A Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma has translated an eighth-century script that changes what many Christians think they know about the nativity scene.
Professor Brent Landau spent two years translating the text from Syriac, a language spoken by Christians from Syria through Iraq and Iran, to English.
The English translation of Revelation of the Magi describes in detail over a dozen wise men, rather than the traditional number of three.
According to the script, there could have been scores of wise men, but they were limited to three because they brought three gifts.
The script also says the wise men came from a semi-mythical place on the eastern edge of the world called Shir, or modern-day China.
In the script’s English translation, it was actually baby Jesus himself who was the guiding star the Magi followed.
The term Magi was from the fourth century BC for ancient stargazers who had the ability to read and manipulate fate foreshadowed in the sky.
Although the authors of the document say it was written by the Magi, experts believe it was more likely written by their descendants since it carries in-depth depictions of their rituals and prayers.
The story says the Magi descended from Adam’s third son, Seth.
“The story says that Seth passed down a prophecy that at some point a star would appear that would signal the birth of God in human form,” Landau said, according to the Daily Mail. “The Magi waited thousands of years, passing down the prophecy and then the star appeared where the Magi were. It transformed into a small luminous human being who was Christ himself in a pre-existent, celestial form.”
“It is saying that Jesus Christ and the Star of Bethlehem are the same thing and Jesus Christ can transform himself into anything. The star guides them to Bethlehem and into a cave where it transforms into a human infant who tells them to go back and be preachers of the Gospel,” Landau added.
The document also makes no mention of the types of gifts the wise men presented to Jesus. “The story does say that the Magi brought gifts to Jesus, but interestingly the text never tells us if they are the familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh,” Landau said.
Landau said it is unknown who wrote the text, but the author(s) were inclined to the wise men. “Somebody was really fascinated by the wise men to have created this big, long story and tell it from their perspective,” Landau said, according to the Daily Mail.
The script has been held in the Vatican for 250 years and the story is believed to have first been told in the late second or early third century.
The Gospel of Matthew is the only book in the bible that makes mention of the Magi.
“Nobody knows where Matthew got the story from, so along with Matthew’s Gospel this is as close as you can get to the Magi,” Landau said.