The Star of Bethlehem
 – real or imagined?



         Based on Johannes Kepler

It is an occasional danger of scholarly practices that new research, when it quotes older work presumed reliable, can perpetuate false information. We will show below that one of these episodes revolves around Kepler, who is misinterpreted by astronomers using his work on the Star of Bethlehem without being able to check the source in its original language. From 1606 CE, when Kepler wrote De Stella nova, until 1998 and 2006, when French and German translations were published, this work existed only in Latin. Contrary to corrupt interpretations, the translations confirm the Gründtlicher Bericht in German where Kepler rejects the "childish idea" of linking our planets to the supernova in 1604 because it "ignited among the fixed stars".  

Contrary to other misinterpretations, he attributed astronomical phenomena to the "natural laws" and rejected astrology as a "human disease". He even jokes in De Stella nova that "if God wanted to send us a message he would write it with alphabetical letters on the sky"! Our study of the work reveals that Kepler seems to have connected the Star of Bethlehem to the Phoenix myth, but had to mislead the theologians with an ambiguous rhetoric because "heretics" were still burned at the stake after the Reformation. A wise decision, because Kepler's mother was accused of witchcraft in 1615, and only his good reputation and support at her trial "saved her from a certain death at the stake".  

 (Revised on November 15, 2018)


1. Introduction

The Star of Bethlehem is celebrated by Christians all over the world as God's announcement of the birth of Jesus, but only two of the four Gospels in the New Testament mention the nativity – with some differences: According to Matthew, a miraculous star guides Magi to Bethlehem where they adore the newborn child at home. In Luke's version, an angel is joined by a "multitude of the heavenly host" and announces the birth of Jesus to shepherds near Bethlehem, after which they visit the child in a manger. Neither Gospel refers to the other version, but both use a similar symbolism for the divine messenger and quote from the Old Testament to show that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The other Gospels omit where Christ was born and refer to him simply as "Jesus of Nazareth". There are no original texts from the period to reconcile these differences, only later versions in Greek, Coptic, Aramaic, and Latin. The excerpts below are translated from the earliest manuscript of Matthew's Gospel, which was written in Greek around 80-100 CE and contains all we know about the mysterious star:

"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of king Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all of Jerusalem with him (Mt.2,1-3)...  Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem (Mt.2, 7)...  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star they were overjoyed." (Mt.2, 9-10)  

The quotes are from the New international Version of the Bible (1), which uses Magi although other translations refer to them as wisemen or astrologers. Following Tertullian (ca. 160-220 CE), some Christians venerate them even as Holy Three Kings and believe their relics are enshrined in Cologne, Germany. The diverse interpretations may have been attempts by the early Church to distance itself from the Magi because of their negative image in the Book of Daniel. Their inclusion of Luke's angel and Matthew's star in the Gospels may have offered a choice to proselytize, while fundamental Christians accept the simple solution that the shepherds visited Jesus first and the Magi later when the child was no longer in a stable. That King Herod would send the Magi from Jerusalem to nearby Bethlehem, the "House of David", is based on Micah 5:1-6 in the Old Testament.

Because a book about the Christmas Star has a wide audience among Christian denominations and sects, the mystery has always attracted scholars to write books about it, especially devout astronomers because they can add their scientific evaluation. But any acceptable solution from a Christian point of view would have to take the above quotes literally and identify a real "star", which is quite a challenge as we can see below:

1. The miraculous "star" appeared during Herod's reign.

2. It was singular star (aster), not a planet or conjunction.

3. The Magi saw it for the first time (rising) in the East.

4. The star announced the birth of a king of the Jews.

5. The Magi knew the time of the birth, not the location.

6. The star went ahead of them and stopped over the child.

The objective of this study is not a validation of the "historical" Jesus, but an astronomical event which would confirm the above criteria, and we chose Kepler as our main source because he is regarded as "the last astrologer and first astronomer". Our article Triangles in the Sky establishes that he investigated this mystery four centuries ago, which should force his peers to consider his findings before they propose their own theories. We will show below that most use Kepler's triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BCE as a starting point, but ignore that he features the "great conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in February of 6 BCE.

His first achievement was a revision of Biblical chronology, because Kepler offered evidence that the Church miscalculated the date of Christ's birth, and it is widely accepted today that the Star should have appeared between 7 and 5 BCE. Although the diverse authors come up with different theories there is a consensus that it should be a predictable, astronomical event and a Messianic omen.

Before we make our case, we need to establish that Kepler addressed Christ's birth date because it was his duty as imperial mathematician to take an official position when a supernova appeared in 1604. This was a spectacular event in a world without electricity and widely compared to the Star of Bethlehem, just as Tycho Brahe's nova had been in 1572. But we need to keep in mind that aside from writing about the supernova and birth of Christ, Kepler established the orbits of the planets around the Sun, observed comets, made weather forecasts and discoveries in the field of optics, invented a water pump, wrote the first sci-fi story 'Somnium' about a trip to the moon, and had to supplement his irregular income by casting horoscopes for the rich and famous. In this light, any attempt to solve the mystery of the Christmas Star "from an astronomer's point of view" is extremely limited. Such efforts are like describing a coin from only one side because it is unlikely that any modern astronomer can match Kepler's knowledge of astronomy and astrology. 


2. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)

Kepler had to be an expert astrologer because his employer in Prague was the Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II, a passionate patron of the 'hermetic arts' and practitioner of alchemy and astrology who suffered from severe bouts of depression. This forced Kepler to appease several powerful institutions: the court of an irrational emperor and two branches of the Church which rejected "new stars" because it believed God's creation had ended with Genesis and put Earth in the center of the universe. Nevertheless, he endorsed the findings of Copernicus years before the older Galileo and believed, like most Christians today, that God created the universe with all its natural laws and that they remain open to scientific study. However, Kepler lived in an age when more "heretics" where burned at the stake by Catholics and Reformed in the German speaking regions than during the entire Spanish Inquisition, which forced him to attribute a supernatural meaning to the supernova with a religiously themed rhetoric before he could add his scientific evaluations. It was also a time of transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque which is apparent in Kepler's colorful expressions, especially in the German previews of his Latin works. Although most scholars take him for a devout Lutheran, because he had studied theology and made passionate declarations of his creed in his works, they don't seem to consider that he may have been a humanist who exploited the zeitgeist to keep theologians off his back. Kepler implied this in a letter in 1610, which is quoted in Max Caspar's "Nachbericht" (2): "We can make three arguments openly, but the fourth shuts our mouth and eyes and remains dark in the background: the authority of the theologians of all sides. It is so oppressive (erdrückend) that I must declare this age as most unfortunate." By complaining that he had to shut his mouth, Kepler indicates that what he put down in writing should not always be taken literally and that he had to use metaphors and ambiguities to offer enlightened readers a choice of more than one interpretation. If we take this approach it seems rather obvious that he had much to say between the lines, and some quotes (below) suggest that he worked on a major discovery he could not reveal openly. We will also show that the power of the theologians was not only a major obstacle for Kepler, but also for modern astronomers who fail to notice his sophisticated rhetoric.  Nevertheless, our interpretation of Kepler's discovery is as controversial as other conjectures, but only because the experts haven't thought of it! It would be quite acceptable otherwise because the astronomer helps us identify an actual "star" (aster) and its connection to the ancient myth of the phoenix, which would expand the scope of its meaning far beyond Christianity. It even confirms the above criteria 1- 6 in every respect, which is an impressive score for those who take the Bible literally!

As stated above, Kepler is misquoted by astronomers who lack the language skills to study his works themselves. The scholar Max Caspar is considered an authority on his life and was the first to point this out in 1947: "The literature about Kepler contains false or at least slanted statements, which one author took from another because he neglected to go back to the sources. Furthermore––and this appears self-evident––in order to portray and evaluate not only Kepler's life but also his intellectual contribution, it is necessary to have studied at least his principal works, difficult as they are" (3). According to the American astronomer Owen Gingerich, Caspar was "eminently qualified" because he was like Kepler "born in southern Germany (in 1880), had been trained in both theology and mathematics, and had studied at the University of Tübingen" (4).


3. Common misinterpretations

        The authority on the Star of Bethlehem was for decades the Austrian professor of astronomy Konradin Ferrari d'Occhieppo (1907-2007) who seems to have continued the misinterpretations to serve himself. Although he was raised in Germany and studied there, he ignores Kepler's astronomical work and refers to him only at the end of his book regarding Christ's birth, under secondary sources. He proposes that Kepler took the conjunctions in 7 BCE for a "cosmic signal for the advent of Christianity" and "the Star of the Magi for a (hypothetical) nova in 5 BCE" (5). This false claim will be addressed below, yet it was repeated by the English professor of astronomy David W. Hughes (1941- ), which is disappointing news for amateurs because the experts perpetuate each others misinterpretations (6). It should also be noted that both astronomers ignore Mars and feature 7 BCE with different results: Ferrari picks Jupiter in November, 7 BCE, as the Christmas star because it was 15 times brighter than Saturn and enhanced by "zodiacal light," a faint beam of light above the horizon (7). Hughes singles out Kepler's triple-conjunction of 7 BCE and pairs Saturn (star of the Jews) with Jupiter (associated with kings and the Messiah), to conclude that the "star" was the acronychal rising of both planets in mid-September of 7 BCE. This means, of course, they also disagree with Kepler because in that case, the Church would have miscalculated the calendar by five years! We should add, and are putting it kindly, that we are dealing with two absent-minded professors because Hughes was also in denial of Kepler's concept of a "great conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. On page 137 in his book (see our scan), he compares the size of every planet in our Solar system with the Sun, even the moons of Jupiter and outer planets all the way to Pluto, but forgets to include Mars!

The above professors are eclipsed in recent years by Mark Kidger, an English astronomer in Spain, and with great success by his American colleague Michael Molnar. As a brief summary it can be said that Kidger combines Hughes and Ferrari by interpreting the triple-conjunction in 7 BCE as the prelude for the "star" which he identifies as a nova in 5 BCE. The same misinterpretations led Molnar to dismiss Kepler as a misguided mystic, which allows him identify Jupiter, like Ferrari, but in 6 BCE when it eclipsed twice with the moon in Aries, the alleged "sign of the Jews". His hypothesis is supported by other astronomers, including Gingerich, which gives it substantial clout. Nevertheless, Kidger disagrees with Molnar because one eclipse was invisible during the day and the other barely visible at dusk, and Molnar disputes Kidger because novas are unpredictable. But one fact is conveniently not brought up: none of the above identify a real star that led the Magi!

