Watch ABCNews broadcast story click to watch the videoclip here Transcript follows:
Landau said the rediscovered text described the Magi as practicing religious rituals, waiting for the Star of Bethlehem to appear. When the star finally did, they embarked on their journey to the City of David.
An ancient text called the “Revelation of the Magi,” has been rediscovered and tells a very different version of the Three Wise Men’s journey to Bethlehem.
“It ends up being the most complex, richest, most strange, the strangest story of the Wise Men to come out of Christian antiquity,” said Brent Landau, an expert in ancient Biblical languages and literature. “Until now, it had never been translated into English.”
Landau, who teaches in the Religious Studies program at the University of Oklahoma, translated the text from Syriac and published it in his book, “The Revelations of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem.”
The ancient text’s original author is still unknown, although it is written from the point of view of the Magi themselves. Landau tracked it down in the Vatican archives and believes it is about 1,700 years old.
“It’s an incredibly grand story,” Landau said. “So who the Magi are in this text is, they are descendants of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth. They live in this far eastern land. The text calls the land ‘Shir’ and from other ancient texts, it seems like the place it had in mind is the land of China.”
But the version of the Wise Men’s story in this text is strikingly different than the traditional one in the Bible, told in 12 verses in the Gospel of Matthew.
In the “Revelation of the Magi,” Landau said, the Star of Bethlehem not only led the Wise Men, but actually became the Christ child.
“The cave is filled with light,” Landau said, describing the transcribed text. “They’re kind of hesitant about this, but eventually the star…its light concentrates and reveals the small luminous human being…a star child, if you will…it’s Christ.”
Landau Says the Ancient Text Is a Lost Message From Early Christians
In this version, Landau said the most startling, and controversial, difference is what happened next in the story, when the “star child” spoke to the Magi.
“Christ tells them, ‘This is one of many occasions on which I have appeared to the peoples of the world,'” Landau said. “So this text may even be saying that there are no non-Christian religions because Christ is the revelation behind everything.”
Landau hypothesized that the text a sort of lost message about them from an early Christian community.
“I think the thing that stunned me the most was what it seemed to be suggesting about…the scope of Christ’s revelation, if you will,” he said.
We traveled to Bethlehem to track the mysterious journey of the Magi.
Shimon Gibson, a Biblical archeologist and author of several books, including “The Final Days of Jesus: The Archeological Evidence,” showed us the roads coming from the east that lead up to Bethlehem.
“There is one road, which goes all the way to China, and it’s called the Spice Route,” he said. “[It] sort of came up through the desert and would have been a common sight, I think, at the time of Jesus, to see tradesmen coming along with their caravans.”
Gibson acknowledged that the landscape described in the Gospel of Matthew is similar to what one sees in modern Israel, but it would be “impossible” to prove that the famed Wise Men actually traveled to Bethlehem.
By Michelle Healy, USA TODAY 12/6/2010
Now, a first-ever English translation and detailed analysis of a little-known eighth-century manuscript of a story probably written in the second or third century uncovers a far more substantial version of the wise men story
Brent Landau, a professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in ancient biblical languages, found references to a text about the wise men in writings from the Middle Ages and learned that a collector in the 18th century had discovered in a Turkish monastery a manuscript called “the Revelation of the Magi” with a narrative about the wise men. He gave it to the Vatican Library, where the document, written on vellum, a type of parchment made of animal skin, remains archived away in virtual obscurity.
As part of his doctoral dissertation at Harvard Divinity School, Landau spent seven years translating and analyzing the text, written in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic used by early Christians throughout the Middle East and Asia — and which he happened to be studying. He worked from both a 1927 published text in Syriac and the original document at the Vatican.
Landau’s book, Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men’s Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne) describes the Magi as an ancient mystical sect descended from Seth, the pious and virtuous third son of Adam and Eve. From Seth they inherited a prophecy of “a star of indescribable brightness” someday appearing and “heralding the birth of God in human form.” This same star had initially hovered over the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.
Among the book’s other revelations:
•The Magi are described as coming from a land called Shir, “located in the extreme east of the world, at the shore of the Great Ocean.” In other ancient texts, Shir is referred to “as a place where silk comes from,” says Landau, suggesting that the references were to China.
•In Syriac, the word Magi means “to pray in silence.” Landau says it has no relationship to magicians or astrologers, sometimes cited in stories today.
•The text names 12 Magi, not three, while other parts of the text suggest that “a group the size of a small army” traveled to Bethlehem, says Landau.
Other religion scholars who reviewed Landau’s work recognize the unique interest the wise men narrative holds.
Of the many early Christian documents recently discovered, Magi “is by far the most fascinating,” writes John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, in a comment on the book’s back cover.
“Landau is to be congratulated for bringing this important and unexpectedly influential work to light,” adds Jennifer Knust of Boston University School of Theology, in another comment.
