The tale of the Magi is a familiar and beloved part of the traditional Christmas story: three kings from the East who followed the star of Bethlehem to offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn baby Jesus. But what does the Bible actually tell us about these mysterious visitors? The nativity scenes, the crèches, Christmas plays, the hymns we hear on the radio -- all of these are based on only a few verses found in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew provides a brief account of the Magi’s visit, yet leaves many basic questions unanswered. In fact, the story is so unlike anything else in Matthew’s gospel, scholars wonder what ancient story it was drawing from.
Now, an ancient text -- told from the Magi’s perspective -- reveals another, little-known version of this story. Written in Syriac, it has languished for centuries in the Vatican Library, but through the determined persistence of a young scholar, Brent Landau, this incredible discovery has been translated into English for the very first time. In Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne; November 2010; Hardcover), Landau provides access to this story from at least the 4th century or earlier, along with analysis and insight into who might have written it and why.
With Revelation of the Magi, we now have a window into an early Christian tradition and community that we in the West seldom encounter. Readers will learn of the Magi’s prophecies, a startling visitation in the form of a star, the Magi’s long journey to Bethlehem from the far East, their skeptical reception by Mary, the teachings they receive from the baby Jesus, and their joyous return to their homeland to spread the good news.
This rich narrative also raises larger questions about the mission of Christianity as a whole, issues which Landau explains “are of potential importance for anyone who considers herself or himself religious, spiritual, or simply interested in theological questions.”
This ancient version of the Christmas story is guaranteed to astonish and delight. All the drama and intrigue of the brief description of Jesus’ birth in the gospel of Matthew is filled out in greater, more colorful detail in Revelation of the Magi, offering for the first time the complete story of these beloved characters.
Of the many earliest Christian documents recently discovered inside sealed earthen pots or on forgotten library shelves, Revelation of the Magi is by far the most fascinating. Landau’s presentation -- bright and sharp as a gemstone -- emphasizes the unique challenge and radical depth of this ancient text’s theology.
~ John Dominic Crossan, author of The Greatest Prayer
Revelation of the Magi should be of interest to not only biblical scholars but also students of the Christian story who want to know more about these elusive fellows.
Author Brent Landau received his Th.D. from Harvard University and is an expert in ancient biblical languages and literature. He currently teaches in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Oklahoma, and lives with his wife in Norman, Oklahoma.
Return to the Patheos Book Club for more resources on Revelation of the Magi, including a book excerpt, discussion questions, and scholarly reviews of this compelling new book.
12/2/2010 5:00:00 AM