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Rediscovering an Ancient Chronology

See also:
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Worksheet

Introduction

This study begins with an investigation of the Star of Bethlehem, examining a series of conjunctions of Jupiter with the star Regulus and the planet Venus in 3/2 BC to look into the possibility that one or more of these conjunctions were what prompted the wise men to travel to Judea in search of the King of the Jews around the time that Jesus was born, as documented in the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1-12. Both the conjunctions with Regulus and the conjunction with Venus have been taken by a number of researchers as likely to have been a part of what the wise men saw. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the strength of the case for this interpretation. Is it likely to be correct, or is it just another theory?

First we need to consider how often such conjunctions occur. If they happen all the time, then the occurrences in 3/2 BC are less likely to be significant. But if they have features that set them apart as rare or unique, then it becomes more likely that they’re truly significant. So to evaluate the case, we begin by finding all occurrences of conjunctions similar to those of 3/2 BC, in the time period during which the wise men were likely to have been watching for them. And then we need to consider what sort of features might have been seen as significant, setting apart a particular occurrence as more important than the rest.

One particular feature that ends up being crucial to the case is the question of where in the cycle of Sabbath and Jubilee years each conjunction falls. Once this is taken into account and we focus in on just those events which occur at the beginning or end of the Sabbath and Jubilee cycles, we end up with a surprising picture – a bigger picture than just the Star of Bethlehem. We find that two other years were marked by both kinds of conjunction, and that each year marked in this way is related to the fulfillment of a prophecy recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 9 – the prophecy of 7 sevens and 62 sevens which were to follow Jerusalem’s 70 years of desolation and point to the coming of the promised Messiah. Following Daniel’s chronology forward in time, we then find the relevance of the 3/2 BC conjunctions confirmed as part of this bigger picture.

Background

Back in 1968 a very interesting observation was published in “Sky and Telescope” magazine by Roger Sinnott, from research he’d been doing on the Star of Bethlehem[1]. At the time there was quite a wide range of opinions on what year Jesus was likely to have been born, ranging from 12 BC to 7 AD. Sinnott’s hypothesis was that the most likely identity for the Bethlehem star was some kind of conjunction between planets, so he searched the skies of 12 BC to 7 AD for anything of this sort that might reasonably have been the star seen by the wise men. Back at that time he didn’t have the computer software that’s readily available nowadays, so a tedious mathematical search was required to accomplish this. But he did a thorough search and found one especially interesting conjunction between Venus and Jupiter, the two brightest planets. At this conjunction they passed unusually close to each other, within less than one minute of a degree.

For such a conjunction to actually have been seen by observers would have required a couple of things. It had to happen at night, when the Sun was below the horizon. And it had to happen when the two planets themselves were above the horizon from the observer’s perspective. These requirements significantly reduce the probability that a given conjunction will be visible from a given location, but yet for this conjunction the timing was such that it would have been readily seen in the evening sky by observers in Babylon or Jerusalem.

The year of the conjunction was 2 BC. That seemed problematic, because we know from the account in Matthew 2 that Herod the Great was still alive when Jesus was born, and back in 1968, scholars were pretty much settled on a historical chronology that placed Herod’s death two years before this conjunction, in 4 BC. But the astronomical details were striking enough that Sinnott presented them anyway, saying “Nevertheless, in the data of Tables I and II may lie hidden the true explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.”

That was in 1968. Since then several things have happened –

  • Computers and software have been developed which make the work of researching these astronomical details accessible to just about anyone who cares to look into it.[2]
  • It was discovered that the 4 BC date for Herod’s death wasn’t so solid as had been believed. The date had been deduced from the writings of Josephus, and it was discovered that present-day copies of his work contained a copying error not found in more ancient manuscripts; an error which when corrected, suggests 1 BC as the more likely date for Herod’s death.[3] More information on this and additional references can be found by looking up “Herod the Great” in Wikipedia[4].
  • One of these references is Jack Finegan’s “Handbook of Biblical Chronology.” His first edition in 1964 followed the 4 BC dating for Herod’s death, but after much careful study of the historical details he published a revised version in 1998, reflecting the 1 BC date and a number of other recent refinements in our knowledge of historical chronology.[5] Finegan’s style is very helpful, first presenting the full range of scholarly opinions and letting his readers weigh the evidence. Then in his concluding statement on the topic (page 301, paragraph 518), he chooses 1 BC as the better attested date saying, “This is therefore the date which is accepted in the present book.”
  • The technology to reliably reconstruct the Hebrew observation-based lunar calendar was developed and made publicly available, providing a reliable way to convert back and forth between dates on the Hebrew calendar and dates on the present-day Gregorian or Julian calendars.[6]
  • Ernest Martin published a book called “The Star that Astonished the World,” in which he too highlighted the significance of the 2 BC conjunction, and in which he also introduced a significant conjunction of Jupiter with the star Regulus – a triple conjunction, occurring right at the Hebrew New Year of 3 BC, and then repeating two times in the following months.[7]
  • In evaluating these two conjunctions – the Jupiter/Regulus triple beginning at Rosh Hashanah of 3 BC (visible in the early morning of Sep 12), and the Venus/Jupiter conjunction in 2 BC (occurring a few hours after sunset of the following Jun 17), Rick Larson noted that they both involved the planet Jupiter, and that they occurred 40 weeks[8] apart, the normal time from conception to birth of a child. So he suggested a scenario which takes the Bethlehem Star to have been the planet Jupiter, with the 3 BC conjunction marking Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and her conception of Jesus, and the 2 BC conjunction marking His birth. This is the scenario that Rick has published on his website and on the DVD “The Star of Bethlehem.”[9]

It’s an intriguing set of observations, at least worthy of further investigation, so I began to investigate. The rest of the paper will present this investigation, with the hope that this will enable others to readily reproduce and evaluate this perspective and its conclusions.

This write-up will cover a lot of details, probably difficult to fully grasp in just one sitting. If you begin to run aground, you may be interested in first browsing through a separate document called “Rediscovering an Ancient Chronology – Worksheet.pdf[10].” This is a ten-page series of charts which provides a more visually-oriented picture of the key insights of the study. If you view the pdf on your computer, you can readily examine the charts by flipping back and forth between the pages like powerpoint slides.

The Astronomical Background

Let me fill in some astronomical background information so the things I’ll be talking about here will make more sense. When I talk about “conjunctions,” I’m talking about times when from the perspective of an observer on Earth, two planets or a planet and a star approach each other, reach a point where they look like they’re touching or almost touching each other, and then move apart again.

This happens fairly often as the planets travel from East to West across the sky and appear to cross paths with each other and with the stars. The point of closest approach is called a “conjunction,” and is measured in terms of an angle. If we had an arrow pointing right at each of two planets, the angle between the two arrows would define the separation between the planets. This angle is measured in degrees (d), or for the closest conjunctions often in minutes (m) or seconds (s). Sometimes the abbreviations shown in parentheses will be used as shorthand.

