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 which "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 joked 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 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 in October 2018)


1. Introduction

The Star of Bethlehem is highly significant in Christianity because it is revered as the "divine annunciation" of Christ's birth. But only two of the four Gospels in the New Testament give an account of the nativity – with some differences: According to Matthew, a miraculous star guides Magi to Bethlehem where they adore the newborn child in a house. In Luke's version, an angel is joined by a "multitude of the heavenly host" to announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds in the field, after which they visit the child in a manger in Bethlehem. Neither Gospel refers to the other version, but both use a similar symbolism for a divine messenger. The other Gospels omit where Christ was born and refer to him 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 based on the earliest version of Matthew's Gospel, which was written in Greek around 80-100 CE and contains everything 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. Although some Bible scholars go as far as proposing that Luke's angel was meant to replace Matthew's star, 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 regard it as a "divine miracle" which allows them to add a scientific evaluation. But any acceptable solution from a purely Christian point of view would have to take the above quotes literally and identify a real "star", which is quite a challenge as we show 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.


We have shown in "Triangles in the Sky" that the German astronomer was the first to accept this challenge four hundred years ago, which forces his peers to start with his findings before they can propose new theories. Most use Kepler's triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BCE as a starting point, but ignore that he features a "great conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in February of 6 BCE. Some dispute or even misinterpret his other findings if it strengthens their case, as we will show with several examples.

Kepler's first achievement was a revision of Biblical chronology. He showed 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 offer different interpretations, most agree with Kepler that it should be a predictable, astronomical event and a Messianic omen. The royal symbolism of Christ is based on the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 1:1), which introduces him as a descendant of King David and mentions that the letters INRI were attached to the cross to mock him as the "King of the Jews" (Mt. 27:37).

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 supplemented his irregular income by casting horoscopes for the rich and famous. In this light, trying to solve the mystery of the Christmas Star "from an astronomer's point of view" is rather limited. Such efforts would be 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 anyone who takes 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 astrophysicist and historian 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 had studied there, he ignores Kepler's work entirely and refers to him only at the end of his book, under secondary sources. He writes 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, which we'll expose in detail below, was repeated in an excellent study by the Englishman David W. Hughes (1941- ), professor of astronomy at the University of Sheffield (6), which is disappointing news for amateurs because our "experts" perpetuate each others misinterpretations. It should also be noted that both professors ignore Mars and feature 7 BCE, but with different results: Ferrari claims to have discovered a planetary cycle of 854 years (7) and identifies Jupiter and Saturn on November 12, 7 BCE, as Christmas star because they were "enhanced by zodiacal light". Hughes uses Kepler's triple-conjunction in 7 BCE and pairs Saturn (star of the Jews) with Jupiter (associated with kings and the Messiah), to conclude that the "star" was an acronychal rising of the two planets in mid-September of 7 BCE. We should add, and are putting it kindly, that we are dealing with two cases of absent-minded professors because Hughes was also in denial of Kepler's concept, which features a "great conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. On page 137 in his book (see above), 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 by the American astronomer Michael Molnar, the latest media darling at Christmas time. As a brief summary it can be said that Kidger combines Hughes and Ferrari by interpreting the triple-conjunction in 7 BCE as a prelude for the "star" which he identifies as a nova in 5 BCE. The misinterpretations of Ferrari allowed Molnar to dismiss Kepler as a misguided mystic, which lets 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, even 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 usually ignored by serious astronomers, unless they are attracted by their faith. The book of Ferrari, who predates Hughes and is cited by him (8), has an introduction by a German theologian who praises him as an "astronomer with an interest in history and a devout Christian". His findings are praised by the Church and even 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 get employed because the NSDAP had 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, were he seems to have discovered the 854-year cycle. Furthermore, he relied 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 confirmations of his creed literally and fail to notice his Baroque rhetoric. This might also explain why our modern authors ignore Kepler's claims in 'Das unser Herr und Hailand...' (1613), the German preview of  'De vero anno' (1614), which features 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 allowed Ferrari to claim he mistook the Star of Bethlehem for a nova. But had his peers read the text more than once they would have noticed that Kepler's comparison of both "New Stars" is limited to their appearance in 1604 and 6 BCE. This pertains to Biblical chronology because Kepler had the difficult task 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 the "stars" for mathematicians and astrologers was no longer necessary because he had this 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 did not mistake the Star of Bethlehem for a "hypothetical" nova, as Ferrari claimed and his peers followed, because he says 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 moves ahead of the Magi and stops above the newborn child in Bethlehem. If we take Kepler by his word, he is revealing for the first time that an additional star appeared during the "great conjunction" in 6 BCE, a mysterious star of which there is no record, 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, which everyone could see in the sky, Kepler is writing about 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. The search for a 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 and adds occasionally some of his scientific views (chapters 2-11), which he expands with his calculations (chapter 12) to assign the "new star" to the realm of fixed stars. The next 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 (chapters 26-27), but saves more important findings for the second part (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 very important "according to St. Cyprian's teachings". 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 (12) 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 (13) and concludes " was natural for him to suspect that the conjunction had caused the bright star to burst forth" (14).

