New Testament scholar Brent Landau has translated this early Christian text into English for the first time in his new book “Revelation of the Magi”. The dating of the text is up in the air, but appears to have been written between the 3rd century and the 8th century of the Common Era. It provides interpretations of earlier varied traditions and also some new material, not present in other Christian writings.
In this first commentary, I am going to take you on a whirlwind tour of (Landau’s translation of) this ancient text, and will delve into the specifics in subsequent posts. Landau has divided the text into chapters and verses, which I will follow. So let’s have a seat at the table and see what’s for dinner.
1:1-2 – “About the revelation of the Magi, and about their coming to Jerusalem, and about the gifts that they brought to Christ. An account of the revelations and the visions, which the kings, of the great East spoke, who were called Magi in the language of that land because in silence, without a sound, they glorified and they prayed.”
This is a new interpretation of who the Magi might have been. The introduction redefines that the Magi were not Persian Zoroastrian astrologers, but were worshipers of the same deity as the Jews. Now they are called “Magi” because they worshiped and prayed in silence.
2. The Magi – Their Names and Lineage
The text identifies 12 names of “wise men and kings” that were called Magi. I won’t give the entire list but will list the first four, to make a point.
2:3 – “… Zaharwandad son of Artaban;
Hormizd son of Sanatruq;
Austazp son of Gudaphar;
Arsak son of Mihruq”
Not mentioned in the book by Landau , is a list of names very similar, almost identical to that, in the same order, in another Christian text. (I had mistakenly identified that this was from the “Cave of Treasures” but it is actually found in the Book of the Bee. The correction is appreciated)
From “Book of the Bee”
Zarwândâd, the son of Artabân.
Hôrmîzdâd, the son of Sîtârûk (Santarôk).
Gûshnâsâph (Gushnasp), the son of Gûndaphar.
Arshakh, the son of Mîhârôk.
Landau has graciously clarified this:
“The list of twelve Magi is in the “Book of the Bee” (a 12th century text), not the “Cave of Treasures.” The RevMagi and the CoT share a number of traditions, but not this one. In fact, this list of twelve Magi shows up in a couple other Syriac sources, which is one of the reasons I think it wasn’t originally part of the RevMagi. I made this point more clearly in the original footnote in my dissertation (available via my blog), but it ended up on the cutting-room floor for the Harper edition.”
A copy of the Landau’s dissertation can be found here. I am looking forward to reading it as I get a chance. Thanks again for your input, Dr. Landau.
2:6 – “And generation from generation, one by one, they received from the time of Seth, the son of our father Adam, because Adam revealed to his son Seth when he had him.”
We now learn that these Magi claimed to be descendants of Adam’s third son, Seth. Another thing not mentioned by Landau is that we have other groups from antiquity that claimed the name of Seth, the Sethian Gnostics, the Christian Gnostics such as the Valentinians, and the Mandaeans. I think that it is crucially important to remember this as we continue to move forward.
3. The Transmission of the Mysteries
The text tells how Seth wrote what he was told by Adam in a book, and then passed the book down to Noah.
3:5-7 – “And Noah [took] the books of commandments with him when he came out of the Ark, Noah also commanded the generations after him, who recounted his deeds and the hidden mysteries that were written in the books of Seth about the majesty of the Father and all the mysteries. And the [books,] and the mysteries and the speech were handed down in succession by tradition even until our fathers. And they learned and received with joy, and handed them down to us ourselves, and we also kept with love and fear their mysteries of the books and the secrets of the words.”
We now have a lineage of transmission from Adam all the way to the Magi.
The next post will continue with “4. The Prophecy of the Star”