Friday, December 17, 2010

Matthew's magi in the news


First, were there women among them?
Was a wise woman among the magi who followed Bethlehem's star?

By Patricia Rice, Special to the [St. Louis] Beacon
Posted 1:24 pm, Thu., 12.16.10

As St. Louis Christians set up their Nativity scenes and give church Christmas pageants, they may want to add a new character: a woman among the magi.

The figure of a woman would put their creche scenes on the cutting edge of a fascinating and fresh idea in serious biblical scholarship that is likely to get much more attention next year.

The professor, Dominican friar and priest used his command of Old Testament references and his ease with gender in ancient Hebrew words to suggest that one or more women may have been among the magi who visited the infant Jesus in the brief story told in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 2.

Viviano's full theory about the possibility of women among the magi will be published next year in "Studies in Matthew" by Leuven University Press, edited by another august biblical scholar Joseph Verheyden.

Viviano talked with the Beacon about his theory during his annual visit St. Louis.

Professor Viviano has some interesting ideas, which are worth reading. My thoughts in brief: (1) It is grammatically possible that one or more of Matthew's magi was a woman. The word is masculine plural, which in Greek allows for an all-male group or a group of mixed gender. (2) It's just a story. (3) If Matthew thought the magi included females, he didn't think it was important enough to mention directly. This issue has come up before and I have commented on it at greater length here and here.

Second, a quirky, but overall well-informed review of Brent Landau's The Revelation of the Magi in the Los Angeles Times by Nick Owchar. Excerpt:
A teacher at the University of Oklahoma, Landau discovered the "Revelation" not in a cave by the Red Sea but in the Vatican Library.

How did it get there?

He writes that it was among manuscripts collected in Egypt by G.S. Assemani (an 18th century orientalist working for the Vatican Library) who "brought it to Rome, where it resides today." Few have approached it, however, because most scholars say it has little historical value, he explains, and because the text is "preserved in Syriac, a language used by ancient Christians ... but one in which only a relatively small number of early Christian scholars are fluent." Landau says his translation of the "Revelation" (with the help of Cambridge scholar J.F. Coakley) is the first in English.

No matter what scholars might say of its historical value, Landau shows, with skill and authority, how the "Revelation" contains a valuable message of tolerance that is needed as much today as in the years of its composition.
And this is amusing and true:
Postscript: Landau's opportunity to translate such an interesting document makes me feel a little like Robert Langdon in "Angels & Demons," longing to get a look inside the Vatican Archives. How many more intriguing documents like the "Revelation" are out there somewhere? How many documents that might shape and expand our views are just sitting on a shelf?
More on Landau's book here.