Friday, January 05, 2018

When Did the Magi visit Jesus?

Until recent years, I took it for granted that, as we see in manger scenes, there was a traffic jam at the manger with animals, angels, shepherds, that annoying drummer boy . . . and the Magi, the “Three Kings” if you will, complete with camels, of course.

But then I noticed that Herod targeted two year olds in his slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem. And the Magi visited Jesus in a house, not at the manger.  So I joined those who deduce that Jesus was closer to two when the Magi visited him.

But, just after Christmas last week, in reading an Anglo-Saxon homily for Holy Innocents Day, I noticed an interesting alternative chronology from Aelfric.  He has the three Magi announcing Christ’s birth to Herod twelve days after his birth - how much this is history influencing the church calendar or the calendar influencing Aelfric’s history, I will let the reader decide. The three then visit Jesus no more than a few weeks after his birth.

Then Herod is called to Rome to clear himself of accusations before the Emperor, successfully it turned out.  When he returns, having found out the Magi withheld information after the birth of Christ from him, he then gives the infamous order to kill all the male babies of Bethlehem, two and younger.  Thus Aelfric attributes the two year delay in the order to commit mass infanticide to Herod’s trip to Rome, not to any lateness in the Three Kings’ visit.  Again, he has the Magi visit Jesus mere weeks after his birth.

I do not have any opinion on this question of which chronology is correct.  I think it plausible that the Magi first saw the star when Christ was born, and then discerning what it meant and then preparing and making the trip  resulted in a delay of many months.  Further, it may have been months after their visitation until Herod figured out he was tricked.  But Aelfric’s chronology sounds plausible as well.  But I confess this is not a question I have studied closely.

In any case, I present this puzzle of history to you on this Eve of the Epiphany.  If any have insight on this matter, feel free to comment.

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