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Using powerful computer software, an Australian astronomer says that he has re-created the night sky over Bethlehem in the year 2 B.C. and discovered a planetary conjunction that may have been the Star of Bethlehem that drew the Magi to worship the baby Jesus.

Astronomer Dave Reneke said the close proximity of Venus and Jupiter created a spectacle in the night sky just before the summer solstice that year. Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported that Reneke went so far as to suggest that perhaps Christmas should be celebrated on June 17 rather than December 25. An interesting idea, since the December Christmas celebration probably doesn't mark the true birth day of Jesus either. The December observance has its roots in a Roman celebration of the winter solstice.

Reneke seems to assume such a celestial spectacle would automatically spur the Magi, who were Mesopotamian astrologer/astronomers, to travel a great distance to pay tribute to a newborn king. This is the weakness in most Bethlehem Star theories.

A variety of celestial spectacles have been proposed as the Star of Bethlehem. The famed 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler suggested it was a nova, a temporarily ultra-bright star. Others have suggested a comet, although in ancient times a comet was usually perceived as a bad omen.

Beyond bright ideas

The story in Matthew's Gospel seems to indicate that the people of Judea were oblivious to the Star. So, at least one scholar has taken a different approach to identifying the Star of Bethlehem.

"I set out to find what a stargazer of Roman times would have recognized as the star of a new Judean king," wrote retired Rutgers University astronomer Michael Molnar in the preface of his 1999 book, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy ...

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