English/Theology

Isho‘dad of Merv on Matthew 2

Isho‘dad of Merv was a ninth century bishop of the (Persian) Church of the East. He is especially known for his Bible commentaries (in Syriac). His commentary on the four Gospels is available online in Margaret Dunlop Gibson’s English translation.

In his commentary on Matthew 2 he discusses questions that people are asking even today:

  • How old was Mary when she gave birth to Jesus? (Answer: 13.)
  • On which day of the year Jesus was born? (Answer: December 25.)
  • How many magi (wise men) were there? (Answer: 12.)
  • What kind of star did the magi see? (Answer: an angel who shone like a star.)

Here the answers in Isho‘dad’s own words:

A calculation concerning what year of Alexander and at what time [of year] our Lord the Christ was born. In the year 307 of Alexander, son of Philip, which was the 43rd year of Augustus Caesar, in the 35th year of Herod the king of the Jews, in the month of the first Kanōn [= December, WJdW], on the 25th of it, on a Wednesday, in the night before cockcrow, our Lord was born of the Virgin, she being 13 years of age; and she died at 51 years of age; and at that time Quirinus was sent as governor; and in the month of Nisan the Magians came.

But Babhai the Persian said that in the day and the night that our Lord was born the Magians came; and not after two years, as those who have not investigated say; and this, he says, is quite evident from the Scriptures, that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah, there came Magians; now they were three sons of kings, and nine from among the notables of their lands; and the king of the Persians who sent the Magians was called Pirshabour; and these came by the guidance of the likeness of a star. Lo, we saw his star in the east, because in the midst of the star was shewn the likeness of a Virgin embracing her son.

And it is evident from many things that it was not a real star, nor an imagination, nor a fantasy, nor an automaton, but an Angel who shone like a star from Persia to Bethlehem:

1. first, because it shone equally by night and by day;

2. second, that it was seen only by the Magians and not by others;

3. third, that it shone alone, without burning, although it came down so low from the region of the ether, to shew the way to the Magians, as by a finger, even the house;

4. fourth, it shone so much at midday that it surpassed the rays of the sun in their eyes;

5. fifth, because all the lights of the zodiac move, as fixed, from east to west, but according to Astronomers and Astrologers, seven of them which are called planets move from west to east; but of the rest all the signs of the zodiac, fixed in the body of the firmament, move from east to west with the revolution of the heavens. This moved in the opposite way, that is to say, from south-east to north and from this to west; for thus is the road from Persia to Palestine;

6. sixth, because it did not shine continuously, but when they had gone into each of the cities and villages by the way, until they came out, it was hid, in order that by question and answer the birth of King Messiah should be made known to everyone; as it was hid from them in their entering Jerusalem; and when that cunning fox Herod sent spies after them many times, the star was not seen until they knew that it was the finger of God; and Herod planned to destroy the child in another way.

So it is clear from all these things, that it was not a natural star, but a starry likeness. Astronomers may not raise a wing here, as if it were evident that the teaching of Chaldaism is true, from this, that the birth of our Lord also was disclosed by means of a star; but they must know from this that it was not a natural star, as we have shewn at length. (Paragraph division added.)

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