Wednesday, Jan. 6, was Epiphany, when Christians mark the end of the Christmas season by commemorating the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is the last day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I would like to explain a few things about this story which is found only in Matthew 2:1-12.
This story has been the subject of scrutiny and speculation for 2,000 years. Just who were these Magi from the East? What motivated them to travel such a long distance to see a baby, and to bring expensive gifts? How did these pagans know that the King of the Jews had been born, and why should they care? What was that star? A conjunction of heavenly bodies? A comet? A supernova? A miraculous sign defying any natural explanation? How long after Jesus’ birth did these guys show up? Why was King Herod upset at the news, and all Jerusalem with him? More importantly, what does this story mean to us? I’ll try to briefly answer some of those questions, and will also explore some aspects of the story that are important for us today.
II. Some Answers
1. Who Were these Magi?
The first question is, who were those guys? The Greek uses the term magoi, which became Magi in English. They’ve been called kings, which they probably weren’t, and wise men, which they probably were. The terms Magi and wise men give us a hint that they were probably of the priestly class in either Persia or Babylon. They would most likely have been among the sorcerers and magicians of the type mentioned in the Book of Daniel. A common belief is that they were astrologers who saw something in the sky that led them to believe the birth of the prophesied Messiah had occurred.
More on this topic in a future post.