Unasked questions: How big was the Star of Bethlehem?

The story of the Wise Men following the star is in Matthew 2: 9 “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”

It led them, and stopped over where Jesus was.

Obviously, this star was very close to the Earth. Maybe as high as a modern skyscraper over the place Jesus was. Say 1,000 feet. If it was as far away as the Moon, it wouldn’t be leading them and then stopping over where Jesus was. It was a lot closer than the Sun is. A lot closer than the next star, which is 25,277,000,000,000 miles away (4.3 light years, yes, that’s over 25 trillion miles).

Here’s the problem: the smallest that a star can be is 80 times the size of Jupiter, and Jupiter is over 300 times the mass of the Earth. Smaller than that, and the object can’t undergo nuclear fusion. So, to be a star, it has to be at least 25,000 times as massive as the Earth, and even then it would only be a red dwarf. If you want a white star, it has to be 10 times larger still.

Unfortunately, if anything that size came anywhere near the Earth, our planet would be dragged right into it and disappear like a pebble tossed into a pond.

So either the story of “the star leading them, and then stopping over the house” is complete nonsense, or else you have to say “It wasn’t what we would call a star today – it was a light which they thought was a star, because they didn’t have our modern understanding.” Fine. And by the same reasoning you can say “The Burning Bush with the voice of God wasn’t actually a burning bush with the voice of God, it was a phenomenon that Moses didn’t understand and thought was a burning bush with the voice of God… and the vision of Jesus that Paul had wasn’t really a vision of Jesus, he just thought it was Jesus… and the thing called God all through the Bible isn’t really God, it’s just a series of experiences and phenomena that pre-scientific peoples thought was God, because they didn’t have out modern understanding.”

Congratulations, and welcome to the real world! You are now free of religion. Go in peace.

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Pantera, a Roman legionary, remains a plausible biological father for Jesus

You have only minutes left to get an interesting gift – a stocking-stuffer for an intelligent, literate, argumentative teen, say.

You could order them a copy of The Gospel According to the Romans for $14.95 here, or from Amazon.com

or you can send it to them as an e-book for 86p in the UK, or 99 cents in the US, or EUR 0,99 at one of Amazon’s main European websites (for example Germany, but you can substitute other country letters for the ‘de’), where you/they can also get a free Kindle app for reading it (look on the right-hand side)

or you can simply point them at this blog, http://robinhl.com, where they can enjoy random religious rants and sniping year-round!

(Discussion of Pantera is at https://robinhl.com/2011/11/06/jesus-son-of-pantera/, fyi. And Merry Christmas!)

Best guess at Jesus’ family

When she married Joseph, Mary was pregnant with Jesus by someone else. Rumor had it that the father was a Roman soldier called Pantera, but the rape (or affair) was covered up. Joseph originally intended to divorce her (Matthew 1: 19), but changed his mind and left Galilee to go back to his family in Judea for Mary to have the child.

Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem

The couple subsequently had several more children. In his 30s Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth, and people dismissed his claims to authority, saying “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13: 55-56). None of Jesus’ half-brothers should be confused with other followers of his with those names, other than James who became the leader of the disciples in Jerusalem some time after Jesus’ execution.

Some Christians deny that “brothers” and “sisters” means that they were Mary’s children – though clearly from the context it’s a nuclear family. Catholic and Orthodox Christians, especially, profess the perpetual virginity of Mary, and have created a backstory of Joseph having had an earlier marriage to a woman named Salome. She died, leaving Joseph with half a dozen children for him to raise. You have to wonder why the older kids are never part of the creche scenes of the baby Jesus in the manger… Mary, Joseph, Kings, Angels, Shepherds, farm animals… but no brothers and sisters?

No, Jesus had at least six siblings, and they were all younger.

No room in the kataluma

In ancient farm households in many parts of the world, animals are kept under the house in the winter or at night. The advantages are that it keeps them safe, and that they provide heat for the family above.

Sheep kept under the house in a modern small farm

In the ancient Greek world, the upstairs living and dining area was called the ‘kataluma‘. This is the word used in the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospels, but commonly translated into English as ‘inn’.

When Joseph went to visit his family in Bethlehem towards the end of Mary’s pregnancy, there was ‘no room in the kataluma‘ – and no privacy for childbirth either – so naturally Mary had the baby downstairs and put him in a manger. Again, the manger was a logical choice: off the ground, and away from the animals that were out in the fields with the shepherds (and angels…) It wasn’t winter, or the sheep would have been inside; it was the spring lambing season, or the shepherds wouldn’t have been so attentive.

A fairly substantial traditional farming house: kataluma upstairs, manger in a room underneath

And if anyone has better pictures of a kataluma, please share!