Mystery of the Magi Solved? An Interview With Fr. Dwight Longenecker By AL PERROTTA for The Stream
It’s one of those biblical stories guaranteed to generate a smirk from the anti-Christian scrooges. Indeed, it does seem fantastical: Magi from a distant land cross the desert bearing gold, frankincense and myrrh for little baby Jesus. Toss in a magical star that guides them, and who wouldn’t be suspicious?
Yet, Stream contributor Fr. Dwight Longenecker has done something rather wonderful. He actually studied the scriptures, dug deep into the historical background, and solved the mystery of the Magi. Yes, they were real and he tells us who they are in a phenomenal book called Mystery of the Magi: The Quest to Identify the Three Wise Men.
We were able to grab Fr. Longenecker during this busy holiday season to ask him about the Magi. The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
The Stream: Your subtitle is ‘The quest to identify the three wise men.’ What sent you on your quest?
I was asked to write an article about the Magi and decided to look at the Old Testament prophecies in Psalm 72and Isaiah 60. They indicated that the magi came from Sheba, Seba, Ephah, Midian and Kedar. Sheba and Seba are the same. This is the Kingdom of Sheba from which the Queen of Sheba came to pay homage to King Solomon. Sheba was located in Southern Arabia — present day Yemen. Midian, Kedar and Ephah are tribes settled in Western Arabia, present day Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
This was contrary to the majority opinion that the Magi came from Persia, so I began to look into this alternative origin of the Magi and found that the facts fit Arabia far better than Persia.
The Stream: Let’s clear away the brush. We all know the image of the three wise men from Christmas pageants and songs. What in our Christmas ‘mythology’ can we eliminate when searching for the truth about the Magi?
The Magi story is the most elaborated story from the New Testament. As early as the beginning of the second century the extra Biblical writings were exaggerating the story and embellishing the story with extra meaning and extra details. Some of these embellishments were done by early church preachers — others were done by heretical groups — Gnostics and groups influenced by the heretical teachings of the prophet Mani (Manicheanism). I went back to Matthew’s gospel and cleared away the clutter.
What is some of the clutter? That there were three. Matthew never says that. That they were kings. This was a preaching point drawing conclusions from the prophecies of Psalm 72 and Isaiah 60. Matthew doesn’t say they were kings.
Camels? That also comes from Isaiah 60 not Matthew.