Everyone knows the legend of the three wise men’s visit to Bethlehem as retold every Christmas. Three Arabian princes followed a star to find baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This story has lived on over the centuries as a key part of the birth of Jesus. But is it truly factual?
We know that the Bible is inerrant, but do we know that throughout time traditions have been added to the true Biblical story? You may be shocked to hear this, but there are multiple myths surrounding this brief story written in Matthew 2.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” Matthew 2:1
They’ve been called magi, kings, and wise men. But who were they, really? They were most likely the King’s personal advisors. Their responsibilities included reading the stars, and a host of wisdom-seeking work. Some early church traditions say there were twelve. Today, we choose to honor three, because three very significant gifts were offered.
But if you’d like a bit more clarification of the myths surrounding these mystery men, here are some insights from author Dwight Longenecker:
Myth #1: There were three wise men
We have no idea how many there were. This was assumed because three gifts were given to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, we don’t know the quantity of those gifts, or even if Jesus was only given one of each. There is no way to know how many.
Myth #2: They rode camels
This is a common misconception. Whenever you see movies from this time period, the actors are riding on camels. However, people in northern Arabia typically only rode Arabian horses. At the time of Christ’s birth camels were used as pack animals, but wealthy travelers used the more comfortable and swift horse.
Myth #3: They followed a miraculous star
Matthew never says that they followed a star. He says they saw a star, which history teaches is the Northern Star. The wise men were astrologers, and the star was an astronomical sign they saw that signified the prophecy of the Jewish king. That doesn’t mean a star led them from Arabia to Jesus.
Myth #4: They were kings
It is unclear whether or not they were royalty, but they were not kings. You can throw out the “We Three Kings” picture completely. They had royal connections through and were trusted by King Herod.
Myth #5: They came from Persia, India, and Africa
This idea was added to tradition later. They likely came from Arabia, not these other countries or diverse backgrounds.