On December 25th we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus for Christians; a feast full of symbols among which the famous Comet Star stands out.
The Comet Star, according to tradition, was the star that guided the Magi to the place where Jesus was born.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi asked: “Where is the King of the Jews who was born? We have seen his star rise, and we have come to worship him.”
Are we sure that it was indeed a comet that guided the Magi?
The Feast of Christmas
Traditionally the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated every year on the 25th of December, the feast of Christmas, and the date is set in what is called Year Zero.
As we know, there are no historical documents that allow a precise dating of the Nativity of Jesus.
However, we do know, according to the gospels, that Jesus was born during the time of Herod the Great.
Herod died as an old man in 4 BC, already from this we can deduce that Christ would have been born definitely before the Year 0, the date fixed for his birth.
As for December 25, we know that on this date was celebrated the pagan festival of “Sol Invictus” (ie the invincible Sun).
An annual recurrence dedicated to the rebirth of the solar cycle after the Sun, at the winter solstice, had touched the minimum declination and then reversed its path marking the beginning of a new period.
At that time the winter solstice fell on the 25th and not on the 21st of December as it is today.
The date of Jesus’ birth
As far as the year is concerned, the relative collocation is instead the work of Dionysius the Small who fixed it at 753rd year from the foundation of Rome.
Dionysius the Small was a Shiite monk who lived in the 6th century and was commissioned by Pope John I to find easy rules to calculate the date of Easter, but he went further.
Having established the year of Christ’s birth, the monk called the year Domini 1 the year following the year of Rome’s birth, thus the 754th year from the founding of Rome.
However, by analyzing the texts of the Gospels, we deduce that these calculations were affected by inaccuracies:
Herod’s death being dated to 4 B.C., the birth of Jesus, prior to it, is therefore to be placed a few years earlier.
By means of historical evidence we obtain that the date of the census is dated around 746 – 748 (ab urbe condita), and therefore on average 6-8 years before the deadline set by Dionysius the Small.
In addition to this there is to take into consideration the census called by Caesar Augustus that was placed between 8 and 6 BC.
In the New Testament we read that Joseph and Mary had gone to Bethlehem to fulfill the census called by Caesar Augustus.
Mary would have given birth to Jesus during their stay in this city at the rising of the moon.
From these references we deduce that the birth of Jesus is to be placed between 8 and 4 BC.
This would also fit well with Herod’s decision to have all the males who were in Bethlehem from the age of two killed.
The Christmas Comet Star
In order to define even better the actual date of Christ’s birth, the famous comet may come to our aid.
Tradition so far identifies the famous star in a comet, but this is a custom that is to be attributed to the Florentine painter Giotto.
These in fact in 1304 painted a fresco, which is located in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, in which he depicted the star a comet.
To remember that in 1301 there was the passage of Halley’s comet that could have influenced the painter.
However, Halley’s comet appeared in the sky in 12 B.C., therefore too much in advance in comparison with the birth of Christ.During the centuries, however, many comets have been observed which, after having accidentally penetrated inside the solar system, were then lost in the sidereal night.
The same phenomenon could have happened at that time even if we have no trace of it.
We must also add the fact that comets were never considered symbols of good omen but rather messengers of misfortune
The Comet Star was not even a meteorite. Meteorites or “shooting stars” are rocky bodies that trace in the sky a very bright trail but only a few seconds, little to be a persistent indication.
The hypothesis of the planetary configuration
The most likely event would consist in a rare planetary configuration; such an event would not have escaped the Magi, priests who administered the cult of Zoroastrianism.
The astronomer Kepler in 1603, had observed the approach between Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces.
Generally this phenomenon is isolated but in some cases the two planets approach and move away three times in less than a year.
The following year Kepler observed a very rare event: the appearance in the sky of a supernova that could be observed with the naked eye even in broad daylight.
This vision probably convinced Kepler that the celestial phenomenon narrated in the gospels could be the appearance of a new star.
Kepler was convinced that a very bright star was always announced by the approach of two planets.
Kepler calculated what could be the repeatability of the phenomenon finding that such triple conjunctions stationed in the constellation of Pisces occurs exactly every 805 years.
Going back in time we arrived at 7 B.C. when the triple conjunction occurred on May 29, October 3 and December 4 of that year.
In mythology Jupiter represented the figure of a king, a leader; Saturn represented justice and therefore, by extension, also the wise guide and the constellation of Pisces represented the people of Israel, the people that Moses led through the waters of the Red Sea.
In May of 7 B.C. the Magi observe the first of the three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces and attribute a symbolic value related to the birth of the Jewish Messiah.
Having then been able to calculate the successive conjunctions of the two planets, they set out to reach Jerusalem in October.
The “Christmas” Comet Star returns
At the end of 2020, the “Christmas Star” returns to shine in the sky: it hasn’t happened for 800 years.
The phenomenon will be visible throughout the month and especially on December 21, coinciding with the winter solstice.
To learn more about the event of the conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn you can visit this site.