In Bethlehem of Judea (en Bhqleem th Ioudaia). There was a Bethlehem in Galilee seven miles northwest of Nazareth (Josephus, Antiquities XIX. 15). This Bethlehem (house of bread, the name means) of Judah was the scene of Ruth's life with Boaz ( Ruth 1:1 ; Ruth 1:5 ) and the home of David, descendant of Ruth and ancestor of Jesus ( Matthew 1:5 ). David was born here and anointed king by Samuel ( 1 Samuel 17:12 ). The town came to be called the city of David ( Luke 2:11 ). Jesus, who was born in this House of Bread called himself the Bread of Life ( John 6:35 ), the true Manna from heaven. Matthew assumes the knowledge of the details of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem which are given in Luke 2:1-7 or did not consider them germane to his purpose. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem from Nazareth because it was the original family home for both of them. The first enrolment by the Emperor Augustus as the papyri show was by families (kat oikian). Possibly Joseph had delayed the journey for some reason till now it approached the time for the birth of the child.
In the days of Herod the King (en hmerai Hhrwidou tou Basilew). This is the only date for the birth of Christ given by Matthew. Luke gives a more precise date in his Gospel ( Luke 2:1-3 ), the time of the first enrolment by Augustus and while Cyrenius was ruler of Syria. More will be said of Luke's date when we come to his Gospel. We know from Matthew that Jesus was born while Herod was king, the Herod sometimes called Herod the Great. Josephus makes it plain that Herod died B.C. 4. He was first Governor of Galilee, but had been king of Judaea since B.C. 40 (by Antony and Octavius). I call him "Herod the Great Pervert" in Some Minor Characters in the New Testament. He was great in sin and in cruelty and had won the favour of the Emperor. The story in Josephus is a tragedy. It is not made plain by Matthew how long before the death of Herod Jesus was born. Our traditional date A.D. 1, is certainly wrong as Matthew shows. It seems plain that the birth of Jesus cannot be put later than B.C. 5. The data supplied by Luke probably call for B.C. 6 or 7.
Wise men from the east (magoi apo anatolwn). The etymology of Magi is quite uncertain. It may come from the same Indo-European root as (megas) magnus, though some find it of Babylonian origin. Herodotus speaks of a tribe of Magi among the Medians. Among the Persians there was a priestly caste of Magi like the Chaldeans in Babylon ( Daniel 1:4 ). Daniel was head of such an order ( Daniel 2:48 ). It is the same word as our "magician" and it sometimes carried that idea as in the case of Simon Magus ( Acts 8:9 Acts 8:11 ) and of Elymas Barjesus ( Acts 13:6 Acts 13:8 ). But here in Matthew the idea seems to be rather that of astrologers. Babylon was the home of astrology, but we only know that the men were from the east whether Arabia, Babylon, Persia, or elsewhere. The notion that they were kings arose from an interpretation of 60:3 ; Revelation 21:24 . The idea that they were three in number is due to the mention of three kinds of gifts (gold, frankincense, myrrh), but that is no proof at all. Legend has added to the story that the names were Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior as in Ben Hur and also that they represent Shem, Ham, and Japhet. A casket in the Cologne Cathedral actually is supposed to contain the skulls of these three Magi. The word for east (apoanatolwn) means "from the risings" of the sun.