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Magi Visit, Date

Magi Visit, Date

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: How old was Jesus when the Magi visited him?

A: The Magi are figures shrouded in mystery. Their number (none is indicated in Matthew) as well as their origin (probably Persia or Mesopotamia) a matter of speculation. No mention of it is made in Scripture. The number three is related to the number of gifts, a suggestion made by Origen. The time frame is somewhat mysterious, too. Those who opt for a two-year span after the birth of Christ refer to Matthew 2,7 and 10f. According to them, Herod massacred babies two years and under counting from the apparition of the star (verses 7 and 16). It is also contended that at the time of the magi's adoration the Holy Family was living in a house, no longer in a stable or cave (verses 10/11). This seems to point to an considerable interval between the birth of Christ and the adoration of the Magi. However, it might be countered that Herod chose a margin of safety to make sure that the Christchild would not escape his murderous design. Moreover, the reference to a house does not in itself prove a two-year interval. Mention is made of a comet (not the Halley comet!) which appeared in ca. 4 B.C., not too late -- say exegetes -- if Jesus was born in 6 B.C. as is widely believed today. But again, Matthew does not abound with specifics as to the nature of the star. So we do not know what star we are dealing with. The scheduling of the Nativity and Epiphany at close intervals is not in the first place chronological but liturgical. It points to the similarity and close connection between the two feasts as to their meaning. Both Incarnation and Epiphany have to do with God's manifestation. The Nativity celebrates God's manifestation in the flesh from Mary. The Epiphany is God's manifestation to the whole world represented by the magi. This close connection is what the Catholic Church wants us to understand. Whatever the time frame of these two festivals, what counts more than anything else is that God became one of us and be known as such to the whole world and all times warranting them the universality of his redemptive deed at Easter.

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