Cover image for The star of Bethlehem : the legacy of the Magi
The star of Bethlehem : the legacy of the Magi
Molnar, Michael R., 1945-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 187 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BT315.2 .M6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
BT315.2 .M6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Could the $50 purchase of an ancient coin by a Rutgers astronomer have unlocked the mystery of the Christmas Star? For years, scientists have looked, with little success, to astronomical records for an explanation of the magical star that guided the Magi to Christ's manger. Intrigued by the image he found on the latest addition to his coin collection, Michael Molnar thought there might be more to learn by looking, instead, at the teachings of ancient astrologers.

Molnar argues in his book that the Star of Bethlehem was not a star at all, but rather a regal portent centering around the planet Jupiter that was eclipsed by the moon. He bases this theory on the actual beliefs of astrologers, such as the Magi, who lived around the time of Christ. Molnar found some intriguing clues to the mystery while researching the meaning of astrological symbols he found an ancient coin, which bore the image of Aries looking back at a star. He found that Aries was a symbol of Judea at the time, and that ancient astrologers believed that a new king would be born when the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Molnar wondered, could the coin have been issued as a response to the Great Messianic Portent, the Star of Bethlehem?

To match the story of the appearance of the Christmas star, Molnar also knew the event had to happen when Jupiter was "in the east." Using these criteria and a computer program, he was able to chart an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries on April 17, 6 B.C., a day when Jupiter was precisely "in the east," which confirmed his theory. Moreover, he found that a Roman astrologer described the conditions of that day as fitting the birth of a "divine and immortal" person.

According to Harvard University Professor Owen Gingerich, "this is the most original and important contribution of the entire 20th century" about the Magi's star. Using clues from astronomy, astrology, and history, Molnar has created a provocative, fascinating theory on the Christmas Star. He weaves together an intriguing scientific detective story which resolves one of the world's greatest mysteries: The Star of Bethlehem at the birth of Christ.

Author Notes

MICHAEL R. MOLNAR, an astronomer, is retired from the Physics and Astronomy Department at Rutgers University.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Christian scholars have expended considerable ingenuity in providing scientific glosses for the scriptural account of the Star that shone above Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth. Astronomer Molnar disputes such explanations precisely because they derive from a modern perspective far removed from the outlook of ancient stargazers, who eagerly scanned the heavens for signs of the Messiah's birth. Ancient texts show conclusively that no portent would have excited greater expectations of a divine birth in Judea than a lunar occultation of Jupiter in the constellation Aries. And because sophisticated computer calculations reveal that such an eclipse did occur on April seventeenth in the year 6 B.C., Molnar fixes this as the celestial event that signaled the Christ child's birth. This assertion does require pushing Christ's birth back two years earlier than the commonly accepted 4 B.C. But evidence gleaned from early Roman and Jewish sources makes an earlier Nativity plausible. The uncanny fit of all the ancient and modern pieces of this puzzle makes for a highly persuasive argument. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

What did the Three Wise Men see in the night sky? Drawing on ancient astrology, astronomical records and Roman coins, Molnar, former manager of the Physics Instructional Labs at Rutgers, believes he knows what celestial event the Gospel of Matthew describes. Expanding on his own earlier essay for Sky & Telescope magazine, Molnar explains why coinage from Syria shows that "Aries is where stargazers would have watched for... the birth of a king of the Jews." Molnar argues that the famous portent couldn't have been a comet (comets meant bad news), a 5 B.C. nova, or a few planetary conjunctions important to modern, but not ancient, astrologers. Molnar's investigations lead him into discussions of Jesus' birth year and date (almost certainly not December 25, 1 A.D.). The portent that led the Magi to Jerusalem, thence to Bethlehem, Molnar concludes, plausibly enough, was a "heliacally rising Jupiter in conjunction with the Moon," with Sun, Moon, Jupiter and Saturn in Aries, occurring on April 17, 6 B.C.: "anyone born anywhere" on that date, by the rules of Roman astrology, "would have had a regal birth." Substantial notes and appendixes buttress Molnar's contention. Readers interested in ancient astrology and astronomy may gravitate to Molnar's book; those more curious about modern science and an array of possible theories about the Star will prefer the Kidger (reviewed above). 7 photos, 24 figures. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved