A Different Perspective on the 3 Wise Men
The 3 wise men, or Magi as they were called, were a priestly class that had existed in various empires in the Middle East. They were astrologers, magicians and king makers. They had been around throughout the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire.
The Roman Empire had been at war with the Parthians for some time and Judea was the buffer state between the two empires. Rome backed Herod as governor of Judea, a move the Jewish Sanhedrin did not like because Herod was not a Jew, he was an Edomite.
Herod and the Romans fled in 40 BC when Antigonus, with the help of the Parthians, took the throne as king. In Rome the Roman Senate elected him as king of Judea and in 37 BC he returned to claim the throne. Herod exiled his wife and child to take a new bride that was Jewish in order to gain favor amongst the Jews. After capturing Jerusalem Antigonus was put to death.
Herod did not gain much acceptance from the Jews as he claimed to be Jewish but lived a very decadent and hedonistic lifestyle. He even expanded the Temple complex in order to foster the lagging support of the Jewish population.
Herod was a foreign non-Jewish king, claiming to follow the Jewish law while living a sin filled lifestyle. He was appointed by Rome, an Empire Jews did not care one bit for. Add to that he had been sent packing by the Parthians once before. Add to that, at that time the Jews were looking for a Messiah savior who would over through Rome and Herod and restore the Davidic Kingdom.
Now image you were Herod and along comes a military envoy with Parthian Magi looking for the King of the Jews. Mind you, the enemies of the Romans, the ones who put you on the throne, are asking to see the legitimate king. The Bible records Herod’s reaction, Matthew records that he was “disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3). The Greek word translated “disturbed” is etarachtha which means “to shake violently.” I think I might react the same way.
Knowing this I think you will get a different appreciation for the historical context of the biblical account and perhaps see how historical context makes the story deeper and richer. I think we now have an idea of why Herod felt threatened enough to kill all the children under two in Bethlehem.
Note: Legend has it that there were 3 wise men, but there is not historical record of how many. It is often offered that the number of 3 comes from the number of gifts they brought.