Notes on Mt. 2:1-12 (The Magi Continued)

Here from my Footnotes is the account of the Magi with some explanatory notes added internally to the text in brackets and bold:

The Visit of the Wise Men

1 NOW when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea [Bethlehem was the ancestral home of David, and was located about 5 miles south of Jerusalem (HEB for “house of bread”). The wording “of Judea” may have been added to distinguish this Bethlehem from another located in Zebulon.] in the days of [A Semitism for “during the reign of.”] Herod the king [Herod the Great, who reigned (subject to Rome) from 37-4 BC. Herod died before 1 BC because Dionysius Exiguus, the Roman Abbot who was influential in revising the calendar to key off of Christ’s birth, mistakenly placed 1 BC at 753 A.U.C. (ab urbe condita, “from the founding of the city [of Rome]”), whereas Herod actually died in 749 A.U.C.] behold, there came wise men [magoi, whence we get English “Magi.” These men were priests learned in esoteric arts, such as astrology and dream interpretation.] from the east [It is unknown from precisely what part of the east the Magi came. Three popular theories are: (a) Parthia or Persia (based on the history of the term magoi), (b) Babylon (based on the astrological significance they saw in the star), and (c) Arabia or the Syrian desert (based on the nature of the gifts they brought). See BM 168-170.] to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? [The GR for this question is Pou estin ho techtheis basileus tEn IoudaiEn. The order of the GR is article (ho), participle (techtheis) and noun (basileus). This is unusual, for in Mt.’s style an attributive participle with its article normally follows the noun. This has led some to translate the phrase appositively; that is, something like “he who has been born, namely, the King of the Jews.” See BM 170. Intriguingly, the JST puts this in an appositive construction also: “Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?” As a matter of grammatical structure, this rendering is supported by the GR. Further, the title “King of the Jews” and “Messiah” seem to have been interchangeable. In Mt. 3:2 the Magi ask for the King of the Jews, and then in Mt. 3:4 Herod in response inquires after where the Messiah should be born.] for we have seen his star [autou ton astera. An astEr need not refer specifically to a “star” as we understand it scientifically today, but could be a description of any celestial phenomenon (cf. our word “asteroid”). Astronomers have suggested three main candidates for this “star”: a comet, a supernova or a planetary conjunction. The star could also represent some phenomenon foreign to our experience]. in the east, [en tE anatolE. If this means “in the east,” it begs the question whether it means the Magi were in the east when they saw the star, or that they first saw the star in the eastern sky. The point is moot, however, because this is almost certainly technical astronomical terminology, and should be translated “at its rising.”] and are come to worship him. [proskunEsai, lit. “to kneel to”; cf. ENG “knee.”] 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, [As these words are italicized, they are not literally present in the GR, but must be supplied in ENG The reference is to what the Magi said in v. 2.] he was troubled, [etarachthE, from the verb tarassO, “to shake, stir up.” In the passive as here it means unsettled, agitated, frightened. This same word is used in Mt. 14:26 to describe the disciples’ reaction to Jesus walking on the water.] and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests [archiereis. These included the incumbent high priest, former high priests who were still living, and members of the privileged families from whom the high priests were chosen.] and scribes [grammateis. These were scholars versed in the religious law; together with the chief priests and elders they formed the Sanhedrin.] of the people together, he demanded [epunthaneto. KJV “demanded” is too strong a translation; better is “inquired, asked.”] of them where Christ [IE the Messiah] should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: [To be distinguished from Bethlehem of Zebulon.] for thus it is written by the prophet, [IE Micah. Some manuscripts actually add the name “Micah” to clarify this point.]

6 And thou [The prophet addresses Bethlehem directly with a second person singular pronoun.] Bethlehem, in [Note that this word is italicized and is not lit. present in the GR. The GR awkwardly puts Bethlehem and the land of Judah in apposition (“and thou Bethlehem, the land of Judah”) as if they were the same thing, so something like KJV “in” must be supplied here.] the land of Juda,
art not the least among the princes [Metaphoric for “cities.”] of Juda:
for out of thee shall come a Governor, [hEgoumenos “leader.”]

that shall rule [KJV “rule” is too strong a translation; the GR poimanei refers to leading as a shepherd leads his flock.. Thus the LDS KJV fn. suggests “tend, protect, nurture.”] my people Israel. [This verse is a composite quotation of Mic. 5:2 and 2 Sam. 5:2. It does not follow the LXX and appears to be an independent rendering of the HEB.]

7 Then [tote. This is Matthew’s favorite word for introducing something new, appearing over 90 times in his gospel.] Herod, when he had privily [IE secretly] called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. [This refers back to the first observation of the star as mentioned in v. 2. Herod used this information to determine the age parameters for the slaying of the infants in vv. 16-18.] 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word [IE report to me] again, that I may come and worship him also. 9 When they had heard [IE listened to] the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, [en tE anatolE, “at its rising,” as in v. 2.] went before them, [proEgen autous, “preceded them, led them forward.”] till it came and stood [IE stood still; stopped] over where the young child was. 10 When they [IE the Magi] saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. [The verb “rejoiced” and the noun “joy” are related forms (this is called a cognate accusative).] 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, [IE they threw themselves to the ground as a sign of devotion.] and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, [A resin of certain trees used for incense.] and myrrh.[A resin of certain shrubs used in preparing a corpse for burial.] 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.


  1. Great stuff.

    I’ve always wondered about the myrrh. Why would you bring embalming materials to a baby shower (so to speak)? I’ve heard symbolic interpretations of all 3 gifts, but outside of that, would those have been normal-seeming gifts at the time?

  2. Great stuff, Kevin.

    I apologize if this is common knowledge or if I just missed it here or in a different thread, but can you explain what your Footnotes are and how one might be able to access them for personal edification?

    Also, what is the “BM” source you cite in here?


  3. Kevin Barney says:

    JT, Footnotes is shorthand for Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints. This is a two-volume work that I wrote together with two other LDS scholars, John Tvedtnes and John Jenkins. It is available in various formats; see here.

    The BM is a reference to the late Raymond Brown’s book The Birth of the Messiah. The actual Footnotes book has a list of commonly used abbreviations, but I didn’t think to explain that one in the post; thanks for pointing it out.