book reviews

New Book on the Star of Bethlehem and Birth Chart of Jesus

The Three MagiA book just came out in which the author proposes a new theory about the Star of Bethlehem and the birth chart of Jesus.

The book is aptly titled The Star of Bethlehem.  It was written by a Swiss astrologer named Dieter Koch, who is primarily known for his work with the company Astrodienst, as a co-author of the widely used Swiss Ephemeris.

The book was originally written in German under the same title, Der Stern von Bethlehem, and this edition is a revised English translation of the same book with an added appendix.   It can be ordered online either as a hardcover or an ebook.

I received a copy of the book recently due to my role in writing one of the two Hellenistic delineations of the proposed birth chart for Jesus in the appendix at the back of the book.  And, despite my role in writing part of the appendix, I can honestly say that I am genuinely impressed by the research that went into the book, and I think that Koch’s arguments have merit.

What follows is sort of an overview of some of the main points of the book, although it this is not meant to be a complete guide or review.  I just thought that it would be a good idea to let people know about the book and some of the subjects it addresses, since its that time of the year, and in my opinion this is an excellent book to check out if you are into this sort of thing.

The Historical Time Frame of Jesus

Much of the first part of the book is focused on narrowing down the historical time frame in which Jesus could have been born, largely based on a few sparse historical and biblical accounts.  For example, chapter one is largely focused on the issue of the dating of King Herod, since this is a pivotal issue in any attempts to date the birth of Jesus.

Dieter Koch: The Star of BethlehemBasically, the gospel writer Matthew says that Jesus was born “in the days of Herod”, and the majority of historians and scholars at the present time believe that Herod died in March or perhaps April of 4 BCE.   Thus, this date is often used as the latest point in which Jesus’ birth could have taken place, since it appears to exclude the possibility of his being born after the spring of 4 BCE.

However, Koch argues that issues with the calendar and historical sources actually widen the possible date for the death of Herod to somewhere between 4 and 1 BCE.   The questions that he raises against the 4th century BCE death of Herod seem sufficient for him to justify the 2nd century BCE date that he eventually introduces for the birth of Jesus.

Along the way he covers other issues such as the date of the crucifixion (30 CE according to Koch), the Christian appropriation of Roman and Mithraic holidays in order to establish the December 25th date in the late 4th century, and the historical improbability of the widely assumed 7th century BCE date (due to a lineup of planets in Pisces).

The Three Magi

Koch points out that the common reference to the “three kings” is a baseless translation of the original term in the Greek text of the New Testament which was ‘magos’.  Magos, according to Koch, is more properly translated as ‘magician’, although he points out that more specifically the Magi were usually known as a class of Zoroastrian priests in Persia.

Taken in context with the rest of the story of the Star of Bethlehem in Matthew, Koch says that the Magi would likely have been astrologers coming from Mesopotamia or Persia, the reputed birth place of astrology. He points out that “In the Persian Empire, the magicians functioned as priests and advisers to the kings…”  (pg. 24), and they were often fluent in a number of different forms of divination, as well as what might be characterized as magical practices (i.e. propitiation rituals).  Thus the designation of Magi would have been fitting.

One of his most interesting points about the Magi comes when he draws a parallel between the story of the Magi hitting the road in order to look for a new-born spiritual leader and modern day Tibetan Buddhists.  (pg. 32)  He says that like the Tibetans who will take into account a number of different phenomena in the process of locating the reincarnation of a spiritual leader,  it is probable that the magi took into account other non-astrological considerations based on a mixture of prophecy and divination.  (pg. 34)  More specifically, he argues

It is even likely that it was not the astrological reasons that were the cause of their journey but a combination of prophecies, visions, dreams, oracles and astrological considerations. (pg. 35.)

Or in other words, the ‘star of Bethlehem’ itself may not have been the only factor which led the Magi to Jesus.

