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As Mary was too poor to offer a lamb after giving birth to Jesus, offering birds instead, does this prove the Magi had not yet pitched up with gold? Otherwise, she could have afforded to buy a huge flock of sheep!

Leviticus 12:2-8 states that after birthing a male child, the mother shall be ritually unclean for seven days then she must present herself with a lamb for a burnt offering, but if unable to do that, then two turtle-doves/pigeons. Luke 2:22,24 has Joseph and Mary offering birds, and not a lamb:

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

...

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

Also, given that the little family were able to immediately decant to Egypt after the visit of the Magi, and to stay there till Herod the Great’s death, does this not indicate that they then had funds sufficient for such an expensive undertaking? Their stay in Egypt wouldn’t have been a mere long weekend. (Matthew 2:1-15)

Would that not show how the kingly gifts of the Magi accounted for divine providence enabling them to escape wicked Herod’s clutches? But had they had those expensive gifts, especially the gold, within a week of Jesus being born, they would have offered a lamb, and not birds – surely?

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I suggest that the short answer is yes.

In a post shared here I made the case that:

  1. The gifts of the Magi were very likely used to finance the trip to Egypt
  2. Joseph & Mary didn't yet have those funds when the avian sacrifice was made in the temple

I understand some do not like that perspective; please see the linked post for a more extended discussion of why I believe Joseph & Mary were willing to spend the money given by the Magi to Jesus.

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Finances

Leviticus offered the exception not for anyone who didn't feel like offering a sheep, but specifically for those who could not afford one. There is no indication that Joseph & Mary tried to game the system--I suggest that the passage in Leviticus, and the specific reference to it by Luke, indicates that they made an avian sacrifice because they were too poor to afford a lamb.

That the family, later in life, was not considered the "elite" of their society is made plain by the condescending nature of the comment in Matthew 13:

54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?

55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

The locals didn't think "one of those people" could be anyone of consequence. It doesn't sound like they are independently wealthy.

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Chronology

Leviticus 12 indicates that the sacrifice in the temple for a male child was to be made after 40 days of "uncleanness" and "purifying" for the mother (see verses 2-4). The words given were those that the Israelites could understand, but the principle behind them is actually a brilliant program for maternal post-partum health & protection.

This means that the trip to the temple recorded in Luke 2:22 is 40 days (or perhaps slightly more than 40 days) after Jesus' birth.

Matthew 2:11 strongly suggests that Jesus is more than 40 days old when the wise men arrive:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

  1. They're in a house now (suggestive but not probative on its own, since we don't know 100% for sure whether the manger was in a cave, dwelling, etc.)
  2. The wise men are able to come visit with Mary (ergo she's no longer "unclean")
  3. Jesus is referred to as a young child rather than an infant

Bethlehem is 6 miles from Jerusalem--it wouldn't have taken Herod all that long to realize the wise men weren't coming back. I propose then, based on the 3 points above, and the fact that there would have been but little time between the Magi's departure and the slaughter of the children by Herod, that the trip to the temple recorded in Luke 2:22 is before the visit of the Magi--the family doesn't have the money yet.

Bonus chronology for those interested

In this video series on chronology in the life of Jesus I make the argument that Jesus was about 9-10 months old when Herod died. We don't know this with certainty, but it's a decent approximation.

Wait, wasn't he 2 years old? No, I don't think so. Herod wanted to kill this supposed threat to his reign, and his violent temperament makes it clear he was willing to kill extra people to make sure he got his mark.

Herod almost certainly rounded up to two years to make sure he didn't miss. If the Magi's information suggested Jesus was a full 2 years old, Herod would have told his soldiers to kill boys up to 3 or 4 years just to be sure. Herod was an extraordinarily violent man and I wouldn't put it past him for a moment (see Josephus for a brutally honest discussion of Herod's crimes, including the murder of his favorite wife, 3 of his sons, numerous in-laws, and plenty of others who were in the wrong place when Herod was in a bad mood).

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  • 1
    Good post Agreed. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jun 3 at 22:48
  • Still don’t agree with the parents using the gifts for themselves, especially since you can’t prove it. But good post otherwise Jun 4 at 2:00
  • 3
    @Nihil Sine Deo Using the gifts to save the life of their child surely could not be construed as "using the gifts for themselves"?
    – Anne
    Jun 4 at 13:31
  • 1
    @Nihil Sine Deo Nobody said they used all the money up during their weeks/months/years in Egypt. The Bible doesn’t say a thing about that. If there was money left over from being refugees, what is that to us? There is no reason to doubt their judicious use of all of the Magi’s gifts.
    – Anne
    Jun 4 at 15:58
  • 1
    @Cory The real issue is, when did the Magi arrive with their gifts? It’s as simple as that. You comment as a person in the 21st century, looking back. But Mary & Joseph were fully taken up with a miraculous, divine conception, a safe birth, shepherds being sent via angelic announcement, then some time later exotic foreigners bearing gifts. Immediately, they had to then flee to Egypt as divinely instructed. They were not contemplating theology.
    – Anne
    Jun 10 at 19:00

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