Review: The Magi by Eric Vanden Eykel

Posted January 9, 2023 by Stephanie in 4 Stars, Nonfiction, Review / 11 Comments

Title: The Magi: Who They Were, How They’ve Been Remembered, and Why They Still Fascinate
Author: Eric Vanden Eykel
Publication: October 25, 2022 by Fortress Press
Genre: Nonfiction, Religion
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Play
Rating: 4/5β˜…

George Tyrrell insisted that the quest for the historical Jesus was no more than scholars staring into a well to see their own reflections staring back. Jesus is the mirror image of those who study him. A similar phenomenon accompanies the quest for the historical Magi, those mysterious travelers who came from theEast, following a star to Bethlehem.

In this work, ancient historian and scholar Eric Vanden Eykel helps readers better understand both the Magi and the ancient and modern interpreters who have tried to study them. He shows how, from a mere twelve verses in the Gospel of Matthew, a varied and vast literary and artistic tradition was born. The Magi examines the birth of the Magi story;its enrichments, embellishments, and expansions in apocryphal writing and early Christian preaching;its artistic expressions in catacombs, icons, and paintings and its modern legacy in novels, poetry, and music.

Throughout, the book explores the fascination the Magi story elicits in both ancient and modern readers and what the legacy of the Magi story tells us about its storytellers–and ourselves.

I’m not really religious these days but I grew up going to catholic school so I was already quite familiar with the story of the Magi following the star to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus. But still this turned out to be a surprising and really fascinating book to read. I hope to read more books by professor Eric Vanden Eykel soon!

As the author explains in this book of his early on, this isn’t a nonfiction about if the Magi may have been real people but more of an exploration about how in only twelve verses in the Gospel of Matthew the Magi became such a big part in the story of the birth of Jesus and how ancient as well as modern scholars have studied them.

I loved reading about the history of early Christianity and about the icons, paintings and other pieces of art that the Magi have appeared it. The author also went into different topics regarding the Magi. One example of that is the star they followed and what it could’ve really been. A regular star? A comet? A supernova? This particular chapter was really fascinating to me!

Overall, The Magi: Who They Were, How They’ve Been Remembered, and Why They Still Fascinate was a joy to read. As associate professor of religious studies, Eric Vanden Eykel really knows his stuff and it was also really well-written I must add. I highly enjoyed it and highly recommend it!



About the author:

Eric M. Vanden Eykel is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and the Forrest S. Williams Teaching Chair in Humanities at Ferrum College in Virginia. His area of research is early Christian Apocryphal Literature, with a special focus on texts and traditions about the infancies and childhoods of Jesus and Mary, his mother.

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11 responses to “Review: The Magi by Eric Vanden Eykel

  1. I’m not a religious person, but I took a course about the historical Jesus in college and it was pretty fascinating. This sounds equally interesting!

  2. I agree with the previous commentators about religion. However, I find the biblical stories fascinating, and I do think there is some truth in them, and I love to read historical accounts of the time. I definitely have to read this one.

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