            We attribute this confusion to the Catholic agenda 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" (15) and joked in Latin "does anyone think it is possible that a mosquito could bring forth an elephant?" (16).

           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" (17), 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 well into the 20th century.

          The quietus ended December 1936 when Washington's Science News acknowledged the Christmas season by reporting that modern astronomers discovered a "miraculously bright triangle" in the sky at the time of Christ's birth, which was a popular Christmas show in American and European planetariums (18). After the triple conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 7 BCE, Mars had joined the two planets to form a triangle on Feb. 25, 6 BCE. We will show below that it formed exactly nine months after the first conjunction, and that it is the key to Kepler's "cometary star", which might explain why these claims were disputed by another Jesuit. In 1937, at a Jesuit seminary in Toronto, the above-mentioned M.W. Burke-Gaffney S. J. (19) identified Kepler as the discoverer of the triangle and pointed out that astrologers regarded it as a major omen. Because we will show below that this is a partial identification of the "cometary star", the Jesuit's summary of Kepler's views needs to be quoted in extenso:             

"The astrologers of old observed that Jupiter was in conjunction with Saturn about every twenty years. They calculated that this conjunction took place in the same part of the sky every 800 years. In December 1603 there was to be a conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn in Sagittarius, which, to astrologers was one of the points of the Fiery Trigon. In the autumn of 1604, when Jupiter and Saturn were still in the Fiery Trigon, and not far apart, Mars was to come, and be in conjunction with Saturn on September 26, and with Jupiter on Oct. 9. 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; a fiery triangle there was surpassed, as an omen, only by a comet..."        

           Without any reference to a fiery triangle in the Watery Trigon at the birth of Christ, Burke-Gaffney goes on to dismiss the above as "typically Keplerian, born of erudition wedded to astrology by a misguided genius”. He cites two eminent astronomers,  Ludwig Ideler (Berlin) and Charles Pritchard (Oxford), to calculate that Kepler's "great conjunction" of the three planets in 6 BCE was "too close to the setting sun to be seen by naked eye observers" and concludes that the article in the Science News is "misleading, inasmuch as the triangle could not be seen." Soon thereafter, the popular planetarium shows were cancelled because Magi are revered as wise men – not as fools.

           Thirty years later, the American astronomer Robert Victor observed a Mars-Saturn conjunction even closer to the sun on Feb. 20, 1966, and from a higher latitude than the Near East, which allowed the astronomer John Mosley to conclude in 1981 that the planetary triangle in 6 BCE was "clearly visible" (20). Furthermore, most experts would agree today that Kepler was not "wedded to astrology by a misguided genius" as the Jesuit had claimed. Albert Einstein, a contemporary of Burke-Gaffney and wise man of our era, describes Kepler as “a finely sensitive person, passionately dedicated to his research for a deeper insight into the essence of natural events, who, despite internal and external difficulties, reached his loftily placed goal" (21).


