The Wise Men; Who were they and where from?

Questions on the Eve of Epiphany

We were studying the early stories in Matthew surrounding Jesus’ birth last Sunday.   What we found as we proceeded was that Matthew doesn’t give us a lot of details.  With Epiphany coming tomorrow, several questions arise regarding the story in Matthew 2:1-12.  We are left to try to fill in the background from what we hope we have learned.

The wise men or magi, just who were they?  How many wise men made the trip?  How did they travel?  They came from the east, but where?  How did they come to realize that the star was a sign that a king of the Jews was born?  If they had access to the scriptures, why did they not figure out that the new king was to be born in Bethlehem?  Did anyone else see the star?  If they departed by another way, did they take a whole new route or simply circumvent Jerusalem?

One of the class members thought that those to whom Matthew wrote would have known the details without having to study and make best guesses.  They understood the times, because they lived in the times or soon after the times in which the events occurred.

To answer some of our questions, we have created what the Jews called Midrash.  Midrash is an interpretation of the events, but also a way to fill in the gaps.  Thus, we picture the wise men coming from Babylon riding on camels who arrive at the stable along with the shepherds, even though it must have been sometime later, because Mary, Joseph and their baby were living in a house by the time the wise men arrived.

The wonder of Christmas is contained within the stories of Jesus birth as we have them in Matthew and Luke.  We fill in the gaps, but our salvation is not in the gaps, but in Jesus, God’s Savior from our sins.

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