Whether Haley’s Comet was the Star of Bethlehem?
The story of Star of Bethlehem is a mingling of myth and reality. Star of Bethlehem in Biblical lore marked the birth of Christ. It is said that the star had attracted the attention of the Wise Men of the East. Could it be possible that the story of the star has a basis in a real celestial event? In the Bible, the star is mentioned only in the Gospel of St Matthew 2:1-2. The passage reads, “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”.
Gospel account says that King Herod did not know about the star until the wise men spoke about it. Astronomers now believe that in the year 7 Â¼, the planets Jupiter and Saturn appeared to form a close paring. Whether, the pairing had produced a dazzling object? In yet another remarkable event two brightest planets, Venus, and Jupiter came so close together that their pairing too appeared to merge into one; but it is not known whether they had merged into one dazzling object. How King Herod or his advisors could not see such a momentous occurrence?
It is recorded in the Gospel that ‘Star of Bethlehem’ attracted attention of three wise men of the east. Who were these wise men? The people before had a notion that the comets are heavenly omens. Babylonians, Egyptians, and Mayans had developed the first constellation maps and useful calendars; but only Babylonians had perfected the calendar by studying of the motions of the Sun and Moon. Perhaps they were astrologers from Babylon; only they could have known about planets, stars, and their positions. As early as 400 BC Babylonians could predict the time of the new moon and the day on which the new month would begin. They also knew the daily positions of the Moon and Sun for every day during the month. Babylonians were also able to calculate the planetary positions; and knew how to represent their eastward and retrograde motions. Since wise men from Babylon were already so advanced in astronomy, it is highly improbable that they would have mistaken the dazzling object due to pairing of Jupiter and Saturn; or of Venus and Jupiter as a star. Further, the pairing could not have produced a dazzling object, as the star of Bethlehem is traditionally depicted.
There is a probability that the Star of Bethlehem wise men saw was Halley’s comet. They perhaps knew about its regular reappearance as it was first seen in 240 BC. Before we assume this let us, check whether the recorded date of its first sighting is correct? Halley’s comet reappears after every 76 years; last, it had appeared in the year 1985, so it will appear next in 2061. Since Halley’s comet appears at a regular interval of every 76 years; thus the year of its first sighting should be 219 BC and not 240 BC.
By this calculation, the last sighting of Halley’s comet around Holy night should be either 67 BC; or the first sighting after the birth of Christ should be 9 AD. Gregorian Christian calendar had placed the year of birth of Christ around 1 BC. Modern scholars, however, do not agree; they say Christ was born around 4 BC. Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus had fixed the birth of Christ in the year 753 after the founding of Rome. In Roman chronology the era of the founding of the city ab urbe condita, or AUC) dates from April 22, 753 Â¼; and the Julian era date from the reform of the calendar by Julius Caesar in 45 BC. In face of such disagreement how could anyone ever establish the year of the Lord correctly?
If Halley’s comet happened to be the Star of Bethlehem then the assumed date of birth of Christ will have to be fixed around 67 Â¼. Christ probably died at the age of 33. The most pertinent question, which can settle this issue, is whether the year of the Lord should begin with his birth or his death. Only then, it would not be too difficult to say whether Halley’s comet seen on the Holy Night actually was the Star of Bethlehem.