5. Kepler's ambiguous concept

          With the position of Kepler restored somewhat, we are free to speculate why he featured a "cometary star". After all, he is celebrated as the "father of astronomy" and discoverer of the true motions of our Solar system! How could there be an additional star that descends miraculously into the atmosphere? Besides, Kepler seems to suggest that there were two different "new stars" in 1604 as well, and as a logical consequence only the other "new star" would have been like the one that led the Magi to Bethlehem! This is even implied by Burke-Gaffney when he mentions that Kepler claimed to have found "a grain in the dung of Arabian superstition" because Kepler wrote that 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" (22), 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 (23). 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" (24).

            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" (25). 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 (26) 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" (27).

            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 German and Latin would be able to discern. It is only since 1998, when the French translation of Jean Peyroux (28) became available, and in 2006 (29), when a German translation was added, that his concept can be analyzed by anyone who understands the modern languages. However, the work is so complex that only an astrophysicist with an extensive knowledge of theology and philosophy would be qualified to offer an objective evaluation of Kepler's genius. An important part of this task would have to be an examination of his religious faith, because the Lutherans and Calvinists had become so dogmatic and intolerant that the achievements of the Reformation were actually threatened (30). Again, only an expert can verify this, but it seems that Kepler evolved to a Pythagorean and Platonic humanist and may have had certain Arian (31) leanings. Although Caspar captures some of the philosophic and scientific beliefs of Kepler's era, 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, "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." Caspar makes a sincere statement here because he goes on to characterize the early 17th century 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." (32)

            These compassionate words were written in the 1940s and express apparently Caspar's personal feelings during WWII. He was a devout Christian and may have taken Kepler's religious remarks seriously and never noticed that he dramatized them to pacify hostile theologians. In fact, Caspar's comments indicate that he had a limited understanding of why Kepler lamented in a letter that he regarded the age he lived in as oppressive and deplorable. Because he was forced to shut his eyes and mouth, Kepler jokes in the preview of 'De Stella nova' in 1604 (German text 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 the astrological influence of the supernova on politics and the general public, Kepler entertained his German readers by adding that there was indeed a major force involved, but "not by its nature but by 'accident'... it created much excitement and profit for the printers because almost every theologian, philosopher, doctor and mathematician… conducted studies and wanted to come to light with their findings." To dramatize the powers of this kind of superstitious 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 had made a mistake: it was merely an unusually bright eclipse of the moon with Jupiter in Sagittarius. (Molnar should read this!)

            Among the superstitious beliefs and predictions he had to address, Kepler echoes in 'De Stella nova' the typical anti-Semitic views of his era (33), 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 save the most important issues for the second part.

            The possibility that Caspar may have had some anti-Semitic views himself is suggested in his Nachbericht in 1938 (34), 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 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 supernova 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 chapters 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 "De vero anno" about Christ's date of birth. However, chapters 28-30 are so complex rhetorically that the allegory of the vignette is finally confirmed as 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 ending in Frankfurt, and have it 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, but 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 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 tries to persuade 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 often lead to disaster (Unheil) due to astrological interpretations.

              Chapter 29 develops from philosophical and historican examples that there is nothing supernatural about a fiery Trigon. It is as natural as the rainbow, and only has a psychological effect on observers. After several examples, including cardinal Pierre d'Ailly's astrological predictions, he writes that what the planetary conjunctions do not indicate naturally does not exist. He concludes that we can 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" (35). 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 get 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 because the massing was on February 4 still in Aquarius.

           Based on the 854-year cycle, the earlier massing was on February 26, 670 CE, as shown below. As always the fast-moving inner planets, like our moon, don't fit precisely but are always around to add their "radiation" in case it exists. 


           If universal changes of affairs are related to the planetary line-ups next to the sun, the above examples are certainly qualified! 670 marks the ensuing conquest of Islam, and 854 years earlier the expansion of the Roman empire. But 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 interpreted 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 their 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 where religion would fit it. 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 extra-terrestial beings? "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 is a great challenge for mathematicians! It allowed Ferrari and 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.)

