A Lewis man, who has interests in both astronomy and theology, believes that his research has been able to pinpoint the Star of Bethlehem.
Donny Mackay, who is president of the Stornoway Astronomical Society and a lecturer and researcher with the UK Biblical Research Society, shared his findings in a radio interview with KaleidoScot’s Stuart Russell.
Mackay said he was motivated by the fact that he’s always had an interest in understanding the Biblical account of the appearance of the star, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew. “The Star of Bethlehem has always intrigued me,” he explained. “I decided to put all my research skills into one package and see where it led me.”
He continued: “To positive identify the Star of Bethlehem you need to take Biblical and historical evidence into account as well as astronomical evidence…I would say the skies today are much the same as they were at the time of Jesus Christ. There were a few rare events in the night sky at that time, but generally it’s much the same.”
Asked whether he had identified the famous star, Mackay replied that he believed he had. “Yes…but I should add that the Star of Bethlehem is not actually a star. It certainly resembles a star, but it’s what we refer to as a planetary conjunction in which the two brightest objects in the night sky (the planets Venus and Jupiter) came together and appeared as one bright object when viewed from the earth.
“Using astronomy alone a number of people have identified the planetary conjunction [at that time] but they left it at that and didn’t follow it through…. When you put together the historical and Biblical evidence together you can then say that what you have found is the Star of Bethlehem.”
Mackay is eager to encourage more people to take up astronomy and the Stornoway Astronomical Society now has over 200 members. Having been introduced to astronomy at the age of 9, he says the best thing about his interest is the rate of discovery and the thrill of uncovering the unknown.
Other astronomers have suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might have been a comet or the light from the birth of a nova, or new star. Astronomers in the Far East recorded the appearance of a new star in the small, northern constellation of Aquila in 4BC – which would have been roughly in keeping with Matthew’s historical dating of the birth of Christ. However, none of the scientific explanations can adequately explain why it would have stopped over Bethlehem, and many Biblical scholars have come to see the Star of Bethlehem story as symbolic metaphor.
Does the birth narrative in Matthew’s gospel record a historical phenomenon or was it a symbolic reference to what the writer believed were powerful truths about Jesus’ life and mission? Whatever the case, it will undoubtedly intrigue people for generations to come.