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Posted by on Dec 21, 2013 in Books, cosmology, Skepticism | 7 comments

The Star of Bethlehem in the News

[Aaron Adair] It’s been a while since I have posted, but I have been super-busy with getting my PhD and other research-related activities. But there has been some great news when it comes to my work on The Star of Bethlehem. Over on Amazon, the reviews have been very positive, with one exception–though that person has proven to not be a charitable reader to put it nicely.

Another review went up today over at Astro Guyz. It is very positive and it is done in the light of the book by Michael Molnar on the same subject. Great to see others comparing the two and thinking I had the better argument. Speaking of arguments, a post went up over at Debunking Christianity that included my book as something worth buying for the holidays, and the comments have led to some interesting engagements. Yes, there is a comment section I think worth reading. It’s a Christmas miracles?

The biggest news for today is that an article has been published in the Columbus Dispatch, on of Ohio’s biggest newspapers. It includes a picture of me as well as bits from an interview I did with the reporter, JoAnne Viviano, a few weeks ago.

fv-star-of-bethlehem-art-gsjpvdkr-1fv-star-of-bethlehem-b-jpg

You can see my ugly mug here. It’s right next to the computer.

There has been a lot of twitter traffic for this article, and I won’t mind if it brings me more attention. Repeating bits of the post, Doubtful News also talks about the subject and promotes my book. Thank you for that, Sharon Hill.

Also coming soon, the podcast Exposing Pseudoastronomy should be putting out an interview with me (probably tomorrow). That went well, except my voice was going bad since I burned my vocal chords a couple of days before. And I am planning another interview very soon about the same subject.

So, lots of things happening about this story. Stay tuned for more as it happens on my Facebook page for the book.

Here is the article:

Star of Bethlehem a literary creation, says Ohio State physics scholar

Aaron Adair received his first taste of the Star of Bethlehem mystery when he worked as a planetarium-show presenter while an undergraduate student at Michigan State University.

A decade later, after exploring dozens of star theories dating back centuries, he’s a skeptic.

In the newly published The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, the Ohio State University scholar says the star was most likely the literary creation of the author of the Gospel of Matthew, meant to convey a message of salvation.

None of the other hypotheses he has encountered can explain it, Adair said, and at least one — that the star was a “fantastic” conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in either 3 or 2 B.C. — would have to change history to fit the story.

“I found out that pretty much all the hypotheses failed to really conform to what the Gospel actually said,” noted Adair, who has a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in physics education at Ohio State.

The story, told only in Matthew, says the star appeared upon Jesus’ birth and guided wise men, or magi, from the East to worship him.

“A lot of the literature of the time is ultimately not to say what happened but is ultimately some sort of symbolic tale,” Adair said. “It’s supposed to be an important legend or myth that … tries to explain points of theology in the way of storytelling.”

The so-called star, from early on, was thought to have been something other than a star as we now define it, said the Rev. Scott Carl, an assistant professor of Scripture at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Various theories have been presented, from a super nova to a comet to some sort of planetary motion, said Carl, a Catholic priest who said he has not read Adair’s book.

“There are also some who will say, given its nature, perhaps it wasn’t a star as such or even something with a naturalistic explanation,” he said. “Perhaps it was an angel or perhaps a coordination that started as a natural formation, then an angel assisted.”

Some scholars, he said, are reconsidering the date of death for Herod the Great, who ruled over the Jews at the time of Jesus’ birth. He is widely believed to have died in 4 B.C., but there is some research into whether he died three years earlier, a change that also would change the year of Jesus’ birth and give more credence to planetary explanations for the star.

Carl said he’s inclined to believe that something unusual attracted the magi, and he believes theologians and other researchers should “at least keep the question open.”

“To say it’s something that’s solved, that would be too neat,” he said. “We should be careful not to make absolute opinions in matters that we don’t have as much data as we’d like to make such judgments.”

Brett Ellman, an associate professor of physics and planetarium director at Kent State University, said the fact that the star in Matthew is not referenced in any of the other Gospels leaves researchers ill-equipped.

“Since there is very little ‘evidence’ to go by … there seems to me to be no reliable way to ever really account for either its cause or, indeed, its reality,” he said.

“Of course, matters of religion are often outside the purview of science — if one chooses to believe in something based on faith, they generally do not require a real-world explanation.”

Ellman said he is not familiar with Adair’s work but that the so-called star certainly could have been an allegory used as a teaching or mnemonic tool for early adherents to Christianity.

“Just as it might have been many other things,” he added. “There is nothing like a lack of evidence to generate a plethora of theories.”

