The gospel of St Matthew opens the New Testament with a frightening visit from a skyborne being who descends from the starry heavens to proclaim a sensational message to terrified shepherds attending their flocks:
Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God is with us.
This event - if it happened at all - would have occurred between four and eight years before the era which came to bear Christ's name Anno Domini - which is Latin for 'in the year of our Lord.'
Like his death and alleged resurrection, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth is cloaked in mystery. Just as the pillar of light led the Israelites through the wilderness to the Promised Land in the Old Testament, another enigmatic object served to guide those with wisdom to the birthplace of a carpenter's son in the New Testament. The ufological angle certainly seems to fit the account of this guiding light in the sky which is depicted on millions of Christmas cards all over the world. It is sung about in carols, it shines down from the tops of Christmas trees, and foil imitations of it twinkle over Nativity scenes. But just what was the Star of Bethlehem? Is it just a myth or did the starry messenger really exist in the skies of Judaea? For centuries, theologians and scientists have argued over their interpretations of the celestial event, which was recorded only by the apostle Matthew. In the second chapter of his gospel, Matthew tells us: "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, 'where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.' "
According to Matthew, Herod summons the mysterious Wise Men and tells them that if they should find the newborn king, they must divulge the child's whereabouts to him. Later, the Wise Men see the guiding star in the East and it leads him to the stable where the babe Jesus is sleeping.
In the 17th century, the great German astronomer Kepler, sent shockwaves through the Christian world when he suggested that the star the Wise Men had followed might have been nothing more than a conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter. However, it is now known that no such conjunctions were visible in the Holy Land during the period St Matthew mentions, which historical scholars reckon is around 4 or 5 BC. After Kepler's heretical attempts to explain away the Star of Bethlehem as a natural phenomenon, many other scientists also tried to formulate theories to rationalize the stellar oddity. Halley's Comet was blamed but astronomers have calculated that the comet had already visited and left the heavens before Christ's birth. Another theory proposed that the star that hovered over the stable was actually a distant star that had exploded - or gone supernova, to use astronomers' jargon. Such explosions do occur from time to time and can remain visible in the sky for weeks, even during the daytime.
Now, it is recorded in ancient Chinese texts that such a supernova explosion did occur - around 4 BC. Chinese astronomers of the time recorded that a star flared up in the constellation of Aquila the Eagle, just below the bright star Altair. What's more, it has been computed that, to anyone standing at the South Gate of Jerusalem, the brilliant star would appear to be over Bethlehem.
The American scientist A. J. Morehouse, who discovered the Chinese record, therefore believes that the Star of Bethlehem is still in the sky, but it is very faint.
Opponents of Morehouse's theory have pointed out that the exploding star of 4 BC occurred too late to be associated with the birth of Christ. Also, such a bright spectacle in the night sky would hardly have gone unnoticed by Herod and the other inhabitants of Judaea. Moreover, a supernova cannot hover in the sky as the star of Bethlehem did over the manger.
Just as enigmatic as the Star are the Wise men who followed it. Matthew simply states that they were from the East without specifying what countries they came from, and, contrary to popular belief, St Matthew does not actually say there were three of them. In fact, according to the early versions of the Nativity in Medieval times, there were twelve Wise Men! Whatever their number, most Biblical scholars agree that the Wise Men were students of astrology, which was very popular among the Jewish community at the time. This theory was strengthened by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. Among the timeworn Hebrew and Aramaic texts - some of which date back to the birth of Christ there are astrological charts depicting signs of the Zodiac and mystical texts referring to the influence of the stars and the planets on the newly-born. The Scrolls also mention an unnamed individual who lived at the time of the Jesus who was known as the Teacher of Righteousness.
In the end, despite all the conjecture and historical research, we are still no nearer to uncovering the truth about the most mysterious herald in history - the Star of Bethlehem. If it wasn't a comet, nor a planetary conjunction, then surely there is only one logical hypothesis which can explain a light in the sky which behaves as if it is controlled by an intelligence: the Star of Bethlehem was a spacecraft; and if we can accept this explanation, we must ask: what was it doing hovering over the stable where Jesus was born?
