Gaining Wisdom on the Wise Men

Posted on December 26, 2011. Filed under: Culture | Tags: , , , , , |

Pisces A1

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I analyzed our manger scene today as I was putting it away and noticed a few things. The angel doesn’t look like the warrior I blogged about in October. Joseph and the shepherd look pretty normal I suppose. But Mary looks a bit older than the teenager she probably was. She certainly looks better than I did after just having a baby. And then there’s the three wise men. I have no idea what they would have looked like, but I do know one thing, they weren’t at the manger for Christ’s birth.

Matthew’s account of Christ’s birth tells that the magi came to where the child was: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11). Notice a few things here. First, Christ is no longer described as a baby, but as a child. Second, there is no mention of Joseph or any shepherds that were there the night Jesus was born (Luke 2:16). Third, the wise men came to a house not a manger where we know Jesus was born (Luke 2:16 again). Also,when Herod gave orders to kill the all the boys in Bethlehem after Christ was born, he didn’t order all the infants killed, he ordered all those who were “two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi” (Matthew 2:16). There you have it, the magi weren’t there that night. Next year maybe we should just place them off to the side a little.

So, other than them not being there that night, what else do we know about these guys? Like, how did they know where to find Jesus? Of course, the star! While that was a great answer for Sunday school when I was 5, the response should probably be a little more developed for adult Christians.

Most of us know a little something about the prophet Daniel, it usually involves a lion’s den or “writing on the wall.” But in a nutshell, after the Babylonians conquered Judea in 605 BC they dispersed the Hebrews, bringing some of the ruling class (well-educated, military personnel, craftsmen, etc) to Babylon for assimilation. Sometimes the best of these men and women came to the Babylonian court and one of those chosen was Daniel. Daniel became well-respected and eventually head of the Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men (Daniel 2:48).

For those of us a bit dusty on our world history, most ancient cultures had a religious caste system of well-educated men, in Babylonian culture they were called “wise men.” These wise men would have undoubtedly maintained religious and historical scrolls from across the empire including the Hebrew scrolls of which Daniel obviously had knowledge.  The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians who were conquered by the Parthians, all near-eastern cultures that shared similar court structures. The Parthians were the other major empire in force at the time of Christ’s birth, in addition to the Romans of course. Thus the high-ranking wise men would have had diplomatic access to a Roman governor who also would have received them, unlike regular nomads.

Back to our wise men.  These scrolls they read contained the signs and prophecies for Christ’s birth (in addition to some great gift-giving advice). Numbers 24:17 claims a “star will rise out of Jacob,” Jesus’s forefather (Matthew 1:2). Some scholars claim that since the wise men would have had astrological training, they may have seen something in the constellation Pisces, which was associated with the Jews. But, the “star,” where it came from or what is was, remains in large part a mystery.

Bottom line is that there is a logical explanation for the arrival of the magi due to their station in the empire and the prophecy scrolls they would have had access too. It was not a random event and they weren’t just creepy old men looking for young children (though it’s probably safe to assume they had mustaches). And though they weren’t there the night Christ was born, their timing had a purpose that was bigger than filling out my nativity scene. So, I guess they can stay.


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3 Responses to “Gaining Wisdom on the Wise Men”

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Great post thanks. I really enjoyed it very much. You have an excellent blog here.

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Your mustache comment made me laugh. Great, thoughtful post.

I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. (o:

Happy New Year!

Thanks, plaidoak. I took a bit of time off for the holidays, but I appreciate the encouragement!

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