 The search for the elusive "star" begins with the problem that Kepler's religiously themed works are ignored by astronomers unless they are attracted by their faith. The book of Ferrari, who predates Hughes and is cited by him (8), has an introduction of a German theologian who praises him as an "astronomer with an interest in history and devout Christian". His findings are even praised by the Church and cited by Pope Benedict XVI in his book "Jesus of Nazareth", Vol. 1 (link). Ferrari had studied astronomy in Germany and graduated summa cum laude, but could not find employment because the NSDAP denounced him for Catholic agitation against the Nazis (see Wikipedia). The article mentions his talent for "old languages" which shows he could read Kepler's 'De Stella nova' in Latin, but he seems to have relied too much on the German summaries of Max Caspar (9), another devout Christian, who downplays Kepler's Pythagorean and Platonic leanings and characterizes him as a pious Lutheran. As a consequence, most Christian scholars take Kepler's passionate declarations of his creed literally and fail to notice the Baroque rhetoric. This might explain why modern authors ignore Kepler's claims in 'Das unser Herr und Hailand...' (1613), the German preview of  'De vero anno' (1614), which addresses 6 BCE (10):


"My book gave me the opportunity to compare the New Star of the year 1604 with the New Star of 1600 years ago, which revealed to the wisemen from the East the birth of the king of the Jews, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I wrote, therefore, an appendix with the Title 'de vero anno Natalitio Christi' for my book in which I claimed that our date is too short and that Christ was born five years earlier, and that the star that shined a year or two earlier with, under and next to a 'great conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars' in the signs Pisces and Aries, appeared therefore also at the beginning of the Fiery Trigon, which is why both new stars can be compared."

            Kepler writes that both "New Stars" appeared during a "great conjunction" and beginning of a "Fiery Trigon", which Ferrari exploits with the "hypothetical nova." But anyone who reads the text more than once would notice that Kepler's comparison of both "New Stars" is only their appearance in 1604 and 6 BCE. This pertains to Biblical chronology because Kepler had to persuade hostile theologians in a politically correct way that the year of the birth of Christ has been miscalculated for 1600 years! A physical comparison of these "stars" for his peers, the mathematicians and astrologers, was no longer necessary because he had it established in 1606, in chapter 26 of  'De Stella nova'. However, until modern translations were available only those fluent in Latin would have been able to follow Kepler's rhetoric (11):

"Because God wanted to lead them (i.e. the Magi) to our Lord Christ, he alerted them by lighting up a star. And almost all circumstances indicate that the role of that star was quite similar to that of the modern one, if we think away the immobility and height of our star, because also this one appeared at the moment of the returning Fiery Trigon and at the time of the conjunction."

            Kepler states clearly that both stars would only be similar "if we think away" (ignore) that the supernova in 1604 had no motion and stood high among the fixed stars. This is in sharp contrast to a miraculous star that can move ahead of the Magi and stop above the newborn child in Bethlehem. If we take Kepler by his word, he revealed in 1606 for the first time that an additional star appeared during the "great conjunction" in 6 BCE, a mysterious star of which we have no record, and which indicates that King Herod would have been unable to see it. As this rules out the planets in 7 BCE and the nova in 5 BCE, Kepler is referencing two entirely different "stars":


1.  A supernova in October, 1604 CE, a natural, astronomical event.

2.  The Christmas Star in February, 6 BCE, an esoteric phenomenon.    


4. In search of the "miraculous star"

          In 'De Stella nova', Kepler opens with the supernova from the first sightings in 1604 until its disappearance in early 1606. In the second chapter, he addresses the "empty talk" (leeres Geschwätz) of astrologers that "affects the majority of humanity like a disease". He goes on to cover some of the most popular speculations and superstitions which he enriches with a mix of scientific facts and references to the Persian astrologer Albumasar (787–886), known for connecting Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions to historical cycles, and the Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494), regarded as founder of Western esotericism (cc. 2-11). Kepler ends these speculations in chapter 12 with calculations to assign the "new star" to the realm of fixed stars. The following chapters introduce the heliocentric concept of Copernicus and feature the position of the supernova in the Zodiac, its relation to other stars, distance from Earth, quality of light, and the matter it's made of, which is from the "Milky Way" (our galaxy) as modern astronomers would confirm. He then compares the concept of Copernicus with the Ptolemaic System and begins a philosophical discussion, from Pythagoras to Plutarch, to deal with the diverse opinions about the supernova and its alleged meaning from various points of view, even the most superstitious ones, but without offending anyone. This diplomatic approach was expected from him, although he dismisses most of these interpretations during his first conclusions (cc. 26-27), but saves important findings for the second part (cc. 28-30), which will be addressed below. During his colorful arguments, Kepler eliminates the Fiery Trigons as meaningless, but maintains that the great conjunctions of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars are important "according to Cyprian" (12), which is quite ambiguous (see link). We will show in our conclusions that this pertains to the "magic art" of the Magi, even though (or because) Kepler's description of their astrology eliminates any similarity to a nova and violates the astronomical laws he had established:

"This star was not of the ordinary run of comets or new stars, but by a special miracle moved in the lower layer of the atmosphere... The Magi were of Chaldea, where astrology was born, of which this is a dictum: Great conjunctions of planets in cardinal points, especially in the equinoctial points of Aries and Libra, signify a universal change of affairs; and a cometary star appearing at the same time tells of the rise of a king..."(Kepleri opera omnia, vol.4. pp.346-47)

          This strange claim proves that Kepler had discovered two entirely different "New Stars", one astronomical and the other astrological because he localizes the supernova among the fixed stars, and proposes here that the Star of Bethlehem was a "cometary star" that could descend into the atmosphere. Obviously, this is a stretch of the imagination none of his peers could follow: It led Hughes (13) to better Ferrari's "hypothetical nova" and propose that it is possible Kepler assumed the astrological force of the conjunctions could create 'new stars', which other astronomers seem to have followed blindly. Molnar was led even more astray by the Jesuit Burke-Gaffney (14) and concludes " was natural for him to suspect that the conjunction had caused the bright star to burst forth" (15).

            We attribute this confusion to the Catholic agendas of Ferrari and the Jesuit, because they would have known that Kepler accused his contemporaries of publishing this kind of nonsense, which he dismissed in German as "childish" (16) and joked in Latin "does anyone think it is possible that a mosquito could bring forth an elephant?" (17).

           To resolve the problem of the "cometary star", Kidger suggests that the nova in 5 BCE could have been confused with a comet because the Chinese (hui-hsingg) and Korean (po-hsingg) records are open to interpretation. Molnar seems to be more of an eloquent writer than a researcher, which allows him to dismiss the "cometary star" with the claim that Kepler's "mysticism led him to believe instead that the Star of Bethlehem had been a miracle, not a comet or new star. He believed that it had been a special star, one that the Magi could never have foreseen". Having reduced Kepler to a confused mystic, Molnar could promote his own theories with the support of Gingerich. Obviously, these "experts" hadn't even read that Kepler made perfectly clear wile the "new star" was still twinkling in the sky that it is similar to Tycho Brahe's nova in 1572 and could not be confused with a "cometary star":

"We must declare to avoid many great absurdities... they were attached to the highest heaven and firmament among other fixed stars / and were not lower like comets among the planets / much less below the moon / or in the element of the air..."   (See German, 394: 22-27)

           Another obstacle for modern astronomers is the problem of separating their faith from the astrological superstitions Kepler had to deal with every day, which can turn the metaphor of a "cometary star in the atmosphere" into quite a spiritual challenge. Yet it was fully supported by a German-American Jesuit in 1898 in a detailed study of Matthew's Gospel: The Rev. Anthony J. Maas (1859-1927) agrees with Kepler that the Gospel "requires an additional miraculous appearance of a star in the lower region of the atmosphere" (18), which we will cover in detail below. This view seems to have prevailed in Christian circles for centuries, although everyone knows that a "falling star" or meteor can neither stop nor stand still in the atmosphere. This is why some authors came up with the creative idea to explain the stopping of the Christmas Star with the retrograde loops of the planets, an optical illusion that is only visible from Earth and has nothing to do with their orbits. Nevertheless, Kepler's choice of veiled remarks may have saved his life as they seem to have pleased the theologians and secured the Christmas Star as a divine miracle for centuries. The quietus ended in December, 1936, when Washington's Science News reported that modern astronomers discovered a "miraculously bright triangle" in the sky at the time of Christ's birth (19), which the Jesuit Burke-Gaffney debunked with great success by claiming it was not visible to naked eye observers. The popular Christmas shows in American and European planetariums with the triangle were discontinued because the Magi are venerated as wisemen, not as fools. When two American astronomers could prove that triangle was "clearly visible," none of their peers were willing to support them, the subject was closed successfully! 


5. Kepler's ambiguous concept

          Kepler is celebrated as the "father of astronomy" and discoverer of the true motions of our Solar system, yet why would he propose there had been an additional star that descended miraculously into the atmosphere? He even suggests that there were two different "new stars" in 1604 as well, and as a consequence only the other "new star" would have been like the one that led the Magi to Bethlehem! This is even implied when Kepler claims to have found "a grain in the dung of Arabian superstition" because all eyes were turned to the sky “to see if there would be a comet, as had been expressly predicted by the astrology of the Arabs,” and as the astrologers watched the sky during the massing of the three planets, a supernova appeared to everyone's surprise. We will show below that it was not the cometary star they had expected because an additional "star" appeared at the time which was only visible to astrologers! The first hint is on the cover of "De Stella nova" where Kepler added this little vignette of a hen and her ten chicks scratching for grains in a farmyard. That this humorous symbolism is the key to a rhetorical concept is explained a few years later in "Tertius Interveniens" (20), but no one seems to have noticed. Kepler advises the theologians, doctors and philosophers not to discard every astrological superstition as it would be like pouring out the child with the bathwater because "aside from the stinking dung, there are some grains for a busy hen, and even a pearl or golden grain to be found." From this entertaining allegory, he goes on to say that he added some "some precious pearls and golden grains from astrology... for the lovers of natural secrets to see, recognize, and swallow..."We should add that we only found a few items so far that are hard to swallow, but many others will follow below!

           For Burke-Gaffney, however, the dung of superstition provided great stuff to ridicule the German astronomer! He appears to have been blinded by the political events of 1936, because "Kepler" rhymes with "Hitler" and anything German was either suspect or despised. This may explain why he fails to consider Kepler's "difficulties" Einstein had mentioned: At the time, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome, Galileo persecuted, Kepler's mother accused of witchcraft, and he himself "more than once" in fear for his life – according to his letters (21). It was an age of mass-hysteria when "heretics" were murdered publically in all parts of the empire! Caspar writes that Kepler reacted to the charges against his mother "with unutterable distress... nearly causing my heart to burst in my body". After six years of accusations, his mother had to spend 14 months in prison, bound in chains, threatened with torture, and always guarded by two men. Kepler paid for the guards, led her defense during the witch trial, and was finally able to use "his prestige as imperial mathematician to save her from certain death at the stake" (22).

            In 1621, after Kepler had moved to Linz, 27 prominent citizens of Prague were beheaded or hanged publically, "men that were close to Kepler, including his friends Jessennius and Budowetz von Budow" (23). Kepler survived this deadly environment because he had Jesuit friends and because he neither engaged in politics nor openly contradicted the Church, either Catholic or Protestant, as both delivered "heretics" to the stakes. We must also keep in mind that his religious articles had to be censured by theologians before they could be published (24) and that the Church was so powerful that he could only propose that Christ was born a few years earlier after a Polish Jesuit had written a book about a four-year error in the Christian calendar. These events are covered in the book 'Kepler and the Jesuits' where Burke-Gaffney expands his attacks of Kepler and ridicules him for writing to one of his Jesuit friends that the implications of a grain he had found in Arabian dung "may be in accordance with their rules" (25).

