Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Los Reyes Magos

In a few days we will celebrate Jesus' birthday. Again. [Footnote] 

Remember the story? Pregnant Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem. No place to sleep. Cold night. Jesus born in a barn. Visiting shepherds. Couple of days later the arrival of three wise kings, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In Dutch the '3 Wise Kings' are named the '3 Wijzen en/ of Koningen uit het Oosten'. Translated in English '3 Wise Men and/ or Kings from the East'. Last week I discovered something strange. Strange to me. In Spanish these 3 men are called 'Los Reyes Magos de Oriente'. Translated in English the 'Magos Kings from the East'. In Spanish these three Kings (Reyes) from the East are 'Magos': wizards, magicians or wise men. They have added a connotation of sorcery or magic. Very strange to my Dutch ears. New to me!

Back to the sources. What does the Bible say - in the New Revised Standard Version? Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12 [bold added by JD] 
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." (...) When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

The quote above is the only source in the Bible giving an account of some 'wise men' paying homage to the new king of the Jews. There were three gifts but this source doesn't tell that there were three men. They could have been kings but that's not for sure. They were "wise men". The original Greek text speaks of 'magos'. These 'magos' visited Jesus.

What are 'Magos'? Who were they? They were Zoroastrian priests. As part of their religion these priests paid particular attention to the stars. They were astrologists. People who think that there's a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world. Their practice of predicting seasons, events and people's lives made them not only wise but wizards and magicians too.

Quote Wikipedia on 'Magi':
The word mágos (Greek) and its variants appears in both the Old and New Testaments. Ordinarily this word is translated "magician" in the sense of illusionist or fortune-teller, and this is how it is translated in all of its occurrences except for the Gospel of Matthew, where it is rendered "wise man".

Summarized. Who visited Jesus a couple a days later? 'Magos' from the East paying homage to Jesus and offering him three gifts. 'Magos' who themselves observed the star of Jesus. A star that they followed until it stopped over the place where Jesus was. I guess the translator in Dutch and English were afraid that we could not carry the (painful?) truth that young Jesus was visited by illusionists or fortune-tellers. The 'magos' had to be wise. 'Magos' as scientific astronomers and not vague astrologists.

What a lovely treasure :) to unfold. Remember my image of last week: "language is for me like a handful of stones"? Don't you think so too?

Footnote. Better: In a few days "we" - people inspired by the Christian culture - will celebrate Jesus of Nazareth's birthday. Not all individuals of species 'homo sapiens' join this party. More exact, most people on planet Earth don't celebrate Jesus Christ's birthday. Nor Christmas. 

1 comment:

  1. O objetivo de um ano novo não é que nós deveríamos ter um ano novo. É que nós deveríamos ter uma alma nova - [Gilbert Keith Chesterton]

    Feliz Natal :D