Although Adair said his theory might upset some believers, others came to the same conclusion years ago, and he’s simply trying to encourage the scientific community to catch up. He’s not a believer himself, but it is not his goal to undercut religion with his book, he said. “Saying one particular story is false hardly proves the non-existence of any God.

“It’s a way of reimagining the faith and getting back to something a little more original, re-understanding the intent of the author rather than imposing what many moderns want — that they want every i dotted and t crossed about what really happened, and if anything is false to throw the thing away,” he said.

Regardless of the explanation, Carl said, the Gospel story of the magi following a star to find the newborn Christ gives the sense that Jesus, being adored by non-Israelites, is a universal king “ for all people,” not just the Jews.

“I hope our ongoing pondering of the star helps people to receive the invitation to see this newborn king and his importance in their lives,” he said.

  • Rollan McCleary

    One should desire truth, not just attention and sales so it’s controversial to declare as long as there are Twitter comments to direct attention it’s good.

    Aaron Adair’s recent “The Bethlehem Star: A Skeptical View” maintains the Star was a literary creation symbolizing salvation. Suppose I maintained as only one of a blizzard of
    suggestive coincidences, that when Christ “the Redeemer” was born (at a date
    and time enlarging on researches of some notable astronomers) he improbably and against
    chance was so with his identity giving natal sun conjunct the Part of Redemption, (a Part is an ancient mathematical formula needing a near exact birth time to fall meaningfully
    wherever it is in a horoscope). Suppose I also told you that beyond the
    meaningful planetary set up at Christ’s birth that Magi could see, asteroids (unknown
    and unseen at the time of the birth), formed a super conjunction declaring this
    person was the Messiah? Suppose I said the names of the person’s ancestors happened to be in the right house of origins along with Paradise? This is only the beginning of a vast mystery and a picture so remarkable in its detail it is a kind of fifth gospel in itself. Would people be interested? Would you want to know and hear? Probably not, you’d more likely ignore or jeer at it as nonsense. Too good to be true. Mere fancy. It’s happened and though I’m a theologian and astrologer it’s why the world doesn’t have the facts but the debunkers can secure attention..

    The material I am referring to was described by a top editor of a top publisher as
    “groundbreaking, fascinating and publishable”. But it has not been published.
    The unexplained verdict was “it wouldn’t fit our lists”. Why not just say “no
    room at the inn?”. Censorship by any other name! But Aaron Adair denying the whole idea of the star in time for Christmas has been and is being promoted and reviewed
    everywhere. This is typical of the modern outlook at the end of the Piscean era Christ’s birth introduced. There’s no need even to try and test what I am saying. Sorry but I question the sincerity of sceptics. Belief is not fashionable, and if you’re too exact it’s dismissed as fundamentalism anyway. The unusual can’t be true, rather as statistician Michel Gauquelin
    after proving through thousands of cases that certain factors of a horoscope could be reproduced for certain professions was dismissed at the Belgian Academy of Science with “If astrology can be proved by statistics, then we no longer believe in statistics”. For many
    people mysteries are more attractive than the solutions, travelling is better than
    arriving. And skeptics believe what they want more than they are prepared to admit.

    If you want to know beyond reasonable doubt when Jesus was born and a lot about his life
    and Jesus issues to this day, look at

    http://bit.ly/18LQOad

    And if you want the full works, my self published “Testament of the Magi” gives all the data
    and explanations from beginning to end.

    http://amzn.to/12eP5S8

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Are you saying astrological signs can actually causally affect people and their lives and outcomes????

      • Rollan McCleary

        The subject is too big for here, I can only say the signs do supply a general framework – though whether they trigger or just reflect what happens remains an open question. But people can’t do or be just anything. Thus the Gauquelin statistics traced how different planets “angular” reflected different careers like Saturn for doctors, Jupiter for actors, Mars for athletes. However planetary symbols, unlike name/word asteroids, are multivalent though within their field not contradictory – so-called “lucky” planets won’t show “unlucky” events (unless possibly Jupiter events could oversee cheerful over-indulgence which help undo you!). If, say, Jupiter transits an ascendant it’s hard to know if (as sometimes happens) a backlog of problems dissolves or people merely feel more positive cheerful. The strong or weak status of Jupiter at birth would give greater idea. Some factors seem to defintely limit, some to present opportunity which one must then take but may not.
        Especially some techniques of German astrology are more would-be time and fate measuring than others usually employed. The late Gwen Stoney who specialized in these read my data for Christ not long after I found it and was convinced of its extreme exactitude because she claimed to read painful death for the chart pattern around the time given for crucifixion in AD 30.

