. What Do We Really Know about the Three Wise Men?

What Do We Really Know about the Three Wise Men?

three men outside a temple

What do we really know about the “magi,” the three “wise men” who brought gifts to Jesus?

I get questions like this from my kids all the time, questions about Bible and theology stuff. I love their curiosity. And I often find myself answering them this way: “Well, how could we know?”

They’ve now learned to answer this epistemological question—a question about how we know what we know—with the standard Sunday school reply, “The Bible.” It seems obvious once stated, but the only way Christians can know truths from biblical history with certainty is if the Bible contains them. Or rather, the only historical sources I am morally obligated to believe, and believe completely, are biblical ones.

Here’s what we can know about the wise men, and just about all of it comes from Matthew 2:1–18.

1. They were “magicians.”

First, they were “magi.” The standard Greek-English lexicon, BDAG, defines the magoi as “Wise man and priest, who was expert in astrology, interpretation of dreams and various other occult arts.”

Now, technically, we don’t know what magoi means just from Matthew 2. We have to see how the word was used outside Matthew and outside Scripture. The word shows up in Acts 13 to name a Jewish false prophet, Elymas; the major English translations often call him a “sorcerer.” Outside Scripture the word has a somewhat unclear reference. Carson says “the term loosely covered a wide variety of men interested in dreams, astrology, magic, books thought to contain mysterious references to the future, and the like. Some Magi honestly inquired after truth; many were rogues and charlatans.” (REBC 9:110).

But it feels odd calling the good guys “sorcerers” or implying that they were charlatans, so all the major translations go for either “wise men” or (the transliterated neologistic justified cop-out) “magi.”

2. There were at least two of them.

It is generally assumed that there were three wise men, but that is an inference from the number of gifts they gave. It is nowhere stated in the text of Matthew.

But we do know that the word “wise men”—or, depending on the translation, “magicians” or “magi” or even “astrologers” (REB)—throughout the passage is plural. There were at least two of them. (And there is no indication in the text of the Bible that they are “kings.”)

3. They came from “the East.”

By now you may be realizing that Matthew simply doesn’t say much about these wise men. Many interpreters try to fill in the biblical picture by using a clue in the text:they came from “the East.” They look at some other “wise men” from that direction in Scripture, the “wise men” from the story of Daniel (see chapters 2, 4, and 5).

Since Daniel’s story occurs in Babylon, and Babylon is in “the East,” this has led some writers to conclude the magi came from Babylon, too. However, we simply do not know. We cannot know, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.

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4. They rejoiced to see Jesus and worshiped him.

The magi were the first Gentiles to worship Jesus, the first in a long line that now includes me—and most modern Christians.

These Gentiles knew somehow—and once again the Bible doesn’t tell us how—that Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” This was not a fearful but a joyful prospect to them. They were overjoyed to find Jesus, and they fell down to worship him upon finally encountering the child. All the “good” characters in the birth narratives view it that way, an indication that Christ was coming in salvation and not (yet) in judgment.

5. They gave Jesus at least three gifts.

The wise men brought a number of gifts for Jesus: gold, frankincense (a type of incense used in worship) and myrrh (a perfume used in embalming bodies). Christians over the centuries have very naturally speculated about the significance of these: gold for a king, frankincense for a god, myrrh for Christ’s coming burial?

Such speculation is almost irresistible, and it probably does belong in Christian teaching of the story—as long as it is clearly marked as speculation and not allowed to become a new tradition. The passage doesn’t say what significance the magi placed on the gifts, or suggest that they knew enough about “the one born king of the Jews” that they could give such intelligent gifts. The text simply says that they were expensive gifts, “treasures.”

6. Jesus was probably still an infant when they came, and possibly a newborn.

Though we do know that the magi came “after Jesus was born,” we don’t know quite when. It’s common for evangelical interpreters to debunk the standard manger scene view, to point out that the magi and shepherds did not worship Jesus at the same time.

