Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dissertation Abstract: Brent Landau, "The Sages and the Star-Child"

It is that time of year again. Dissertations are being defended. New life journeys are about to begin! So first let me congratulate Dr. Brent Landau for a successful defense of his Harvard thesis which examines a Christian apocryphal text, called the Revelation of the Magi.

Brent Landau
Harvard University
Dissertation Advisor: Professor François Bovon
Dissertation Title: The Sages and the Star-Child: An Introduction to the Revelation of the Magi, An Ancient Christian Apocryphon
Defended: Spring 2008

This study analyzes a poorly-known ancient Christian apocryphal writing, termed the Revelation of the Magi. This document purports to be the personal testimony of the biblical Magi on the coming of Christ, and is the longest and most complex narrative devoted to the Magi surviving from antiquity. The first chapter is a critical edition of the Syriac text of this apocryphon as found in the Chronicle of Zuqnin, an eighth-century world chronicle preserved in a single manuscript, codex Vaticanus Syriacus 162. The corresponding annotated English translation is the first of its kind for this text.

The second chapter compares the Syriac text with a much shorter version of the narrative contained in the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum, an Arian commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the fifth century. It concludes that the Opus is a witness to a Greek version of this apocryphon, basically equivalent to the received Syriac.

The third chapter attempts to trace the prehistory of the text prior to its fifth-century form, and argues that the earliest form of the text was a pseudepigraphon, written from the putative perspective of the Magi themselves. This text, which was composed in the late second or early third century, was redacted in the third or fourth century to include a third-person account of the Apostle Judas Thomas’ conversion of the Magi.

The fourth chapter investigates the use of foundational Christian writings by the Revelation of the Magi. Although the text is obviously dependent upon Matthew for its basis narrative structure, the terminology and theology of the Gospel of John is much more influential, especially since the text portrays the Magi’s star as Christ in luminous form—the literal “light of the world.”

The fifth and final chapter argues that the text employs two different modes of religious diffusion: divine universal revelation and human mission. Its presentation of divine revelation has particular consequences for understanding the origins of religious difference. According to the Revelation of the Magi, because Christ can appear to anyone, in any place, at any time, he is actually the wellspring of all of humanity’s religious traditions.


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Landau's work is indeed very interesting, and it's good to see these peculiar little texts from the underbelly of Greek culture getting examined. Well done to Dr. L. for translating the Syriac version.

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