Typically the separation of a conjunction needs to be about a half degree (30m) or less in order to be an interesting event. If the conjunction is close enough, it will reach a point where it can no longer be identified as two separate lights in the sky by an observer without a telescope. I’ve read somewhere that this happens at about 100 seconds (1m, 40s) separation. But this varies a bit depending on the brightness of the planets and the eyesight of the observer.

It can be confusing to refer to both time and angle measurements as “seconds,” so the terms “arcseconds” or “seconds of a degree” are sometimes used to avoid confusion when we’re talking about the measure of an angle.

Regulus

We’ll be investigating triple conjunctions between the planets and a star called Regulus, the brightest star of the constellation Leo. Why should this be of interest? Shouldn’t we be just as interested in conjunctions with any of the other many stars?”

A bit of astronomical observation will help here. First of all, it turns out that conjunctions with the planets can only happen for a star that’s close to the ecliptic, the path that the planets and Sun and moon all follow as they travel across the sky day after day and year after year. This eliminates the majority of the stars in the sky from ever being found in conjunction with any of the planets.

And then, if we follow the ecliptic all the way around the sky, we actually find only a few stars whose placement and brightness might enable them to participate in observable conjunctions with the planets.

The path of the Sun itself best defines the ecliptic. Looking for stars of magnitude 2 and brighter (brighter being a lower number) and within 6 degrees of the ecliptic, as we track the Sun all the way around, for the year 2000 AD we find only the following stars in its path:

  • Regulus, in the constellation Leo, magnitude 1.4 and 0d 28m from the ecliptic
  • Spica, in the constellation Virgo, magnitude 1.1 and 2d 3m from the ecliptic
  • Antares, in the constellation Scorpius, magnitude 1.1 and 4d 34m from the ecliptic
  • Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus, magnitude 1.0 and 5d 28m from the ecliptic
  • Elnath, in the constellation Taurus, magnitude 1.7 and 5d 23m from the ecliptic

Three of these candidates – Spica, Antares, and Aldebaran – are brighter than Regulus, so the distance of 6 degrees was chosen in order to be able to consider them. But looking again, we have to admit that neither Aldebaran nor Antares is what we could call “close” to the ecliptic. It would probably be rare for a planet to stray far enough from the ecliptic for a close conjunction with either of these two stars. So tightening up the restrictions a bit and looking at stars of magnitude 2 and brighter within just 4 degrees of the ecliptic, for the year 2000 AD we get:

  • Regulus, in the constellation Leo, magnitude 1.4 and 0d 28m from the ecliptic
  • Spica, in the constellation Virgo, magnitude 1.1 and 2d 3m from the ecliptic

This has eliminated three of the five from consideration, leaving only the closest two, Regulus and Spica. These measurements do gradually change over time, so looking at the same thing for the year 2000 BC we get:

  • Regulus, in the constellation Leo, magnitude 1.4 and 0d 15m from the ecliptic
  • Spica, in the constellation Virgo, magnitude 1.0 and 1d 50m from the ecliptic

And for 4000BC[11] we get:

  • Regulus, in the constellation Leo, magnitude 1.4 and 0d 5m from the ecliptic
  • Spica, in the constellation Virgo, magnitude 1.0 and 1d 47m from the ecliptic

So there was a time, long, long ago when Regulus was very close to the ecliptic. Though it’s shifted some in 6000 years, from almost right on the ecliptic to about half a degree away, it’s still much closer than the next closest candidate Spica – about 4 times as close. Regulus is unique. Over this entire 6000 year time span, of all the stars in the sky with magnitude 2 and brighter, Regulus is the only one found within a half degree (30m) of the ecliptic.

This is why it’s of interest to pay attention to Regulus and its conjunctions with the planets. It really is a special star, with a special place in the sky. It isn’t necessary to look to Astrology or to tradition for a rationale. All that needs to be considered are the purely astronomical measurements of brightness and closeness to the ecliptic.

Triple conjunctions

Ok, so we’re interested in Regulus and its triple conjunctions with the planets. But what does this mean? What exactly is a triple conjunction?

One thing that’s sometimes meant by such terminology is three planets in close proximity to each other from the perspective of an observer on the earth. But this isn’t what we’re talking about here.

As the planets travel across the sky day by day and night by night, though their normal direction is from East to West, we regularly observe times when from Earth’s perspective they reverse their direction of travel across the sky. A conjunction with a star or another planet that has recently happened can then be repeated, and then is repeated once more after the planet resumes its ordinary direction of travel, resulting in a series of three conjunctions, a “triple conjunction.”

There are typically several months between the separate occurrences of a triple conjunction. When the separation between two occurrences gets to be about a month or less, those two begin to merge into a single occurrence. It then becomes a double conjunction rather than a triple.

For this study we’ll be investigating triple conjunctions with Regulus of two of the planets – Jupiter and Saturn. In order to evaluate the significance of these conjunctions, it would be good to first have a feel for how often they occur.

Jupiter

We can expect some kind of conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus every 12 years. Each conjunction is part of an 83-year series of 7 which starts and ends with single conjunctions, one of which happens too close to the Sun to ever be seen. Each series makes a gradual transition from single to double to triple and back again, with two or three triple conjunctions in the middle of the series. So in general, for the triple or almost-triple conjunctions we’re interested in, we’ll find a cluster of three of them every 83 years.

Saturn

For Saturn we can expect some kind of conjunction with Regulus every 29 ½ years. Each conjunction is part of a very long series, again starting and ending with single conjunctions near the Sun, and this time with 59 years between conjunctions. Two of these series run in parallel, offset from each other by half of 59, or 29 ½ years. Each series includes 10 to 13 conjunctions, or about 12 on the average. As with Jupiter’s conjunctions, each series makes a gradual transition from single to double to triple and back. A 12-conjunction series includes 4-5 triples in the middle, and takes 707 years to complete. On the average, for triple conjunctions of Saturn with Regulus, there’s about one every 79-80 years.

For a given 83-year span of time then, we can expect on the average to find three or four triple conjunctions with Regulus – one of Saturn, and two or three of Jupiter. So these triple conjunctions are kind of rare, but are they rare enough? Are they rare enough that we can take the one in 3 BC as significant – as a part of the sign seen by the wise men, announcing the coming of the Messiah?

Ultimately the answer will be a clear “Yes.” But in order to see this we need to first look a little deeper, examine the actual conjunctions that have occurred, and look at two additional constraints that we haven’t yet considered.

