Isn’t it peculiar how many people are adamant about the dangers of astrology and “magic,” but wholeheartedly repeat and support the classic story of the “three magi” who supposedly visited the baby Jesus by way of King Herod and left in their wake, three famous gifts for the child: gold, incense, and myrrh? Their “astrological” roots have been overlooked in favor of calling them “wise men.” But is wisdom treated any better?
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
There are so many symbols in ancient storytelling. Some interpretations have carried down through the ages while many more have been adjusted along the way through natural evolutions in the telling. After all, many ancient tales and wisdom narratives were a verbal art form. Even the New Testament was put into writing years after the death of Jesus and although they were based on eyewitness accounts, how many witnesses can agree on anything)? The letters of Paul and other apostolic letters were written and then carried from place to place, and no doubt, ruined along the way and copied from memory or pieced back together. Accurately? Maybe and maybe not.These are just a few of the questions and discoveries of Bible scholars of today.
Now before anyone panics: relax. I’m not setting forth an anti-bible or a particular bias against “scriptura sola” (which means by scripture alone). If anything, my faith is unshaken as I uncover the variations and discoveries about the Bible: the presence of the Holy Spirit within me is untouched by modern science nor is it enhanced by Biblical narrow-mindedness.
Ok, here are a few facts and personal observations:
1) Herod (the Great) was actually assigned his role to be King of Judea by the Romans. In many ways, he was a puppet king. And although he built many great buildings during his 34 year reign, he was considered to be a madman and killed many of his own immediate family. Clearly, he suffered from paranoia. This is later confirmed by his order to murder the boy-children of Bethlehem. (On a side note, I have learned that this genocide of male children is not confined to ancient history, but has been repeated throughout history. One notable example is the story of 20,000 boys and young men displaced in the second Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005 and beautifully depicted through the documentary, the Lost Boys of Sudan.)
2) The Magi (and really, nowhere does it really say three except through the reference of three gifts), or magicians or astrologers or wise men or astronomers or whatever, made a journey based on their interpretations of the heavens and the prophecies carried through the ages and across nations. They studied, they read, they heard, they watched and then they acted. They made a HUGE journey based on their discoveries. They expended a great deal of time and money to get to where they were going. I’m guessing they figured everyone knew about it already, that is, those who lived near the event. But they didn’t. Herod was caught off guard and so were the “people of Jerusalem” (verse 3). The biggest juncture in Jewish history had happened and they missed it? How could that be? The Messiah was born and nobody knew about it except for a bunch of foreigners?
3) The star was exactly what? Really, a star? Based on our modern day knowledge, a star is a gigantic sun that is really, really far away. It doesn’t just “rise” and hover over a location. I mean, Earth is round (not flat as they imagined it to be back then). You can’t chase a star in the heavens any more than you can chase a rainbow. So, what was it? The shape and its placement in relation to other stars? Perhaps it was a super nova or a comet or some conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter? We’ll never know really. But they saw something. And as a result of what they saw, they packed their bags (which was probably a very large caravan) and took a very long journey (some scholars say up to two years).
So, what do I end up with? A mad king, three (or more) eccentric soothsayers and a celestial mystery.
What’s my take away? Today, we have quarks, the Higgs Bosun particle, Virgin Galactic (space travel by tourists), and 1,740,330 identified species of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, plants, and others. These things are no less amazing. Our world is full of natural wonders as well as unknowns. How would a primitive describe any one of the things that modern man has discovered or invented?
Will we be any better at recognizing the second coming of the Messiah? Or will we be like the people of Jerusalem? Or will we work really hard to explain away the wonder? Would an appearance in the sky be too much like the latest Sci-Fi movie? Would we miss the point. . . again?
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