        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 characterizes Kepler as a devout Christian and summarizes 'De Stella nova' accordingly to mislead other authors as well. A good example is this ambiguous reference to the supernova (p.154): "He pointed out that it is part of the world of fixed stars, which at that time could not be taken as a matter of course. In contrast to the opinion that the new planets had ignited the new star, he supported the stand that he was here dealing with an agglomeration of heavenly material, which also manifests itself in other phenomena." Although Kepler's localization of the supernova among the fixed stars is stated correctly, some Christian readers were led to see a religious context in the "heavenly material." To make matters worse, Hellman's translation has Caspar conclude that during 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".  

          In a correct German translation, the choice of "heavenly material" (36) is too ambiguous because "Himmel" could be heaven or sky. Kepler attributes the origins of the supernova and its matter to the Milky Way (our galaxy), like Tycho Brahe his nova, which is even acceptable by modern standards. Contrary to Caspar's conclusion, Kepler eliminated at first the popular philosophical, astrological and theological speculations to conclude that the universe is guided by "natural laws", and doesn't break off "with a jerk" at all. He pushes many thoughts about the natural laws aside and dedicates chapter 30 to his Christian readers, who were in 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 consider that he is not employed by the emperor to play the public prophet, but to promote astronomy to his utmost ability and in full consideration of all those the emperor needs for the promotion and acceptance of astronomy. He adds that if he had been allowed to print his private thoughts (innersten Gedanken), all opposing parties could have been provoked. If we consider that emperor Rudolf II and some supporters held superstitious beliefs, they probably supported astronomy as a tool of precision for their astrologers. This may have prevented Kepler from debunking astrology entirely, although he closes with the critique that it dominates public life and celebrates its published prophets as entertainment, while his astronomical and scientific studies are in a direct opposition. He hopes, nevertheless, 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 include the possibility of plagiarism because Caspar cites Christian Frisch too briefly and omits the biographical research of Ludwig Günther (37) by crediting him only as a 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 as well, 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 the introduction that he compiled the 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 featured without "S. J." on top of the list as primary source of "Kepler's Philosophical and Theological Outlook", which is quite misleading! It looks like Gingerich's failure to notice the agenda of the Jesuit might explain why he endorses Molnar's misinformed hypothesis!

          Hopefully, a modern expert like Volker Bialas will take a break from more important projects and 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 wrote that Aristotle perceived the size of the universe as limited, which he based on its motion. Our big-bang-theorists would agree with that, 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 the concept of an infinite universe with extra-terrestial life would complicate the belief in a creator, which the Big Bang supports, because it is unthinkable that something could 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" (38). Meanwhile, any objective researcher would have to start with Bialas (39) who captures the genius of Kepler's nuanced rhetoric far better than any other scholar, including our clumsy 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 chap. 30, and that he misunderstood 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 the "fiery" and "watery triangles" the planets had formed, Kepler's 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 have overlooked Kepler's Eselsbrücke here, because Mercury is known since Antiquity as the "messenger". The wood-cut is an interactive trompe l'oeil because it contains several triangles: An astronomer would tilt his head a bit to the left and see the "watery" triangle above the ecliptic, an amateur would tilt to the right and see the "fiery" one. Or they twist their necks even more and find other triangles. But before we 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" seems to challenge 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 still based on Bryant Tuckerman's Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions (40) 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 need to be followed from the right to the left. If we check their course there was first a watery triangle the Science News omits, probably 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 have abandoned Tuckerman's tables in recent decades because of some inaccuracies, especially for the positions of Mars which require an adjustment of a few days for the triangles. The computations of JPL were 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 had kindly made available (41). Today, planetarium software like 'Starry Night' generate these triangles on a personal computer (as seen below) and require an adjustment of the first conjunction to May 28, 7 BCE. This confirms the watery triangle of Feb. 11 and fiery triangle on Feb. 25, as reported by the Science News.


         Here is a brief summary 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, remain together, and even move backwards against the background of the fixed stars which creates the three conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter.     


