Summary: This series approaches the Christmas Story by examining the lives of those present from a very historical perspective. This is week three focusing on the Magi.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." 3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6 "’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’" 7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." 9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Eye Witness News 3 - Magi
Do you know what would have happened if it had been Three Wise Women instead of Three Wise Men?
They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.
We have spent these few last weeks of advent digging into the history surrounding it’s major characters. Two weeks ago, we dug into the history surrounding Mary and I personally learned more about her than I had ever known. Then we put the shepherds under the microscope, and again there were details upon details about shepherds to be learned. So this week, as I began to dig into the historical documents to learn more about these Magi… I hoped to find the same thing… a wealth of information and knowledge. Instead… I found something else.
Let’s start with our scripture text. I’m going to open this up to you all. How many of the four gospels give us information about the wisemen? (Only one: Matthew.) Where, does Matthew say they are from? (He doesn’t.) How many Wisemen were there in Matthew’s gospel? (It doesn’t say.)
We don’t have a whole lot to go on… Wisemen (Magi) from the east. That’s almost like saying… “They were Doctors from Beverly Hills!” We don’t know exactly where they’re from… we don’t know exactly who they were… we don’t even know how many there were. And historians don’t really help us out either. There are only theories!
The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. One of the titles given to Daniel was Rab-mag, the Chief of the Magi. His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires-the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots involving the ordeal of the lion’s den. Daniel entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment. Perhaps… perhaps these were the magi that came from the east.
In some translations of the bible… these men are described as wise men/astrologers, because the Greek word magi referred to oriental scientists. Since they checked in with Herod and since Herod called his OWN wisemen in to confer with… some postulate that these wisemen were advisors to Kings… astrologers… scientists… who, after seeing the star, put on their Indiana Jones hat and set off for that rare adventure in exploration. Perhaps… perhaps these were the magi that came from the east.
These first two theories make no mention of the Wisemen being kings… so where I ask do we get the song, “We Three Kings of Orientare!” The idea that the magi were royalty comes from Matthew’s citation of Psalm 72:10-11: "May the kings of Sheba and Saba bring gifts; may all kings pay him homage."