He deals with some of the similarities between Mithraism and Christianity here, although he seems to take this line of thought primarily in order to postulate that the three Magi could have been in the Mithras cult.  My objection to this would be Beck’s recent argument about the full development of Mithraism only occurring with Balbillus in the 1st century CE, and while Koch does seem to allude to this argument (pg. 29), he doesn’t really attempt to counter it.  (( For Beck’s argument see Roger Beck, ‘The Mysteries of Mithras: A New Account of Their Genesis’, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 88, 1998, pgs. 115-128. ))  I suppose that one response might be that even Beck acknowledges that the Mithraic cult of the 1st century was formed based on earlier precursors.

What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

As most people who have studied this issue know, the pivotal passage that recalls the story of the star of Bethlehem occurs in chapter 2 of Matthew.  Of particular importance is this statement by the Magi:

Where is He Who has been born King of the Jews?  For we have seen His star in the east at its rising and have come to worship Him.

Koch points out that the passage in Matthew clearly uses a specific Greek technical term (anatole) that is used to refer to a planet (or star) making a heliacal rising.  (pg. 42-43)  Or, in other words, anyone familiar with both ancient Greek and ancient astrology, especially in the ancient world, would immediately recognize that the passage is referring to a very specific astronomical phenomenon.

He rightly emphasizes the importance that was ascribed to planets making a helical rising in ancient astrology, and then later adds another dimension to the argument when he takes the statement that the star “stopped” over the place of Jesus’ birth as an indication that the relevant star stationed around the time the Magi arrived in Bethlehem.  (pg. 57)

Eventually he unveils the crux of his argument, which is essentially that

“Jesus was born at a heliacal rising of Venus!”  (pg. 59)

Alternate Theories on the Star of Bethlehem

Koch acknowledges that there are a multitude of different theories about the star of Bethlehem, although he says that most theories are based on mistaken notions or prejudices about what astrological or astronomical indications would have been significant enough to indicate the birth of the Messiah.  He says that this is because few have studied the ancient astrological and magical traditions.

In chapter 4 he provides a nice overview of some of these traditional theories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  These theories range from comets to novae, Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions, Moon-Jupiter occultations, aspect patterns, etc.

Of all of the alternate theories, the one that Koch spends the most time discussing, and the one that is closest to his own, is the one put forward by Michael Molnar in his book titled The Star of Bethlehem: Legacy of the Magi.   Koch basically acknowledges that the approach that Molnar took was essentially correct, and in some ways Koch is following a similar path, although to a much different conclusion, and eventually he criticizes Molnar’s argument in detail ( pg. 68.)   Molnar basically argued that the star of Bethlehem was an occultation of the Moon and Jupiter in Aries on April 17, 6 BCE.

So, When Was Jesus Born?

According to Koch, Jesus was born on on September 1st, 2 BCE at about 4:30 AM in Bethlehem, Israel.   This was shortly before sunrise, as Venus was making a heliacal rising in Leo.  Here is the chart:

Jesus' natal chart

What Can This Chart Tell Us About Jesus?

As I stated earlier, in the appendix of the book I did a brief delineation of the chart from a Hellenistic perspective, and there is also a second, far more elaborate (and better) delineation by another specialist in Hellenistic astrology just after mine.   I’m not going to go into that delineation much here, but I will reiterate what I said in my conclusion:

While the picture that this presents us is in some ways in keeping with what is known of Jesus’ life, in other ways it would force us to change our conceptions of him somewhat, if indeed this is the correct chart.

What I found the most personally interesting about doing the delineation was that the closest approximation to the Jesus described in the above chart is the picture of him presented by the scholar Jean Dominic Crossan, for example in his book The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.   Here is one passage:

In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both indelibly marked with each other forever. He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet of Lower Galilee. He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants living long enough at subsistence level to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution. He looks like a beggar yet his eyes lack the proper cringe, his voice the proper whine, his walk the proper shuffle. He speaks about the rule of God and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else. They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession. What, they really want to know, can this kingdom of God do for a lame child, a blind parent, a de­mented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the village fringes? Jesus walks with them to the tombs and, in the silence after the exorcism, the villagers listen once more but now with curiosity giving way to cupidity, fear, and embarrassment. He is in­vited, as honor demands, to the home of the village leader. He goes, instead, to stay in the home of the dispossessed woman.    (Read the rest of this excerpt on Crossan’s website.)