Daniel

A number of researchers, including all three that I’ve mentioned – Sinnott, Martin, and Larson – have suggested that the wise men who followed the Bethlehem star were probably from Babylon. This makes sense. At one point in history Daniel was the head of the wise men in Babylon, and he received and interpreted numerous prophetic dreams and visions. It’s easy to envision then that perhaps at some point he received a prophetic word telling him what to pass on to those who would follow him, telling them just what to look for as a sign of the Messiah’s coming.

Whatever this sign was, the occurrence seen by the wise men at Jesus’ birth must have been a unique fulfillment of what was passed down from Daniel. Or in other words, in the six centuries between the time of Daniel and the time of the Messiah’s coming there should have been no situations where in response to a sign in the sky they would have jumped on their camels and gone to Jerusalem, only to find that it was a false alarm.

Let’s examine the skies and see whether the signs that were seen in 3/2 BC were unique. As the time frame for our study, just to be sure we don’t miss anything significant, let’s look from the beginning of Daniel’s time up through the end of Christ’s time. Daniel is thought to have been maybe 12-15 years old when he was carried off to Babylon in 605 BC, so we’ll begin our search at 620 BC. And Jesus is thought to have been crucified sometime around 33 AD, so we’ll end our search at 35 AD.

The Hebrew New Year

This now brings us to those two other constraints that need to be considered. What I mean by “constraint” is, we’ll look for a feature of the 3/2 BC conjunctions which seems to set them apart as special, and then check to see how often such a feature occurs in the time frame we’re studying. This is a trial-and-error discovery process that I’m borrowing from linguistic analysis, used when your only resource for discovering the grammatical rules is the language data itself. The constraint then will be “Let’s look at only the cases which have this particular feature.”

The first occurrence of the triple conjunction of 3 BC was at the Hebrew New Year. A triple conjunction with Regulus does always begin in the late summer or fall, ranging from maybe a month before the New Year to two months after. But to occur at the New Year is quite a bit more rare. As our first constraint, suppose that we pay attention only to triple conjunctions which occur at or near the Hebrew New Year. How rare will this be?

Jupiter and Saturn move across the sky rather slowly, so their conjunctions with Regulus generally last several days rather than pointing clearly to one particular day. So we need a way to define which of these conjunctions are “at or near” the New Year. There’s a period of ten days right after the Hebrew New Year which has special significance. This is the first ten days of the year up until the Day of Atonement, a time of introspection and repentance sometimes referred to as the “Days of Awe.” Let’s use this 10-day period to help define “nearness” to the Hebrew New Year. If we look for triple conjunctions of Jupiter or Saturn with Regulus for which a day or more of the first occurrence is within this ten-day period, we find only the following 11 cases from 620 BC to 35 AD. Note that the year in which the triple conjunction begins is shown at the beginning of each row. For an explanation of the other information, see the key just after the list:

  • 608 BC (4) Jupiter triple +13 [9/9] (9/22, 1/21, 5/21)
  • 528 BC (7) Saturn triple +5 [9/25] (9/30, 12/27, 6/18)
  • 525 BC (3) Jupiter triple +6 [9/22] (9/28, 1/13, 5/26)
  • 513 BC (1) Jupiter triple -1 [9/8] (9/7, 2/22, 4/28)
  • 410 BC (6) Saturn triple +1 [9/11] (9/12, 1/22, 6/3)
  • 347 BC (6) Jupiter triple +12 [9/4] (9/16, 2/6, 5/13)
  • 264 BC (5) Jupiter triple +4 [9/16] (9/20, 1/31, 5/18)
  • 181 BC (4) Jupiter triple -4 [9/28] (9/24, 1/25, 5/23)
  • 15 BC (2) Jupiter triple +13 [9/23] (10/6, 1/10, 6/3)
  • 3 BC (7) Jupiter triple +3 [9/11] (9/14, 2/17, 5/9)
  • 33 AD (7) Saturn triple -2 [9/14] (9/12, 1/28, 6/4)

The number in parentheses just after the year shows the point in the Sabbath year cycle, where (1) is the beginning of the cycle and (7) is the end, the Sabbath year. Next is shown which planet, Jupiter or Saturn, has a triple conjunction with Regulus that year. Next is the relationship of the point of closest conjunction to the beginning of the new year, +4 being 4 days into the new year, ‑4 being 4 days before the new year, and so on. Then in brackets is the date of that year’s Hebrew New Year in terms of the Julian calendar. And finally in parentheses are three Julian dates, the dates of the closest points of conjunction for each conjunction of the triple.

Aligned with Sabbath years

Now for the second constraint, suppose that we pay attention to the relationship of these conjunctions to the Sabbath year cycle. Or in other words, we’ll look at only those conjunctions which occur at a particular point in this seven-year cycle.

In Biblical times, Israel’s Sabbath cycles (every 7 years) and Jubilee cycles (every 49 years) were an important part of everyday life. But between the time of Christ and the present day the Sabbath year cycles were almost forgotten, resulting in some degree of uncertainty today about where on the calendar this cycle should be placed. The leading theory is the Sabbath year reconstruction of Benedict Zuckermann (1857)[12]. This is fairly widely followed by present-day Jews, and is the theory preferred by Donald Blosser (1979) and Jack Finegan (1998)[13]. Later in this study we’ll see that there’s actually evidence from astronomy which supports the Zuckermann reconstruction – so this is the system that I’ve followed for the 11 conjunctions above, in marking their relationship to the Sabbath cycle. In terms of our present time, the Zuckermann reconstruction makes fall 2007 to fall 2008 a Sabbath year. In terms of ancient times it makes fall 3 BC to fall 2 BC a Sabbath year.

Let’s see what happens if we constrain our data to show us only those conjunctions which occur at the boundaries between Sabbath year cycles – or in other words, occurring in either the first or last year of one of these 7-year cycles. Looking at our list of 11 triple conjunctions, if we narrow it down now to just those which occur near the New Year of the 7th or 1st year of the Sabbath cycle, we end up with just these 4 occurrences:

  • 528 BC (7) Saturn triple +5 [9/25] (9/30, 12/27, 6/18)
  • 513 BC (1) Jupiter triple -1 [9/8] (9/7, 2/22, 4/28)
  • 3 BC (7) Jupiter triple +3 [9/11] (9/14, 2/17, 5/9)
  • 33 AD (7) Saturn triple -2 [9/14] (9/12, 1/28, 6/4)

We don’t know exactly what led the wise men to conclude that the Messiah had been born. Was there something particularly unusual about the star they saw? Yes, very likely. See Appendix B for data showing that the Venus/Jupiter conjunction on June 17, following the Jupiter/Regulus triple of 3 BC, was the only such conjunction in that 620-year span for which the Magi would have been able to actually observe the point of closest conjunction. There were 10 other cases in that time period, and all of them would have been seen, at some point near the conjunction – but the timing of all these others was such that from the perspective of Babylon or Jerusalem, the closest point was either hidden beneath the horizon or washed out by the brightness of the Sun. So just by its astronomical significance, the June 17 conjunction would likely have caught their attention.

