04.04 The Christ Child Is Honored And Consecrated

04.04 The Christ Child Is Honored And Consecrated

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04 The Christ Child Is Honored And Consecrated

Unit 04

The Early Years Of Jesus

 Chapter 04

The Christ Child Is Honored And Consecrated   


04.04.00.A. THE BIRTH OF JESUS IS ANNOUNCED BY AN ANGEL. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. (2)

04.04.00.A. THE BIRTH OF JESUS IS ANNOUNCED BY AN ANGEL. Artwork by William Hole of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art, 1876. An angel announces the news of the birth of Jesus to shepherds who tended sheep that would soon be sacrificed in the temple.  Herding sheep was considered to be one of the most degrading occupations, except for “Sanctified Shepherds of the Seed of Jacob” who were sanctioned by the temple priesthood to tend to sacrificial sheep.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.01Bethlehem; SHEPHERDS HONOR THE INFANT JESUS

04.04.01 Lk. 2:15-20 Bethlehem



15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the feeding trough. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.        19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.     20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.


04.04.01.A. FIELD OF THE SHEPHERDS, EARLY SPRING.  A view of the Hills of the Shepherds that is alive with the vibrant colors of spring flowers and grass. Israel has more wild flowers than any other nation except Switzerland. Photograph by Paivi Heinrich.

The rolling hills of Bethlehem remain unchanged after two millennia. Aside from the fact that Bethlehem has grown considerably in the past century, visitors can still see the rocky hills where shepherds grazed their sheep and goats for thousands of years. Amazingly, since the birth of Jesus, there have been more than sixty messianic pretenders who deceived many.[1] Only one of them, Menahem ben Hezekiah, claimed to be a descendant of David,[2] and he was not born in Bethlehem. Furthermore, since he was related to the son of Judah of Gamala,[3] who was the son of Hezekiah, some scholars question his Davidic claim.  Only Jesus fulfilled every prophecy concerning the Messiah.




04.04.01.B. FIELD OF THE SHEPHERDS, EARLY SUMMER.  The occupation of shepherding has changed little over the years. Shepherds today still keep their sheep outside year round, although some provide tents during extreme hot and cold periods.  Bethlehem is situated on the edge of a semi-arid region and, therefore, there is a huge difference between winter-spring vegetation (previous photo) and what is available in the summer. Photograph by the author.

“What has happened.” The phrase is sometimes translated as “this thing.” The term literally means word or reality as in a word from God.[4] The shepherds immediately recognized it was some type of sign from heaven – this was in sharp contrast to the failure of the leading religious leaders to recognize the sign spoken of by the magi.


[1]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:114; See a partial listing in Appendix 25 “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, And Rebellions That Impacted The First Century Jewish World.”


[2]. Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhoth 2.4, 5a.18. Menahem ben Hezekiah was a major leader in the revolt of A.D. 66 (Josephus, Wars 2.17.8). For more than a hundred years the Hezekiah family was involved in various revolts, and mutinies.  This has given credibility to some Jewish people that they were of royal lineage as claimed.


[3]. See 03.06.14.

[4].  MacArthur, The Jesus Answer Book. 22.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.02 JESUS CIRCUMCISED AND NAMED

04.04.02 Lk. 2:21 (See also Mt. 1:25b)




21 When the eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named Jesus —the name given by the angel before He was conceived.

“He was named Jesus.” Jesus received His circumcision (b’rit-milah) on the eighth day of life as prescribed by the Law of Moses (Gen. 17:10ff) and with the typical Jewish blessing recited by Joseph.[1]  At this time that He was officially given His name of Jehoshua ben Yosef,[2] meaning Jesus, son of Joseph [3]  but became known by the shortened form of Yeshua, which in Greek is Jesus. It originated with Joshua and means God saves, or the Lord God is salvation.[4]

The rite of circumcision and the giving of a name would have been performed at the local synagogue in Bethlehem.  Circumcision was a sign of the eternal and unconditional covenant God had with Abraham and His people (Gen. 17:11). This made Jesus, as well as all the people of Israel, eligible to fulfill the promises God pledged to Abraham. The Apostle Paul referred to this in Galatians 3:16 concerning the promises to the patriarch and his “seed,” meaning Christ.  In the Hebrew Bible, circumcision was proof of divine ownership and was required of all male children and male converts.[5]  Later in the New Testament era, Paul wrote that real circumcision is of the heart and is spiritual (Rom. 2:29; cf Phil. 3:3).

However, while Moses prescribed circumcision on the eighth day, the rabbis permitted the rite to be performed on other days, if extenuating circumstances warranted it.  This is an example of how the Oral Law demonstrated grace and compassion, an attribute often overlooked. The following is an example:

A child can be circumcised on the eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth day, but never earlier and never later.  How is this?  The rule is that it should be done on the eighth day; but if the child is born at twilight the child is circumcised on the ninth day; if a Festival-day falls after the Sabbath, the child is circumcised on the eleventh day; and if the two Festival-days of the New Year fall after the Sabbath the child is circumcised on the twelfth day.  If a child is sick, it is not circumcised until it becomes well.

Mishnah, Shabbath 19.5


[1]. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 162-63.


[2]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:16.  


[3]. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 162-63.


[4]. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament. 171; Mills and Michael, Messiah and His Hebrew Alphabet. 7.


[5]. Erickson, Christian Theology. 1036.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.03 Jerusalem: JESUS IS PRESENTED IN THE TEMPLE

04.04.03 Lk. 2:22-24 Jerusalem



22 And when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were finished, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord) 24 and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons).

“Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.” In keeping with the Mosaic Law, Mary and Joseph dedicated Jesus to a lifetime of service to God. The obeyed a command that was as old as the dawn of Judaism.

Give Me the firstborn of your sons.

Exodus 22:29b[1]


Their obedience follows the pattern of Hannah who brought Samuel to the Lord in 1 Samuel 1:24-28. The dedication service came forty-one days after the birth of the child (Lev. 12:1-6), calculated as follows:

  1. She was considered to be unclean for seven days (Lev. 12:2)
  1. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Lev. 12:3),
  1. Mary waited another thirty-three days to complete her purification (Lev. 12:4).[2]
  1. Jewish custom permitted the rite of consecration at the temple to be delayed to any time thereafter. In fact, they did not even need to be present, if traveling would have been burdensome for her.[3]
  1. When Jesus was dedicated, a payment of five shekels was given to the temple according to Numbers 18:15-16 and Exodus 13:2.


At the time of the consecration, two doves or young pigeons[4] were offered at the temple,[5] more specifically, at the east gate of the Court of the Israelites, called Nicanor’s Gate.[6] This is a clear statement of Joseph’s financial condition: he was poor.  The offering also indicates that the generous gifts presented by the magi were received at a later time, otherwise, Mary and Joseph probably would have offered a bull (Lev. 12:2-6).


04.04.03.A. BOWL FRAGMENT WITH INSCRIBED “KORBAN” AND TWO BIRDS. In the 1960s Benjamin Maar excavated the ruins of some first century shops near the temple mount and found a bowl fragment with the inscribed word “Korban.” The word means sacrifice, and has two inscriptions of dead birds (shown upside-down). There is no question that the vessel was intended for a sacrificial offering at the temple.


The presentation was a ceremony that consisted of a burnt offering of two turtledoves (pigeons) and two prayerful benedictions.  The first blessing was for the law of redemption and the second for the gift of the firstborn son. The burnt offering was a sin offering, which was followed by thankfulness to God for the child and for the restoration of communion with Him. It was also a symbolic expression of the love and protection of God over each family in Israel. At the conclusion of the blessings, the required second offering (redemption payment) of five shekels (Num. 18:15-16) was made.[7]  This passage provides strong evidence that Mary and Joseph, though poor, were dedicated and faithful to their orthodox Jewish faith.  This biblical tradition is the origin of the modern Christian practice of infant dedication to our Lord before the congregation.

