Evidence points to Bethlehem star being a comet
TERRY Moseley's arguments against the view that the Bethlehem star was a great comet (Write Back, December 22) are unconvincing.
1. Various studies (eg by Hughes, Licht) have demonstrated that most comets from that era are lost to history. For the period 50 BC to AD 50, there are no surviving Babylonian comet records and only a small percentage of surviving Chinese records. In the case of many great comets from that time, we wouldn't know about them were it not for scattered references in ancient literature.
2. Herod asked the Magi only when the star first appeared. This hardly implies that he had not previously "heard of" the star. That Herod was deeply shaken by the Magi's report suggests that he was familiar with the star but had not previously interpreted it as signalling the Messiah's birth.
3. Mr Moseley argues from silence that the shepherds did not see the star.
4. Comets, like meteors and planets, were commonly called "stars".
5. Contrary to Mr Moseley's claim, comets were frequently regarded as having great astrological significance in the ancient world. For example, a comet in 135 BC was regarded as heralding the future greatness of Mithridates VI on the occasion of his birth. Octavian regarded a comet in 44 BC as an auspicious omen for his reign, while his subjects interpreted it as a sign that the recently deceased Julius Caesar had been deified. A sword-like comet standing over Jerusalem in the run-up to AD 70 was regarded by some as foretelling the city's doom. Ptolemy and Pliny set out some of the principles by which the ancients interpreted comets.
6. The brightness of the star is corroborated by Matthew's contemporary, Ignatius. Only two gospels, Matthew and Luke, have a nativity account. Luke, like any biographer, had his own agenda, themes and emphases, which shaped his editorial choices. The mere fact that the star was spectacular and significant hardly mandates that Luke make mention of it in his gospel.
DR COLIN R NICHOLL
Author, The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem