Sunday, 12 December 2010

13 sleeps to go....

Today, following a discussion with the kids and Becky on the way to Church, I got thinking about the birth of Christ, the summer holidays and camping on a beach in Suffolk watching the magnificant sky.
This is (as if you did not know) NGC 2264, consisting of glowing clouds of hydrogen gas, interstellar dust and reddish emissions from nubulae. This star-forming region is 2,700 light years away and measures 40 light years across. That's pretty big and really far away- this picture is what it looked like about the same time that Lehi left Jerusalem.

The reason that I show it (apart from the inherent beauty of the universe) is that NGC 2264 is also known as the Christmas Tree Cluster.

Matthew 2:9 says "When [the Magi] had heard [Herod], they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was."
As a young'un I read a paper circulated at my university titled Lunar Occultations of Jupiter and Saturn, and the Star of Bethlehem (I think it was written by Dworetsky and Fossey of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at University College London).
It is quite heavy on the science (sorry Becky- you can skip to the last couple of paragraphs if you want to).
 They postulated that, following from a proposal that the star of Bethlehem may be identified with a pair of astrologically significant lunar occultations of Jupiter in Aries on 6 BC March 20 and April 17 "...the Magi (``wise men'') were astrologers who were able to predict the occultations from their observations of the Moon and empirical knowledge of its complicated path. Such occultations... were particularly significant astrological events, especially in association with certain configurations and heliacal risings, even if they were invisible to the eye because they took place after setting or during the middle of the day. In Magian astrology, the importance of a lunar conjunction was dependent on the proximity of the Moon to the other object, with an occultation being a particularly powerful form of close conjunction. Out of curiosity, we reviewed the astronomical events of 6BC with two commercially available PC packages... In the course of this diverting exercise we noticed two other events which, to the best of our knowledge, have not been previously mentioned: on the calendar day before each occultation of Jupiter, the Moon also occulted Saturn in Pisces. The first occultation of Saturn took place on March 19, 22.20 - 22.30 local Jerusalem time, i.e., after the planet had set and about 19 hours before the first occultation of Jupiter on March 20; the Moon occulted Saturn again on April 16, 10.51 - 12.09 local Jerusalem time, about 25 hours before the second occultation of Jupiter.
Saturn's astrological significance is also well documented. In Humphreys' discussion of the possible identification of the star of Bethlehem as a comet recorded by Chinese astronomers in the spring of 5 BC, it is noted that in Magian astrology Saturn represented the divine Father and Jupiter his son. Furthermore, according to late Mediaeval Jewish sources, Pisces was associated with the Jewish people
We... calculate[d] every lunar occultation above the horizon from the region of Jerusalem over a sample period of 2000 years (-1050 to +950). There were 369 single occultations and 42 double occultations ( i.e., one month apart). Of the latter, only three were in Aries... and two more were ``near misses.'' It would seem from this limited sample that such double occultations occur about twice a millennium in any given zodiacal sign. However, Mars is present in Aries only for 1/12 of the time, on average, so such a rare combination of events would occur about once every 6000 years. If one relaxed the criteria to seek only single occultations of Jupiter in Aries with Mars in the same sign, the average frequency would be once in 780 years, still quite a rare event. Therefore, we conclude that the occurrence of astrological events with the right general properties would have been rare enough (separated by 1-2 millennia) to have been unique in the experience and lore of the Magi.
At the time of the second saturnian occultation, both codes agree that the planet was well within one degree of the first point of Aries. In other words, at its occultation and that of Jupiter which followed, Saturn was in Pisces and about to enter the sign of Aries, which was associated with Judaea by the traditions of the era. Molnar pointed out that the occultation of Jupiter on April 17 would have occurred in a southwesterly direction as seen from Jerusalem, about 30° from the azimuth of Bethlehem, and suggested that---given the vagaries of the Judaean road system---this was close enough to have impressed the Magi as a powerful confirmation . We note that the occultation of Saturn on the previous day would actually have bracketed (188-218°) the true azimuth of Bethlehem (~195°) as seen from Jerusalem. We speculate that this may also be relevant to the literal interpretation of the star having ``stood over where the young child was''. Unlike ordinary celestial objects, which move through the sky with the Earth's diurnal rotation, an occultation lasting of the order of one hour can only take place in a narrow range of directions as seen from any single location.
We are not experts on Magian astrology or on Biblical exegesis, and are unwilling to assign definitive astrological, mystical, or religious import to our results. We leave it to others to interpret such shades of meaning, and to consider whether the remarkable events of 6 BC March 19--20 and April 16--17 lend further support to [the] proposed identification of the star of Bethlehem." 

What an interesting date range!

More so when taking into account current views of the birth of Christ as put forward in this months BYU Studies where Chadwick argues that "virtually all hard evidence, scriptural and otherwise, now points to a narrow window of time at the beginning of winter for the birth of the Savior, and that Jesus was quite likely born in December of the year 5 BC."

The common interpretation of D&C 20:1 that Christ was born April 6th 1BC has never sat comfortably with me. Bruce R. McConkie is quoted in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism saying "We do not believe it is possible with the present state of our knowledge-including that which is known both in and out of the Church-to state with finality when the natal day of the Lord Jesus actually occurred." Also, Herod is dated to have died in 4BC.

So I am of the view that Christ was born at around the time of Passover (so around 1st April) in 6BC

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