August 14, 2014
Who Were The Magi?
by Brent Landau
Of all the characters who appear in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, the “Three Wise Men” are by far the most fascinating. Even someone who has never cracked open a Bible is very likely to know about the Wise Men, the star they followed and the gifts they brought to the infant Jesus on the first Christmas. But the story of these figures is found only in Matthew among the four canonical Gospels, and leaves many questions unanswered. Who were these mysterious foreigners? Where exactly did they come from? What was their star? And were there even three of them, since Matthew never gives a specific number, only tells us that there were three gifts?
Many early Christian writings attempted to provide answers to these questions, but one stands out as truly exceptional. Known as the Revelation of the Magi, it is a complex, rich, and strange narrative that purports to be the Wise Men’s personal testimony about the birth of Jesus. According to this writing, the Wise Men (or better, Magi) are mystical sages living at the eastern edge of the world, guarding an ancient prophecy about a coming star that will signify the birth of God in human form. The appearance of the star, their miraculous journey to Bethlehem, and what became of them afterwards — all of these events are presented in vivid detail in the Revelation of the Magi. There are no other early Christian writings that provide such a complete explanation of these mysterious figures.