Why did the Magi come? Indeed, there is a disconnect…they see a star and conclude that a Jewish king will be born, deserving of worship. So what is the untold story here?
“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2
They testify they saw his star in the East, and their skills included the ability to observe the night sky and judge the meaning of extraordinary events. Today, the internet is full of theories of planet alignment or nova starbursts near this time. However, the central mystery in my mind remains in how they see a star that results in Gentiles worshipping a Jewish baby. A spectacular night light will never demonstrate this, so something more must be afloat.
The Magi knew more than the story reveals – either by God’s inspiration or by virtual of their background – they knew about the kingship and worthiness of this baby. Based on the text, God guided them by the Star (Matt. 2:2, 2:9). This star reappears after they leave Jerusalem (Matt. 2:7) to bring joy and excitement to them. However, their guidance from God leads them to worship the baby Jesus (Matt. 2:8, 11) and give gifts worthy of honor (2:11). Let’s look at the history of this situation.
The Backstory in How They Knew
As Persian wise men and religious priests, the Magi knew the scope of past interactions with the Jewish prophets in Persian. Daniel, by inspiration, wrote a significant portion of this book in Aramaic, which states he was the chief of the Magi (Dan. 5:11). Daniel, as chief of the Magi, influenced this sect. The Magi studied ancient manuscripts and, possibly, Daniel’s writings since they understood Aramaic. Even today, Persians venerate Daniel’s tomb in Susa and the grave of Esther in Hamadan, Iran. The Jewish influence on Persia has a long history that the Magi’s coming to Jerusalem demonstrates.
Furthermore, the ancient language of Babylon was Akkadian until Daniel, when Aramaic became the lingua franca in that region. This language shared by those in the region from Babylon through Syria to Judea opened the door to collective information. The Jews of Babylon wrote their treasured Talmud in this language.www.britannica.com/topic/Aramaic-language
Interestingly, this language and Hebrew share a similar alphabet. The overlap of languages, knowledge, and oral history opens the possibility of the Magi’s journey to Jerusalem.
Historians admit that the religion of the Magi, Zoroastrianism relied heavily on oral repetitions of critical religious ideas. So much so that the British Museum labels them an “oral religion”.www.bl.uk/works/sacred-texts-zoroastrianism The proximity of the Jewish remnant in Babylon, Susa, and Mesopotamia region allowed for the oral sharing of ideas. The wise men often referenced the connections of good omens that local people shared – especially any news about the birth of a Messiah king.
The Persian/Jewish connections in the Old Testament dominate the scene of the post-exilic prophets, as well as the well-known interactions with Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great decreeing the rebuilding of the temple site in Jerusalem. The reader of Ezra will see his friendly interactions with Artaxerxes illustrating more than a political connection, but a personal, close knowledge of Artaxerxes to the priestly Jewish ways (Ezra 7). Their interactions display more than what one could expect unless they had a deeper connection.
This confrontation between Herod and the Magi presents some elements of irony for consideration:
- The Magi priests worship Jesus, but the Jewish Priests don’t. They seek him, but the chosen people do not seek him. The following write-up will explore why they did not worship the long-awaited Messiah.
- The text minimizes political Kingship by stressing Jesus is King. After the worship of the Magi, the text never again refers to Herod as the king or either his son, Archelaus (v. 22). Instead, the text demonstrates Jesus is King! King of the Jews – worshipped at his birth.
- The non-Jewish, Magi state Jesus is the king, and this refrain “King of the Jews” does not repeat till other Gentiles, the soldiers under Pilate, label the sign above Jesus’ crucifixion as “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37). The drama plays out from his birth to his death, that the Gentiles know Jesus as the King of the Jews.
- The nearness of Jerusalem to Bethlehem (5 miles south) and access to Scriptures by the Jewish priests did not result in worship. Woe to us who may be near and have privileged access to the truth. Yet, this condition does not lead to worship!
The Magi boldly worshipped Jesus despite Herod’s pretense of opposing the child King, while the Jewish priests disregarded him. See what trouble they brought to Jerusalem.