I've been good. I've not been doubting any of the Christmas stories over the past few weeks. Well, not doubting them in public anyway. But now we come to Epiphany and the visit of the Magi...
Who were these guys? And most importantly, did any wise men from the East actually come and visit the baby Jesus having followed a star to Bethlehem? Or is this just a myth?
On the face of it, it sounds like a myth. For a start, three of the gospel writers make no mention of this incident, only Matthew includes it. Then, there is the oddity of the star - the wise men see it and travel to Jerusalem. Only after they've asked about the baby king and are told to go to Bethlehem, does the star apprently give any guidance.
Also, if you look into it, you'll find that the pre-Christian god Mithras was visited by Magi from the east at his birth. Given that there are an awful lot of similarites between the stories about Mithras and those told about Jesus, might it not be that some stories had been muddled together in the oral tradition, and by the time Matthew heard it the story said that Magi visited at the birth of Jesus?
But supposing it did happen... Who were these guys? Not Jews, that's for sure. If they were star-gazers from the East, chances are they were Zoroastrians. Or possibly Hindus or Buddhists.
I read an interesting (and highly dodgy) book some time ago called 'The Lost Years of Jesus' by Elizabeth Prophet (new-agey type, her husband was possibly a cult leader) which supposedly presented the evidence that Jesus had gone on a pilgrimage to the east duing his lost years (the gospels say nothing of him between the ages of 13 and 30). Most of the book is nonsense, but there was one slightly compelling bit of reasoning why this should be. The reasoning went as follows: if the Magi came to see Jesus as a child, surely they would have come back to check up on him in later life. Apparently there was a tradition in certain Buddhist circles of identifying the 'chosen one' (who will grow up to be Dali Lama or equivalent) at birth, but not taking them away from their home for training until they are about 13. Perhaps Jesus was identified as a chosen one and trained in the east before returning for his ministry... This would explain some paralles in the teaching of Jesus with some earlier Hindu texts (although the parallels all fall in the gospel of John, so maybe John knew the Hindu texts, not Jesus). Anyway, I'm not totally convinced by the reasoning in this book, even if it was interesting. But the point remains, why don't the Magi return later in the gospel story?
Anyone got any insights here?