Who were the wise men ("Magi," New International Version) of Matthew 2: 1?

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Who were the wise men ("Magi," New International Version) of Matthew 2


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Matthew 2:1-2 says, "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 and have come to worship Him.'"

Matthew uses two Greek expressions for areas east of Palestine. First, Matthew says the Magi are from "the East" (or "eastern parts"—Greek, ton anatolon), or the distant East. Second, the Magi saw the star in "the East" (Greek, te anatole)—west of the Magi's home, but east from Palestine's viewpoint, in the near East.

It seems probable that they came from Parthia. Parthia was a great empire east of the Euphrates—biblically "the distant east." This empire conquered the lands east of the Euphrates area, had Babylon as its capital and included the areas of Persia, Bactria, etc. It ruled the whole area and was the empire of the East—the land of the Magi.

The Parthians rose to power around 250 B.C. in and around the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. That was the very land into which the house of Israel—not Judah—had been taken captive by the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29; 17:23; 18:11; 1 Chronicles 5:26).

The Parthian Empire and surrounding areas included exiles from the lost 10 tribes of Israel—many of whom remained in the land of their captivity until about A.D. 226. It seems that certain of the ancient Magi could claim Abraham as their father (see McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, article "Magi"). If so, they may have had a particular interest in the prophesied King of the Jews.

For more information, please read our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.