Monday, March 28, 2005

A little known fact is that I'm rather interested in ancient and medieval history, and that at one point in time, I wanted to be an archaelogist. But then, that gave way to dreams of wanting to become a marine biologist. And then a travel photographer. And then all of those were crushed by the sheer weight that is practicality and now, here I am.

Anyway, I was watching The Mummy Detectives on the Discovery Channel today. This episode, The Three Kings, showcased Dr. Bob Brier and team attempting to unravel the mystery of the three wise men and Jesus' birth. Among other things, the episode explained how the star of Bethlehem (purportedly Jupiter) appeared to move and showed the wise men where to go, and how the dream from God came to the wise men to warn them not to return to King Herod after they had paid homage to Jesus (as they were Magi and were good at interpreting dreams). During the course of the episode, it also said that Jesus' birthdate was really April 17, 6 B.C., and that the wise men had most likely visited when he was eight months old on December 19, 6 B.C. (thereby also explaining why Herod ordered all infants from two years and below to be slaughtered instead of those six months and below, which would have been on a substantially smaller scale).

In any case, with regards to the three wise men, the old paintings of the three Magi showed one young Magi, old middle-aged one and one old Magi. The remains of the Magi, apparently housed in the Cologne Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Mary (much to my surprise, as I thought the Cathedral was Lutheran when I visited the area, else I would surely have stayed in the magnificent structure and taken more photos of the Shrine of the Three Magi than I had).

Apparently, the remains of the Magi were discovered in Persia and brought to Emperor Constantine I. Around 288-337 A.D., he presented them to the ninth bishop of Milan, Eustorgio I, ninth bishop of Milan. In 1163 or 1164, the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich I (called "Barbarossa" meaning "Redbeard," 1122-1190) presented Cologne (Koln), Germany with a gift which he had taken from Milan after he had captured the city in March, 1162 - the bones of the Three Wise Men. It is said that the remains were transported in three ships. Within a few years, a shrine to house the relics was begun.

But does this mean that the bones housed in the Shrine in the Cathedral are real? Using a rather neat bit of technology and anatomical knowledge, Dr. Brier zooms in on a photo he has of the back of the three skulls and blows up the image. The sutures (which knit together the bones of the cranium) indicate that the three are younger (sutures open), middle (partly fused), older (fused and smoothed over), meaning that they do match the painting featured earlier in the show. Also, the dye of the cloth found in the shrine, as well as the weave, look even older.

Whether this really means that the bones are the real deal remains to be seen. However, this means that the story - that the bones are among the holiest relics in the whole of Christianity - could well be true.

Do I believe in any of the above? Well, yes and no. I tend to believe in the power of science, regardless of what my readings in the Philosophy of Science (specifically in realism and antirealism) have taught me, and so, I am quite impressed by the hypothesis that Dr. Brier has put forward. Nevertheless, as people say, I won't be changing the date of Christmas just yet.

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