        • Gilgamesh42

          Part of my study of the Star of Bethlehem was the nature of astrology. And the issue is that not only do astrologers fail to predict better than chance, but that they also agree on the meaning of horoscopes little better than chance. So you saying a number of asteroids, which were all discovered well after the time of Jesus and could not have been considered by ancient astrologers, looks like more of the same.

          As for Gauquelin, it is apparent that there were significant issues with his data and methods. For example, see these links:
          http://www.skepsis.nl/mars.html
          http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/11-04-06/

          The wiki article is also pretty good.

          If we also throw in the historical considerations from my research, then we know we can’t believe the story from the Gospel happened at all. It was written as myth through and through.

          • Rollan McCleary

            A lot of astrologers aren’t qualified and many also try to be unduly exact in forecasts because it’s what clients, or what they think clients, want and expect. However you can’t tell people they’ll win a pink Rolls Royce, that sort of thing is fortune telling. I have myself however described and forecast situations for myself and others correctly on a routine basis to the point I hardly find it remarkable. Saturn periods are most striking for their frustrations, limitations and hard work with lowered energies and many people if already weak can be really ill or die with Saturn crossing their ascendants which reflects the body. These things are regular as a train timetable. (Being sufficiently persuaded I have never bothered much about the “scientific” inquiries but I do know that while no reputable astrologer will deny forecasts can be off, many are angered at the way “scientific” inquiries can themselves be biased and skewed. And undeniably the scientific mind can be as hard to deal with as the fundamentalist mindset in religion. There’s only one level of truth for them, basically a mathematical one. Symbolic and all other types of thought can be thrown out of the window). But the more psychological astrology like that of Dr Liz Green which traces complexes and phases for various obsessions can be impressive. As to the asteroids and how they work out in the chart for Christ. You can go and study for the details if you wish (http://amzn.to/12eP5S8) and come back and tell me that degree of coincidence means nothing and I’ll be interested to hear. Though much more is involved even just the article following the poem on the blog is distinctly remarkable by any standards. http://bit.ly/18LQOad. Just to have things like a mere formula like Part of the Brothers turning up the correct name conjunct it is striking. But I wouldn’t expect a really committed habitual sceptic to be impressed. It can even sometimes finish up with them rather as Jesus observed, “though one rose from the dead they would not believe”.

          • Gilgamesh42

            From what I have seen, your methods have a coincidence chance of about 100%. That is because of how you choose what is important and even what language-specific name a given object has to get the desired symbolism. In other words, you are getting what you are looking for. And that has been the case for everyone that has applied astrology to the question of the Star of Bethlehem. I prove in my book that any given horoscope can get you the desired conclusion. I did this with a horoscope provided by Dr. Molnar, using the same ancient sources as he did, and was able to ‘prove’ that Jesus would have suffered elephantiasis, suffered epileptic seizures, and been a sex slave. Or, you can read out the positive results and get the divine king of the world. All you have to do is choose what to focus on.

            This has been proven in careful studies to happen for professional astrologers, past and present. So any series of asteroids and their symbolic meaning is irrelevant because another person could have chosen different asteroids or different names for them, or considered different combinations or aspects, included other things (exaltation points, elemental and sexual characteristics of the signs, which zodiac system, etc.) and gotten another date or ‘proven’ that your date would produce a terrible child. So you can’t impress someone with your methods. You might as well throw darts; that game is at least fun.

            To get all the details about the failures of astrologer, past and present, you will need to check out the research I sight in my book.

          • Rollan McCleary

            To be facetious, could and should I trust the research of someone who sights (you mean cites) material in a book? And I do see other errors but let it pass.
            The planetary symbols are multivalent (though how you would get a chart that made Jesus a sex slave etc defies imagination. It is your imagination as a non astrologer going on a rampage and concluding how astrologers might think). However, as I’ve said, the asteroids are just what they are. Asteroid Handel doesn’t mean Bach. I didn’t expect, I wasn’t even looking for things like a super conjunction of Jesus names/titles or his ancestors in his origins house. How even could or would I? Few astrologers anyway use such, it takes too much time sorting it all out but I was committed to the full treatment having entered the path. When I saw that one or two seemed oddly appropriate, curious I just kept asking and applying names and concepts to see where they might turn up, something I couldn’t guess. But personally I do think a “coincidence” like the merest mathematical part, the Part of Death conjunct of all things Acrux (cross) says something and other such striking combinations likewise. I didn’t arrange it or intend it.
            Methinks It doesn’t suit you to accept things metaphysical so you won’t. Faith is not just a gift, it can be a virtue as against endless nay saying for the sake of it, and sometimes just to live naturally, normally and practically we are all obliged to generalize without questioning that on every instance.