Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord.






              1. The Two Ceremonies:

              Purification of Mary



                                          Presentation of Jesus




              2. The Two Meetings:


              The personage.


                            Canticle and words to Mary.




                            Anna the prophetess.




              Historical Conclusion of St. Luke 2:39.






              1. Adoration of the Magi:

              1. Time of arrival of the Magi.




                            2. Country they came from:









                            3. Their quality, number, and names.


                            4. The star (conjectures—how a sign to the Magi?).




              2. Massacre of the Holy Innocents:

              An historical fact.


                            Number of children murdered.




              3. Flight into Egypt:

              The road followed; the distance.


                            Place and length of sojourn.


§ 1. The Eighth Day after the Nativity

1. Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord. Born under the Law, our divine Lord willed to comply faithfully with its various prescriptions. Among the many rites it enjoined was the religious ceremony of the circumcision which every male child in Israel had to undergo as a sign of its incorporation into the chosen people of God. The rite was to be performed exactly on the eighth day after the birth of the child, even though it were a Sabbath day. On the eighth day, then, after His birth, Our Lord received in His sacred flesh the bloody incision, the spiritual import of which was death to sin.|

From the brief notice which St. Luke gives to Our Lord’s circumcision it may be inferred that everything took place according to the ceremonial with which it had gradually come to be surrounded; in presence of ten witnesses, the father, or some other member of the family, made the bloody incision and then pronounced the accustomed blessings.

The place where the ceremony was carried out is not mentioned in the Gospel, but it was most likely either the inn of Bethlehem, or the house where the Magi found Our Lord later on, and in which St. Joseph had provided accommodation as soon as possible for Jesus and Mary.

Together with the circumcision, Our Lord publicly received the name which had been destined for Him by God, the sacred name Jesus. This name corresponds to the Josue of the Old Testament, and means “JEHOVAH’S SALVATION”: it was given to Our Lord to indicate “that He should save His people from their sins.” The name of Jesus is the personal name of Our Lord, and that of Christ is added to it to identify Him with the expected Messias. It must be noticed that others besides Our Lord have borne the name of Jesus.

§ 2. The Fortieth Day after the Nativity

1. The Two Ceremonies of that Day Described. In connection with the birth of a male child, the Jewish Law required that the mother should remain forty days separated from holy things, and that at the end of this period she should appear at the Temple with the sacrifice of a yearling lamb for a burnt-offering, and a turtle dove or a young pigeon for a sin-offering. Those who could not afford to bring a lamb were allowed to offer a turtle dove or a pigeon as a substitute; and it is an evidence of the humble station of Mary that she brought two turtle doves—the offering which was permitted to the poor.

To comply with these requirements of the Law, Mary started for the Temple early on the fortieth day. She had to appear in the Court of the Women as soon as the morning incense had been offered. There her two turtle doves, bought either from the Temple officer, or from the merchants who had changed the Outer Court into a noisy bazaar, would be taken from her by the Levites into the Court of the Priests to be burned on the altar. After a time, a priest would come with some of the blood, and having sprinkled her with it, would pronounce her clean.

The second ceremony to be gone through on the fortieth day, was prescribed by the Jewish Law in connection with the birth of a first-born son. In order to keep alive the remembrance that God had delivered the Hebrews from Egypt by the death of the Egyptian first-born, the Law required that every first-born male should be sacred to Jehovah, and after subsequent modifications it finally prescribed that all the first-born should be presented before the Lord, as a symbolical act of surrender for His service, but they could be redeemed for five shekels (about $2.85), from the service of the tabernacle.

On the prescribed day, Joseph and Mary were in the Temple to present Jesus to God and redeem Him from the service of the altar. Joseph declared formally to the priest that Jesus was his first-born Son, whom he offered to him as to God’s representative. Upon being asked which he preferred, either to give up his first-born or to redeem Him, he answered that he wished to redeem Him, and handed the money to the priest with a prayer. The priest then proclaimed the redemption of the child, and concluded the ceremony with a prayer.

2. The Two Meetings on the Fortieth Day. While Joseph and Mary were still before the gate of the Court of the Israelites, a man named Simeon entered this same Court by the Nicanor gate. Traditions represent him as an aged man, and this is naturally suggested by his words, as recorded in St. Luke (2:29 sq.). Some attempts have been made to identify him with Rabban Simeon, the son of the great Hillel, and father of Gamaliel, who was afterwards president of the Sanhedrim.

