One of my colleagues, Baptist pastor Murray Hogg, has carried out an investigation into the theological credibility of Matthews thesis that the gifts were unwrapped. I share his response with you here:
On reading this it struck me as an insightful piece of Biblical exegesis.
Unfortunately the author doesn’t go into the social background of the times but relies (mainly) on an argument from silence.
It’s true that the Bible doesn’t mention that the presents were gift wrapped. But the fact is that we simply don’t know from the biblical account WHAT sort of wrapping was utilized on the gifts.
Given that the three wise men were from the East and paper is a Chinese invention, I don’t think the possibility that the presents were gift wrapped could be discounted.
The only thing we can be certain of is that the Myers’ Bourke St store was not offering Christmas gift wrapping at the time – mainly because Christmas hadn’t been invented yet.
So if the presents were wrapped the three wise men would probably have had to do it themselves.
I should mention, in passing, that I consider it a rather discredited view that the three wise men were kings. If one wanted to take that position it could be argued that these “kings” would have had hareems of willing servant girls to wrap the presents for them. But personally I think that the suggestion would be pushing Biblical exegesis way beyond reasonable limits.
So we have to reject the view that the three wise men were Chinese kings and agree with the author of this piece when he suggests that the presents were not gift-wrapped. I have already pointed out that Myer wasn’t offering Christmas gift-wrapping at the time – an important point to remember as some less than careful scholars have suggested that the Bourke St store’s close proximity to Chinatown (which is found on the adjacent Little Bourke St) would have made it easy to get the relatives to pop across to pick up a few pairs of gift wrapped socks or aftershave or something of the sort (not choc-coated almonds as they wouldn’t keep on the long trip to Judea).
All this leads us to agree that self-wrapping by the three wise men seems the most probable scenario.
This suggestion is bolstered by consideration of a point not even intimated at in the article. We know that one cannot wrap Christmas presents without access to sticky tape. Yet this was a Scottish invention (why else would they call it “Scotch tape”?) and as Scotland definitely does NOT lie to the east of Judea, it would have been a ridiculously long detour to travel there to secure a roll. The three wise men would have either had to have found some other source for sticky tape or deliver their presents without gift-wrapping.
Remarkably, however, there is a very simple connection between Scotland and first century Judea through a character who is, in fact, central to the entire Advent narrative. I refer, of course, to none other than Pontius Pilate who was actually born in Scotland (see http://www.sacredconnection.ndo.co.uk/holyland/pontiuspilate.htm). With this critical piece of information in mind, I offer the following reconstruction of events;
The three wise men in typical male fashion bought their gifts at the last moment – they may well have intended to get Christmas cards but these only became available the following year. What is important for our purposes is to realize that they arrived in Judea with the presents unwrapped. They, knowing of Pilate’s Scottish background, decided to detour to Jerusalem and put before Pilate a concoted story about being “kings” who were short of cash and could Pilate please lend them a roll of sticky tape. Pilate havingthe characteristic hospitality of a Scot could hardly refuse – despite the fact that it went against the chacteristic thriftiness of a Scot to give away such a valuable item as a roll of Scotch tape (remember that its scarcity in first-century Judea made it all the more valuable than it is today). Of course, Pilate again displayed his Scottish heritage in being canny enough to secure an assurance that the three “kings” would return the unused portion of the roll on their homeward journey. All this was done in secret (Mat 2:7) so that Herod’s generosity wouldn’t make him a target for insurance salesmen and charity collectors.
At this point, however, things get complicated. Somehow Herod got wind of the fact the three “kings” had presented Jesus with the enormously expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrh (Matt 2:11). This of course awoke him to the fact that he had been cruely decieved. Far from being short of cash, the three “kings” had been holding out on Herod and could have easily chipped in to buy their own roll of sticky tape. Herod was furious and sent his men to Bethlehem in order to recover whatever might be left of his property (2:16). We can be sure that Herod’s primary interest was in gettinghis tape back so we cannot be sure whether the massacre of the innocents (Matt 2:16-18) was premeditated or whether things just got out of hand. All this makes clear why the three “kings” were unable to visit Pilate on the return journey and instead “departed for their own country another way” (Matt 2:12). The idea that the three men were “kings”, of course, entered popular consciousness and remains a popular misconception to the present day.
Bored? Me? Why do you ask?