Gospel of Matthew – chap. 2, vers. 1-12 – The Magi

Giotto1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,  Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

There are many theories to identify the star that appeared to the Magi who came from the East. The most famous and important of which is undoubtedly the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction occurred at around 6 BC. The conjunction was a pretty flashy light phenomenon in the sky. Is this the star appeared to the Magi from the East? First of all, Matthew says that it was a star and not a comet.

The Magi came to Jerusalem asking about a king of the Jews that was to be born at that time and in that place. This voice reached the ears of King Herod, who was troubled. Evidently he feared even the slightest threat to the absolute power held in his hands. But the birth of a child was a real threat? The more the power is absolute, the more governors must exercise absolute control over people. Herod feared that someone had more influence among the people than him. There was just one king in Israel and no other could be king.

Then Herod calls the priests and scribes of the people to be told precisely the place where the Christ was to be born. The scribes and the chief priests were thus questioned on the place where the Christ was to be born: Bethlehem. The city – in Hebrew Beth Lechem meaning house of bread – was the home of King David who prophesied that one day the Messiah would be born. The scribes don’t make difficulty in responding immediately to the question of Herod, a sign that the messianic expectation was strong at that time. The answer is a citation of the book of Micah (ch. 5, vers. 1), the prophet who lived between the eighth and the seventh century BC.

Upon hearing the news, the king called the wise men and gives them the information they were seeking. He asked them the time when the star appeared. It is difficult to understand the reason for such a question, perhaps motivated by the fact that the appearance of the star coincided with the birth of the child. So he obtained the information on the age of the child (cfr. Matthew ch. 2, vers. 16). Also he tells them to go to Bethlehem and to come back with accurate information, because he would in turn go to Bethlehem to worship the child. However, he hoped to get not only the information about the age. He also wanted to know the but also on the child’s appearance for purposes very different from adoration.

Then the Magi followed the star untile it reached the place where the child was born. If the star moved it means that it wasn’t the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn! Although Matthew calls the heavenly phenomenon star, it could be that it was a comet. In fact, some think that it was the Halley’s comet appeared in 12 BC well before the birth of Christ, between 6 and 4 BC. The joy of the Magi seeing the star is typically linked to the manifestation of God. Therefore, the significance of the star is not to be found both in its literal meaning, but rather in what it represents: the guidance of God. The Magi rejoice because the goal of their journey has now been achieved and God guided them to the place that both were seeking.

They stopped and entered the house. So Jesus was not born in a cave. It had to be a very simple house. The houses were made of two simple environments: a stable and a living room on the sides of which faced the rooms representing the bedrooms. The evangelist Luke says that Jesus was laid in a manger and so presumably he was born not in living but in the stable. This was a place warmer than the home (cfr. Luke ch. 2, vers. 7).

The Magi saw the child and his mother, and worshiped him. Matthew doesn’t mention Joseph. Obviously, at the time of the evangelist Matthew, Mary had gained an important place in Christian worship, next to his son now considered as God. Joseph was simply the foster father of Jesus. So his figure is important but less venerated than Maria. The Magi offered to Jesus their gifts and they went back to their country by another way. In fact they were warned in a dream to not go to Herod.

Simone Venturini


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