Magi Midrash

As I was driving back home last night after a long day of working the election polls I saw my first holiday lights near by neighborhood. White lights hanging from the gutters along with windows outlined in white lit up the night, even brighter than the now waning full moon. It’s only November 9th!

But it reminded me that I am overdue in sharing my thoughts on a children’s book I recently received with a request to offer a review. Reading about the wise men in October was not exactly high on my list. However, this latest book would make a wonderful Christmas (or Epiphany) book for preschool or early elementary children. Nicely bound in hardcover with a dust jacket, the illustrations pop right off the page and will surely engage a child at home or in church.

In The Worried Wiseman, Susan Eaddy has written a whimsical tale following the midrash* of the magi we hear about in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-12. Also referred to as (three) Wise Men or (three) Kings, these men have taken on a life of their own over the years. Matthew is the only gospel that mentions them; they came “from the east” to worship the “king of the Jews,” “bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” The gospel never mentions how many there were, nor what transportation they used to get there. They are regular figures in traditional accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas. Christians recognized them on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany with a variety of celebrations and practices, including Día de Reyes. (My book Faithful Celebrations: Making Time for God in Advent, Christmas & Epiphany has lots of ideas for family fun during this trifecta Christian season.)

In this tale we hear the story from the viewpoint of Melchior’s camel. Another midrash includes the names of the three magi: Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar along with their camels and some versions an elephant. In The Worried Wiseman we hear about Melchior who was a worrier that let fear rule his decision making. His camel, named Nubia, seems to be the actual “wise” character of the story, showing dedication and faith that lead to the Christ Child as well as contribute to his safety when King Herod shows his fury. Here is a sweet story of faith and peace in a world that is fraught with worry and fear. Hmmmmm – kinda like our world today!

What made this book different from all the other books about kings, magi, and wise men that pop up over the holidays are the illustrations. According to the copyright page, Eaddy created them in “polymer clay, painted, and photographed with files finished in Photoshop.” Another interesting note was that she was inspired by the Byzantine mosaics at Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy to create this book.

I look forward to sharing this book with my grandchildren. While my 4-week old grandson may just coo back to me, I know my 7-year-old granddaughter will enjoy this imaginative and creative rendition of the “We three kings of orient are . . “

*Midrash is an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions, both practical and theological, by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah – first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

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