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Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem
 
 

Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem [Kindle Edition]

Brent Landau
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Review

Of the many recently discovered earliest Christian documents, Revelation of the Magi is by far the most fascinating. Landau's presentation bright and sharp as a gemstone emphasizes the unique challenge and radical depth of this ancient text's theology. --John Dominic Crossan, author of Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography and The Greatest Prayer

The fascinating story of the Wise Men from the East who came to see baby Jesus is presented, for the first time in English, in a remarkable new version based on an ancient Syriac text, and the result is a tale that is astonishing, delightful, and theologically sophisticated. --Marvin Meyer, author of Gospels of Mary

This lovely text, skillfully translated and accompanied by expert commentary shows that early Christians approached the Christmas story with refreshing creativity. Landau is to be congratulated for bringing this important and unexpectedly influential work to light. --Jennifer Knust, author of Unprotected Texts

Product Description

“Astonishing, delightful, and theologically sophisticated.” —Marvin Meyer, Griset Professor of Religious Studies, Chapman University

Theologian Brent Landau presents the ancient account of Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, the three “wise men” who journeyed to Bethlehem to greet the birth of Jesus. The Revelation of the Magi offers the first-ever English translation of an ancient Syriac manuscript written in the second to third century after the birth of Christ and safeguarded for generations in the Vatican Library. Following in the footsteps of Elaine Pagels and her exploration of the Gnostic Gospels, including the controversial Gospel of Judas, Landau delivers an invaluable source of information to a world interested in learning more about the Nativity and the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1794 KB
  • Print Length: 176 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; 1 edition (2 Nov 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003V1WRYC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #357,498 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By RBSProds TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Four REVEALING Stars! This unusually fantastic story is not the traditional Christmas season story of the Three Wise Men bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh and seeking the Christ Child. This is the first English translation of the only known manuscript of the apocryphal "The Revelation of the Magi": a lengthy document written in the Syriac language probably by at least 2 authors. It had been relatively unknown to the general public until found by author, educator, and theological research expert Dr. Brent Landau in the Vatican archives. The entire book is a very scholarly work which is divided into: an introduction dealing with how the author located and translated the document; the translation of "The Revelation of the Magi" itself with 32 relatively short chapters; and then conclusive commentary, analyses, and questions. These Magi, although their origin may differ, seem to generally travel the same path contained in the synoptic Gospel of Matthew and the general trajectory of: following the "star"; encountering Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; and ending with their journey home. But the wildly-miraculous specifics vary far beyond what is in traditional Christmas plays and the Gospels. Indeed, "The Revelation of the Magi", goes as far back as Genesis and as far forward as an encounter between the Magi and one of the disciples of Jesus evangelizing the Gentiles, years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The document's Nativity chronology between the Magi and the Holy Family is highly unusual and suspect. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  53 reviews
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BEYOND THE BIBLE: AN ANCIENT REVELATION OF THE MAGI 9 Nov 2010
By RBSProds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Four REVEALING Stars! This unusually fantastic story is not the traditional Christmas season story of the Three Wise Men bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh and seeking the Christ Child. This is the first English translation of the only known manuscript of the apocryphal "The Revelation of the Magi": a lengthy document written in the Syriac language probably by at least 2 authors. It had been relatively unknown to the general public until found by author, educator, and theological research expert Dr. Brent Landau in the Vatican archives. The entire book is a very scholarly work which is divided into: an introduction dealing with how the author located and translated the document; the translation of "The Revelation of the Magi" itself with 32 relatively short chapters; and then conclusive commentary, analyses, and questions. These Magi, although their origin may differ, seem to generally travel the same path contained in the synoptic Gospel of Matthew and the general trajectory of: following the "star"; encountering Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; and ending with their journey home. But the wildly-miraculous specifics vary far beyond what is in traditional Christmas plays and the Gospels. Indeed, "The Revelation of the Magi", goes as far back as Genesis and as far forward as an encounter between the Magi and one of the disciples of Jesus evangelizing the Gentiles, years after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The document's Nativity chronology between the Magi and the Holy Family is highly unusual and suspect. Those adhering to the strict interpretation of the Bible (Sola scriptura) may want to avoid this version of the wise men which may expose them to its divergent religious views within the document and in the author's astute probing theological questions: although this mostly 'first-person plural' story uses many well-known synoptic biblical thoughts & prophesy. Those of a more 'liberal Biblical bent', other believers, non-believers, and other religions may be interested and astounded by this unusually fantastic story and outlying apologetics and commentary. Very Definitely Recommended as an impressive intellectual feat of translation, analysis, and scholarship, with a strong caution to strict biblical-interpretation Christians as possibly too far-fetched and controversial for them & other modern-day Christians. In the end, as in my case, curiosity may win out. An AMAZING story. Four APOCRYPHAL Stars! (Reviewed as an Amazon.com Kindle digital download: across Mac, text-to-speech, and iPhone modes.)
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fun New Testament Midrash 14 Dec 2010
By Nathan P. Gilmour - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When I discovered Midrash as an undergraduate Bible minor, I was immediately fascinated. The Rabbinic practice of expanding upon the Biblical text, providing details and linking characters based on linguistic connections (the old Rabbis did not believe in linguistic coincidence) seemed to me, someone freshly interested in postmodern philosophy and reader-response literary criticism, as evidence that those impulses were neither novel nor illegitimate but simply forgotten in the heady days of the Enlightenment. (I've since made peace with the Enlightenment, but I still think that the best of what we call postmodern has roots in Rabbinic and Scholastic practices.) When in seminary I discovered that our library had a multi-volume collection of Rabbinic Midrashim, I made a point of visiting those volumes every chance I got, and although I never did work them into my thesis, they were a companion to me all through my seminary years.

