Hungarian 1986 postage stamp showing the Nativity scene along with Halley’s Comet and the Giotto spacecraft

The problem with a planet stopping is not what you might think. The problem is not that planets can’t stop. Just the opposite. The problem is that all planets are always stopped to the eye of a human observer. The sky moves above Earth at half the speed of the hour hand on a common clock. Its movement is imperceptible to the naked eye. So, if all stars are always stopped, what can Matthew have meant?

Perhaps you have already anticipated the key to this final mystery: retrograde motion.

An astronomer tracking the movement of planets through the star field watches not so much on the scale of minutes, but on the longer scale of days, weeks and months.

On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop.

On December 25 of 2 BC as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem.

Part 3: The day of the cross