            That Kepler included many hidden "items" has never been brought up, as far as we know, because he used ambiguities and a sophisticated rhetoric that only objective scholars who are also fluent in Latin would be able to discern. This changed in 1998, when the French translation of Jean Peyroux (26) became available, and in 2006 (27), when a German translation was added, which gave access to Kepler's rhetoric to anyone who can understand these modern languages. However, the work is so complex that only an astrophysicist with an extensive knowledge of theology and philosophy would be qualified to evaluate Kepler's religious position. According to Ludwig Günther (28), the Lutherans and Calvinists had become so dogmatic and intolerant that the achievements of the Reformation were actually threatened. In our opinion, Kepler's arguments reveal that he had become a Deist (29) with certain Pythagorean and Platonic leanings. Caspar does not seem to agree because he laments that the religious conflicts were "to the detriment of Germany and made those suffer who recognize Christ as the Savior of the world." The "chief stumbling block", he writes passionately, "was the interpretation of the Lord's Supper", which the feuding denominations interpreted differently, even splitting Calvinists and Lutherans, and these bitter disputes were laying "as an oppressive burden on the whole life of Kepler." Although it is difficult to believe, Caspar seems to be sincere because he goes on to characterize the period as "a time fraught with disaster, a time in which one would gladly flee to the stars in order to find home and security there." (30)

            These compassionate words are written in the 1940s and express apparently Caspar's personal feelings during WWII. As a devout Christian he never noticed Kepler's enlightenment and that he inserted declarations of his faith to pacify hostile theologians. In fact, Caspar's comments indicate that he had a limited understanding of Kepler's complaint that the age he lives in is oppressive and deplorable. Or that he was forced to shut his eyes and mouth when he jokes in the German preview of  'De Stella nova' in 1604 (396:3-5) that the meaning of the "new star" is "difficult to figure out and only this is certain: it either means nothing at all – or something so important that it is beyond our comprehension." In regards to its influence on politics and the general public, Kepler entertains his readers by admitting there was indeed a higher force involved, "not by its nature but by 'accident'... causing much excitement and profit for the printers because almost every theologian, philosopher, doctor and mathematician… was conducting studies and wanted to come to light with findings." To dramatize the power of these beliefs, Kepler ends the preview with an event in 1284 when the Bohemians were so inspired by a “new star” that they freed their future king Wenceslaus from captivity although they made a mistake: it was merely an unusually bright eclipse of the moon with Jupiter in Sagittarius. (Molnar's theory fits right in!)

            Among the superstitious beliefs and predictions he had to address, Kepler echoes in 'De Stella nova' the typical anti-Semitic views of his era (31), which are rarely mentioned today although he added good arguments to make prejudicial Christians admire the Jews. Among his diverse points, Kepler notes that the Jews are always favored by God and that their genealogy goes back to the beginning of time. He even asks in geste why God waited forty years with the destruction of Jerusalem if he wanted to punish the Jews for the crucifixion. It is another example of his sophistication that he deals with anti-Semitism in the context of astrology in chapter 26, which he eliminates later as a "human disease" and meaningless superstition, to sum up the most controversial issues in the second part.

            The possibility that Caspar may have had some anti-Semitic views himself is suggested in his Nachbericht in 1938 (32), which he wrote when Hitler was at the peak of his power and celebrated as "Man of the Year" on the cover of Time Magazine. Caspar quotes Kepler's ant-Semitic comments in detail, but mentions only one of his rhetorical disclaimers: "... for whom God may have special plans?" Although this could be interpreted as an ominous prognosis, he obviously pleased the Nazis in 1943 with a passionate and award-winning celebration of Copernicus (Nikolaus Kopernikus) as a German scholar because he wrote his works in German and Latin. (Note: These conjectures about Caspar are very speculative and still under construction! His Nachbericht deserves a review of an expert because he distorts Kepler's concept for reasons that are difficult to discern, unless he simply underestimated Kepler's sophistication.) We should add that Hellman's translation of Caspar's book "Kepler" (1947) is painfully literal, which seems to have escaped Gingerich's attention. She may have relied too much on a dictionary and fails to capture Caspar's passion and eloquence, which is great reading in German. It is consistent with the general "amnesia" in Germany after the war that Caspar omits Kepler's remarks about the Jews when he lists the diverse predictions of his confused contemporaries, from a universal conflagration to the conversion of America, the downfall of Islam and second coming of Christ, to name a few...

            Back to chapter 26 of 'De Stella nova', where Kepler begins with his conclusions and divides the diverse interpreters of the "star" into four groups: 1. astrologers, 2. physicists, 3. philosophers, and 4. theologians. The latter "derive their opinion from the Scriptures", writes Kepler, because examples from the Old Testament reveal that God communicated with certain individuals, from Abraham to the Pharaoh, including the Magi. He repeats the ambiguous argument from the German preview that the "great conjunction" of 6 BCE was similar to 1604 CE, and develops from other biblical quotes that it is "believable" (glaubhaft) that God loves us and doesn't mind showing his concerns about us openly, and "believable" that God would use the supernova to target interested readers and astrologers, whose calendars are read by everyone, and reveal to them the timing and location of the new star. In chapter 27, however, he eliminates all of the above, allegedly forced by theology, until only two options remain: Either the supernova ignited at the time of a planetary triangle because the universe is guided by natural laws, or it was a supernatural event and "a firm decision by the almighty God to bring salvation to humanity"! He ends the chapter with passionate declarations of his faith to show his enlightened readers that the universe is guided by the natural laws, thanks to God, and closes with the prayer "The name of the Lord be praised from eternity to eternity because His are the wisdom and the power!"  

           Our first reading of the German translation created the impression that the work ends here, and that the brief, second part with cc. 28-30 is some kind revision or replacement of chapter 27. It seemed, Rudolf II or his advisors had read the work and disgreed with Kepler's conclusions. On the cover of 'De stella nova', which was printed in Prague with an appendix about another unknown star, dedicated to another patron, "difficult time problems" are stated that made it necessary to print the second part about the "meaning" (Bedeutung) of the new star in Frankfurt, including the appendix about Christ's date of birth. However, cc. 28-30 are so ambiguous rhetorically that the allegory of the vignette is finally confirmed by the "fertile dung" of Kepler's imagination. Unless, of course, too many friends and foes had access to the printer in Prague and it was safer to print the revised conclusions in Frankfurt, and have everything ready for the celebrated book fair (Buchmesse). 

           We meet a new side of Kepler in chapter 28, where he casts the mathematician aside and as poet, historian, and philosopher uses his rhetorical skills to address devout Christians and enlightened humanists at the same time, yet more directly than in the previous chapters. Obviously, he had do deal with many superstitious beliefs because he has to argue in great detail that astronomical and meteological events are something natural, but also have an effect on the human psyche. He shows with many examples how our senses and organs respond to these influences, and even includes a sexual context centuries before Freud. Finally, he persuades his readers in a diplomatic way that the influences they atribute to the "new star" do not exist because they are created by us and can lead to disaster (Unheil) due to some astrological interpretations.

              Chapter 29 develops from philosophical and historical examples that there is nothing supernatural about a fiery Trigon. It is as natural as the rainbow and only has a psychological effect because of our senses. After several examples, including cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's astrological predictions, he writes that whatever the planetary conjunctions do not show naturally does simply not exist. He concludes that we should not expect, therefore, anything in the future that's different from the past two hundred years. Hence, it has nothing to do with a change of the human condition if a triangle is named after fire or water, but there is a great difference if many or a few planets come together, and if they are close or far apart" (33). After this surprising disclaimer, he goes beyond anything modern science can accept by proposing that all planets have some kind of radiation that multiplies when they are close together. (We could assume he meant gravity, but didn't have an apple handy to prove it!) His comparison of a number of conjunctions that were discussed at the time features the closest planetary massing "since the creation of the world" when in Feb. 1524 "Saturn, Jupiter and Mars united in the10th degree of Pisces with Venus a few degrees ahead and the Sun and Mercury in Aquarius shortly before the massing planets... as the Moon passes them all in a matter of thirty hours." It's amazing that Kepler could calculate such details four hundred years ago, although our Starry Night 6 Pro software shows that he was a few degrees short. On February 4, Mercury was already in Capricorne and the massing still in Aquarius.


           Kepler downplays 1524 to make peace and features the progress since the Roman empire and conquest of Islam with the positive changes in the past 150 years. He praises the social reforms of the German empire, that the Turks became civilized while the Spaniards expelled the Moors and opened up the Westindies for international trade. This improved everyone's life, and as highlight of this development, he features the invention of the printing press, which changed the world by expanding education with a whole new profession of scholars. However, through universities, open discussions and the availability of books, there is also public unrest and most European provinces abandoned the Roman Church. It is right after this when Kepler surprises with the admission "I am absolutely certain that the whole process and the circumstances I described come from a deeper source and lastly from divine providence, which can't be limited to narrow, natural causes." To distract from his outburst, he shows with numerous historical examples that the "fiery Trigon" itself had no effect on history and he reminds his readers that he had demanded to eliminate the names of the constellations and fiery and watery Trigons. He ends with another surprise when he claims that this was written before the "New Star" appeared and promises to add to its natural origins some of its supernatural qualities in the next chapter.

          Chapter 30 begins with a magic trick that makes his conclusions in chapter 27 of the first part disappear by connecting directly to chapter 26 under the ambiguous headline "Basis of a supposition are supernatural events and processes." He promises information which will only be appreciated by those who are convinced that the star did not ignite by accident or natural causes, but by a firm decision of God and divine providence. Yet he opens with the origins of superstitious beliefs and explains that the supernatural perceptions of humanity began when dreams, sacrifices, thunder, lightning, inundations, earthquakes, signs in the sky, comets, etc. were taken as divine messages. As "people started to believe that the gods use heavenly signs to talk to them" they invented astrology to find the explanations. Then, Kepler proposes that if early civilization had realized that "natural laws" exist, they would have never come up with foolish interpretations and superstitions (German translation of 'De Stella nova', p. 221), but his rhetoric gets too complex for amateurs to condense into a summary because it remains ambiguous how superstitions evolved into religions. Hence, we'd rather pick a few examples with those precious "grains":

I. What is the message of the supernova?  “If we assume that our star was ignited by a firm decision of God or a being blessed with a rational mind (!), one could ask me what purpose I would attribute to it and whether the message of the star could relate to what we are currently doing. Firstly, I think that not only certain civilisations, but our entire planet is much too small to waste all our thoughts on the true meaning of a star in the highest realms", p. 224. (Wenn man also annimmt, dass unser Stern durch den festen Ratschluss Gottes oder eines mit Verstand begabten Wesen entfacht wurde, könnte man mich fragen, welchen Zweck ich dabei unterstelle und ob die Botschaft des Sternes auf das zu beziehen sei, was wir Menschen eben treiben. Erstens nun meine ich, dass nicht nur einzelne Völker, sondern der ganze Erdball allzu kümmerlich ist, als dass man auf dessen geringen Umfang unsere sämtlichen Gedanken über die wahre Bedeutung eines Gestirns im höchsten Äther verschwenden sollte.)