But we may be able to rescue a portion of that debunked scene. The passage says the magi came after the birth of Jesus, and it says they came to the “house” in Bethlehem where Jesus was. Joseph and Mary had apparently moved on from wherever the manger-that-was-not-in-an-inn (we don’t even know if it was inside or outside). But Jesus was not yet in his eventual home town of Nazareth; this suggests that he was either a newborn or a six-week-old child when the magi met him.

That’s because there are only two events in the Gospels that tie the baby Jesus to the area around Bethlehem (which is a two-hour walk from Jerusalem): his birth and his dedication at the temple after Mary’s 40-day purification (see Luke 2:22–38).

We have incomplete data, and various harmonizations of the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives are possible. I offer a few speculations—in order to distinguish them from what we can know:

  • It’s possible that the treasures provided by the wise men financed the holy family’s subsequent escape to Egypt. It’s doubtful that people who could only afford to offer pigeons at the 40-day purification (Luke 2:24; Lev 12:1–8) could afford such a journey otherwise.
  • But the offering of pigeons suggests that they hadn’t yet been given a bunch of gold. So, we might guess, the magi came after the fortieth day (the day Joseph and Mary “came [to Jerusalem] for their purification according to the Law of Moses,” Luke 2:22). Perhaps the holy family made the short trip from Bethlehem to the temple, then back to their temporary “home base” in Bethlehem, then they met the magi, then they went on to Egypt? Or would they have gone back to Nazareth during the weeks leading up to baby Jesus’ presentation at the temple?
  • Luke 2:39 makes it a little difficult to know when the flight to Egypt occurred: “When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” Again, various guesses are possible.

As fun as speculation is, we must admit there’s not very much we can know with certainty about the timing of the magi’s visit.

7. They did not return to Herod.

Whatever exotic Eastern locale the magi came from, their return trip did not require them to go through Jerusalem—or at least near Herod. God warned them in a dream not to do so. This innocent action on their part so infuriated Herod that he killed all the little boys under two in Bethlehem and the whole region.

(The fact that Herod subsequently killed all boys two years old and younger may indicate that Jesus was a toddler when the magi met him, but it may also reflect a delay in Herod’s realization that he’d been tricked and the magi weren’t coming back to see him—or maybe just personal pique, covering all his bases by killing all the boys born since the time the star appeared.)

8. They may have followed a lost prophecy of Daniel.

There is one speculation about the wise men, based on the Bible, which many serious interpreters of Scripture view as plausible: these “magi” may have known to follow their star because the “East” from which they came was Babylon, and the prophet Daniel had left them some messianic prophecy of which we have no record. Daniel was God’s tool to make other prophecies of Christ; perhaps he is the reason for this remarkable portion of the Jesus story.

It’s important to distinguish what we can know from what we can only speculate about—to keep Scripture and tradition healthily distinct. Christmas carols tend to blend truth with tradition, and next thing you know the baby Jesus doesn’t cry (“no crying he makes”), “three ships came sailing in” to Bethlehem (which doesn’t sit on any body of water), and the magoi were “three kings.”

Traditions are fun, but genuine knowledge is justified true belief. Tradition is not an adequate justification for knowledge about 2,000-year-old events, and there is the ever present possibility that traditions will grow to obscure or even contradict the truth.

It is entirely possible, of course, that historical sources outside the Bible might mention Jesus, or Paul, or King David—or the wise men. But everything we are justified in knowing about the Three Kings of Orient comes from the first eighteen verses of the second chapter of Matthew.

Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. His most recent book is Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (forthcoming, Lexham Press).


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  • Do we know that the trip to Jerusalem was for Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day? Obviously, not every Jewish boy would be taken to Jerusalem by the eighth day, and I assumed that it would normally be done locally. But Mary’s reconsecration would have to wait until the 40th day in accordance with Lev. 12:2-4. I had assumed that the couple could not take their son to the sanctuary prior to that time.

    • Really good call. Thank you for this—you got me (nicely!). It is so easy to fill in blanks with assumptions, but I didn’t do that; I misread. I did a bit more homework and uncovered not only an interpretive problem but a (resultant) textual problem in the relevant verse, Luke 2:22. I’ve made an edit to that section that adopts what appears to be the standard evangelical interpretation of that verse (just surveyed a bunch of good commentaries).

