Apocryphal text sheds light on Wise Men story

Brent Landau spoke on the topic of "Christmas from the Wise Men's Point of View" in Cox Lecture Hall, located in Armstrong Browning Library Wednesday afternoon. Will Barksdale | Multimedia Journalist

By Courtney Sosnowski | Reporter

Many people, Christian or not, could tell you about the three wise men who followed a star from the east and presented the baby Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

However, the mere 12 verses in the Gospel of Matthew leave many details to question about these mysterious men. Brent Landau, lecturer in the department of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin shared a relatively unheard story about the Magi of the Bible, in his Thursday lecture “Christmas from the Wise Men’s Point of View.”

The lecture addressed the apocryphal text, “The Revelation of the Magi,” which gives the Magi’s account of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth.

“In a nutshell, [The Revelation of the Magi] is the longest and richest story about the Magi that survives from early Christianity, and it’s the only story that claims to be the Magi’s personal testimony on the coming of Christ,” Landau said.

Waco sophomore Christian Barrientos said he found the lecture insightful and full of surprising facts.

“Most people might not have the right conception because we’re blinded by modern versions of the story,” Barrientos said. “By reading the Bible and examining it and having a closer look at it you might realize and find something different that might have been lost through current traditions.”

Landau, a longtime lover of historical accounts of biblical stories, heard of The Revelation of the Magi in an obscure article. Upon further investigation, he learned that the only manuscript of the text resided in the Vatican library, written in an ancient language called Syriac. Fortunately, Landau had at the time just completed one year of study of this language at Harvard, and promptly got access to the text.

His translation and commentary of the manuscript have since been published in his book, “Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem.”

After examining the biblical account of the Magi, and observing what detail it does give, Landau outlined the story of the Revelation of the Magi. As the text goes, the Magi hail from a land called Shir, which Landau equated to modern-day China. These men had a prophecy handed down about a star what would signal the birth of God in human form.

That star, as is later revealed in the text, appears to be Christ himself. The text describes the Magi’s depiction of the extremely bright star, which speaks to them saying “Peace to you sons of my hidden mysteries.” The Magi then follow the star/Christ figure on a journey (presumably to give the Christ-child gifts). The star provides them with provisions and makes the journey “short and swift.”

“In Matthew, the star signifies the birth of the king of the Jews and shows the magi exactly where he was born,” Landau said. “So obviously it’s not a normal star, there are lots of theories about what this was, but the Revelation of the Magi does something that no other early Christian writing does in making them one and the same.”

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