Revelation of the Magi by Brent Landau

For those of you scoring at home, I have been in a bit of a reading funk of late and so am attempting to read some books that are outside my recent reading habits. Carry On.

While on a visit to the local library I stopped by the Friends of the Library store.  I quickly spotted a book that I needed wanted to add to my home library.  As it happens I had no cash on me and the store has a rule that in order to accept credit cards their must be a minimum $5 purchase.  As a result I had to find a couple more books.

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem was one of those books I picked up.

Each Christmas, adults and children alike delight at the story of the kings from the East who followed the star to Bethlehem to offer gifts to the newborn Christ. While this familiar tale is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, another little-known version later emerged that claimed to be the eyewitness account of the wise men. This ancient manuscript has lain hidden for centuries in the vaults of the Vatican Library, but through the determined persistence of a young scholar, Brent Landau, this astonishing discovery has been translated into English for the very first time as the Revelation of the Magi.

Everything we know about the wise men is based on only a few verses from the Bible. With the Revelation of the Magi, we can now read the story from the Magi’s perspective. Readers will learn of the Magi’s prophecies of God’s incarnation from the beginning of time, their startling visitation in the form of a star, the teachings they receive from the baby Jesus, and the wise men’s joyous return to their homeland to spread the good news.

After returning home I decided, what the heck, and decided to just start reading.  It turned out to be a short and rather fascinating read. A bit esoteric and scholarly but intriguing.

There are basic three sections to the book and two elements.  The book is divided into an introduction where the author explains his interest in the story and how he came to translate this work; the translated document itself; and then a short conclusion.  The two elements are the story being translated and the message that Landau wants to offer..  Landau argues that the lack of specific reference to Jesus in the story and the universal elements involved have the potential to offer a more ecumenical or pluralistic path to Christianity.  Instead of seeing other religions as a threat and anyone who does not specifically believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ as heretical, Landaue argues that the story of the Magi could offer a different path.  A path where Chist comes to all people but in a mystical and universal way.

I think this is a rather ridiculous premise based on one ancient manuscript and a unconvincing one at that.  But you don’t really need to agree with the author to enjoy the book.  The introduction outlines in an accessible way why the manuscript was largely ignored for such a long time, how scholars have attempted to ascertain its date and why he believes the ending was added at a later time.

The manuscript itself is a fascinating glimpse into an ancient document and story.  The Magi here are fron the East and carry on an tradition handed down from Seth who received it from Adam himself.  The mystical group worships and seeks purity on a holy mountain handing down the wisdom from generation to generation.  It is to this group that the star appears and when the magi follow it into a cave the star turns into a child and beckons them to follow it to Bethlehem

The star-child is the Christ-Child and it leads them on their adventure miraculously feeding them and even flattening mountains along the way.  Once in Bethlehem they vist Jesus, Mary and Joseph and have another encounter with the divine light.  They then return home and  share their encounter with their own people.  The ending, which the author believes was added later, connects the story to the early church by having Saint Thomas visit and make the magi disciples sent to preach the gospel to the world.

Not being a scholar of the early church, there is not much I can add to the discussion of the issues surrounding the date, and impact on the early church, etc.  But the story itself is a fascinating, and at times fantastical, glimpse into the storytelling of the ancient world.  A very different take on the famous Christmas story.  The scholarly foundation should not put you off, however, as It is a quick and enjoyable  read.  So if you have an interest in apocryphal works of the early church or are just fascinated by the story of the magi you might want to check this one out.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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