The five selas (shekels) due for the (firstborn) son should be paid in Tyrian coinage; the thirty due for the slave (that was gored by an ox)[8] and fifty due from the….

Mishnah, Berakoth 8.7


The mikvaoth (plural for mikvah) on the southern steps of the temple is believed to have been the most likely place where Mary took her ritual immersion, as was the custom.  The mikvaoth and the Pool of Siloam were the only two locations where there was sufficient water for the mass immersions (baptisms) of three thousand people after the Day of Pentecost. Ritual cleansings were extremely important in Judaism, as is reflected in the confrontations the religious leaders had with Jesus on this subject. It is also one of the six sections of the Babylonian Talmud that is dedicated to this subject.


04.04.03.B. A MIKVAH

04.04.03.B. A MIKVAH. A mikvah is an immersion reservoir carved in stone. This is one of forty-eight mikvaoth (plural) located at the southern steps of the temple.  To become ritually clean prior to entering the temple, one would step down into the reservoir, be completely immersed, and then exit.  Photograph by the author.


The practice of immersion rituals in a mikvah was adapted from Numbers 31:21-23, where Moses said that metals had to be cleaned by immersion in water. The Pharisees, therefore, applied this principle to themselves. Every time one believed he became defiled, he had to immerse himself in the mikvah.  This may be the reason the Apostle Paul said that Gentiles needed only one baptism in Acts 2:38, Romans 6:3-5, and Ephesians 4:5. This is a clear example that Mary and Joseph, although not Pharisees, obeyed the teachings of the Pharisees. This does not mean they were Pharisees, but the vast majority of orthodox Jewish people lived by the teachings of this sect.  Furthermore, they controlled the synagogues of the land. While the Essenes and several other religious sects practiced the ritual, the Pharisees were the largest and most popular of the religious sects. However, the Sadducees disagreed and mocked the practice.[9]


 04.04.03.C. MODEL OF TEMPLE SOUTHERN STEPS. This is a model of the southern steps of the temple showing a platform area. On the south side of the platform are seven entrances that led to the mikvaoth beneath it.  Several were designated for men only, while others were reserved only for women. Men, who were professional water carriers kept these mikvaoth filled with “living water.”  Mary would have used one of these for her ritual bath of purification after the birth of Jesus. Photograph by the author.



04.04.03.D. THE SOUTHERN STEPS AS SEEN TODAY. The steps are uniform with occasional different tread widths, causing the walker to notice and be careful in his or her ascent. This step pattern was purposeful so that those who come to worship do not do so out of habit. The mikvaoth are on the other side of the hand rail. Photograph by the author.

[1]. See also Ex. 13:2, 12, 15; Num. 8:17.

[2]. According to Leviticus 12:5, if a woman gave birth to a girl, she had to wait sixty-six days for her purification to be completed. No reason was given as to why the waiting time is longer when a girl is born than for the birth of a boy.


[3]. Ebersheim, 136, n5. Ebersheim referenced his work to the Jerusalem Talmud, Sheqalim. 50b.

[4]. Lk. 2:22-24; cf. Lev. 5:7, 11; 12:2-8; 14:22, 30; 15:14, 29.


[5]. Zissu, “This Place is for the Birds.” 37.


[6]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:39; Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 164;  Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:128-30. This was the same gate where women suspected of adultery were examined.


[7]. Ebersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 136-37.

[8]. Exodus 21:32.

[9]. Jerusalem Talmud, Yer. 3:8; Tosefta, Hagigah 3:35.


Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.04 Jerusalem: SIMEON EXPRESSES JOY OF THE BIRTH

04.04.04 Lk. 2:25-35 Jerusalem


 25 There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:

29 Now, Master,
You can dismiss Your slave in peace,
as You promised.
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to Your people Israel.

33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told His mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed — 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul — that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”


 Luke carefully wrote the poetic words of Simeon, noting that he praised God for the salvation that was come to all people.  His phrase echoed Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, 52:10, and Psalm 98:3. He did not say that he had seen the messiah, but rather, thanked God for the opportunity to see divine salvation come to Israel. He was one of many priests, but one who apparently was not among the leading Pharisees and certainly not a Sadducee. Many of the older priests like Simeon and Levites, had seen the civil war of the Hasmonean brothers, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus; the invasion of the Romans; experienced the three horrific years of turmoil with the rise of Herod the Great to power; the Parthian invasion; and numerous Zealot riots and rebellions. They had heard of the many rumors of messianic figures, and were in fact, expecting to meet Him. But when Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he immediately knew in his heart of hearts that this Babe was the Anticipated One.  This is evidenced by the words of Luke who described him in verse 25 as righteous, devout, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

So who was Simeon? Some scholars believe that he was the son of Hillel, as Hillel and his son may have been alive and in ministry at this time. Furthermore, when Hillel died, Rabban Simeon became the Sanhedrin president during the reign of Herod the Great.[2] It is noteworthy to mention that Rabban Simeon had a son by the name of Gamaliel who was a staunch Pharisee, and scholars believe it was this Gamaliel who was the teacher of a Saul – later known as the Apostle Paul.[3] Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel, died eighteen years before the destruction of the temple and his son, also named Simeon, perished in the destruction.[4]

“For my eyes have seen your salvation.”  Simeon beheld the Holy Child and knew what he was about to say, even though it was a play on words.  The word salvation in Hebrew is yeshuah with a letter “h,” but as a personal name, the letter “h” is dropped. Hence, the name of Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua. The play on words like this is called a mnemonic, which is a memory device for the listeners.[5] In essence, Simeon had the same vision as Zechariah had – a vision to see the “Consolation of Israel,” the long awaited messiah.

Simeon glorified God for he had seen the Lord’s salvation.  His blessing unquestionably stirred controversy in the rabbinic community. What could have gone through his mind knowing that it was inappropriate to give a blessing to a child born out of wedlock?  No decent priest or Levite would have done that.  Clearly this was a divine observation and inspiration.


04.04.04a (2)


In the Old Testament era, when a saint died, his soul went to Paradise, a/k/a the Bosom of Abraham, but not to heaven.[6] So when the elderly Simeon died, he most certainly told the ancient prophets and patriarchs in Abraham’s Bosom, “I saw Him. I saw the One whom you prophesied.”  There must have been great joy and excitement!

“And a sword will pierce your own soul.”  What a marvelous gift God brought into the life of Mary and Joseph; what a privilege to have been the parents of the Christ child.  Yet these prophetic words pointed to the day Mary would stand at the foot of the cross and see in horror her beloved Son die an agonizing death. The emotional meaning of the phrase is intensified in that the Greek word for sword is the large Thracian broadsword.[7]  At this point Simeon functioned as a prophet; he not only confirmed what was told to Mary previously but also prophesied that her child would be bring her great sorrow – which occurred at His crucifixion.

Finally, whenever anyone wanted to present an offering or dedication to the Lord, they did so at the Nicanor Gate that was located between the Court of the Women and the Sanctuary. This is described in the video by Rev. Gary Byers.


Video Insert    >    

04.04.04.V The Nicanor Gate of the Temple. Professor Gary Byers discusses two gospel events that occurred at the Nicanor Gate: the dedication of Jesus (04.04.04) and the presentation of the woman caught in adultery (11.02.16). (20:45)


[1]. See also Hebrews 1:1-14.

[2]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:40, 46. It should be noted that Annas and his corrupt family, that included his son-in-law Caiaphas, occupied the position of presidency of the Sanhedrin from the years 6 through 43 (see Appendix 1). These men did not have the religious and moral values as did Rabbi Hillel and his sons.


