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Your Nativity Set Is a Lie: The Strange, Secret Truth Behind the Three Wise Men That You Need to Know

Updated on February 16, 2020
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Rethinking the Three Wise Men Theory

When we think of Christmas, we think of the Nativity Scene. There's a star up above, maybe an angel. There's baby Jesus, a manger, Mary, Joseph, and three wise men bearing gifts. This is, in the Christian realm, universally accepted as what occurred on Christmas Eve. Have we ever truly delved into the actual Jesus story as written in the Bible? Everything is commercialized, simplified and presented in a perfect, compact package. But what really happened on Christmas Eve night?

Who Were the Wise Men?

The wise men were also known as the three kings or the biblical magi. We know these men to have been foreigners who followed a star to visit Jesus after Mary gave birth to him. They showed up with gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold. (I am going to assume that you don't know what myrrh and frankincense are. Myrrh is a natural resin or gum from a tree that has been used in medicine, incense and perfume. It can be blended with wine and ingested in this manner. Frankincense is the same thing, except it comes from another type of tree. It's also used as a perfume, and an essential oil can be made from it.) Back to the 'magical magi'. The book of Matthew, in the Bible, mentions that these men came from the east to worship the king of Jews.

How Many Wise Men Were There?

We always say 'three', but that's not necessarily true. The Bible never mentions how many wise men appeared. Three is assumed since three gifts were presented in the Bible. Some Christian sectors hint that there were twelve wise men but no one knows the true amount.

Wise Men, Kings, Or Magicians?

Psalm 72:11 mentions this: May all kings fall down before him." It may be a reference to the magi, but this may also be an assumption. Where does Magi or Magicians come in? Magi is a form of Magus, which has Latin Roots. In the original Matthew, Greek text was used and the word was 'magos'. These kind of persons paid special attention to astronomy, and they were known and respected scientists in this field. Some may have considered the three wise men as astrologers.

Weird Names, Confusion Locations and Mixed Motivations

Balthazar is supposed to be the king of Arabia. Melchior is supposed to be the king of Persia, and Gaspar is the king of India. These names come from a little known Greek manuscript, but these names were not in the Bible. These men were from the east. What's in the East, in accordance to what Matthew referenced? Perhaps the Parthian Empire, also known as Persia. The priest mago class of Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion of that time. Why were these men, from the east, interested in Jesus? Matthew doesn't exactly mention the motivation for the travel of these men. He mentions that they saw a star in the east, and assumed it was the King of the Jews’ star. In Persian beliefs, a rising star predicted the birth of a ruler that was divine in light and fire.

When Did the Wise Men Visit Jesus, and Why?

As mentioned, we usually believe the wise men were with Jesus right after birth. But Matthew mentions that at some point, after the birth of Christ, an unknown amount of wise men without names visited Jesus in a house, not a stable. In this account, in Matthew, only Jesus's mother was present. The star itself, the one that these men followed, is mentioned in Numbers 24, as follows:

I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not near.

A star will come out of Jacob;

a scepter will rise out of Israel.

He will crush the foreheads of Moab,

the skulls[b] of[c] all the people of Sheth.[d]

18 Edom will be conquered;

Seir, his enemy, will be conquered,

but Israel will grow strong.

19 A ruler will come out of Jacob

and destroy the survivors of the city.

And this is when the wise men actually visited Jesus, in a home:

Matthew 2: 1-12 says this: "In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path."

And this is the Matthew account regarding the arrival at the court of Herod in Jerusalem, telling King Herod of a star that signifies the King of the Jews:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East [or at its rising [11]] and have come to worship Him. When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. [12]

Herod's Obsession with Massacre

The wise men may have visited Jesus when he was two years old, or two winters later. This interval of time, two winters later, explains why the crazed, threatened and demented king Herod commanded (in Matthew 2:16-18) that innocent boys between birth and two years old needed to be massacred. He wanted to know exactly at what hour the star appeared. He wanted to know the exact moment of when this mysterious child was born. But since he couldn't know, he sadly, had all baby boys murdered, as long as they were under two years old. The wise men, then, did not arrive as the same time that the shepherds did. The shepherds, however, did arrive the same day as Jesus was born, as mentioned in Luke 2:11.

Is the Nativity Scene a Lie?

The nativity scene, as we know it, isn't necessarily a lie. It's a combination of two events. One event is the 'Adoration of the Shepherds', and another event is the 'Adoration of the Magi.' For the issue of convenience, they are blended into one image. So what really happened between Jesus and the Wise Men? The wise men visited Jesus when he was two years old. The family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) were in a home, not a stable. The number of wise men is unknown. They were aware that a Messiah was promised. They had pagan roots, but were willing to turn to a true God. They wanted to find the Messiah, but they did not know where to find him. Herod wanted this new Messiah dead. Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The things that happened in Matthew 2 are more important than the image we are sold in Christmas stores. In fact, it's the story we should be reading to our children and families around Christmas time.

© 2019 Reformed Eve

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    • Brenda Arledge profile image

      BRENDA ARLEDGE 

      2 months ago from Washington Court House

      Your words are written very well.

      It is true that by the time the magi travels got them there he was older. No longer a baby in a manger.

      I doubt if he was born at Christmas time either, but this is the time we celebrate his birth.

      Nice write.

    • reformedeve profile imageAUTHOR

      Reformed Eve 

      3 months ago from USA

      Thank you so much. I truly appreciate it. Trying to get close to God everyday...Have a blessed day.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 

      4 months ago from The Great Midwest

      The nativity scene explained simply and brilliantly. Great hub.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing your insights on the activities surrounding the birth of Christ. I do agree that the best account is found in the Bible and would be the perfect source from which to read on Christmas day.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      4 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is an excellent, well-written article and certainly Christmas is over commercialized. I don't doubt anything you wrote and I do have a manger scene that is out at Christmas. I never thought about the wise men not seeing Jesus until he was two years old, but I remember the killing of the young boys. I just want to remember why we celebrate Christmas. Thanks for a very good article.

    • reformedeve profile imageAUTHOR

      Reformed Eve 

      4 months ago from USA

      I just discovered the 'secret' this year, and was extremely surprised. It's interesting how little we know until we actually study the Scripture..the older we get, the more insight we receive.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      4 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Another well-studied and prepared article, Eve. So many people overlook the truth of Scripture and have given in to traditions of men/ thank you for sharing.

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