Sunday, December 26, 2010

an unsatisfying mix of astrology, astronomy and religion

not the most interesting subject

The other night, I think it was Christmas eve, I caught an odd late-night program on SBS, I think. It was called 'Star of Bethlehem. Behind the myth', and was completed in December 2009, so was probably first shown last Christmas. The blurb claims that astronomical evidence supports the Christmas story, by which they presumably mean the story of the 'star of Bethlehem'. The program didn't bear that out at all, in fact it was a sometimes interesting, often irritating mix of astronomical info and speculation, astrological history and religious pap. 
The theme of the program appeared to be: could the star of Bethlehem, the one mentioned in Matthew [and only in Matthew], refer to a real, verifiable event in the night sky at that time? Answer: quite possibly.
I mean - big fucking deal. Of course there could have been an event in the night sky sometime during the very vague defined period of time within which Jesus may have been born. Does this back up the Christian birth story? Of course not. Here's a quote from the doco:

Looking at the story of the magi and the stellar beacon from a scientific point of view, is it possible to determine what exactly the "star" was that heralded the arrival of a baby boy to the wise men? If you believe the account was more than just a story and the star was more than a story-telling device, then you need to analyze the sky around the time of Jesus's birth to find what may have played the role of the Star of Bethlehem.
This misses the bleeding obvious point [to me] that a very real comet or supernova may well have appeared in the night sky in 6BCE or 5BCE or 7BCE and been incorporated into the story by the author of Matthew, with as little regard for the truth as his genealogy of Jesus and his links to Old Testament 'prophecy'. The use of a 'star' as a portent would be just like Matthew - anything that might add to the significance of his 'messiah' would be roped in and manipulated to suit his story. It doesn't make the event [I mean Jesus's birth, not the comet or whatever] more real. As to the speculation about what the star of Bethlehem might actually have been, there just isn't enough information in Matthew to get a handle on it, so it's a bit pointless, but if evidence turned up that a comet or supernova was visible in the night sky at those latitudes in those years, that's fine and dandy, Matthew might have been referring to it. Or not. End of very feeble story. 

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