Friday, November 12, 2010
WHO WERE THE WISE MEN?
The visit of the Magi is an incredible and fascinating event that is one of the favorite parts of the Christmas story. The coming of the Magi or Wise Men has been clouded in mystery and intrigue for thousands of years. One reason for this intrigue is that because of the many misconceptions surrounding their visit. Today we hold many aspects of their visit to be true but in reality are unknown or untrue. Here are just a few of the misconceptions involving the visit of the Wise Men.
Misconception #1: The Wise Men were Kings
Nowhere does the Biblical record describe these men as kings. We hear the song We Three Kings and take it for gospel. The Wise Men were Magi, a class of advisers that were part of the Babylonian society. The Magi were well known for various skills such as diplomacy, the interpretation of dreams, the use of sorcery and politics. The word magi is where we derive our English word magic or magician. The Magi were often wealthy and held great influence in their culture but they were not kings.
Misconception #2: The Wise Men arrived on Christmas Day
Matthew records that the Wise Men found the child after following the star. The word for child is different than the word for baby. A child was no longer considered an infant. Clearly the language shows that Jesus was not a newborn. There are a number of Christmas plays and programs that depict the Wise Men arriving with the shepherds and giving their treasures to the baby Jesus. There is no way that the Wise Men arrived with the shepherds.
Misconception #3: There were three Wise Men
Nowhere does Matthew tell us that there were three Wise Men and there are no names given. In the Middle Ages, names were attributed to the Wise Men but there is no scriptural basis for this. The Wise Men created an incredible stir when they entered Jerusalem and this implies that there was a large group of people traveling with the Wise Men. The Wise Men traveled from the East and likely from the area of Babylon. This would have been a journey of nearly 900 miles and would have taken months of travel time. These Magi would have not traveled alone and would have likely been accompanied by an armed caravan. The only time that the number three is even implied is with the three treasures, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Even with the mystery and intrigue that the visit of the Wise Men created there is something that we can know for sure, they gave more than three gifts. There were only three earthly treasures as I mentioned above, but there was the gift of personal worship. However many Wise Men there were, they bowed down and worshipped Jesus. The fourth and often forgotten gift is one that we need to remember because it was more important and far more valuable than any of the treasures. This Christmas take the lead from the Wise Men, join in giving and give the gift of prayer for Jesus.