Although the text claims to be personal testimony, “it seems unlikely that it could have been written by the Magi themselves,” Landau says. He cites a number of anachronisms, such as references to Christian writings recorded years after Jesus’ death.
Who then wrote the wise men story?
“One guess,” says Landau, “is some kind of religious community of Christian mystics.”
The fact that the Magi are described as standing for days at a time on top of a sacred mountain, visiting a purifying spring, and seeing visions after eating certain foods could suggest that this was a way for a community to talk about itself and give it some authority by putting it in the mouths of the Magi, he says.
In addition to offering a detailed account of the life and background of the wise men, the text sheds some light on how some early Christians experienced Christ, Landau says.
When they first encounter the long-prophesied star, the text says it initially appears in a celestial form that then transforms into a human form or “star child,” who instructs them to go to Bethlehem to witness its birth. Each of the Magi, in fact, sees the star child in a different form, with each vision representing a different time in the life of Christ. Nowhere in the text is the name Jesus Christ used to designate the Magis’ celestial guide, suggesting that they experienced Christ and became followers without ever knowing the savior figure by that name, Landau says.
This speaks to the “universality of Christ’s revelation,” says Landau, an Episcopalian.
What should everyday readers take from this retelling, especially during the Christmas season?
An appreciation for the “imaginative way in which early Christians engaged” the story of the wise men to make it their own, says Knust. They “loved this story enough to write this version.”
Christians carry on that same tradition today, whether through Christmas pageants, or songs, or art. “We continue to re-imagine the significance of the Christmas story in a way that is meaningful to the people,” she says.
An ancient rediscovered text called ‘Revelation of the Magi’ tells a very different version of the Three Wise Men’s journey to Bethlehem.
“It ends up being the most complex, richest, most strange, the strangest story of the Wise Men to come out of Christian antiquity. Until now, it had never been translated into English,” ABC News quoted Brent Landau, an expert in ancient Biblical languages and literature, as saying.
1,700 years old and written by an unknown author, the text talks of the event from the point of view of the Magi themselves.
“So who the Magi are in this text is, they are descendants of Adam and Eve’s third son, Seth. They live in this far eastern land. The text calls the land ‘Shir’ and from other ancient texts, it seems like the place it had in mind is the land of China,” said Landau.
This version is very different from the one in Bible, he said. In the newly found text, the Star of Bethlehem not only led the Wise Men, but actually became the Christ child.
“The cave is filled with light. They’re kind of hesitant about this, but eventually the star…its light concentrates and reveals the small luminous human being…a star child, if you will…it’s Christ,” he quoted the text.
The most startling difference is that the “star child” spoke to the Magi.
“Christ tells them, ‘This is one of many occasions on which I have appeared to the peoples of the world’. So this text may even be saying that there are no non-Christian religions because Christ is the revelation behind everything,” Landau said.
Shimon Gibson, a Biblical archaeologist, talked about the roads coming from the east that led up to Bethlehem.
“There is one road, which goes all the way to China, and it’s called the Spice Route. [It] sort of came up through the desert and would have been a common sight, I think, at the time of Jesus, to see tradesmen coming along with their caravans,” he said.
But he said it would be “impossible” to prove that the famed Wise Men actually travelled to Bethlehem.
Paul Wright, Biblical scholar and president of Jerusalem University College.
“There is something here,” he added.
“Coming from the east, into this land of Canaan, of Israel, that brings people home, to the place they’re supposed to be. Somehow they were coming to a place where they belonged.” (ANI)
This is the Huffington Post UK Culture’s Christmas sorry Epiphany story. It isn’t of course claiming anything about the “history” of what happened, but is a new strand in faith’s rich tapestry. It reminds me of one of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s points in his History of Christianity that the faith went east at least as early and far as it went west.
Three Wise Men following a star across the desert clutching their gifts for baby Jesus is one of the best-known images from the Nativity.
Now, an ancient document found in the Vatican has revealed a different and more in depth version of the Magi’s journey.
The mysterious ‘Revelation of the Magi’ document has been held at the Vatican for 250 years and has only now been translated from ancient Syriac by a university professor.
Brent Landau – an expert in religious studies from the University of Oklahoma – spent two years poring over the frail pages of the 8th-century manuscript. The document itsself is merely a copy of a text first written down almost half a millennium earlier.
The additional details and differences from the traditional story of the Three Wise Men based on the Gospel of Matthew are:
- Rather than being Persians, the travelers came from the semi-mythical land of Shir which is now associated with ancient China – making their journey even longer.
- The document claims there were ‘scores’ of Magi rather than just three, suggesting that several men visited baby Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew doesn’t specify an amount – the idea that it was three men arose from the number of gifts they are supposed to have delivered.
- The wise men are described a descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam.