      Thoughts on the revamped point 6?

      • I think you’re definitely on target with an early arrival of the magi; to my mind, it’s not only possible but the best inference from the data that we have. I have an upcoming blogpost version (based on an addendum from my first book) scheduled to show up on Theologyin3D in about 10 days. It explores just point 6 in a little more detail.

  • The point you make about the wise men is very good. There may be some other information we can take from the Bible. Nehemiah and Ezra, I believe, traveled from Babylon to Jerusalem in six months. One can travel 5200 miles in one year averaging 25 miles per day, resting 4 days per week. This puts coastal China within range. I will try and find the source, but one suggests Confucius prophecies a great man would be born around the time of Christ.

    Other things the Bible at least suggests, the wealthy. You mention the cost of the trip to Egypt. The wise men had their costs as well. Then the gifts they gave shows wealth.

    A second reason for the visit being after Christ’s circumcision, is if they came the day of Jesus’s birth, the wait for the eighth day puts Christ in jeopardy. If they came after the circumcision, Joseph, Mary and Jesus had the maximum time to insure they were safely away from Herod’s anger before he realizes the wise men were not returning, only if they arrived after circumcision.
    I favor early after the circumcision, as God would have provided them time to get there. Also consider the stir the angelic messengers to the shepherds made and the two prophets (prophetesses) made in their very prophetic pronouncements. The stirring God made would have been heard by Herod. It would likely be be very shortly after the circumcision, at least that seems logical to me.

  • We also know from Matthew that the entourage of the wise men was of sufficient numbers to ‘trouble Herod’ and ‘all Jerusalem with him’. I would like to think that this speaks clearly of more than 2 wise men. 2 crack pot wise men from a foreign country, even if they travelled with a good sized army should not have been all that strange for a city situated on a major trade route, but a large group of wise men all with the same message would be hard to blend in with the crowd.

    • An interesting supposition… What number of such men is sufficient to trouble Herod? Perhaps just two if they are of impressive wealth and bearing—but quite possibly they’d have an entourage. Hmm.

  • Your correction is well to the point. The argument about the numbers at the temple on the day of circumcision would be the same amount of people at the temple on the fortieth, maybe a little more, depending on the infant mortality rate.
    The entourage only adds to the expense as well and is increased if the distance is greater. So this does increase the wealth aspect. The wise men from a greater distance would increase the concern of Herod. Now imagine the concern Herod would have if there was talk of the circumcision or as you say more likely the purification time, as Mary would not be allowed into the temple area until the purification time. An entourage of “wise men” or “great men” coming with expensive gifts for a new “king” just after an uproar in the temple by the prophecies, very publicly made, in the temple by the prophetess and prophet. The holy men Herod consulted would have been very aware of such an uproar. They also would likely have heard of the angelic visitation, which they would have discounted since the angels would have come and told them of the arrival of the “New King”. All of the strange events occurring at about the same time would likely make Herod even more worried. Two years later, the impact of the angelic visitation and of the purification prophecies would be dismissed by then. This all adds up to the Magi visiting about forty days or six weeks after the birth, of Christ.
    It also makes it more likely Joseph left a day or two after the Magi left. It may even, this is solely personal opinion, and only just realized, because of this blog, would the wise men perhaps also encourage the flight and add some of their entourage to give Joseph some protection on the long dangerous journey?

  • Tannaim, i.e., the tanna, or Teni were the ancient Jewish scholars,
    expounding law and teaching the people in synagogues and academies,
    the foundations of an ancient University. In Jerusalem there was at the Temple Mount the Avtinus chamber room, where incense was compounded for later use in the offerings upon the Golden Altar. Beth Ab was the name for the Father’s House, the Temple at Jerusalem. This holy chamber [Av (father) + tinus; Ab is a variant of Av, part of Aramaic abba, father], was named after the Jewish aristocratic Avtinus family, merchants and spice makers. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Vol. 12, Seder Mo’ed, (Vol. IV), Shekalim, Chapter V, page 19: the House of Abtinas [was] over the preparing of the frankincense. Theophrastus [372-288/7 B.C.], the disciple of Aristotle, mentions that: “Among the plants that grow in Arabia, Syria and India the aromatic plants are somewhat exceptional and distinct from the plants of other lands; for instance, frankincense, myrrh, cassia, opobalsam, cinnamon and all other such plants,” noted in Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, Vol. I, page 15, # 7.

