[Vision2020] The Three Kings, a Star Child, and Universal Religion

nickgier at roadrunner.com nickgier at roadrunner.com
Wed Dec 29 10:46:53 PST 2010

Good Morning Visionaries:

This is my column/radio commentary for this week. For people in the Middle Ages Christmas lasted at least 12 days.  (Just think of what retailers could do with a gift every day for 12 days!) The Adoration of the Magi is celebrated on Jan. 6--Epiphany--so we have lots of celebrating to do yet.  

These days all of us have a few epiphanies, but this Epiphany was the realization that the baby Jesus was allegedly the human form of God, born of a woman who has been essentially worshiped by many as a Goddess.

The full version is attached and you can read all my Christmas columns at www.home.roadrunner.com/~nickgier/XmasColumn.htm  Remember that "X" is a Greek letter that early Christians used for their Savior so there is nothing blasphemous about it at all.

Happy Epiphany and Best Wishes for the New Year,



As early as the Second Century, a Syrian Christian author penned a remarkable work entitled The Revelation of the Magi. It was written in Syriac, a language related to Aramaic, Jesus’ own tongue. Scholars of ancient Near Eastern languages rarely get any press, but Brent Landau, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma, has now made a popular version of his doctoral dissertation into a best-selling book. 

Landau’s book has received good press and he has appeared on several talk shows during the Christmas season. I guess I was not surprised to read that the first e-mail to the Diane Rehm show was from a fellow named Justin who said: “This writer has no hard facts, only vivid imagination.” 

The implication of Justin’s post is that the only hard facts about the Wise Men are the 12 verses in Matthew 2.  Historians and Bible scholars worth their salt, however, question whether there is any historical basis for any of the birth stories.  In a letter to me conservative Bible scholar F. F. Bruce wrote that when British historian W. M. Ramsey defended Luke census, he "unwisely damaged his well-founded reputation.”  See my article “Serious Problems with Luke’s Census” at www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/census.htm.

The biblical authority for the Magi’s book was Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Professor Landau describes Seth’s prophecy: “A star of indescribable brightness will someday appear, heralding the birth of God in human form.” The most striking aspect of the star is that it is the cosmic Christ himself.  The Magi refer to the star as “his star” not just “the star” (Matt. 2:2). In Plato’s Timeaus God created “souls equal to the number of stars and assigned each soul to a star” (41d-e). 

In the Magi’s own country the Star Child appeared to the them in a mountain cave and told them that he was to be born in a far away land. The Magi set out on their long journey and the Star Child protected them from danger and miraculously restored their provisions.

Because the star is tied directly to Adam, the father of all humanity, the Magi’s Christ is a universal savior not tied to any particular religious tradition. In The Revelation the star-child (not yet identified as Jesus Christ) says that he has come “to fulfill everything that was spoken about me in the entire world and in every land” (13:10), and the Magi tell Herod that star child “has worshipers in every country”(17:5).

Until late in text the Star Child has no name and is referred to only as the incarnate son of the Father. When Apostle Thomas comes to Shir to baptize the Magi and their people, only then is the word Jesus Christ used frequently. This has led Professor Landau to conclude that this last section of the text was added by editors concerned about misunderstanding Christianity as a universal revelation not related to Abraham, Isaac, and David.

Much ink has been spilled about the Star of Bethlehem as an actual celestial event.  Was it a Supernova or was it a conjunction of planets? The latter lasts only as long as the planets converge in their orbits.  A Supernova would move as the stars do, slowly through the cycle of the heavens, not offering much specific direction. 

For at least a third of the year the Magi would have been traveling East not West. Only when a star rising in the East reaches its zenith could it be said to be “western leading,” as we sing in the carol “Three Kings of Orient Are.” Furthermore, no heavenly body stops suddenly and remains over a specific place. We are obviously talking myth and miracles not astronomical events. 

Finally, the Magi claim that they only they can see the star, and it seems to disappear for them as soon as they arrive in Judea. If they still had it in view, they did not need to visit Herod to ask about Jesus’ whereabouts, and only after that visit does the star reappear and guide them to the cave near Joseph and Mary’s house. 

According to modern cosmology we are all made of star dust, so we are all star children. Let us all celebrate Epiphany on January 6, the date that Christians set aside for the adoration of the Star Child by the Three Kings of the East. But I also think that we should adore all children, for as Sophia Fahs says, “Every night a child is born is a holy night.”

Nick Gier taught religion and philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years.
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