Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/12/22

Wise words. In my third conversation with EWTN host, Fox News contributor and prolific author (whose works include The Spider Who Saved Christmas and The Thief Who Stole Heaven) Raymond Arroyo, talks about The Wise Men Who Found Christmas, his latest book that he describes as a family-friendly adventure that reveals the little-known true story of the Magi’s epic journey to find the Christ Child. Our conversation follows the book trailer below.

JWK: So, tell me about The Wise Men Who Found Christmas.

Raymond Arroyo: Well, I’ll tell you how it started. Years ago I did a book called The Spider Who Saved Christmas…I was looking for another book to do – something that was, you know, near the Christmas season – and I thought of the Wise Men that frankly, John, I knew very little about – aside from the popular notions that I think we all have and the famous song We Three Kings of Orient Are.

It turns out that song is for the most part wrong, When you look at the historical, the biblical (and) the archeological records, that song just doesn’t add up. There were probably more than three of them, they were not kings and they were definitely not from the Far East. That much we know.

So, I needed to fill in the gaps of who these people were and why they were pursuing this Christ Child – and (with) the answers I found I thought I could write a book about this and present it as sort of dry research (but) others have done it far better. They’ve already done books and research into the Wise Men, their history and different aspects of their lineage. I thought this is such a great adventure story when you put in the historical context. So, that’s what I did. I turned it into a family adventure that families can read together at Christmas time.

I think it opens up and enriches your Christmas season but I hope The Wise Men Who Found Christmas also opens everyone’s eyes to the historic reality of who these Magi were and what that means in our own lives. When you put them in the proper historical context and you understand the biblical roots of this story, you suddenly realize why the Wise Men are among the most popular and beloved characters of Christmas and that was part of what I wanted to do here as well.

JWK: You say there weren’t three of them?

RA: Well, there might have been many more. If you look at ancient Coptic manuscripts from early first century (and) second century, they claim there were 60 Wise Men. The Syrian and Armenian texts, they say there were 12 Wise Men. The Gospel itself – which, you know, we kind of say it every year and almost ignore it – only refers to “three gifts” not “three Wise Men.” We don’t how how many Wise Men there were. The Gospel is silent on the number of Magi that actually came. So, in my telling on the first page of the book, there are 12 on a rooftop in the…Kingdom of Nabatea which is present-day Petra. I like the idea that there were probably more than three and 12 seems the right number when you consult some of the historical records.

JWK: 12 would seem to have a sort of poetic connection to the Apostles.

RA: Well, the 12 Tribes of Israel (as well as) the 12 Apostles. There’s a woman named Margaret Barker who is an esteemed biblical scholar who reads all the old languages. She’s incredible! Margaret has put forward (what) I think is more than a theory now – because it’s being substantiated all the time – that these 12 Wise Men might have been the descendants of members of the Royal Priesthood of the First Temple in Jerusalem. They were expelled 700 years before Jesus. They took refuge in Arabia – and the headquarters of Arabia was Petra. It was Nabatea. So, it would make sense that they would be familiar with prophecies, stargazers and looking for a Messiah. They would have a religious reason to look for that Messiah.

JWK: So, you say this is an adventure story. I guess some of that comes in their encounter with Herod.

RA: My story conforms to the Gospel. It merely situates the story in a historic context that I think makes it more dramatic (and) makes it more compelling. It’s kind of like a buddy movie. It’s a high-stakes buddy adventure of these Magi who are curious characters. Magi are mysterious. They’re stargazers, they’re magicians, they’re interpreters of dreams and probably part of either a Zoroastrian priesthood or the Jewish First Temple…They certainly understood prophecies and were deeply enmeshed in all of that. So, they’re kind of dramatic, interesting characters to begin with (even before) you layer on the political reality. Why did they go to Herod first? Why did they bring gold, frankincense and myrrh? What were they thinking? What did they find? What were the dangers to them? All of that I kind of stretch out dramatically in the story – and, again, it’s a great yarn…but much of it happens to be historically true.

JWK: So, obviously, you fill in some of the gaps with your imagination but, overall, the story conforms with what we know.

