Episode 159 – Characters of Christmas Pt 4: Magi from the East

There’s a lot the Bible doesn’t say about the Magi. For example, it doesn’t say there were only three of them or that they were kings. So, who exactly were the Magi? In order to answer that question, we’re going to have to explore astrology (yep, you heard that right!), the Parthians, the Romans, and, of course, Herod the Great. But don’t worry, by the end of this episode, you’ll understand why it’s so important that the Magi came “from the East,” and how their presence in the Christmas story was a sign that, in Jesus, God’s great reversal was underway!

Discussion Questions

  • What was your biggest takeaway from the teaching? 
  • What surprised you most about the background of the Magi? 
  • Clearly, some ideas about the Magi that aren’t in the Bible (there were three of them, they were kings, etc.) has seeped into our tradition. What is the value of tradition and what are the dangers of tradition? 
  • How do you feel about the fact that the Torah prohibits “sorcery,” but that Jesus’s birth is revealed to Gentile astrologers? 
  • Knowing what you now know about the Magi, why do you think it was so important for Matthew to include this section in his gospel? 
  • What are some of the clues that show up in your life when you’re starting to drift “Eastward,” away from God? 
  • How will you begin living out the truths of this teaching this week?  

For Further Study

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  1. Jonathan Williams December 22, 2022 at 8:44 am - Reply

    This was a very good study of the Magi. A question I have about the Parthian magi is this: given that Rome and Parthia were wary of each other and the borders between the two well-guarded, how would an armed Parthian delegation get through that border and travel undisturbed all the way to Jerusalem? Is there any other historical evidence of such delegations traveling back and forth between the Roman empire and Parthia? Thanks for your help.

    • Brad Nelson December 23, 2022 at 12:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Jonathan,

      Great question. The Jewish revolt the Parthians supported shortly after Julius Caesar’s assassination came at a moment when the Roman Republic had descended into chaos and civil war. During that time, the Romans were absorbed with their own problems.

      There were official delegations between Parthia and Rome and you can read about them here (https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/political_history_parthia.pdf). See especially chapter 7.

      That said, I don’t know that the magi’s arrival in Jerusalem would have been regarded as “official representation” of the Parthian empire. No doubt, Herod would have viewed it with suspicion.It’s important to remember that one of the primary aspects of the land of Israel was that it was “a land between.” What made it so important were the trade routes that ran through it. An armed caravan carrying valuable goods across these trade routes would have been commonplace.

  2. Juliana December 27, 2022 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Do you have an estimate of how old Jesus was when the magi finally found Him?

    • Brad Nelson April 11, 2023 at 7:29 am - Reply

      Hi Juliana,

      Since Herod the Great had all the male babies in Bethlehem two years old and under put to death, it’s likely they found Jesus somewhere in that age range.There are also some linguistic clues in Luke 2:16 and Matthew 2:11 that seem to suggest a similar age range.

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