But why would it have led them to conclude that something special was happening in Judea? And why the birth of the Jewish Messiah? How did it come about that they were so certain of their conclusion that they made that long journey to pay their respects? And above all, how did it happen that their conclusion was exactly right?

The only explanation I can think of is that they had special knowledge that God had somehow put into their hands. Prophetic knowledge which, as mentioned earlier, may well have been given to the prophet Daniel during the years when he was in charge of the Babylonian wise men, and which Daniel had then passed down to those who followed him.

We don’t know what information the wise men were given. Maybe someone will yet discover a clay tablet on which it was recorded. But supposing they were told that the Messiah would come in a Sabbath year marked by a triple conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus beginning at the Hebrew New Year – that would have been sufficient. We can see from the 4 data points in the above list that this would have been enough information to make the 3 BC conjunction a unique occurrence, being the only such occurrence between 620 BC and 35 AD.

So we’ve addressed part of the question. The conjunction of 3 BC can be seen as unique, so could indeed be significant as a part of the sign seen by the wise men. And a new piece of information has come to light – the existence of a parallel conjunction in 33 AD, similar to the conjunction of 3 BC, but with Saturn rather than Jupiter this time. It’s a striking pair of triple conjunctions. They both begin at the Hebrew New Year, they both occur in Sabbath years, and though there isn’t full agreement among scholars on exactly when Jesus was born and when He died, it’s well within the range of possibilities to take these two signs in the stars as something like bookends around His time on Earth.

Ok, well what about 528 BC and 513 BC? Do those dates mean anything?
Let’s look a little deeper and see.

Exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus with Jupiter

We’ll now examine the 2 BC conjunction of Venus with Jupiter to see whether it can be considered a rare or unique occurrence in the 620 BC to 35 AD time frame[14]. This was an exceptionally close conjunction in which the two planets passed within just 40 seconds of a degree of each other from the perspective of Babylon or Jerusalem. At what other points in this time frame did such a conjunction occur? Searching for all Venus/Jupiter conjunctions whose closest approach was less than 1 minute or .0167 degree, we find 11 such occurrences in this time frame. Note that the year of the conjunction is shown at the beginning of each row. For an explanation of the other information, see the key just after the list:

  • 618 BC 8/5 +0m 41s (7) In the next to last month of a Sabbath year
  • 571 BC 10/17 +0m 41s (6) One year before a Sabbath year begins
  • 554 BC 1/27 -0m 2s (1) In the 5th month of the 1st year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 527 BC 5/14 +0m 36s (7) In the 8th month of a Sabbath year
  • 513 BC 8/11 -0m 21s (7) In the last month of the last Sabbath year of a Jubilee cycle
  • 469 BC 2/26 -0m 39s (2) In the 6th month of the 2nd year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 464 BC 10/28 +0m 14s (1) In the 2nd month of a Jubilee year
  • 149 BC 1/28 -0m 43s (7) In the 5th month of a Sabbath year
  • 148 BC 4/20 -0m 23s (1) During Passover of the first year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 108 BC 8/5 -0m 50s (6) One month before the beginning of a Sabbath year
  • 2 BC 6/17 -0m 35s (7) In the 10th month of a Sabbath year

Following the year is the month and day of the conjunction in terms of the Julian calendar. Next is the angular separation between Venus and Jupiter at their closest point, in minutes and seconds. Next, the number in parentheses shows the point in the Sabbath year cycle, where (1) is the beginning of the cycle and (7) is the end, the Sabbath year[15].

For two of these dates I’ve specified their relationship to the Jubilee cycle as well as to the Sabbath cycle. I’ve shown this information only for the cases which fall in the first or last year of a Jubilee cycle. Just as with Sabbath cycles, this will allow me to give special attention to any conjunctions marking the boundary between the cycles.

As with the placement of the Sabbath cycle, there is uncertainty today about where on the calendar these Jubilee cycles actually fall. The reconstruction I’ve followed is that of August Strobel 1967 (referred to by Finegan 1998, p130). When we see how our data aligns with this, the good fit will serve as a piece of evidence in favor of this reconstruction. The other opinion I’m aware of would set the schedule of Jubilees forward by seven years, or by one Sabbath cycle.

There is also a Jubilee reconstruction which makes it a 50-year cycle. The system I’m following takes it to be a 49-year cycle, with the Jubilee in the first year of the next cycle, which also is the 50th year from the perspective of the cycle that was just completed. I don’t want to get too deep into complex details here, but for now will just say that the 49-year cycle seems likely to be correct because 1) A cycle of 50 years would interrupt the continuity of the ongoing 7-year Sabbath cycles. 2) Taking the 50th-year Jubilee to be the first year of the following week of years is analogous to taking the 50th-day Feast of Weeks to be the first day of the following week, as described in Leviticus 23:15-16. Just as the 50th-day celebration doesn’t interrupt the regular flow of 7-day weeks, there should similarly be no need for a 50th-year celebration to interrupt the regular flow of 7-year weeks of years.

Aligned with Sabbath years

Now, look at the point in the Sabbath cycle shown for each of these dates. This is where my jaw begins to drop as I look over the data. This is not the random scatter I would have thought that I should expect. If these conjunctions had been placed in the sky just by random processes, I would have expected to see roughly the same number of occurrences at each point in the Sabbath cycle – probably just 1 or 2 occurrences at each point, meaning that just 1 or 2 of these would have ended up occurring in Sabbath years. But the distribution has somehow been weighted in favor of Sabbath year occurrences:

  • 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
  • 0 occurred in the third year
  • 0 occurred in the fourth year
  • 0 occurred in the fifth year

The Sabbath constraint that we chose for our previous data set will hardly eliminate anything this time. If we again select those conjunctions which occur at the boundaries between Sabbath year cycles, falling in either the first or last year of the cycle, this will include 8 of the 11 occurrences, eliminating only three from consideration.

This is when we follow the schedule of Sabbath cycles that Zuckermann proposed. It places 5 of these occurrences in Sabbath years. The other two opinions I’m aware of either set the schedule forward by a year (Ben Wacholder, 1973), in which case the number of these conjunctions in Sabbath years would drop to 2, or back by a year (Daniel Gregg, 2007), in which case the number of occurrences in Sabbath years would drop to 3.

This is the evidence from astronomy I referred to earlier – evidence that the Zuckermann reconstruction of Sabbath years is likely the correct one. This will become more clear later, when we’ve seen how each of these Sabbath-oriented conjunctions ends up working together with those of the first data set, with all of them playing a part in laying out the time frame of the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 years, the 7 sevens, and the 62 sevens. From this it will become apparent that these conjunctions must have been intended to fall at the boundaries between Sabbath cycles, in order to highlight significant points in Daniel’s timetable, and that choosing one of the other Sabbath cycle alignments would destroy this alignment of the conjunctions with the timetable (See Appendix C for more about the special nature of this set of conjunctions and how to begin exploring them for yourself).

