Who Were the Magi?

Bible passages and other ancient texts give us clues about who these astrologers and 'kingmakers' were.

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There is no conclusive evidence that they were kings, Isaiah 60:1-7 and favorite Christmas carols notwithstanding. However, as mentioned above, they might have been king


. By the way, no early church father held the Magi to be kings.

How many Magi were there?

We don't know. Matthew 2:1-16 simply uses the plural. We know there were two or more. Christian art from the first centuries of the Church shows various numbers of Magi, ranging from 2 to 8.

Where did they come from?

The only thing we can say with certainty is "from the east" (Matthew 2:1). Our best knowledge is that members of the Magian priesthood lived east of the Roman Empire.

Did the Magi visit baby Jesus while He was still in the manger?


No. Matthew's Gospel clearly says that the Magi entered a house (2:11).

How old was Jesus when the Magi visited Him?

Several Bible passages help us make an educated guess. We know from Luke 2:21 that Jesus was circumcised at 8 days old. We also know from Luke 2:22-24 that when the 40 days of Mary's "uncleanness" had passed, [Mary and Joseph] presented Jesus, their firstborn son, in the temple in Jerusalem according to God's Law.

Herod asked the Magi when they had first seen the star (Matthew 2:7) and then later killed all of the male children in Bethlehem, age two and under (Matthew 2:16). Finally, the Magi came during the reign of King Herod, whom we know died in 4 BC.



On this basis we can lay out the following with a fair amount of certainty: (1) Jesus was between 41 days and 2 years old when the Magi arrived; (2) The magi had to have come


Jesus' presentation in the temple, that is, after Jesus was 40 days old. Why? Because Matthew's Gospel tells us that after the Magi departed, an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt, since Herod would seek to kill Jesus. According to Scripture, Joseph left that very night and went to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15). This would have left no time or opportunity for the presentation in the temple.

Is the fact that Herod killed all Bethlehem boys age two and under evidence that Jesus was two? Not necessarily. First, the murder of these little ones does not necessarily mean the Magi told him that the star had appeared two years before. They could have told him a lesser number and ruthless Herod might have chosen the two years in order to "take no chances." Second, if the Magi did tell him that the star had appeared two years before, this also does not mean that Jesus was two. The star could have appeared before Jesus was born, giving the Magi advanced notice.

How did the Magi know that the new star they observed referred to the King of the Jews?

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