[3]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 3:40, 196;  2:31; Tabory. “The Passover Eve Ceremony – An Historical Outline.” 39.


[4]. Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica. 1:35-36.


[5]. Fruchtenbaum, Life of the Messiah. Tape 2, Side B; Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:13.


[6]. When Jesus died, He went to the Bosom of Abraham and “took the captives captive.” Prior to the sacrifice of Jesus, the sins of the Old Testament saints were covered, but not removed.  They could not enter heaven with covered sins, but only after the sins were removed by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Some thirty three years later they would meet Jesus.


[7]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:276.  A Thracian broadsword was an instrument of war developed around 400 B.C to cut and pierce, a/k/a a rhomphaia.



Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.05 The Temple: ANNA, THE PROPHETESS OF ASHER

04.04.05 Lk. 2:36-38 The Temple



 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 “Anna.” Anna was from the tribe of Asher, one of the so-called ten lost tribes of northern Israel. These lost tribes resulted from the Assyrian invasion in 722/21 B.C. which relocated them hundreds of miles to the east in order to destroy their Jewish culture.  But by the first century, a number of Jews from all twelve tribes had returned to their land of promise.[1]  Her role in genealogy clearly identifies Jesus as the Messiah for all the Jewish people and demonstrates that a remnant of those tribes remained faithful to God.  She functioned as a prophetess in the temple (Lk. 2:36), an interesting position for a woman in ministry.[2]

The biblical Greek is unclear about her age, as to whether she had been a widow for eighty-four years or was eighty-four years old. The Jewish apocryphal book recorded that she lived to a ripe old age of 105,[3] so it can obviously be assumed she was a widow of eighty-four years.  This was nearly twice the normal life expectancy of the first century.  As such, Anna had experienced many horrific events in her life time. She would have been married around the year 91 B.C. and mourned the loss of her husband only seven years later (84 B.C.). She experienced the wonderful rule of Salome, the queen of Judea and the squabbling of her two sons after her – squabbling that led to civil war and the invasion of the Romans in 63 B.C. At that time, General Pompey plundered the temple and entered the Holy of Holies. Eleven years later General Crassus also entered the temple and plundered it again.  Then came the Herodian dynasty and numerous revolts and disturbances that resulted in thousands of crucifixions.  In the meantime, people everywhere were talking of a soon-to-come messiah who would bring peace into their chaotic world. Anna, along with several others, prayed daily in the temple for that messiah.  It is believed that some women did perform acts of service at the gates of the temple, based upon 1 Samuel 2:22, but what those services were is unknown.  Like many older priests and Levites, she had seen the civil war of Hasmonean brothers, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus; the invasion of the Romans; three years of turmoil with the rise of Herod the Great to power; the Parthian invasion; and numerous Zealot riots and rebellions. She too was praying for the “Consolation of Israel,” the Promised One who would bring purity to temple worship and peace in the land.

“Night and day.”  This phrase did not mean a literal repetitive 24-hour day, but all of her waking time (cf. Acts 26:7).[4]  Furthermore, the temple was closed during the late night hours. It means that she fasted on the prescribed days and honored the obligation of prayer three times a day.

[1]. While many of the Jews dispersed by the Assyrians and Babylonians never returned to their homeland, theologians of the Middle Ages labeled them as the “ten lost tribes” because they did not know where they were located. In recent years, however, many members of those tribes have returned to Israel, being identified by DNA testing and/or observation of religious rituals such as circumcision and Passover.


[2]. Several topics are listed in Appendix 33 for future study. A suggested study pertains to whatever ministries women may have had at this time.


[3]. Book of Judith, 16:230.


[4]. Gilbrant, “Luke.” 79.

04.04.06 Jerusalem (c. 4-2 B.C.) THE MAGI SEEK JESUS

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.06 Jerusalem (c. 4-2 B.C.) THE MAGI SEEK JESUS

04.04.06 Mt. 2:1-8 Jerusalem (c. 4-2 B.C.)


 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

3 When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.    4 So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born.

5 “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet:

6 And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah:
because out of you will come a leader
who will shepherd My people Israel.”

7 Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find Him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship Him.”


Previously, the residents of Bethlehem must have been shell-shocked when the shepherds told them of what they had heard and seen.   A child born to unwed parents caused quite a stir, yet the reports from the “Sanctified Shepherds of the Seed of Jacob” made people stop and wonder what God might be doing. Only time would tell.  However, the Bethlehemites would be in for a second surprise – the visit by the Parthian magi and their escort of soldiers and servants. Not only were they wondering what was going on, but so did those in the Herod’s palace. Even though Herod was in the last stages of his life with a disease that was slowly and miserably rotting away in his bowels, he still feared that someone would challenge his throne.

The political dynamics at this point were phenomenal and, therefore, a brief historical review is required. While the Roman Empire was expanding across the Mediterranean and into parts of Europe, the Parthian Empire was expanding in the East. Today’s Israel and parts of Jordan were the frontiers of these rival empires.

In 63 B.C. the Romans came down from Damascus and took control of the Jewish lands. But in 53 B.C.[1]  when the Romans attempted to expand eastward, they were soundly defeated (see 03.05.18). In retaliation, the Parthians invaded Jerusalem and held it until Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, chased them out.[2]  A few years later, the Jews rebelled, but by then Herod was in command and he ruthlessly massacred thousands, quickly drove out the remaining Parthians, and restored order. Since he was somewhat of a psychopath, he was always fearful of an attempted overthrow of his kingdom and suffered fits of depression.

Therefore, when the Parthian magi came, he most certainly reflected on events that occurred in the early years of his reign.  Herod’s lack of concern can only be attributed to the fact that he had a massive Roman army at his disposal and the magi and their protective escort and caravan could have been easily slaughtered if needed. While there is no mention of him sending out any spies to observe them, although his psychological profile and the recorded events of his life by Josephus suggest that he was aware of their actions and travels until they slipped out.


04.04.06.Q1 How does the prophecy in Matthew 2:6 agree with Micah 5:2?

The apparent conflict arises because part of Matthew’s quotation is found in Micah but another part is found in 2 Samuel 5:2.  The answer lies in understanding how first century rabbis interpreted Scripture; a matter of first century hermeneutics.


Video Insert    >

04.04.06.V Insights into Selected Biblical Difficulties. Dr. Joe Wehrer discusses Jewish hermeneutics to clarify three so-called biblical conflicts in the gospels. (11:07)


Rabbis often took the liberty to cite quotations given by two prophets, but gave the credit to the better known prophet. Therefore, Matthew’s prophecy does agree with the Old Testament because he used the common method of quoting Scripture.  He presented a paraphrase of Micah 5:2 with emphasis on the small village of Bethlehem as the fulfillment of prophetic words.[3]  Matthew said that the smallest village of Judea was from where God’s greatest gift came in fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. NOTE: Concerning Matthew 2:6 and Micah 5:2, please see the video “Insights into Selected Biblical Difficulties” 04.04.06.V.

“Wise men from the east.” The phrase in Greek is magoi apo anatolon, which is where translators obtained the word magi. This phrase gives one of the most dynamic insights into the religious and political setting at the time of Christ. Few phrases in the New Testament have provided more fuel for debate than this one.  Hence, special attention is given to it here as scholars have often discussed the following question:


04.04.06.Q2  Could the magi have come from Arabia, rather than from Parthia in the east?

In Hebrew, the word east not only refers to a compass direction, but also means the rising, with an obvious reference to the rising of the sun.[4] There are several points to consider in this study:

  1. If the Scripture verse had only that word – east – then the wise men could have originated anywhere east of the Jordan River.
  1. However, the word “magi” places the focus on the ancient Babylonian Empire.
  1. Consequently, the word east is limited to ancient Babylon, later known as Persia and Media (Ezek. 25:4; Isa. 2:6), but in the first century was part of the Parthian Empire — an enemy of the Rome.[5] (Although some scholars have suggested that Isaiah 60:6 implies Arabia as the point of origin.)[6]
  2. The Magi probably were from Parthia, but traveled through Arabia on their way to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.