As we did with the triple conjunction data, let’s now narrow down this Venus/Jupiter data to just those occurrences which fall in the 7th or 1st years of the Sabbath cycle:

  • 618 BC 8/5 +0m 41s (7) In the next to last month of a Sabbath year
  • 554 BC 1/27 -0m 2s (1) In the 5th month of the 1st year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 527 BC 5/14 +0m 36s (7) In the 8th month of a Sabbath year
  • 513 BC 8/11 -0m 21s (7) In the last month of the last Sabbath year of a Jubilee cycle
  • 464 BC 10/28 +0m 14s (1) In the 2nd month of a Jubilee year
  • 149 BC 1/28 -0m 43s (7) In the 5th month of a Sabbath year
  • 148 BC 4/20 -0m 23s (1) During Passover of the first year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 2 BC 6/17 -0m 35s (7) In the 10th month of a Sabbath year

Merging the data

And now put it all together – the triple conjunction data with the Venus/Jupiter data:

  • 618 BC 8/5 +0m 41s (7) In the next to last month of a Sabbath year
  • 554 BC 1/27 -0m 2s (1) In the 5th month of the 1st year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 528 BC (7) Saturn triple +5 [9/25] (9/30, 12/27, 6/18)
  • 527 BC 5/14 +0m 36s (7) In the 8th month of a Sabbath year
  • 513 BC 8/11 -0m 21s (7) In the last month of the last Sabbath year of a Jubilee cycle
  • 513 BC (1) Jupiter triple -1 [9/8] (9/7, 2/22, 4/28)
  • 464 BC 10/28 +0m 14s (1) In the 2nd month of a Jubilee year
  • 149 BC 1/28 -0m 43s (7) In the 5th month of a Sabbath year
  • 148 BC 4/20 -0m 23s (1) During Passover of the first year of a Sabbath cycle
  • 3 BC (7) Jupiter triple +3 [9/11] (9/14, 2/17, 5/9)
  • 2 BC 6/17 -0m 35s (7) In the 10th month of a Sabbath year
  • 33 AD (7) Saturn triple -2 [9/14] (9/12, 1/28, 6/4)

As I look at the merged data, my jaw drops still further. Do you see what I see? It’s not just the year 3/2 BC that’s marked by both a Jupiter/Regulus triple and a Venus/Jupiter conjunction. I’m seeing the same thing in both 528/527 BC and in 513 BC. I’ve highlighted these three pairs of conjunctions to make them easier to spot. Is there any explanation for this unexpected correlation between the triple conjunctions with Regulus and the Venus/Jupiter conjunctions?

Yes, there is. And this part is amazing, too. When we look at the exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus with Jupiter, together with the triple conjunctions of Jupiter or Saturn with Regulus that begin near the Hebrew New Year, we find them working together to mark out a timetable which matches up with the Daniel 9 prophecies of the 70 years and the 7 and 62 sevens.

The Prophecy

Look at Daniel 9:1-3 “In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”

And then look at Gabriel’s reply in Daniel 9:24-26 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing.”

Now, there’s already a fairly well-accepted interpretation of this prophecy’s 7 sevens and 62 sevens, in which they are taken to refer to an unbroken sequence of 483 years, beginning with the decree of Artaxerxes when he sent Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and ending with Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem a few days before He was crucified. This interpretation was first presented by Sir Robert Anderson in his book The Coming Prince[16], and has since been refined by others, with probably the most up-to-date presentation of the details done by Harold Hoehner in his book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ[17]. The best starting point for this time span isn’t precisely known, but by choosing a reasonable starting point in the correct month, then taking each year to be 360 days, and counting the number of days from that point up to the day of Jesus’ Triumphal entry, it comes to the expected 483 years.

The fact that this count of days points at least to the correct month seems pretty impressive at first, but I believe there is a better solution.

Some Hebrew year basics

The Hebrew year is a lunar year. It consists of 12 or 13 months of 29 or 30 days each, with the 13th month being added to every second or third year as needed to keep the years aligned with the seasons.

From this we can see where the idea of a 360-day year comes from. If we choose 30 days as the length of a “normal” month, and 12 months as the length of a “normal” year, some simple math gives us 360 days for a “normal” year. But no lunar year actually ever has this exact length. In real life the length of the year alternates between roughly 354 days for a 12-month year and roughly 384 days for a 13-month year.

The beginning of a month was identified by sighting of the new moon[18], so this is what determined whether a given month was 29 or 30 days in length. The year was most often 12 months long, but a 13th month fairly often had to be added. How exactly they decided whether to add this 13th month isn’t precisely known – but we do know enough to be able to say something about the average length of the Hebrew years.

The Passover feast, always beginning on day 14 of the first month, was very much tied to the springtime grain harvests. If they had too many 12-month years in a row, the Passover would begin coming too early to have any grain to harvest. Or if they added a 13th month too often they’d have had the reverse problem. Passover would come too late, and though the fields would be ready to harvest, they wouldn’t be allowed to begin the harvest until they had given the firstfruits offering, which happened right after Passover.

So in real life, despite the variance in length of individual lunar years, on the average, over the long haul, the length of a year was just the same as our solar years. This was guaranteed by the certainty that they wouldn’t have let their spring feasts slip around the year to fall or vice versa.

Looking again then at the 360-day year theory of Anderson and Hoehner, we come up against a problem. The real-life effect of fixing the year length at 360 days is to force a continual slippage of the months, such that about every 70 years the Passover would have slipped from spring to fall and then back around to spring again, giving them 70 Passovers in an actual time span of 69 years. This in fact is how their theory accomplishes the needed mathematical adjustment, with this full year slippage occurring just enough times to squeeze 483 Passovers into 476 actual years.

I believe I’m pretty safe in saying that this did not happen in real life. The calendar may well have sometimes been uncomfortably out of sync with the seasons, but they had a prescribed way of correcting this by the use of their calendar’s 13th months, and they certainly would have made whatever correction was needed for the following year.

In summary then, the years would never have gotten far enough out of sync with the seasons to allow even one full year of slippage, so it follows that the years can be matched up directly to our present-day system of solar years. In other words, 70 years really does mean 70 years, ‘7 sevens’ really means 49 years, and ‘62 sevens’ really means 434 years.

Revisiting the Prophecy

Let’s look again at Daniel 9:25. The prophecy says, “From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’”

I checked with an Old Testament translation consultant on this verse asking, “Does the word for ‘decree’ have to be taken as singular, or could it be taken as plural, ‘decrees?’” The answer is that you really can’t determine from the text whether it’s singular or plural. It could be taken as either, depending on the context.