    According to the Book of Mormon, Helaman, Ch. 16: 13-14, But it came
    to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges (2. B.C.), there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled. And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled. Just and devout Simeon, of the Temple at Jerusalem, said: “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation (the Lord’s Christ), which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.” [St. Luke 2: 30-32] Jesus Christ was thus honored as the Lamb of God, the eternal sacrifice for the sins of Israel and all mankind.

    The wise men from the east who came into the house where Jesus Christ lived as a young child (St. Matthew, 2:1-11), saw Him 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. Gold was sent annually to the Temple at Jerusalem, from communal contributions, suggesting the wise men from the east came as legal and lawful representatives from Syria, Arabia, India or beyond. The presentation of the gift of frankincense, used as part of the exclusive Jewish priesthood Temple rite of sacrifice, at Jerusalem, was a symbolic recognition of the Holy Priesthood Authority of Jesus Christ, as Lord and Royal Master, even as a little child.

    An audience before King Herod, with his subsequent conference, a large
    gathering of all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, indicates a diplomatic contact of the highest order, that troubled all in the City of Jerusalem. Now it came to pass that the ninety and first year had passed away and it was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem [A.D. 1]; . . . and Nephi, the son of Helaman, had departed . . . giving charge unto his son Nephi . . . concerning the plates of brass, and all the records which had been kept, and all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem. Then he departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon. This Nephi had the Melchizedek priesthood authority and the knowledge to ask: “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?” [correctly translated as: “Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews? . . . JST Matthew]

    Nephi’s travels back to Jerusalem, were preceded by the shipbuilding of Hagoth, circa 55 B.C., whose colonies of immigrants sailed the west sea [Pacific Ocean], from the narrow neck of land which led into the land northward. Some appear to have gotten dispersed, landing as far west as modern day New Zealand, in the western Pacific, as indicated by the language similarities of the Maori, the aboriginal people of New Zealand, of Polynesian-Melanesian descent. As noted in Theophoric Personal Names in Ancient Hebrew, published in1988 by Jeaneane D. Fowler, the Hebrew prepositional element ‘t’, as also Phoen.; Palm.; Akk. itti, is defined as with; i.e., God is with us. Similar to the variations of the Tinney surname found in A Dictionary of the Maori Language, where Tenei means this, near, or connected with the speaker; also, similar to the meaning given for the Cornish word Thynny: we, us.

    The Tinneh Stock –This great family includes a large number of North American tribes, extending, from near the mouth of the Mackenzie, south to the borders of Mexico. The Apaches and Comanches belong to it, and the family seem to intersect the continent of North America in a north and south direction, principally along the flanks of the Rocky Mountains. The tribes of this stock in the north extend westward nearly to the delta of the Yukon, and reach the coast at Cook’s Inlet and the mouth of the Copper River. Eastward they extend quite or nearly to the mountains which divide the watershed of Hudson Bay from that of the Mackenzie and Athabasca. . . . their own national designation is Tinneh, meaning “people” in the collective sense.

    Itzaj Maya – Spanish – English Dictionary, published 1997, by Charles Andrew Hofling, page 592, shows tin- ISG.A/DUR. aspecto durativo (primera persona). durative aspect (first-person).
    T-in-xok. Estoy leyendo. I am reading . . .
    tan-in>tin. Alaska and Its Resources, shows in the East Siberian Tribes,
    The English word for: among the Aleutian [Unalaskan] Orarian: I, is Tinn,
    page 548. Nephi, as the highest holder of the Melchizedek priesthood
    authority [known to have been on the earth in his day], would have been
    derelict in his duty, if he had not attended to the birth of the royal leader of his Church, the Messiah Jesus Christ, even Jehovah. Nephi appears to have successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean, preached the fullness of the Gospel concerning the birth of the Messiah, (manifest by heavenly signs and wonders), from India to Palestine, along the ancient Jewish tin distribution route. Thus, he brought Jewish wise men in authority from communal outposts, his entourage of followers, with their precious merchant goods from the East, to Melchizedek priesthood worship at the feet of the child Jesus, at home, in Bethlehem. This trip appears to have been accomplished in one to two years.

