Over Christmas vacation I looked more closely at the 2BC conjunction of Venus with Jupiter which Rick Larson of www.bethlehemstar.net proposes as marking the night of Jesus’ birth. To get a better feel for its relative significance, it seemed good to find all other cases of similar conjunctions from the time of Daniel to the time of Christ. I ended up finding much more than I bargained for.
The range of years examined is 620BC to 33AD – roughly the beginning of Daniel’s life up through the end of Jesus’ time on earth. This time period had 11 exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter (separation less than 1 minute or .0167 degree at the closest point). See the end of this note for a full list of the 11 dates. These results can be fairly quickly reproduced by a powerful little program called Solex, available for download at http://www.solexorb.it/SolexOld/. Looking at the 11 dates, I find that:
- 2 occurred in the sixth year of a Sabbath cycle
- 5 occurred in a Sabbath year (year 7 of a Sabbath cycle)
- 3 occurred in the first year of a Sabbath cycle
- 1 occurred in the second year of a Sabbath cycle
To identify which years are Sabbath years, I’ve followed Finegan’s lead (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 1998, Jack Finegan) in accepting Zuckermann’s reconstruction (1856, Benedict Zuckermann; 1979, Donald Blosser). I believe this is also fairly widely followed by present-day Jews. I also know of two dissenting opinions, one which sets the schedule of Sabbath cycles forward by a year (1973, Ben Wacholder), and one which sets it back by a year (2007, Daniel Gregg).
The first interesting point to make from these 11 conjunctions is their fairly strong correlation with the Zuckermann schedule of Sabbath cycles. When following the Zuckermann reconstruction as I’ve done here, eight of these 11 conjunctions occur in either the 7th or 1st year of a Sabbath cycle. The 7th year, the Sabbath year, is the the year most likely to have significance in God’s timetable for His people, with the 1st year, the beginning of a new Sabbath cycle, being a close second. So assuming that these conjunctions were intended as signs to highlight significant points in God’s timetable, they suggest the same schedule of Sabbath cycles that Zuckermann proposed, and serve as a piece of evidence from astronomy that his solution is likely the correct one.
A second interesting point:
- One of the Sabbath year occurrences, the exceptionally close conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in 527BC, occurred in the 8th month of a Sabbath year.
- From previous studies we see that in this same Sabbath year is a triple conjunction of Saturn with Regulus, with the first conjunction occurring near the beginning (about day 5) of the first month of the new year of 528BC.
This 528/527BC Sabbath year seems to be well marked by signs in the heavens. Let’s explore its possible significance. Daniel 9:1-3 says that the Babylonian captivity was to last seventy years. When did that seventy years end? Well, it depends on which of three sieges of Jerusalem we count as the beginning. Was it 605BC when Daniel and some others were first deported to Babylon? Or the siege of 597BC? Or the siege of 587BC when the Temple and city were destroyed? 597BC was significant in that that’s when the king in Jerusalem was first deposed and replaced by a ruler of Nebuchadnezzar’s choosing. After having ruled for 11 years Jehoiakim had died, and had just been replaced by his son Jehoiachin. Jehoiachin chose not to submit to Babylon, and in response to his rebellion Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, exiled Jehoiachin, and replaced him with Zedekiah. This is also when many others were taken as captives from Jerusalem, and the treasures from the Temple were carried off to Babylon. This seems to be the best starting point for what Daniel calls the desolation of Jerusalem, and the date of this event was Mar 16, 597BC (Finegan 1998, p256), during the 598/597BC Sabbath year. If we take this as the starting point, then the significance of 528/527BC is clear. It marks the end of the 70 years God had decreed for Jerusalem’s captivity.
A third interesting point:
- One of the Sabbath year occurrences, the exceptionally close conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in 513BC, was also in the last month of the last Sabbath year of a 49-year Jubilee period.
- From previous studies we see that this is followed the next month by the first conjunction of a triple of Jupiter with Regulus, occurring right at the beginning of the new year of 513BC, a Jubilee year.
- One of the first year occurrences, the exceptionally close conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in 464BC, was also in a Jubilee year, the first year of the following Jubilee period.
For reconstruction of Jubilee periods I’m following Strobel (1967, August Strobel, referred to by Finegan 1998, p130). The other opinion I’m aware of sets the schedule of Jubilees forward by one seven.
This Jubilee period occurring between 513BC and 464BC is unusually well marked by signs in the heavens. In history it has the distinction of being the first full Jubilee period after the Temple was rebuilt, and began less than 2 years after its completion. Cyrus had decreed in 538/537BC that the Temple be rebuilt, after which the foundations were laid but it remained unfinished due to opposition. The decree was later renewed by Darius, the work was resumed Sept 21, 520BC, and was completed Mar 12, 515BC (dates from Finegan 1998, p266-267).
