The First Christmas


imagesCAVHAV8T

Heavenly light suffuses this 15th-century Nativity scene. The divine presence is
emphasized through the inclusion of the Trinity: God the Father appears at top,
surrounded by a host of cherubim; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on
golden rays; and the Son is cradled in the wings of angels.
Early Christian writers noted that the magi, the first visitors to recognize Jesus as
messiah, were thus also the first witnesses to the Trinity. Each magus was described as
recognizing a different aspect of Jesus: mortal, divine and eternal. Their affiliation with the
Trinity, suggests author Robin Jensen, might explain why they are almost always depicted
as three.
This illumination appears in the prayerbook Les Très Riches Heures, produced by the
Limbourg Brothers for the French Duke of Berry. It is now in the Musée Condé, in
Chantilly, France.
Centuries later, artists would depict what the magi were believed to have witnessed—the
Trinity made manifest at the Nativity. The birth scene in the early-15th-century manuscript known
as Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers, includes God
the Father in a cloud; the Spirit in the form of a descending dove; and the Son, the newborn babe
lying on a bed of hay (see photo of early-15th-century Nativity scene).The First Christmas
© 2009 Biblical Archaeology Society 12
Courtesy of Robin M. Jensen
The promise of salvation is represented by paired scenes of Jesus raising the dead (left)
and the magi approaching the babe (right) on this fourth-century sarcophagus, from the
Vatican’s Museo Pio Cristiano. As the first to recognize Jesus as messiah, the magi,
according to the early church, were also the first to recognize the promise of eternal life
through resurrection. This hopeful message of the magi accounts for their frequent
appearance in funerary settings
Gifted with power to divine oracles and read stars, the magi recognized the child as the
messiah, as both human and divine, king and child, intimately present and cosmically meaningful,
mortal and eternal. For the early church, the magi themselves came to represent the Trinity. A
final image of the magi, paired on a fourth-century marble sarcophagus with a scene of Jesus
raising the dead (see photo, above), reinforces why their image appears so early and so
frequently in funerary settings. In recognizing the promise of a messiah who was both human and
divine—and eternal—the magi provided a message of hope for both the living and the dead.
This article first appeared in Bible Review magazine, December 2001. You can view this
article fully illustrated in the BAS Library, along with more than 30 years of articles by the world’s
foremost scholars of Biblical archaeology and related fields.
Visit http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/library for more informationimagesCAVHAV8T

Heavenly light suffuses this 15th-century Nativity scene. The divine presence is
emphasized through the inclusion of the Trinity: God the Father appears at top,
surrounded by a host of cherubim; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descends on
golden rays; and the Son is cradled in the wings of angels.
Early Christian writers noted that the magi, the first visitors to recognize Jesus as
messiah, were thus also the first witnesses to the Trinity. Each magus was described as
recognizing a different aspect of Jesus: mortal, divine and eternal. Their affiliation with the
Trinity, suggests author Robin Jensen, might explain why they are almost always depicted
as three.
This illumination appears in the prayerbook Les Très Riches Heures, produced by the
Limbourg Brothers for the French Duke of Berry. It is now in the Musée Condé, in
Chantilly, France.
Centuries later, artists would depict what the magi were believed to have witnessed—the
Trinity made manifest at the Nativity. The birth scene in the early-15th-century manuscript known
as Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers, includes God
the Father in a cloud; the Spirit in the form of a descending dove; and the Son, the newborn babe
lying on a bed of hay (see photo of early-15th-century Nativity scene).The First Christmas
© 2009 Biblical Archaeology Society 12
Courtesy of Robin M. Jensen
The promise of salvation is represented by paired scenes of Jesus raising the dead (left)
and the magi approaching the babe (right) on this fourth-century sarcophagus, from the
Vatican’s Museo Pio Cristiano. As the first to recognize Jesus as messiah, the magi,
according to the early church, were also the first to recognize the promise of eternal life
through resurrection. This hopeful message of the magi accounts for their frequent
appearance in funerary settings
Gifted with power to divine oracles and read stars, the magi recognized the child as the
messiah, as both human and divine, king and child, intimately present and cosmically meaningful,
mortal and eternal. For the early church, the magi themselves came to represent the Trinity. A
final image of the magi, paired on a fourth-century marble sarcophagus with a scene of Jesus
raising the dead (see photo, above), reinforces why their image appears so early and so
frequently in funerary settings. In recognizing the promise of a messiah who was both human and
divine—and eternal—the magi provided a message of hope for both the living and the dead.
This article first appeared in Bible Review magazine, December 2001. You can view this
article fully illustrated in the BAS Library, along with more than 30 years of articles by the world’s
foremost scholars of Biblical archaeology and related fields.
Visit http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/library for more information

About brakeman1

Using every tool reaching out to those who seek the shinning light Jesus Christ gives to those who have faith. Keeping uninformed aware of bable with truth and meaning
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