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that I’m convinced that this is definitely the chart of the historical Jesus, or even that the story in Matthew is 100% legit for that matter, since even that could simply have been made up by Matthew after the fact in order to legitimize Jesus and/or the religion.  Even Koch admits this possibility several times in the book.  After all, such a story would have been a powerful propaganda tool during that time period, and other figures such as the Roman Emperor Augustus were publishing their birth charts for political purposes at the time.

I will say this though:  Koch presents a very well-researched and compelling case, and the implications of the chart are interesting to entertain.   If nothing else his book provides an excellent model for how such studies can and should be conducted, and anyone who is interested in looking into the star of Bethlehem and the birth chart of Jesus will find much valuable material in his work.

Update (December 2015):

For an extended discussion of this topic, please see the podcast episode I recorded on The Star of Bethlehem.

11 replies on “New Book on the Star of Bethlehem and Birth Chart of Jesus”

So what happened to the theory about the three stars of Orion’s belt (called the three wisemen, or Magi) lining up on Polaris at the Winter solstice? Seems the most plausible, and is the basis for all of the other Birth of the Sun (of God) creation myths/stories from which the early Story of Christianity authors so shamelessly plagiarized? I think the author here assumes that the Jesus story is both original and literal and uses this literal story as a starting point for his research. That could be problematic…

That isn’t a prevalent theory. It was just in Zeitgeist, which is a collection of weird fringe stuff, some of which is totally bogus.

Zeitgeist assumes that if there were any pre-Christian traditions or events even vaguely similar to later Christian ideas then the prior tradition was definitely adopted.

If historians always applied the same criteria to history uniformly then they would look back and see striking historical parallels like Napoleon and Hitler both attempting to invade Russia and then failing, and then they would assume that Hitler must not have really done it, but instead the story was just copied from Napoleon’s actual campaign. That would be kind of a sketchy approach to history.

Koch addresses the possibility that the story in Matthew could have been made up after the fact several times, but that is a much different matter than the Zeitgeist argument. Koch’s argument involves a more probing textual and historical analysis of what is available in order to try and determine what the text actually says, and if the astronomical scenario it is trying to convey had any concrete instances during that time frame.

Zeitgeist, on the other hand, simply approaches the story with the assumption that it must be a myth that was adopted from earlier cultures, and this approach is just as flawed.

More specifically though, the argument falls apart when you put so much emphasis on the winter solstice, since, as I pointed out in the article, this date did not become important to the Christians until the late 4th century. So then, in some ways the Z argument is based on faulty modern presuppositions in the first place.

Royin over at Starlight Night wrote a nice response to some of the astrological points in Zeitgeist recently that people might be interested in checking out:

I just re-watched the astrological section of Zeitgeist, and I have a number of thoughts, although I will have to save them for a full article on the subject. In general Royin is pretty spot on with his points though, so check out his article which I linked to above in the previous comment. I do want to make a few quick points while they are still fresh in my mind though:

*I was pleasantly surprised to see that he does list sources in the transcript. However, most of his source citations are really sketchy. He almost never cites any first hand sources, but instead he is always citing second and third hand sources for virtually everything. So, the author of Zeitgeist doesn’t necessarily have any real background in the subjects he is talking about, but instead he is just cherry picking stuff from various books when it supports his agenda, and unfortunately some of his books are dubious sources to begin with.

*I’m still looking into this, but the statement about the three stars in Orion’s belt being referred to as the Three Kings prior to the 1st century appears to be bogus. Any references to these stars as the Three Kings seem to show up after the 1st century, obviously based on the Christian story.

