The Bible leaves tons of questions unanswered. For example…
What was the family life of Jesus like growing up?
Who were the “wise men” that are so often depicted in our nativity scenes today?
What did Mary & Joseph do with all that frankincense and myrrh? (The gold makes sense.)
How come we don’t hear about Joseph after Jesus’ childhood? What happened to him?
Wise Men from the East
The only place in the Bible that talks about the wise men bringing gifts is Matthew. The other Gospels don’t mention it.Did you ever wonder about that star those guys saw? Usually it’s depicted by a huge light in the sky that’s nearly as big and bright as the moon. But if it was that bright, how could they have possibly been the only ones who saw it?
When they got to Jerusalem everyone was surprised by their questions looking for a new king. Herod asked them when they saw the star, so it’s obvious he didn’t notice it. Take a look at how Matthew tells it.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.— Matthew 2:1-12
So what did they see in the sky?
Well one possible explanation put forth by an astronomer is that they saw Jupiter. In particular Jupiter in the sign of Aries. At dawn. It’s an interesting theory. From the article,
Working on a computer, Molnar learned that the morning of April 17, 6 B.C. contained all the elements he was looking for: Jupiter rose in the east, in the sign of Aries the ram. Joining it in Aries were the sun, the moon, and Saturn — events that would have added to the moment’s extraordinary significance for the ancients.
“The basic elements of this event occur once every 60 years — in other words, once a lifetime,” says Molnar.
But there’s more: Mars and Mercury weren’t in Aries, and they also weren’t in positions that would have wrecked the divine interpretation. Mars is notorious for upending astrological events by showing up in the wrong part of the sky when everything else is in seeming alignment.
“If you think like an ancient astronomer would have thought, this event would have been extraordinarily exciting,” says Molnar.
Partial ExplanationAn explanation like that accounts for the part about no one else seeing the star and it not being mentioned in the other gospels.
If that were the case, it would have looked more like this photo than the image above. Jupiter’s just a tiny dot above the moon instead of some celestial spotlight. That would make it easily missed by average folks who weren’t studied-up on the astronomy of their day.
However, thinking about it, that doesn’t really account for the bit about how the star “went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.”
It gets us part of the way there. Like many theories though, it seems incomplete.