By Brandon R. Ro, AIA, NCARB
21 December 2020
Figure 1. Computer simulation of the 2020 Saturn-Jupiter conjunction using Stellarium.
ABSTRACT: In this paper I analyze the meaning of the December 21st 2020 celestial event embodied in the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction. I offer a Judeo-Christian interpretation of its significance using linguistic planetary and constellation terminology.
KEYWORDS: History and Philosophy of Astronomy, 2020 Saturn-Jupiter Alignment, Planetary Conjunction, Christmas Star, Judeo-Christian Symbolism
In the northern hemisphere, December 21st 2020 marks the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. It is also the longest night of the year and many will witness an interesting celestial phenomenon in the heavens which some astronomers have named the “Christmas star.” At around 6:00pm MST in the western sky near the horizon, the planets Saturn and Jupiter will appear to touch one another near the mouth of the sea-goat constellation Capricornus. This particular celestial alignment, known as a conjunction, last occurred nearly 400 years ago in 1623. Although this conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn is not necessarily something out of the ordinary, it is indeed a rare event. As astronomer Mark Kidger writes, “Jupiter and Saturn have had eighty-nine normal conjunctions and eleven triple conjunctions in the last two thousand years” (200).
Some astronomers are calling tonight’s event the “Christmas star” because a similar alignment – a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn – occurred in the constellation Pisces around 7 BC. Many believe this sign in the heavens could have marked the birth of Jesus. Although there is more concrete evidence for the star of Bethlehem occurring in the form of other celestial events around 3-2 BC, the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction adds to the many “signs in the heavens” that may have led up to the nativity. With its reoccurrence tonight on the winter solstice, however, some speculate on what significance this sign in the heavens might bring. Based on research of celestial bodies, symbolism, and sky phenomena, I would like to offer a possible interpretation of tonight’s Jupiter-Saturn conjunction in the constellation Capricornus from a Judeo-Christian perspective.
Each planet and constellation had meaning for ancient cultures and religions. The planet Jupiter is one of the brighter objects in the night sky with a typical magnitude of -2 (compare to a full moon at -12.7). The Greeks associated this planet with the god Zeus and the Romans with Jupiter. This traveling masculine star was known to the ancients as the king planet, the creator, the god of all gods, king of all kings, and the god of light. In Hebrew its Rabbinic name is “tzedek” meaning justice, and it is also used in the name Melchizedek for king of righteousness. Melchizedek was a priest of the god “El Elion” who was the “Most High God” and the owner of the heaven and earth (Zucker, 304). In the Denderah bas-relief ceiling zodiac in Egypt, the planet Jupiter is depicted as holding a scepter and was believed to be the supreme god Osiris (Adams, 158).
The planet Saturn, on the other hand, was typically harder to find in the night sky with a brightness magnitude of +1 (slightly brighter than the four royal constellation stars at +1.5). As a result, part of the planet’s name “satur” means “hiding” because it moved relatively slowly across the night sky (Adams, 160). The planet Saturn was known by the Greeks as “Cronus,” the deity of agriculture, who was the father of Zeus (Jupiter). Similar to the Greeks, the Roman god of agriculture was called Saturn and had a sickle or scythe in his hand symbolizing the passage of time, death, and harvesting. He was also connected to the day of the week known as Saturday. Likewise, the holly plant was sacred to the Roman god Saturn. They were used in his festival Saturnalia which was celebrated in mid-December as a prototype of Christmas. As adopted later by Christians, the holly leaves came to symbolize “Christ’s crown of thorns, [and] its berries his blood” (Hall, 147). In Hebrew the planet’s name is “sabbatei” or “shabtay” and has allusions to “Shabbat, the holy day of rest, saturday” (Zucker, 304). The planet Saturn is depicted in the Denderah bas-relief ceiling zodiac as a personage holding a sceptre in one hand (symbol of royal divine authority) and an ankh (symbol for eternal life) in the other hand (Adams, 160; Hall, 82).
