As I have pointed out in my last post about the famed Star of Bethlehem, apparently one of the most popular versions of the theory of what the Star could have been is that put forward in the documentary of the same name. The website breaks down the claims, though the film is the more enjoyable format. It has great production qualities, as it is produced by Stephen McEveety who also produced movies with Mel Gibson, namely Braveheart and (more important to this) The Passion of the Christ.
However, the presentation is the child of Rick Larson, a lawyer and amateur Bible scholar. Actually, that doesn’t fully explain him. Larson is a student of one of the most influential evangelical apologists of the 20th century, Francis Schaeffer, who had his own little community in Switzerland for his ministry. According to Larson’s bio, he actually studied under Schaeffer in Switzerland, so his interest in the Bible and the Star is hardly a passing interest but a part of his evangelism.
But even though the presentation is his, the heavy lifting in doing the scholarly work really should go to Ernest Martin, a former meteorologist but turned amateur Bible scholar and archaeologist. Martin was a member of Hebert Armstrong’s Radio Church of God (which keeps changing its name), which was one of the oldest televangelist ministries using radio and television. Armstrong comes from an Adventist background, though not strictly so. That is a good thing, because if Armstrong and (transitively) Martin were Adventists through-and-through, then they would have to take everything said by the sect’s prophetess Ellen G. White as divine revelation, and she said the Star was not a planet but more like an angel (The Desire of Ages, p. 60). But this is no matter to the truth of any of the claims about the Star of Bethlehem, but an interesting aside.
What I want to do here, and in several more posts, is provide a resource for those searching for critical issues with the ideas put forward in the documentary. While it focuses on the birth of Jesus, there are also astronomical aspects that are considered at the death of Jesus, namely the eclipse of the sun at the crucifixion. There is also some revision of history in the documentary because the particular Star theory requires that King Herod of Judea have a different year of death than is normally considered by historians.
With those preliminaries out of the way, here is the order posts I have planned for dealing with the claims in the Star of Bethlehem documentary. Note that this will not be a complete debunking of naturalistic theories of the Star, but simply a critical look at the unique premises of the hypothesis presented by Martin, McEveety, and Larson (call it the MMEL hypothesis).
- The Death of Herod and Josephus’ Account
- Textual criticism and Josephus
- The constellation Leo as the sign of the Jews
- The movement of the planets and the Star
- The eclipse and Jesus’ crucifixion
These resources should be sufficient on their own to demonstrate the weaknesses in the hypothesis, but the definitive refutation of all naturalistic explanations of the Star will have to be found in my upcoming book on the subject.
Reviews of Larson’s documentary and website by Christians:
- Answers in Genesis
- Creation Today
- Reasons to Believe
- Christianity Today
- Bible Film Blogs
- Christian Cinema
- The Old Schoolhouse
- Ethics Daily
- Probe Ministries
(Believe it or not, but the AiG one is the most thorough and useful of the bunch.)