Critical Review of the Bethlehem Star DVD

by Diego Rodriguez (4th Day Alliance)

Star of Bethlehem DVD Cover
Rick Larson has created a very high quality DVD about the Bethlehem Star. This is a favorite subject amongst Christians who are studying astronomy and we therefore get asked about it quite often. Although we appreciate the hard work that went into this production, we feel it necessary to explain why we can't wholeheartedly endorse the DVD. (We used to sell it at our events with a disclaimer sticker on it explaining that we don't agree with certain portions of it.)

Again, the DVD is very well done, however, Rick is flat out wrong on several points (astronomically) and I would also say Biblically (on a few points in terms of his chronology). I have had a few discussions about it with other Creation Astronomers, and most of them are pretty upset about the video because it is misleading. I'm not as upset as some of my Ph.D. astronomer friends because I realize that Rick is sincere (I've had discourse with him via email), but he should have at least checked with astronomers before he published his documentary. One Ph.D. astronomer said this to me, "Rick is a lawyer. Can you imagine if I produced a documentary about legal issues without checking my facts first with some lawyers? Why didn't Rick check his data first with some genuine Creation Astronomers?" Good point.

If you have seen the video, then let me point out my major problems (in brief):
  • I believe Rick is accurate in his explanation of the woman in the heavens being Virgo and this being an astronomical allusion to the birth of Jesus Christ. That's the best part of his DVD. If he would have stopped there, it probably would have been fine. This portion of the presentation is entirely based on the book, The Star that Astonished the World which I mostly agree with. The presentation that we give about the Star of Bethlehem is similar to this one and is also based on that book.
  • However, he is flat out wrong about the magi appearing to present their gifts to Jesus Christ on December 25th. I challenged Rick on this directly (see below) and after he couldn't deny that he was scientifically wrong, he simply stated that it "could have" happened on December 25th. In other words, he was saying that it was close enough. Well, I completely disagree.
  • He is flat out wrong about the lunar eclipse at the time of the crucifixion. First of all, his date is questionable at best on a number of points. But, even giving him that date, it still doesn't "work" because the lunar eclipse is FAR FROM "blood red" as it is not even a total lunar eclipse and worst of all, it's below the horizon meaning nobody could actually see it!

Rick is so dedicated to his message that these facts (and other minor details) don't phase him. The point here is that while some things that look and appear right, don't always stand up to the test of attentive scrutiny. And, it's always best to check with a theory's detractors to see if their are any legitimate problems with the theory.

Finally, the overall message of the DVD is kind of a round-a-bout message about God's providence that doesn't need a faulty astronomical explanation to prop it up. In other words, I don't need bad astronomy to prove to me that God knew what he was going to do way in advance. The Bible explains this plainly in a number of places. The "logos" or "word" of God contains this teaching within it's definition and Acts 17:24-27 teaches that same message, not just for the life of Jesus Christ, but for every single individual on the planet! That's awe-inspiring to me!

A Few Email Excerpts Below

Rick states in his presentation that the retrograde motion of Jupiter would have happened on December 25th—on Christmas day. The implication here is that the magi brought their gifts to Jesus on this day, and some would take this to mean that this is the reason why people exchange gifts on Christmas Day. This is empirically wrong. First of all, the modern-day Christmas celebration with gift-giving, Christmas trees, etc. has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. Please feel free to look this up on your own or by clicking this Google Search link. This fact is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that our modern day custom of celebrating Jesus' birthday on December 25th is actually of pagan origin, and the original church fought against it. The Catholic church made it the de facto standard after they came to power, but the Puritans and Quakers from early America banned it's celebration, as well. Again, you'll have to search this out on your own.

