The Great Christ Comet
Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem
by Colin R. Nicholl
In the splendid book, The Great Christ Comet – Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem (Crossway, 2015) we are provided with a comprehensive look at one of the most beautiful and iconic images to appear in the Christmas story — the Star of Bethlehem. The Star has an important part to play in the Nativity, and yet, what do we actually know about the Star itself?
The, majesty, message and mystery of the Star have captured the imagination of thoughtful people for centuries. Besides being eternally linked to the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the story of the Star is intimately connected with the Magi — the Babylonian wise men who followed the Star from their distant homeland to Judea. On their Star-inspired journey the learned Magi paused to visit King Herod in Jerusalem. The reason for their call on Herod was to ask him this question:“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2 NIV.
After speaking with experts in Jewish law brought in by Herod, the Magi left the palace with the information needed to start on the right path to find the newborn king. But for many who have read this passage in Matthew’s gospel there are questions left unanswered. Here are a few: What star did the Magi see, and why did they refer to it as “his” Star? And why would the Magi think the Star was a sign for the birth of a Jewish king, anyway? These intriguing questions have been duly considered and examined over the years by many professional and amateur star gazers, none of whom has been able to offer a fully satisfactory conclusion. Now, Bible scholar, author and student of astronomy, Colin R. Nicholl, believes he has found the answer.
Questions posed to Nicholl by his father-in-law were the source of his initial interest in the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem. Seeing that there was a demand to answer both Biblical and astronomical questions about the nature of the Star, Nicholl realized there needed to be “…interdisciplinary work and cooperation between the astronomical and theological communities.”
In the early pages of The Great Christ Comet, Nicholl describes himself as a Biblical scholar who, because of his research into the Star, has “been forced to spend the last few years trying to come to grips with relevant fields of astronomy so that I could develop the implications of the Bible data [about the Star] in the astronomical arena. Equally important, respected members of the international astronomical community, professional and amateur, have graciously and indeed sacrificially given of their time and energy to assist me on the celestial end of things.”
The Great Christ Comet is a fascinating, dazzling and thorough book. One does not need to be either a Bible scholar or an astronomer to enjoy and appreciate it. There is a lot of information to absorb, but out of the compelling facts the book contains, the astronomical consideration that Nicholl presents in greatest detail is the argument that the celestial apparition that we call the Star of Bethlehem was not a star at all, but a comet. This is not a new idea, but according to Nicholl, it is one that has not been fully or rigorously developed until this book.
In addition to the written content, The Great Christ Comet includes numerous beautiful illustrations of comets, as well as charts and tables that support Nicholl’s proposition. Knowing that Nicholl’s scientific research was done in cooperation with David Asher, astronomer and Research Fellow at the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, Mark E. Bailey, MBE, Director of the Armagh Observatory, and Gary W. Kronk, a comet observer and researcher, as well as other scholars and academics, lends considerable credibility to his work in this area.
In the Biblical material, Nicholl takes a very particular look at Matthew 1:18-2:18, the latter half of which is the account of the Magi and the Star. Reading the text with the understanding that the Star described is a actually a comet brings a fresh perspective to the passage. Nicholl spends a great deal of time explaining the many reasons why this specific comet would have been a phenomenal visual occurrence in the sky, especially for anyone who was knowledgeable about the stars. Nicholl not only opens up the meaning of the Matthew passage, but his work here also leads to an explanation of another passage of scripture, Revelation 12:1-5, in which we read the unusual story about the woman who brings forth a child in the heavens.
Nicholl writes, “Why does John [the Apostle who is the author of the Book of Revelation] offer his readers an astronomical version of Jesus’ birth narrative? …Quite simply, the only plausible explanation of the celestial and portentous nature of the Messianic birth scene in Revelation 12:1-5 is that John is consciously recalling the heavenly wonder that attended Jesus’s nativity.”
Nichol attentively explains comet-related verses in Isaiah, Matthew and Revelation, helping the reader to see the heavens declaring the birth of the Messiah This is a spellbinding narrative that no doubt will spark new areas of both Biblical and scientific investigation.
Nicholl summarizes the purpose of his book The Great Christ Comet with these words: “In this book I offer what I am convinced is the solution to the age old mystery of the Star of Bethlehem. What I propose is rooted in a careful consideration of the relevant Biblical material and is, I believe, able to explain everything said about the Star in a natural and compelling way and in harmony with current astronomical knowledge.”
Only someone who is a Biblical scholar and well versed in astronomy could possibly have successfully pieced together the ancient puzzle of the Star of Bethlehem. Colin R. Nicholl had both the skills and the desire to see the challenge through to its astounding conclusion and then compose the meticulously researched and visually beautiful publication, The Great Christ Comet. Of this extraordinary accomplishment Nicholl says, “Anything good that issues from my life may be credited to God and [my parents].”
The Great Christ Comet – Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem would be a a terrific volume to read at any time, but it certainly adds special significance to the season of the Nativity, and particularly to Epiphany. I highly recommended this book to anyone interested in learning more about this unforgettable astronomical event. If you would like to see Nicholl’s interview with Eric Metaxas about this subject you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/6mT-8O8S_Fw