On January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the day the Lord Jesus first met the Gentile world. We are told that Three Wise Men traveled from the East to pay homage to the new born king. The three represent the Gentile population. The story is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. None of the other books of the New Testament make mention of the event. The story involves three visitors because in it, three gifts were presented to the baby Jesus and it is assumed each bore a gift. There could have been six Wise Men as far as we know bearing three gifts. However many there were, per the story, they were guided to the birth site by a star. The notion that a single star focused its full energy on a stable in Bethlehem is somewhat ludicrous; the stable and everything in it would have vaporized. I say that only to emphasize Matthew’s poetic, story telling skills.
Even so, I like Matthew, for among the Evangelists he is the one who seems to best relate to what we now know about Jesus through science and scholarship. But his writing is laced with mystery. He got “resurrection” correct by subtlety noting how Jesus’s body disappeared before the entry stone to the tomb was removed. He gives us tantalizing counter-insight into the virgin birth controversy. In the Three Wise Men story he introduces a connection between Jesus and the Eastern cultures. The author of Matthew (he is unknown) was not an eye-witness to the incidents in Jesus’s life he wrote about. Moreover, his account was written some sixty to seventy-years after His birth. We do not know his sources (they were probably from sermons and oral transmission). Bottom line, the unknown author heard certain things about Jesus and He pieced them together in an understandable narrative that purports to be a systematic account of His life. Matthew is not a newspaper account or magazine article. It would be a mistake to think the narrative is accurate in time sequence. In other words, Jesus’s first contact with the East may have been at birth. But, it also may have been later in life. The important point is that contact was made.
As written elsewhere in this site, that which Christians call “resurrection” has a strong Eastern overtone to it.In my view, somewhere along the way Jesus made serious contact with the Eastern religious traditions in His adult life.“Resurrection,”the miracles He performed, the ascetic life He chose and His solitary, prayerful habits all connect to Eastern yogic practices.
I find it strange that eighteen years of Jesus’s life are missing. We are told He debated Jewish scholars in the Temple at age twelve and that he was baptized at about age thirty. What happened in-between? How can it be that we know nothing of the formative years of, arguably, the most important man in Western history? Child prodigy that He was, I have difficulty accepting that He spent His early years helping his step-father as a carpenter’s aide.
In the Eastern traditions Jesus is known as St. Issa
The noncanonical secret Gospel of Thomas clearly has an Eastern tone. There would have been no need for me to incorporate Buddhist beliefs and practices into my Christian faith as I did, had I known, in advance, about the Gospel of Thomas.
The Eastern traditions claim Jesus spent His fourteenth through twenty-eighth years in India and Tibet. Records supposedly hidden in a Tibetan monastery refer to Him as Saint Issa. At least three explorer/scholars say they have seen the records: Russian Nicholas Notovitch (1894), Swami Abhedananda (1922), and Nicholas Roerich (mid-1920’s).Having traveled the Himalayas I can personally attest to how widespread the legend of Jesus is in that part of the world.
So, I have questions. I do know that Jesus’s miracle working, “resurrection,” and post-death appearances are commonly accepted as natural events in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Natural that is for those who have freed their minds from the weight of worldly living. Perhaps the author of Matthew, clever as he is with his pen, is hinting of Jesus’s early years using the story of the Three Wise Men to make the connection with the mystical Eastern traditions.
Anyway, that is my story and I am sticking to it. That is, until someone comes up with a better one.