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Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131443
12/04/04 05:36 AM
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Berean Offline OP
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In traditional crib scenes the "Wise men" are usually present.

However, the Scriptures report in Matthew 2v11 that the visitors came to "the house." Any ideas about how the tradition developed that the wise men came to the crib, or why there are three wise men?

Or, do you think, the scene was never actually meant ot be historical, but just a summary of all the visitors?


"...that through patience, and comfort of the scriptures, you might have hope"Romans 15v4
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131444
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What was the original Greek word?

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131445
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oikia


"...that through patience, and comfort of the scriptures, you might have hope"Romans 15v4
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131446
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Roger,

Always an interesting subject, since I have a special personal attachment to the Magi (last year, I wondered aloud here as to why the Magi aren't emphasized more in our traditions, seeing that they were "of the East" and, logically therefore - to my mind at least, should peculiarly "belong" to our Churches smile ).

Quote
Originally posted by Berean:
In traditional crib scenes the "Wise men" are usually present.

However, the Scriptures report in Matthew 2v11 that the visitors came to "the house." Any ideas about how the tradition developed that the wise men came to the crib, or why there are three wise men?

Or, do you think, the scene was never actually meant to be historical, but just a summary of all the visitors?
I think "manger scenes" as they are typically erected should be considered as man's effort to visualize an event about which we have very limited information available. In that, they likely compress events into a single scene (note that, traditionally, many folks don't add the Magi into the scene until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. (I am no biblical scholar, so please forgive me any mis-statements in what follows wink )

Luke speaks of the shepherds being informed by the angel that the birth occurred that very day and he says that they found the Baby in a manger. Matthew's account of the circumstances involving the Magi is less precisely fixed. His Gospel only describes the birth, and (by inference from the meeting between them) the Magi's visit, as occuring during the time of Herod.

If you think about it, most of those traveling to Bethlehem for the census likely left shortly after and lodging would have been more readily available. One can surmise that Mary, Joseph, and the Baby had relocated to someplace more hospitable than the cave or stable, as soon as possible after Jesus' Birth.

Certainly, if the date of Epiphany is considered to have any real-time significance, two weeks would have passed before their arrival. That it might have been even longer could be inferred from Herod's caution in ordering the killing of all infant boys aged two or younger, to be certain that he covered all possibilities.

In essence, we'll never know with complete certainty, as least not in this life, just as we don't know precisely how many the Magi were in number. Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar are traditionally named, but folks have put other names to them. The Ethiopians speak of Hor, Basanater, and Karsudan; the Syrians nominate them as Larvandad, Hormisdas, and Gushnasaph; to the Armenians they were, anciently, Kagba, Badadilma, and Melkon.

More diverse than the names are the various numbers of them; they are depicted in various representations and traditions as being as few as 2 and as many as 14. The number 3 is most likely ascribed from the number of gifts they offered.

Many cultures have folktales that tell of someone (other than the expected entourage of guards, servants, etc.) who was supposed to travel with the Magi, but was prevented from doing so, by some circumstance or other, usually with consequences. Such "wannabe" Magi are usually associated thereafter with gift-giving, at either Christmas or Epiphany, in their endless search for the Child.

Along this line, in Italy, one finds "La Befana", a kindly old witch. Legend says that she lived alone in the hills. She noticed a bright star in the night sky; later, 3 richly garbed men stopped and asked directions to Bethlehem. When she said that she didn't know of any such a place, they invited her to join them in their search; she declined, as she was too busy.

After the Magi left, Befana suffered regrets about her choice, remembering her own child, who died very young. She baked cakes and cookies for the Baby, took her broom (to help the Baby's mother clean), and set out to find the caravan. When she became lost and tired, angels appeared and gave her broom the power of flight, to speed her search. She roamed the world, hunting for the Baby and still does. And each year, on the eve of Epiphany, whenever Befana comes to a house where there is a child, she flies down the chimney to see if it might be the One she seeks. It never is, but she leaves a gift anyway.

Henry van Dyke, an early 20th century writer, crafted a short story, "The Other Wise Man", which related another legend. In it, Artaban, a fourth Magi, was late in arriving to meet the others, who had already left. By the time he came to Bethlehem, they and the Holy Family had left to flee Herod's wrath. Artaban wandered the earth for 33 years, searching and using his gifts (jewels) to benefit others. When he encountered Christ, face-to-face, on Golgotha, his fortune was gone and he wasn't able to ransom Him. As Christ died and earth was shaken by a quake, Artaban was struck by a stone falling from a building. As he lay dying, he heard a voice from Heaven, saying, "What you did for each of these, you did for Me."

