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Christmas Legends: Herod, the Star, the Wisemen (Part 2 of 5)

I’m excited to talk more about some of the Christmas legends that we’re all familiar with.  Did Herod really kill hundreds of babies? BYU Professor Dr. Thomas Wayment answers these questions.

Thom:  I’ve heard it taught in a history class. I’ve heard it taught in Sunday School. I’ve heard it talked about popularly. And there’s always a surprise by the Sunday School crowd that as you said it, “Why doesn’t this crop up in Tacitus or Suetonius or some of our other historians?” And the scholarly community perhaps would note, “I would be surprised if it did.” We’re talking about a very small village, 200-300 people. And I don’t want to minimize this. I want to be really careful that anybody listening understands. I’m not trying to say it’s not a big deal that one or two babies passed away, but one or two babies passing away in a pogrom[1] or this kind of search to get Jesus wouldn’t typically appear in a historical source. So, it’s not unbelievable, but it’s not quite the divide that some crowds make it.

GT: You think it’s as small as one or two babies? Because I always thought it was like hundreds of babies that were killed under the age of two.

Thom: No, no. They said this is a very small area. We’re talking Bethlehem and we’re talking a rural village and we just don’t have the population density.

Where did the Wise Men come from?

GT:  In the video that I saw, and I’m just going to call them Iranian. Zoroastrians or whatever, I can’t even say that word. But, the video that I saw said, “Hey, these are people that came from our enemy, Persia. And that Persia and Rome were enemies essentially. So, Herod was greatly troubled. So, what do you think of that?

Thom:  That’s a really fascinating insight. To back up just little bit and give everybody here a couple of thoughts to work on. The reason that we think they are Zoroastrian is that that word “magoi” does appear in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. And it refers to people from that area and the fact that we are calling them Magoi, “Magicians” is the modern word, but we favor Wise men, is not a positive term. So, the modern reader sees these as a positive moment in the story. But if they were appearing in Jeremiah, who uses the word, I believe it’s Jeremiah, he uses it very negatively. These are people that are kind of outside of Israel, they’re condemned, etc. And so, that’s one dynamic in the story.

BYU New Testament scholar Thomas Wayment discusses these Christmas favorites.  What do we know about the Christmas star? What can historians tell us about these stories?  Did they really happen or are they mere legends?  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Thomas Wayment of BYU thinks Herod likely killed just a few babies while searching for the Christ child. He also says "Magi" weren't respected in ancient Israel.
Dr. Thomas Wayment of BYU thinks Herod likely killed just a few babies while searching for the Christ child. He also says “Magi” weren’t respected in ancient Israel.

Check out our other Christmas episodes!

228: Separating Fact and Fiction on Birth of Christ (Wayment)

229: Was Jesus Born in December?(Chadwick)

[1] A pogrom is organized massacre of a certain ethnic group.

1 thought on “Christmas Legends: Herod, the Star, the Wisemen (Part 2 of 5)

  1. Dear Thomas A. Wayment,
    I invite you to read a short abstract in English
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/253290200_Comet_Halley_demystification_of_its_Christmas_legend
    or to visit my site
    “On possible historical origins of the Nativity legends”
    http://www.nativity.reznikova.ru/eng/index.html
    where you’ll find a simple, verifiable explanation for the Christmas star observations by the Magi, Herod’s behavior and for some other related problems.
    Best wishes,
    Alexander I. Reznikov.
    Moscow, Russia.

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