The Revelation of the Magi, although it's a Syriac Christian text rather than an Aramaic Rabbinic text, has the same impulse as do those wonderul Midrashim: they take a tale of only twelve verses, a story whose characters have no origin save a direction (east) and a title (Magi) and whose plot tails off without any concern for what happens to them after they leave Bethlehem (T.S. Eliot poem notwithstanding) and crafts a wonderful and fantastic (in some older senses of both of those words) narrative that, until recently, remained untranslated from Syriac, waiting in the Vatican Library for Brent Landau to come along and put it in my hands.

Because my own scattershot history-reading always informs my Bible-reading, I've assumed for some time that the Magi from Matthew must have borne some relation to the Magi in Herodotus, the old ruling class of the Persian Empire. In my own imagination, their appearance, even had they not mentioned the phrase "King of the Jews," would have made Herod quite nervous: after all, he had just been installed as King of the Jews by Marc Antony at the culmination of a bloody war with the Hellenized Parthian Empire. No doubt Herod would have recognized that the Magi were prominent persons in that still-looming empire, and when they started proclaiming that a new "King of the Jews" was on the way, he predictably took that as a threat to his own precarious throne.

The Magi in Revelation of the Magi (RM), it turns out, are not those Magi. Using etymology that Landau cannot discern in Syriac or Greek, RM explains to the reader that they're called Magi because they pray in silence. The text is not unaware of the Persian Magi or that the term Magi had come to mean simply "sorcerer" in popular usage. In fact, they have to deal with the inhabitants of Jerusalem's mistaking them for those Magi when they arrive in the city. But these Magi do not come merely from east of Bethlehem or from "the east" connoting former Persian lands; these Magi come from Shir, a legendary land at the far Eastern extreme of the world, a place where Seth, the third son of Adam, traveled with his aging father and learned the secrets of true worship lest they be lost in the fallen world. These Magi have lived near The Mountain of Victories and kept Adam's secrets in The Cave of Treasures of Hidden Mysteries for generations, waiting for the appearance of the star that Adam prophesied would bring them salvation from the evils of the world. And so they do, for generations, until a star appears to them while they're in the cave.

So that folks will want to read this book, I'll refrain from further plot summary, but as the story develops, and as the Magi travel from Shir to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, the Syriac writer(s) weave throughout the story phrases and motifs from the New Testament, demonstrating an exquisite artistry with the sacred text that is a delight to read even for those who "know how the story ends." And to prove that old texts have their own warped sense of humor, there's even a baby-switch gag in which Mary panics because she sees one of the Magi's mystical vision of Christ and thinks that he's kidnapped baby Jesus. Of course, when she finds the real Jesus back where he should be, the infant gives her a long speech providing her anxious soul comfort. (Yes, you did just read that. You really want to check it out now, don't you?)

Landau's translation, whose endnotes provide an exhaustive set of New Testament cross-references (which are not as useful because Harper saw fit to cut the pages unevenly for archaic feel rather than for endnote-checking ease), does not shy away from familiar King-James-flavored constructions, and the experience is a genuinely enjoyable Midrash on a familiar mini-episode from the New Testament.

