him. At the temple, the prophet Simeon and prophetess Anna prophesied over Him, and then Joseph took Mary and their new baby back to their home in Nazareth, where Jesus was raised.
The magi knew from the ancient prophecies that the king of Judea would be born in Bethlehem, which is why they were headed there originally; however, while they were on their way, they saw His Star and followed it to Nazareth. This does not negate the prophecy at all, but it shows that an amount of time had passed from their departure to their arrival. They knew He had already been born as evidenced through their question to Herod.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:1–2
A few verses later it says that Herod sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child.” However, as they continued to follow the star they had seen in the east, it led them to Nazareth instead where it appeared to stand still (because of its retrograding position) over where the young child was.
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. Matthew 2:9–11
The simple fact of the matter is that the wise men did not go to Bethlehem. That is where Jesus was born, but He was living in Nazareth when the magi enquired of Herod in Jerusalem. If they had followed Herod’s guidance instead of following the star, they would not have found Jesus who was living in Nazareth with His parents.
So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:39–40
Misnaming His Star
The King James Version of the Bible translates Matthew 2:1 in such a way that it sounds as if the magi came to Jerusalem right at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Matthew 2:1–2 KJV
However, when we read the context of the whole chapter, it is evident that the timing of their question to Herod was after Jesus’ birth. Herod consulted the Jewish religious leaders as to the prophecy concerning the birth of Christ and then privately met again with the magi to determine the timing of the appearance of the star; from these, he then concluded that Jesus was a child (not a baby) as seen from his statement to the magi.
And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. Matthew 2:8 KJV
We can also see from looking at the Greek Interlinear of Matthew 2:1, that the word “when” is not necessarily pinpointing a specific moment of time.1
Perhaps the main reason this celestial announcement has been misnamed the Star of Bethlehem is that this one scripture (Matthew 2:1) in the King James Version was isolated from its context, as well as from the other account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2. When we use the biblical research tool of scripture buildup, we can see how one piece of the gospel can build upon the story of another, but neither can contradict the other. In this instance the gospel of Matthew deals with after Jesus was born and the gospel of Luke deals more with when He was born. Telling the Christmas story with both the magi and shepherds coming together to His birth makes for a good Christmas cantata or a painting, but it simply did not happen. The magi showed up when Jesus was a young child living in Nazareth (Matthew 2:8–14).
The Greek verb that is translated “born” in Matthew 2:1 is gennethentos which is a “deponent verb; genitive singular masculine of aorist passive participle of gignomai happen, become—was born.”2 In other words, this phrase in Matthew 2:1 should have been translated, “Now Jesus was born in Bethlehem,” or to clarify it further, “Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem.” The point is that the magi arrived on the scene after Jesus had been born. The shepherds showed up while He was still in swaddling clothes, which was just a few moments after His birth; but the magi got there more than a year and a half afterwards.
The Rest of Matthew
After the first verse, the remainder of Matthew 2 records Jesus’ birth in the past tense. Verse 7 asserts that Herod diligently enquired of the magi to find out more specifically when the star first appeared so he could determine the age of this new king. When the magi did not return to him because they were warned in a dream to go a different way after their visit to Jesus’ home, he became enraged at the deception and commanded the slaughter of all male children two years old and under in Bethlehem. The fact that Herod chose this age group indicates that it had possibly taken the magi as much as two years for their journey from the east to Israel.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Matthew 2:16
After the magi’s visit to Jesus’ house in Nazareth, Joseph was warned in a dream that his child’s life was in danger and that they should flee to Egypt and remain there until further notice (Matthew 2:13–15).
When we consider Jupiter as the “star” that led the magi to Jesus’ home in Nazareth, we can piece together Scripture, history, and modern technology to pinpoint His birth date as September 11, 3 bc. We can conclude this from information revealed in Revelation 12:1–4 coupled with computer simulations of planetary configurations and constellations of the estimated year of His birth. The prophecy of Revelation 12:1–4 is referring to the constellation of Virgo, representative of the Promised Seed.
Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. Revelation 12:1–4
While the fulfillment of this prophecy was taking place on September 11, 3 bc, the planet Jupiter was in direct conjunction with the star Regulus in Leo. It began a retrograde a couple of months later when it appeared to circle Regulus and came into conjunction with it twice more. So at least we can surmise that the magi observed Jupiter doing something astounding on that day and the days following.
If the magi came from ancient Persia, it would have taken them at least two months to arrive at Jerusalem. Some scholars also believe other countries were involved, including Arabia and India. The trip from India would have been over 3000 miles—a long distance to go by camel. The point is that the magi arrived at Jerusalem after Jesus was born.