7. The "additional star" in 1604

         Kepler left another hidden message (or precious item) when he pointed 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 by Burke-Gaffney as well 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 are always adjusted to the ecliptic. At left is a copy of Kepler's sketch to confirm this claim, which reveals that he did indeed challenge his readers when he called the triangle of Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury on the woodcut a "fiery triangle". The triangles in 1604 form in the reverse order, because Mars passes below Saturn and Jupiter. However, 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 have finally 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 were not predictable. The triangles, however, are not only famous Pythagorean symbols but were predictable and it would be natural for an astrologer to fuse them into a hexagram. The elongated triangles from our chart create the optical effect of this famous "star" in perfect perspective, as it would have been seen by astrologers over Bethlehem.           

            Surprisingly, we even have a "Star of David" above Bethlehem, which the Gospels identify as the "House of David", but this gets complicated on a spiritual level! An important impetus for our study came from Werner Greub (1909-1997), a controversial grail researcher of the Anthroposophical Society. According to the teachings of the Swiss philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), which combine Theosophy with Rosicrucianism, some metaphysical mysteries relate to the hexagram and grail myth, which used to be taught at their Waldorf Schools around the world. The image at left is featured on the cover of "Der Stern der Weisen" a book by Walther Bühler (42) and depicts the "rhythm of the great conjunction Saturn-Jupiter" which create triangles in the Zodiac every 60 years, as outlined by an example at right. Following Greub, he bases these conjunctions on intervals of 854 years (19.86 x 43 = 853.98) as the points of the Trigon move through the Zodiac, which means that after 42 conjunctions, the 43rd returns to the same location. He also points out that the Gospel of Matthew opens with Christ's genealogy, which is grouped in three times fourteen generations, which could be an esoteric reference to the 42 (3 x 14 = 42) conjunctions. According to the New American Bible (43), "The genealogy is artificially constructed out of three groups of fourteen names each, taken principally from Genesis, Ruth, 1 Chronicles and 2 Kings... The number 14 is undoubtedly a mnemonic device, perhaps chosen because the numerical value of the three letters of David's name (DVD) yields in Hebrew the sum of 14." Other problems of the artificial construction is that it counts David twice and includes Joseph, which forces the Catholic commentator to explain that "Jesus was introduced into the Davidic line through the divine choice of Joseph as his legal father. Through the public ministry of Jesus it was understandably the common opinion that Joseph was the natural father of Jesus; cf Mt 13, 55; Jn 6,42." Bühler proposes that the construction defines three phases of spiritual growth according to Steiner's teachings, which he bases on the 854-year cycle where the three points of the Trigons move in groups of 14 "great conjunctions" through the Zodiac and starting in Aries repeat the fire, earth, air and water-symbolism three times as well (44). This adds a higher dimension to our phoenix theory, although Kepler features always the "great conjunctions" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Hence, Matthew's Gospel may contain an esoteric reference to the cosmic hexagram of the Magi, and the planetary hexagram would then be its essential reduction and is correctly described as a star.

         Some critics of our concept will point out that the involvement of Mars is highly controversial. The Greeks and Romans dismiss its symbolism as evil and warrior-like, but not the Babylonians. According to the Assyriologist Simo Parpola (45), Mars is connected to the Sermitic god Amurru in Babylonian divination and a second millenium BC name for the area from present-day Israel to Syria. We should add that Amurru is sometimes described as a shepherd and storm god, as son of the sky-god Anu, and as bêlu šadī or bêl šadê, 'lord of the mountain', etc. If we try some common sense here, astrologers could have believed Mars lost its potency when trapped between Saturn and Jupiter and actually "empowered" them.

8. Kepler's "cometary star"

            Astrologers regarded also the comets as bad omens, probably because their sudden appearance interferes with their predictions. Kepler assigned the comets correctly to the realm of planets, but it was unknown that several orbit the Sun and return in predictable intervals, which would weaken the symbolism of a "cometary star". He seems to have developed this concept from the "Oracles of Balaam", a Pagan seer in the Old Testament (Numbers 24:17) where it is written: 


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


Although the Hebrew shebet 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). This interpretation of the "cometary star" is also supported by the Jesuit A. J. Maas, as we will show below in chapter 11. 

