APOLOGIA (25) – How many magi were there?

– Anastasios

Objection 1: It is not really sure how many of the supposed Magi were present at the birth of Jesus and this leads us to think that the Gospels are not really reliable.

Objection 2: All these stories seem more fairy tales than historical and reliable fact.

On the contrary, in Matthew 2:1-12, it is said: “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod,  behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’”

I answer that the Gospel of Matthew does not specify the number of the magi. The exact number is not really important. But according a tradition based on the number of gifts that were presented to the Baby Jesus, they were three. They were given the names of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

Reply to objection 1: The Gospels are an account of the main facts of the life of Jesus with the purpose of presenting his message of salvation. The exact number of the Magi is not a fundamental historical fact and its absence does not change the reliability of the Gospels.

Reply to objection 2: Indeed there are many elements that suggest to us that we are not talking of “fairy tales” but of reliable historical information. Take for example the start mentioned in the passage above by Matthew. It was regarded by many scientists as just a fairy tale, a detail to make the story more palatable in the fictional framework they believe the Gospels to be. Already the great astronomer Kepler believed that the star was an historical event, not just a fictional element. In modern times Grant Mathews, professor of physics at Notre Dame University (USA) has carefully studied this event. In an article by Jessica Sieff called  Bethlehem Star may not be a star after all it is told where his research has led him: “Studying historical, astronomical and biblical records, Mathews believes the event that led the Magi — Zoroastrian priests of ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia — was an extremely rare planetary alignment occurring in 6 BC, and the likes of which may never be seen again. During this alignment, the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn were all in Aries, while Venus was next door in Pisces, and Mercury and Mars were on the other side in Taurus. At the time, Aries was also the location of the vernal equinox. The presence of Jupiter and the moon signified the birth of a ruler with a special destiny. Saturn was a symbol of the giving of life, as was the presence of Aries in the vernal equinox – also marking the start of spring. That the alignment occurred in Aries, Mathews said, signified a newborn ruler in Judea. ‘The Magi would have seen this in the east and recognized that it symbolized a regal birth in Judea,’ ultimately leading them in search of the newborn ruler, Mathews said. Based on his calculations, it will be 16,000 years before a similar alignment is seen again — and even then, the vernal equinox would not be in Aries. Running calculations forward, Mathews couldn’t find an alignment like the one known as the Bethlehem Star going out as far as 500,000 years.” So, even if it was not technically a star (but the Gospel writers were not astronomers, they use the vocabulary available to them) it was an extremely rare astral event.




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