Monday, December 10, 2007

Wise Men Still Seek Him

The magi were the academics of the ancient world. In many ways they exemplify good research practice.

First, they are looking for anomalous patterns in their astronomical observations. This is Oscar Wilde's 'modern intellect' that expects the unexpected, and won't let it drop till a suitable explanation is reached. So next consider their thorough literature search, which leads them to dig up Balaam's ancient prophecy from Numbers 24:17, and possibly Isaiah's words in Isaiah 60:1-5. Initial experiments and background reading now completed, they are prepared to stake their academic reputation, not to mention their undoubtedly meager research grant income, on a field-trip to an insignificant far-flung province of the Roman Empire.

After a long and arduous journey (which may have taken up to two years, by King Herod's calculations) they visit the palace. Initially this looks like being a red herring, until they attend the local university seminar series to discover a previously unknown citation (Micah 5:2).

And so to Bethlehem. At last they reach their objective
'Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.' [T.S. Eliot]

The point of this article is, perhaps a little wryly, to show that the educated elite came to find the baby of Bethlehem. They were just as keen as hoi polloi. They put aside their uncertainty and prejudice, and were rewarded beyond measure. I issue a plea to fellow academics of all disciplines: Will you make a similar journey of discovery this Christmas?