            Among Kepler's many esoteric signals is another that relates to Balaam's oracle: His little book 'De nive sexangula' begins with a snowflake that melts before his eyes and he wonders why every snowflake has six corners  – and 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 from Kepler without the word play because the "cometary star" of 6 BCE descends also into the atmosphere and seems to "melt" like the 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 allegedly still in the lower atmosphere, it really did, and 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 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, the "acronychal rising in mid-September 7 BC" of Saturn and Jupiter as held by Hughes, although some translators have the star in the evening sky, in the West, which the Magi see from the East. Ferrari developed from Babylonian cuneiform tablets (47) some evidence that the Magi would have been able to predict the conjunctions of the two planets, even including Mars. Hence, after they had observed the two planets rise in the East, they made some calculations and realized that Mars was 'waiting' for Saturn and Jupiter above the Western horizon to form the triangles. They observed this star during its formation, and started their journey as the planets were seen every night moving 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 did not know about the "magic fusion". The hexagram remained 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 would 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, yes, 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. The 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 customary 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 would explain why about 30 years of his life are 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 established 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 has probably not been recognized to date. We should remember that he had dismissed the 800-year cycle of the Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions earlier because the astrological concept of the Trigons has no meaning, and he dismisses here the 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 cannot be explained by modern science, as advanced as it seems to be. But everything an astrophysicist dismisses as a ridiculous concept 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 fiery triangle of 6 BCE as an example, it is clear that Earth is isolated on one side of the Sun and all other planets 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 the 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.


10. Reasonable doubts

          Based on the curious fact that philosophers and astrologers in Antiquity attributed to the planetary line-ups some kind of influence on the events on Earth, there could be a grain of truth in such beliefs, including history repeating itself and even reincarnations. They may connect to the Phoenix myth which Plutarch addressed in 'de defectu oraculorum' and Kepler quoted several times. If this is the "golden grain" in the dung of the farmyard and metaphor not to pour out the child with the bathwater, Kepler may have preserved one ancient aspect of astrology that has some validity! In that case, his concept of a 800-year cycle, as shown in his drawing of the Fiery Trigons (at left), could be the basic mechanism of the above-mentioned "cosmic clock".  Saturn-Jupiter conjunctions occur every ~19-20 years, whenever the faster-moving Jupiter catches up with Saturn, and because they remain together for almost two years each time, the faster-moving Mars joins them as well, which would reduce the importance of the planetary triangles. But let's not forget that Kepler dismissed the Trigons and planetary triangles as astrological, yet pointed out that it is important how many planets come together and how closely, and he never retracted his claim that the location of these massings is important, specifically the equinoctial points of Aries and Libra.

          The 800-year cycle of the Trigons has therefore a limited value because Mars joins Saturn and Jupiter in irregular intervals, and reaches them most of the times either before or after their conjunctions. Some triangles form occasionally, but are unnoticed because they form either high in the night sky or during the day when the planets and stars are invisible. Our hypothesis could fall like a house of cards, but thanks to the 854-year cycle (50) we finally have a repetition of all events of 854 years earlier or later. Therefore, if some astrological forces do exist, history would repeat in these intervals as well. If we apply this concept to the planetary positions of the Star of Bethlehem, we can see that Kepler has hidden many 'precious pearls' in his works that imply the phoenix myth. Just as he localized the supernova in the realm of the fixed stars and established his famous laws by measuring the parallax of the planetary orbits from two different points of view, we can use the perspectives of Plutarch's 'De defectu oraculorum' and Wolfram's "Parzival", which Kepler may have read. The German poet dramatized Parzival's destiny with Plato 'fullness of time' and divided the entire work according to Plutarch's calculation to show that the grail gives the phoenix the power to rise from its ashes (51), which is the main theme of our website.