Were this review simply of Landau's translation and scholarly apparatus, I would have few reservations. However, his introductory and concluding essays make some moves that I really ought to call into question. In the midsection of the story, when the star appears to the Magi and beckons them to Jerusalem, the mystical Christ speaks about his omnipresence and ability to appear to the folks in Shir:

And I am everywhere, because I am a ray of light whose light has shone in this world from the majesty of my Father, who has sent me to fulfill everything that was spoken about me in the entire world and in every land by unspeakable mysteries, and to accomplish the commandment of my glorious Father, who by the prophets preached about me t the contentious house, in the same way as for you, as befits your faith. (13:10)

Landau's footnote to this verse as well as the volume's concluding essay point to this as evidence of an early "theology of the world's religions" and speculates that the final episodes in RM might have been later scribal addenda geared towards taking the sting out of such an intellectual novelty. The problem I see with Landau's approach is that he seems to apply a very modern understanding of "faith" without giving any lexical justification. In modern times, of course, phrases like "interfaith dialogue" and "faith-based organizations" are relatively commonplace: "a faith" in this language-game is Islam, Christianity, or something bearing resemblance to them, and there are a plurality of "faiths" in the world. In legal systems that recognize a plurality of incommensurable "faiths" or "religions," such a use makes perfect sense, but in an intellectual context that knows syncretism but not pluralism, such a move seems strange.

Landau's use of "faith" has some English attestations in the Middle English period (OED places one such use in the fourteenth century but does not find another until the mid-sixteenth), but I could not find any such use indicated in Danker's Greek-English lexicon, and I wish Landau had provided some evidence that Syriac as a language was in fact making late-medieval moves rather than just assuming that fifth-century "faith" was the sort of nineteenth-century "faith" that he seems to assume. More plausible, I would think, would be something related to the ancient use of the Greek pistis to signify a complex relationship between political loyalty, existential orientation, and public confession. After all, that use of "according to his faith" is already present in the Pauline literature, and there's less of a stretch involved if one assumes (yet) another Pauline echo rather than imposing modern-era religious pluralism on the ancient text.

One ought not judge a book by its front-matter, and in the spirit of letting the old book stand on its own, I can recommend this text for a fascinating look into the Midrashic mind of early Christianity. For the sake of disclosure (and to explain the post title), HarperOne did contact the CHP hosts about reviewing this book, and I did receive my copy free of charge. My review here, as in all my book reviews, is the truth as best I can tell it, and I did not think differently or pretend to think differently because I got a new book.

Cross-Posted from The Christian Humanist Blog.
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enter wise guys, stage east 3 Dec 2010
By Kevin Fuller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What a wonderful Legend! An apocryphal lost book recovered from the Vatican archives just in time for Christmas 2010!

This is the story of the Nativity, yet not told in the third person, rather in the first, from the point of view of the Magi themselves.

I will not go into the history of the book as the author does, but will cover some of the highlights. The Magi are not magicians from Persia, but are 'silent prayers', descended from Adam and Seth. Sprinkled with tantalizing theological tidbits (there is no original sin), the text summarizes the trek of the Magi from their 'country of the farthest East' to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem. Christ is revealed to be pre-existent, as is the Nativity Star. I will not reveal the origin of the Star, but will leave it to the reader to discover for himself. But I will say this...what a fascinating read!

Much here to digest, as the story is written simply, yet covers much complex Truth.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both scholarly and highly readable 22 Dec 2010
By Catherine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book gives a very good scholarly view of this apocryphal text, while also being easy to read (no easy task!). The translation is highly accessible, and very heavily footnoted in a non-obtrusive way that further illuminates the text. The introduction and conclusion provide additional food for thought and are a fascinating look into the realm of ancient textual research. They also provide an insightful take on some possible meanings of the text and why this text is especially relevant now. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh perspective on the Christmas story or an interest in early Christianity.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 20 Jan 2012
By Mary A. Holzmeister - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I didn't know what to expect after reading an interview with the author which made the book sound farfetched, but this book's story is amazing. The author is very good at explaining his research on trying to date and authenticate the main document he used to write the book, and he is great at detailing other references which helped explain aspects of the book and the story. I never felt like he was in any way "reaching" or "stretching" any facts or elements about the story to reach its end result - which by the way, is kind of mind blowing! The story of the Magi, their preparation for the events that would change history, their description of the trip to Bethlehem, and their re-telling of their conversations with all involved, for me, had a feeling of truth about it. For those of us that don't have access to Vatican documents and can't translate Syriac, thank you Mr. Landau!
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The Revelation of the Magi goes much further than this, claiming that the revelation of Christ is actually the foundation of all humanity’s religious beliefs and practices. &quote;
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having an experience of Christ’s presence is much more important than being a Christian. &quote;
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The case of the Magi, then, raises the possibility that Christ has appeared to many people and yet not revealed himself as Jesus Christ. &quote;
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