The Gospel narrative describes him as a just and devout man in close union with God, whose mind was filled with an earnest longing for the Messias, as the “Consolation of Israel.” He had been favored with a divine assurance that he should not die until his desire had been fulfilled. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he came into the Temple and recognized in the holy Child the object of his ardent desires. Taking Him in his arms, he blesses God, and bursts forth into the canticle known in the evening office of the Church, as the “Nunc Dimittis.” Simeon desires no longer to live, for he has seen the Saviour promised by Jehovah to all nations—to the Gentiles as a light, and to the Jews as their glory. While Joseph and Mary were wondering at these words, Simeon blessed them in his transports of joy and love, and with prophetic insight spoke of the future of the Child and His mother.

At that instant, we are told, an aged woman (she was eighty-four years old) of the tribe of Aser, coming in, approached the gate. She had lost her husband after seven years of marriage, and had ever since persevered in her widowhood. Her long life had been spent in deeds of piety, either actually dwelling in the Temple or scarcely leaving it for necessary purposes. She also gave praise to Jehovah, and spoke of the Child to “all that looked for the redemption of Israel.”

St. Luke concludes this section of his Gospel by this statement, that when Joseph and Mary “had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city of Nazareth.” This seems to conflict with what is said in the narrative of St. Matthew, who places the flight into Egypt from Bethlehem and before the departure for Galilee. Several solutions of this difficulty have been proposed. By some it has been supposed that Joseph and Mary went at once to Nazareth to settle their affairs and came back to Bethlehem, their return being followed by the adoration of the Magi and the flight into Egypt. Others hold that they went to Galilee only after their return from Egypt, and that St. Luke fails here, as on other occasions, to mark accurately the sequence of events, either because he was not concerned about it or because he followed simply his sources of information, in which the order of events was not taken into account.

§ 3. The Epiphany

1. The Adoration of the Magi. The holy Child was sought and recognized not only by Jews (the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna), but also by representatives from the Gentile world. These were the Magi, who were seen in Jerusalem inquiring for the birthplace of the King of the Jews. The particular time at which this occurred has ever been a matter of discussion, although an early tradition places the visit of the Magi on the thirteenth day after Our Lord’s birth (January 6th), and this date seems to be in harmony with St. Matthew who apparently connects the adoration of the Magi directly with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

It seems, however, impossible to place this event before the Purification in Jerusalem on the fortieth day, for Joseph, who left Bethlehem immediately after the departure of the Magi, remained in Egypt “till after the death of Herod,” that is, several months, and then withdrew to Galilee without coming to the Holy City.

The time at which the Wise Men arrived at Bethlehem may therefore be determined with considerable accuracy: they came after, and most likely only a few days after, the Purification. But the country from which they came cannot be indicated with the same amount of probability.

The Gospel tells us that the Magi came “FROM THE EAST,” a general expression which includes all the nations east of Jerusalem, even Arabia and Persia. Three countries in particular have been suggested by commentators: (1) Arabia, because the gifts offered by the Magi are native to this country, and also because of the prediction in Psalm 71:10, 15, “The kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts.… To him shall be given of the gold of Arabia.” But the gifts offered were common throughout the East, and Arabia is perhaps too far south; (2) Chaldæa, because more east than Arabia, and a great seat of astrology; (3) and with greater probability, Persia, because of the historical association of the word “Magi” with a priestly Persian caste, and also because early pictures in the catacombs represent the Magi wearing the Persian dress.

The name of Magi originally belonged to a high sacerdotal caste among the Persians and Medes. They formed the king’s privy council, and cultivated astrology, medicine, and occult natural sciences. During the time of the Chaldæan dynasty there also existed an order of Magi at the court of Babylon, of whom Daniel was made the president. Subsequently the name was applied to Eastern astrologers, interpreters of dreams, and even to those sorcerers who made pretension to supernatural knowledge. The whole story of the visit of the Magi leads us to admit that the Wise Men who came to worship Our Lord were not of this last description. That they were astrologers or students of the heavens may be inferred from St. Matthew (2:2), “we have seen His star in the East.” If they came from Persia, their name of Magi—which in Persian means priest—would naturally suggest that they belonged to the priestly caste of that country. They are often spoken of as kings: it is more probable, however, that this quality was ascribed to them on account of Psalm 71:10, and this only in the sixth century.

