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The Star of Bethlehem [Hardcover]

By Mark Kidger (Author)
Our Price $ 28.01  
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Item Number 151099  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   300
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.7" Width: 5.83" Height: 1.01"
Weight:   1.14 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Oct 31, 1999
Publisher   Princeton University Press
ISBN  0691058237  
EAN  9780691058238  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...

Two thousand years ago, according to the Bible, a star rose low in the east and stopped high above Bethlehem. Was it a miracle, a sign from God to herald the birth of Christ? Was there a star at all, or was it simply added to the Bible to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah? Or was the Star of Bethlehem an actual astronomical event? For hundreds of years, astronomers as prominent as Johannes Kepler have sought an answer to this last baffling question. In The Star of Bethlehem, Mark Kidger brings all the tools of modern science, years of historical research, and an infectious spirit of inquiry to bear on the mystery. He sifts through an astonishing variety of ideas, evidence, and information--including Babylonian sky charts, medieval paintings, data from space probes, and even calculations about the speed of a camel--to present a graceful, original, and scientifically compelling account of what it may have been that illuminated the night skies two millennia ago.

Kidger begins with the stories of early Christians, comparing Matthew's tale of the Star and the three Magi who followed it to Bethlehem with lesser-known accounts excluded from the Bible. Crucially, Kidger follows the latest biblical scholarship in placing Christ's birth between 7 and 5 B.C., which leads him to reject various phenomena that other scientists have proposed as the Star. In clear, colorful prose, he then leads us through the arguments for and against the remaining astronomical candidates. Could the Star have been Venus? What about a meteor or a rare type of meteor shower? Could it have been Halley's Comet, as featured in Giotto's famous painting of the Nativity? Or, as Kidger suspects, was the Star a combination of events--a nova recorded in ancient Chinese and Korean manuscripts preceded by a series of other events, including an unusual triple conjunction of planets?

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More About Mark Kidger

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Mark Kidger is an astronomer at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid. He is the author of Astronomical Enigmas: Life on Mars, the Star of Bethlehem, and Other Milky Way Mysteries, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Mark Kidger has an academic affiliation as follows - Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Tenerife.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Interesting, but skewed and biased.  Nov 21, 2006
Any work is worth reading if you are studying a particular topic. While not every author is going to be correct, they all tend to offer ideas that, at the very least, provide food for thought or a path to explore in your endeavor.
This is one such work. It has some good ideas that might pique your interest. However, it is highly speculative, boasts minimal resource material, and is very poorly researched.
In one instance, for example, he subtly attempts to convince the reader that a hui hsing might have been a nova or supernova due to its apparent lack of motion in the Chinese record of the astronomical event (pp. 234-235). However, a hui hsing, according to its very own wording and definition, is a "broom star," meaning that it has a tufted tail like a broom. Whether it moved across the sky or not, it was a comet, else it would have been described as a hsing po (a star bushing out) instead of a hui hsing (broom star).
In another instance he makes a comparison between a 4 BC po hsing (properly a hsing po, or xing bo in accepted pinyin) recorded by the Koreans (pp. 235-239) and this same 5 BC hui hsing in the Chinese Annals, and argues for the possibility that the two were one and the same event (pp. 243-244). The Koreans, he suggests in this example, were mistaken by one year, because, he claimes, the Chinese never recorded a 4 BC object, and he reasons that, "It [...] seems unlikely, given the known record of the Chinese as observers, that the Koreans but not the Chinese would record the 4 BC object [...]," (pp. 238-239).
The Korean Samguk Sagi states, "In the 54th year of the King Sijo of Silla (4 BC), in the spring, the second month, on the day ji-you, a star appeared (xing-po) in the constellation Ho-Ku." The Chinese Chien Han Shu states, "In the reign of the Emperor Ai of Han, the third year of the Jian-ping reign period (4 BC), the third month, on the day ji-you, a star appeared (xing po) in the constellation Ho-Ku." (See Pan Ku, "The Eleventh Imperial Annals, The Annals of Emperor Hsiao-Ai," in History of the Former Han Dynasty, trans. H. H. Dubs, 1st ed. vol. 3 (Baltimore, Maryland: Waverly Press, 1955), 33.)
His debate on this point, in short, is moot. Both nations recorded the same event, on the same day, in the same constellation, in the same year, and of the same type (xing po). The only difference between them is the month, which is easily miswritten, as anyone who studies Chinese would recognize.
These are but a select few of the pretentious arguements he makes.
Overall, I would recommend the book if you are doing research. At the very least it has ideas to move you along and ensure that you maintain a broad scope of the hypotheses available. However, I strongly recommend that anyone reading this treatment carefully research Kidger's "facts" before they are taken as such.
Read Other Star Studies First  Jul 18, 2005
This book by Astronomer Mark Kidger suggests several possible explanations for the star over Bethlehem at Christ's birth. Using the latest technical experimentation and reasoning he says that the star was definitely NOT a comet.

Although well-spoken and thoroughly read, Kidger does not provide sourcing for his presentation. One wonders often about his sources. This keeps Kidger from receiving more stars.

Kidger's fascinating discussion (in chapter 7) on "We Three Kings" led to further readings on the Magi. He proposes that these star gazers were not kings but possibly descendants of the ancient Jewish Diaspora (page 196) who were watching for the birth of a savior-king. (If so, then one wonders why Jewish descendants would go to the hated Herod for travel directions?)

Kidger suggests three possible dates for the birth of Christ. Frustratingly, these are based on ancient Arabic and Chinese star records and the Gospel of Matthew's chronology (without reference to the Gospel of Luke). Applying what Luke says to the birth story dramatically changes Kidger's dates.

