Wise men from the east

Who hasn’t read in a children’s Bible about the three Magi Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, who came to worship Jesus? In many illustrations one is portrayed as a black man, implying he was from the African continent. These things are nowhere to be found in the Bible but are part of Western Christian church traditions. This is also true for the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th. The record of the visit of the Magi is found in the Gospel of Matthew only. What can we learn about these men?

a) Matthew 2:1 “Wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.” So the Magi came from the east, where Abraham had sent his children, apart from Isaac. At the time of the birth of Jesus, only the descendants of Ishmael were living there, who were referred to as Arabs.

b) Matthew 2:11 “They offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” These Arabs brought products that originated from South-Arabia, today’s Yemen and Oman.

Isaiah prophesied that the riches of Midian and Ephah, of Sheba and of Nebaioth and Kedar would be brought to Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:6-7). He specifically mentioned sheep, rams and camels and gold and frankincense. These last two are specifically mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew, while the camels typically symbolize the wealth of the Arabs. At that time a trade route ran from Sheba to the North, crossing the territory of Kedar and Nebaioth. Thus it was possible for the descendants of these two sons of Ishmael to sell their animals and purchase gold, myrrh and frankincense.

This means that the visit of the Magi can indeed be seen as a fulfillment of Isaiah 60.

For further study, go to Study Wise Men