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Fr Bob Writes – January 8, 2017

This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday, commemorating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem. Here is a commentary by Fr Denny Dempsey on this event

“The Magi were not themselves kings but, rather, a priestly group who sought knowledge from every imaginable source  (the word “magic” is derived from their practices) and the ability to apply that knowledge to predict and prepare for the future. One of those sources of information came from watching the stars. According to the popular cosmology of the time, people believed the earth to be covered by a dome, across which God or the gods caused the heavenly bodies to move in patterns thought to contain coded messages.  Such was the logic behind astrology.

From a science acceptable in our day, astronomers tell us that in 6 B.C. Magi in the region of Assyria or Babylonia would have been able to see Jupiter (which represented royalty) pass through Aries (representative of the Jewish people , perhaps due to their history as shepherds) . The Magi would have interpreted this as a divine sign of the birth of a great Jewish king. On reporting their findings, their own king may have sent them as his representatives bearing gifts, a common way for kings of the past to build alliances and secure peaceful relations.

King Herod ruled as King of Judah from 37 to his death in 4 B.C. Tyrannical and suspicious to the point of paranoia, he had all actual and presumed opposition eliminated including his wife and several other members of his own family. He built fortresses (including Herodium and Masada)  around the country as places he could escape to in case of a popular uprising.  I have read that he had  a list drawn up, naming those most popular in every town and city of Judah with a standing order that they be killed in case of his own death, a unique sort of life insurance policy. His soldiers, however, refused to carry out the order when he did die.  Such a person would be capable of commanding soldiers to kill babies in Bethlehem  on the possibility of one being a future king.   No wonder he and the people of Jerusalem, for different reasons, were troubled at the news brought by the Magi. Placing Jesus’ birth a couple of years prior to Herod’s death (the family was living in Egypt when they heard of the death of King Herod)  would put the birth of Jesus around 6 B.C., which aligns with the appearance of the star.  When the monk Dionysius Exiguus was commissioned by the pope in 525 A.D. to figure out the year Jesus was born and renumber all years accordingly, he was off by those six years, not bad given the information he had to work with.