Christmas Day has passed us by. This much is - hopefully - common knowledge.
Chances are it is much less known that, for untold millions, Christmas does not end with the stroke of midnight on December 26th. They believe the holiday lasts until January 6th; the Epiphany on which three Magi visited Jesus Christ and his parents shortly after the former’s birth.
Far less known is any evidence which substantiates this story.
“There are not, take note, three magi in the Gospel of Matthew, the only one to mention magi at all. That was a later legend, probably based on the magi bearing three gifts. Matthew just says magi, plural. He doesn’t number them. And he probably introduces them to connect the story of Jesus to the story of Daniel, whom Matthew is modeling some aspects of Jesus after,” Dr. Richard Carrier, peer-reviewed author of ‘On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt’, says to me.
Carrier goes on to mention that “both the nativity and the empty tomb stories Matthew developed using Daniel as a reference...Daniel is the only scripture that mentions magi. The Herod story likewise is assimilating Jesus to the legend of Moses, updating the Moses nativity with contemporary characters and circumstances. Herod is thus simply taking the role of Pharaoh. Matthew is in effect creating new, updated scriptures this way.”
Joseph Atwill wrote the bestseller ‘Caesar’s Messiah’. He believes that Jesus was conjured by Roman authorities who sought out a religion capable of pacifying rebellious subjects.
“Nothing is known about the origin of the three magi,” Atwill tells me.
Not much is known about Jesus’s life between the time he was born and when he visited Jerusalem’s Temple at age twelve. Why is this?
“Because for mythical heroes, the childhood of the hero was rarely of any importance or interest. His amazing birth and then coming into his kingdom are all that mattered,” Carrier explains.
Atwill relates that “the only goal of the authors in creating Jesus’s fictional childhood was to link it typologically to Moses. The authors did record history, as there was none to record.”
Consider that during the years between Jesus speaking in the Temple and his Nazarene ministry work, one struggles to find any solid leads on his life story.
“It’s a made up story,” Carrier says. “Indeed, we only have one story of a Jesus at twelve because Luke, and Luke alone, wanted a symbolic narrative where Jesus would be the same number of years as the tribes of Israel (adapting the age symbolism Mark had imported using the daughter of Jairus instead). Otherwise, Matthew goes directly from his birth to his ministry.”
What about other books of the New Testament?
“Mark and John don’t even have the birth; they start their stories with Jesus already a man and starting his ministry,” Carrier continues. “The only reason Matthew added a birth story was to assimilate Jesus to Moses. Luke simply reworked Matthew’s birth story because he wanted to say different things with it (which is why Luke’s version contradicts Matthew’s on almost every substantive particular).”
Crucifixion was a common method of capital punishment in Jesus’s day, and this is how he is said to have died. How did the story of his resurrection after three days in a tomb arise, though?
Atwill answers: “Returning from the dead was a common motif for gods of this era and the authors of the Gospels included this detail to show that their character was divine.
“Jesus rose on the ‘third day’ to mimic the passage in Hosea ‘in the third day he will raise us up.’”
The story of Jesus Christ has raised the spirits of more people than can be measured via numbers and commas. It is not for anyone to demand that another person discount strongly-held principles simply because there is no proof for them.
Of course, one should realize it was far easier to believe in myths amid technologically primitive eras. In our age of rapid communication -- which places bevies of information at the fingertips of billions -- being told to believe in the impossible will elicit less compliance with each passing year.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at email@example.com