The truth about the Wise Men
November 20, 2018
by Barry Fike
With the background afforded in the last blog we’ll continue in our study as we look at the identity of these men who came and brought expensive presents to Jesus and his family. There is no doubt that since there was a large population in Babylon in the day and time that Jesus was born, and the scholarship superseded many in Judea, that these are Jewish wise men or sages. We know this is highly probable because records of the deliberations of the sages “reveal the extent of their knowledge and rasp in such fields as medicine and anatomy: mythology, astrology and magic, astronomy, and mathematics, geography, and ethnology." (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, p. 650)
“A wise man was more capable, knowledgeable, skillful, intelligent, imaginative, and resourceful than his fellows, who consequently would look to him for counsel and leadership…Stimulated by access, though literacy, to the ideas of other wise men, the counselor became a thinker, concerned with understanding and moral judgments as well as with knowledge.” (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, p. 562)
These men would have been surrounded by the law, from their Jewish culture, and by the study of Astronomy from their neighbors. In fact the “…very word ‘Chaldean’ became equated with ‘astronomer, sage’ in Hebrew (Dan. 2:2)… These astronomers now began to keep monthly diaries listing celestial observations together with fluctuations in such matters as commodity prices, river levels, and the weather as well as occasional political events. Perhaps on the basis of the last, they also created a valuable new historical record, the Babylonian Chronicles, in to which they entered the outstanding events of the year.” (Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, p. 1503) The star in the West could have been an event that was discovered by these astrologers, talked about and drawn to the prophecy in Numbers.
These sages of Judaism came to Jerusalem to seek the redemption of Israel, symbolized by the star in the East, and to worship him. They were the only ones that correctly interpreted the sign which show, again, the scholarship over Jerusalem in that period of time.
What were the Magi looking for? From four Midrashim (an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text) we have been able to come up with some idea of what was being interpreted that gave these men the idea of look for this star or astronomical event.
1. Messiah – Haggidah (Aggadoth Mashiach)
2. The book of Elijah
3. Chapters about the Messiah
4. The Mysteries of R. Simon, the son of Jochai (Edersheim, pp. 212, 213)
From Numbers 24:17, where Balaam was commissioned to bring a curse upon Israel but could only utter a blessing, we read in this, his fourth discourse, about not only this people whom God has brought up from Egypt, but about a deliverer to come in the distant future, later to be recognized as “Messiah”. From “… a star shall come forth from Jacob” it was interpreted that a Star in the East would appear two years before the birth of the Messiah. From v. 1 no definite period of time can be deduced as to how long they had been travelling, but we do know that Jesus was about two years old from the time that Herod had received from the Magi calculations ( v. 16). We know that their gifts were specimens of products of the area they came from and that they were very expensive. Since there were three gifts it doesn’t necessarily mean that there were only three men. Such would be rather ridiculous given the concept that such gifts would be protected possibly by a large caravan that would include military or those that would help protect such precious cargo. Thus the song, “We Three Kings of Orient are” is incorrect. We do know that they were very pious and God fearing for their interest in v. 2 shows this. Again, they were undeniably Jewish, had information about this from the Hebrew scriptures, and were on a quest to find the King of the Jews recorded in the scriptures and magnified by a star that they followed.
They went to Jerusalem to obtain authentic information about where he might be found and were placed into the hands of Herod. Who was this man and why is he important to this story as well? Next week we’ll look at the history of Herod and his part in this story.