The biblical account of the magi became the fertile material for many legends about the event that grew up especially during the middle ages.

The account only appears in Matthew’s gospel chapter 2

         No number of them is mentioned in the narrative; the number three arose in consistency with the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah to announce the birth of Isaac

         They were magi, not kings; magi were a priestly caste in the religion of ancient Persia who worked in astrology and oneirology

         They are not named; the name are a medieval addition

Two of the lands of origin in the prophecy are very obscure, and only one of them was “east” from Micah

         The gospel states that they came from one country, not three

The phrase “in the east” is Anatolia, which is modern day Turkey, far to the northwest

         They certainly did not come on camels, it’s not in the text, and camels are not indigenous to Israel’s geography because their padded feet, not hooved, are suited for the desert sands, not the rocky land of Israel, Jerusalem, or Bethlehem

Scientists are still debating over which possible star/comet they could have seen, and the closest one chronologically would have been 5 or 6 years before the year AD 1 (there’s no such thing as the year 0); the text has “star” not “comet”

The star is called “rising” in the text, in other words not straight up overhead, but rather likely meaning on the eastern horizon

         The third gift, myrrh, is not mentioned in the prophecies; two of the gifts, frankincense and myrrh, come from the Arabian south, not Persia or Babylon

That’s just the first two verses! Obviously the story is constructed on a fulfillment narrative built up from far older texts and times in Israel’s history, and reflects a style of Biblical interpretation known as midrash. The contemporary reception of the text gets all lost in the fascination with the magi, and not the main point of worship and awe at Jesus! προσκυνησις here literally means the full prostration of the body face down on the floor prone in the presence of the king; the word appears three times in the text, all referencing Jesus; the magi did not prostrate themselves to Herod the King.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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