*He says that “The ancient glyph for Virgo is the altered “m”. This is why Mary along with other virgin mothers, such as Adonis’s mother Myrrha, or Buddha’s mother Maya begin with an M.” The problem with this is that the astrological glyphs that are common today don’t seem to have come about until the Middle Ages. Thus, they aren’t all that “ancient”.

*His thing about the cross being a pagan symbol for the zodiac is BS.

*The most sketchy part of this entire section is when he gets into the whole astrological ages thing. He associates the Ages with the concept of the Great Year, which is a mistake, and then says that “ancient societies were very aware of this”, which is not true, as the astrological use of precession in order to study the Ages is actually a very recent phenomenon.

*The dates that he comes up with for the Ages are nice and neat, so that they seem to fit his theory perfectly. Unfortunately, as anyone who has studied precession knows, it all depends on what ayanamsha you use, and as a result the starting and ending point of the Ages are far from that clear cut. For him to say that the Age of Pisces started in exactly 1 CE is kind of laughable.

*His analysis of references to the astrological Ages in the Bible seems anachronistic, as there is no evidence that the Ages were used or even necessarily known about at that time.

*His statement about the Jewish historian Josephus is misleading to the point that it is essentially a lie in order to support the film’s case. He says that “The fourth source [for references to the historical Jesus] is Josephus and this source has been proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years. Sadly, it is still cited as truth.” What he is referring to here is the Testimonium Flavianum, which probably is an interpolation, and has been considered to be such for quite some time. However, there is another brief statement in Josephus where he refers to James as “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ.” This statement is usually considered by historians to be authentic. So, like other parts of Zeitgeist, the narrator has conveniently left out information or distorted it in order to fit his overall narrative.

*Finally, it should be noted that this guy isn’t necessarily even favorable to astrology, and it perplexes me why so many astrologers recommend this movie. Rather, the entire point of building up the ‘astrological’ section of the first part of the movie is just to show how Christianity is bogus, and how it is used to control people. This is all a part of his underlying thesis that all religions are essentially evil as well, and they are used to control people. I suspect that he doesn’t really take to kindly to astrology either.

Anyway, I have more to say on this, but I will save the rest for later.

Oh yeah, I don’t know how I overlooked this in my previous comment, but in response to Gralin’s comment, you will notice that in the movie he doesn’t actually use the word ‘magi’ in that section, but instead he refers to ‘The Three Kings’.

He specifically says that the stars in Orion’s belt were known as The Three Kings, and this is where the story in Matthew is derived from. So, what is the problem with this?

Well, as I explained in the article, and as Koch talks about in the book, the passage in Matthew doesn’t saying anything about three *kings*. The Greek word used is ‘magos’, which means something like ‘magicians’. It is only much later that commentators started referring to them as kings.

So, yet again this guy is projecting modern notions backwards onto the ancients in order to support his theory. It doesn’t matter if the three stars in Orion’s belt were or weren’t called the three kings by ancient people prior to the 1st century, because Matthew doesn’t say anything about three kings in the Bible.

interesting article.
Even Panaino in the lecture I abridged mentioned the “three” Kings saying there were several traditions about their number, and the word “kings” if I don’t remember bad comes from some verse of Psalms.

And interesting chart with the doryphory and the heliacal rising of Venus-lord of Mc at the Ascendant.

Still this is the matutine heliacal rising, the retrograde one, not so stronger as the vespertine; and in fact better for the doryphory if Venus was on the other side of the Sun.

Anyway, those were the planets that day,

Merry Christmas,

Hi Chris,

What a wonderful article. Thank you for the review. I will most certainly be adding this book to my collection. I am looking forward to reading your delineation of the chart too. In the meantime I will see what I can come up with on my own.

