Excellent blog, Walter, as usual! Some have called the theory of viewing Scriptures as you have suggested a form of “para-historical” interpretation, though I am still not sure what that really means. Your explanation seems more reasonable.
You may have seen some of the discussions about timing, given that Herod had children slaughtered 2 years old and younger (Mt 2:16), that it took as many as 24 months for the magi to arrive to where Jesus was. This would make some sense given they were presumably traveling hundreds of miles from Mesopotamia. The major difficulty with this is that Joseph and Mary would still be in Bethlehem with Jesus long after His birth.
And, in the bringing of those three gifts, it has been implied traditionally that there were three magi. The only thing the text reveals is three gifts. There may have been more or less magi.
The Journey of the Magi
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Everytime I see Herod’s name I am reminded of the fact that he had 15 male children. Of these he murdered 11 of them prompting a Roman governor to remark that he would rather be a pig in Herod’s sty than a prince in his royal palace. What a great father!
You raise some interesting points. I am not sure however how you reconcile your almost literal reading of Luke’s account (the Magi as 3 male astrologers) with your otherwise more historically bounded attitude toward biblical accounts. I wonder what your answer would be. I must also say that I am in agreement with Mr. Della’s comments about the timeline and the number of the people present. The most recent argument that has been put forward on the account of the Magi suggested that the word we translate as ‘wise men’ is actually gender neutral and given historical and social norms there is every reason to believe that women might have been in the Magi party. Here is the link: