The Investigative Reporter – Luke

Fact or fiction, the Gospel of Luke? Many have endeavored for centuries to prove or disprove the Gospel’s validity. Some have focused on the identity of the author of the unpinned writing, others on the content.

Who wrote the Gospel of Luke, the same author of the Book of Acts? Debate will continue, but there is one piece of evidence to consider. Among the first to document the identity of the author was Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus.[1] He named the author as the Gentile doctor Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul.[2] With a source this close, how likely is it that Irenaeus was wrong?

Credibility of a statement, the Gospel included, can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. Assumed to be Luke, the author’s first defining point of credibility is that his investigative report is addressed to a specific person identified as Theophilius, the same person as the Book of Acts, establishing both accountability and consistency. Very clearly Luke describes the basis of his investigation:

LK 1:1-4 “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)

Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation as being original eyewitnesses. Evidence of this can be seen in the quotes and in the parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark.[3]

Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 unparalleled parables (was it an illustration or a parable?).[4] Included, too, are the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; identities of his father, Zachariah and his mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; the naming of Gabriel, the archangel, and his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary; and Mary’s hymn of praise.

Focusing deeper, found only in Luke and Acts are two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the impetus for Joseph taking his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to an equivalent English word as “census” often imprecisely used in the Christmas Nativity story.[5]

Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular Roman history including Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip.[6] Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.” [7]

Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, the distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.

Resurrection day, witnesses are distinctively identified and quoted. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner headed home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend.[8] Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently.

Cleopas was incredulous how this stranger could not know what had just transpired in Jerusalem. He is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses. It would not be expected for Cleopas to name the witnesses to a stranger and Luke did not embellish the statement by naming them.

Truthful witness statements characteristically reflect information being recalled from memory in the sequence in which it actually occurred. Cleopas, who was not alone, consistently used the plural pronouns “we” and “us” combined with past and present tense perspectives. All are hallmark characteristics of an accurate, honest statement being recalled from memory in real time – based on the structure of his statement, Cleopas appears to be completely truthful.[9]

Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).

Continuing, Luke described the excited group being terrified when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears, quoted as saying “Do you have anything here to eat?”[10] Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.

Omitted seemingly key information can expose hidden insights. Missing is the name of Cleopas’ traveling partner; Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, all that astounding morning.

One reason is revealed in Cleopas’ statement. Chronicling what had transpired over the weekend unwittingly to Jesus, Cleopas ended at the point when he departed for home before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke’s omission is thus explained – being unaware of Mary Magdalene’s Resurrection encounter with Jesus, Cleopas could not truthfully include it in his factual quoted statement.

Why is Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus at the tomb omitted in the earlier chronology of Resurrection events? Luke had to be aware of it through his investigation by knowing Paul, contacts with Disciples and interviews of other witnesses.[11] He could have easily enhanced the Resurrection story by including the incident, but he didn’t – why?  There is a big clue of omission.

Mary Magdalene is mentioned only twice in the entire Gospel.[12] She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples. Just once before, she is identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry. Neither time can the information be directly attributed to Mary Magdalene herself and therein lies the possible reason for the omission.

Mary Magdalene as a witness was apparently not available to Luke. If he did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, then Luke chose not to include secondhand information of her experiences. Likewise a similar reason for Cleopas’ unnamed traveling partner – being an unavailable witness and with the information expected to be the same, consequently his or her identity is no longer important in his investigative report.

Peter is the only one called out as running to see the empty tomb – no mention of John who, in his own eyewitness Gospel, adds himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race.[13] Why was John not mentioned in Luke? Likely the same reason – Peter was an eyewitness source who recounted only his personal experience whereas John was not available to Luke and thus omitted. Nevertheless, John would be expected to include himself in his own eyewitness account.[14]

Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, corroboration by secular history and other Gospels, named witnesses,  quotes, credibility of statements, lack of personal opinions or injections, and ignored opportunities to embellish – all characteristics of a straightforward, true investigative reporter. If Luke’s report to Theophilus meets the standard of credible investigative reporting, what does it say about the validity of his account of the Resurrection of Jesus?

