The Magi

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 

“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (Matthew 2:1–12 ESV)

Once in a while, critics will compare the three wise men to three visitors at the birth of some god in some myth (usually without quoting the myth).  It is important to note that Matthew does not say that there were three wise men, only that there were three types of gifts.

It is sometimes also claimed that the presence of the magi is a sign of some connection between the Jesus myth and the Mithras myth.  The magi were generally Zoroastrian.   There was a Mithra in that religion but it is not at all clear how connected the magi were with the worship of Mithra.  Also, scholars are quick to point out that the Mithraic mystery cult was a Roman religion that had very little to do with the older Persian religion.

What exactly did the magi follow?  How could a star lead one to a specific town and a specific home and a specific baby?  There is a biblical connection between stars and angels.  This is found in Daniel and especially in some of the intertestamental literature.  It is possible that an angel led the magi, just as they led the shepherds.  Perhaps the angels did not appear as angels because as pagans the wise men would be tempted to worship them.  Instead, the magi are led to worship Jesus.

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2 thoughts on “The Magi”

  1. What if the “star” was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit that appeared celestially, in the sky, as guidance during the long journey and moved closer to their specific destination as they came closer to the stable? We have a type of precedence for that with the guiding of the exodus through the wilderness. Thoughts? Thanks.

  2. Sure, that is very possible. I went with the angel only because there is a Jewish tradition of equating stars and angels, as well as the angelic appearance to the shepherds. Interestingly enough, there is also a Jewish tradition that the pillar of flame that led the Hebrews was an angel.

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