Athena's Web Weekly Column

Week of January 2nd - January 8th,  2004

A Way in a Manger

Columns Archive


  "While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her child, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for him at the inn."

  Luke 2:1-7

In the Manger

In the Manger

  'Tis the season of the birth of the Christ Child. Whereever we look around us we find images from the nativity. In previous episodes of the Web, we have explored the Biblical history of the birth of the Messiah and discovered that, according to astronomical evidence, he was probably born after the helical rising of Jupiter and Saturn in March 7 BC,

  "...we saw his star as it rose..."

  Matthew 2:2

  ...when these two planets would have emerged out of the early morning sunlight and first been seen by those who observed such things. The other end of our window of time would be July 7th, 7 BC, when Saturn 'pivoted,' or began its retrograde motion over Bethlehem, just as Matthew describes it:

  "And there in front of them (the Wise Men) was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was."

  Matthew 2:9

  At the time mentioned above, the Child has already been born. The Magi have talked to Herod, inquired about him, and are on their way.

  To provide some of the historical framework, Augustus Caesar ruled from 30 BC to 14 AD. We know that Herod died in 4 BC. If the latter indeed ordered the slaughter of innocents after the Messiah was born, then it must have been before he died. The census under Quirinius, governor of Syria, narrows the window to between 8-6 BC. The details arguing the Saturn Jupiter conjunction as the probable Star of Bethlehem have been discussed in earlier Webs. We postulated that if this 'season' did indeed mark the birth of the Christ child, it was probably fairly close to May 29th, 7 BC, near the first exact conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

Saturn Jupiter conjunction

The Saturn Jupiter conjunction

  Matthew and Luke tell us about the birth of the Christ child, but is it possible that the 'story' is a heavenly reflection, a 'mythological' recreation of events taking place, not only on Earth, but in Heaven as well? If so, our chief celestial clue may be the image of the birth in the manger.

  There is a star grouping known as the 'Manger'. Located in the constellation Cancer, together with its two close companions, Asellus Borealis and Australus (Northern and Southern Donkeys), this star is a 'manger' between two asses. The question is, where there any significant conjunctions to this stellar grouping between March (when Saturn and Jupiter emerged out of the 'East' and the early morning's Sun's rays), and July, 7 BC, when the 'astronomers' of the time saw Saturn 'halting' (retrograding) over the place of the Messiah's birth?

  On May 30th, 7 BC, Venus conjuncted this position, the only visible planet to do so during this window of time. On the following evening, May 31st, 7 BC, the Moon joined the alignment and conjuncted both Venus and the Manger, just as Saturn and Jupiter aligned to form our now famous Star of Bethlehem. If this mythological application is correct, we have narrowed the astronomical margin to within a period of about 48 hours of the birth of the Christ Child, simply using the some of the imagery supplied by the Good Book.