Again, Jesus is said to have suffered and died on the “parasceve of the pasch”, or simply on the “parasceve” (John 19:14, 31); as “parasceve” meant Friday, the expression “parasceve” denotes Friday on which the pasch happened to fall, not the before the pasch. Finally, the day following the parasceve on which Jesus died is called “a great sabbath day” (John 19:31), either to denote its occurrence in the paschal week or to distinguish it from the preceding pasch, or day of minor rest.
No student of the life of Jesus will question the chronological order of its principal divisions: infancy, hidden life, public life, passion, glory. But the order of events in the single divisions is not always clear beyond dispute.
The infancy of Jesus
The history of the infancy, for instance, is recorded only in the First Gospel and in the Third. Each Evangelist contents himself with five pictures:
St. Matthew describes the birth of Jesus, the adoration of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the return to Nazareth.
St. Luke gives a sketch of the birth, of the adoration of the shepherds, of the circumcision, of the purification of the Virgin, and of the return to Nazareth.
The two Evangelists agree in the first and the last of these two series of incidents (moreover, all scholars place the birth, adoration of the shepherds, and the circumcision before the Magi), but how are we to arrange the intervening three events related by St. Matthew with the order of St. Luke? We indicate a few of the many ways in which the chronological sequence of these facts has been arranged.
This order implies that either the purification was delayed beyond the fortieth day, which seems to contradict Luke 2:22 sqq., or that Jesus was born shortly before Herod’s death. so that the Holy Family could return from Egypt within forty days after the birth of Jesus. Tradition does not seem to favour this speedy return.
According to this order the Magi either arrived a few days before the purification or they came on 6 January; but in neither case can we understand why the Holy Family should have offered the sacrifice of the poor, after receiving the offerings of the Magi. Moreover, the first Evangelist intimates that the angel appeared to St. Joseph soon after the departure of the Magi, and it is not at all probable that Herod should have waited long before inquiring concerning the whereabouts of the new born king. The difficulties are not overcome by placing the adoration of the Magi on the day before the purification; it would be more unlikely in that case that the Holy Family should offer the sacrifice of the poor.
As Luke 2:39 appears to exclude the possibility of placing the adoration of the Magi between the presentation and return to Nazareth, there are interpreters who have located the advent of the wise men, the flight to Egypt, the slaughter of the Innocents, and the return from Egypt after the events as told in St. Luke. They agree in the opinion that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the purification, and then left Nazareth in order to make their home in Bethlehem. Eusebius, Epiphanius, and some other ancient writers are willing to place the adoration of the Magi about two years after Christ’s birth; Paperbroch and his followers allow about a year and thirteen days between the birth and the advent of the Magi; while Patrizi agrees with those who fix the advent of the Magi at about two weeks after the purification. The text of Matthew 2:1-2 hardly permits an interval of more than a year between the purification and the coming of the wise men; Patrizi’s opinion appears to satisfy all the data furnished by the gospels, while it does not contradict the particulars added by tradition.