Last Thursday, MSNBC “news” posted a really terrible piece. There is no byline.
“What was the star of Bethlehem?” says the interactive graphic (credited to Clay Frost). “Scholars argue whether the Star of Bethlehem was a legend created after the fact or a miracle created by God especially for the occasion of Christ’s birth.”
The article leans heavily on a book from 1987 in which a certain John Mosley of Griffith Observatory finds that on 17 June in 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus were in almost exactly the same place in the sky. That would have been a remarkable thing to see. However, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the question of whether the “star” mentioned in the Bible was a miracle created by God.
You can only care about this question if you assume first, that Matthew’s account of the “wise men from the East” is factual; and second, that God does create miracles on certain occasions. But there is literally no reason to take either of these propositions seriously.
I need not bother addressing the question of the New Testament’s historical accuracy here. As for the idea of miracles, I explained in an earlier post that the idea of miracles is incoherent. If you say “It was a miracle,” the only thing that you can possibly mean that makes any sense is, “I don’t know how it happened.” And this of course is not a positive claim about how it happened. It is not even a positive claim about your opinion about how it happened. All it says is that you don’t have an opinion about how it happened. So it’s almost perfectly meaningless.
To claim, in a mainstream news source, that scholars wonder whether Matthew’s star was “a miracle created by God” is grotesque, misleading, and offensive.