 

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REFERENCES:

[1] Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.i.html Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapters I.1, X.1, XIII.3, XIV.1, XIV.1, XIV.2 quoting Luke 1:2, XIV.3, XV.1, 3, XXIII.1. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies
[2] Colossians 4; Philemon 1; 2 Titus 4. Irenaeus, Heresies. Book III, Chapter XIV.1.  Aherne Cornelius. “Gospel of Saint Luke.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm>
[3] Swete, Henry Barclay. The Gospel According to St. Mark,  pp. xxxvix – xl, LXX, LXXII, LXXIV-LXXV. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of Mark.”  Crandall University. n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Mark.htm> “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Mark.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Luke.”&Ryrie Study Bible.  “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  “gospel.” ReligionFacts.com. 2016. <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm>  Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 45, 204.. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[4] Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  Crandall University. 2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. LXXIV, 83. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. 3rd Edition.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331>  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158
[5] Luke 2; Acts 5. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “aprographe <582>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0582.html>  “apographo <583>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0583.html>  The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. 1850.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=census&f=false
[6] Luke 2, 3. Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemoneuo <2230>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, & XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion. Book II, #22. The Complete Works of Josephus.  Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014. <http://www.livius.org/pi-pm/pilate/pilate01.htm> “legate.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/legate-Roman-official>
[7] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemon <2232>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2230.html>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV, Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, X, XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI; Book XX, Chapter XVIII.  Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.
[8] John 19. Luke 24:18 footnote Ryrie Study Bible.  “Cleopas.” Bible-history.com. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=43&sub=1173&cat_name=Bible+Names+A-G&subcat_name=Cleopas>
[9] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm>
[10] NET, NIV, NLT. Luke 24. CR Mark 16.
[11] 2 Timothy 4; Philemon 1; Colossians 4.
[12] Luke 8, 24. 
[13] Luke 24; John 20.
[14] Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  Fonck, Leopold.  “Gospel of St. John.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Volume 8.  New York:  Robert Appleton Company.  1910.   New Advent.  2014.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08438a.htm>  Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of John.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2014.  <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html>  “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. 2017. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm>  “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com.  Encyclopedia of biblical Christianity.  n.d.  <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John

The Veiled Royal Genealogy Fact

Anyone who reads the Matthew and Luke Gospel genealogies of Jesus of Nazareth can see they are listed differently – one works backward, the other forward and they are not identical. Thus the controversy that begins with King David and the interim generations down to the birth of Jesus leading detractors to say the lineage inconsistency proves the inaccuracy of the Gospels.[1]

Luke traces the lineage of Jesus back to David through his son Nathan, not Solomon, although like Matthew, he ascribes the lineage to Joseph.[2] Many experts believe Luke’s lineage to be that of Mary assumed by Joseph under Judaic Law covering her inheritance rights as a Jewish female only-child.[3]

Matthew and Luke genealogies have three points in common – they both trace to David; they have a common ancestor in Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel; and they meet again with Joseph’s betrothal to Mary.[4] In the end, both Gospels display genealogies in the House of David.[5]

Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence that demonstrates the royal lineage of Jesus is one veiled fact, one revealed through a rational approach. The archenemies of the Gospel’s message that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah were in the best and unique position to disprove his royal lineage in the House of David … but they didn’t.

Jewish sages unanimously agree the prophecies define the undisputed requirement for the Messiah is that he must be born in the lineage of King David. If the High Priest Caiaphas and the Jewish Council had simply demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth did not have royal legal rights to the House of David, it would have ended any speculation that Jesus is the Messiah – end of story. Both Gospel lineages would have been disproven.

Could the High Priest and the Jewish Council have easily proved, were it true, that Jesus was not the Messiah based on his lineage? They were at ground zero, center stage with full control of the Temple and its complete Jewish genealogical records dating back millennia.

All Jewish genealogies including those of Joseph and Mary were readily available in the Temple until it was destroyed by Rome in 70 AD, seven decades after the birth of Jesus.[6] Luke records that Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were clearly known by the Temple when, in compliance with the Law for a first born male, they paid a redemption price for Jesus to a Temple priest and as well as Mary’s own Temple purification sacrifice ritual.[7] Neither event would have been allowed if the family had not been vetted by Temple officials.

The archenemies of the Gospel’s message that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah were in the best and unique position to disprove his royal lineage in the House of David … but they didn’t.

Utmost religious importance was placed on Jewish genealogy for the specific purpose of ensuring the purity of the lineage of the priesthood.[8] Jewish historian Josephus challenged anyone who questioned his own heritage to check the public records.[9] As a former Priest and Pharisee insider, he referred to the Jewish genealogical records tracing his family ancestry back 2000 years – the era of Jesus back to the time of Abraham.[10]

To become the wife of a Priest, according to Josephus, a Jewish woman such as Mary was subjected to the scrutiny of her “genealogy from the ancient tables.”[11] Proof was required she was a Hebrew and Josephus points to the gravity of this requirement.[12] After the release of the Jews from Babylonian captivity, 565 priests were disqualified from the priesthood “having married wives whose genealogies they could not produce.” [13]

