The Jesus Papyrus And More About The Magi Part 2
Marco Polo may have been right
Roberts had two starting points: obviously Matthew and then the mysterious clues given by Marco Polo. This world wanderer tells of a tomb of the Magi at Sava (modern Saveh) in Persia; and in at any rate one of the editions of his work he claims to have had this information from those at Cala Ataperistan, the Castle of the Fire Worshippers (a Zoroastrian name) a few days journey away southwards from Saveh (which lies to the south west of modern Tehran towards the Zagros mountains).
Roberts began with about as little respect for Polo as for the canonical gospels. But against all expectation with insistent inquiry and some local assistance he manages to track down both the tomb Polo mentions and what is very likely to have been the castle/observatory referred to – indeed he claims to be “the first westerner since Polo to find and identify Cala Ataperistan.” It is a claim the reader will be willing to concede to him sharing his amazement, (having stumbled over ancient shards and found amid rubble a certified coin or the 2nd century BC), that this romantic place, which may have been the original mountain observatory of the Magi, has never been surveyed let alone excavated.
At Saveh, Roberts only came across Polo’s tomb by happy chance. When the search was proving fruitless he had insisted upon being taken to the ancient and largely deserted south Seveh where he was escorted to an ancient, half-ruined mosque, a place of long abandoned French excavations. Beneath it were tell-tale remants of both earlier Zoroastrian and Christian usage. Fortunately the guide opened the way through an outside courtyard to an ancient square mausoleum with a dome that appeared to correspond to Polo’s description. But it turned out to contain only two square sarcophagi, not three, and had been locally called The Tomb of the Master and his Disciple.
Roberts reasonably suspects that Polo said there were three Magi simply to satisfy dangerous critics like the Inquisition who had come to assume there were three although the Bible omits to say how many Magi there were. The theme of two anyway runs through the whole Magian/Zoroastrian world view so that local people, not bound by any Roman orthodoxies would tend to think in terms of two Magi whether the tomb was for real or just a pious fraud. If you want to believe there were three Magi you can quote another medieval source, Odoric, who said that two Magi hailed from around Saveh but they met up with a third at the city of Kashan, a plausible clue to the route the Magi would have taken. Kashan was a spa and something of a medical centre and the Magi were almost as famed for medicine as for star-lore.
But why is there such a strong, enduring local tradition in what is now an Islamic area that the Magi did in fact hail from Persia in the way that earliest Christian mosaic depiction of them implies, by their dress, they did? Well, for one thing quite simply Magi and astrologers were almost interchangeable terms. Magi are said to have attended the birth of Alexander the Great and various notables and they were famed in the ancient world – which understood little of the Zoroastrian faith of which they were priests – as precisely stargazers as in Matthew’s narrative.
There never should be, as there is in branches of modern Christianity, this misconception that the Magi were dealing in something other than what is today called “astrology” and which is based on what the Greeks taught and largely drew from Babylonian and Persian Magian sources. All the early Christians knew the Magi dealt in astrology and its doctrines of “fate” which is the reason Bishop John Chrysostom of the Greek Church (who tended to be against just about everyone and is true founder of Christian anti-Semitism), declared that astrology was so repugnant it was a pity the Magi ever visited the Christ child.
Anyway, though other places like Arabia have been proposed, it is not probable the Magi originated from anywhere other than Iran or Iraq. So if there is a strong tradition about them in those areas there could well be something behind it. As I have mentioned elsewhere on this site I even have grounds to suspect Persia as the home of the Magi from the astrocartography of Christ’s birth. This shows a Uranus line (Uranus is the planet of astrologers) crossing western Iran thus drawing any astrology to Jesus from that region.
The Zoroastrian connection
But there are anyway clues to a Persian connection outside of Matthew in apocryphal writing. Roberts mentions especially the Arabic Infancy Gospel which states: the Magi came from the East to Jesus as Zeruduscht had predictedÉthe Lady Mary took one of the swaddling bands and on account of the smallness of her means, gave it to them.
Though no such prophecy is known, plainly Zeraduscht is Zoroaster thus linking the Magi to Zoroastrianism and its hearltand Persia, rather than Iraq; and the odd, doubtless late invented detail about the single swaddling band only gains significance if it is seen as relating to Magian ritual and initiation ceremony which involved being bound about by a white sash. Roberts also notes how in the Koran, dates and spring water, symbols familiar from Essene writing, get improbably associated with the birth narrative. However, if fire is the prime element for the fire worshipping Zoroastrians, water is their other element of choice and they appear to have been the first religious group in the Middle East to have made a major rite of the baptism which again we find among the Essenes. A Jewish-Persian motif begins to emerge.
