WAS THE NATIVITY ALL IN THE STARS? One of Britain's Leading Scientists Says the Birth of Christ Owes More to Astrology Than the Bible
Byline: DAVID LEAFE
DRESSED in her robe of divine blue, with her golden hair hidden demurely beneath her headscarf, the young woman from Galilee gazes in awe upon the vision which has appeared before her.
Frightened at first, the Virgin Mary is then filled with joy as the Angel Gabriel tells her the wonderful news: she has been chosen to bear a child who will be the son of God. So unfolds the story of The Annunciation, a miraculous scene that artists through the ages have lovingly sought to portray, and which is depicted on countless Christmas cards and acted out in nativity plays across the country every December.
And yet, new research suggests that we must radically revise our ideas about this, and many other parts of the Christmas story, if the claims of astrophysicist Percy Seymour are to be believed.
In 1998, Dr Seymour wrote The Birth Of Christ: Exploding The Myth, a controversial book in which he professed to have pinpointed the exact date on which Jesus was born, placing it several years before the universally accepted time.
In updating that work, he has developed his idea further and concludes that much of the Nativity story has evolved from the extraordinary astronomical activity taking place in the skies above the Middle East when Christ was born.
The Star of Bethlehem, the journey of the Three Wise Men, and even the virgin birth can all be explained by these celestial events and the strong belief in astrology at the time, according to Dr Seymour.
Dr Seymour has spent many years weighing the stories in the Bible against his own scientific knowledge.
Born in South Africa, he had a strict Christian upbringing and even considered being ordained as a Methodist minister before choosing science as a career.
He went on to become Senior Lecturer at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and Principal Lecturer in Astronomy at the University of Plymouth, before retiring last year.
To understand his latest thinking, we have first to look at his original research on the true date of Christ's birth. It has long been accepted that, because the gospels do not tell us when Christ was born, early Christians adopted the date of December 25 - probably because it was already a pagan festival, marking the start of the winter solstice and the end of the darkest days of the year.
In establishing Christ's real birthday, Dr Seymour began by questioning the story of the Star of Bethlehem. He finds it implausible that a single star could have guided the Three Wise Men, or Magi, so accurately across hundreds of miles to Christ's birthplace.
As he points out, sailors have used the night sky to determine their position at sea for many centuries, but they need two or three stars to find their position and even today, with the most modern equipment, there is a margin of error of up to three or four miles.
If there was no Star of Bethlehem, then why did the Magi set off on their long and arduous pilgrimage, and how did they find the baby Jesus?
Dr Seymour contends that the key lies in understanding that the Magi were astrologers, probably from Babylon, a city in Mesopotamia which is now Iraq.
They had a highly sophisticated knowledge of the movement of the stars and, at a time when there was little distinction between astronomy and astrology, they believed that these heavenly bodies exerted an influence on the lives of those on Earth.
As such, they would have been looking heavenwards for omens of an event foretold in the Old Testament - the birth of a Messiah.
Dr Seymour worked backwards from modern astronomical charts to plot how the skies looked to the Magi more than 2,000 years ago, and discovered a highly significant astrological event involving the planets Jupiter and Saturn.
According to ancient beliefs, the rising of Jupiter in the sky indicated the birth of a king. …