II. Are there extraterrestial beings in the universe? "Our world is vast indeed, and the opinion of the ancient philosophers did not seem too far off for Tycho Brahe when they concluded that also the other very large celestial bodies have their own inhabitants, perhaps not human beings, but nevertheless other beings," p. 224. (Riesig ist ja die Welt, und die Meinung alter Philosophen erschien Tycho Brahe nicht so abwegig, wenn sie feststellten, dass auch die übrigen überaus riesigen Weltkörper ihre eigenen Einwohner hätten, vielleicht zwar nicht Menschen, aber doch andere Wesen…)

III. Why are dreams and omens ambiguous and not clear? Kepler references Plutarch's "de defectu oraculorum" (Moralia) and asks if it is true what Plutarch wants us to believe about "the lost cause of oracles" with a quote from Sophocles: "A wise man is not handicapped by an ambiguity of oracles, yet a fool needs no explanation to understand them," p. 222. ("Ein Weiser wird durch keine Zweideutigkeit bei Orakeln behindert, dem Toren genügt jedoch keine Erklärung um sie zu verstehen.") Some of Kepler's friends and foes have surely noticed that Plutarch's above work analyzes Hesiods riddle, which would have been a great challenge for any mathematician, including Kepler! It allowed us (see our next blog) to calculate the lifespan of the phoenix from the planetary orbits.     

IV. On the supernova as an omen: "It is natural that a New Star will dim slowly and extinguish eventually, and this natural process which is not caused by God cannot represent an omen," p. 231.(Natürlich ist, dass ein Neuer Stern allmählich matt wird und schliesslich verlöscht, dieser natürliche Vorgang – als nicht von Gott herbeigeführt kann kein Omen darstellen…)

V. On God's will: "If it had pleased God to show humanity openly his intentions, he would have created alphabetical letters and written them on the sky; therefore the people oppose God's will in vain with their speculations, " p. 233. (Hätte es Gott gefallen, den Menschen offen zu zeigen, was er wolle, dann hätte er Buchstaben gebildet und damit am Himmel geschrieben; also stemmen sich die Menschen mit ihrer Mutmassung vergeblich dem göttlichen Willen entgegen.)

        The most surprising statement opens the first example, where Kepler asks ambiguously whether "the new star was ignited by a firm decision of God or by a being blessed with a rational mind" as if the Almighty could be an extraterrestial being. In view of Caspar's critique that "The literature about Kepler contains false or at least slanted statements," it is difficult to understand why he would characterize Kepler as a devout Christian and summarizes 'De Stella nova' accordingly and mislead other authors as well. To make matters worse, Hellman's translation has Caspar conclude that while he mentions some predictions about the new star, Kepler "pushes all those thoughts aside" and "breaks off his arguments with a jerk" because "he was not employed as a public prophet" (34).  

          But contrary to Caspar's conclusion, Kepler eliminates first the popular philosophical, astrological and theological speculations to conclude that the universe is guided by "natural laws", and pushes his thoughts about the natural laws aside to dedicate chapter 30 to Christian readers who are a large majority. He explains in his "Conclusion" (Schlusswort, p. 240) that everything serves God, even his work, and apologizes for holding back many political and theological arguments his readers had expected, and asks them to understand that he is not employed by the emperor to play a public prophet, but to promote astronomy to his utmost ability and in full consideration of all those who support Rudolf II. Yet he has the courage to add that had he been allowed to print his personal thoughts (innersten Gedanken), all opposing parties would have been provoked! We know that emperor Rudolf II and his supporters held many superstitious beliefs, and they may have merely supported Kepler's astronomy as a tool of precision for their astrologers. This prevented Kepler from debunking astrology entirely, although he complains that it dominates public life where its prophets are celebrated as entertainment, while his astronomical and scientific studies are in a direct opposition. After that, he closes with the hope not to have insulted anyone because:

"Good people can always reach different conclusions

on the same subject, yet their friendship remains."   

         Based on the German translation of "De Stella nova", the emphasis of our study is currently Max Caspar's evaluation of Kepler's religious faith, which is clearly questionable after the above examples. This includes the possibility of plagiarism because Caspar cites Christian Frisch too briefly and omits the biographical research of Ludwig Günther (35) by crediting him only as the translator of 'Somnium'. Then there is a biography by Carl Gustav Reuschle who like Kepler, Frisch and Caspar had studied theology first, and then mathematics and astronomy at the University of Tübingen! Frisch and Reuschle present Kepler's problems with the theologians in greater detail and occasionally contradict Caspar's opinions, which is probably why they are not credited. Gingerich noticed that something is amiss here because he finds it "strange" that Caspar's "treatment, so rich in extensive quotations, was prepared with virtually no footnotes or citations. Its translator, the late C. Doris Hellman, remarked on this deficiency, but only added a few of the missing sources."

         Gingerich claims boldly in his introduction that he compiled missing citations for decades in preparation for the Dover edition, which he brought to "nearly 1200" in collaboration with Alain Segonds. We find it strange that neither Günther nor Reuschle are included, and Burke-Gaffney on top of the list without "S. J." as primary source of "Kepler's Philosophical and Theological Outlook", which would have misled everyone. Hence, Gingerich's failure to notice the agenda of the Jesuit could explain why he endorses Molnar's hypothesis!

          Hopefully, a modern expert like Volker Bialas will enter our Baroque maze to show us why the Jesuits ignored Kepler's blatant heresies. Is it because they could impress the Chinese with his astronomical findings to get permission for their missionary work? There is also the problem that the churchmen of both denominations quote Aristotle to argue that God created the universe only once, with Earth in the center, and that the creation of a "new star" would be as heretical as questioning Joshua 10:12-14, where God lengthened a day by stopping the motion of the sun and moon. Although Luther labeled Copernicus a fool, Günther shows that reformed theologians were as conservative as the Catholics and regarded Kepler's defense of Copernicus a "dangerous heresy". This is another indication that Kepler was not the devout Lutheran Caspar describes. Furthermore, Kepler writes that Aristotle perceived the size of the universe as limited, which he based on its motion. Our big-bang-theorists would agree, but Giordano Bruno followed Copernicus and regarded the sphere of the fixed stars as infinite. According to Kepler, the "unfortunate Bruno" believed also that "there are as many inhabited worlds as there are fixed stars in the universe". It is currently of interest for our study that an infinite universe with extraterrestial life would complicate the belief in a creator, which the Big Bang supports, because makes only sense to mathematicians that something can come from nothing and expand into nothing. Until we have evidence for other Big Bangs and endless "multiverses", an eminent astrophysicist like Gingerich remains beyond critique for writing a book about "God's Universe" (36). Meanwhile, any objective researcher should start with Bialas (37) who captures the genius of Kepler's nuanced rhetoric far better than any other scholar, including our conjectures! Even the Kepler portrait he chose for the cover of his book is more revealing than other writers and publishers have used.

            We have seen that Caspar's summary distorts the facts by omitting much of chapter 30 and misinterprets why Kepler didn't want "to play the public prophet". In his simplistic approach, Caspar ignores many of Kepler's open questions, especially the "cometary star in the lower atmosphere". Important clues are also his playful treatise abot "the six-cornered snowflake", as well as his reference to the "star" in his wood-cut of three planets on Christmas morning, Dec. 25, 1603. In a sense, it is an esoteric preview of the "magic art" of the Magi (pp. 66-67) because Kepler praises the "beautiful coincidence" that on the "holy birthday of Christ" appeared Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury in the clear morning light to form a "fiery triangle" in the Fiery Trigon. Modern astronomers seem to overlook Kepler's Eselsbrücke because Mercury is known since Antiquity as a "messenger". The wood-cut is an interactive trompe l'oeil because it contains several triangles: Astronomers would tilt their head a bit to the left and see the "watery" triangle above the ecliptic, amateurs would tilt to the right and see the "fiery" one. Or they twist their necks even more and find other triangles. But before they get hurt, we better consider that wise men can do this without contortions because they use their imagination. The exercises reveal that Kepler is playing with his readers because they could argue that it is a watery triangle! Hence, the mystery of the "cometary star" challenges the "miraculously bright triangle" the Science News had reported, when after the triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter the planet Mars joined them to form a fiery triangle on February 25, 6 BCE.


6. Astronomical support

          Our revisions of this chapter added in recent years some astronomical software to show a detailed illustration of the planetary movements since the dawn of civilization. It confirmed our findings from the 1980s below, which were based on Bryant Tuckerman's Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions (38) and some JPL data we used to visualize the planetary positions. The last two lines at the bottom show that on February 25 of 6 BCE, Saturn and Jupiter were about 6 degrees apart and topped by Mars, which creates a fiery triangle. But it was only visible to astronomers and astrologers because they know the path of the Sun and planets along the ecliptic.



          Tuckerman's charts shows that 1 BCE is followed by CE 1, because there was no year 0, and the above -6 and -5 represent 7 and 6 BCE. Because most amateurs can't translate these numbers into planetary positions, we added this little sketch (below). However, what began as a simple exercise to visualize a "miraculous triangle" turned into a major discovery because after the first conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter on May 26, 7 BCE, two triangles had formed nine months later in 6 BCE.

The Watery Triangle at right (Feb. 11) is followed by the Fiery Triangle (Feb. 25) at left.

          Just like reading a Hebrew text, the planetary movements must be followed from the right to the left. If we check their course, there was first a watery triangle the Science News omits because it was only of interest for astrologers. Mars starts near 346 degrees to flank the right side of the first triangle on February 14 and continues toward the left to pass Saturn to top the fiery triangle on February 25, 6 BCE. During that time, Jupiter moves only about three degrees and Saturn about half as much, while Mars passes them as usual at a higher speed.

          Astronomers abandoned Tuckerman's tables in recent decades because the positions of Mars are slightly off, which would require an adjustment of our triangles. The computations of JPL are preferred and, fortunately, we used them as a "second opinion" in the 1980s. They show the planetary positions between February 14 and 24 as printed out by NASA, which Vince Evanchuck of JPL made kindly available (39). Today, planetarium software like 'Starry Night' can generate these triangles on a personal computer (as seen below) which requires an adjustment of the first conjunction to May 28, 7 BCE. But it confirms our watery triangle on Feb. 11, and the fiery triangle on Feb. 25 as reported by the Science News.


         Here is a brief description of the celestial spectacle: After the SAT/JUP conjunction on May 28, 7 BCE, both planets remain together within 7 degrees for nine months until they are joined by Mars to form the watery triangle. But only astrologers or wise men would understand their symbolism and know that during a metamorphosis of almost two weeks, the same planets form a fiery triangle as well. Although the planets remain steadily on their course, the wobbling of the Earth changes our perspective, which creates the illusion that the planets slow down, stay together, and move backwards against the background of the fixed stars, which creates the illusion of three conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter.     