The Christians have longed claimed that the arrival of Christ at Bethlehem had been predicted centuries before. In the Book of Micah 5:2 (written in the 8th Century BC), it states that the Messiah - Hebrew for "the anointed one" - would be born in Bethlehem, and in the Book of Isaiah 7:14 (also written in the 8th century BC) scripture specifically asserts that the person who will come as God's representative in the flesh would be born of a virgin. In the Book of Malachi 3:1 it is foretold that someone would go ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way. Most Christians have interpreted this as being John the Baptist. In Isaiah 9:1-2 it predicts that the Messiah would live and work around Galilee in a northern province remote from the centers of power, and that he would heal people. The Book of Zechariah foretells that the long-awaited Messiah who would restore his people to a position of power and prosperity which they enjoyed under David and Solomon would ride into Jerusalem humbly, on a donkey, and not on the war-horse of a military conqueror. In that same book a passage eerily maintains that the Messiah will be betrayed to his enemies for thirty pieces of silver. This prophecy seems to have been fulfilled by one Judas Iscariot.
There are more amazingly accurate predictions in Psalms, the 19th book of the Old Testament. Crucifixion - execution by nailing the condemned to a cross - was unknown to the Hebrews until the Romans came to power, yet in Psalm 22 there is a graphic description of the way the Messiah will be put to death, hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. The passages say his hands and feet will be pierced, and that his executioners would mock him and gamble for his clothes. All of the incidents foretold by the Jewish scriptures, if applied to the life of Jesus, are astoundingly more accurate than the prophecies of Nostradamus.
Little is known about the early days of Jesus, especially the circumstances of his conception and birth. Traditionally, March 25 is held as the Day of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. Curiously, in May 1999, Israeli historians researching ancient copies of the Apocrypha told the newspaper National Midnight Star that one translation of the Virgin Mary's conception after a visitation from God described a chilling tale which sounded very similar to the accounts of people who had undergone gynaecological examinations in UFO abduction experiences. When reporters pressed the codex researchers to comment further on their intriguing claims, but the historians were evidently advised by the religious authorities to withhold further interpretations of the timeworn texts.
Even the hardened scientific sceptic, philosopher and historian H. G. Wells - who was not at all impressed by Christianity - once wrote of Jesus:
Christ is the most unique person in history. No one can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher from Nazareth.
In this age of scientific and medical marvels, it is possible through the techniques of artificial insemination to produce a child in the womb of a woman who is a virgin. In Japan and America, scientists are making rapid progress with the development of artificial wombs which will allow the development of a fertilized egg into an embryo and finally a nine-month-old baby. These 'baby hatcheries' were described in 1932 within the pages of Aldous Huxley's far-sighted novel Brave New World, although Huxley confidently assured his shocked readers that cloning and mechanical wombs were three centuries away. In 1962, the year before Huxley died, the English physicist Francis Crick and American biochemist James Watson, shared the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA - the genetic code of the human body. Five years later, the British biologist John B Gurdon cloned a South African clawed frog. Eleven years after that, British Doctor Patrick Steptoe and his colleagues overcame the problem of sterility in women by producing the first test-tube baby outside the womb in July, 1978. Twenty years after that, scientists had cloned sheep and higher mammals, and it was recently claimed that cloned humans in America and Korea had been allowed to develop to an embryonic stage before being destroyed.
Envisage then, a superior race from another world steering the affairs of mankind. This higher race implants the embryo of Jesus into a peasant woman's womb so she becomes a surrogate mother. Jesus is born in an obscure village, and as he grows he probably becomes aware of the psychic superhuman talents he possesses. He works in a carpenter's shop in Nazareth until he his thirty, then embarks on a three-year mission which will sow the seeds for the most momentous sociological and philosophical revolution in world history. Immediately the authorities realise that he is not an average prophet, for he raises three dead people: a young girl (Matthew 9:1819), a young man (Luke 7: 11-15), and a man named Lazarus (John 11: 1-44). The Jews believed that only God could control the weather to induce storms and stop them, so they were amazed when Jesus stopped a storm (Matthew 8:23-27). There are also accounts of Jesus - or Yeshua - as he was known - walking on water, exorcising evil spirits from possessed people, healing the sick and crippled, restoring the sight of blind people, turning water into wine, and feeding the multitudes (on two different occasions).