Hebrew genealogical records were not just limited to the land of Israel. Josephus stated they were tracked for all Jews living “at Egypt and at Babylon, or in any other place of the rest of the habitable earth,” recorded by the priests and prophets who lived there “with the utmost accuracy.”[14]

There can be no doubt that the lineage of Jesus in the House of David was known or could have been easily accessed by the Jewish Council in the Temple genealogical archives. A truism in the world of investigations is that when information is being intentionally withheld, it strongly suggests the information is not wished to be revealed.[17]

What is the likelihood the archenemies of Jesus, the keepers of all Jewish genealogical records and experts in Messiah prophecies, would have taken full advantage of the opportunity to disqualify Jesus as being the Messiah if they could have only exposed that the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth was not of the royal House of David?

 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Lippard, Jim. The Secular Web. 2004. “The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah.”  https://infidels.org/library/modern/jim_lippard/fabulous-prophecies.html> “Contradictions Part 6: Jesus’s Genealogy.” Finding Truth. 2011. <https://findingtruth.info/2011/03/11/contradictions-part-6-jesuss-genealogy>
[2] “Historical Commentary:  The Birth of Jesus.” Producer John Heyman.  Film, Event 3. HistoricJesus.com. <http://www.historicjesus.com/3/history.htmlNet.bible.org. Luke 3:23-38 footnotes 69 – 82.  Life Application Bible – New International Version (NIV).  “The Birth of Jesus” (Luke 2:1-20) History and Commentary.” Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton Illinois, and Zondervan Publishing House. 1991, 1790.  Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. Matthew 1:1 Luke 3:23 Footnotes.
[3] Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>  Maas, Anthony. “Genealogy of Christ.” Catholic Encyclopedia. 2009. Volume 61909.  <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06410a.htmClarke’s Commentary on the Bible. Luke 3:23.  BibleHub.com.  n.d.  <http://biblehub.com/commentaries/clarke/luke/3.htm>  Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Edinburgh:  T & T Clark.  1895. “Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.” Online Books Page. Pages ix, 39. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[4] Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38.  Dolphin, Lambert.  “The Genealogy from Adam to Jesus Christ” Idolphin.org. 2011. <http://ldolphin.org/2adams.html>
[5] Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.
[6] I Chronicles 1:24 – 2:10; II Chronicles 2:1-10; Ruth 4:18-21; Matthew 1:5; Luke 3:32. “Genealogy.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6577-genealogy>  “Siege of Jerusalem.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/event/Siege-of-Jerusalem-70>
[7] Luke 2. “First-born, Redemption of.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6138-first-born-redemption-of>  Edersheim, Alfred. Book II, Chapter 7. <https://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book207.htm>
[8] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book III, Chapter XII.2.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book 1, #6-7. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Genealogy.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[9] Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #1 and footnote t.
[10] Nehemiah 12:23.
[11] Josephus. Against Apion. Book 1, #7.
[12] Josephus. Against Apion. Book 1, #7.
[13] Ezra 2:61-62; Neh 7:63-64. Josephus.  Antiquity of the Jews.  Book XI, Chapter III.10.
[14] Josephus. Against Apion. Book 1, #6-7.
[15] Furst Rachel. “The Mishneh Torah – Maimonides’ halakhic magnum opus.” 2018. MyJewishLearning.com.  <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-mishneh-torah>
[16] Maimonides, Moses.  aka Rambam.  Mishneh Torah.  Ed. Yechezkal Shimon Gutfreund,  “The Law Concerning Moshiach.” Footnote #5. Sichos In English. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R. “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm>
[17] “Deception in Research Guidance.” University of Wisconsin-Madison|KnowledgeBase. 2016. <https://kb.wisc.edu/page.php?id=68286>  Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm> Lesce, Tony. “SCAN:  Deception Detection by Scientific Content Analysis.” LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogations, Inc. 1990. <http://www.lsiscan.com/id37.htm>  Gordon, Nathan J.; Fleisher, William L. Effective Interviewing and Interrogation Techniques. p12.  2011. <https://books.google.com/books?id=JuMzKpFu93IC&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=interrogation+if+they+didn%27t+answer+the+question,+they+just+did&source=bl&ots=V4cf3Z1kjl&sig=NeRLKyFKMRr66SWtUQxbLrByKrY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi_2Z3phb_aAhVBgK0KHWMQDOA4FBDoAQgtMAE#v=onepage&q=concealing%20information&f=false>  Napier, Michael R. Behavior, Truth and Deception. 2017. “Nonresponsive Subject.” p56. <https://books.google.com/books?id=eEUrDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT95&lpg=PT95&dq=Sapir+if+they+didn%27t+answer+the+question&source=bl&ots=95gjQFQYg9&sig=gUOEC7Aiq-yFgqUEA4VClHyzNhA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjspeHFkr_aAhVwjK0KHab-DF0Q6AEIRjAC#v=onepage&q=nonresponsive&f=false>

Why Are Mystic Magi in the Jewish Nativity Story?

