LOS ANGELES -- The Star of Bethlehem has fascinated writers from across the centuries.
Experts believe the Magi or Wise Men who saw the star that led them to Bethlehem were court astrologers and advisors to the ancient kingdom of Babylon.
Was it a star? Was it a comet or simply a miracle? Some astronomers and historians are teaming up to give a logical, yet miraculous explanation.
Scholars increasingly suggest that the Star of Bethlehem was the star we know as the planet Jupiter, the king of planets representing the infant King of Kings. To get the details, astronomers like John Mosley need historians.
"You give me a period of time and I can find something in the sky that would have been sufficiently interesting to alert the wise men to send them on their journey," says Mosley.
For the last one hundred years, most experts had said that Jesus was born about 7 B.C., contradicting what the early Church writers had said about 3 B.C.
Historian Ernest Martin contends those ancient authors had it right, enabling Mosley to reconstruct on his computer those skies of old.
"August 5, 3 B.C., August 9, and there on the morning of August 12, 3 B.C., Jupiter and Venus were in very close conjunction," he explains. "I can zoom into a part of the so that you can see Venus and Jupiter almost touching. They were separated by about a fourteenth of a degree."
The appearance of Jupiter and Venus cheek-to-cheek was likely enough to get the Magi on their camels headed to Jerusalem because the conjunctions all took place in the constellation of the Lion that represented Israel to the Babylonians.
"Astrology is nothing more than a corruption of primitive truth that we can find in the Scripture," says Martin. "But astronomy and signs in the heavens that God did give to introduce His Son into the world are valid."
Jupiter and Venus represented a father and mother, and from them you'd expect a royal baby to be born. That is apparently what the Magi thought.
"But by the time the Magi got there about 15 months later, he was now a 'padeion,'" notes Martin. "He was a toddler."
But the Magi had more to see before they got to Bethlehem. Jupiter came close to the star Regulus, yet another symbol of royalty, not once, but three times in a looping pattern reminiscent of a celestial crown.
"Venus comes in and is in conjunction with Jupiter," explains Mosley. "Beneath the Lion, to the left of Regulus, June 17, 2 B.C."
"And we find that Jupiter in its two very close conjunctions with Venus and then three close conjunctions with the star Regulus over a ten-month period of time satisfies our concept of what would have been very exciting to the Magi and that's why we pick Jupiter as the Star," says Mosley.
So, the Magi would have viewed these events like a billboard in the sky that says a mighty king has been born in Israel!
Once they'd made their long 'star trek' to Jerusalem, scribes there told them to make the brief journey to Bethlehem. After all, the Scriptures tell of a king rising from the city of David.
Next, the return of Jupiter, once again, this time in the womb of the constellation of the Virgin. Martin interprets this as a symbol of the Virgin Mary with child and a guide for the Magi.
"They just saw it come to a stop mid-body to Virgo in the direction of Bethlehem and they went by the direction of an angel and they gave their gifts to the Christ child," says Martin.
The date, about December 25, 2 B.C., New Testament scholar Peter Jones says God brought those astrologically wacky gurus to Jesus for a reason that's still valid for the unique people in our own lives.
"We need to try and make friends with them, we need to bring them to Christ, we might not have a star in the sky, but we are disciples and that's what the Lord left with us as His command to go and make disciples of gurus," says Jones.
As much as these new explanations about the Star of Bethlehem may enrich the meaning of Christmas, the story of the star represents only one chapter in the telling of the greatest story ever told.