All of these supernatural acts proved Jesus was no ordinary human being, and he himself said the Kingdom or realm he came from was 'not of this world'. He also maintained that his father was in the heavens, and he spent many lengthy periods in the vast isolation of the Sinai Desert, where he may have received the instructions for his revolutionary programme to change civilization. Perhaps this was the rendezvous point for meeting his extraterrestrial kin. There are many instances of luminous objects descending onto Jesus and shining rays at him. All of these incidents are interpreted as religious omens among the primitive people of the time, but what can we make of them? For example, in Luke 3: 21-22, it is recorded:
Now, when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus was also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him.
What was this thing which resembled a luminous dove? We are none the wiser now. Nor can we explain the significance of the following episode, mentioned in detail in Matthew 17: 6-9:
Jesus too Peter and John and James and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his rainment was white and glistening. And behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While thus he spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my beloved Son: hear him.' And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were sore afraid, And Jesus came and touched them and said Arise and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead. And they kept it close, and told not man in those days of the things which they had seen.
Why did Jesus ask the disciples to keep quiet about the incident? How did Peter, John And James know the figures with Jesus were Moses and Elias, who lived a thousand years before they were born? And what mysterious process was going on during the miraculous transformation of Jesus, which made his face and clothes 'brighter than the sun'? What mysterious forces were at work on the summit of that mountain? Was Jesus being 'recharged' by some energy source hidden in the cloud which hovered overhead? So many intriguing, but alas, unanswered questions.
Of course, the ultimate proof that Jesus was no ordinary Earthman came with his physical resurrection, which was mentioned in all four gospels and referred to in Corinthians 15: 3-7. Mark relates that Jesus of Nazareth was scourged and treated brutally by the Roman guards, who crowned him with thorns, mocked him, then crucified him at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) of the day. Jesus had to be buried before the Sabbath began at 6 p.m., so that his corpse should not profane the holy day. A secret disciple of Jesus named Joseph of Arimathea, bravely asked the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate if he could bury Christ. Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so quickly, and after checking with his centurion to see if Christ had indeed passed away, he allowed Joseph to take charge of the preacher's body.
Joseph wrapped the corpse of Christ in a fine linen; this cloth was afterwards rumoured to feature a miraculous imprint of the body of Christ, and some think the burial cloth is still around as the famous Turin Shroud. The shrouded body of Jesus was hurriedly laid in a sepulchre hewn out of a rock, and the entrance to this tomb was sealed with an enormous stone. There can be no doubt that at this point, Jesus was not faking death, although some researchers have claimed that he had not died on the cross, but had only swooned. But the facts say that was not possible, for a Roman scourging was so terrible and traumatic, many victims died before being crucified. Then there is the graphic account of John, who says a soldier named Longinius thrust a spear into Jesus's side while he was on the cross and that 'blood and water' came out. This is a medically accurate description of what happens when the pericardium is pierced, and such a wound is always fatal.
Shortly before dawn on the Sunday morning following the Jewish Sabbath (which is a Saturday), Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest, and noticed that the heavy stone had been rolled back. In John 20: 1-9 it states:
The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he, stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying, yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which first came unto the sepulchre, and he saw, and believe. For as yet they knew not the scripture that he must rise again from the dead.
The events of that first Easter morning soon came together like a mystical jigsaw puzzle. The Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, trembled when they heard the news of the empty tomb. They heard strange accounts of how, in the early hours of that Sunday morning a being in 'snow-white clothes' with a light on its head as bright as lightning had descended from the low oppressive clouds and terrified the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of Christ into stupefaction. This strange figure - assumed by the Jewish priests to be a heavenly being - an angel of some order - proceeded to push away the stone blocking the tomb's entrance with superhuman might. It was later revealed that two unearthly-looking men dressed in white clothes had been seen at the entrance of the tomb by Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. The three women said one of the eerie figures said: 'Be not affrighted; ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified. He is not here...he is risen. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.'
