Matthew 2:1-12

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This story is full of political intrigue because of the interaction of representatives from the East who have come to honor a new king of Israel and King Herod, the current king of Israel who is a highly vulnerable vassal ruler of the Roman empire. It is a story of international diplomacy between Israel and the countries to the east, Babylonia and Persia. The magi both express respect for the young king-to-be and by their action seek to establish a positive relationship between their country and the future government of Israel. Their gifts are appropriate gifts for a king. Their recognition of Jesus’ star is a sign that those who pay attention to the heavens and the relationships of the powers in the heavens recognize the birth of Jesus as a major event.

The story has five episodes and builds up to the entry of the wise men into the house to see the child with Mary, his mother. The dynamic of the story is experiencing the political intrigue that is implicit in the wise men following the star. Anyone in the first century who knew anything about Herod would immediately recognize that the child Jesus was in great danger because Herod had executed many members of his family who were suspected of plotting his assassination including a mother-in-law, a wife, and two sons.

The star is the most consistent verbal thread that runs through the whole of the story. In the first episode the wise men announce "we have observed his star at its rising". And then Herod learned from them the time when the star had appeared. In the fourth episode, the verbal thread of the star is elaborated and its movement is described from the point of view of the wise men: "there ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising until it stopped over the place where the child was and when they had saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy." This sentence is told with the feelings and tone of the wise men, not an objective observer. It is an opportunity to express their wonder and joy at this star and its movement. There is also the verbal thread of "pay him homage;” thus, the magi announce when they come to Jerusalem that they have come to pay him homage, when they get to the house they kneel down and pay him homage and Herod says that he wants to go and pay him homage.

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