I like the idea that Jesus has Pluto in Virgo and Neptune in Scorpio. As one from the most recent generation to carry that sextile (and a Virgo to boot)I like the way that resonates.

Thanks too for the breakdown of the Zeitgeist astrology. I haven’t seen the movie, but it has been recommended to me a number of times.

As a matter of interest, I have been reading a novel called My Name Was Judas by New Zealand author C. K. Stead. Its a retelling of Jesus’ story from Judas’ point of view 40 years after the fact. The picture Stead’s Judas paints of Jesus, very, very clever and supremely charismatic, could fit that chart nicely. I am enjoying the book immensely. Of all the characters and relationships in the New Testament, the one between Jesus and Judas has always intrigued me most.

Here we go again–another theory without a testable prediction(which is necessary, period). Without that prediction this theory has to be thrown in the trash can with all the other theories.

How exactly would one go about making a prediction based on a historical hypothesis? Is he supposed to predict the second coming or something?

Enjoyed both the article and the comments. I was traveling in India as a teenager and was accosted by an ochre-robed monk identifying himself as Secretary to the Shankaracharya of Puri. He wanted to talk to a Westerner about a book he was working on regarding the young Rabbi Jesus’ travels in India as reflected in temple records in Puri and in a Buddhist Monastery in the North. He was very adamant about the timing that this was during the missing years. I’ve never seen any book or article since that accurately reflected the information he shared.

Holding with the Hindu theme, . . . a culture which possesses its own form of Astrology, . . . the Hindus relegate Avatars (Divine Incarnations) to two types;i.e., those of Shiva and those of Vishnu. I don’t think any complete research into this chart can neglect to give at least a cursory glance to the dispassionate “dust in the wind” non-attachment, not-impressed-with-the-outer-appearance, easily-pleased, character of the archetypal Shiva. Two different traditions; apples and oranges no doubt, but it seems the chart might be consonant with this thesis. Could this be?

Zeitgeist. It seems that whenever someone possesses their own “rattlesnake” of dogma or ideology they wish to promote, the first tactic is to go on attack against perceived enemies to their rattler. Religion has become an easy target, primarily on account of how little known it is today. Many of the early Christian writers were familiar with such stories as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and others which they spoke of as “prefigurements” of Jesus. The form was there, but not the substance, they asserted.

These early debates have perished from the memory of Christian culture of today. In the place of informed history has arisen such as the “Jesus myth” crowd; who assert Jesus to be a composite of many myths, and never a real historical figure. A few years ago email debates led me to look into this ideology only to find a truly abhorrent bending of facts and history to achieve their patchwork quilt of a theory. On the way to doing so, they crucified the Hindu God Krishna in an attempt to nullify Jesus’ crucifixion account. Problem is, to my best recall, he was shot through the palm of his hand with a single arrow, period. Only the most desperate obfuscation would even attempt such a comparison.

So the Jesus Myth has been marketed to the uninformed, and it certainly sounds reasonable to blame religions for all mankind’s ills and wrong turns taken. Problem is, it’s not the truth; or a partial truth at best. The same folks who freely attack religions, the paradigm of the past, seem particularly incapable of perceiving the (mind) control structure of the present: Scientism. Science has given us much, but it has become the defacto “religion” with its own lab-coated, pen-protectored, high priests who deliver dogma to an unquestioning public.

After having vetted the Jesus Myth folks and found them wanting, behold the same faulty theories and research show up in Zeitgeist. And in Part II Zeitgeist does introduce their rattlesnake: collectivism. Collectivism will cure all the world’s problems. Just trust us. Where have I heard that before?

The only thing apparently which will lay this fiend to rest; not the crucifix or holy water, . . . but actual research, real history, knowledge!

Dear Chris,

Thanks for bringing this up and out for us. It´s definitely of my interest.

I´d strongly recommend for those interested in the subjec to watch the excellent production of a DVD on the same subject, although it is a religious-astronomical one.

Please, check it out, and review for us?

Thank you, again.