The Coming of the Magi

Soon after the presentation, came the wise men from the East to worship the new-born King of the Jews. This visit excited the suspicions of Herod, who made diligent inquiries of them, but being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to him, they departed to their own country another way.

The time of the appearing of the star which led the Magi to seek Jesus, has been already considered ; and in the preceding note the reasons have been given why their coming should be placed after the purification on the 40th day.

It is not said whence the Magi came, except ct7ro avaroXwi/, "from the east." In this phrase Arabia may be included, though lying rather to the south than east of Judea; but its more probable reference is to the regions beyond the Euphrates.

i Hofmann, 120.

2 Hildesheim, die Legende von den heiligen drei Konigen, Hertzog Encyc.., ii. 503. For a full discussion of all these traditions, see Spanheim, Dubia Evangelica, ii. 271, and Patrifius, iii. 318.

Whether however of these, Persia, or Chaldea, or Parthia, may be meant, we have no data to determine. Some have preferred Persia, because this was the home of the Magian religion; others Arabia, because the gifts given were native to that country, and it was near to Judea, and also because of the prediction of the Psalmist, (Ixxii. 10,) that the kings of Seba and Sheba should offer gifts.

1 The whole subject of the coming of the Magi is elaborately discussed by Patritius, iii. 326 and 34:0.

According to Rawlinson,1 Magism was not the primitive religion of the Persians, but was received among them from the Scyths. Its chief feature was worship of the elements. The Magi, distinctively so called, were a tribe of the Medes, to whom were intrusted all the priestly functions connected with the practice of that religion, holding a relation to the other tribes similar to that of the tribe of Levi to the Jews. They were astrologers, and interpreters of dreams. The name, at first one of honor, lost in later times its significance, and was applied to all who made pretensions to supernatural knowledge, the itinerant conjurors, wizards, jugglers, often spoken of by the Roman writers, and mentioned by Josephus and Luke.3

That these astrologers may have had some knowledge of Balaam's prophecy of a star out of Jacob, (Num. xxiv. 17,) is not impossible.3 Of the prophecies of Daniel, from the peculiar relation in which he stood to the wise men of Babylon, they could scarcely have heen ignorant. That a general expectation pervaded the East that a king should arise in Judea to rule the world, seems well authenticated.4 At least there were great multitudes of Jews in the East, and their Messianic hopes could hardly fail to come to the knowledge of the Magi. According to Ellicott,5 it is most probable that they had learned of " prophecies uttered in their own country, dimly foreshadowing this divine mystery." Some suppose these wise men to have been themselves Jews, but their question, " Where is he that is born King of the Jews ? " plainly implies that they were not of that people. Aside, then, from any immediate supernatural revelation to them, we may infer that they were in a position to interpret the appearing of the star as connected with the fulfilment of Jewish prophecies respecting the Messiah, and thus could speak of it as " His star." Still there is good reason to believe that they were taught of God by special revelation the meaning of the things they saw.

Of the supernatural character of this star we have already spoken. The part it plays in guiding the wise men on their way, its appearing and disappearing and reappearing, cannot well be explained by a reference to the conjunctions of planets, or to the ordinary movements of the stars. It has well been said by one : Prceter illam stellw speciem qum corporeum incitavit obtutum^fulgentior veritatis radius eorum cor da perdocuit. And Augustine calls the star magnified lingua coeli.

Many traditions have been current in the Church respecting these Magi.1 They were said to be three in number ; they were kings, one of Arabia, one of Godolia or Saba, and one of Tharsis : their names Melchior, Balthasar, Caspar; they were baptized by St. Thomas, their bones were gathered by St. Helena and buried at St. Sophia in Constantinople, and were finally removed to Cologne, where they now lie.2

If the Magi came from beyond the Euphrates, they probably came by way of Damascus and thence to Jerusalem. In returning, they may have gone south of the Dead Sea to Petra, and thence have crossed the Euphrates.