    The priesthood authority of the wise men and their Jewish heritage is clearly established within the historical narrative. Josephus, in his brief passage concerning Jesus, states that the historical Jesus was “a wise man”, for He was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. St. Matthew declares that “When Herod
    the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” And when he later had gathered “the chief priests and scribes of the people together”, shows that the wise men first went to the highest priesthood authority within the City of Jerusalem, as King Herod got the word second-hand. Nevertheless, after King Herod had privily [privately]
    called the wise men, he sent them to Bethlehem, as legal and lawful representatives of both the kingly authority and the full authority of the total priesthood body, representative of the Hebrew Nation, residing in full conference in Jerusalem. “In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.”

    Only a prophet could legally and lawfully represent Messiah [the prophet Jesus Christ, His Royal Majesty], in Jewish History. A wise man was one who had the spirit of discernment, a gift of the spirit requiring Church membership, according to Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Saints. The Proverbs of King Solomon prove it, as a wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels . . . [for] . . . the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. The discerning of all spirits was a power inherent in the highest offices of ancient Priesthood Authority, of which the example of King Melchizedek is given, as Christ was declared to be a High Priest after that order. Also, King Solomon had the priesthood, as he stood before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and offered up burnt offerings, and offered peace offerings, and made a feast to all his servants. This was in response to his dream, a revelation from God, who gave King Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much,
    and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.

    When the wise men saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, or were full of the spirit of God. Their commodities appear to have preserved and sustained the family of Joseph and Mary during their sojourn in Egypt, where Jesus was sent, to save Him from King Herod. The Greek capital of Egypt was Alexandria, where Jews had settled in large numbers. Philo, an eminent Jewish philosopher, lived at Alexandria from 20 B.C. to A.D. 50. Joseph, who had received revelations from God, may have found comfort with relatives in this center of Jewish religious belief, and may have stayed in this city containing the largest record library in the world; which the Christ may have had access to. Since King Herod slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, [after the removal of Jesus to Egypt, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which the Jewish King Herod had diligently enquired of the wise men], Jesus would have had time to heal from His circumcision done at eight (8) days, and his mother Mary from the after birth.

    Jesus was approximately, a child aged 1-2 years old, at the time of the visit of the wise men, as previously, He had been brought to the Jerusalem Temple, The House of His Eternal Father, to be presented to the Lord, [His physical and Heavenly Father], after the days of Mary’s purification were accomplished. King Herod died between A.D. 2 and before A.D. 12, when Jesus had his “bar mitzvah”. [The Story of Masada, Discoveries from the Excavations, edited by Gila Hurvitz, published 1997, pages 79-80, shows amphorae, of which one extremely rare element has the destination of the shipment, dated 19 B.C., regi Herodi Iudaico, “to Herod, King of the Jews.” Wine was imported from Italy and Herod’s special wine steward served it on his eating table.] Anciently, at age twelve, a male child was ordained into the Aaronic Priesthood and the office of a Deacon. When Jesus stated: “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”, implies that He had been ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood by this time, else He could not be about His Father’s business. But His earthly mother Mary, kept all these sayings in her heart, for it appears she had not yet told Him the identity of His real Father. The Holy Scripture indicates she then recognized that God the Father had revealed this fact to Jesus.

