Horoscope of Jesus
The topic of horoscopes, with reference to Jesus Christ, sparks debate. Some religious people toss aside astrological inquiry as trivial. Our God–talk ought to be reverential. It may be urged, to the contrary, however, that all research, about the life of Jesus, is welcome, astrological included ––“the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
Others claim that the Bible scorns astrology and the worship of stars as gods. The planets cannot have had a hand in shaping the Savior’s destiny. It may be urged, to the contrary, however, that the New Testament legitimates astrology, e.g., in Matthew’s nativity account (Matt 2:1–12).
The magi there are certainly astrologers (not Kings). Such oriental wise men figure into ancient Greek history (Herodotus, 1:101) and Jewish philosophy (Philo of Alexandria, De Opificio Mundi 1.22).
Astrologers/ astronomers (the two sciences were combined) read the stars as signs to foretell significant events.
In the birth narrative, Matthew juxtaposes an astronomical omen (2:7) alongside a biblical prophecy. The OT prophet Micah predicts the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem (Matt 2:6). Based on a “rising star,” the magi know the “exact time” of Jesus’s birth (v.7).
In antiquity, astrologers, like prophets of all kinds, gave oracles to sanction royal regimes. Matthew adopts this motif, exhibiting Christ’s universal sovereignty, which is confirmed by astrologers and prophets alike.
The New Testament does not speak directly to Jesus’s horoscope. However, sufficient data is provided to infer his time of birth and death.
The Star of Bethlehem and a Lunar Eclipse
The Star of Bethlehem marks the birth of Jesus and a lunar eclipse his death (Luke 23:45). Historical research, taking clues from the Star of Bethlehem, yields two alternatives for Jesus’s birth date. The traditional date of December 25 is most likely non–historical, having been adopted to coincide with the pagan Winter solstice festival.
One proposal identifies the Star of Bethlehem with a portentous conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, together with Mars, occurring in 7 BCE around August 22 or Sept 14– 15 (at sunset or early evening). This trio in the sign of Pisces, containing the three slowest moving planets then known, stood in opposition to the Virgo Sun.
This natal horoscope would give new meaning to Isaiah’s prophecy, foretelling that the messiah would be born from a Virgin (Luke 1:27–38); Virgo is the sign of the Virgin. The planetary conjunction of Saturn (a name for the Roman father–god) and Jupiter (his son) neatly matches Christian Father/Son imagery.
Mundane astrology, among the Persians, explained conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter as inaugurating a new era. The Renaissance astronomer Kepler concurred, while identifying the Bethlehem Star as a super–nova.
Another proposal says that the Star of Bethlehem is neither a planetary conjunction nor a super–nova but instead a comet. Matthew (vv. 9–10) specifies that the star rose and stood over Jesus’s birth place. Similar terminology describes the behavior of comets in ancient sources. In Greco–Roman religion, comets are omens of favor or disfavor by the gods. Ancient Chinese records tell of a comet between March 9 and May 4 of 5 BCE.
Astronomical reasoning also can help to nail down the date of Jesus’s death by crucifixion. Luke says that the sunlight “failed,” using the technical term for an eclipse. If an eclipse is intended, it may refer to a partial lunar eclipse that occurred in 3 April 33 CE.
This proposal, however, as to the date of the crucifixion, has less to recommend it than the date 29 CE. Ancient authorities, and the NT, date Jesus’s crucifixion to the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius, i.e. 29 CE. Ecclesiastical tradition held that the crucifixion fell during the reign of the “two Geminis,” so called because two Roman consuls, that year (i.e. 29 CE), both were so named. The most likely date for the crucifixion is probably March 18 at 3 pm.
New Testament evidence for Jesus’s birth date and death
According to the NT, the latest possible birth date for Jesus will be earlier than 4 BCE (King Herod’s death); Jesus was born during Herod’s reign (Matt 2:4; Luke 1:5). Jesus was in his thirties when he began his ministry (Luke 3:1–2), which probably lasted for 3–4 years.
The NT indicates the date of the crucifixion (14-15 of the Jewish lunar month Nisan). Luke 3:1 says that Jesus was crucified under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (i.e. 28–36 CE) and during the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius (i.e. 29 CE). The 14–15 Nisan of 29 CE would be either April 15 or March 18, probably the latter.
Jesus died at the ninth hour (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34, Luke 23:44), which is 3 pm. Combining historical and astronomical data, Jesus may have been born in the Spring of 5 BCE (March–May) or late Summer (Aug–Sept) of 7 BCE and have died 18 March 29 CE (or possibly April 33 CE).
The Significance of Jesus’s Horoscope
Astrological insights may deepen knowledge of Jesus’s historical destiny, implied by alternative horoscopes: whether under the sign of Aries of Taurus (the Spring 5 BCE birth date) or under the sign of Virgo (the Summer 7 BCE birth date). The crucifixion date 18 March 29 CE (or 3 April 33 CE) can be interpreted, astrologically, as a portentous event.
Astrology, like other mundane knowledge (psychology, biology, etc.), pertains to human history. The New Testament mainly proclaims God, the still–point and axis around which the cosmos turns. For Christians and other devotees, the human history of Jesus of Nazareth is valuable but God is the ultimate treasure. In fact, excessively to focus on Jesus may occlude God’s Love and Spirit that shines through him. Jesus Christ is like a transparency, containing and awakening us to the light ––and like a door, empty of itself.
Leo Depuydt, “The Date of Death of Jesus of Nazareth,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 122.3 (Jul. – Sep., 2002) 466-480.
Patrice Guinard, “L’étoile de Bethléem (Un scénario organisé par des astrologues),” http://cura.free.fr/16christ.html
James H. Holden, “Early Horoscopes of Jesus,” http://cura.free.fr/xxv/24hold2.html
Colin J. Humphreys, “The Star of Bethlehem, A Comet in 5 BC, and the Date of the Birth of Christ,” Q Jl R. astr. Soc. (1991) 32 , 389–407
Bradley S. Schaefer, “Lunar Visibility and the Crucifixion,” Q Jl R. astr. Soc. (1990) 31 , 53–67
Arthur Wright, “On the Date of the Crucifixion,” The Biblical World, 2.4 (Oct., 1893), 275-282