7. The additional stars in 1604 CE and 6 BCE

         Kepler left another hidden message (or precious item) when he points out, according to Burke-Gaffney: "Thus in early October 1604 Mars, Jupiter and Saturn would be at the vertices of a triangle, forming a fiery triangle in the Fiery Trigon. A conjunction in the Fiery Trigon presaged great things..." The next clue is when he writes that all eyes were turned to the skyto see if there would be a comet, as had been expressly predicted by the astrology of the Arabs."  If we search for this "additional star" in 1604, which would have been similar to the one that led the Magi to Bethlehem, we know from the above sketch what to look for. The chart at right is copied from Burke-Gaffney's article, to which the triangles are added. (Click on Tuckerman for the planetary positions!). Amateurs should note that it would have never occurred to astrologers and astronomers to view the planets as they were actually seen in the sky because they adjust them to the ecliptic. At left is a copy of Kepler's sketch to confirm it, which reveals that he teased his readers when he called the triangle of Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury on the above woodcut a "fiery triangle". However, the triangles in 1604 form in a reverse order because Mars passes below Saturn and Jupiter. The location and symbolism of the triangles in 6 BCE is obviously more meaningful for ancient astrologers because of Aries and the vernal equinox. In any event, we finally have an explanation for Kepler's ambiguous statements in Dass unser Herr und Hailand... (1613), the German preview of De Vero Anno (1614), that there were additional stars in both years, in 1604 and 6 BCE. This has distracted most scholars because of the novas in 1604 CE and 5 BCE, although they could not be predicted by astrologers. 

              We have shown earlier that Mars moved in a higher lattitude in 6 BCE and created the "watery" triangle first and then 'crowned' Jupiter and Saturn in a "fiery" triangle. These triangles are not only famous Pythagorean symbols, but predictable and it would have been natural for astrologers to fuse them into a hexagram. This fusion of the elongated triangles creates also the optical effect of a "star" in perspective over Bethlehem.           


         Why didn't the Christian astronomers consider this simple solution as the Star of Bethlehem? The Magi are said to have been Zoroastrians, even the name contains "aster," and it would make sense to connect this star to Bethlehem which the Gospels identify as the "House of David". Unless, of course, none of these authors could accept the role of Mars in our scenario because it was regarded as war-like and a negative omen in the Greco-Roman world. We admit that this used to be the weakest link of our theory and we kept looking for answers in Kepler's work. We even checked the other Cyprian, the magician, then the philosopher Pico della Mirandola and the astrologers Albumasar and Pierre d'Ailly, who are mentioned in 'de Stella nova', but gave up eventually. Our trust in Kepler was rewarded in 2018 by other interpretations of the red planet. We found the assyriologist Simo Parpola (40), who had written in 2009 that Mars is connected to Amurru in Babylonian divination and that it is a second millenium BCE name for the area from present-day Israel to Syria. This was quite a surprise because it offered a plausible explanation for a mysterious work of Romanesque art from a church in the Pyrenees where the Magi are shown under two stars of Bethlehem (41).



       The original from 1123 CE is at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona today and although Mary's face is distorted by a long crack in the plaster, the difference of both "stars" is well preserved. Mars is identified by the red dot and red lines between the rays of light to illustrate its faster motion, which indicates that the other star is Jupiter. Because this would support everything we learned to date, we interrupted our study of Romanesque art based on field research in Taüll and Barcelona and started googling the latest publications on the subject until we found the Holy Grail of Star-of-Bethlehem-studies:

           In 2014, "the special 3-day colloquium, The Star of Bethlehem: Historical and Astronomical Perspectives" was held at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands by two of its professors, the astrophysicist Peter Barthel and the theologian George van Kooten. They managed to get Gingerich, Molnar, Hughes, and 16 other experts to present their findings, which was published 2015 in "The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi" (42). This is a monumental achievement that no one who writes a book about this "star" can ignore from now on! We enjoyed also that Gingerich must be disappointed because Molnar's theories are no longer relevant, and are very grateful that Teije de Jong, Professor emeritus of Astrophysics at the University of Amsterdam, resolved our Mars problems. 

       The noted astrophysicist (43) rewards us with a forgotten book from 1920 by the Dutch Jesuit Dominicus Sloet, which "summarizes and partly builds on the work" of three German scholars. "This early research, in which the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction plays a central role, is almost completely ignored in the modern (predominantly English) literature of the Star of Bethlehem... the author of this book suggests that the only function of the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction is to accompany the planet Mars as the herald of the birth of Jesus." 

        According to de Jong (44), one of these scholars is H. H. Kritzinger (1887-1968), who writes "that in Babylonian omen texts, Mars astrologically represents the king of the Amurru (Amorites), occupying the Westland. This explains why the magi went to Jerusalem (the capital of the Westland). Kitzinger computes that on 25 March 7 BCE, Mars occulted the star Virginis, the fertility star at the base of the ear of wheat in the constellation Virgo. He suggests that this is important for the conception horoscope the magi must have made."

       De Jong sums up the work of Sloet as an "amalgamation" of the above proposals, of which we'll quote the second part  (45) because it confirms our concept and reveals directly why Kepler features a "great conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars:


––  In March 7 BCE Mars rises acronychally and reaches its greatest brightness, outshining all the stars in the sky...

––  The three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BCE are the markers of an important historical change in turbulent times, with collective messianic expectation.

––  On the evening of 26 February 6 BCE, the configuration of Mars at the end of Pisces, standing between Jupiter and Saturn near the star Piscium, the zero point of the Babylonian zodiac, may have special significance for the magi...

––  Mars disappears from the sky shortly afterwards until its triumphal return at its heliacal rising with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, in July 6 BCE...





8. Why Kepler chose a "cometary star"

              Astrologers have always regarded comets as bad omens because their unexpected appearance interferes with their predictions, which Josephus confirms when Haley's comet passed in 66 CE and was interpreted later as an omen for the destruction of Jerusalem. Although Kepler assigned the comets correctly to the realm of planets, he didn't know that many orbit the Sun and return in predictable intervals, which would weaken his symbolism of a "cometary star". Unaware of the problem, he developed his concept from the "Oracles of Balaam", a Pagan seer in the Old Testament (Numbers 24:17): 

"A  s t a r  has come forth from Jacob, A  c o m e t  has risen from Israel..."


          Although the Hebrew shebet for comet is usually translated as staff or scepter, the latter even by Martin Luther and the "New International Version" we quoted earlier, other scholars like Ideler (quoted by Burke-Gaffney) translate it as "comet", including the "Complete Bible" of the University of Chicago (p. 145). That Kepler named the "cometary star" after Balaam's oracle is also supported by the Jesuit A. J. Maas, as we will show in chapter 10 below. 

          Among Kepler's esoteric signals is another that seems to relate to Balaam: His treatese 'De nive sexangula' opens with a snowflake that melts before his eyes and makes him wonder why every snowflake has six corners  – and he speculates what kind of "agent" could cause this and other six-cornered phenomena in nature? According to Andrea Dortmann (46) most translators overlook that the full title is "Strena Seu De nive Sexangula", a bi-lingual word play that suggests "Star(s) and the six-cornered snow flake". But the story would be a brilliant, esoteric message without the word play because the "cometary star" of 6 BCE descends also into the atmosphere and seems to "melt" like a snowflake in the sun. In contrast to the long planetary cycles, it should be noted that each triangle formed only one evening during a metamorphoses of two weeks, after which the planets dip below the horizon and disappear in the sunlight of the following days. In this sense, Balaam's cometary star and the snowflake confirm "Kepler's concept of a link between the macrocosm and microcosm" (Max Caspar), which is additional evidence that the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem is finally resolved.

           Hence, Kepler allows us to formulate a new hypothesis: On this special winter night when a "fiery triangle" stood at the horizon, the "watery triangle" was still present in the minds of the Magi and enabled a mental fusion of both triangles into a hexagram. Hence, when the "star" stood still in the lower atmosphere, it really did, according to Matthew "over the child" where the Magi were standing! This miracle happened on Feb. 25, 6 BCE, and this is the first time their "magic art" is revealed – thanks to Kepler, a wise man of four hundred years ago!

           Although it is widely held that the "star" stood over Bethlehem, the Gospel is surprisingly precise by stating that it stood "over the place where the child was". Before their journey, the Magi had seen the "star" rise in the East, which was either Mars or the acronychal rising in mid-September 7 BC of Saturn and Jupiter as held by Hughes and Ferrari had  developed from Babylonian tablets (47), which allowed the Magi to predict the cosmic scenario that was about to happen. Hence, they made some calculations and realized that Mars was 'waiting' for Saturn and Jupiter above the Western horizon to form the triangles. After they had observed the "star" during its formation, they started their journey to follow the planets as they were moving every night farther West. Before Saturn and Jupiter reached the horizon, the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and learned that a king would be born from the "House of David".

          Bethlehem is only five miles from Jerusalem and they arrived in time to see the miraculous "Star" at the horizon right after sunset – which was invisible for those who didn't know about their "magic fusion". The hexagram was popular as a symbol of magic until the late Middle Ages and even represented the "philosophers stone". According to the Jüdisches Lexikon (48), it was used in Germany by Pythagorean beggar monks to mark a house where they had a good reception, which an inn in Rothenburg still commorates with the fancy sign at left.

          The Fiery and Watery Trigons of the Zodiac confirm the fusion of the planetary triangles because they match their tilted position as seen in our sketch at right and the one above for a comparison. Furthermore, the planetary triangles appeared in the most important part of the sky, at the horizon right after sunset. According to Isidor of Seville, who is venerated as a Father of the Church (and the patron saint of the internet!), the locations of sunrise and sunset are the two Gates of Heaven (Etymologies 3, XXXIX). 

         This raises the question how "Gentiles" like the Magi and Balaam could have known the symbolism of this star? Although it is associated with Israel today, we will show below that Jewish sources confirm that it is not necessarily of Davidic origins and was known before the Christian era in the East and West. This should be good news for Christians because a passage in Matthew's Gospel has finally a valid explanation:

The phenomenizing of a single star (aster), not a planet or conjunction, which stood still over a child on Feb. 25, 6 BCE, in Bethlehem, the "House of David", as two triangles fused in the mind of the Magi.

          The spectacle is even more "pregnant" with meaning if the Magi had calculated that the celestial scenario began in May, 7 BCE, because the first conjunction was exactly nine months before the triangles would form at the same location in the Zodiac, which is due to the retrograde motion of the planets, as seen from Earth. But because our planet spins in an Easterly direction, the planets were seen farther west every night until they reached the horizon. Mars approached Saturn and Jupiter to form the watery triangle in Pisces around Feb. 11, and after a metamorphosis of about two weeks, topped the fiery triangle on Feb. 25, 6 BCE.  

           With this solution for an old debate, even the 'midrash' of Herod's problems gets a plausible explanation: According to the Gospel, Herod could not see the star and only learned the time when the star appeared, not the actual birth date (Mt.2:7). The earliest date could have been May 27, 7 BCE (first conjunction), and the second nine months later, on February 25, 6 BC (the hexagram). But Herod's astrologers had to be careful, because this "new king" could have merely been conceived in February, and born another nine months later, in late November. Consequently, the span of 18 months supports the legend that Herod ordered the massacre of all boys under two years of age (Mt. 2, 16).


9. Some astrophysical aspects

            This multi-faceted solution confirms the claims in the Gospel from 1-6, as announced at the top of this article, and reconciles the narratives according to Matthew and Luke: The Star of Bethlehem was therefore an actual, astronomical event, which was only visible to astrologers and a sophisticated wise man seems to have put into simple words, according to St Matthew. But because many people did not understand it, and because the Magi had a bad reputation from the Book of Daniel, another wise man retold the story in the Gospel according to St Luke and replaced the star and its planets with an angel and his "heavenly host", while retaining the meaning of a divine messenger. The use of parables was quite common at the time because angels and stars are often synonymous in the Bible. That the first Christians introduced the Magi and their astrology could be an indication that the Magi educated Jesus, which could explain why most of his life is missing in the Gospels.