Most analysts, because they’re reading it in English, have taken this as a singular ‘decree’, and then they’re left with the task of choosing which one of three decrees to pay attention to. And then having just one starting point, they have to tie together the two separate time periods of 7 sevens and 62 sevens into a single period of 69 sevens, even though the prophecy doesn’t present them in this way.

The thing to think about then is, “What interpretation do we get if ‘decree’ is taken as plural?” This ends up being an important key that allows everything to fit, without having to resort to the mathematical manipulations of the 360-day year approximation. Making just this one adjustment, we now have: “From the issuing of the decrees to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’” Read this a couple of times and think on what it might be saying.

There was more than one decree. From history we know this to be true. And Gabriel is talking about more than one time period – a period of 7 sevens, and a period of 62 sevens. He does not lump them together into a single period of 69 sevens as has been done in most interpretations of this prophecy. So it’s quite reasonable to read this as two separate time periods, each initiated by a decree.

We also need to recognize one other ambiguity of the prophecy. The prophecy isn’t entirely clear on the endpoint of the 62 sevens. Nowadays most scholars assume that it points to Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before His crucifixion. The other possible interpretation is that the 62 sevens point to the time of the Messiah’s initial coming, the year of His birth. This interpretation isn’t original with me. Apparently it was a common way of looking at things before the Anderson/Hoehner interpretation came along. I see it reflected in the story “The Other Wise Man” http://www.classicreader.com/book/593/1/ by Henry Van Dyke, which takes Daniel’s prophecy of the sevens to probably have been part of what the wise men used to determine that the Jewish Messiah had come, motivating their trip to Judea soon after Jesus’ birth to bring gifts and worship him. Present-day scholars tend to neglect this possibility, and this is understandable. To make everything fit, they’re already having to do special manipulations of the numbers to shrink the overall number of years. So how could it possibly all work out if the time period is made even shorter, pointing to Jesus’ birth rather than His crucifixion?

Again, the key is that there was more than one decree, and more than one time period was prophesied. When we let these two time periods stand on their own, each initiated by their own decree, it actually all fits, with no need for special-purpose manipulations.

The solution

To interpret these sevens of Daniel, the first key thing is to understand what a ‘seven’ is. It’s one of the Sabbath cycles that we’ve talked about – a period of seven years ending with a Sabbath year, just as a week of seven days ends with a Sabbath day. The interpretation suggested by our astronomical data is that not just any 7‑year period counts as a ‘seven’. It has to be an actual Sabbath cycle, ending with a Sabbath year. And also only a complete Sabbath cycle counts as a ‘seven’. Any piece of a Sabbath cycle – any period of less than 7 years between events – is not to be counted.

Similarly, we need to understand what is meant by ‘7 sevens’. Stop and think about what ‘7 sevens’ would have meant in those days. It’s exactly the time period that defined a Jubilee cycle – seven Sabbath cycles. Once again, the interpretation suggested by our astronomical data is that not just any 49‑year period counts as ‘7 sevens’. It refers to an actual Jubilee cycle, followed by a Jubilee year. And also only a complete Jubilee cycle counts as ‘7 sevens’. Any piece of a Jubilee cycle – any period of less than 49 years between events – is not to be counted.

Now with these definitions in mind, look again at our astronomical data. What Gabriel mentions first is the 7 sevens, a Jubilee period. Do we have an actual Jubilee period marked in the data? Amazingly, the answer is “Yes.” It begins in 513 BC and ends in 464 BC, with the starting point marked by both a triple conjunction and a Venus/Jupiter conjunction. It’s the first Jubilee period occurring after the first decree, the decree of Cyrus in 538/537 BC that the temple be rebuilt. It also follows the second decree, the renewal of Cyrus’ decree by Darius in 520 BC. There’s some uncertainty about the exact dates of these two decrees, but as it turns out, that’s not particularly important as long as we just know that they both fell sometime in the 49 years prior to this Jubilee period. One more significant thing which occurs just before this Jubilee period is the completion of the Temple reconstruction, in 515 BC. So the ‘7 sevens’ that we find marked in the stars are the first Jubilee period in the newly rebuilt Temple. That does feel significant. For 7 sevens, the people of Israel were able to worship God again in the prescribed ways.

Looking ahead from the 7 sevens, we’ll find that just 19 years after the completion of this Jubilee period was the final decree when Nehemiah was sent to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, in 445 BC. As previously noted we won’t count these years because they’re only a fraction of a Jubilee period – so in summary, between the first and last decrees is one Jubilee period, Gabriel’s 7 sevens.

Next let’s back up to the 70 years of desolation that Daniel was initially praying about. There are three possible dates for beginning the 70-year count. The first siege of Jerusalem when Daniel and some others were carried off to Babylon was 605 BC. The second siege of Jerusalem was 597 BC. And the third siege when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed was 587 or 586 BC. Some scholars have suggested 597 BC as the most reasonable starting point for the period of desolation, because it was at this time that the king in Jerusalem was first deposed, exiled to Babylon, and replaced by a king of Nebuchadnezzar’s choosing. At this time many others were also carried away as captives, and also the treasures from the Temple were carried off to Babylon. If we take this as the starting point, in 597 BC, looking again at our astronomical data we find the endpoint clearly marked in 528/527 BC by both a triple conjunction and a Venus/Jupiter conjunction. So this time period too is marked in the stars.

What Gabriel mentions next is the 62 sevens, or 62 Sabbath cycles. If we take the last decree in 445 BC as the starting point for this second period, and look for the first complete Sabbath cycle after this decree, we find it to be 443-436 BC. The rebuilding of the walls was completed very quickly, also in 445 BC, so we find that the first of the 62 sevens was the first complete Sabbath cycle with the walls of Jerusalem back in place.

Note that there is some disagreement among scholars on what year the final decree occurred. Some say 445 BC, and some say 444 BC. But once again, this isn’t particularly important as long as we just know that it fell sometime in the 7 years prior to the Sabbath cycle of 443-436 BC.

Now jumping ahead by 420 years (equal to 60 sevens), if 443-436 BC was the 1st of 62 sevens, then 23-16 BC was the 61st of 62 sevens. Then stepping forward by one more seven, we see that 16-9 BC would be the 62nd of 62 sevens. The prophecy said “From the issuing of the decrees to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’” Remembering again our rule that only complete sevens are to be counted, we have to take this to mean 62 complete sevens. We find that there’s a seven-year window, 9-2 BC, in which 62 sevens have been completed, but not yet 63. If the Messiah was born within this window, his birth would fulfill the prophecy. Interestingly, if we just stop here in our analysis, this interpretation of Daniel’s sevens supports almost every theory I’ve heard of for the dating of Jesus’ birth. Most of them fall in this 7-year range of years from the fall of 9 BC to the fall of 2 BC.