I have never been overly impressed, and no astrologer should be, by theories which explain every development in literature, philosophy and the history of religion by borrowings and influences. There is too much evidence to suggest the planetary cycles trigger spontaneous, similar trends of thought in unrelated places without any prior interchange of thought. One must therefore question theories like those which attribute biblical apocalyptic to simple borrowing and adaptation by the exiled Jews of Babylon. This said, it is hard to deny there must be some relation between Jewish and Persian religion which latter may be said to have supplied Judaism a new language and framework of reference for its emerging consciousness rather as Platonism would help early Christians define their doctrines. The religious link is paralleled in, and merges with, a political one.
As Roberts reminds us, not only were the kings Cyrus and Darius crucial to the re-establishment of Judaism and its Temple in Israel and as such were regarded as semi-messianic figures by the Jews but the Israel-Persia connection continued until the second century of this era. when Persians sided with the Jews against Rome in the Bar-Khochba rebellion. This is not an insignificant point because it links Persia with Jewish messianism since Bar-Khochba (son of the star) was a messianic pretender.
Overall, the conclusion seems unavoidable that interest in the Messianic theme was one shared between Israel and Persia from the time of Cyrus and Darius onwards It was so for a variety of political and religious reasons including of course power struggles between royalty and religious elites in both societies but sometimes at a more disinterested religious level.
A lot can be read into statements like that in Daniel that Daniel and other princes of Israel were to be instructed in the language and literature of the Chaldeans, which needless to say owed a great deal to the priestly Magian caste. In the Islamic holy city of Qom, Roberts meets a Sufi mullah who informs him, on the basis of long-standing Sufi beliefs, that Jewish mystical Kabbalah was highly influenced by Mazdean (Zoroastrian) beliefs from the times of the Jewish exile and that Christianity arose out of a reform movement within Jewish mystical esotericism i.e. is a version of Jewish Kabbalism current among such groups as the Essenes (Roberts consistently refers to “Cabalism” which is the Renaissance Christian version of the doctrine only, not the Jewish).
With only a little help from the opinions of such as the Jewish scholar, Hugh Schonfield, author of The Essene Odyssey, I had pretty much independently worked this out for myself. As indicated in Signs for a Messiah Christianity with its trinitarianism and so much else must, in order to have been accepted at all, have arisen within an environment familiar with some early form of Kabbalah. If it did not it would have seemed heresy to Jews or could just represent, as some scholars imagine, a first century adaptation of pagan themes.
As regards the Essenes we now know they, exceptionally, studied astrology and did so with the aim of finding the Messiah. From where and from whom did they derive their star lore? The reason Matthew readily includes the Magi is that while they are obviously not Jews of the diaspora as some maintain – no well informed Jew would be uncertain as to where the Messiah would be born! – they, or at least the doctrines they upheld, enjoyed a priveleged, more than purely pagan status within Jewish thought.
But because certain eastern churches and/or sects knew or accepted only the Matthew who gave us the Magi, Roberts identifies Matthew with Gnostic trends and just about every heresy in the book. Overlooking, as I cannot, just what Kabbalah implies for docrtines of divinity – a point even the Jewish Schonfield allows perceiving some Essene/ Kabbalastic ideas in St Paul – Roberts suggests that the faith the Magi represented (and ultimately defended by, he assumes, telling Jesus’ family where to flee to Magian circles in Egypt), has nothing to do with belief in a divine figure. Ignoring that Matthew has his Magi worshipping the Christ child he insists they were looking for a purely political Messiah and probably two. He accepts as quite likely the Gnostic gospel tradition of a Jesus with a twin which he relates to the twin theme of Zoroastrianism (which of course may well have influenced such alternative accounts but not through the Magi as such).