Most scholars believe the magi traveled from Ur or Babylon northwest along the Euphrates River, the westward and southwest to Damascus and on to Jerusalem.  They most likely avoided the searing hot desert and traveled within the Fertile Crescent[7]  along a road known as the Via Maris.


04.04.06.Z A MAP OF THE POPULAR ROUTE FROM UR AND BABYLON TO JERUSALEM.  The ancient road the magi followed was probably the same one in the Fertile Crescent that Abraham had used centuries earlier. It was the most feasible route to avoid the massive northern section of the Arabian Desert (today part of Jordan) that lies directly between Babylon and Jerusalem. Whether they came from Babylon, Ur, or elsewhere, they could not travel in a straight line from east to west because there were no sources of water in that area of the desert. Courtesy of International Mapping and Dan Przywara.


However, there seems to be a different opinion concerning their origin among some historic sources. Justin Martyr said in his apologetic book that,

The wise men from Arabia came to Bethlehem and worshiped the child and offered to him gifts [of], gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 78[8]


Apparently Justin Martyr was not the only one who held this opinion, Tertullian and Clement of Rome made similar comments and may have used Martyr as their source.[9] However, this priestly-kingly class of men did not function in Arabia.  Therefore, Arabia was probably not their home or point of origin, but part of their travel itinerary. Isaiah also gave prophetic evidence that the magi would come from Arabia, but again that does not mean they originate from there.  The passage reads as follows:

Caravans of camels will cover your land — young camels of Midian and Ephah — all of them will come from Sheba. They will carry gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:6


Notice that the passage indicates that young camels came from Midian and Ephah.  These were two Arab tribal areas in northern Arabia.  The narrative continues to say that people from Sheba would also come – Sheba is from the southern region of Arabia from where came the famous queen of Sheba with a huge amount of gold (1 Kgs. 10:2). Southern Arabia was known for its fine quality of frankincense.[10]  There are three noteworthy thoughts concerning this matter:

  1. If the magi came from Arabia, that would explain why Herod the Great was not very concerned about them, since he was an Idumean, a tribe that was closely related to the Arabs and eventually became part of the Arab nation.


04.04.06a (2)


  1. On the other hand, very little is known about the office and function of magi in the Arabian world. Some believe they hardly existed, if at all. There is no mention of them in the Qu’ran other than possibly a degrading comments about a religious group known as “Magians,” (Sura 22:17) which is coupled to the Jews, Christians, and a group known as the “Sebeites.” [11] If there ever were any magi in Arabia, they certainly did not have the status, power, wealth, or influence as did their counterparts in Parthia. If the magi did originate from Arabia, then why is there no evidence of such a kingly class of men?
  1. It has generally been assumed that the magi came from Parthia by way of the popular northern route – traveling along the Euphrates River, then turning westward toward Damascus, and then turning southwest toward Jerusalem (see map 04.04.06.Z). However, if they came from Parthia by way of a southern route through Arabia, it would be natural for Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Clement of Rome to say that they came from Arabia even if that was not their point of origin.


Finally, the magi are known to have visited at least one other monarch.  In the year A.D. 66 they traveled to Naples to honor Nero and, for an unknown reason, when they left, they traveled home by way of a different route.[12]  After this they departed from history.  There is no mention of them in Scripture, secular history, or apocryphal tradition.  It is generally believed they simply vanished because, in the course of time, the needs of kings changed. But their generosity created the tradition of a Christmas gift exchange that is well known throughout the Western world and beyond.

Concerning Isaiah 60:6, only a few scholars believe Isaiah’s prophecy refers to the magi; most believe this passage refers to a future time and, therefore, cannot be connected with the magi of the first century.  So their origin remains a veiled mystery known only to God, but the probability is very high that they came from Babylon.

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?”  The magi did not ask if the king had been born, but where he was born. This statement of confidence must have shocked Herod, yet he snubbed them and failed to personally pursue the report. His lack of courtesy was no doubt shocking, as the magi were official ambassadors of the Parthian government.


04.04.06.Q3 Was the star of Bethlehem really a star?

The magi said they came “for we saw His star in the east.”  This phrase has been fuel for microanalysis, debates, and criticism. Several opinions of the “star” are presented in this study, followed by the opinion of this writer. But first notice the unique features of the star:

  1. It moved erratically compared to other stars; east to west, then north to south
  1. It appeared and disappeared at least twice.
  1. It apparently was not visible to everyone
  1. It literally came close to a house in Bethlehem and hovered over it.
  1. It was seen only be a selected few people
  1. This star is referred to a pronoun “His.”


Obviously this was not a natural heavenly body commonly referred to as a “star.” While it was observed in the east and traveled westward, there were never any straight-line east-west roads.  In fact, the terrain of the land would make such a road impossible and, furthermore, there were no rivers, wells, or other water sources in the vast northern section of the Arabian Desert (as it was called then) directly east of Jerusalem.  Therefore, when the magi came from the east and traveled west, they most certainly followed a star that took them on the road that circumvented the desert.  Incidentally, it appears that only they – the magi – saw it.  It moved, stood still, changed direction, evidently was over the city of Jerusalem, changed direction from westbound to southward, hovered over a house, and still no one else noticed it. How strange!

Yet scholars have often struggled to connect the star of Bethlehem with astronomical alignments. The most popular interpretation of the “star” is that it was a planetary alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, which occurs every 805 years. Since the Babylonians recorded major astrological and political events, they left writings of an interesting luminary event that were discovered in 1925.  In that year, a German researcher, P. Schnabel, translated clay tablets from the School of Astrology in Sippar, Babylon.[13]  These tablets had a record of a unique five-month alignment of planets (Jupiter and Saturn) in the constellation Pisces, in a year that has been reckoned to 7 B.C.  Modern science has confirmed that these two planets were closely, but not perfectly, aligned in May, October, and November of that year. However, the alignment was only for a few days and then the planets drifted apart.[14] There never was a single bright light, even when the planet Mars joined this duet in the following year. To accomplish this feat, the planets would have left their natural orbit and led the magi for two months around the northern edge of what was then called the Arabian Desert (today’s modern Jordan). To add doubt to this interpretation, there is no evidence that the magi believed such astrological conjunctions was “a star,” meaning, they would not have called the planetary alignment “a star.”  Since then a number of astronomers have argued against any planetary alignment because Jupiter and Saturn were never close enough to be seen as a single light.[15]

Another possibility is the comet that appeared between March 9 and April 6 of the year 5 B.C. and lasted for more than seventy days.[16]   Matthew 2:7 indicates that the new star had just “appeared” and, therefore, was not a part of the celestial bodies that were normally observed.  Its speed of travel was different from other starry lights (Mt. 2:2, 9) and, in a rather unusual move, the star stopped “over the place where the child was” (Mt. 2:9).  At this point, a comment by a Roman historian may add to the understanding of the word “stopped.”   Dio Cassius described Haley’s comet in 12 B.C. by stating that “the star called comet stood for several days over the city (Rome).”[17]

It is the opinion of this writer that this so-called “star” of Bethlehem was not a literal star, but either a divine light or an angel.  Such luminary figures are not considered unique to the Scriptures and would have been seen only by those whose eyes were opened by the grace of God.  The Israelites were led out of Egypt by a “pillar of light” (Ex. 13:22) and the Apostle Paul encountered a “light from heaven” (Acts 9:3).  The movement pattern of the so-called star and its position over a specific house eliminate the possibility of a true physical star (although that is how it appeared) and permit for only two divine possibilities:

  1. It was either an angel of light (cf. Num. 24:17; Job 38:17; Ps. 104:4; Heb. 1:7; 2 Pet. 1:19; Jude 13; Rev. 1:20; 2:28; 9:1; 12:24), or
  1. It was the Shekinah Glory of God to the Gentiles.


