Thursday, December 24, 2015
Juan Cole's Christmas Eve Post Is Great
"So the flight to Egypt of the holy family was the migration of Syrian refugees from a combination of religious and political persecution. A blanket killing of boy babies is what we would now call a war crime, and Jesus was directly targeted. Like little Aylan Kurdi, who washed up dead on a Turkish beach, he was forced by a violent regime out of his home, to seek refuge in another country. Unlike Aylan, baby Jesus survived the journey to Egypt."
While Juan Cole is often not exactly Christian friendly - and, admittedly, the "Christians" he's not exactly friendly to earn it by their un- if not antichristian words and deeds - I love his post today filling in the background history and making some intelligent speculations about the birth and the early years of the life of Jesus. His analysis of the story of the Magi is the first one that makes real sense, I've generally assumed it was mostly myth but, if he is right, maybe it's a lot more true than that.
The wise men or magi from the East and Jesus in the manger are staples of Christmas celebrations. (Matthew does not say there were three wise men, and early Syrian tradition held that there were 12 of them). Actually, however many there were, the wise men caused baby Jesus a very great deal of trouble.
Magi were the priests of the Zoroastrian or Parsi religion of ancient Iran. Iranian religions like Zoroastrianism and Mithraism were present in the Near East. In fact, the Iranian Parthian Empire (250 BC-220 AD), stretching from Afghanistan to Mesopotamia, had taken the the Near East and greater Syria away from Rome briefly for a couple of years some 33 years before Jesus was born. In that couple of years, the Iranians deposed the Rome-appointed local governor, Herod the Great, who fled to Rome, and the Iranians installed the Hasmonean, Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, as their governor.
Herod intrigued with Mark Antony, who was planning a counter-offensive, and offered him a bribe, and talked up the Persian threat, so that the Roman senate appointed him king over the territory when Mark Antony took it back. Herod played the same Iran card with the Roman Senate that Binyamin Netanyahu now plays with the US Congress.
So Zoroaster predicted that following a star would lead his priests to a nativity scene, where they would find the world-savior, which they would have called Saoshyant.
Oh, no, Iranian religious leaders spreading their religious ideology in Syria! Alert the Republican National Committee!
The delegation of wise men from Iran appear to have met with Herod before they went off wandering around looking for the savior. Herod tried to keep good diplomatic relations with the neighboring Parthian Empire, still strong in what is now Iraq, explaining why he might have given the priests safe passage.
In any case, an Iranian invasion had deposed Herod once, and he would have been very nervous about Iranian priests spreading end-of-days talk about the rise of an everlasting king. You just have to read the Qumran scrolls to see that some Jewish sects would have been primed for this Iranian message. According to Matthew, their millenarianism got back to Herod.
He says that the magi were instructed in a dream not to go back for an audience with Herod after he had been angered by their prophecy, and so they departed directly “to their own country, by another way.” I.e. they sneaked back to Iran, avoiding Herod’s guards.
Herod, having heard the Zoroastrian prophecy that the Saoshyant or eternal monarch had just been born, took it literally and was afraid that on reaching adolescence an Iranian-inspired boy-king would dethrone him, just as the Parthian emperor had in 39 BC at the beginning of his career. So he announced he would kill all boy babies 2 years old or less
Most important of all, Juan Cole notes how the American congress would never let a refugee Baby Jesus or his parents into the country, he would be excluded under laws and measures proposed by, mostly, the Republicans. Cole's take on Matthew 25 will give me a lot to think about for weeks, maybe years to come. I will be sending extra money to Oxfam Syrian Refugee effort and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, both of which aid refugees and others regardless of their religion, citizenship or other status.
Posted by The Thought Criminal at 8:16 AM