We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder Star.
O, star of wonder, star of might,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to the perfect light.
This familiar carol is just one of many popular references to the “Star of Bethlehem,” or “Christmas Star.” The celestial celebrity is an icon of the Christmas holiday season, appearing in movies, television specials, songs, greeting cards, and more. But what was the true nature of the Star of Bethlehem? Did it even exist, or was it merely a symbol of a significant event, similar to its modern metaphorical use? Perhaps it was a divine creation that defies a logical explanation?
For centuries, astronomers, theologians, and astrologers have tried to answer these questions. In the twentieth century alone, more than 250 scholarly papers analyzed this subject. From a scientific standpoint, the argument is easy if we simply assume that the star’s appearance is metaphorical. However, it is more provocative to envision the appearance as a real event, represented by an actual celestial object or objects appearing in the sky.
This astronomical approach has resulted in four popular suggestions ...