“…behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.”

“When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” (Matt. 2:1b-2 & 9)

When about 6, I questioned this, commenting that the wise men said they had seen the star in the east, but were from the east, and had therefore travelled west – not east. My Sunday School teachers weren’t up to answering that – but now I can grasp that the first “in the east” was possibly referring to the location of the magi (just as was “from the east”), rather than the relative location of the star, though as “anatole” could mean “rising” as well as “east”, the second instance could mean that they had seen the star’s first appearance. Unless, of course, like Jonah, they set off in the wrong direction but ended up where God intended!

There is no similar linguistic answer for my second six-year-old’s objection, that in order for the star to be “over where the young child was”, it would have needed to be in low geosynchronous orbit (OK, I didn’t, at 6, have the word “geosynchronous”, but I did have the concept that, apart from the North Star, stars were not in the same direction all the time).

Unless, of course, what they were seeing was Venus, which appears as the “morning star” in the East and as the “evening star” in the west; following it’s apparent movement during the day would take them west. That might be uncomfortable, given that the “morning star” is commonly identified with Lucifer (“the light bringer”) and thence with Satan – but then, in Rev. 22:16, Jesus identifies himself as the morning star. A light shining in the darkness?

However, it is difficult to see Venus as “standing over” where the child was.

It is at least conceivable that the Magi (known as astrologers in the ancient world) could have divined via astrology a location, and certainly the author may have thought this plausible. That said, if we move from the physical to the symbolic, things look different. Stars indicate the celestial, i.e. the divine realm, and this could argue that the Magi were drawn not so much by astrology as by divine inspiration. Actually, I might argue that astrology is without material foundation, but offers a set of correspondences which give the practitioner a basis on which to use intuition/inspiration.

And, assuming that the author may have known, despite the ancient conception of the heavens as being very much as later described by Omar Khayyam “And that inverted bowl we call the sky, whereunder crawling cooped we live and die; lift not thy hand to it for help, for it rolls impotently on as thou or I”, that stars do not come to rest over a particular location, he was probably invoking the symbolic; in order to hang over Bethlehem, the star would have had to descend from the heavens to earth, and the divine would come down to the material.

God with us, in other words.