When Herod checked with his counselors, they shared with him the prophecy that the king of the Jews would be born in Bethlehem, which is why he sent the magi in that direction. However, Matthew 2:9 says that they instead followed the star they had originally seen in the east, which now reappeared before them. This means there was a period of time when it was not visible. Some have conjectured that it was a supernova that suddenly appeared at that time. On the other hand, it says it appeared “in the east,” which could mean it was simply rising over the horizon. Jupiter did appear on Jerusalem’s horizon on May 8, 1 bc, which fits with Matthew 2:9 because it had been below the horizon since its last appearance on that horizon on September 29, 3 bc (about three weeks after Jesus’ birth). This means it would not have been visible to the magi for a year and seven months, reappearing on Jerusalem’s horizon the first week of May in 1 bc. As soon as they saw its reappearance, they knew the direction to go, regardless of what Herod had told them.
This was also the time of Jupiter’s next retrograde motion in Virgo, the constellation that represents the birth of Messiah. A retrograde motion is perhaps the only astronomical occurrence that produces the optical illusion of a celestial body (star) standing still, since the planet appears to stop its motion as the retrograde begins and finishes. This gives even stronger evidence that the “star” of Nazareth is Jupiter/Tzedek, since it corresponds with Matthew 2:9’s account, “behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”
Jupiter would have appeared to the magi about a year and seven months earlier, before it went below the horizon, which would also account for Herod choosing the age bracket he did for killing the male children in the Bethlehem area.
Daniel, the Master Astronomer
I believe Daniel taught the ancient magi that the planet Jupiter was the key celestial body to watch. He probably also instructed them to watch for its retrogrades within the constellations of Leo (the lion of the tribe of Judah) and Virgo (representing Messiah’s birth). If he threw in the fact that Jupiter would encircle the star Regulus (representative of the king) during its Leo retrograde, it would have further deepened its prophetic significance of pointing to the birth of the King of the Judeans. Daniel taught that after 483 years the prince (Messiah) would be cut off (Daniel 9:25–26), giving the magi a general time frame to watch for Jupiter to display Messiah’s birth announcement in the skies.
Since Jupiter retrogrades approximately every 13 months, and each time it moves approximately one constellation ahead, the Leo/Virgo retrogrades would occur every 13–14 years. The particular one that the magi were observing was within the time frame that had been passed down to them from their predecessors, which they had learned from Daniel. In addition, Jupiter and Saturn were in conjunction in Pisces in 5 bc; then two years later in August of 3 bc another amazing conjunction occurred right before Jupiter did its triple conjunction with Regulus over the course of five months. I believe that when the magi saw these retrogrades and triple conjunctions, they started packing their bags for the long journey that would bring them to Jerusalem 20 months after Jupiter’s first retrograde within Leo.
Whether His Star is a supernova, a conjunction of planets, or the planet Jupiter, the magi who followed it did not arrive to Jerusalem until sometime after His birth. Regardless of what the star (planet) was, or how they followed it, it did not lead them to Bethlehem. Messiah was born in Bethlehem, where the shepherds showed up shortly afterwards; but it was approximately a year and eight months later that the magi came to worship and bring gifts to Him at His home in Nazareth. Although Herod directed them to look for Him in Bethlehem, the Star of Nazareth (His Star) appeared in the east and led them to the young child in Nazareth, not the baby in Bethlehem.
After He was born in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem, which is northbound and in the same direction they were headed to return to their home in Nazareth. They stopped in the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices for His birth and to dedicate Him. Anna and Simeon prophesied over Jesus, and then Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth with their new baby (Luke 2:39).
When the magi came to Jerusalem seeking Him who was born king of the Jews, they would not have found Him in Bethlehem because He was already back home in Nazareth. Yahweh honored David by having the son of David born in the city of David; however, He was not raised there.
So to officially bury this sacred cow, the star that the wise men followed was not the star of Bethlehem; it would be more rightly called the star of Nazareth. The magi, or wise men, followed the star of Nazareth, found Messiah and worshiped Him. Wise men and women have sought Him throughout the ages and continue to seek Him today. However, we will not find Him in Nazareth now. In our earthly dimension, the risen Savior lives in our hearts, while in the heavenly one, He is seated at the right hand of God waiting for His coming as King.
The heavens announced His first coming, and they will also announce His second coming. If Jupiter is His Star, it might be speaking even now about His return. We ought to look up. At the time of this writing (January 2015) Jupiter is retrograding in Leo—now. Let’s lift up our heads, for our redemption draws nigh.
Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. Luke 21:28
The wise men followed His Star to Nazareth, not Bethlehem. His home was in Nazareth, and that is why He was called Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus of Bethlehem. The conclusion of the matter is that the magi were not present at the birth of Christ; rather, they followed His Star (Jupiter) to Nazareth where He was already living as a young child still under the age of two years old. For this reason, His Star should be known as the Star of Nazareth and not the Star of Bethlehem.
- Interlinear breakdown of Matthew 2:1 can be found at http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/mat2.pdf, accessed January 7, 2015.
- The University of Texas at Austin, New Testament Greek Online Lesson 2 by Winfred P. Lehmann and Jonathan Slocum. This lesson shows that the Greek word gennêthentos is a deponent verb; genitive singular masculine of aorist passive participle of <gignomai> happen, become—was born. Accessed at http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/lrc/eieol/ntgol-2-R.html on January 7, 2015.