But seeing how these conjunctions have been marking the time frame – the pair of conjunctions in 528/527 BC marking a specific year, and the pair of conjunctions in 514/513 BC marking a specific year, this suggests that we take the analysis one step further and see what specific year is marked as its final endpoint. Looking again at the astronomical data, we find one more such pair of conjunctions, this time marking the year 3/2 BC. This is still in the 7-year window pointed to by the prophecy of the 62 sevens. It’s in the final year, the Sabbath year, of this 7-year window. We’re now back where the investigation began, looking at a triple Jupiter/Regulus conjunction starting at the Hebrew New Year, followed by an exceptionally close Venus/Jupiter conjunction, with all of these occurring in the same Sabbath year. When the next year begins in September of 2 BC, at this point the count would become 63 complete sevens, so if the Messiah had come on this date or later, it would have been too late to fulfill the prophecy. Thus the astronomical data points to the year 3/2 BC as an endpoint; as the probable year of Jesus’ birth.

What about the exact day of Jesus’ birth? If the astronomical data has gotten us this far, pointing to a specific year, can it take us further and determine an exact day?

I won’t say that it can’t. I know there are many things that I haven’t even begun to understand about all of this. But in terms of just the data we’ve been looking at here, it seems that the other two major pairs of conjunctions, in 528/527 BC and in 514/513 BC, are just marking those years. I’m not aware of any particular significance to the exact dates of the conjunctions involved, apart from the triple conjunction’s beginning at the New Year. So to be consistent with those other two dates, I’ll be content to just say that our data is pointing to 3/2 BC as the year of Jesus’ birth, and let the exact day be left open to interpretation. This conclusion could be taken to support the June 17 birth date of Rick Larson’s scenario, or it could also be taken to support Jack Finegan’s conclusion which places Jesus’ birth in December or January of that same Hebrew year. Maybe there are others. That’s ok. The key thing that I believe we can confidently take away from this study is the year – 3/2 BC.

See Appendix A for a table which lays out the dates of the conjunctions to graphically illustrate their relationships to the time periods of Daniel 9. Besides marking the starting and ending points of most of the time periods shown, there’s an intriguing recurrence of the number 42, marking the partial completion of both the 70 years and the 62 sevens. The chart ends up making use of every conjunction we’ve identified, with the exception of only the first one, the 618 BC conjunction[19]. It also makes use of the following additional data points which, though not aligned with the Sabbath cycles, are taken to have special significance:

  • 608 BC (4) Jupiter triple +13 [9/9] (9/22, 1/21, 5/21) at full moons of months 7, 11, & 2
  • 587 BC (4) Saturn triple +31 [9/17] (10/17, 12/5, 6/27) at new moon of month 8, and at full moons of months 9 & 4
  • 537 BC (5) Jupiter double +47 [10/4] (11/12, 6/15) first conj. beginning month 1, day 24

608 BC is meaningful as a sign to Jehoiakim and Jerusalem of coming judgment on Judah; the sign beginning at the feast of Tabernacles in the New Year of Jehoiakim’s first official year as King. The correspondence of each conjunction of the triple with a full moon adds significance. Mars’ joining of Jupiter in the first conjunction, and striking at the heart of Virgo at the second conjunction, add significance. The first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, with the exile of Daniel and others to Babylon, is about 2½ years later in 605 BC.

587 BC is meaningful as a sign to Jerusalem of the imminent completion of judgment on Judah. The third and final siege of Jerusalem is underway during this triple conjunction. The correspondence of the first conjunction with a new moon and the second two conjunctions with full moons add significance. About a month after the last of the conjunctions the siege is successful, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

537 BC is meaningful as a sign to Daniel, showing him a conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus beginning on the 24th day of the 1st month of the 3rd year of Cyrus[20] (see Daniel 10), at the same time that Gabriel brings him a vision of the events that are to lead up to coming of the Messiah (see Daniel 11). It’s possible that Gabriel’s message included a portion to be passed down to the wise men who would follow Daniel: “This star that you see – Jupiter, aligned with the brightest star of the constellation Leo – at the appointed time, it will return. Not just once, but three times. Watch for this. Its first appearance will be at the new year of a Sabbath year.”

We’ve covered a lot of details here, probably difficult to fully grasp in just one sitting. For a more visually-oriented picture of the key insights of the study, there’s a separate document that you may be interested in browsing though. It’s a ten-page series of charts, called “Rediscovering an Ancient Chronology – Worksheet.pdf[21].” If you view the pdf on your computer, you can readily examine the charts by flipping back and forth between the pages like powerpoint slides.

Checking our Answer

It’s always helpful to come at a problem from more than one perspective, to get a second opinion on whether our answer really is reasonable. How does this answer of 3/2 BC for Jesus’ birth measure up against historical opinions on the topic? Fortunately, Jack Finegan has already done this research for us, including the tedious calendar conversions that were needed to convert each date into the BC/AD terms that we understand. Having heard such a variety of theories in our present day, the answer seems surprisingly simple once these dates are all lined up in one place. Finegan presents these historical opinions in his Table 139[22], listed in chronological order of the dates for Jesus’ birth, and concludes, “there is a remarkable consensus of the nine most important authorities for the year 3/2 BC.” The following list has been adapted from Finegan’s Table 139:

Source Date of source Date given for Jesus’ birth
Alogi AD 180 4 BC or AD 9
Irenaeus AD 180 3/2 BC
Clement of Alexandria AD 194 3/2 BC
Tertullian AD 198 3/2 BC
Julius Africanus AD 170-240 3/2 BC
Hippolytus of Rome AD 170-236 3/2 BC
Hippolytus of Thebes 3/2 BC
Origen AD 185-253 3/2 BC
Eusebius AD 325 3/2 BC
Epiphanius AD 315-403 3/2 BC
Cassiodorus Senator AD 490-585 3 BC
Orosius AD 418 2 BC
Dionysius Exiguus AD 525 1 BC
Chronographer of the Year 54 AD 1

Conclusion

Having fully investigated these two types of conjunction that occurred in 3/2 BC – the exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus with Jupiter, and the triple conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn with Regulus beginning at the Hebrew New Year – we find them marking out endpoints of the time periods referred to in Daniel’s prophecy of the 7 sevens and 62 sevens, with the conjunctions of the year 3/2 BC being the final endpoint. Seeing that the conjunctions of 3/2 BC are part of such a highly coherent pattern which relates them to Daniel’s prophecy – a prophecy of the Messiah’s coming – leads me to the conclusion that they were indeed to be taken as signs of His coming.