            Unfortunately, Kepler lived in a period that was marked by superstitious beliefs and religious fanaticism, which forced him to use a complex rhetoric to present this discovery. His evaluation of the supernova could only go as far as concluding that it was either a natural, astronomical event, which he establishes rather firmly, or that God had ignited it among the other fixed stars as a message for humanity. This is pretty much how it is even viewed today, although a pious astrophysicist like Gingerich could simply combine the two solutions. In fact, Kepler criticizes the "crazy" (verückten) doomsday prophecies of "the astrologers", which he counters with the following explanation (Lehrsatz):

"A natural event, like the return of the triangles, is definitely not a sign of something supernatural, except if the will and decision of the one with the power over every supernatural event is added, as it can be seen with the rainbow. It is a fact, however, that the celestial motions have to be left to nature.

"...we have no reason to expect anything from the recent conjunction that makes it more special or significant, because of its natural powers, than anything else in the past two hundred years. It would have nothing to do with a change of the human condition if a triangle is named after fire or water; but there is a great difference whether many or few planets come together and if they are close or far apart" (49).           

            His rhetoric implies that the planets affect the human condition when they are in a close massing, which is firmly rejected by modern science, but what of there is an effect that has not been recognized to date?  We should note that Kepler dismissed the 800-year cycle of the Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions because the astrological concept of the Trigons has no meaning, and now dismisses the esoteric triangles of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars as well. For the first time, he clarifies that it only matters how many planets are involved, and how close they are to each other. 

          After the "fiery triangle" on February 25, 6 BCE, when the planets disappeared in the light of the evening Sun, Earth was actually isolated on one side of the Sun, while Mars, Jupiter and Saturn formed a long line behind it that extended to the edge of our Solar System. That this could affect the human condition seems rather ridiculous, but everything an astrophysicist dismisses today could be reversed a decade from now! Wegener's discovery of the "continental drift" was not taken seriously for over half a century, yet is fully accepted today! Hence, we can afford to speculate what type of astrophysical effect this line-up might have, and a number of possibilities come to mind.

                Kepler emphasizes the equinoctial points of Aries and Libra, which establishes the involvement of the Sun. To take the massing in 6 BCE as an example, it is clear that Earth is isolated on one side of the Sun and all other planets are lined up behind it. Hence, this could function like an amplifier or antenna that attracts radiation from the fringe of our galaxy or beyond. The combined gravitational force may also increase the gaseous, Solar tides and release jolts of radiation when more of the Sun's inner core is exposed. Or the two phenomena have a combined effect and Solar activity amplifies a radiation from another galaxy. Consequently, regular exposure to this unknown radiation could be a "cosmic clock" that affects the evolution, and Plato's concept of the fullness of time could then be an indication that our distant ancestors were still able to sense this force. As much as the printing press revolutionized the human experience, it has also reduced our short-term memory. It is a well-known fact that the peoples of the Middle Ages could remember and recite a speech of half and hour or longer. What if we lost other sensibilities as well?


10. Judeo-Christian support

             We expect that our "detective work" will be rejected by most scholars, also because of the astronomers we single out and dare to criticize. The greatest enigma remains the dramatization of Parzival's destiny with Plato 'fullness of time' and division of the poem according to Plutarch's calculation, and conclusion that the grail empowers the phoenix to rise from its ashes (50), which modern astronomers are forced to reject. But they seem to have looked unanimously at the sky, searching the heavens – and never noticed Kepler's "miraculous star" down here on Earth. As mentioned earlier, our identification of the planetary hexagram is also suggested by Anthony J. Maas S.J. (1859–1927, see vita), whose comprehensive study of Matthew's Gospel offers a detailed analysis of the birth of Christ. Born and raised in Germany, Maas joined the Society of Jesus in 1877, studied in Manresa (Catalonia/Spain) and at Woodstock College (Maryland/USA). He became professor of Scripture, Latin, Greek and Hebrew (1891-1905), assistant editor of The Messenger in New York (1905-1907), president of Woodstock College (1907-1912), and provincial of the New York-Maryland Province (1912-1927). Due to this impressive background, he was obviously fluent in German and Latin, and probably the last Jesuit to understand Kepler's esoteric side. We will show below that he uses a familiar rhetoric to explain why the literal meaning of the Gospel requires the miraculous appearance of another star (51). In view of Kepler's cautious hints, which Maas seems to have fully understood, it could have been a decision by the Vatican to give Burke-Gaffney the "green light" to end these speculations once and for all. Our conjecture is supported by the fact that his attacks of Kepler are based on the findings of Charles Pritchard (Oxford) and Ludwig Ideler (Berlin) a generation after Maas, without mentioning him! The reason is rather obvious as these quotes from Maas demonstrate:

"Kepler observed in December, 1603, a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn; Mars acceded in the following spring, and in autumn a very splendid star, much resembling a fixed star, was added. It occurred to the devout astronomer that the Wisemen might have witnessed a similar phenomenon, and on calculation he found that Jupiter and Saturn had been in conjunction A.U.C. 747 (i.e.7 BCE), and that Mars had made his approach the following February and March; later on, the Sun, Venus, and Mercury were added, so that in March, April, and May A.U.C. 748 (i.e.6 BCE) there was a perfect conjunction...  

Kepler did not, however, explain the star of the Magi wholly by means of the conjunction; he thought that the Wisemen, like himself, must have observed a new star in the place of the conjunction which first excited their curiosity, and when it descended into the lower regions of the air and finally disappeared in the west, it recalled Balaam's prophecy, and inspired them with the wish to follow its westward course...

The explanation of the phenomenon is further confirmed by the following observation: the sacred text nowhere necessitates a miracle; the supposed appearance of the conjunction in the direction of Bethlehem satisfies the plain words of v.v. 9. 10, importing its motion from S.E. towards S.W., the direction of Bethlehem..."

          If we spend some time with the suggestions of Maas, we notice his subtle reference to Plato's Timaeus because Kepler's "perfect conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars is expanded with the Sun, Venus and Mercury, which is a clear reference to Plato's "perfect year" and "fullness of time" when all planets lign up in Aries, the first sign. This is an important focus of our study and probably occurred to Maas in Manresa, Catalonia, when he visited Montserrat where Loyola had the inspiration to found the Jesuits. As to the above quotes, they seem to be the premise of Burke-Gaffney’s attack of Kepler, because we learn that another star appeared in the place of the conjunction and descended into the lower region of the air. According to Maas, it replaced the conjunction, which is in full support of the planetary hexagram that formed in the minds of the Magi. Our conjecture is supported by the rhetoric of Maas when he first questions the miraculous aspects of the Star of Bethlehem, and then isolates the Magi as interpreters of the star:

"That a natural star or a comet's tail (Patr.) cannot point out a single house is plain to every observer. To say that the star pointed out the child's presence by its sudden and unexpected appearance, when the Magi were near his place, does not sufficiently satisfy the words of the evangelist... 

Whatever extraordinary natural phenomenon may have occurred... the literal meaning of the gospel and its traditional interpretation require an additional miraculous appearance of a star in the lower region of the atmosphere ."

         What a courageous revelation! Thanks to the rhetoric of Maas and his support of Kepler's esoteric concept it should finally be plain to every observer that the hexagram, which is a star, did indeed point out the child's presence in a house in Bethlehem, not because it is the House of David but because of its "miraculous appearance" in the minds of the Magi. Furthermore, the surprising evidence that Gentiles like Balaam and the Magi could have known this ancient symbol is from a reliable source, the Encyclopaedia of Judaism:

"Hexagrams were known in many ancient civilizations as far apart as Britain and Mesopotamia, India and the Iberian peninsula prior to the Roman conquest".  

            This claim is difficult to understand today because the "Star of David" is tragically linked to the holocaust and as a consequence became the symbol of Israel. But we are quoting Jewish encyclopedias that were published before WWII when the "Magen David' was still linked to early Judeo-Christian magic, as we will show below. They could even mention a frieze at the Synagogue of Capernaum where the hexagram is depicted right next to a swastika, the ancient sun-wheel and symbol of peace... 



           This takes us back to romantic Prague where the German scholar David Gans was one of the first to use the "Magen David" on a grave – his own! This decision may relate to an event in the winter of 1610 we had mentioned earlier: Kepler crossed the famous Charles Bridge one evening after work when a snowflake landed on his sleeve and melted before his eyes. He could have been on his way to meet Gans in the Altstadt to discuss the mystery of the planetary hexagram over a Pilsner beer. Inspired by the link of the macrocosm and the microcosm they may have wondered what force or "agent" might be the reason why every snowflake has six corners? Did the melting of this little star remind them of grail romance, of "three drops of blood" that melt in the snow and put Perceval into a trance, and did they connect this allegory to the watery and fiery triangles in the sky? And to the Christmas star and phoenix? Kepler wrote the treatise De nive sexangula a year later, in 1611, and dedicated it as a "gift of nothing" to one of his supporters (52). Did Gans and Kepler discuss that the prophet Elijah was reborn 854 years later as John the Baptist, as Jesus had suggested, or merely the astrophysical consequences of certain line-ups of our Solar system? There is no way of knowing where their speculations could have gone if they had more than one beer – or a slivovitz? They might have even joined a "Stammtisch" with Roger Fludd, John Dee and young Valentin Andreae from Tübingen! All we know for sure is that Gans translated the Alfonsine astronomical tables for Tycho Brahe into German, knew Kepler at the time of our imagined encounter, and worked on the unpublished book "Magen David" until his death in 1613. Although the esoteric symbolism of the hexagram was known in the Cabbalist circles of Prague, Kepler may have alluded in his metaphor to the emperor after whom the bridge is named, Charles IV, who ordered the Jews of Prague to put the "Magen David" on their red flag. Because Gans was a celebrated Rabi and scholar, this alone could have inspired him to adopt it proudly as a symbol of his Jewish heritage (53).    

            There is even independent evidence that could reduce some of the remaining doubts of a skeptical scholar: The Universal Jewish Encyclopaedia, an adaptation of Jüdisches Lexikon, quotes from Rosicrucian sources that as a Messianic symbol...

"...the hexagram represents the zodiacal sign of Pisces (February 21 to March 20), the time of the year when the Messiah was supposed to appear".

            This covers precisely the time when the planetary hexagram formed above the horizon on Feb. 25, 6 BCE – before the Sun joined the planets and made them invisible, "burned" them with its light. However, we have merely reconciled the Christian gospels with Kepler's discovery, and some scholars might argue that the first Christians were so inspired that they embellished everything to proselytize with greater success. The birth of Jesus, during the reign of Herod, became 'midrash' and was dramatized to involve the evil king personally. The murder of the children could have been exploited to expose Old Testament brutality, where Elisha murders 450 prophets of Baal, as an evil deed that was no longer tolerated by the new religion which teaches love and forgiveness. Christ's resurrection could have been developed from Eastern beliefs in reincarnation, and the symbolism of Matthew and Luke, with the Star of Bethlehem and Magi complemented by an angel and his "heavenly host", may have had the function to offer an astrological concept for the educated – and a fairy tale for children and the general public.

