The Star of Bethlehem & Arthur C. Clarke


One of the masters of science fiction is the late, prolific author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. His most famous work is probably the novel and screenplay to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he promoted the idea of satellites in geostationary orbit, which make modern telecommunications possible.

Clarke also wrote many short stories, and one in particular won him the Hugo Award back in the 1950s. This was a story about the discovery of the real cause of the Star of Bethlehem at around the time of Jesus’s birth. “The Star” managed to combine hard science, space travel, and theological and philosophical conundrums.

You can read the story here, or you can listen to Clarke reading that story here:

It was also adapted into an episode of the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone. From the special effects, set designs, and music, the 80s really comes through. You can watch that episode here:

The TV version made some changes, notably trying to end on a more positive note, ignoring the tragedy that the plot involved. It was a Christmas episode and thus trying to get into the spirit of the holidays, but forcing an inspirational message on top of a story about the genocide of a peaceful civilization isn’t going to make for a holiday classic.

Besides these points of fiction, Clarke may also be responsible for the attraction of the nova or supernova hypothesis of what really was the Star of Bethlehem. It would be over two decades after he published his short story until it was printed in a scientific journal, but over and over again it appears as an option for a scientific explanation of the Star. Of course, I have something to say about that.

Nonetheless, one can still appreciate the beauty of what Clarke had done, taking a story that was (I argue) originally fiction, and bringing in science to explain things, and instead of creating harmony between faith and reason a new rending of sacred clothing.

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