Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent Geography: The Geography of the Historical Figures Before Christmas

The Season of Advent is about preparing oneself for the Christmas, for the coming of Jesus.  As many people prepare themselves for this season, one can remember that the various players who made Christmas were getting ready with their own goals.


Mary was a girl who lived in the village of Nazereth in Galilee.  Being a Galilean could have been a handicap, Galilee was considered a backwater of the Jewish world, but a woman in a village would most likely expect never to travel too far from home.

View Larger Map

Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel in the Book of Luke pondering how she could ever be pregnant implies she could have taken a vow of perpetual virginity.


Joseph was a carpenter who was a descendant of King David.  David's lineage was vast however so having royal blood did not translate into a comfortable life.  Being of the House of David his family home was the town of Bethlehem near Jerusalem.  While not rich his geographic heritage gave him a full Jewish identity.

View Larger Map

Joseph was betrothed to Mary.

Caesar Augustus

Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar, was the first Roman Emperor.  Augustus had a special tie to the Jews: King Herod had backed Augustus against Marc Anthony during the Roman Civil War.  In return Augustus granted the Jews a religious exemption excluding them from required worship of the Imperial Cult (the Jews were the only religion to not be required worship of the Imperial Cult).

View Larger Map

Towards the birth of Jesus Caesar was planning a decree to require a census throughout the Empire.  At the time this would be the largest census attempted in the world.

King Herod

King Herod "the Great" was reigning in Jerusalem with the backing of the Roman Empire.  Most of his time was divided between restoring the Jewish Temple and other massive building projects, managing his fratricidal family, and balancing the Pharisees, Sadducee, and Zealots against each other.

View Larger Map

Herod's constant obsession was being paranoid about any potential threats to his rule.

The Magi

The word "Magi" comes from Avestan Iranian word magauno, meaning a priest in the Zoroastrian religion.  Zoroastrianism is a Persian religion which teaches that there is one God who is good and the good God is opposed by an equally powerful creature who seeks the ruin of mankind (when Muslims conquered Iran they judged that Zoroastrians worshiped the same God as Muslims, Jews, and Christians).  Zoroastrianism was the religion of Persian speaking people including the Parthians, Greeco-Iranians who ruled lands from modern-day throughout western Asia from about 200 BC to AD 200.  The Parthians' lands match the description in the Book of Mathew which states that the Magi came from "the East."

Zoroastrian priests were known for their studies of the stars looking for signs from God.  The three that would later travel west spent their time looking for a star they thought would guide them to a great king.


Dina said...

I've never seen the Christmas story summarized quite like this. Wonderful!
Your explanation of the magi as being Zoroastrian priests is especially helpful. Thanks!

Mitzi Lambert said...

I like such religious stories related to Christmas. And your story is really adorable for me.