A Sabbath cycle is a “seven”. A Jubilee period is 7 sevens. If we take this particular Jubilee period to be the “7 sevens” of Daniel 9:24-27, and then begin counting the 62 sevens after the final decree regarding rebuilding of Jerusalem, when Nehemiah was sent to rebuild the walls in 445BC, we find a coherent solution to the puzzle of the 7 sevens and the 62 sevens. The rebuilding was completed Oct 2, 445BC, and then 443BC begins the first seven after the decree of 445BC. By this schedule of sevens, we get the following:
443BC-436BC seven 1 of 62
436BC-429BC seven 2 of 62
23BC-16BC seven 61 of 62
16BC-9BC seven 62 of 62
9BC-2BC seven 63
The promised time of the Messiah in Daniel 9:24-27 is often taken to be His crucifixion, but could also refer to His initial coming. What we’re counting is just complete sevens, so the time of His coming must be after 62 sevens are complete, but before 63 have been completed. This gives us a 7-year window for the time of the Messiah. The window begins in Sept 9BC when seven 62 has just been completed and seven 63 begins. The window ends in Sept 2BC when seven 63 is completed.
Backing up one year to Sept 3BC we find a conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus right at the Hebrew New Year, probably marking the time of Gabriel’s visit to Mary. For now I’ll skip over the details of this conjunction, but it too has a link to Daniel’s time. Counting the days inclusively, precisely 280 days or 40 weeks later, the normal time from conception to birth of a baby, we find one of these exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus with Jupiter, about an hour and a half after sunset of Jun 17, 2BC. Comparing this to the other 10 exceptionally close Venus/Jupiter conjunctions between 620BC and 33AD, one thing sets this apart from the rest. For a conjunction to be visible, it needs to occur 1) when the Sun is below the horizon, at night, and 2) when the conjunction itself is above the horizon. Though all 11 conjunctions would have been visible at some point while they were relatively close together, from Jerusalem and Babylon the only one of the 11 which was visible at its closest point of conjunction was this 2BC conjunction. So for Babylonian wise men this would have been a very rare sight. With a telescope they would have observed the two planets drawing closer and closer, then the conjunction, and then beginning to separate again before they set in the West. Following Rick Larson of www.bethlehemstar.net, I’m taking this to mark the night of Jesus’ birth. Note that we’re still in the 7-year window. It’s June of 2BC, and just 62 full sevens have elapsed since Nehemiah was sent to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Three months later in September, it would be 63 sevens – and would then have been too late to fulfill the words of Daniel 9:24-27.
Of the 11 conjunctions, we’ve now identified the likely significance of four. It strikes me as quite amazing and significant that just as a byproduct of exploring the relevance of the signs in the heavens at Jesus’ birth, all the rest of this has so readily fallen together – correlations with both Daniel’s 70 years and Daniel’s 7 sevens and 62 sevens. One coherent big picture, all inscribed in the heavens in indelible ink!
Here’s a full list of the 11 exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter between 620BC and 33AD. Following the year is the month and day. The somewhat cryptic looking numbers coming next show the angular separation between Venus and Jupiter at their closest point. For instance, “+0m 38s” means zero minutes and 38 seconds of a degree. Then the number in parentheses shows at which year of the Sabbath cycle each one occurs (7 being the Sabbath year). The four for which I’ve explored the significance are marked in bold. Of the remaining dates, at least four seem likely to also be significant because of their relationship to the Sabbath cycle. It may be that their significance can be identified by further research:
- 618BC 8/5 +0m 38s (7) In the next to last month of a Sabbath year
- 571BC 10/17 +0m 38s (6) One year before a Sabbath year begins
- 554BC 1/28 -0m 3s (1) In the 5th month of the 1st year of a Sabbath cycle
- 527BC 5/14 +0m 38s (7) In the 8th month of the 12 month Sabbath year marking end of 70 yr captivity
- 513BC 8/11 -0m 22s (7) In the last month of the last Sabbath year of the Jubilee cycle just before the 7 sevens of Daniel begin
- 469BC 2/26 -0m 37s (2) In the 6th month of the 2nd year of the 7th seven
- 464BC 10/29 +0m 12s (1) In the 2nd month of a Jubilee year, the first year of the first Sabbath cycle of the Jubilee cycle following the 7 sevens of Daniel
- 149BC 1/28 -0m 43s (7) In the 5th month of the Sabbath year which ends seven 42 of 62
- 148BC 4/20 -0m 22s (1) During Passover of the first year of a Sabbath cycle, seven 43 of 62
- 108BC 8/5 -0m 52s (6) One month before the beginning of the Sabbath year ending seven 48 of 62
- 2BC 6/17 -0m 40s (7) In the 10th month of the 13 month Sabbath year ending seven 63 of 62
In three of the four remaining cases of conjunctions that are aligned with the Sabbath cycles, there’s an interesting pattern. No idea whether it means something, or if it does, what that meaning would be. But these three all occur partway through their respective time periods, with the 554BC conjunction happening when 42 years of the 70 years have been completed, the 149BC conjunction happening at the end of the 42nd seven of the 62 sevens, and the 148BC conjunction happening when 42 of the 62 sevens have been completed. Is there some significance to this recurring number 42?