The Visit of the Magi

 

Matthew 2:1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘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 shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose 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, frankincense and myrrh.12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The World Around the Text

The gospel is written by Matthew for Christian Jews in Antioch and Syria around 80-100 CE, after the death of Jesus. Although part of the synoptic gospels, the foreign wise men are specific only to the book of Matthew. It is important to note that the author is not the Apostle Matthew, but an evangelist who was not an eyewitness of the miracles of Jesus. Throughout the book, Matthew makes references to the similarities between Jesus and the patriarchs. The story is set during the reign of King Herod, between 37 and 4 BCE. Herod was insecure in his rule because he was a Gentile amidst a growing Jewish population. The prophecy of a new king chosen by God rather than the Romans caused him to fear being overthrown. In that time, it was common for foreign nations to send ambassadors with gifts to new kings, so the arrival of the Magi looking for Jesus would have made Herod aware that his throne was in danger. Magi were known for their ability to interpret dreams and their knowledge of astrology, so they would have seen the star and recognized its divine authority. Rather than alerting the magi of his insecurity, Harod pretends that he is overjoyed and sends them to find Jesus and alert him of his location. Once the wise men find Jesus, however, the foreigners accept him as a king and give him their gifts, choosing to take a different route home because they had been warned of Herod in another dream.

Bibliography

Brown, Raymond Edward., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. The New Jerome Bible Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990. 630-636.

Mays, James Luther, and Joseph Blenkinsopp. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Oden, Thomas C. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. 20-30. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.