Triple Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

  P.1352 - §3 These wise men saw no star to guide them to Bethlehem. The beautiful legend of the star of Bethlehem originated in this way: Jesus was born August 21 at noon, 7 B.C. On May 29, 7 B.C., there occurred an extraordinary conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces. And it is a remarkable astronomic fact that similar conjunctions occurred on September 29 and December 5 of the same year. Upon the basis of these extraordinary but wholly natural events the well-meaning zealots of the succeeding generation constructed the appealing legend of the star of Bethlehem and the adoring Magi led thereby to the manger, where they beheld and worshiped the newborn babe. Oriental and near-Oriental minds delight in fairy stories, and they are continually spinning such beautiful myths about the lives of their religious leaders and political heroes.


The Babylonian astrologer only note the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in September 7 BC, a remarkable feat.

A well-known biblical scholar claims for the first time that Jesus was born in BC 7. He gives the exact hours of the triple conjunction. It also gives a pretty good graphical explanation of the conjunctions. Here is the reference:

Simo Parpola, "The Magi and the Star," Bible Review, December 2001, p. 16-23, and p. 52 & 54.

The article begins with a subtitle: "Babylonian Astronomy Dates Jesus' Birth."

According to Parpola, the triple conjunction occurred in 7 BCE in the constellation of Pisces. (Jewish scholars don't like to use the term 'Before Christ' or 'Anno Domini,' so they say Before the Common Era or the Common Era)

First, Parpola goes through other observations that have been conjectured to be linked to Jesus' birth by other scholars and scientists throughout history, including a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in 2 BC, supernova explosion observed by the Chinese in 5 BC, and Halley's comet in 12 BC. He rules them out and proposes 7 BC as the most likely year of Jesus' birth.

Second, there is an ancient Babylonian clay tablet (a picture of a copy tablet in the British museum is shown) dated to 8 BC, which describes the celestial events for then upcoming 13 months. The tablet shows that Jupiter and Saturn would remain together in the constellation of Pisces for eleven months and come in close conjunction three times. Since the Babylonian lunar year begins at the vernal equinox (March/April), the tablet's description refers to the period, March/April 7 BC - March/April 6 BC. According to Parpola, this tablet says "Month 10, the first of which (December 23) will follow the 29th of the previous month. Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces, Venus in Scorpio, Mars in Aquarius...."

Four copies of astronomical tablets describing celestial activities in 7 BC are known to have survived. This means that Babylonian astronomers were thoroughly familiar with the movements of the stars and planets, and hand carried tablets or c-mailed (mailed by caravan) tablet copies to fellow astronomers.

In the Babylonian system Jupiter represented the star of Marduk, the supreme Babylonian god. Saturn was the "Steady One." The constellation Pisces was associated with Ea, the god of wisdom, life and creation. The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Pisces predicts from Babylonian's viewpoint "the end of the old world order and the birth of a new king chosen by God." Parpola contends that Augustus' (BC 27 - AD 12 or 14) authority was still questioned and there was power vacuum in the Middle East, and the people, including the Jews, were looking for a new King that would topple the Roman Empire.

Here are the dates of three conjunctions in 7 BC according to Parpola.

First conjunction: May 27, 8am
Second conjunction: October 6, 10 pm
Third conjunction: December 1, 9pm.

A triple conjunction is a rare astronomical event, occurring every 800 years. Since 7BC, triple conjunctions were observed in 786 and 1583.

According to the UB,

First conjunction: May 29.
Second conjunction: September 29
Third conjunction: December 5.

Thus, there are some discrepancies of the actual conjunction dates that are recorded in the UB and those proposed by Parpola, although they are fairly close. There are some software which can be used to track the movements of planets in any year, including 7 BC, and someone presented these conjunctions at the Foundation a year ago. However, I was not sure if these computer programs calculate the dates using Julian calendar or Gregorian calendar.

The above discrepancies may have to do with the difference in Julian and Gregorian calendars or some glitches in the computer program Parpola used. If it is the latter, some smart readers could calibrate and write an article to pinpoint the correct time and dates of the triple conjunction, correcting Porpola's errors. Even if there were minor errors, I think it is significant that a prominent biblical scholars proposed and accepted unwittingly one of the important scientific event described in the UB.

The three illustraionts are adapted from Parpola, to help readers understand the conjunction. Everything in the wide universe, except the Paradise, is nonstationary and constantly moving. Our Superuniverse, Orvonton, together with all its components, including Nebadon, are moving. However, the conjunctions of planets are relative to the earth. Thus, in these diagrams the earth is held stationary, even though it is moving on its orbit around the Sun. For this reason, Jupiter and Saturn move on elliptic orbits, but from the earth, they seem to move back and forth in some regions.

Note that an inward planet revolves around the sun and completes its lap faster than an outer planet. Thus, when the earth is overtaking an outer planet, when observed on earth, the latter appears to move backwards. When the earth overtakes an outer planet when it is in opposition to the sun, i.e., the earth is in the middle between an outer planet and the sun. (If the sun is in the middle, the earth and an outer planet would move in the opposite direction, rater than in the same direction).

In each conjunction, the three planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and the earth are on the same line of sight as shown in the diagrams. Note that Saturn lies outside Jupiter's orbit. However, the apparent diameter of the loop in Jupiter's path is greater thant that of Saturn, even though the former may be smaller than the latter. Thus, on purpose Saturn's path is drawn below that of Jupiter, even though the former is more distant.