Babushka, an elderly Russian folklore character, appears in two variants of such tales. One mirrors the Italian tale of the initially selfish and later repentant La Befana; the other is a variant on van Dyke's story, except that Babushka reaches the stable, sorrowing that she has given away all her gifts and is consoled to find that what she did for others, she did for the Baby.

Among both the "Saint Thomas Christians" of India (Malabarese and Malankarese Catholics and Orthodox) and the Chaldeans and Assyrians (where the Magi likely had their roots), legend has the Magi encounter the Apostle Thomas some forty years later, when he arrived in their lands to evangelize. According to tradition, the three, then elderly, were converted and ordained, dying shortly afterwards.

The feasts of Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar are kept in the Coptic, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Chaldean, Assyrian, Malabarese, and Malakarese Churches on January 1, 6, and 11, respectively.

The relics of the Magi are believed to be enshrined in the magnificent Cathedral of Cologne, which was constructed specifically to provide a suitable repository for them.

The Troparion of Christmas in the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, used in Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite and in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, reads in part:

Quote
:
Your birth, O Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship You, the Sun of Justice, and to recognize You as the Orient From On High. Glory be to You, O Lord!
There's a good discussion of traditions associated with the Magi in the online (early 20th century edition) of the Catholic Encyclopedia at Magi .

Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131447
12/04/04 01:47 PM
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Wow! You do know "your" Magi wink .
Thanks for the valuabe information.

Roger


"...that through patience, and comfort of the scriptures, you might have hope"Romans 15v4
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131448
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Stick around, Roger, and you'll find that our Neil knows an awful lot about an awful lot! And if there's something he doesn't know off the top of his head, he knows where to find the information, or at the very least HOW to find it.

What a gift he is to us all.

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131449
12/06/04 12:16 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by Irish Melkite:
Roger,

Always an interesting subject..

Many years,

Neil
A fascinating description Neil. Fresh air to my heart.

You may already know this...

From my own research into other things… it has seemed to me that Magi (from whence we form the word ‘magic’) seems to indicate ‘wide men’ in the sense of philosophers, educated, etc… men who were often priests (but not necessarily). Honored in government it would be surprising that a few would travel without protection of armed guards.

While many place the Magi as Chaldean - I believe the term is used generically. If there were really 3 or 14 physical men who came - is not the point ot the scriptures. The image portrayed is that all three major religions (religion WAS philosophy at the time) were predicting a Son of God to come. The ‘word’ of God - which was God speaking himself into creation (in other words the things of creation are an image of God) would be spoken perfectly (as befitting God) one day. That spoken word - would be a human (which best fit’s the image of God) and a perfect human.

All major religions held this to be true. And so we find that all kings laid claim to that So of God status… or al least hoped one of their sons would be that man.

This - one man - who would one day come to be - would be the perfect spoken image of God - so as to be God himself.

As time progressed… all things pointed to the Jewish nation as being the place within which this one would appear. Divination was what pointed there… or .. . the signs of nature itself. The ‘method’ by which they divined the will of God.

While the common people believed in many gods - the educated knew the ‘many gods’ to be speaking of the One God. As example = Egypt was monotheistic. It is our own misinterpretation to believe that they believed in many gods. Nope - only one - who manifested himself in many ways.

Be all that as it may - the major three religions of the time - all predicted this Son of God - and - while each king wanted it to be himself - still - each of the three major religions (Greek, Egyptian, Roman) pointed to this small Hebrew race as - the place. This - tiny - nation+religion.

And so the visit of the three wise men paying tribute - is an image (prophetic for sure but also may have substantial physical reality) of the gentile nations (the entire known world) coming to Christ even as the Jews did not.

That is all I know.

I would assume the number three to be symbolic… as it has great symbolic meaning as a prophetic signature of an act of God. That is - something that God himself caused to happen. On the other hand - seeing as how the wise of gentils DID expect this Son of God to come to the tiny and annoying Hebrews - I would also imagine that some would actually go there to see it.

One must keep in mind that although we say ‘three major religions’ each religion has its many off-shoots. And so some kingdoms would not allows their wise men to go (it was not politically correct) and some kings would allow it. So I imagine that there is a likelihood that - some one - did go there to see if they could find this - Son of God. That seems like a human and practical view of things.

Certainly the story is not false. I have never ever run across stuff in the NT that was made up in order to make a point. The apostles did not embellish (although it is clear that later copyists did). So while the incident related certainly has meaning and reality (not necessarily the type of reality we would like to force upon it) I have not run across anyone who could really bring this incident into clear focus.

Your own details - do help.

-ray

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131450
12/06/04 01:17 AM
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Ray,

I was looking for something this evening in The Christmas Book by Father Francis X. Weiser, SJ, of blessed memory.

