The situation is complicated by the Gospel of Luke, however, which indicates that Jesus was born during a worldwide census conducted by the Syrian governor; from extrabiblical sources, we know of a census conducted in 6 C.E. (although not of the scope described by Luke). Most scholars find the worldwide census described in Luke too improbable to be historical and thus favor the account in Matthew. See the discussion by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor and Steve Mason in “Where Was Jesus Born?” BR 16:01.


More accurately 7/6 B.C.E., since the Babylonian lunar year began at the vernal equinox (March/April).


One for 71 B.C.E., in four copies, and one for 69 B.C.E., in five copies.


With the establishment of Greek control over the Near East after the conquests of Alexander the Great (fourth century B.C.E.) the most important Babylonian gods became syncretized with Greek ones. Thus Ishtar, the goddess of love and beauty, was equated with Aphrodite; Marduk, the king of gods, was equated with Zeus; Nergal, the god of war, was equated with Ares; and so on. The Greeks also adapted from the Babylonians the idea of associating the leading gods of their pantheon with planets, stars and days of the week. These associations were later taken over by the Romans, who in their turn equated Greek gods with their own.


For another theory on how a star could lead the magi, see Dale C. Allison, Jr., “What Was the Star that Guided the Magi?” BR 09:06.



The American astronomer Michael Molnar recently presented a theory that the star of Bethlehem should be identified with two occultations of Jupiter by the moon in Aries in 6 B.C.E. (Molnar, The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1999]). This theory must be rejected, however, since in Babylonian astrology the occultation of Jupiter by the moon signified the death of a great king and famine in the West, that is, exactly the opposite of what a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn portended. See Hermann Hunger and Simo Parpola, “Bedeckungen des Planeten Jupiter durch den Mond,” Archiv für Orientforschung, 29/30 (1983/84), pp. 46–49.


Heikki Tuori, “The Star of Bethlehem and the Computer,” Uusi Suomi 8.1 (1976) (in Finnish).