Cover image for The star of Bethlehem : an astronomer's view
The star of Bethlehem : an astronomer's view
Kidger, Mark R. (Mark Richard), 1960-
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 306 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QB805 .K525 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Two thousand years ago, according to the Bible, a star rose low in the east and stopped high above Bethlehem. Was it a miracle, a sign from God to herald the birth of Christ? Was there a star at all, or was it simply added to the Bible to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah? Or was the Star of Bethlehem an actual astronomical event? For hundreds of years, astronomers as prominent as Johannes Kepler have sought an answer to this last baffling question. In The Star of Bethlehem , Mark Kidger brings all the tools of modern science, years of historical research, and an infectious spirit of inquiry to bear on the mystery. He sifts through an astonishing variety of ideas, evidence, and information--including Babylonian sky charts, medieval paintings, data from space probes, and even calculations about the speed of a camel--to present a graceful, original, and scientifically compelling account of what it may have been that illuminated the night skies two millennia ago. Kidger begins with the stories of early Christians, comparing Matthew's tale of the Star and the three Magi who followed it to Bethlehem with lesser-known accounts excluded from the Bible. Crucially, Kidger follows the latest biblical scholarship in placing Christ's birth between 7 and 5 B.C., which leads him to reject various phenomena that other scientists have proposed as the Star. In clear, colorful prose, he then leads us through the arguments for and against the remaining astronomical candidates. Could the Star have been Venus? What about a meteor or a rare type of meteor shower? Could it have been Halley's Comet, as featured in Giotto's famous painting of the Nativity? Or, as Kidger suspects, was the Star a combination of events--a nova recorded in ancient Chinese and Korean manuscripts preceded by a series of other events, including an unusual triple conjunction of planets?

Originally published in 1999.

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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Dismissed by skeptics as a pious invention, the Star of Bethlehem has long fascinated believers (including the astronomer Kepler and the painter Giotto) intrigued by the possibility of a natural explanation of the phenomenon. An accomplished astronomer, Kidger sets out to unravel the mystery, taking his first clues from the New Testament description of the star but soon drawing us into the Apocrypha, into recent biblical scholarship, and eventually into ancient Chinese history and modern space exploration. An easily accessible style permits readers with minimal scientific training to share in the excitement of Kidger's rare feat of scholarly sleuthing. Scrupulously impartial, Kidger weighs half a dozen explanations of the Marvelous Star--an unusual sighting of Venus? A comet? A meteor? A meteor show?--before settling on the tantalizingly plausible but still tentative identification of the Star as a nova occurring in 5 B.C., preceded by a series of unusual planetary configurations. Kidger will not convince all doubters, but his book will reset the terms for future attempts to put the scriptural Star in a scientific context. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Plenty of new and old data about the night sky and more than a little ancient history inform Kidger's clear account of his own and others' theories about the portent that led the Magi to Judea. A researcher at Spain's Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, and a columnist for the Astronomer, Kidger steers meticulously to his own, admittedly speculative, answer, devoting several chapters to popular and once-popular accounts of the Star, discussing, among other theories, Halley's Comet (impossible), unusual meteors (nope), and supernovas (none took place in the right decade). Kidger regards Michael Molnar's version (explicated at length in Molnar's own book, reviewed below) as "one of the most credible" explanations, though he points out that Molnar's thesis doesn't translate into much for the Magi, or anyone else, to have seen. Kidger outlines ideas about the professions and origins of the Three Wise Men themselves, who (assuming they existed) may have been Zoroastrians from Persia or Babylonian Jews in exile. Drawing on Chinese astronomical records, Kidger concludes that the Magi set out for Judea when a 5 B.C. nova followed a special conjunction of planets in Pisces. An appendix describes the rest of the night sky as it probably looked from Bethlehem. 23 b&w illus. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Was the Star of Bethlehem a real astronomical phenomenon, a miracle that cannot be explained scientifically, or a myth? Kidger, a researcher at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias in Tenerife, Spain, argues in favor of the first of these possibilities. He proposes that the "Star" was actually a series of noteworthy astronomical events occurring over a period of three to four years. Kidger takes care to examine (and reject) numerous other possible explanations as he lays out his chain of reasoning, and he does a good job of discussing various astronomical phenomena in the process. But he fails to provide adequate evidence in support of some assumptions crucial to his own theory. An optional purchase, especially if David Hughes's The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's Confirmation (LJ 2/1/80) is already in the collection. Librarians seeking new titles on this topic might also want to consider Michael Molnar's The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi (Rutgers Univ., 1999). (Index not seen.)ÄNancy Curtis, Fogler Lib., Univ. of Maine, Orono (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Astrophysicist Kidger (Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain) offers a scientific mystery story: not "whodunit" but "what-is-it." Early Christian writings supply some clues. The real birth date of Jesus is crucial. The reader must understand the various and intricate calendar alterations that have been made. With these in hand, one may conclude that the date is 5 BCE with an uncertainty of a year or two. Then the range of apparently suitable candidates can be studied, from Halley's comet, to Venus, to a nearby supernova. Each of these is accompanied by a quite nice description. Further candidate culling is accomplished in large part by looking at what is known of the trip of the Magi and with reference to Chinese observations. The 500-mile journey by camel train required several months. The "star" had to be visible for the entire duration of the journey. Finally, a nova explosion, DO Aquilae, has the right pedigree. An exhaustive day-by-day study of the "sky above Bethlehem" during the spring combined with Chinese observations make a decent if not airtight argument. Kidger has done a wonderful job of scholarship and data reduction. He has created a readable, informative, and thought-provoking book that belongs in all good college libraries. All levels. K. L. Schick; Union College (NY)

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Chapter 1 Matthew's Starp. 3
Chapter 2 A Star over Bethlehem?p. 20
Chapter 3 The First Christmasp. 39
Chapter 4 Halley's Comet and Other Red Herringsp. 73
Chapter 5 Shooting Stars and Fiery Rainsp. 110
Chapter 6 Supernova Bethlehem?p. 136
Chapter 7 We Three Kingsp. 166
Chapter 8 Triple Conjunctions: A Key to Unlocking the Mystery?p. 198
Chapter 9 Is the Answer Written in Chinese?p. 219
Chapter 10 What Was the Star of Bethlehem?p. 247
Which Star Is the Star?p. 267
The Heavens above Bethlehemp. 277
Notesp. 289
Bibliographyp. 295
Indexp. 301