Q: How many kings from the East visited Jesus?
A: None. Matthew’s Gospel never calls them kings, but refers to them as “wise men” (King James Version) or “Magi” (New International Version). Most reference works refer to Magi as a priestly class from Persia, although there is some dispute about the country of origin for these particular men. Magi were dedicated to study of the stars and interpretation of dreams. It is entirely possible that they were familiar with the prophecies of Daniel, who predicted the coming of the Messiah during the period of Medo-Persian dominance (Daniel 9-12).
Q: According to Matthew’s Gospel, how many Magi visited Jesus?
A: No where in the New Testament are we given the number. Other than the fact that the word “Magi” is plural, we are simply not told. There could have been three or thirty. Although scripture does not tell us the number, it does tell us that they brought three gifts: gold, myrrh, and frankincense.
Q: When did the Magi arrive to visit Jesus?
A: Again, Matthew’s Gospel does not specifically say, except with the general term “after Jesus was born.” The traditional scene of shepherds and wise men gathering together to honor the Christ child is likely not accurate Biblically. While Luke’s Gospel indicates the shepherds in fact visited on the day of his birth (Luke 2:11-12), no such comment is made about the Magi. In fact, when the Magi reached Jerusalem and inquired about the birth of the new King, Herod, fearing for his throne, tried to determine where and when the child was born. His investigation led to the murder of all boys age three and under. Furthermore, when the Magi found Jesus, he was no longer an infant, but a “young child” (Greek: paidion), which means a “little or young lad” (Young’s Concordance).
Q: Why was there no room at the inn?
A: First, there is some question whether an “inn” was even involved in the real narrative. The Greek work translated “inn” in Luke 2:7 is the same word Luke uses in 22:11 to indicate a guest room which Jesus was about to use for a Passover Seder. When referring to an inn as we think of it, Luke uses a different Greek word (pandocheion), which we find in Luke 10:34, where the Good Samaritan gives money to an innkeeper for the care of a wounded traveler.
In fact, this “inn” (Greek: kataluma) or “guest room” was probably in the home of a relative in Bethlehem, but because so many other relatives were in town for the Augustus’ census and simultaneously for the High Holy Days, that guest room was already occupied with other relatives. In that case, Joseph and Mary would not have been forced into a stable (which would have been contrary to cultural hospitality) but in a different section of the house.
Gustaf Dalmann in his book Sacred Sites and Ways says, “In the East today the dwelling place of man and beast is often in one and the same room. It is quite the usual thing among the peasants for the family to live, eat, and sleep on a kind of raised terrace … in the one room of the house, while the cattle, particularly donkeys and oxen, below on the actual floor … near the door; this part sometimes is continued along under the terrace as a kind of low vault. On this floor the mangers are fixed, either to the floor, or to the wall, or at the edge of the terrace.”
The point is, the real story of the birth of Jesus is different than commonly taught. The truth does not diminish the gospel one bit, but it is certainly different than what is widely believed.
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Lenny Cacchio is a resident of Lee’s Summit. He blogs at http://morning- companionblogspot.com/.