I learned a lot this Christmas about what happened back in the day. The problem with most of what I learned is that it wasn’t necessarily true. It also may have not been false. It falls under the title of speculation, which can be helpful or damning. God gave us curiosity and imagination. They are to be used but used with care.
The sources of this knowledge were varied. One was the media presentation of the life of Christ called “The Chosen.” Another was a podcast. Another was a book being sold through a podcast. Then there were You Tube clickbaits. My biggest problem is that I did not personally view, read or listen to any of them and the reports I was getting were a bit confused. Still, it was food for thought.
Take, as an example, the questions about the wise men. The name “wise men” brought up some discussion, most of it superfluous. The term “magi” is more accurate according to the Greek and this is a term for what would have been considered scholars in the civilizations east of Israel. They were not “wise men” in the sense of gurus sitting on the top of a mountain or living in a cave and humming a mantra. They were the closest thing to scientists that those civilizations had. They studied the stars in what we would consider two modes, astronomy and astrology, but to them it was all the same. They investigated the natural sciences but because they did not have the scientific method it was mainly speculation.
All we really know about them is that they saw a star in the east, interpreted it as a special king in Israel and brought gifts. We don’t know how many there were. There is no mention of camels. We have no evidence that they represented three different races.
The real controversy in my house was the timing of their arrival. The current analysis is that they came two years after the birth. The basis for that is that Herod killed all the boys two years and under. Further evidence that they were not at the birth is the different words used in Matthew and Luke. Luke talks about a baby in a manger (Luke 2:12). Matthew talks about them going to a house and seeing a child (Matthew 2:11). They are different words that seem to be used of a newborn and an older child. These are interesting talking points and the evidence points toward the magi not being at the birth but since it is not clearly state we should not make it a matter of doctrine verses heresy.
Then there is the issue of the location of the birth. What is meant by “manger”? The marginal notes say it means “feeding trough”. That works for the three times it is used in Luke 2 but it is also used one other place.
(Luk 13:15 KJV) The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?In chapter 13 it seems clear that it refers to a stall. The Greek word is the same. It is only used in these four places. It would seem safe to say it was referring to a compartment in a place where the animals were kept. Again, intersesting but not an issue of doctrine vs heresy.
Another topic that never would have occurred to me involves whether Mary was alone with Joseph or whether there were others there to help with the birth. The women in my life say that Mary would have never had the baby without other women present. That could have been a midwife or possibly relatives of Joseph who lived in the area. Again, interesting but not theologically significant, at least to me.
So have I learned any thing? I am not sure myself. I have been forced to consider some issues that I was either aware of or were new to me. All of it helps us build a picture of an event that happened in history involving real people and the Word becoming flesh.
homo unius libri