Father was, among other things (e.g., chaplain to the von Trapp family), an Austrian-American Jesuit and student of Christian folklore and customs. Last year, our brother Bill/Ghazar brought Father's writings about Christmas customs to the attention of the Forum and I recently resurrected those on another thread. Here's what Father had to offer about the Magi, including symbolism associated with their number.

Quote
The Magi -- The name "magi" is not a Hebrew word but of Indo-Germanic origin, meaning "great, illustrious." St. Matthew mentions the term without explanation because it was well known to the people of Palestine. The Magi originated in Media (Persia) and their caste later spread to other oriental countries. They were a highly esteemed class of priestly scholars, devoting themselves not only to religion but also to the study of natural sciences, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and astrology. In several countries they were members of the king's council.

Quite early in the Christian era a popular tradition conferred on the Magi of Bethlehem the title of kings. This tradition became universal at the end of the sixth century. It was based on Biblical prophecies which described the conversion of the pagans and, although not referring to the Magi, was applied to their visit, as, for instance, in the following texts:

"The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts."--Psalm 71,10.

"The kings shall walk in the brightness of thy rising....They all shall come from Saba, bringing gold and frankincense." --Isaias 60, 3-6.

Where did the Magi come from? St. Matthew gives a general answer: "Wise men from the East." Was it Persia or Arabia? Speaking in modern terms, it could have been any one of the countries of Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or India. It has never been exactly determined from which of these countries they came.

Neither has their exact number ever been established. The Gospel does not tell us how many they were. The Christians in the Orient had a tradition of twelve Magi. In early paintings and mosaics they are represented as two, three, four and even more. In the occidental church a slowly spreading tradition put their number at three. This tradition became universal in the sixth century. It does not seem to have any historical foundation but was probably based on the fact of the threefold presents which the Magi offered. Another reason for the number three was the early legend that they were representing all humanity in the three great races of Sem, Cham, and Japhet. This particular legend is also the reason for picturing one of the three as a member of the black race.

The book "Collectanea et Flores," ascribed to St. Bede the Venerable (735), records an early legend of their names and appearance: "The first was called Melchior; he was an old man, with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Baltasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man."[8]

There is an old legend that when many years had passed the Magi were visited by St. Thomas the Apostle, who after instructing them in Christianity, baptized them. They were then ordained to the priesthood and later made bishops. It is said that once more the star of Bethlehem appeared to them--reunited them toward the end of their lives. "The city of Sewa in the Orient" is given as the place of their burial.[9] The legendary relics of the Magi were brought to Constantinople in the fifth century; one hundred years later they were transferred to Milan, and in 1164 to Cologne under Emperor Barbarossa (1190). Their shrine in Cologne was, and still is, the center of many pilgrimages

endnotes:

8. "Sanctus Beda Venerabilis De Collectaneis" (Collected Notes). J. P. Migne, "Patrologia Latina," vol. XCIV, col. 541.

9. "Divine Office," Proprium of the Archdiocese of Cologne, Feast of the Translation of the Magi (July 23rd), second Nocturn.
Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131451
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Roger, Penthaetria, and Ray,

Thanks for the kind words. It's always nice to be able to post about something uncontroversial, particularly when it's a topic which is dear to you. (Don't ask, I don't know why wink , although in thinking back, I attended a grammar school that originally served Boston's German Catholic community. In my time, there were still remnants of that influence, including the good Sisters of Saint Francis of Glen Riddle (PA), who were mainly German or of German descent. The Germans have a strong atachment to Epiphany and the Magi and I suppose the Sisters may have particularly emphasized the subject, without my being especially aware of it).

Anyway, for those with a sweet tooth who are always looking to add more calories eek , I just accidently discovered this recipe on-line at the German Information Center.

Dreikönigskuchen (Three Kings Cake)

I had this as a child (baked at "Little Christmas" by my best friend's wonderful German grandmother, may her memory be eternal). I haven't thought of the cake in years, but the returning thoughts are delicious biggrin and they prompt me to track down Frankie, with whom I shared most of my first 2 decades of life and whom I haven't seen now in almost 2 decades frown .

Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131452
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Hey everybody!
What a coincidence I found this topic today, as just yesterday after mass the book of the month, on sale was a new edition of a XIV century book by a Carmelite monk called John of Hildersheim (that might be slightly wrong, I am quoting from memory, as I don't have the book with me) which is a study that he did about the Magi. It has the history of each and they're journeys etc, and some very interesting parts about contemporary Bethlehem, what sort of a stable the blessed family would have slept in etc, which animals would have been there and so on.
Just as interesting though, are the dozens of images of the Magi that accompany the book, which is really what tempted me to buy it. Absolutely fabulous!
2005, as you know the World Youth Day will be in Cologne around the topic "We came to Worship him."
There is no such thing as coincidence!

