Mythology of the Magi (2)

“Yesterday we looked at a few myths surrounding the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus in Bethlehem. We questioned the ideas about the sources of their knowledge of the star and the “King of the Jews” as lying in astronomical phenomena or in astrological “signs.” What is an alternative explanation for their knowledge?

It is possible that the oracles of Balaam served as the source for their expectation of a Jewish king. Of the four oracles delivered by that fascinating man from beyond the Euphrates River (Num. 22:5), the last is most expressive: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Num. 24:17). It is possible that the Magi from Persia had preserved the words of their “ancestor” Balaam and remembered his ancient prophecy when a “Star” did appear out of Jacob.

An even stronger source for the Magi’s scriptural knowledge comes from the Book of Daniel. In its Greek translation, one of the words translated “wise men” is the same as the Greek word used in Matthew 2 – magoi – ( 2:2,10,). These Magi in ancient Babylon served as a religious caste in the state religion. One of their functions was to interpret dreams — a role in which they failed miserably in Dan. 2:1-13. Note Dan. 2:13, “So the decree went out, and the wise men (Magi) were about to be killed; and they sought Daniel and his companions, to kill them.” Therefore, Daniel and his three friends were associated with the Magi due to their God-given ability (Dan. 1:20-21). When Daniel accurately interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:17-45), he was rewarded with an even higher position among them: “Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men (Magi) of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48).

Consider also the amazing prophecy of the “seventy weeks” in Dan. 9:24-27. Verse 26 states that “Messiah (shall) be cut off” after a total period of 69 “sevens” (483 years). Therefore, Daniel’s book provides a timetable for the coming of the Messiah. This timetable from their leader must have been kept through the years by the Magi even after Babylon was conquered by the Persians.

There must have been a growing expectancy among the Magi as the years passed by. These Magi must have been watchful since the prophecy was originally given through one of “their own” many years before. Remember that a large Jewish community continued to exist in Babylon and Persia down through the centuries. They would have cherished Daniel’s prophecies and kept alive their hope.

Some have also suggested that one of the functions of the Magi was in the role ofking-makers. It was they who went through the ritual of crowning new kings in Babylon and Persia. This would also shed light on their desire to encounter the “King of the Jews” and to “worship him” (Mt. 2:2).

Now, what exactly was that “star” that led them? Come back tomorrow!”

-Dr. William Varner, Complements of: http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/14011189562/mythology-of-the-magi-2

The Mythology of the Magi

“The visit of the magi to the Child-Messiah, recorded in Matthew 2:1-12, is one of the most familiar biblical scenes to most Christians. The perception of this event has been unfortunately marred by a large number of popular misconceptions. Some of these derive from the popular song, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Consider the following list of erroneous assumptions about the wise men:

1. They were three in number.

2. They were kings.

3. They were from the Orient (i.e, the Far East).

4. They were named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

5. One of them was a black man.

6. They visited the baby Jesus in a stable.

7. They followed an astrological or astronomical phenomenon to Bethlehem.

All of these ideas compose what might be called the mythology of the magi. Some of the misconceptions can be corrected by simply reading Matthew 2:1-12. Others can be dispelled by a logical reading of the text giving attention to its Jewish background.

The idea that there were three kings named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar dates from medieval times, as well as the idea that one of them was black. No number of magi is mentioned by Matthew, but the fact that they presented three different types of gifts (“gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” in 2:11) probably gave rise to the traditional number.

Also, they are not called kings, but magi — a special caste of religious men in Persia which we will examine later. Matthew 2:1-2 says that they were from “the east.” In modern times we might think of lands like the Far East, but that is not the way the term was used in biblical language. The “east” was a region beyond the Euphrates River. This would be the area of ancient Persia — today, the countries of Iran and eastern Iraq. This would also argue against the idea that one of them was black, although this is remotely possible if one of them came from as far as India. Their names, of course, are purely traditional.

