I spent the last few weeks reading in the neighborhood of 500 pages on the Magi from different scholars and commentators. I found Michael Molnar's book The Star of Bethlehem: The Legend of the Magi very interesting. I'd have to say that "interesting" is the best word to describe what I learned about the Matthew Magi event. Interesting stuff for someone like me - a closeted science geek and an outed history and theology geek. The problem is that sometimes the interesting things of life do not always translate to practical help for the masses.
My problem this week as I prepared to teach was to allow these interesting facts and theories about stars, astrology, Hebrew midrashic tradition, Roman politics and ancient customs to eventually evaporate away in light of the story itself. Matthew didn't set about to write a science book, and though I believe Matthew to be a competent historian, he wasn't trying to give a detailed history of the Magi event, per se. He actuallly seems to take the opposite approach, seeing value in clothing them in mystery and intrigue. He states plainly his plan in the first verse of his book- to tell the story of Jesus, as the son of Abraham and the son of David. (And, as he shows us in time, the son of God.)
There are, no doubt, shadows of the Moses and Balaam stories in the Old Testament woven into the account of the Magi. I believe that to the first century Hebrew mind these references would have been easier for them to see, and therefore, easier for them to interpret. I avoided them altogether in my weekend message for fear that opening the subject in such a constrained time limit might only confuse people. The Moses parallels are the most obvious, primarily centering on the parallels between Herod and Pharaoh. Matthew connects Herod's infanticide (a Moses parallel) with the holy family's flight to Egypt and their return. It all seems to point to God's redeeming his people again as he did with Moses. We will learn as the story progresses in Matthew that this redemption is actually one of eschatological significance - the beginning of the final redemption for all who would follow Jesus. So, if you want, he's not just the new Abraham and David, but the new Moses as well.
Interesting for me, I guess. But I still think the main idea surrounds the fact that strange Gentile astrologers find the Messiah and worship him before God's people do. There's something big to that. It's also a highly political story that sets up the central political conflict between Messiah Jesus and his Kingdom and Herod (and all he represents) and his kingdom. They tried to kill him from day one, until he finally allowed them to have their wish. Then he died. Then he won.
On a completely different note, I just heard that the Cat Named Bruce website is now live at www.acatnamedbruce.com. Click the icon below to be magically transported there.