Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”
So sings the Judas Iscariot character in “Jesus Christ, Superstar” in the extravagant show-stopping number in the Broadway musical.
The authors of the play probably were aware that recent scholarship places the birth of Jesus a few years before the date determined by medieval Christians centuries after the event. Scripture itself has no clue, other than to mention that it occurred “in the time of Caesar Augustus”. Modern astronomers feel the Star of Bethlehem that heralded the birth was either a comet, nova or planetary conjunction. The latter is the most likely candidate, not only was there one about that time, but we know that astronomers of that era would have been able to predict it years ahead of time. Rome was hooked on astrology, as was the rest of the Hellenistic world, and the eastern empires of Persia and India had advanced astronomy as well, so they might have guessed that something big might be happening at the time the planets came together in alignment. The planets, of course, were nowhere near each other, and only appeared close together from the viewpoint of Earth, but the Wise Men from the East didn’t know that, did they?
They would have expected that significant historical events were inevitably connected to the planets coming together in the sky.
We’ve just witnessed a spectacular conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter (closest approach was last night on the shortest night of the year) although it is still an awesome sight low in the southwestern sky after sunset. From my house it is clearly visible, although for observers in the northern US it may be very close to the horizon, and hard to see in the evenining twilight. The two planets appear about 10′ apart,. For comparison, the lunar disc is about 30′ in diameter.
Its difficult to believe that the chance alignment of two distant worlds actually affects modern Man in the same way it did the Ancients, but we know, it does. Astrology is still widely believed, even in “advanced” societies. But I am surprised that this astronomical coincidence has not been seized upon by fundamentalist Christians, given that the event occurred (again, coincidentally) at winter solstice, just days before Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. All the portents are in place, Christmas stars, the winter solstice, the upcoming holiday, and certainly a turbulent world, complete with a planetary pandemic.
Does a new Messiah walk among us? Probably not, especially if he was born just last night. But if he was, he’ll be an adult and certainly walking about mid century. Just about the time the effects of global warming start becoming really noticeable.