Friday, January 06, 2006

Epiphany

So today's the day when the three magi arrived from the east to give gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Mary and Jesus. Or so the story goes. Whose story? Saint Matthew. It's only in the one Gospel, written 60 to 90 years after the events described. It's not as if he was there. . .

From Wikipedia:

According to his account, the Magi first visited Herod (appointed as a vassal king of Judea by the Roman Empire), asking him where the new King could be found. Herod, showing his knowledge of local prophesy, sent them to Bethlehem, and asked that they return when they had found him Matthew 2:1-Matthew 2:8). There, they appeared before the infant Jesus, noting that they observed his star -- the Star of Bethlehem -- rising in the east (other possible translation: his star in the ascendant), and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). The Magi were warned in a divine dream not to go back to Herod, and so returned to Persia by another route. This infuriated Herod and resulted in his massacre of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:12, and 16-18).

Matthew's Gospel does not mention their exact number, but since three gifts were mentioned, they were thus often entitled the Three Wise Men or later Three Kings. Alternate traditions have as few as two and as many as twelve visiting Jesus.


If Matthew is our only source, is it possible that he made it up?

Yes.


The magi were from Persia. They were basically high priests of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the dominant religions of the time and region. So what better way to give some oomph to your own cause than to have powerful spokespeople? "Hey, the Zoroastrians believe he's the son of God. Why don't you?"

Then again, it's entirely possible that the whole Christmas story was made up decades after the fact, as well. These guys had a religion to sell, after all. It makes me wonder what L. Ron Hubbard's teachings will look like in two thousand years. . .

4 comments:

Pedicularis said...

It was not "all made up." The story may have evolved before it was written down, but clearly prophets like Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, and Joseph Smith really existed. I have the same question that Smith asked: "Who is right?"

Sotosoroto said...

As Plato used Socrates as a voice in his teachings (and thus we are not sure which ideas are whose), could not Paul have used Jesus to advance his own ideas? The early Church was, by and large, all Paul. He wrote the majority of the New Testament.

Pedicularis said...

Since we now are discussing whose ideas were written in Paul's sections of the New Testament, then you have accepted that Paul and Jesus walked on earth? Good. I'd have to answer your question with "yes", Paul could have advanced his own ideas in his writings, just as Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John might have. Who knows?

aunt d said...

so now we know the truth behind all religions - someone judiciously edited the material to their benefit. Huh . . . :) sounds more like politics to me. .