Through the Bible: Matt. 2:1-12, The Magi from Persia

We are going through Tatian’s Diatessaron, a second-century harmony of the Gospels, and we are now on Section III, which switches back to Matthew from Luke.

The Magis and Their Star

After that [the birth of Jesus] the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the King of the Jews which was born? We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

“From the east” almost certainly means Persia. There have been all sorts of debates about what the star might have been, but there is one thing missing in the debates. The magi saw a star “in the east.” Jerusalem is not east of Persia. It is west. The magi could not have come from the east, then saw a star in the east, then followed that star to Jerusalem unless they went around the world. No, they saw a star in the east. This could mean they saw a star east of them, but much more likely, they saw a star while they were in the east. That star let them know that the King of the Jews was born, so they went west to Jerusalem to worship him.

I also suspect that they expected the Jews to know about their newborn King and to be as excited as the magi were. Their question presupposes that the Jews knew about this King.

Jewish Leaders and the Messiah

Herod the king heard, and he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him.

I am sure “all Jerusalem” refers to the leaders of Jerusalem. The people would not be troubled by the birth of the Messiah who would deliver them from Rome. Herod was troubled, though, because Rome had installed him as king. The chief priests and the scribes would be troubled because they were selfish, evil people (with some exceptions like Gamaliel, Acts 5:34-39, and Nicodemus, John 7:50-52; 19:39) who cared more about their own position than about the deliverance of their country or the will of God. They would gladly reject and kill the Messiah of God than give up their positions of authority.

Texts of the Old Testament

[Herod] gathered all the chief priests and the scribes of the people and asked them in what place the Messiah should be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea. Thus it is written in the prophet, “You also, Bethlehem of Judah, are not contemptible among the kings of Judah. From you shall go forth a King, and he shall be a Shepherd to my people Israel” [Mic. 5:2].

This is an interesting quote. If you look in your Bible at Micah 5:2, you will not find “contemptible among the kings of Judah,” but “little among tho thousands of Judah” (KJV). This quote matches neither the Masoretic texts from which Catholic and Protestant Bible are translated, nor the Greek Septuagint, from which Orthodox Bibles are translated. There’s nothing to be done with this, just an interesting note of a textual difference used either by the scribes or by Matthew in recording the event.

Note: a friend of mine has several pages arguing for the authority of the Septuagint over the Masoretic text.

The Pre-existence of Jesus the Messiah

More interesting is where the scribes stopped, for that passage goes on to say, “… whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2, ESV). The Septuagint is even more revelatory, saying, “His goings forth were from the beginning, even from everlasting” (Orthodox Study Bible).

Micah 5:2 is just one example of many pointing out that Jesus did not begin his existence at Bethlehem. We all know John 1:1 with John 1:14, but there are many others: Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1:15-17; and Hebrews 1:2-3 are a few examples off the top of my head.

The Magi

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and inquired of them the time at which the star appeared to them. He sent them to Bethlehem and said to them, “Go and search for the child diligently, and when you have found him, come and let me know so that I may also go and worship him.” They, when they heard the king, departed.

I will venture a guess that the Magi probably went away puzzled that the Jewish leaders didn’t know about the birth of their new King and suspicious of the motives of both Herod and the scribes.

Lo, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until it came and stood above where the child was. When they beheld the star, they rejoiced with very great joy.

Now the star was leading them. It was the star “they had seen in the east,” which did not lead them to Jerusalem but instead was a sign that the King of the Jews was born. Somewhere the Magi had heard about the coming Messiah, probably from dispersed Jews, and they recognized the star as a sign that he was born. They came to Jerusalem and had to inquire where he might have been born. The Jewish leaders did not know because they were not looking for his entrance into the world like the Magi were, so the star came again to lead the Magi to where the child was.

They entered the house and beheld the child with Mary his mother, fell down worshipping him, and opened their saddlebags and offered him offerings, gold and myrrh and frankincense.

It is very interesting here that they entered a house, in Bethlehem, and they found Joseph, Mary, and Jesus there. Luke told us that they went back to Nazareth in Galilee as soon as all the sacrifices were done. We just looked at that in the last post. It is possible to try to reconcile Matthew and Luke by saying either that the Magi came before the 33 days of Mary’s purification was past or that when Luke said they left after they fulfilled the Law of Moses he did not mean immediately left. They may have waited a few months.

If you need something like that to satisfy you, then by all means, choose one or the other explanation. I find it much simpler to acknowledge that Luke said he wrote his Gospel as a historian. He was not there (Luke 1:1-4). While Luke was compiling his Gospel, Matthew was in either Ethiopia or Persia, so Luke did not have had access to his Gospel. Thus Luke didn’t realize that there was a visit from Persia. Matthew may even have emphasized it in his Gospel because he went to Persia in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles to go into all the world (Matt. 28:18-20).

They saw in a dream that they should not return to Herod, and they traveled by another way in going to their country.

I’m sure this dream was no surprise to the “wise” men. They surely noticed that Herod and the other Jewish leaders had evil motives and a deceptive tongue.

I would appreciate the prayers that God would give me time to go faster, at least every other day, through the Diatessaron. I am also trying to finish a book on the Roman Catholic claim that the pope has “full, supreme, and universal authority over the whole Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 882). I’m making good progress on that book, but sharing time writing both and trying to get my basement fixed at my Memphis house is time-consuming. Thank you for your prayers.

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