    Jesus Christ obeyed his earthly parents and grew up with His brethren,
    and waxed strong under the jurisdiction of Joseph, in Nazareth, in Galilee.
    On the return from Egypt, Joseph had turned aside from going back
    to Bethlehem and went instead into the parts of Galilee. It appears thus,
    from the record, that some of Mary’s relatives were historically located
    in the area of Bethlehem, for Mary visited prior to the birth of Jesus, the house of Zacharias, in a city in the hill country of Juda. The fact that Mary was also of the city of David and the Royal House of King David is implied in the statement: “To be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.”

    John G. Gammie and Leo G. Perdue, published in 1990, the book:
    The Sage In Israel and The Ancient Near East, noting Jesus Christ was a Sage. Christ taught in the synagogues, being the Lord is One Tanna, the civil representative of Judah & Israel in Time and Universal Judge in Eternity. The sayings of Jesus Christ concerning destruction of the House of the Lord, were known within the Abtinas family, as noted next in this document, by statements of their posterity recorded in The Babylonian Talmud. [See also: The Holy Temple Revisited, (1990)]. Righteous tannaim were living libraries of knowledge, having memorized tannaitic statements. They were wells of living water, as in the Temple Teni priests, even baskets full of books, centered in the Supreme Sacrifice of the Chosen One of Israel, the Holy Messiah Jesus Christ. It is mentioned in The Babylonian Talmud, Vol. 6, Seder Nashim, (Vol. II), Kethuboth, Chapter XIII, pages 681-682, that “the house of Abtinas” (a priestly family) [who were in charge] of the preparation of the incense, received their wages from the Temple funds. The Babylonian Talmud, Vol. 11, Seder Mo’ed, (Vol. III), Yoma, Chapter III, pages 176-178, mentions “They of the House of Abtinas” would not teach anything about the preparation of the incense, of which they were expert. Their smoke ascended [as straight] as a stick. When the Sages asked why they, the House of Abtinas, would not teach their art, the reply was “They knew in our father’s house that this House is going to be destroyed and they said: Perhaps an unworthy man will learn [this art] and will serve an idol therewith. — And for the following reason was their memory kept in honour: Never did a bride of their house go forth perfumed, and when they married a woman from elsewhere they expressly forbade her to do so lest people say: From [the preparation of] the incense they are perfuming themselves. [They did so] to fulfill the command: ‘Ye shall be clear before the Lord and before Israel.’ ”

    The concept of authority, noted in Teena: Mount Sinai, in Arabic, is further expanded in the Aramaic Teni, origin of the word tanna, to hand down orally, study or teach, from which the Jewish Tannaim or teachers, mentioned in the Mishnah or of mishnaic times. According to the Academic American Encyclopedia (1980), Aramaic is one of the branches
    of Central Semitic, and was once the colloquial language of the Near East
    after the decline of Akkadian. It was the native tongue of Jesus Christ and the language of the Jewish Talmud.

  • A couple quick clarifications of my last post.
    There would likely only be a few fewer forty days later at purification, after all, those parents who would circumcise their child on the eighth day would present their child on the fortieth day. The main drop likely would be from infant mortality. A second factor, likely to increase the crowds, would be the greater distance the parents travel for the purification ritual. The mother likely would be better recovered and baby somewhat stronger after thirty days then three days after birth. So the area could expand to cover families ten to maybe even fifteen days journey.
    Secondly, the Holy men would discount angelic appearances to shepherds, they were the religious leaders, and God, so the would reason, would inform them, not such lowlifes as shepherds.
    Third, the health of Jesus and Mary would likely be better, forty days after birth.
    I also thought I had suggested, though not mentioned in the Bible, an intriguing possibility. Would there be a fourth unmentioned gift, one of the wise men giving some of their entourage to protect the family on the long, hazardous journey. This is in the Bible but is at least a thought.

  • Good article, but if we stick to the facts told in scripture, why the mention of Joseph and Mary “had apparently moved on from the cattle stall”? A manger is mentioned, but this could be with animals in the lower level of a home and not necessarily in a stall. Also, I understand there is not enough rainfall in Bethlehem to raise cattle. The tradition of having an ox and a donkey in a nativity scene comes from the infancy gospel in the apocryphal book pseudo-Matthew, based on Isa 1:3 “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger.”

Written by Mark Ward