The enigmatic men in white later vanished into the skies as mysteriously as they had appeared. Did they return to some mothership in Earth orbit? The ship that had been interpreted as the Star of Bethlehem?
The resurrected Jesus later reappeared to his faithful disciples, but seems to have undergone a 'transfiguration'. Although he was apparently solid and tangible enough to eat food and to allow the disciples to touch his wounds, doors did not have to be opened before he could enter a room full of people. He bi-located on several occasions (allowed himself to be seen in several places at once simultaneously), and seemed slightly different. Some people who had been familiar with him prior to the crucifixion did not recognize him immediately; in fact even Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener. Luke mention this intriguing facial metamorphoses when he relates the two disciples' walk to Emmaus, seven miles outside Jerusalem. Christ joins them but says 'there eyes were holden that they should not know him'. The disciples told the bemused Jesus about the crucifixion and of the empty tomb he had been laid in. Jesus then revealed his identity be expounding the scriptures concerning himself. The overawed disciples shared their evening meal with him, and he blessed them and broke the bread. He subsequently performed a vanishing act, and the disciples hurried back to Jerusalem to tell of their emotional and heart-lifting encounter with the risen Christ. The eleven Apostles, meanwhile were giving their accounts of meetings with the returned Jesus, when their Lord suddenly appeared in their midst.
After the ghostlike Christ had instilled faith into his followers, he is said to have 'ascended' into heaven. The Christian Bible doesn't go into any detail about what this ascension was like, but we possess thought-provoking accounts of the event in the Apocryphon Jacobi, and the Epistle of the Apostles. These books, which were suppressed by the Church for centuries, give us a full description of the Ascension. They tell us that at the ridge, east of Jerusalem, known as the Mount of Olives, where Jesus often prayed and meditated in the evenings, there was a great stir. The resurrected Jesus of Nazareth was talking to his followers, when his words were interrupted by a clap of thunder and lightning. The roll of rumbling thunder shook the entire mountain, and a chariot descended through the clouds. The Jews of old called this chariot a Merkaba - a celestial vehicle of the angels which is mentioned in the ancient Kabbals. The texts describe how Jesus entered the Merkaba and was welcomed by the angels within who were dressed in 'white apparel'. One of these heavenly beings said to the apostles:
Men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go to heaven.
And the Apostles watched in wonderment as Jesus rose higher and higher into the heavens until he and his angels in the Merkaba were lost to sight.
Today, the Christians assert that Jesus was God incarnate, while the Jews maintain that he was merely a prophet. Whoever Jesus was, there can be no doubt that he was a most extraordinary, and possibly extraterrestrial being. How else can we explain the miracles he performed, the transfiguration, and eventually regeneration after being executed on the cross? Then there is the futuristic philosophy Jesus propounded which predates the doctrines of Communism formulated by Marx and Engels by centuries. Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and he also said that in his kingdom, the underdog and the wretched would be put first (which enraged the self-righteous Pharisees). He told his astonished followers that pacificsm was the only way to live; if their enemy should strike them them, they must turn the other cheek, ready to be hit again. This seemed to be the exact opposite of the Old Testament's suggestion of 'an eye for an eye' and more in keeping with Ghandi's philosophy of non-violence which lay nine centuries in the future. Jesus also preached that those who wished to follow him would have to love their enemies and pray for them, and abandon all worldly wealth. The strange philosophy of Christ seems so alien to the selfish nature of the human race; was this because Christ was an alien? Because the whole subject of Jesus and his teachings is still surrounded with so many blind dogmas and taboos, it is difficult to see beyond the religion and analyze just who or what the carpenter from Nazareth really was. The extraterrestrial interpretation does not denigrate Christ in any way, but shows him in another, wider role in the cosmos. The next time you gaze up into the night sky at the stars, consider that somewhere out there, for all we know, an interstellar Christ may be preaching the word of Yahveh to the multitudes of some alien world.
This story reproduced with permission from Tom Slemen
© Copyright 2004 by Tom Slemen. All Rights Reserved.
November 9, 2007