From a Dissertation to a Publication

Eric Vanden Eykel publishes two new books


Photo Credit by Kristin Waters

Eric Vanden Eykel, Associate Professor of Religion, with the book he co-edited “Sex, Violence, and Early Christian Texts” and his publication “The Magi: Who They Were, How They’ve Been Remembered, and Why They Still Fascinate”.

Lindsey M. Foster, Editor

What started as an unmentioned topic in a dissertation has now become a publication for Ferrum’s own, Eric Vanden Eykel, Associate Professor of Religion.

Vanden Eykel’s second book “The Magi: Who They Were, How They’ve Been Remembered, and Why They Still Fascinate” was published on Oct. 25.

“It is always exciting when a member of our faculty is able to publish their scholarly work,” said Kevin Reilly, Vice President for Academic Affairs.

The publication follows the story of the Magi that visited Jesus in the book of Matthew from the Bible and how readers of the story have interpreted the Magi for the past 2,000 years.

“I enjoyed early ‘teaser conversations with him about the Magi book and was excited to get my copy on pre-order,” said Jason Powell, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “I finished reading it over the weekend, and it is a great window to how the historical study of literature related to the Bible is carried out.”

The inspiration for “The Magi” followed Vanden Eykel’s dissertation he did in graduate school at Marquette University in Milwaukee in 2014. For his dissertation, he wrote about a text that mentioned the Magi, but he did not mention it within his work. After sitting down at dinner with his dissertation committee, one of the members asked Vanden Eykel why he did not mention the Magi.

“It was a random question that kind of bothered me,” Vanden Eykel said.

Whilst looking for books about the Magi, Vanden Eykel did not see any literature that stood out to him, and that’s where the inspiration for his publication came to be.

“I didn’t find anything that I was satisfied with,” Vanden Eykel said. “So I found explanations that were way too simple to way too complicated and I thought I could do a better job at writing about them.”

In total, this book took a year and a half to write.

“I started writing it in the summer of 2020 and finished writing it in March of this year,” Vanden Eykel said. “My sabbatical kind of helped with that as well because I didn’t have to teach in the spring.”

While the writing process was complete, Vanden Eykel spent a few more months of proofing and indexing the book until July of this year after teaching his E-Term course in Italy.

“I got proofs for this book while we were in Rome, so on the way home I was reading page proofs,” Vanden Eykel said.

With there being so much written about the Magi, Vanden Eykel had to choose what information he wanted to include or exclude from his book.

“The toughest part of the research was not only finding what stories and authors talked about the Magi, but also figuring out what I wanted to focus on and what I was just going to have to leave unsaid,” Vanden Eykel said.

Out of the entire book, chapter four regarding Matthew and the Magi in the story of Matthew is Vanden Eykel’s favorite part.

“Chapter four is probably the most complicated,” Vanden Eykel said. “But I like it because it gave me the chance to really dig into this little piece of Matthew and say as much as I could about it, so I think chapter four is the piece that I am the most proud of.”

Vanden Eykel also thinks this chapter benefits alone due to its complexity.

“There’s so much going on in it, but also I really like it because I feel like it’s a really good stand-alone chapter,” Vanden Eykel said. “I could probably give it to somebody to use in a class, they could just use that, and it would be sufficient.”

Throughout this book, the Magi are seen as mysterious characters as they only appear in the book of Matthew. However, within the book of Luke, the shepherds visit Jesus. To Vanden Eykel, the shepherds are not as complex as the Magi.

“It wouldn’t be possible to write a book like this about the shepherds because there’s nothing about them that keep people wondering, they show up and then they leave,” Vanden Eykel said.

Vanden Eykel wants his readers of this book to see how mysterious the Magi really are in literature.

“What I want people to take away from this book is that the Magi are complicated characters and that for a number of reasons have kept people thinking about them and guessing about who they were for 2,000 years,” Vanden Eykel said.

Publishing his first book in 2016, “But Their Faces Were All Looking Up: Author and Reader in the Protevangelium of James”, it was mainly being read for scholarly uses.

“My first book is very technical and also very expensive,” said Vanden Eykel. “Because it’s so technical, the only people who read it are people who are studying that specific texts. People aren’t buying that, reading it, enjoying it, they’re reading it for data.”

For this second publication, Vanden Eykel wanted “The Magi” to be affordable and accessible for the general public.

“I wanted to write a book that my mom could read,” Vanden Eykel said. “I wanted a book that the number of people that I know who are not biblical scholars could read and enjoy, but I also wanted it to be a book that my biblical scholar friends could read.”

If you want to speak with Vanden Eykel about his recent book, there will be a celebration of publication and book signing on Nov. 14 from 7 p.m.-8 p.m. in the Panther’s Den.

“I’m looking forward to being able to talk with people from the local community about it,” Vanden Eykel said. “An event like this allows me to talk with other faculty, staff, and people from outside of the college.”

A book signing has been planned for tonight at 7 p.m. in the Panther’s Den.