Happy Saint Nicholas Day.
Filipe

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131453
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Originally posted by Filipe YTOL:
a new edition of a XIV century book by a Carmelite monk called John of Hildersheim ... which is a study that he did about the Magi. ...

Just as interesting though, are the dozens of images of the Magi that accompany the book,
Filipe,

Happy Saint Nicholas Day to you as well. I hadn't heard of this book previous to your posting.

I just was reading a bit about it on-line and see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has an original copy and reprinted it back in the 50s. It apparently has just been reissued in the edition that you purchased. As you suggested, the illustrations from woodcuts sound as though they alone made the book worth buying.

Enjoy it - I have to go now and write to Saint Nicholas, see if he'll bring it to me, maybe on Little Christmas biggrin

Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131454
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I too have long been fascinated by Biblical accounts of the Christmas story and recently I began wondering about the common arguments you hear, that the Magi visited the Christ child much later than the shepherds, possibly even 2 years. In St Matthew 2:11 we read "And entering the house , they found the child with Mary his mother". The Greek word used here for child is paidion, and the definition includes infants ! While two different words are used to describe the manger in St Luke (phatne) and the house (oikian) in St Matthew, I wonder if the root word of oikian, which refers to family could in fact be harmonized to possibly include the family at the manger. Yes, I know I'm pushing the point.

In addition, in St Matthew 2:16 we have King Herod ordering the massacre of all boys in the area of Bethlehem under 2 years of age. Interestingly in this instance their has been a great deal of focus on the high number (almost 2 years) rather than the under, which would obviously include infants.

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131455
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Originally posted by Lawrence:
While two different words are used to describe the manger in St Luke (phatne) and the house (oikian) in St Matthew, I wonder if the root word of oikian, which refers to family could in fact be harmonized to possibly include the family at the manger. Yes, I know I'm pushing the point.
Dear-in-Christ Lawrence,

A manger is a feeding trough, manger is to eat in French, this word came to English from French. When Mary bore Our Lord she laid him in a manger a feeding trough where the feed would have been hay. Phatne comes from phateomai in Greek, I eat.

Oikos and oikia mean a house where someone lives, differing from a domos, a building.

Scripture says our Lord was placed in a manger because there was no room elsewhere.

Matthew does not have the birth narrative hence the mention is of the visit to the house. Mark has neither. Luke has only the birth narrative and in it the usage of phatne twice, where she lay him and where the shepherds beheld him. John has neither account.

Similarly the Lukan accounts in Slavonic use the word "iasli," an eating trough, from iasti, to eat.

Phatne and oikia are two different things.

Tony

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131456
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Tony

Thanks. Fr Pat McCloskey at Ask A Franciscan states "Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus was placed in a phatne (Greek word for “manger” or “feeding trough”) but gives no details where that phatne was. In the fourth century, St. Helena had a magnificent church built over the cave said to be the birthplace of Jesus". My question is, if the Holy Family were living in a cave or stable where the manger was, could it under any circumstance be referred to as an oikian ?

Re: Visit of the Magi in Scripture #131457
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Quote
Originally posted by Lawrence:
Tony

Thanks. Fr Pat McCloskey at Ask A Franciscan states "Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus was placed in a phatne (Greek word for “manger” or “feeding trough”) but gives no details where that phatne was. In the fourth century, St. Helena had a magnificent church built over the cave said to be the birthplace of Jesus". My question is, if the Holy Family were living in a cave or stable where the manger was, could it under any circumstance be referred to as an oikian ?
Lawrence,

People seem to confuse manger with stable. They are not the same thing. I don't know the history of the depiction of the location of the manger in western history but I have heard of attributions to St. Francis of Assissi. In the East the traditional depiction that is most common is that of a cave, such a depiction seems to be be ancient. Currently in the West it seems most common to depict the manger in a stable building.

To try to locate the manger in a house, oikia, seems to be an argument from silence. Since it does not say otherwise, it could be. That seems to be a slippery slope.

The Evangelist makes it clear that there was no place for them in the inn and that because of that he was laid in a manger. It is possible that the animals were kept in a house. However I don't recall ever seeing that proposed for this. If you have please inform me.

Please note that the Holy Family travelled to Bethlehem for the census. Above you say "if the Holy Family were living in a cave or stable where...." They did not live there, they merely lodged there.

In my opinion we should look to what the Church has provided us over the centuries. In the Byzantine East we say it was a cave. There are other scriptural elements from the OT, IIRC that mention animals, these would have been in the stabling place, wherever that was, cave or otherwise.

Further, as far as I recall, most agree that the arrival of the Magi was later. Hence the use of the different words for different things. If you consider the age of those Holy Innocents ordered to be slaughtered it was up to two years later. Of course, the narrative implies it was in Bethlehem too. A bit confusing I know.

I hope this helps.

Tony

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