Early pictures in the catacombs represent three Magi worshipping the infant Jesus. The names of Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar were given them only at a much later period.

Many conjectures have been made about the star which guided the Magi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Some take it to have been an extraordinary meteor or comet, or a passing star such as has been seen in later times to blaze suddenly forth and rapidly disappear. The great astronomer Kepler calculated that some time before Our Lord’s birth (747 U.C.) there was a remarkable conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the sign of Pisces, to which in the spring following Mars was added: this conjunction many take as the star of the Magi. Others finally—and with greater probability—consider this star as a purely miraculous sign having the very peculiar motion indicated by St. Matthew (2:9), shedding down its rays in some remarkable way so as to indicate a peculiar spot, and bearing in the Gospel narrative the generic name of “star.”

But whatever the star was, the Wise Men took it as a sign of the birth of the great King of Judæa, the land ruled by that section of the heavens in which it was seen. They may have been helped to this conclusion by the prophecy of Balaam, by the prophecies of Daniel, and by the general expectation which at the time seems to have pervaded the East, that a king should arise in Judæa to rule the world; moreover, great multitudes of the Jews were spread through the East, and their Messianic hopes were most likely known to the Magi. However all this may be, the sight of the star and the inner workings of divine grace determined them to undertake a journey to the far-distant land of the Jews.

After a journey of about four months, if they started from Persia, and of about seventy days, if they came from Chaldæa, the Magi arrived at the Jewish capital expecting to obtain there full information about the particular place where the new King of the Jews was born. Their question much more than their dress excited the curiosity of the Holy City.

Scarcely was Herod informed of their question, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” when he trembled for his crown and formed an artful plan to get rid of the royal descendant of David, whom all expected at that time as the Messias. He therefore consulted the chief priests and scribes as to the place where this great monarch should be born, and the Magi regarding the time when the star had appeared. Then he sent the latter away to Bethlehem, the city of David, bidding them return and report the finding of the Babe to him, on the pretext that he, too, wished to worship Him.

As they went, the star reappeared, and guided them to “the house” where Jesus was. Entering, they fell down before the Babe and presented their gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh; after which, in compliance with a divine warning, they left for their own country without coming back to Jerusalem.

2. The Massacre of the Holy Innocents. The departure of the Magi from Bethlehem was soon reported to Herod, for this village is but a few miles distant from the Holy City. In a frenzy of passion the aged tyrant gave orders for the massacre of all the male children in Bethlehem and its neighborhood “from two years old and under.” This fact is not recorded by Josephus, it is true; but his silence may be accounted for in various ways. Neither is it mentioned by heathen writers; but they knew little about Jewish internal history. At any rate, the order to slaughter the Holy Innocents is in full accordance with the historical character of Herod as we described it in Chapter II.

Herod’s edict extended to “Bethlehem and its neighborhood”; its victims were to be children “of two years old and under.” This latter expression indicates that on the one hand two years was the extreme limit beyond which the tyrant did not think it necessary to go, and that on the other hand he did not know what exact relation the time of the appearance of the star had to the birth of Jesus.

The number of children cannot have been large: perhaps fifty were slain; some writers even conjecture that the number did not exceed ten or fifteen.

3. The Flight into Egypt. Upon the departure of the Magi, St. Joseph, warned from heaven, fled into Egypt with the mother and the divine Infant, so that the cruelty of Herod missed its mark.

The route followed by the Holy Family was, according to tradition, by way of Hebron, Gaza, and the desert; and as this is the most direct way, it is very likely the true one. A few hours sufficed to place them out of danger; and after about three days’ journey they reached the Egyptian boundary.

Egypt was, at the time, a convenient place of refuge, because easily reached from Judæa, outside of Herod’s power, and full of Jewish residents. The particular place where St. Joseph settled in this foreign land is probably Metaryîeh, near Heliopolis, and about two hours distant from Cairo. There he waited until he received a new message from heaven, i.e., “until the death of Herod.”

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