Monday, December 24, 2018

How many wise men?

'TIS THE SEASON: Were there more than Three Kings? (BBC).
Thirty years ago there were 50,000 Christians in south-eastern Turkey speaking a dialect of Aramaic - the language of Christ. Now there are 2,500. Talking to one of them, the BBC's Jeremy Bristow learned that instead of Three Kings, there might actually have been 12.
If we wanted to be pedantic, we could say that there weren't any kings. The Gospel of Matthew just refers to "magi." It doesn't say how many there were. We just infer there were three because they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gender isn't even specified. "Magi" could be read as all male or as a mixed-gender group. (Past PaleoJudaica posts on Matthew's Magi are here and many links, plus here, here, and here.)

But we are not pedantic, are we? And later tradition promotes the magi to kings, gives them names, and specifies their number: three sometimes, but also twelve. And the recently rediscovered Syriac apocryphal text, The Revelation of the Magi, gives their number as twelve and more. The Revelation of the Magi is a very long work, but you can read a detailed summary of it by its re-discoverer, Dr. Brent Landau, here. And there's more on it here and links.

Also, let's not miss that this article is actually about a modern Syriac scribe, a rarity these days. But one I hope we will be seeing more of in a more peaceful Middle East.

Peace on Earth.

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