Secondarily, the retrograde motion of Jupiter was on December 28th of the year in question in Rick's presentation—not December 25th. Anybody with a computer and an astronomy program can figure this out for themselves. Rick uses the software called Starry Night in his presentation. I also have Starry Night and have recreated the events he lists in his presentation. I provided Rick with the screen shots that plainly show that the retrograde motion did not begin on December 25th, but rather on December 28th. Rick and I had the following email exchange about it (his words are in red, my words are in blue):

Rick: Understand your point and intention. Appreciate your tenacity and precision. As a stargazer you know that you are viewing on a scale the Magi could not imagine. They were naked eye observers. If you will view on a natural scale (perhaps outside tonight without lenses), you will realize there is a danger of missing the point because of stunning technology.
Diego: Yes, I am looking at high magnifications. The precision that we have today allows us to conclude empirically that Jupiter would have appeared "stopped" on December 28th. However, I understand the point you are trying to make below regarding how this would have appeared to naked-eye observers. I will address that below. Let us continue...

Rick: Retrograde begins when the object stops it's forward progression. You have chosen the 28th, because at high magnification in software, it appears to you that this is when the planet reversed course.
Diego: Astronomy is extremely precise - so we can't just say that it "appears" this way. This is the exact day that Jupiter stop's losing altitude. The next day its altitude begins to increase. This is not an illusion of any sort, it is simple math.

Rick: Although strictly speaking, the Star "stopped" moving East on 12/25, and when next observed the following night would be seen to have moved up.
Diego: This is absolutely incorrect. Consider the following table that you can generate for yourself in Starry Night:


25º 36.329’
25º 35.152’
25º 34.162’
25º 33.359’
25º 32.744’
25º 32.318’
25º 32.081’
25º 32.033’
25º 32.176’
25º 32.508’
25º 33.031’

On the 25th, the Star would not have appeared to have "stopped,"and "strictly speaking" is hardly the terminology that should be used here. Jupiter continued to
lose altitude for 3 more days covering .711 arcminutes! That is enough angular distance to be perceptible to the naked human eye. Of course, if the magi had any type of optical assistance (which is quite possible - not necessarily telescopes but magnifying lenses are possibilities for men who spent their lives studying the stars), this motion would have been enhanced even more. (You may want to look into this more, because several archaeological finds have shown evidences that ancient astronomers did have optical assistance. However, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that they didn't).

In fact, by December 30th, Jupiter had still not risen to the same altitude that it had on December 25th. So if you are assuming (albeit incorrectly) that Jupiter appeared to have stopped on December 25th to a naked-eye observer then what you are actually saying is that the magi would not have been able to perceive a difference of .711 arcminutes. That being said, then if you are correct in your assumption, the magi would actually have observed Jupiter to have stopped on December 24th, because the difference in altitude on the 24th and 25th is .615 arcminutes - which is less than the difference noted above. Furthermore, this means that the magi would not have been able to perceive any motion at all between the days of December 24th-December 31st.

In summary, if your assumption is correct, then Jupiter appeared to stop moving on December 24th and remained "stopped" through December 31st. That being said, the next point is obvious. Why choose December 25th as the date to use during a presentation unless one is biased and predisposed to assign meaning to that date. Obviously, December 25th is Christmas. But, of course, it was not Christmas at the time. The point here is that anybody who chooses to look at this precisely will recognize the error. It will then cause them to question the remainder of the presentation. That would be terribly unfortunate. Furthermore, if the explanation of the "first Christmas" was removed from the presentation, it wouldn't take anything away from the rest of what you have discovered. You know, this is just something to consider.

Rick's final response to this was: When the Magi saw the Star "stopped", the date could have been 12/25, I'm sure you agree with that. [note - no, I don't agree with that] They were human observers. To the observer, the Star was stopped on 12/25. You might say it was more stopped on another date, but that simply misses the point. The Biblical record is consistent with the first Christmas having occurred on 12/25. I understand you dislike support for a 12/25 Christmas. But it could have happened.

In short, what Rick is saying is that his date of December 25th is close enough. I disagree. The chart of degrees above disproves this claim.

This original email exchange was had in private between Rick and I. Therefore, I have not reproduced the entire exchange here because that would not be "fair" to Rick. I really believe that Rick is sincere in what he is doing—he is simply mistaken about a few points in his presentation. I have only reproduced those elements of our exchange to let readers understand specifically why I disagree with these certain aspects of his presentation.

Diego Rodriguez
4th Day Alliance