Wise men haven't got a prayer
February 11, 2004
Printer friendly version Print this article
Email to a friend Email to a friend
The Three Wise Men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus may not have been particularly wise and might have been women, the Anglican Church has ruled.
A committee revising short prayers, or "collects", for the church's latest prayer book, Common Worship, said the term "magi" was a transliteration of the name of Persian court officials, and the possibility they were female could not be dismissed.
The General Synod approved the new prayers on Monday at the opening of its week-long meeting in London but some members privately complained that the church was becoming obsessed with politically correct language.
One said: "They are so eager to avoid upsetting the feminists that they will drop anything they think could be deemed offensive."
Yesterday the synod debated a motion to replace references to chairmen with "chair". A spokesman conceded it was anxious to avoid sexist language but said the ruling on the magi was consistent with the biblical texts.
The committee was responding to pleas to replace "magi" with "wise men" in one of the collects on the grounds that the term would be more easily recognised.
In the King James Bible, Matthew 2:1 reads: "There came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, where is he who is born King of the Jews?"
The committee, chaired by the Bishop of Sheffield, Jack Nicholls, said recent scholarship suggested Matthew "deliberately used an exotic word to emphasise the visitors' exotic nature". It added: "To translate the term into something more universally understood is to miss the point being made."
Although the Persians were unlikely to have been women, the possibility could not be excluded. So the committee had retained magi "on the grounds that the visitors were not necessarily wise and not necessarily men".
The Telegraph, London