04.04.06a (3)


This interpretation reconciles a problem (of changing movement and position) that other interpretations avoid, that is, the “star” traveled from Babylon in the east and went hundreds of miles westward to Jerusalem.  From there it turned about ninety degrees and went due south seven miles to Bethlehem.  No starry or planetary object is capable of traveling in this manner.  The unusual light then came close enough to the earth so as to identify a specific house without incinerating it, the village, or the earth. This issue has also been avoided by those who attempt to identify a star, comet, or planetary combination. While God, who created the heavens, could certainly have changed the natural course of a single star, He probably had a different purpose in mind. The movement of the heavenly light is far more descriptive of an angel or the Shekinah Glory of God rather than a celestial ball of fire, a/k/a star.

As to how the magi became fascinated by the starry light, there are several influential facts to be considered.

  1. Centuries earlier, Balaam was also an astrologer from the Babylonian Court (Deut. 23:4). In his account, the star was identified as the scepter of kingship (Num. 24:17).
  1. The Israelites who were taken by the Assyrians eastward kept the messianic hope alive and told others about it.
  1. The prophet Daniel was from a priestly class in Jerusalem, but was taken captive to Babylon where King Nebuchadnezzar appointed him to be the head of the religious class. After his encounter in the lion’s den, everyone listened when he spoke. By the inspiration of God, Daniel predicted the number of years until the first coming of the Messiah (Dan. 9:24-27), and his ability qualified him to be among the Babylonian astrologers.


However, the magi of the Babylonian court (6th century B.C.), who later held the same position in the Parthian Court (1st century), did not have Micah’s prophecy concerning the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2).  Hence, when the magi were looking for the newborn king, they naturally went to the king’s palace in Jerusalem.  It was there where they learned of the passage in Micah and went a few miles south to the village of Bethlehem.

Finally, the Greeks and Romans had always considered that significant events, as well as the births and deaths of great men, were symbolized by the appearance or disappearance of heavenly bodies—a custom that has transitioned to modern times. They had heard of the Balaam who said that a star would arise from the east, and this star would be significant to the coming ruler of the world. Amazingly, only a century after Jesus, the celebrated Rabbi Akiva (Akiba)[18] gave a messianic pretender the name “Son of the Star.” That pretender, Simon bar Kokhba, in A.D. 132 led a rebellion against the Romans, but the Romans defeated him.[19]

“The prophet.” Matthew used the singular form (Gk. Prophetou) even though he made reference to the words spoken by the prophet Micah (5:2).[20] The Jews in the Holy Land had access to Micah’s prophecy, but the Babylonian Jews did not.

“As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” What Herod was really saying, “as soon as you find him, report to me, so that I may go and kill him.” His reign includes a long history of murders of friends and various family members.[21]


04.04.06.Q4 Who were the wise men/magi? 

The Greeks designated the Persian priests as “magi,” and the Persian state religion of Zoroaster as “magianism.”[22] Their focus was to study the starry skies for the coming of a savior. It was Cyrus who first established magianism in Persia, and the powerful and influential group men were known as “magi.”[23] The rabmag, or head of the magi, was first mentioned in the Bible in Jeremiah 39:3 and in Daniel 2:2 and 4:7.[24] The magi (magoi) were the proverbial “wise men” from a royal court of the Parthian Empire, although other kingdoms such as China, India, and possibly Arabia, also had magi. They were knowledgeable in mathematics, the sciences, astronomy as well as astrology.  More importantly, they were advisors to kings and held positions of educators and ambassadors. Kings ruled over the people but the magi directed the kings. No king went to war without first consulting them. The magi of the biblical text are believed to have been originally from Media and Persia, which was within the expanding Parthian Empire. So they clearly were no strangers to the Jewish people.  However, over the centuries the definition of the name changed with an emphasis on astrology, or Oriental soothsayers (as in Acts 12:6).

One of their primary functions was to insure transition in government. They were responsible for educating the children of the royal court and. therefore, were called the king makers, but they were not kings.[25] They also re-educated the nobility of conquered nations, which put them in direct contact with Daniel and his comrades.  They taught a wide range of subjects, including mathematics, astronomy, astrology, the sciences, divination, military skills, and magic, but mainly religion.[26] Their status of royalty was not only acknowledged by the early church, but was also predicted by the prophet Isaiah (60:3).

The magi served their kings in various capacities from the cradle to the grave.  When a son was born into a royal home, whether at home or in a neighboring country, it was customary for the magi to honor that family. It was for this reason they traveled first to the home of Herod the Great, since this was obviously the most likely place where the son of a king would be born.[27]  It is an interesting point of history that these magi, who studied the stars and were looking for a messiah, were led to the real Messiah by a star/angel of divine appointment. But the temple Sadducees, who supposedly represented the people before God, did not want to have anything to do with this infant born in Bethlehem, a paradox well documented throughout Matthew’s gospel.[28]

The magi were hardly the men often depicted on modern Christmas displays. The usual image of the magi is three men dressed as kings or knights on camels who arrived alone, dressed in fine colorful clothing and having huge chests of gifts. They were of such a high order that they never rode camels, but only on horses, ideally the world-famous Arabian horses. Ordinary and wealthy people of the Babylonian, Persia, and later Parthia, rode donkeys, mules, and camels. Long distance haulers of merchandise used camel caravans. Note the following from Parthian history:

  1. When the Persian King Cyrus II (reigned 550-530) united the Persians and Medes to defeat the Babylonians in 539,[29] his processional march into Babylon on a horse was quite typical for a victorious monarch.
  1. The Parthians had two types of cavalry: the heavy-armed and armored cataphracts[30] and the light brigades of archers who were skilled horsemen.[31]


Horses were more common in the semi-arid deserts of antiquity than many believe. The magi were exclusive and unique.  Not only did they ride horses, but their clothing was entirely white. And they certainly did not arrive alone. Traveling in remote areas was always an invitation to be robbed or murdered, especially if the traveler appeared to be wealthy.  They were escorted with an entourage of soldiers, cavalry, food and water supplies, and comfortable sleeping tents. They were far too dignified to sleep out under the stars with commoners.[32]

Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they obviously displayed wealth, the power of a foreign government, and a degree of mysticism since they were following what they perceived to be a star.  What kind of effect did they have on those who saw them arrive in Herod’s palace in Jerusalem? It is unknown, but the mystery that remains is this: Since the Parthians invaded and controlled Jerusalem briefly in the year 40 B.C., why was Herod the Great apparently so complacent when they arrived? This question remains unanswered.[33]

Finally, the names of the magi have been lost in history. Yet it seems that every few years there is a “recent re-discovery” in the Western media which reveals their identities.  One report states that in the 12th century, three skulls were “discovered” by Bishop Reinald in Cologne, Germany, that were identified as being Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – the magi of the Bethlehem.[34] Unfortunately, church history is full of absurd traditions by fanciful writers.[35] This matter is mentioned simply because there are no reliable ancient sources to verify the claim and, therefore, these names have no historical value.


04.04.06.Q5 Why were the wise men/magi interested in a Jewish Messiah?