RA: Correct (but there’s a lot) we don’t know. I assumed I already knew this story – that there were three kings, they were from three different nations (and) they brought Jesus some gifts. Much of that is latter century fictional creations, even the names of these Wise Men…You know, we have the three names: Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar. Those three names merely mean “king” in various tongues …So, those are made-up names that didn’t come until the 5th century when Venerable Bede created them. If you go back earlier, the Wise Men had these unpronounceable Middle Eastern names…I thought if I’m going to shake everybody’s world about the political and historical context, I’d better keep the names of the characters as they were but those are latter-day creations as are much of what we know about these Wise Men.

JWK: What do you hope readers take from this story?

RA: I called the book The Wise Men Who Found Christmas. I hope every reader of this book will re-find Christmas for themselves. This is why it matters. If the historical reality of the Magi is established – and once we understand that and see it in a story in a real setting – I think it undergirds and gives sustenance to the object they sought, the mystery they were chasing, the Christ Child in Bethlehem. If the Wise Men are true and real and historical personages, certainly Jesus, Mary and Joseph are as well. By grounding them in a real setting, it actually fits better than the fable we’ve been sold about the Wise Men coming from the Far East.

JWK: The story would seem to have all the elements of some kind of Big Screen movie. Any thoughts on that?

RA: We’ll see. I gotta get the book out first. I think as the story catches on it is ripe for some kind of adaptation – as are all my stories.
When you see the illustrations in this book, Diane Le Feyer has really gone above and beyond. She elevated the story with the pictures. They really are so breathtaking. It feels like storyboards from an animated feature. When you see it, it looks like screenshots because every page is in motion and has a reason.
There are big reveals and it’s a great uplifting adventure for the family. I have an author’s note at the end with with a lot of the historical data I tried to condense so people have a sense of why I put it in this world. Just to give your audience a very quick primer here, the other reason I think they probably came from Nabatea, modern-day Petra, Justin Martyr in the first century says the Wise Men came from Arabia, that they came from east of Judea. Well, that’s not the Far East. That’s not the Far Orient. That’s the Immediate East. So, they were only about a three-days journey away from Jerusalem – and that makes sense. There was a big Jewish community in Petra – but the most important (question) here (is) why did they bring frankincense, gold and myrrh? Well, the Kingdom of Nabatea was known for three products. They controlled the trade routes for incense and they were creators of frankincense and myrrh that (are) made from tree sap that only grew in Arabia. So, that’s one thing.
The other piece is the reason they brought frankincense, myrrh and gold (is because) the Kingdom of Nabatea controlled what is popularly known as King Soloman’s Mines…Those were all controlled by Nabatea…So, those are the products of the kingdom they come from and they’re bringing a tribute to Herod because they assumed – or the King of Nabatea did – that Herod‘s son had just been born. There were bringing him tribute from their land. It all starts to fall into place when you see it this way. The political stakes and the supernatural stakes rise exponentially when you put it in this setting.

JWK: So, they didn’t understand, necessarily, where they were going to begin with?

RA: Well, they knew they were going to the East. The Star told them that a new King had been born in Judea but they didn’t know exactly where.
It’s curious to me. If they were following the Star…and they took off from their home town (and) they go to Jerusalem… Now, the Star went out, remember. The Star goes out. They don’t have a Star for a while there and then it reappears after they meet Herod. Why do you go to Herod if your following the Star if you know exactly where you’re going? Well, they went to Herod because they had to pay him a diplomatic visit. That was all part of the politics behind this. The kingdoms (were) at war, Nabatea and Jerusalem. There’s tension there. Now, I don’t go into all of that in a family read in a picture book but it’s indicated. It’s implied by what they do. They go to Herod first – which the Scripture tells us – and then the Star reappears and they chase it again and go to Bethlehem.

JWK: Did they understand that they were going to see the Son of God?

RA: They thought it was a Messiah to be born. Again, if you’re Persian or a Zoroastrian priest or someone from the Far East, you don’t care about a Jewish Messiah, right? It doesn’t quite fit that they would go risk life and limb, facing Herod and all of that. Herod was a murderous guy, by the way. He had killed three of his sons and a wife to protect his throne. That’s why when he says “Go find the Kid. Tell me where I can go worship Him.” they kinda know what that means – which is why they don’t go back to him. They’re risking their lives by going there in the first place.
So, they were seeking a Messiah and I believe – and a lot of the biblical research is now revealing – that possibly they had a religious motive to find that Messiah. They may have been connected to that First Temple in Jerusalem which would explain their zeal.
End Note: A Fox Nation special based on The Wise Men Who Found Christmas drops December 16th).

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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