- They belong to a sect that believed in silent prayer.
- The Magi waited thousands of years for the star to appear, which they believed would signal God had arrived in human form.
Professor Landau told The Times: “Somebody was really fascinated by the wise men to have created this big, long story and tell it from their perspective. A great deal of thought and imagination has gone into it.
“There are many details of strange rituals, praying and silence. There is a description of a sacred mountain and purification at a sacred spring.
“The detail is so great I wonder if it is the community’s actual practices that are being described. Nobody knows where Matthew got the story from so along with Matthew’s Gospel this is as close as you can get to the Magi.”
The Revelation of the Magi by Brent Landau is published by HarperOne.
Eighth-century script claims the ancient ‘Magi’ stargazers came from ‘as far away as China’
Daily Mail, 21st December 2011
They are one of the most recognised symbols of the festive season, emulated in nativity plays all over the world and whose imagery adorns the front of millions of Christmas cards.
However the three wise men who presented the newborn baby Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh could have been larger in numbers if a new interpretation of an ancient document is correct.
An eighth-century script has been translated into English for the first time and throws an incredible new light on the Christmas story.
The translation of the mysterious ‘Revelation of the Magi’ describes how the three wise men actually numbered over a dozen and came from a faraway land, possibly China.
The Magi was the term, used from at least the fourth century BC, for ancient stargazers who were able to read and manipulate the fate foretold in the skies.
The script also reveals how it was Jesus himself who was the famous star followed by the Magi.
Brent Landau, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma, spent two years translating the eighth-century text from its original Syriac.
The document has been held in the Vatican for 250 years and the story is thought to have been first told in the late second, or early third, century.
This takes it back to possibly just 100 years after Matthew wrote his Gospel – the only one to include the story of the Magi.
Matthew never mentions how many the Magi numbered; they are described as three wise men simply because there were three gifts.
There could have been several scores of them, according to the new translation.
The authors of the document claim it was penned by the Magi. However experts do not believe this to be the case and say it could have been written by their descendents, as it carries detailed accounts of their prayers and rituals.
Professor Landau thinks the sect that wrote it identified with the mystics.
The story tells how the Magi were descended from Adam’s third and righteous son, Seth.
It says they came from a semi-mythical place called Shir, which is on the eastern edge of the world – where modern-day China is.
Prof Landau said: ‘The story says that Seth passed down a prophecy that at some point a star would appear that would signal the birth of God in human form.
‘The Magi waited thousands of years, passing down the prophecy and then the star appeared where the Magi were.
‘It transformed into a small luminous human being who was Christ himself in a pre-existent, celestial form.
‘It is saying that Jesus Christ and the Star of Bethlehem are the same thing and Jesus Christ can transform himself into anything.
‘The star guides them to Bethlehem and into a cave where it transforms into a human infant who tells them to go back and be preachers of the Gospel.
‘Later the Apostle Thomas turns up and baptises the Magi and tells them to go into the world.
Timeline of an Ancient Text
2nd/3rd century: Original story written
8th century: Current manuscript produced
– For a millennium, it is unclear where the text was –
18th century: a collector finds the manuscript – written on a parchment made from animal skin- in a Turkish monastery
It was given it to the Vatican library and archived away into obscurity
1927: The Vatican publishes the text into Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic used byChristians in the Middle East ) but it is again overlooked and forgotten
2000s: Harvard Divinity School scholar Brent Landau finds the document and spends seven years translating the text from Syriac to English
‘The story does say that the Magi brought gifts to Jesus, but interestingly the text never tells us if they are the familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh.’
Prof Landau said it is unknown who wrote the text but added: ‘Somebody was really fascinated by the wise men to have created this big, long story and tell it from their perspective.
‘The Revelation of the Magi is part of the Christian Apocrypha and was written in the Syriac language that was spoken by Christians from Syria through Iran and Iraq.
‘There might have been a community who were using the Magi or its persona to get its religious perspective across.
‘There are many details of strange rituals, praying and silence. There is a description of a sacred mountain and purification at a sacred spring.
‘The detail is so great I wondered if it was the community’s actual practices that were being described.
‘There is much in the Revelation of the Magi which is not self evident why it is there.
‘Nobody knows where Matthew got the story from so along with Matthew’s Gospel this is as close as you can get to the Magi.’
In terms of the text itself, very little is known about its origins.
It is unclear who wrote it or when, though academics think it is an 8th century manuscript written from a story from the second or third century.
After, it is unsure where the text was for a millennium until a collector stumbled across it in a Turkish monastery in the eighteenth century.
The collector then transferred the document, written on Vellum, a type of parchment made from animal skin, to the Vatican Library.
It was then lost, archived away in Syriac until a Harvard student, Brent Landau, spent almost a decade translating the text.
Read more: www.dailymail.co.uk/