One of the odd pleasures of traveling is to find books with ideas that are not common in the home country. My first vacation to Australia brought me into the very active subculture of British investigation of the Freemasons, and their connection to the mysterious Knights Templar of the Great Crusades. On my return to NZ, I found a further work by the same authors, exploring even earlier connections between the Freemasons, the Templars and Solomon's Temple. (This is about to be brought into the popular imagination, as the same topics are rumored to be the subject of the sequel to The Da Vinci Code.) In the course of their analysis, they propose yet another candidate for the Star of Bethlehem, one that ties much better into Jewish tradition than the mainstream candidates.
The Christmas Star has been a well-explored space. Ever since Kepler figured out the rules of planetary motion, astronomers and enthusiasts have eagerly wound back the celestial clock to see what wonders arose in the period around 1 - 7 BC. A quick Google will show you a myriad of possible Stars, none of which is fully convincing. And a whole lot of dispute over even basic facts - such as when the Star shone.
(The Gospel of Matthew has Herod the Great still alive during the birth of the Christ. Most historians place his death at 4 BC, although there is an argument he died in 1 BC. The Gospel of Luke dates the birth from a census that most historians attribute to one conducted in 6 AD, based on the name of the governor of Syria mentioned in Luke. This puts it so outside the range that our earnest Star gazers ignore Luke, and indeed this inconsistency is cited as a major historical problem with the Gospels. The Bible, however, oft surprises. The named governor had also served an earlier term as a legate or military commander to Syria, and during his first tenure were two suitable censuses - one in 8 BC that would have gotten the family in Bethlehem in time for a birth in 7 BC, and the other in 3 BC.)
The reason for the confusion over the Star is lack of context - we no longer know what would have been a convincing Star in that period. Indeed, this very mechanistic search for some stellar event, so symptomatic of our scientific times, is the wrong way to find the Star. The Star first and foremost had religious significance, and our search for the Star needs to start there - with Judaism, and the prophecies of a Messiah.
The Star needs be compelling enough to have drawn the Magi on a long journey from (mostly likely) Persia to Bethlehem, yet not so obvious as to have risen to Herod's attention - he had to have the Star explained to him by the Magi. Once explained, he then took it so seriously he sought to kill all the newly born in Bethlehem.
What would help make it so compelling is if it were predicted or prophesized. The premise that the Star was an unexpected, singular event that somehow the Magi figured out, like a puzzle in the sky, is ahistorical. Messiahs were in the water, so to speak. Daniel's prophesies had including timing, and it was expected that the Messiah would come around the First Century. Perhaps the Star was similarly predictable? If so, its appearance would have signaled to the Magi that the prophesized events were coming to pass.
It would also need to tie in Jewish history. The star-like object in Jewish history is the Shekinah, often described as the light of God. It is not today attributed to a star, but what if our interpretation has evolved, and in those days among the Jewish priesthood it was known to be a rare but recurring stellar event? This is the premise for a new candidate Star of Bethlehem.
Historically, we know the Shekinah appeared at the dedication of the Temple of Solomon in 967 BC. It also provided the light at night during the Exodus, and shone at Moses's birth. In 967 BC, there was a conjunction of Venus and Mercury in the morning sky. Could this be the Shekinah? These planets come close off and on, but every 480 years they come very close, when both are very bright. They would appear as a brilliant dagger - or a cross - in the morning sky, pointing down. In 7 BC, this conjunction happened again. Could this be the Star of Bethlehem?
The Shekinah is described as coming and going depending on God's will, not in a regular pattern. The conjunction happens more often than 480 years, with varying levels of brightness and closeness. Hence the Shekinah could sometimes appear bright, but often not, and without seeing the larger pattern, could appear a bit random. This period of 480 years is very long, much longer than the experience and astronomical knowledge of most societies. But if nothing else, the ancients were attentive astronomers, and a few 'Magi' may have noticed the 480 year pattern and kept it a tradition passed down to the priesthood over generations. It certainly corresponds to periods mentioned in the Bible. Jewish tradition has the Exodus as 480 years before the dedication of the Temple, and 960 years after the Flood. While we no longer believe these reflect the real periods of time between those events, the important point is for some unexplained reason, these periods are related to 480 years.
If we call that 480 year period a Shekinah Period, we find that 7 BC is two Shekinah Periods from the dedication of the Temple, three Shekinah Periods from the Exodus and five Shekinah Periods from the Flood - a remarkable confluence of periods worthy of some great event, such as the birth of the Messiah.
The Shekinah has not been noted in history since. It would have re-emerged in 472 AD, about the time of the end of the Roman Empire. But its influence lives on, at least within the heady world of Templars, Freemasons and students of exotic history. Rosslyn Chapel, the center of speculation in The Da Vinci Code as the resting place for great secrets spirited out of the ruins of Solomon's Temple, was built beginning in 1441 AD - three Shekinah periods from the birth of the Christ, had He been born in 1 AD - which they had no reason not to believe back then. Perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps the builders of Rosslyn were aware of the significance of the Shekinah period.
We often wonder what ancient secrets were burned with the Library of Alexandria, or lost in the perishing of ancient religions and cultures. The Shekinah Period and the Star of Bethlehem may be one of those heretofore lost secrets. The authors of this theory have done a remarkable job of scholarship mixed with speculation, and their new work, The Book of Hiram, is a fascinating journey through history.