By the first century the magi were very much aware of the prophecy recorded in Numbers 24:17 because historically, the Babylonians were eager to learn from other cultures. In fact, the Persian state religion had priests who taught and studied “magianism,”[36] the study of the skies they believed would signal the coming of a savior. Hence, they were looking for a messiah as much as were the Jews. Without question there was a connection between the wise men (magi) of Daniel and the magi who came to honor Jesus.[37]

However, there is another reason why these magi would have had a strong interest in the Jewish messiah.  Throughout the ancient Middle East at this time there was a growing frustration among the populous with local monarchs who were puppets of European dominance, first by the Greeks and later by the Romans.  These subjugated people were crying to their gods for someone who would deliver them.  Archaeologists discovered a fragment which provides evidence that the fourth century B.C. magi had a great disdain for Alexander the Great.[38]  And herein is another mystery – why would the agents of royalty – those who subjugate the common people, come to worship One who would free them?  Furthermore, when they arrived in Bethlehem, they broke the rules of royal protocol – they, the king makers and ambassadors of the Parthian Empire, knelt down before common Jewish peasants and worshiped an infant child.  Wealth and power prostrated itself at the feet of poverty.

While no written documentation concerning their interest has survived the centuries, history reveals some clues that provide answers.  The historians, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, indicated that there was a prevailing belief throughout the ancient Middle East that a powerful monarch would arise from Judea. The relocation of the Jews by the Assyrians[39]  and Babylonians, as well as the Jews who decided on their own to relocate to foreign lands, all spread the idea that a global ruler would one day arise in the land of Israel. Note what these historians said,

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world.

Suetonius Life of Vespasian 4:5


There is a firm persuasion … that at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers coming from Judaea were to acquire [a] universal empire.

Tacitus, Histories 5:13


But now, what did most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, “about that time, one of their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” 

Josephus, Wars 6.5.4 (312)[40]


Since the messianic expectation[41]  was well-known throughout the entire Mediterranean area, this may be the reason the Roman Emperor Augustus called himself the “savior of the world.”  In the meantime, another well-known figure, the poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.), wrote of the wonderful and prosperous golden age that was about to come in his fourth literary work known as the Fourth Eclogue (published between 42 and 38 B.C.),[42] but also known as the Messianic Eclogue.[43] In light of the common expectation of the time, it is amazing that Herod the Great appeared to be rather indifferent about the unexpected visit by the magi.

Previously, in 605 B.C., the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and relocated Jewish families of royalty and priests to Babylon.  These captives included a number of prophets, including Daniel. Because Daniel was of Jewish royalty and nobility (Dan. 1:3), he received three years of instruction by the Babylonian magi prior to his service to the court (Dan. 1:3-5).  Eventually he became the chief of the magi (Dan. 2: 4, 10, 12, 48).  While in Babylon, he wrote the book that bears his name and includes several insights that pertain to the Babylonians. Some scholars have suggested that Persian historians recorded that Zoroaster, the founder of the Zoroastrianism religion, was a student of the prophet Daniel. Clearly, he had a high level of influence in the Babylonian and Persian halls of government. Some scholars believe that the ancient books of the Zoroaster predicted that the next prophet would be born of a virgin, although it does not indicate who or where that prophet would be born.[44]

It does not indicate that he would be Jewish, and furthermore, John the Baptist was the next prophet, not Jesus.  It is interesting, however, to see that so many people groups had a concept of a messianic figure that was expected to perform great feats – even though those messianic figures were all sculptured within various cultural and religious frameworks.

Daniel 4 records that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had a horrific dream and none of his magi could give him the interpretation, even after being threatened with death.  But it was Daniel, the headmaster of the Babylonian school of astrology-astronomy (Dan. 4:9), who was given the interpretation by God.  When he explained the dream to the king, he saved not only his own life, but also those of the court magi.  Consequently, he was highly respected and appreciated, and others carefully listened to him.

Furthermore, the event of Daniel in the lion’s den left a profound impact on the royal court and beyond – one that lasted for centuries.  Just as Balaam was a prophet whose reputation lasted for centuries (see 03.01.05.A), so likewise did Daniel’s reputation. In the ancient world there were many prophets and many aspiring prophets, but none stood the test of a den of lions. Therefore, when at a later time he spoke of and recorded the coming of the Messiah (Dan. 9:24-27), everyone listened.  Six hundred years later they were still watching and waiting for Daniel’s Messiah. The ancients believed that the gods controlled the events of life, which added emphasis to Daniel’s prophecies after his grand re-entry into the royal court.


 04.04.06b (2)


But interest in a Jewish messiah predates Daniel.  Even in the days of Moses there was a Balaam who blessed the Israelites when he was asked to curse them.  But was this pagan prophet important?  When considering that a shrine was built in the 8th or 7th century B.C., and that was centuries after he lived, then the only reasonable conclusion is that this man had god-like status in community.  Along with that, his words were equally important.  When he blessed the Israelites, everyone knew it and paid attention to the prophecy he gave about a future messiah.  Now the obvious question is, did the magi know about it.  Well, if Balaam was so important, how could the magi not have known of him…or of Daniel?


[1]. Some sources indicate 55 B.C.


[2]. Jayne, “Magi.” 4:31-34.    


[3]. Hagner, “Matthew 1-13.” 29; Archer, Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties. 318.

[4]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:20.


[5]. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible. 639.


[6]. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 69.


[7]. Packer, Tenney, and White, eds. The Bible Almanac.  187-91.


[8]. Justin Martyr, Selections from Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew.


[9]. Brown, Birth of the Messiah. 169-70.


[10]. Isa. 60:6; Jer. 6:20.  


[11]. The religious group known as “Magians” is mentioned only once in the Qu’ran 22:17, the holy book of Islam that originated more than six centuries after Jesus. See http://corpus.quran.com/concept.jsp?id=magians. Retrieved December 2, 2012.


[12]. Johnson, “Matthew.” 7:257; Hagner, “Matthew 1-13.” 25.


[13]. In pagan cultures, astronomy and astrology were a single discipline of study. Balaam was probably from the Babylonian School of Astronomy and Astrology (cf. Num. 24:17).


[14]. Keller, W. The Bible as History. 364-65.

[15]. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:559; Geating. “The Star of Bethlehem.” 121.


[16]. Humphreys, 51-52.  

[17]. Dio Cassius, Roman History. 54.29.  

[18]. After the destruction of the temple, Rabbi Akiva ( A.D. 50-135) was the founder of a great learning center in Jaffa and today is considered to be the father of rabbinic Judaism. He was killed by the Romans for supporting the messianic figure Simon bak Kokhba.


[19]. For further study, see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. 4:6; Dio Cassius, Roman History. 69:12-14.


[20]. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:90; Beasley-Murray, Preaching the Gospel. 38-40.

[21]. See 03.06.03 and 03.06.04 for more information on his demonic actions.


[22]. See Appendix 26; http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Magianism Retrieved June 26, 2015.


[23]. Schaff. “Magi.” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 3rd ed. 1385-86.


[24]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:144.


[25]. Jayne, “Magi.” 4:31-34.    


[26]. The Babylonians, followed by the Persians, who in turn were followed by the Parthians, all had a reputation for predicting the future. Two ancient writers who made specific mention of this art among the Persians are Cicero, De divinatione 1.47 and Plutarch, Alexander and Caesar 3.2.  See also Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible. 472.

[27]. Masterman, 1:472.

[28]. Matthew 3:9; 8:10-12; 15:28; 21:43; 22:5-10; 24:14; 28:19.

[29]. The grandson of Cyrus I.

[30]. See “Cataphracts” in Appendix 26.


[31]. See 03.05.18.


[32]. Stearman. “Those Mysterious Magi.” 9, 10.


[33]. See 04.04.07.Q2?


[34]. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:20; Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:153-54.


[35]. Two examples are: 1) Ron Charles, who has gathered scores of fanciful legends and myths, mostly written between the sixth and sixteenth centuries, that pertain to the life of Christ in his book titled, The Search: A Historian’s Search for Historical Jesus. (Self-Published, 2007); and 2) Nicholas Notovich, whose book,  The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. Trans. (Virchand R. Gandhi, Dover Pub.) is a so-called historical account of when Jesus went to Asia to study between the ages 13 and 29.