CAPRICORNUS / WINTER SOLSTICE
The sea-goat constellation known as Capricornus is where the 2020 Saturn-Jupiter conjunction is set to occur. The Hebrew name for this constellation is “gedi” meaning the “kid” or “cut off” whereas in Latin it means simply a “horned goat.” Imagery depicting the constellation can often be described as follows: “The Goat is bowing its head as though falling down in death. The right leg is folded underneath the body, and he seems unable to rise with the left. The tail of the fish, on the other hand, seems to be full of vigour and life,” explains Bullinger (75). Thus, this constellation typically embodied both the “dual nature of land and sea, height and depth” as well as death and resurrection (Cooper, 198). Ironically, “the living fish proceeds from the dying goat, and yet they form only one body” (Bullinger, 76). The Hebraic imagery of Capricornus as a “kid” for an atoning sacrifice or a goat as a sin offering is prominent in Leviticus 16:5,7-10. In Christianity, the kid “offering is expressing Christ taking on the sins of the world” (Adams, 44; Bullinger, 76). In the Egyptian zodiac at Dendera, a similar meaning can be seen in the “half-fish half-goat motif called Hupenius” which means “the place of the sacrifice” (Adams, 44). Nevertheless, goats in Christian art can also “represent the damned at the Last Judgement,” writes James Hall (26). Capricornus also symbolized the winter solstice which happens to coincide with the day the conjunction is taking place in 2020. Since the winter solstice marked the death and rebirth of the year, Capricornus also had a connection to the “gate of the gods” and the “ascending power of the sun” (Cooper, 200).
Figure 2. Photograph of the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction as viewed from Orem, Utah on December 21, 2020 (Author).
Celestial alignments, such as planetary conjunctions, and the constellations in which they occurred were considered heavenly signs to the ancients. In particular, the conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn (Zeus and Cronus) were significant for the Greco-Roman world. The Olympic Games were dedicated to Zeus because they commemorated his defeat of Cronus in the wrestling contest of sovereignty over the world. This was believed to have been marked in the heavens for mortals on earth by a triple conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn (Mavromataki, 138; de Santillana, 268). Likewise, the “Age of Pisces, started with a great conjunction in Pisces” between Jupiter and Saturn around 7 BC that some believe was the Christmas star (de Santillana, 244, 268).
As one considers the timing of the 2020 Saturn-Jupiter conjunction on the winter solstice and its location in the constellation Capricornus, one possible Judeo-Christian message emerges. Perhaps the planet Jupiter represents the King of all Kings, the Most High God, the Messiah, who sits enthroned in the heavens ruling with justice. Located near the constellation Capricornus, we also remember that the Messiah not only stands at the gate of heaven but is its gatekeeper. He is ready to admit the repentant because He not only once stood at the place of sacrifice but became the offering for sin himself. With the arrival of the planet Saturn, one is likewise reminded of the Messiah who is “hiding” yet eager to usher in the earth’s millennial age of peace. As Lord of the Sabbath, He will certainly preside with divine authority during the thousand years of paradisiacal rest and speak words of eternal life. But prior to this triumphant return when time will cease to be, the Messiah will employ his servants to thrust in their sickles for the final harvest. There will be a separation made between the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the wicked. Death will certainly precede resurrection for most. Those gathered on the right hand will receive eternal life and immortality through a glorious resurrection while those on the left will receive damnation at the last judgment.
Such an interpretation of the 2020 Saturn-Jupiter conjunction on the winter solstice can be viewed as an ominous sign in the heavens for those who are not prepared to receive their King. Yet it can also bring hope at the end of a long year by reminding believers of the triumphant return of the Messiah who will usher in a better world at the right hand of God. From glad tidings of great joy to an ominous warning, the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction of 2020 can point us towards a brighter future depending on what heed we give to it.
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