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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Revelation of the Magi - The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem

David A. Zimmer

Revelation of the Magi - The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem
Brent Landau

One of the most popular Christmas accounts is the visitation of the 3 Wise Men or Magi to the Baby Jesus when He was born. Almost every manger scene shows three men, dressed in royal garb and bringing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold. Since the early church era, this legend/tradition has become a mainstay of the Christmas celebration. And yet, it is based on only a few scriptures in the Gospel of Matthew.

Not much is known about these men, how many truly came (was there three or was there more), if they were kings of the Orient, or simply star-watchers and magicians. We do know they came from the East, but how far east, we don’t know. Yet, with such sketchy details, traditions, pomp and circumstance have grown over the years.

When I saw the announcement of this book (it was in a newspaper we placed on the floor to sop up the water from wet, snowy clothes and shoes), recently published in 2010, I was intrigued. I often wondered about whom these guys were, how they got to the manger or did they really go to the manger and so forth. I mean, they see a star. In those days, there weren’t ground lights blocking out the stars like we have today. You could see thousands of stars all the time, so how did they know a new one showed up and just because it did, why follow it. I’ve spent many hours in the backwoods, looking at the stars and wondered, “How do you follow one particular star?” I mean, it never seems to “rest” above a particular place as this one was reported to do.

So, I figured, if anything, this book would shed some light on the subject and maybe answer a few questions.

The book is an English translation of an account supposedly written by the Magi themselves (or possibly, a single person – it’s not clear). The account was titled Revelation of the Magi (referred to as Revelation in this write-up). It was originally written in Syriac, a language used by ancient Christians throughout the Middle East and Asia. Only a small number of scholars are fluent in the language today. I won’t go into all the details of the Revelation concerning how it was found, where it traveled, where it is stored – that is all spelled out in the book. But I will say the author did a nice job reconstructing the document's age and lineage by referencing it against other ancient documents dating back to the first century. In other words, it’s really old.

I enjoyed reading the Revelation because of the worshipful language all throughout the text. It gave a complete history of the Magis’ origins back to Seth, son of Adam (if you are not familiar with the Bible’s account of creation, God created Adam, from which He took Eve. Adam and Eve bore three sons we know of – Cain, Abel, and Seth. Cain kills Abel and basically disappears from history. Seth is the third son and carries on God’s lineage through the various Jewish kings and eventually Jesus Christ).

The Revelation was believable, but not necessarily unique. It is not known if one or several authors wrote it. It is Biblically accurate, which caught my suspicion. Was this truly an account of people traveling to visit the manger and the new born babe, or was it a cleverly written collection of biblical verses and occurrences? I am not sure. There were many places where biblical text was lifted almost verbatim from the Gospels and Epistles. Of course the author could have referenced these writings and there is enough extra material to make it a separate work. So, it could be an accounting of actual events.

Overall, I enjoyed the Revelation. I liked the prose and its praise and worship of God and Savior.

The only disagreement I had was with some of the commentary of the author placed at the beginning and end of the book. He was trying to prove Christ appeared to people around the world and because of that, Christ Jesus’ teaching is the basis of many of the world religions. He seemed to state Christ Jesus only came to this earth when he was born, and no other time prior to then. He was trying to refute a notion that Christ Jesus only came to Christians, a belief many have, especially among mainline Christians. But we have an issue here. Christ could not have come to the Christians because they didn’t exist until many years after his death, burial and resurrection. Believers were called believers until sometime much later, when they became known as Christians.

Apostle Paul stated in his epistles that Christ came to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. Paul was the Jewish ambassador to the Gentiles – anyone not Jewish. So, Christ Jesus could not have come to a class of people – Christians – since they didn’t exist. And in stating “Jews first, and then the Gentiles,” he is affirming that Christ Jesus came to all mankind, not just a particular group.

Christ Jesus plainly said He came to all people. He appeared many times in what we refer as the Old Testament of the Bible. His appearance is announced as the Angel of the Lord. Jacob, a main patriarch of the Jewish nation, struggled with the Angel of the Lord all night long. Plus, there are many other examples.

The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically if Christ Jesus appeared to other people around the world. It is entirely plausible. If He appeared to the Jewish nation before His earthly birth, then why not to other people?

What bothers me is the statement that Christ Jesus is the basis of all world religions. A person is not a Christian because he goes to a church of a Christian sect, such as Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. He is a Christian because of his personal commitment to follow Christ and His teachings. That makes him a Christian. It follows then, if a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or anyone else who professes Christ, follows His teachings, and lives the life of a Christian, he is no longer his original religion, but a follower of Christ – a Christian, as the term is coined.

Just because Christ Jesus may have appeared to many people around the world, taught His truth, and delivered his teachings, does not mean it became a basis for the world religions. It simply means he visited, he taught, and he delivered. What they did with the teachings is another matter.

So other than that disagreement with the author’s premise, I found the book to be an interesting read and possibly an accounting of a historical moment. But, I don’t find it to be a basis for a new religion or way of life. For me, Christ and His teachings are the Way, the Truth and the Life.
If you’re curious about the Magi that came to visit the Christ Child, this is an excellent book to read.

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