Questions Surrounding Jesus’ Birth/Part 9

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}
The Magi

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.

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The Magi

Dr. John Ankerberg: Now, in the Christmas Story, there are some things that have been embellished by tradition that need to be corrected to stay true to the facts.

Dr. Edwin Yamauchi:[1] Well, first of all we have to dispense with certain popular Christmas ideas about the Magi from the crèches and Christmas cards and Christmas carols. First of all, the New Testament text does not call them kings; it does not tell us that there were three, but that’s an inference from the fact that there were three gifts. And the Magi were not necessarily wise men.

Dr. John Ankerberg: You wrote an article on the Magi and the essence of that article was, they are not fictional characters; Matthew wasn’t putting them in as part of a legend, but they are actually historical. Tell us why you came to that conclusion.

Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: The word Magi is the Greek plural of the word Magos and originally this was a Persian word. And in the Persian tradition, Herodotus tells us in the fifth century–Greek historian–these were the Medes who served as priests and diviners for the Persians. But by the fourth century in the Hellenistic period the word had come to mean astrologer. There is a very strong tradition of astrology as a science that developed out of Mesopotamia and this was then transmitted to the West to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews.

Dr. John Ankerberg: There are some modern scholars who have claimed that the Magi are fictional characters created by Luke and added to enhance the Christmas story. But Dr. Yamauchi says there are good reasons for believing they were real people. Why? Because as was just pointed out, the Magi were astrologers and astrology was condemned by Moses in the Old Testament Law. Therefore, it would not have enhanced the story of Jesus’ birth but been embarrassing to the early Christians to include the Magi. So why did Luke do so?

Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: Well, we believe, or I believe, that this occurred. It’s not a Midrash, as some scholars suggest, but something which actually happened and which is a wonderful anticipation of Gentiles being brought into the Kingdom of God. And the irony is, of course, that these Gentiles from the East, by perhaps a misguided sense of astrology, nonetheless thought that something wonderful was happening in Judea, that a King was being born who was to be worshipped with gifts, were willing, under limited knowledge, to take action and to bow down to this newborn baby, when Herod the Great, who had his scholars advise him of the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah was going to be born in Bethlehem, didn’t move a foot or half a yard to do anything about this. Rather, he wanted to kill this infant born in Bethlehem.

Dr. John Ankerberg: We have seen that, contrary to the conclusions Peter Jennings gave in the ABC Special, there is a lot of historical and archaeological evidence that undergirds and validates the information given in the Gospels about what happened when Jesus was born.

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  1. Dr. Edwin Yamauchi: Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. One of the leading experts in the United States in Biblical archaeology and the history of the Christian religion. Ph.D. in Mediterranean studies, focusing primarily on the study of ancient languages. While studying in Israel he participated in the excavation in Jerusalem uncovering parts of the marble pavement of the ancient Herodian Temple which was destroyed during the days of Jesus. He is the author of Persia and the Bible, The Stones and the Scriptures and The Archaeology of the New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor

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