            But aside from these adventurous conjectures, one undisputable fact remains: virtually nothing is known about the Magi and their astrology, but there were definitely triangles in the sky at around the time of Christ's birth. Kepler's veiled comments about the Star of Bethlehem refer not only to the prophecy of Balaam, but also to one of the most famous myths of the ancient world. If the planetary hexagram can be identified as the Phoenix, it would fuse all ancient wisdom with Kepler's "cometary star". That this may be his greatest discovery, which he suggested by "De nive sexangula" (microcosm) and his references to Plutarch's "de defectu oraculorum" (macrocosm) where the phoenix riddle is covered.

            Obviously, Kepler could not reveal openly that the venerated "Star of Bethlehem" was merely another appearance of the Phoenix because of the religious fanaticism around him. A wise choice, because he would have been unable to save his mother "from certain death at the stake" and could have perished that way himself...

11. Christmas Star and Phoenix

            Kepler had the courage to reference Plutarch's work about the lifespan of the phoenix, and it takes little imagination to interpret the hexagram in perspective over Bethlehem as a bird with a beak and tail, two feet, and its wings spread wide. According to Herodotus, the colors of the phoenix are red and golden, which are the colors of Saturn, Jupiter, and the red planet Mars. It flies from the East to the West, which happens to be the course of the planets as seen from Earth, and it allegedly appears about every 500 years, which is a somewhat astronomical number. This is persuasive evidence that the Magi followed the flight of the phoenix, but only if we can show that it is revived after it burns to ashes, which would require a recurring event. In this case, the phoenix was interpreted by Matthew as a "miraculous star", which the Magi followed towards Heliopolis ("City of the Sun") in Egypt, which is right in front of the pyramids, the largest triangles on Earth by far! But when they rested for a night in Jerusalem they learned about Bethlehem, the 'House of David', which is only five miles away. This scenario might explain why the holy family escaped to Egypt as well, and why so many years in Jesus' life are missing from the Gospels.

            Plutarch (ca. 46-120 CE) was an erudite scholar, a priest at the Oracle of Delphi, and a contemporary of the writer of Matthew's Gospel. His account of the phoenix (54), which has the support of contemporaries like Pope Clement I and Tacitus, would make the story of the Magi less unique from a Christian point of view. But if the phoenix myth is based on a reoccurring, natural phenomenon, it may have been celebrated in diverse cultures under different names, including Balaam's Star, Seal of David and even the Holy Grail, because the poet Wolfram describes the grail as a stone from paradise that gives the phoenix the power of rebirth! This relates also to the fullness of time, according to Plato's Timaeus, and to the predictions of Berossus of Babylon, as first suggested in 1986 by W. Chmielewski (55). Yes, these are "heretical" ideas that used to guarantee a fiery death at the stake! You are herewith challenged to post your support or critique a.s.a.p. Write to – or start your own blog with due credits and links to this site. But if you are not convinced or need more evidence click on "next" below for Plutarch's entertaining ideas about lifespans!


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         1. Holy Bible, New International Version, (New York, 1978).

         2. Johannes Kepler, Mysterium Cosmographicum, De Stella Nova, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1, ed. Max Caspar, (Munich, 1938), pp.441-61. Here's more of Caspar's German text: "Zwar ist dort unmittelbar vom Todesjahr Christi die Rede, nicht vom Geburtsjahr, dem Sinne nach könnte das letztere aber ebensogut, vielleicht noch mit stärkeren Gründen an Stelle des anderen stehen. Es heisst also da: Mit drei Argumenten wird offen operiert... Ein viertes, das den Menschen Mund und Augen verschliesset, steht dunkel im Hintergrund: die Autorität der heutigen Theologen bei allen Parteien. Diese ist so erdrückend, dass ich nicht umhin kann, dieses Zeitalter als unglücklich zu beklagen.” Although Kepler mentions this in a letter during a lengthy and detailed explanation of De vero anno, it could be regarded as an esoteric reference because he compares the physical "New Star" with its metaphysical meaning, which he dismisses finally. The letter in Latin is currently available on-line at Gallica (BnF), Joannis Kepleri, Opera Omnia, vol. IV, ed. Dr. Ch. Frisch, (Frankfurt, 1762), p. 435, beginning with: "Tria quidem sunt, quae objiiciuntur aperte...:" and here is a link to Kepler's German preview from 1604 when the "new star" was still twinkling in the sky.

         3. Max Caspar, Kepler, tr. C. Doris Hellman, (New York, 1993), preface, p. 14.

         4. Ibid., introduction by Owen Gingerich, p. 3.

         5. K. Ferrari d'Occhieppo, Der Stern von Bethlehem in astronomischer Sicht, Legende oder Tatsache? (Giessen, 1994),  under "weitere Literatur" which ignores Kepler's other works and references "De Anno Natali Christi (1614)" without revealing the page number, which forces his peers to accept his claim if they are unable to translate the Latin text. Ferrari summed it up on p. 147 as follows: "Nach eigenen Untersuchungen über Große Konjunktionen betrachtete Kepler jene von 7 v. Chr. gewissermaßen als kosmisches Signal für den Anbruch des Zeitalters Christi, meinte jedoch, als Stern der Magier eine (hypothetische ) nova im Jahre 5 v. Chr. annehmen zu müssen." The book is an expanded 3d edition of Der Stern der Weisen, (Vienna-Munich, 1969,) which Ferrari uses to correct some of his earlier ideas in response to his critics. He also ignores Kepler's findings (p. 7) by claiming he got the idea to research the planetary conjunctions in 7 BCE from an article by O. Gerhardt in 1931/32. (Because of his long name, which is Konradin Constantin Hubert Marquard Eugen Josef Maria Georg Graf Ferrari d'Occhieppo, we'll borrow Ferrari from his Austrian colleagues).  

          6. David Hughes, The Star Of Bethlehem, An Astronomer's Confirmation, (Pocket Books New York, 1980), p. 134:  "It is possible that in Kepler's view the conjunction had caused the development of the nova and it is even possible that he had thought the conjunction at the time of Christ's birth caused the nova of 5 BC."

          7. Ferrari, (see above, no. 5, pp. 16-17). He claims to have developed the 854-cycle from a Babylonian cuneiform tablets and fragments, where the positions of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in 7 BCE areallegedly recorded. His failure to quote from Kepler led us to suspect he got his ideas from hidden "gold corns" in Kepler's De Stella nova – and as an ardent Catholic felt obliged to discredit his source.            

          8. Hughes, (see above, no. 6), pp.156-57, 247. The english astronomer investigates and explains this mysterious "zodiacal light" in great detail on pp. 227-30, and kindly omit's Ferrari's name in the context because he dismisses it as "a common enough sight to the Magi" and for its "lack of astrological significance."

         9. Kepler, (see above, no. 2) p. 401.

        10.  Johannes Kepler, Das unser Herr und Hailand Jesus Christus..., Strassburg, 1613, p. 2: "Als es auch in meinem Buch die gelegenheit gegeben / das ich disen Newen Stern des 1604. Jahres mit dem jenigen Newen Stern / welcher vor 1600. Jahren denn weisen auss Morgenlandt / den Newgebornen König der Juden / unsern Herrn und Heyland Jesum Christum geoffenbahret / vergleichen unnd conferiren müssen / unnd ich desshalben einen anhang an mein Buch gemacht / mit dem Titulo, de vero anno Natalitio Christi / darinnen ich behauptet / das unsere jahrzahl zu kurtz / und Christus fünff jahr eher geborn / und derowegen der Stern / welcher ein jahr oder zwey zuvor geleuchtet / gleichs fahls mit / unter und neben einer Conjunctione maxima Saturni, Iovis und Martis in dem zeichen Fisch und Wider / und also auch zu eingang des fewrigen Trianguls erschienen / derowegen beyde newe Sterne einander zu vergleichen seyen... "

        11. Johannes Kepler, Über den neuen Stern im Fuss des Schlangenträgers, tr. Otto & Eva Schönberger, Eberhard Knobloch, (Würzburg, 2006), pp. 156/7: "Da Gott diese zum Herrn Christus hinführen wollte, ermahnte er sie durch das Entflammen eines Sternes. Und beinahe alle Umstände weisen darauf hin, das die Aufgabe jenes Sternes ganz ähnlich der des modernen war, wenn man die Unbeweglichkeit und Höhe unseres Sternes wegdenkt, nämlich dass auch dieser selbst in den Moment der zurückkehrenden Feurigen Dreiheit und in die Zeit der Konjunktion fiel".

        12. Ibid., Kepler opens chapter 29 (p. 209) with the astrological preditions for the Fiery Trigon and points out how much he has written earlier about the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. This goes all the way back to his German preview, where Kepler writes (395:9-12) that the supernova appeared in the year of which the astrologers have written so much, when a Fiery Trigon lit up in exactly the month when Mars joined the two highest planets for a perfect "great conjunction" according to Cyprian's teachings. In German: "... dieser gereth gerad in das Jahr/ darvon die Astrologi so viel geschrieben/ das der fewrige Triangul drinnen angehe/ gerad in den Monat/ drinnen auch Mars zu baiden höchsten Planeten khommen/ vnd die grosse conjunction nach Cypriani lehr volkhommen gemacht." By not using "St. Cyprian", Kepler gives his readers an obvious choice between the saint and the magician.

        13. Hughes, (see above, no. 6), p. 134.        

        14. Michael R. Molnar, The Star of Bethlehem, The Legacy of the Magi, (New Brunswick, 1999), p. 147. Molnar's evaluation of Kepler relies strongly on the astronomer Burke-Gaffney, a Jesuit with a hostile agenda which we cover in Triangles in the Sky. According to Molnar: "Burke-Gaffnet (sic),.. is a fountain of information on Kepler's work involving the Magi's star." 

        15. Ibid., p. 23. We should add that Kepler's German articles are only accessible to those who speak the language fluently and have read texts from the period like "The Chymical Wedding..." Spanish, French and English have changed little since 1600, see Shakespeare, but many German words were spelled differently, which requires a dictionary from the period. We must add that Ferrari's false claim about the "hypothetical nova" (see above, no. 5), was already disputed in 1604. Kepler writes in the final chapter of 'De stella nova,' (see above, no. 11, p. 232) that he regrets having made a wrong hypothesis in his German article (ich als Hypothese die falsche Annahme aufstelle) by suggesting that the new star could have been be ignited by Jupiter and Mars (see no. 15 below,) which shows it was misinterpreted by very religious Christians. They obviously resented the joke that they should stay with their childish explanation at home that the star could have been ignited by Jupiter and Mars for simple, natural reasons, which implies (hypothetically) that it would have required an act of God.

