Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar may give way to Gail, Melanie and Barbara at least in the Church of England.

Church officials yesterday agreed to drop the term “Three Wise Men” from a newly approved prayer book because there’s no proof the trio of visitors to the infant Jesus were male or even learned.

“Magi” is now the word of choice.

“The possibility that one or more of the magi were female cannot be excluded completely,” said a governing committee that has tweaked 68 other prayers included in the revised book of worship. The committee retained ‘magi’ on the grounds that the visitors were not necessarily wise, and not necessarily men.”

The decision to adopt what a spokesman calls a more “gender-neutral” term has riled those who say the 27.5 million-member church the mother church of Episcopal congregations in the United States is bowing to feminists in the name of political correctness, and altogether misinterpreting the account of Matthew 2:1, as translated in the King James Version of the New Testament:

“There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”

The committee is nevertheless sticking by its decision, citing “recent scholarship” which they say proves original translations of Matthew used “magi” to denote an official in the Persian court, and someone “exotic” in nature.

To simply translate the term as “men” is “to miss the point,” the committee said.

“The word in the scripture is ‘magi.’ It is completely silent about whether they are men or women. The gender of the magi is completely unimportant,” said Church of England spokesman Arun Kataria.

The decision gave rise to much merriment yesterday in British newspapers and television broadcasts.

“Magi may have been queens,” noted Sky News.

“The Three Fairly Sagacious Persons,” headlined the Daily Telegraph.

“There were three but were they wise, or even men?” asked the Times of London.

The Church of England’s General Synod, which is meeting in London this week on a variety of other topics, is debating “sexist language” and may well drop the term “chairman” from use as well in favor of the neutral “chair.”

Until now, academicians have debated whether the “three kings” in question were actual kings, astrologers, priests, magicians or whether there were even three of them. Their sex has not come under much serious discussion, since women of 2,000 years ago were rarely educated or held public positions in anything. Proponents of feminist theology, however, have not been deterred by history.

Still, a popular puzzle has surfaced in recent years in congregations with a sense of humor and among T-shirt makers, women’s clubs and others eager to address the sex question.

Q: “What if the three wise men were women?”

A: “They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be peace on earth.”

Educated or not, three wise women are cited in the Scripture.

“There were three wise women: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna,” says Christin Ditchfield, a New Mexico talk-radio host who writes for Focus on the Family magazine and other publications. They were the mother of Jesus, the mother of John the Baptist, and a devout prophetess. All are mentioned in dispatches, in the book of Luke, Chapters 1 and 2.

“Just as the wise men followed the star, we can follow the shining examples of these women who lived lives ‘holy and pleasing to God.’” Miss Ditchfield says.

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