Far more prevalent is the idea, perpetuated by millions of nativity scenes, that the magi were present with their camels along with the shepherds at the manger of the baby Jesus. This idea conflates Matthew with Luke’s account, particularly Luke 2:15-20, and is refuted by statements in Matthew 2:1-16. First, we read in Matthew 2:1, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.” Furthermore, Matthew 2:11 states, “And going into the house (not a stable or cave), they saw the child … (paidion in Greek, not brephos, the word for ‘infant’ in Lk. 2:1216).” Jesus could have been as much as two years old, since Herod ordered all the boys from two and under to be killed (Mt. 2:716). Whatever age Jesus was at this time, He was definitely not a baby in a manger. He was a young child living with his parents in Bethlehem before their flight into Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15).

Most think that the magi were astrologers who had discerned through their stargazing that the sign of a Jewish king had appeared and that he had been born somewhere in Israel. While the magi may have engaged in some form of astrology, it is difficult to comprehend how God would communicate His will through a means He had so strongly condemned (Deut. 18:9-14Isa. 47:12-14). If we allow for such a method of divine communication, how can we condemn the utilization of astrology for fortune telling today? Others suggest that the magi had observed some unique astronomical phenomenon — a comet, a supernova, or a planetary conjunction. The astronomer Kepler observed in 1603 A.D. an unusual conjunction of planets and found that in 6 B.C. there had been an unusual conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. Therefore, Kepler placed the nativity of Jesus at that time. Although this explanation has satisfied many, it does not explain the fact that the magi referred to “his star” (Mat. 2:2). Furthermore, it is difficult to comprehend how such an astronomical phenomenon could have moved to Bethlehem and how it “went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Mat. 2:9). If a comet had performed that feat, there would have been no house or town remaining from the heat!

Having evaluated some myths surrounding these interesting visitors, what can be concluded about their identity and their knowledge about the promised Jewish king? Furthermore, what was the nature of that wondrous “star” which prompted their long journey? There is no necessity to look beyond the sacred Hebrew Scriptures for a correct understanding of Matthew 2:1-11.

The next few days we will look at those Scriptures for some answers to these questions. Stay tuned!”

-Dr. William Varner, complements of: http://dribex.tumblr.com/post/13965409728/the-mythology-of-the-magi

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshiped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him:  give my heart.

 

-Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894

Joyful, Joyful

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of light;
Angels lifting praise before Thee, Sing throughout this holy night.
In a manger lies a Baby- Child of Mary, Son of God.
Voices joined in joyful chorus, Praise Thee for Thy gift of love.

 

All Thy works declare Thy glory; All Creation joins to sing.
Praise resounds as earth rejoices in the birth of Christ, the King.
Shepherds kneel before the Infant. Trumpets sound and anthems raise
As with joy our hearts are lifted, Joined in wonder, love and praise.
 
-Linda Lee Johnson, 1986

Lo! He Comes

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn pomp appear;
all his saints, by man rejected,
now shall meet him in the air:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.

-Words: John Cennick (1718-1755), 1752; as altered by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), 1758; and then altered by Martin Madan (1726-1790), 1760

Earth has Many a Noble City

Earth has many a noble city;
Bethlehem, thou dost all excel;
Out of thee the Lord from Heaven
Came to rule His Israel.

Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth,
To the world its God announcing
Seen in fleshly form on earth.

Eastern sages at His cradle
Make oblations rich and rare;
See them give, in deep devotion,
Gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Sacred gifts of mystic meaning:
Incense doth their God disclose,
Gold the King of kings proclaimeth,
Myrrh His sepulcher foreshows.

Jesu, whom the Gentiles worshipped
At Thy glad Epiphany,
Unto Thee, with God the Father
And the Spirit, glory be.

-Aurelius Prudentius (348-413), O sola magnarum urbium.
Translated by Edward Caswall

Of the Father’s Love

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

-Aurelius Prudentius, (348-413), Corde natus ex parentis,
Translated by John M. Neale and Henry W. Baker