So was the Star of Bethlehem a nova, supernova, a conjunction of three planets, or Jupiter off the moon's edge? Read Kidger and find out what he thinks.

This book is recommended to the Veteran in the Star of Bethlehem studies and not the novice. (Read other Star studies first).
misses the mark  Mar 31, 2005
Mark Kidger is an astronomer. Unfortunately, in this thesis, he has ignored how astronomers/astrologers of the time in question perceived cosmological events (that is, his argument is infused with his modern prejudice), and therefore misses the mark.

In book 7, 821 of his "Laws", Plato writes that the observation of movement of the bodies in the heavens is ordered and rational, that:
"men must study [the planets], so as to learn enough about them all to avoid blasphemy", because they are the work of god. In book 12, 967, Plato goes on to write "the systematic motion of the heavenly bodies and other bodies ...[are] under the control of reason, which is responsible for the order in the universe."

Indeed to understand the Greek notions of astronomy & astrology is to understand that astronomy was the study of the mechanics/laws which governed heavenly movement, and that this movement had a logos, purpose: astrology. It was part of Greek religion. And it is this Greek astronomy/astrology which came to dominate the discipline in "the east" after Alexander's death in 323 BC.

The book in itself is testament enough to Kidger's bona fides as an astronomer (which are never in doubt). However, on the basis of this book, it is also obvious that he is oblivious to the astrological, thus religious, overtones of astronomy, in antiquity. Some modern astronomers (like Kidger), it would seem, though knowledgeable of the history of astronomy, and the importance of historical works by authors like Ptolemy (his Syntaxis , or almagest) tend to ignore, as in this instance, that Ptolemy's Syntaxis was meant to be understood in the context of his Tetrabiblos which was a book on the astrological interpretation of these phenomena.

In this book "The Star of Bethlehem" Kidger completely fails in his thesis because he is oblivious to the astronomy/astrology practiced at the time that the Magi observed the star of Bethlehem. He incorrectly assumes that this "star" was a triple conjunction in Pisces which was not the sign of Judea at all. All antique authorities (if he had actually to consulted them) agree that Pisces was the symbol of the land of Libya. (Aires instead was the sign of Judea). The idea that Pisces represented Judea was a later misconception that came about in the 15th century (AD).

To the interested reader, BUY this book instead:
Interesting and worth reading...  Jul 27, 2000
One of two books on the star of Bethlehem published in 1999 by an astronomer. Kidger takes the view that the phenomenon was a series of events, specifically a planetary grouping followed a few months later by a bright nova. Whether you're interested in the biblical account at all, Kidger's book is an interesting historical romp through dozens of great planetary conjunctions and massings, and an enjoyable read.
Superseded by Michael Molnar's book on the same topic.  May 18, 2000
The Star of Bethlehem is a perennially favorite topic for planetarium shows, articles, musings, sermons, and books. What could be left at this late date to say about it? Quite a lot, actually. Enough so that two new books, both titled "The Star of Bethlehem" (How original!) and both copyright 1999 are on my desk as I write.

The story about the Star is found only in the Gospel of Matthew. There are three possibilities: 1) The star was a myth - invented by the writer of Matthew or earlier Christians whom he followed, in order to give Jesus appropriately royal auspices for his birth. 2) The star was a miracle provided by God to guide the Magi, even perhaps visible only to them. 3) The star was a natural astronomical event or events. These three are obviously mutually exclusive and exhaustive. If either of the first two possibilities are correct, there is little more to be said; therefore both of our authors give them short shrift.

Both books cover some of the same material in about the same way. Jesus was *not* born on December 25 of 1 BC as worked out by the Scythian monastic scholar Dionysius Exiguus (Denny the Dwarf) in 525 AD. King Herod, of whom the Magi inquired about the birth, died in 4 BC. For other reasons, the birth is fairly firmly dated to between 6 and 4 BC. If the shepherds were `abiding with their flocks by night', the birth did not take place in December. For various reasons, these authors agree that Spring is more likely.

"The Star of Bethlehem - An Astronomer's View", by Mark Kidger, gives a review of all the various suggestions that have been made over the years, finally settling on a combination of events being the sign: a triple conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces (the sign Kidger says is associated with the Jews - more on this later) between May and December of 7 BC, with Mars approaching this pair in February of 6 BC, followed by a near-occultation of Jupiter by the Moon in Pisces in February of 5 BC, and then, possibly a nova in March/April 5 BC, as suggested by some Korean and Chinese records.

I would have found this scenario plausible were it not for the second, and to my mind more interesting, book: "The Star of Bethlehem - The Legacy of the Magi" by Michael R. Molnar. There are two problems, as pointed out by Molnar, with the kinds of solutions reviewed, and those eventually suggested, by Kidger. Firstly, they tend to focus on what we as moderns would find to be visually compelling sights in the heavens. But this neglects the fact that the Magi were certainly *astrologers*, most likely Hellenistic rather than Babylonian in their astrological theories. Most of the events put forward would not have been significant to contemporary astrology. Kidger himself makes this point but does not seem to follow through with a close study of Hellenistic astrology as Molnar has made. Secondly, we have the advantage over the Magi of *knowing*, at least approximately, what the correct time frame is, then sifting through a small number a years to find the most significant events during those years. We have to imagine an ongoing community of astrologers, scanning the skies for generations perhaps, and imagine what would have been absolutely unique over many years, and compelling enough to make them undertake an arduous journey. In this light, Kidger's series of events are not so special.

Se my review of Michael Molnar's book for more details.


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