        16. Kepler, (see above, no. 2), Gründtlicher Bericht Von einem vngewohnlichen Newen Stern, pp. 393-99:  "Was nun sein bedeuttung sein werd / ist schwärlich zu ergründen/ vnd ditz allein gewiß / das er eintweder vns Menschen gar nichts / oder aber solliche hohe wüchtige ding zubedeuten habe / die aller Menschen Sinn vnd vernunfft vbertreffen. Dan weil er so hoch vber alle Planeten gestanden / das an demselben ort/ nach Copernici lehr / nit allein der Planeten Cörper verschwinden / sondern auch jre gantze Himmele selber wie kleine sternlin anzusehen: so vermag man demnach aus der Astrologorum gmeinen lehr vnd dieser grossen conjunctione Saturni, Jovis et Martis nichts auff die entzündung dieses sterns / oder seine substantz erzwingen. Vnd wolte Gott / das doch die jenige / wölliche vnzweiffel in grosser anzahl viel langer gewäsche von vrsprung dieses sternen machen / vnd in truckh geben werden / jnen dieweil nämen / Hern Tychonis Brahe Progymnasmata von dem sterne des 1572 Jahrs zuvor abzulesen / damit sie mit so vngeschickten kindischen gedancken / als solte dieser sterne natürlicher gewohnlicher weise von Jove vnd Marte (sonderlich weil er rötlich vnd von fernem / wie ein auffgehende brunst oder feur scheinet) entzündet worden sein / daheimen bleiben."

Rough literal translation: "What its (the supernova) meaning might be / is difficult to find out / only this alone is certain / that it either means nothing for us / or something of such great importance / that it would be beyond all of human reasoning and comprehension. Because it stood so high above all planets / at the same location from where / according to Copernicus' teachings / not only the planets disappear, but our entire sky (Solar system) would look like little stars from there: we can use nothing therefore from the teachings of astrology and the great conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars to make any connection to the igniting of this star or its substance. God would want / that those who write in great numbers such lengthy nonsense about the origins of this star / and plan to get it printed / should first read Tycho Brahe's Progymnasmata about the star of 1572 / so they stay with those clumsy, childish thoughts / that the star could have been ignited in a natural way by Jupiter and Mars (because it  is reddish and from far / looks like rising flames or fire) better at home."

In order not to offend the large majority of devout Christians, Kepler adds the disclaimer (396:34-41): "I can't deny that this star is linked to the conjunctions of Jupiter and Mars if we accept that God himself (for whom nothing in the world is small or large, and who loves humanity that resides on a small, invisible terrestial dot, in his himage, even more than a star which is a hundred thousand times larger than Earth) wants to show humanity something important, the place and time of this conjunction of Jupiter and Mars to always remember..." It is surprising that Kepler could get away with this kind of rhetoric, and difficult to understand that some of our contemporaries accept it as well!

        17. Kepler, (see above, no. 11), p. 159: "Oder hält es jemand für wahrscheinlich, dass eine Mücke einen Elefanten hervorbringt?"

        18. A. J. Maas, S. J., The Gospel according to Saint Matthew with an explanatory and critical commentary, (St Louis, 1898), p. 20. Available on-line at where it can be downloaded as pdf.

        19.  Science News Letter, Washington D.C., December 19, 1936, p. 393, and  The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, (Toronto, 1937), pp. 416-25, see Triangles in the Sky.

        20.  Kepler, (see above, no. 2), IV, TERTIVS INTERVENIENS. Das ist/ Warnung an etliche Theologos, Medicos und Philosophos..., chap. VIII, 1610, pp. 161/2. The quote has been translated by Hellman (see above, no. 3), p. 183, but she misinterpreted Kepler's "Perlin oder Goldtkorn" as other "pearly or golden corn" the busy hen could find, because Caspar omitted the continuation of this statement. Without the reference, Hellman had no idea that Kepler went on to say that he put some of these "precious pearls and corns of gold" into his book De Stella nova. That Caspar didn't include this important message is a strong indication that he failed to understand Kepler's entertaining metaphor! Another example of Kepler's sense of humor is the cover page, where he warns the above experts not to "cheaply dismiss the stargazer's superstitions and pour out the child with the bath water, and therefore act unknowingly against their profession." Like a carnival barker, he goes on to promise "many, extremely important, never before raised or discussed philosophical questions for all true lovers of the secrets of nature as a necessary instruction."          

        21. Carola Baumgardt, Johannes Kepler - Life and Letters, (New York, 1951), pp. 9-13

        22. Max Caspar, Johannes Kepler, (Stuttgart, 1950), p. 240

            23. Ibid., p. 287

        24. Johannes Kepler, Gesammelte Werke, Vol. IV, Nachbericht, (Munich, 1941), p. 429

        25. M.W. Burke-Gaffney, Kepler and the Jesuits, (Milwaukee, 1944), p. 37

        26. Johannes Kepler, L'Etoile nouvelle dans le pied de Serpentaire, tr. Jean Peyroux, (Bordeaux, 1998)

        27. Kepler, (see above, n. 11), partially available on-line at Google! Note: The translations of astrological terms may be flawed. Mercury is identified as Mars on the book's cover and Trigon as DREIECK, but it is usually translated as "Dreiheit" and the planetary triangles as "Dreieck," which gets quite confusing.  

        28. Ludwig Günther, Kepler und die Theologie, Ein Stück Religions- und Sittengeschichte aus dem XVI. und XVII. Jahrhundert, (Giessen, 1905), p.VI.

        29. Deism, derived from Latin "deus" meaning "god" is a philosophical belief that God exists as an uncaused First Cause ultimately responsible for the creation of the universe, but does not interfere directly with the created world. Equivalently, deism can also be defined as the view which posits God's existence as the cause of all things, and admits its perfection (and usually the existence of natural law and Providence) but rejects divine revelation or direct intervention of God in the universe by miracles. It also rejects revelation as a source of religious knowledge and asserts that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of a sdingle creator or absolute principal of the universe... Deism gained prominence among intellectuals during the Age of Enlightenment, especially in Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Typically, these had been raised as Christians and believed in one God, but they had become disenchanted with organized religion and orthodox teachings such as the Trinity, Biblical inerrancy, and the supernatural interpretation of events, such as miracles. See

        30. Caspar, (see above, no. 3), Introduction, pp. 24-27.

        31. Kepler, (See above, no. 11), p. 233-37. The terminology is extremely anti-Semitic (p.228) and typical for the period, but Kepler goes on to praise the Church to add that the "highest and greatest God" gave the Jews priority over the Church and reversed for them the order of nature and stopped the Sun .... only to help Joshua, the leader of the Israelite peoples, etc.

        32. Caspar, (see above, no. 3),  p. 155

        33. Kepler, (see above, no. 2), p. 210-11:."...dass wir keine Ursache haben, wegen der jüngsten Konjunktion etwas Herausragendes oder Bedeutenderes als in den letzten beiden Jahrhunderten durch die Kraft der Natur zu erwarten. Es besagt ja nichts für die Veränderung des menschlichen Zustandes, ob ein Dreieck nach dem Feuer oder dem Wasser benannt wird; doch darin liegt der grosse Unterschied, ob viele oder wenige Planeten und ob diese eng oder locker und entfernt zusammentreten."

        34. Caspar, (see above, no. 3), p. 155.

        35. Günther, (see above, no. 28)

        36. Owen Gingerich, God's Universe, (Cambridge, 2006)

        37. Volker Bialas, Johannes Kepler, (Munich, 2004). Painting (uncredited) by Hans von Aachen (1552 - 1615), before 1612, oil on canvas, 51,5 x 38,5 cm.

        38. Bryant Tuckerman, Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions, (Philadelphia, 1962) Tuckerman uses -0 for BCE 1, and  -5 for BCE 6. 

        39. To document the authenticity of the 1980s JPL data, here's a copy of the 6 BCE print-out:


        40.  Dag Kihlman, The Star of Bethlehem and Babylonian Astrology, Astronomy and Revelation 12 Reveal What the Magi Saw, self-published (Trollhättan Sweden, 2016), pp. 91, 201. He references the Finnish assyriologist Simo Parpola, The Magi and the Star – Babylonian astronomy dates Jesus' birth, eds. Sara Murphy et al., Biblical Archeology Society, (Washington DC, 2009).

         41.  Pedro de Palol & Max Hirmer, Early Medieval Art in Spain, (New York, 1966 ), p. 125. We are showing details of a photograph from the church Santa Maria de Taüll, which Hirmer took at the museum MNAC in Barcelona.   

         42.  Peter Barthel and George van Kooten eds., The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy, (Leiden, 2015).

         43.  Ibid., Teije de Jong, De Ster der Wijzen (1920): A Forgotten Early Publication about the Star of Bethlehem, pp. 138-158.

        44.  Ibid., p. 147

         45.  Ibid., p. 156

         46.  Andrea Dortmann, Winter Facets: Traces and tropes of the cold, Studies in Modern German Literature, Vol. 104. (Bern, 2007), p. 69.

        47. Ferrari, (see above, no. 5)

        48. Jüdisches Lexikon, Georg Herlitz and Bruno Kirschner, Vol. III, (Berlin, 1929), pp.1281-82.

        49. Kepler, (see above, n. 34) for German text.

        50.  Hans Eggers, ‘Strukturprobleme mittelalterlicher Epik, dargestellt am Parzival Wolframs von Eschenbach’, Euphorion 47 (Osnabrück 1953), pp. 260-270, repr. in Eggers, Kleine Schriften, ed. H. Backes, W. Haubrichs and R. Rath (Tübingen 1982), pp. 161-173 at pp. 264-265 of the original. Eggers detected a structure in the poem of 7 groups of 108 paragraphs of 30 lines each. The odd choices of 3,4,9, 30 and 108 seem to derive from Plutarch, ‘De defectu oraculoram’, printed in Plutarch, Moralia, ed. and trans. Frank C. Babbitt, L. I. C. Pearson and F. H. Sandbach (Cambridge, 1927-76), 15 vols in 16, V, pp. 347-501 and pp. 381-383. See Otto Springer, Wolfram's Parzival, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, A collaborative history, ed. Roger Sherman Loomis, (Oxford, 1959), p.247. Springer defines the discovery of Eggers as follows: "The first section of exactly 108 units (30 lines each) is the added story of Parzival's parents. This is followed by 3 sections of 108 units (109-432) until book IX, the core of the work, which only has 70 units of 30 lines. Then there are again 3 sections of 108 units (503-827), until the poem ends after unit 827." Springer's math is slightly off because 432 plus 70 is 502. If we add 3 x 108 we get to unit 826. Then, Wolfram adds the single unit 827 which is the epilogue and end of the poem.

        51. Maas, (see above, no. 18)

        52. Kepler, De nive Sexangula, (see above, n. 2), pp. 261-80. For an English text see: Johannes Kepler, The Six-Cornered Snowflake A New Year's Gift, tr. Jacques Bromberg, (Philadelphia, 2010).

        53. Jüdisches Lexikon,  (see above, no. 48), Vol. III, pp.1281-82.

        54. Plutarch, de defectu oraculorum, Moralia, Vol. XI, (Cambridge, 1927), pp. 381-387

        55. W. Chmielewski, Triangles in the Sky: From the Star of David to the Holy Grail, presented at Annual Meeting  of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, (California State University, San Bernadino), on May 3, 1986, and on April 25, 1987, at the Annual Meeting of the California Folklore Society, (UCLA, Los Angeles). Abstract: "Great conjunctions of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars reoccur in 854-year cycles at the same position of the Zodiac, often forming triangles. Evidence from religion, mythology, and literature supports the new hypothesis that specific planetary triangles were fused by prophets and astrologers into esoteric hexagrams, and interpreted in different eras as the Star of David, Shield of Zeus, Phoenix, Star of Bethlehem, etc."


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