11. Judeo-Christian support

             It is to be expected that our "detective work" will be rejected by most scholars, especially because of the clout of the astronomers we single out and dare to criticize. 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 a Jesuit, the scholar Anthony J. Maas S.J. (1859–1927, his vita), whose study of Matthew's Gospel offers a detailed analysis of everything about 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 works and endorse his esoteric concept.  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 (52). 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 note his subtle reference to Plato's Timaeus because Kepler's "perfect conjunction" of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars is expanded by Maas to the Sun, Venus and Mercury, which reference 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 enhanced by the studies of Rev. Maas in Manresa, Catalonia, which establishes that he visited Montserrat where Loyola had the inspiration to found the Jesuits. As to the above quotes, they seem to also be the premise of Burke-Gaffney’s attack of Kepler, because we learn that a splendid 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 seems to have 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:

"The preceding explanations are open to the following exceptions: even Alf., one of the most zealous adherents of the last theory, grants that if v.v. 9. 10, must be understood literally, so that the star led the Wisemen to the spot where was the object of their search, and not merely to Bethlehem in general, the whole incident is miraculous. 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 Reverent Maas and his support of Kepler's esoteric concept it is finally 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 our quotes are from 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 (53). 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 (54).    

            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...

12. 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 in front of the pyramids, the largest triangles on Earth! 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 also explain why the holy family escaped to Egypt, and why so many years in Jesus' life are missing in 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 (55), which has the support of another contemporary, Tacitus, would make the story of the Magi less unique from a Christian point of view by its connection to Antiquity. If the phoenix myth is based on an unrecognized, 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 (56). 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),  p. 147:  Kepler "meinte jedoch, als Stern der Magier eine (hypothetische ) nova im Jahre 5 v. Chr. annehmen zu müssen."  The book is the revised edition of Ferrari's Der Stern der Weisen, (Vienna-Munich, 1969.) We intend to adapt the abbreviation Ferrari from his colleagues.  

         6. David Hughes, The Star Of Bethlehem, An Astronomer's Confirmation, Pocket Book (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 invented the cycle from a Babylonian cuneiform tablet (British Museum Inf. No. 35429) and other fragments, where the positions of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in 7 BCE are recorded. But he sent us in the 1980s his treatise "Hypothese zu einer 854-jährigen Planetenperiode in der Babylonischen Astronomie, (Vienna, 1969), which lets us suspect he got it from the hidden "gold corns" in Kepler's De stella nova and as an ardent Catholic felt obliged to discredit his source.

         8. Ferrari, (see above, no. 5), p.7

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

        13. 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 (see below, no. 19). According to Molnar: "Burke-Gaffnet (sic),.. is a fountain of information on Kepler's work involving the Magi's star." 

        14. Ibid., p. 23. We should add that Kepler's German articles are only comprehensible for those who speak the language fluently. Spanish, French and English have changed little since 1600, but many German words were spelled differently as shown below, which requires a dictionary from the period. 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 pointed out in his German text that it would be a wrong hypothesis (ich als Hypothese die falsche Annahme aufstelle) to conclude that the new star could be ignited by the Jupiter-Mars conjunction, (see no. 15 below.)

        15. 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 translation: "What its (the supernova) meaning might be / is difficult to find out / only this alone is certain / that it either means nothing for humanity / 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' lessons / not only the planets disappear, and their entire sky 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 a connection to the ignition 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 by Jupiter and Mars (which is reddish and from far / looks like rising flames or fire) better at home."

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

        17. 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.

        18. Science News Letter, December 19, (Washington, 1936), p. 393 

        19. M.W. Burke-Gaffney, Kepler and the Star of Bethlehem, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Toronto, 1937), pp. 416-428.

        20. John Mosley, Common Errors in "Star of Bethlehem" Planetarium Shows, the Planetarian, Third Quarter,  (Los Angeles, 1981), also available on-line. See 7., last accessed June, 2011. Note: It must be said that Mosley was extremely supportive of our queries in the 1980s, although he supported Burke-Gaffney and also held that Kepler confused the Star of Bethlehem with a nova in 6 BCE. According to Mosley: "The massing was clearly visible. Mars and Saturn were in conjunction on February 20, 6 B.C. when the longitudes of Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the sun were 351.2, 358.6, 352.0, and 329.8 degrees respectively as interpolated from Tuckerman's Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions. (Mars and Saturn were at equal longitude 12 hours later but had set by then; the numbers given here are for 7:00 p.m., Babylon time.) The sun was 21 degrees west of the westernmost two planets and 29 degrees west of Jupiter. All three planets were still visible above the horizon after the end of evening twilight. Robert Victor of Abrams Planetarium clearly saw the Mars-Saturn conjunction of February 20, 1966, even though these planets were much closer to the sun than in 6 B.C. and were observed from a higher latitude than the Near East."