[36]. See Appendix 26; http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Magianism Retrieved June 26, 2015.


[37]. Eddy, The King is Dead. 67.

[38]. The fragment known as TM 393, mentions  in 11.24-29.  It was translated and published by W. B. Henning under the title of “The Murder of the Magi.” Journal of the Royal Academy Society. London: 1944, 133-44.; See also Eddy, The King is Dead. 68-69.

[39]. See 03.02.04 and 03.02.05.


[40]. The words of Josephus were specifically directed toward the Zealots fighting the Romans in the First Revolt (A.D. 66-70).  However, this was a deeply held opinion for well over a century among the Jews.


[41]. See 12.03.01.Q1 “What ‘Messianic problems’ did the Jewish leaders have with Jesus?” and 12.03.01.A “Chart of Key Points of the Messianic Problems.” See also 02.03.09 “Messianic Expectations”; 05.04.02.Q1 “What were the Jewish expectations of the Messiah?” and Appendix 25: “False Prophets, Rebels, Significant Events, and Rebellions that Impacted the First Century Jewish World.”


[42]. See 03.05.24 “42 – 38 B.C. Messiah Predicted by Roman Poet Virgil.”

[43]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:26-27.


[44]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:145-47.


04.04.07 The Star Of betlehem: The Magi Honor Jesus

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 14, 2016  -  Comments Off on 04.04.07 The Star Of betlehem: The Magi Honor Jesus

04.04.07 Mt 2:9-12 Bethlehem



9 After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was — the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.


“Entering the house.” This phrase suggests that the magi did not visit Jesus when he was in the stable manger. Evidently a sufficient amount of time had transpired following the birth to allow Joseph to take his wife and Son and move into better dwelling quarters.[1] Jesus may have been born in a stable that was probably not part of a house, but by the time the magi arrived the Holy Family had moved into a house that probably belonged to someone in Joseph’s extended family.

“Falling to their knees, they worshiped Him.” They came before the infant Jesus, knelt down on the floor, placed their foreheads on the floor, and worshiped Him. This was the method by which all honor and allegiance was offered to a king in ancient times. Such images are depicted in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian relief carvings, and the practice continues today by the Muslims in their prayers.

Then the magi arrive, they “presented him with gifts.”  These gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were incredibly expensive and of prophetic significance for three reasons:

  1. Gold was the symbol of royalty.
  1. Frankincense was used for a number of products, including medicines, perfumes, and cosmetics.[2] It was one of four ingredients used to make the incense in the tabernacle (Ex. 30:34) and temple. It is a pungent, bitter yellow substance from the genus tree (Latin: boswellia), which, when burned, emitted a highly prized fragrance. It was so valuable that it was carefully guarded along the trade routes where it was produced near the Red Sea and in Southern Arabia. Pliny said that in Alexandria, frankincense was so expensive, that when the spice workers left their places of employment, they had to remove all their clothes to prove that none of the valuable ointment was being stolen.[3] It was the gift for the priest, which in Latin is pontifex, meaning bridge-builder; this Priest was to be the “Bridge-builder” between man and God.[4]
  1. Myrrh also has a pleasant fragrance and was made from the myrrh tree (Latin: balsamodendron myrrhae). The tree sap could be dissolved in wine to make a bitter-tasting but mild anesthetic (cf. Mk. 15:23).[5] It was also used for burial, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes.[6] It grew in South Arabia and North Somalia and shipped throughout the known world.[7]  The Greek historian Plutarch[8] said the Egyptians used it in their temples.[9] The Hebrews used it as one of five ingredients needed to make anointing oil (Ex 30:2-24).  It was offered to Jesus as an analgesic when He was on the cross (Mk 15:23) and placed on His body after He was laid in the tomb (Jn 19:39).[10]  Myrrh was used to embalm the dead; a gift given to One who was to die.[11]


These gifts were fit for kings and queens (SS. 3:6). It should be noted that while gifts were presented to Jesus, there is no record that gifts were presented to the Edomite King Herod.

Some scholars have suggested that since the frankincense and myrrh were produced in South Arabia, the magi must have come from that region.  However, international trade was well established long before Solomon’s day.  By the second century B.C., Romans succeeded in sailing directly to South Arabia and India for the sources of perfumes and spices, and the influence of the southern Arabian kingdoms began to decline.[12] The Parthians likewise extended their international trade and influence. Therefore, the argument for the magi having originated in Arabia for that reason is diminished. Scholars believe that they could have originated in Parthia, traveled through Arabia where they purchased the myrrh and frankincense, and continued on to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

It has often been assumed that there were three magi, and rightly so.  The biblical narrative lists only three gifts and it would have been a supreme insult if a fourth magi came and did not present a gift. In other meetings of high-level dignitaries, such insults would have resulted in armed conflict and possible death. Seneca wrote that in Parthia one could never approach a king without a gift.[13] The practice of presenting gifts to a superior was a well-established custom throughout Middle Eastern history, as well as in the Hebrew Bible.[14]  The visit by the magi was a special act of God, as was His anointing of the pagan King Cyrus II to be a ruler of peace centuries earlier.

“They returned to their own country by another route.” The routes taken by the magi have always been questioned.  The fact that they were warned in a dream suggests that they had to be extremely careful to avoid any contact with Herod, and leave as quickly and quietly as possible. That was no easy accomplishment for such an entourage. Most certainly they knew that Herod had spies and soldiers stationed along major highways and at his palace-fortresses along his eastern and southern frontiers.[15] Less than three miles from Bethlehem was the Herodian Fortress.[16] From this mountain-top facility spies could easily observe any activity in Bethlehem as well as any travelers on the roads leading to and from the village. The magi also had to avoid Jericho because it was the home to Herod’s winter palace. If they somehow slipped by Jericho and went further north to cross the Jordan River, they needed to avoid the Amathus fortress where the Jabbok River flows westward into the Jordan River – this area was known as Perea.[17]  The Jordan River can easily be forded in the summer but only at a few strategic places during the rainy season when the river is higher and swifter. To add to the danger, crocodiles were always a constant danger since there were no bridges until Roman times.[18]  

If they went to Ein Gedi which is along the western side of the Dead Sea, and crossed the Dead Sea by boat, they could have been spotted by Herod’s lookouts stationed at the Machaerus Fortress.[19] On the other hand, if they traveled further south along the western edge of the Dead Sea, they would be seen from the Masada palace-fortress.  How could they or anyone else escape undetected? It has been suggested that they traveled through Nabataean territory east of the Dead Sea. There is sufficient archaeological evidence to suggest that the Nabataeans, a major geo-political power, had good commercial and political relationships with their neighboring kingdoms to the east.[20] However, the Nabataeans were among the most feared enemies of Herod the Great.[21] Since the Magi had royal credentials, they probably overnighted in the royal city of Petra, and then continued on their homeward journey. The trip home was just as much of a miracle for them as were the miracles of healing later performed by Jesus.  By divine guidance they came and by divine guidance they returned home.

04.04.07a (2)


04.04.07.Q1. Concerning Matthew 2:9-12, did God approve of the Magi’s use of astrology?

The fact that God used the magi to honor the Christ child has at times been interpreted to mean that God approves of astrology along with similar arts related to witchcraft and the occult.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Any involvement with astrology has always been strictly forbidden.[22] God, by His grace, led the magi to the Savior since many other people were also looking for a Him.  It has often been stated that the visit of the magi was indicative of the many Gentiles who would eventually come to recognize Jesus as the true Messiah.