Why do mystic Magi appear in an account written about a Jewish Messiah? Magi were scorned by Judaism for their mystical reputation.[1] How likely is it the Jewish author of Matthew would unnecessarily introduce the Magi…unless it was true?

MT 2:1 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” (NIV)

MT 2:1 “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem…” (NRSV)

Clearly not worried his reference to the Magi would ever be called into question by his contemporaries, Matthew’s account covered the Magi through 12 verses with at least 10 specific details.[2] He assumed his audience would recognize the Magi for who they were and the significance of their visit to Jerusalem.[3]

Matthew’s Greek text uses the word magos. Its Latin word equivalent is magus, its plural form is magi.[4] The word is sometimes translated into English as “wise men” – both are correct.

Babylonians, Medes and Persians viewed magos as an eclectic group of priests, physicians, teachers, soothsayers, interpreters of dreams, astrologers, and sorcerers. Not surprisingly, magi is the root word of the English word “magic.” It is easy to see how magi could be referred to as “wise men” – or just as easily, “mystics.”

Roman era Jewish society had a dual-perspective of magi. One was of the famed Daniel, a captured Israelite of royal descent whom Nebuchadnezzar placed into the elite Babylonian school of the Chaldeans which included an education in astronomy and astrology.[5]

Scripture says God gave “Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams,” a gift that landed him in Nebuchadnezzar’s royal council of wise men, the chakkiym.[6] Later, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel chief of all the magi, a Rab-mag.[7]

After the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire, Daniel’s “extraordinary spirit” again elevated him to a high level of government authority under Darius.[8] The main religion of the Medes and Persians during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus was Zoroastrianism. Its found, Zoroaster, was himself a magi.[9]

Setting the stage for the other Jewish perspective of magi began when Alexander the Great marched through Judea. The Greek Empire’s open-minded Hellenistic culture allowed the Jews religious freedom, but it also introduced Zoroastrianism intermingled with influences of the Babylonian chakkiym; its priests called magi. [10]

Over the coming decades the effects of Hellenism on Jewish culture was unavoidable much to the frustration of the Jewish Rabbis. Liberal philosophies of Hellenism permeated Jewish culture meanwhile Greek became the common language.[11] Next came the Roman Empire which was content to leave the prevailing culture in Judea alone.[12] 

As expert astronomers, the Magi used the legendary Babylonian astronomical science and charts to study of the motion of stars past, present and future. Their ability to plot upcoming cosmic events were scientifically predictive, not “mystical.” [13]

Toward the very end of the BC era a series of rare celestial conjunctions occurred, ones hard to ignore by astronomers – then or today. Witnessing just one such rare conjunction can be an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine the scenario where, in a space of just 5 years from 7-2 BC, there were 13 rare conjunctions including two triple conjunctions! [14]  

Zoroaster beliefs held that celestial events served as signs with earthly significance. Signs of a newborn king observed by the Magi were so awe-inspiring, they set out on a month’s long quest to find and worship him.[15] If these signs visible across the entire Middle East were of such great magnitude, then why were only three magi inspired to begin such a quest?  Matthew does not say there were only three Magi…a Christmas legend.

Matthew’s introduction of the Magi into the Nativity story has a full historical basis behind its setting. Not just anyone appearing on the door step of the King’s palace would expect to gain entry. Yet, when the Magi arrived unannounced, they had no problem gaining direct access to King Herod who gave them his immediate and full attention. 

Herod did not question the credibility of the Magi when they gave him the alarming news about the birth of a king of the Jews. Neither did the King’s Jewish religious council who, instead, pointed Herod to Micah’s prophecy saying a Jewish ruler was to be born in Bethlehem.

Believing the prophecy to be true, Herod invited the Magi back for another meeting to investigate the timing of the star, directed them to Bethlehem, and slyly asked for their help in finding this newborn king. Angered when they didn’t return, Herod’s reaction by killing all the children 2 years old and under in the Bethlehem district testifies to his belief in the truth of the Magi’s message about a newborn king of the Jews.

If King Herod, his royal Jewish religious council and the author of Matthew believed the credibility and message of the Magi, should others believe it, too?

REFERENCES:

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