Epiphany, the BBC Nativity and the Star of Bethlehem

BBC Nativity Magi

I watched the recent four-part BBC Nativity with great enjoyment. This was an excellent adaptation of the story and one I would recommend to anyone (Read Clayboy’s excellent four-part review of the programme). One element I enjoyed was how it brought the Magi (wise men) to life, making them think long and hard about whether they really wanted to know what the Star was about.

The planets of Bethlehem?

However, I couldn’t help noticing that the programme went with what seems to be the common belief amongst those-who-like-to-sound-like-they-know-about-things regarding that star, namely that it was actually a conjunction of three planets. In fact the program kept showing excellent CGI space-eye-views of planets sliding into place, until in the final episode the three were seen to suddenly and miraculously shine as one star.

Now, let’s ignore the quibble that the Bible says a star. It is quite clear that the writers of the bible named things according to what they appeared to be, rather than any scientific taxonomy. Even so, naming three things as one would be quite an oversight!

The exact date of the birth of Christ

It just so happens, though, that I recently came across Professor Colin Humphreys’ 1995 article “The Star of Bethlehem”. Humphreys looks at the described characteristics of the star and its activities, and the Magi who followed, as well as other historical records and current astronomical records. He considers planetary conjunctions and supernova as well as the possibility of purely spiritual events but comes to other conclusions. Then, based on this, he dates the birth of Christ. I found it a compelling read. Is it true? I don’t know and I’m not over-concerned, but it is fascinating and Professor Humreys seems to have done a lot of research.