In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, (Matthew 2:1)
Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρώδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα,
From a liturgical point of view, we are now in a reading read on the Feast of the Epiphany, and also, in many places, on the Second Sunday of Christmas (when that occurs).
Some might set this story some time after Matthew’s Chapter 1 (some would read Matthew 2:16 to take this as being two years after Jesus’ birth). Others will simply see it as continuing the birth story of Chapter 1, and δὲ as the conjunction.
Βηθλεὲμ בֵּית לֶחֶם (Bet Lehem) meaning “House of Bread”
ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας – Bethlehem of Judea. Known in the First Testament as Ephrath (Genesis 35:16), Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem-Judah (1 Samuel 17:12). The “of Judea” distinguishes it from the Bethlehem in Galilee (also known as Bethlehem in Zebulun – now a ruin):
The third lot came up for the tribe of Zebulun, according to its families. The boundary of its inheritance reached as far as Sarid; …and Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem—twelve towns with their villages. (Joshua 19:10,15)
The birth in Bethlehem of Judea, the city in which David was born, reinforces Matthew’s titling Jesus as being υἱοῦ Δαβὶδ Son of David.
ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρώδου τοῦ βασιλέως – in the days of Herod the King. Herod was a powerful part of the Idumean/Nabatean family. The Roman Senate appointed him King of the Jews in 40 (or 39) BC. He was the only one who had the title King. He gained control over Jerusalem in 37 (or 36). He died in 4 BC. Yes – I know – if it’s historical that Jesus was born when Herod was alive, then Jesus was born in or before 4 BC. The AD dating was calculated by Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Litte) who, in the sixth century, added the reigns of the rulers together. He did well to get it to within four years. Herod the Great is historically known to have been cruel.
μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν – Magi from the East; NB there is no mention how many – it is simply in the plural. As Matthew has them not knowing where the King of the Jews (the Christ) is to be born, the story would have them as Gentiles. This seems important after the points this series has made about Matthew’s Chapter 1.
They are not simply wise men. In the context, far from being “wise”, magi would be regarded as foolish, or even evil. To call them ‘astrologers’ would also be a misrepresentation. Originally, magi were Persian priests who interpreted dreams. The word is connected to our English words “magic” and “magician”. We might see these magi in the “outsiders”, in those excluded and on the edge whatever our context.
In the tradition, these magi have been combined with Psalm 72:10-11 so that the magi become kings – three kings, in fact, one for each gift:
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.
In that psalm, we can also find three kings: one of Tarshish, one of Sheba, one of Seba.
In the West, these three received names: Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. And Caspar became black.
Isaiah 49:7 says:
Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
‘Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’
ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν – from the East. ἀνατολή actually means “at the rising”. The East is where the Sun appears to rise. The story does not make clear where (in the story) “from the East” they came: the Arabian Desert or from Persia (eg. Babylon, one and a half thousand kilometres traveling via the Euphrates and the Orontes River valleys, through Syria, to Jerusalem).
This is the fifteenth post in a series – you can begin here:
Matthew in Slow Motion 1
Matthew in Slow Motion 2
Matthew in Slow Motion 3
Matthew in Slow Motion 4
Matthew in Slow Motion 5
Matthew in Slow Motion 6
Matthew in Slow Motion 7
Matthew in Slow Motion 8
Matthew in Slow Motion 9
Matthew in Slow Motion 10
Matthew in Slow Motion 11
Matthew in Slow Motion 12
Matthew in Slow Motion 13
Matthew in Slow Motion 14
As this year the Sunday Gospel readings’ focus is on St Matthew’s Gospel, I thought I’d start some of my personal study and Lectio Divina with that Gospel. [NB. I am using ‘Matthew’ as a convenient term for the author of the first Gospel in the order of the Christian canon].