The study doesn’t point conclusively to any exact date for Jesus’ birth, but it does clearly point to a particular year – to 3/2 BC, the Hebrew year beginning in the fall of 3 BC and ending in the fall of 2 BC. For those interested in an exact date, this still leaves some room for interpretation. The study can be taken to support the June 17 birth date of Rick Larson’s scenario, or it can be taken to support Jack Finegan’s conclusion which places Jesus’ birth in December or January of that same Hebrew year. Perhaps others as well.

Though we haven’t settled on an exact date for Jesus’ birth, what we have accomplished is actually much more significant, showing the Bethlehem Star to be not just an isolated event, but part of a network of correlations between astronomical events, history, and prophecy.

If I were seeing just one or two correlations between astronomical events and history, I might be able to just write it off as coincidence. But when you find these things matching up again and again, there comes a point where you have to stop and ponder it all.

We know how the Solar System works. It was Johannes Kepler who first figured this out, in 1609, that the motions of the planets are totally predictable, following a fairly straightforward law based on the effects of gravitational attraction. If we just know the position, mass and velocity of each body in the Solar System for a given point in time, from this law their past and future positions can readily be deduced. This is why modern astronomy software can do what it does. Just give it a date, and the software will reconstruct the skies of that night, usually with pretty good precision.

Ok, so think about this. Given the nature of the Solar System, whatever configuration of the planets we might see in the sky tonight was predetermined a very long time ago. Whenever it was that the planets were first placed in their orbits, at that point it was decided. At that point it was firmly set in place just exactly when and where Venus would cross paths with Jupiter from the earth’s perspective, or Jupiter with the star Regulus, and from what places on earth people would be able to see these things happening. At that point it was predetermined exactly when and where each future astronomical conjunction would occur.

So now looking back at history and reconstructing the skies of those times, what does it mean when we find correlations between astronomical events and human events? Of course the easy first response is skepticism. Just write it off as coincidence. It can’t mean anything. It’s simply not possible that there would be truly meaningful correlations between these fixed astronomical events and the events of history.

But after that first response – after we’ve investigated deeply enough that we can no longer deny the reality of the correlations we’re seeing, what options are left? We begin to find ourselves surrounded and overcome by an awe-filled sense that someone knew all these things in advance. Someone had to have known. Someone had to have carefully planned this all out, knowing exactly how history would unfold, knowing exactly how the orbits of the planets would play out, and fine tuning the details of the Solar System in order to place each of these signs exactly where it needed to be, to communicate something to the people He’d placed on the earth.

When this realization has me firmly in its grip, it transforms the way that I look at the world. It brings my vision of the unseen into sharp focus. I no longer see God as just a dim, poorly understood concept, but instead see the crystal-clear reality of who He is. The Creator of the heavens and the earth. The only one who can see the end from the beginning. The only one who could possibly have taken charge of the precise placement of the planets and orchestrated all these things that I’m now able to observe in the stars.


[1] See the article “Thoughts on the Star of Bethlehem,” Roger Sinnott, Sky and Telescope, December, 1968, pp. 384–386

[2] For a computer program that can show what the sky looks like from a given location on the earth at any date in the past or future, go to http://www.stellarium.org/. To search for all occurrences of a particular kind of conjunction in a particular time period, a powerful little program called Solex is available at http://www.solexorb.it/SolexOld/.

[3] For more information see “When Did Herod the Great Reign?”, Andrew Steinmann, Novum Testamentum, Volume 51, Number 1, 2009 , pp. 1–29, and “Josephus Reexamined: Unraveling the Twenty-Second Year of Tiberius,” David W. Beyer, Chronos, Kairos, Christos II, edited by E. Jerry Vardaman (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998) ISBN 0–86554-582–0.

[5] See The Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Jack Finegan (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1–56563-143–9. It’s expensive to buy, but your local library may have a copy.

[7] See The Star That Astonished the World, Ernest L. Martin (Second Edition; Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1996) ISBN 0–94-5657–87-0.

[8] It comes out to exactly 280 days if we carefully adhere to the Hebrew practices of beginning the day at sunset, and of “inclusive counting”, in which the partial days at beginning and end are both counted as if they were full days.

[11] Note that planetarium programs typically lose some accuracy for dates as ancient as 4000 BC. In order to achieve more accurate results for ancient dates, the data shown for the position of Regulus has been taken from Solex (see http://www.solexorb.it/SolexOld/), which does a better job of reaching this far into the past.

[12] Benedict Zuckermann, Treatise on the Sabbatical Cycle and the Jubilee, trans. A Löwy; (New York: Hermon, 1974); originally published as “Ueber Sabbatjahrcyclus und Jobelperiode,” in Jarhesbericht des jüdisch-theologischen Seminars “Fraenckelscher Stiftung” (Breslau, 1857).

[13] See paragraph 225, p119-121 in The Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Jack Finegan (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1–56563-143–9.

[14] See Appendix B for a fuller treatment of these exceptionally close conjunctions of Venus with Jupiter

[15] Note that determination of the point in the Sabbath cycle is a little less straightforward for this set of dates, because these conjunctions occur in various parts of the year rather than just in the fall. If the date of the conjunction is between the Hebrew New Year and the end of December, the calculation works the same as for the triple conjunctions with Regulus. But if the date is between the beginning of January and the Hebrew New Year starting the next fall, the number of the previous Julian year needs to be used in order to identify the date with the correct Hebrew year and correctly determine its place in the Sabbath cycle.

[17] See Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Harold W. Hoehner (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1977) ISBN 0–310-26211–9.

[18] The first visible crescent following the new moon is what identified day 1 of a new month.

[19] In another study we’ll see the reason for this. We’ll find that there was a break in the Sabbath/Jubilee cycle during the Babylonian exile, which prevents the Sabbath and Jubilee years before and after the exile from aligning with each other. As a result we’ll find that 618BC was not a Sabbath year after all, so shouldn’t be expected to fit these patterns.

[20] There’s a fascinating correlation here between the timing of one of Daniel’s visions and a double conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus. It’s this correlation in timing, seeing that this conjunction was just beginning in the early morning of the Sabbath day when Gabriel came to Daniel just as his 3-week fast ended, as he stood with his companions on the river bank (Daniel 10:1-9) that motivates me to speculate that this could have been the occasion on which the message which was passed on to the future wise men was first given to Daniel. Further motivation for this speculation is that the prophecy actually recorded from this event in Daniel 10-11 was an outline of political events that would lead up to the coming of the Messiah – so the theme of both messages would have been essentially the same: How to recognize the true Messiah when He finally comes. The reason for leaving this out of the body of the paper is just that it’s a bit more speculative than the rest. For this alignment of the timing to work requires one adjustment that I haven’t seen attested elsewhere. When Daniel refers here to the first month, I’m taking this to be in the fall, which elsewhere in Scripture would normally be called the seventh month.

[22] Table 139, p291, paragraph 500, from The Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Jack Finegan (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1–56563-143–9.


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