Essenes, nazareans and magians
There is a lot of mostly unacknowledged Barbara Thiering and Robert Eisenman dissident scholarship in Roberts’ speculations. This is mixed in with a dose of the New Ageism which has canonized the Gnostic gospels, regards “dogma” as only a late product of Roman church politics and which limits the definition of “personal” religious experience to a type of unitive mysticism current among the sects. Eisenman especially influences Roberts’ view that authentic original Christiantiy is represented by James, the brother of Jesus, who oversaw the Jerusalem church and was not beyond opposing Paul. I won’t go into biblical and extra-biblical evidence that James also accepted the divinity of Christ but it is true that there was a sect of Ebionites, Christian Jews, who acknowledged the Messiahship but not the divinity of Christ and which used only the Jewish orientated Matthew and regarded Paul as a heretic.
It may well be that, as Roberts insists, Essenes, Ebionites, Zealots, Nazareans, Nazirites are all one and the same or only very minor variations upon the same theme, that Jesus was one of them and that the Mandeans of Iraq who believe in the messianic primacy of John the Baptist are descendants of such sects (the biblically sanctioned theme of dual Messiahship the Mandeans made such original variation upon owes something to the Persian influence), This doesn’t alter that dissident Essenes et al couldn’t and almost certainly did adhere and contribute to the “orthodox” Pauline view, and that they were members of the Jerusalem church party.
It is hard to be sure what the Magi believed because, like the fissile Judaism of Jesus’ time, Zoroastrianism had itself split into many sects and partly under political pressures which at the time of the persecuting Alexander the Great, one of the religion’s greatest ogres, lost them many of their writings. Not for nothing do we know little about Zoroaster, a very mythic figure. I was interested to read that Roberts, who explored the shrinking world of modern Zoroastrians, saw that an old icon portrayed him with red hair. This within Persia in itself tells us something, or at any rate it reminds us of something scholars basically assume.
The religion Zoroaster instituted was a reformist offshoot of an earlier Aryan faith which fanned out east and west from its Ukrainian homeland with the related druidism and brahmanism as its most far-flung representatives. It was a religion based upon sight, upon vision as much as the Semitic was based upon sound and the word. We know how in Europe, according to Caesar, people visited the Celtic druids from afar to learn of the stars and various sciences of which medecine seems to have been one.
In Persia we are looking at the same international hierarchical religious organization and lacking the records perhaps an attitude to life as much as a philosophy can describe it. Patriarchal worshippers of male gods though the Aryans basically were, the Great Mother and a mystical cult of nature were never too far away. This emphasis perhaps lends itself to a doctrine of fate discovered in the stars, one which, like Proverbs declares: “there is a time forÉ, ” encourages the individual to accept and “go with the flow.” But if there is one idea that is terribly distinctive of the Aryans it is the Platonistic notion of life as dream, as Maya, as an illusion which true sight pierces to the divine reality beneath.
It is usually said that Zoroastrianism is a dualistic, two gods faith of perpetually warring light and dark, good and evil that paved the way for Manicheism. But as Roberts points out, though sects of the religion did develop in this direction the original philosophy appears to have been more subtle with God, Ahura Mazda, portrayed as Light and Truth with the Devil as the Lie somehow beneath or parasitic upon God.
I would anyway suspect as much because the Aryan mind-set from Ireland to North India is monistic, not dualistic, but more importantly this distinction leads me back to the root ideas of Kabbalah which takes or implies the same ideas. I have written in my feature on Deconstruction about the nature of evil and the Lie and it is the specifically kabbalistic approach to reality allows me, within the Judeao-Christian tradition, my particular insights and formulations. There just has to be a connection between Jewish mysticism and the philosophy of Persia; and the wisdom of the Magi is not simply astrology but a larger mystical
Having mused upon the meaning of romantic Palmyra in Syria and nearly lost his life among the bedouin to a landmine that killed the camel beneath him Roberts staggers into Jerusalem. Suitably (for him) he meets up there with the ever laughing Greek Orthodox priest, Fr Cornelios, who assures him there is more myth than truth to the story of Jesus. After that it really is time to go home with as parting shot the suggestion that without Zoroaster there would be no Christ. “He was the bridge and the Romans burned it.”
Someone silly enough to place an offering in a temple to Satan enthroned in darkness as Lord of the World in fhe form a huge Edenic snake might be expected to offer such a conclusion and be applauded for it. My own conclusion as someone claiming to have distinctly more information about what the biblical Magi actually knew – but who, perhaps, has not been published accordingly – is rather different. I should say that Zoroaster is the bridge which made possible the union of mysticism with an astrology which, in a way parallel to the work of the Jewish prophets, helps make sense of history as a divine work.
by Rollan McCleary