Photo by Arena Chapel/Superstock

ON THE COVER: Halley’s comet floats above the Bethlehem stable, illuminating the holy family as the three magi adore the newborn baby Jesus. The comet’s appearance in 1301 apparently inspired the Italian artist Giotto to include it in his Adoration scene, painted three years later on the walls of the Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel in Padua. For centuries, artists, theologians, astronomers, historians and astrologers have wondered and studied and hypothesized about the star of Bethlehem. In “The Magi and the Star,” Assyriologist Simo Parpola explains how the magi themselves—as Babylonian astronomers—would have interpreted the “star.” The magi’s perspective not only helps identify the star of Bethlehem but also pinpoints the date of Jesus’ birth. In “Witnessing the Divine,” Robin M. Jensen explores how the magi were portrayed in the church’s earliest art and literature.