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

        22. 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."          

        23. Carola Baumgardt (see above, no. 21).

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

            25. Ibid., p. 287

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

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

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

        29. 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 is usually translated as "Dreiheit" and (planetary or fiery) triangle as "Dreieck," but not always which is confusing.  

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

        31. Kepler, (see above, no. 12), pp. 236/7. It is difficult to understand why the German translators moved some of Kepler's lines! According to Joannis Kepleri, Opera Omnia, vol. II, ed. Dr. Ch. Frisch, p. 746, which can be googled, Kepler's reference to the celebrated rabbi Joseph Albo in a footnote became a bracketed headline. Kepler may have reversed the alpha and omega in geste to claim that Albo's Sefer ha-Ikkarim, "Book of Principles", led many to the Arianism of the Visigoths, which denied the divinity of Christ like Islam. Hence, he challengees the experts to untangle the metaphor of the two Josephs from Spain, the Jewish philosopher and rabbi Joseph Albo (c. 1380–1444) and the Jesuit theologian José de Acosta (1539–1600), which seems to imply a symbolic kick of the serpentholder's foot as a reference to the famous disputation at Tortosa in 1413, where Albo played a leading role in the Jewish victory over Benedict XIII.

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

        33. Kepler, (See above, no. 12), 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.

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

        35. 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."

        36. Kepler, (see above, no. 11), p. 133: “If the material of this fire or body of this star was new, it was either created by God or some kind of natural force... I said above that the material of this star did not come from Earth. Its material was therefore from the heavens, if we can attribute the creation of a star (even if it seems monstrous like a worm in the human intestines) to the forces of nature. Because nature creates nothing without matter…”  [Wenn also der Stoff dieser Flamme oder der Körper dieses Sternes neu entstand, so muss er entweder von Gott geschaffen oder durch irgendeine Naturkraft erzeugt worden sein… Oben habe ich gesagt, dass der Stoff des Sternes nicht von der Erde stammte. Also wurde sein Stoff vom Himmel genommen, wenn man überhaupt die Enstehung eines Sternes (mag sie auch so monströs sein wie die Entstehung eines Wurmes im menschlichen Unterleib) den Kräften der Natur zuschreiben kann. Denn die Natur erzeugt ohne Materie nichts…], p. 134: “The excellent statement of Brahe was mentioned above, that stars of this kind are produced by the Milky Way.” [Hier wurde bereits oben der grossartige Ausspruch von Brahe erwähnt, dass Sterne dieser Art aus der Milchstrasse erzeugt würden…], p. 135: “This is why I rather favor the view that the sky is capable in all regions to deliver matter to these stars.” [Daher neige ich eher zu der Ansicht, dass der Himmel an allen seinen Stellen fähig ist, solchen Gestirnen Stoff zu liefern.]  

        37. Günther, (see above, no. 30)

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

        39. 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.

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

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


         42. Walther Bühler, Der Stern der Weisen, Vom Rhytmus der Grossen Konjunktion Saturn - Jupiter, Verlag Freies Geisteswesen, (Stuttgart, 1983), pp. 40, 43. It is a curious that Bühler borrowed Ferrari's title (see above, n. 5) without referring to him in his notes. He credits Werner Greub, Wolfram von Eschenbach und die Wirklichkeit des Grals, Dornach, 1974, who develops his astronomical concept from Ferrari and credits him accordingly.

        43.  Saint Joseph Edition, The New American Bible, The New Testament, Catholic Book Publishing, (New York, 1970), p. 1.

        44.  Bühler, (see above, no. 42), p. 118

        45.  Simo Parpola, The Magi and the Star in The First Christmas – The story of Jesus' birth in History and Tradition, ed. by Sara Murphy et al., Biblical Archeology Society, (Washington DC, 2009)

        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. 35) for German text.

        50.  Ferrari, (see above no.7)

        51. 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.

        52. Maas, (see above, no. 17)

        53. 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).

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

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

        56. 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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