Question of the week: Was there really a Star of Bethlehem?
This week we were reading another article by Bishop Spong. This time Spong talked about a reputable astronomer who was arguing that the Star of Bethlehem could have been a real astronomical phenomenon. Spong, in his usual manner, said the astronomer was missing the point of the stories on the gospels — there was no real star of Bethlehem, but that does not make the story any less meaningful. Here’s three bullet points on this:
- Matthew is the only gospel that mentions the star. The other gospel with a birth story, Luke, has angels but no star. And Mark, the first gospel, has no birth story at all. Remember that all the stories of Jesus were written down well after the events took place, with Matthew’s version written 80 years after the birth of Jesus.
- Why was this written into Matthew? Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. This audience would have appreciated both a lineage back to David (talked about in a previous 3BT) and the symbolism of the star in signifying important Jewish events. Stars were used to introduce the births of significant figures. Abraham, Isaac, and Moses were all connected with stars.
- What else does Matthew change? He moves the birth city from Nazareth (which is where Mark says Jesus was from) to Bethlehem. Why? Again, it is because of the connection of Bethlehem back to King David and his Jewish audience.
This does not make the story any less insightful or symbolic. But in order to appreciate the richness of the stories, it helps to understand the viewpoint from which they were written.
Next week: Did you know there is a recently-discovered Gospel of Judas?