Did Jesus endorse astrology when he said, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn” (Mt. 24:30)?  This question is in reference to Christ’s return and has two elements which some might associate with astrology.

  1. The word “sign” as to how it is related to starry sky (astronomy), and
  1. It is the predictive phrase that people will be in mourning.


In response to the question, it is God who created the heavens and the earth and He predicted that there will be physical signs in the sky and on the earth prior to the return of the Messiah.  These events are not related to astrology, but rather, to the events of mankind and God, who knows the future, knows what will occur and when. Not only does God not endorse astrology, He forbids it.[23]  

04.04.07c (2)


Finally, Ephraim, the Syrian (306-373), a highly respected church deacon and theologian, wrote this poetic hymn to illustrate the distinctions between Gentile royalty and Jewish leaders:

The magi exalted from afar,

The Scribes murmured near at hand.

The Scribes showed their doctrine,

The Magi showed their offerings

It is a marvel that to Him, the Babe, they of His own house hurried with their swords

And they that were strangers (hurried) with their offerings.

    – Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity[24]


04.04.07.Q2 Was Herod the Great guilty of treason?

Historians have always affirmed Herod’s complete loyalty to Rome, Therefore, this question is almost never asked, but is incredibly significant.[25]  Its importance is revealed in a summery review of the two empires:

  1. The Romans and Parthians were engaged in a series of conflicts between the years 66 B.C. and A.D. 217. The Romans desired to have the Euphrates River as their eastern boundary while the Parthians desired to have access to the Mediterranean Sea as their western boundary. Obviously the land of the Jews was the point of contention.
  1. In 53 B.C. the two empires fought at the Battle of Carrhae in modern Turkey and in A.D. 113, Roman Emperor Hadrian overran the Parthian capital city of Ctesiphon, located about twenty miles south of Baghdad in modern Iraq. The dates of these two significant because they envelope the first century time of Jesus.
  1. Even while Herod was given authority to bring the Jewish nation under complete Roman control, in 40/39 B.C. the Parthians had invaded Jerusalem and held it briefly.[26] The invasion and subsequent loss of Jerusalem completely humiliated the Romans. Under Herod’s command, Roman soldiers defeated the Parthians in Jerusalem and slaughtered whatever Jewish freedom fighters they could find.


Now the highest officials of Rome’s most powerful enemy – the Parthian Empire, returned to Jerusalem, and it appears that Herod failed to inform his superiors of the visit.  On two points, he probably committed treason. Note the following:

  1. Herod was informed that a king of the Jews was born within his domain, but he failed to notify Rome and more importantly,
  1. The uninvited visit by the Parthian Court, who appeared without notice, should have been reported to Caesar Augustus. A serious question Herod should have considered was: Was there a possibility that this visit was a trick for another possible invasion? It is amazing what he did, in light of his paranoid mental state.


Rather, he killed all the newborn boys in Bethlehem, but by then the Holy Family had escaped to Egypt. The fact that the magi had also escaped without informing him of the new king’s identity or location would be worrisome for the rest of his life.

At this point it is important to mention a word about the chronology of Jewish writings. Note that the following passage in Luke omits the account of the Holy Family traveling to Egypt. This suggests to the modern reader that immediately after ceremonial observances were completed in the temple, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned to Nazareth, and the magi probably visited them there.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

Luke 2:39


If the gospel of Luke was the only record, that interpretation would have been accepted. However, there are two other considerations.

  1. In Jewish writings, it was not uncommon to skip events or periods of time. Even though Luke stated in the first few verses of his book that his work was a chronological account, that does not mean he recorded every detail.
  1. The other gospels offer additional information to the childhood years of Jesus. Therefore, readers know that between the time “Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord,” and their arrival at Nazareth, they went to Egypt.


There was another horrific event that occurred about this time.  Even though Herod the Great was rather ill and understood the sensitivities of the Jewish people, he decreed that a large golden eagle be placed above the great gate entrance of the temple (see 03.06.04, no. 15). This angered the Jews for two reasons:

  1. It violated the commandment that prohibited graven images (Deut. 5:8; Ex. 20:4) and
  1. The eagle was the icon that represented the oppressive Roman Empire.


In response, two rabbis, Judas and Matthias, had their students pull down the eagle — an act of defiance. They managed to cut down the icon but were captured by the soldiers who were in the nearby Antonia Fortress.  It was a deadly decision as an outraged paranoid dictator had the rabbis and forty of their students burned alive.[27]

This was a time when the slightest infraction law resulted in deadly consequences. Roman law was never intended to offer just punishment that fit the crime; it was to punish the accused so severely that the population would be fearful to do such an act again.



04.04.07.A. A RELIEF OF A ROMAN EAGLE.  The eagle shown carved in stone was the symbol of Roman power and wealth. The golden eagle that was hung on the temple gate was probably similar to this one. Photographed at the Rockefeller Museum by the author.


Finally, if the Bethlehem massacre is true, some critics have wondered why Josephus didn’t mention it. There are two possible answers.

  1. Herod had murdered so many of his own family, friends and staff, that the Bethlehem event was not even a minor point.
  1. Furthermore, it is possible that Josephus did not know about it.


[1]. Stein, R. Jesus the Messiah. 53; Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 145.

[2]. Dayagi-Mendels,  Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. 116.

[3]. Pliny, Natural History 12:59.

[4]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:32.


[5]. Gilbrant, “Matthew.” 39; Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 398; Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 28-29.


[6]. Origen, Contra Celsum 1.60; Carson, “Matthew.” 8:89.

[7]. Dayagi-Mendels, Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. 116-19. Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible. 28

[8]. Plutarch a/k/a Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, (A.D. 45-120) was a Greek historian, essayist and biographer who is known for two books, Parallel Lives which included the Life of Alexander, and Moralia. His few surviving works appear to have been written in Koine Greek, the common Greek language of the first century.


[9]. Dayagi-Mendels, Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. 116.

[10]. Byers, “Glittering Gold.” 93.

[11]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:32-33.


[12]. Dayagi-Mendels, Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. 116.

[13]. Barclay, “Matthew.” 1:32.


[14]. Gen. 43:11; 1 Sam. 9:7-8; 10:27; 1 Kg. 10:2; Ps. 45:8; 72:10-11, 15; Isa. 60:16.


[15]. Egypt was under direct rule of Rome since 30 B.C. and Queen Cleopatra VII was the ruling monarch. Herod the Great was under constant fear of her as she had considerable political influence in Rome that threatened him.

[16]. See 03.05.26.C and 03.05.26.D.


[17]. In 2007 a team of German archaeologists from the Dortmund Technical University located the ruins of a fortified palace they believe was built by Herod the Great. Herod’s fortress was probably built over another  fortress mentioned in Judges 8:17. The discoverey of Amathus was reported in the Dortmund Technical University News Release, (Dec. 13, 2007), and in Artifax, 23:1 (Winter, 2008). 13-14.


[18]. Dorsey. Roads and Highways. 39.


[19]. See 05.05.07.A.


[20]. Crew, “Which Way did They Go?” 108; See also Crew, “Why Not Nabatea?” 123.


[21]. One of Herod’s sons, Herod Antipas, married a Nabataean princess to create peace.  But when Antipas divorced her, her father went to war against Antipas and soundly defeated him.


[22]. Deut. 4:19; 17:2-7; 18:9-14; Isa. 47:13; Jer. 10:2.


[23]. Deut. 18:10-11; Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:27; 1 Sam. 28:9 and Isa. 2:6; See also Archer, “Crimes and Punishment.” 1:1031-32.


[24]. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 190. Parenthesis by Thomas.

[25]. See Appendix 33 for suggested topics for further research.


[26]. See 03.05.25.

[27]. Josephus, Wars 2.1.2 (5) and Antiquities 17.6.2-4 (149-167, esp. 151).

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