No proof against the nativity star being a comet
TERRY Moseley (Write Back, January 5) complains that I do not make the case for the Star of Bethlehem being a comet in my reply to his letter.
Since readers can find that in my book, The Great Christ Comet, I saw, and see, no need to do so. I was simply responding to Mr Moseley's arguments against my thesis based on what he read in Una Brankin's feature.
As the studies by Hughes, Licht and others have demonstrated, we can be confident that the astronomical records of most comets, including many brilliant and great comets, from the relevant period have been lost to history.
With respect to non-Christian works, in which specific sources does Mr Moseley expect to see a reference to the Christ Comet?
The time of Jesus' birth is well-known to be a "dark decade" in the history of the Roman Empire. It makes sense that it was the Christians (eg Matthew and Ignatius), who perceived an unusual significance in this comet, that preserved its memory.
Most of Terry Moseley's points are arguments from silence. It is illegitimate in historical inquiry to presume that sources that make no attempt to give an exhaustive account of a subject would certainly have mentioned an event if it had really happened.
The Gospels are universally acknowledged to be highly selective and abbreviated accounts of the life of Jesus, shaped by each author's interests and agenda.
Regarding Herod, Matthew tells us only that the king did not know when the star first appeared. The king's extreme response to the Magi's report suggests that he was aware of the star, but had simply interpreted its significance differently.
Pliny and Ptolemy explain how the ancients interpreted individual comets - they considered, for example, their form, their celestial locations, the direction of the tail and the timing of the appearance.
With regard to the 44 BC comet, historical sources tell us that its timing and celestial location were key to its interpretation. I'm unsure why Mr Moseley thinks that it would have been liable to be interpreted as revealing the birth of the Messiah.
I would encourage Terry Moseley, for whom, by the way, I have great respect, to read my book.
COLIN R NICHOLL
Author, The Great Christ Comet