Matthew 2:1 is the first verse of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The previous verse ended with Jesus being named by his father, this verse marks the clear start of a new narrative. This verse deals with the arrival of the Magi at the court of Herod the Great in Jerusalem. This story of the magi continues until Matthew 2:12.
- του δε ιησου γεννηθεντος εν βηθλεεμ της ιουδαιας εν ημεραις ηρωδου
- του βασιλεως ιδου μαγοι απο ανατολων παρεγενοντο εις ιεροσολυμα
In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:
- Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of
- Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
The New International Version translates the passage as:
- After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time
- of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 2:1
Birth of Jesus
The verse contains the full coverage given in Matthew to the birth of Jesus. Unlike Luke, Matthew pays very little attention to this event, focusing far more on what occurred before and after.
This is the first point in the Gospel that Bethlehem is mentioned. That it is specified as being "in Judea" is ascribed by Albright and Mann to the need to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Zebulun, likely the modern town of Beit Lahna. Other scholars feel it is also to assert that Jesus was born in the heart of Judaism and also a link to the Old Testament figure Judas or Judah.
Jesus being born in Bethlehem is important to both Matthew and Luke, but it links especially closely to the genealogy in Matthew 1. The genealogy focuses on how Jesus was the heir to King David. David was born in Bethlehem and Jesus being born here cemented his role as the Davidic heir. Having him born in Bethlehem was also important as it is believed critics attacked Jesus' origin in the minor and peripheral town of Nazareth.
"Herod the King" is accepted to refer to Herod the Great who ruled from around 47 BC and most likely died in 4 BC, but maybe lasted until 2 or 1 BC. All of these numbers seem to contradict Luke 2:1 that mentions a Roman census and Luke 2:2 that states Quirinius was governor of Syria. Luke thus seems to place Jesus' birth after 6 AD. That Matthew has Jesus' birth in the years BC is not a Biblical error. Rather it is attributed to Dionysius Exiguus who guessed incorrectly about when to start his calendar.
Arrival of the magi
The word magi originally referred to Zoroastrian priests in Persia, but by the time this gospel was written it had come to mean anyone who dabbled in the occult arts such as magic, astrology, and dream interpretation. Since the chapter later refers to their interest is stars it is likely magi here refers to astrologers. The KJV translation as "wise men" is considered by modern scholars as quite inaccurate, mostly motivated by the desire not to imply any support for the arcane arts. Also note that Matthew never says how many magi there are, just that there are more than one. Traditions such as the magi being kings and having names developed later. There are many different translations of the word found, such as wise men and astrologers. The only other place the word occurs in the New Testament is at Acts 13:6 and Acts 13:8. The magi in question is a negative figure and the word is more often translated as magician or sorcerer.
The phrase "from the east" is the only information Matthew provides on where the magi came from. Many scholars have theorized about where this east might be. Traditionally the view developed that the magi were Persian or Parthian, and art works generally depicted them in Persian dress. The main support for this is that the first magi were from Persia and that land still had the largest number of them. The interest in astronomy leads some to believe they were from Babylon, which was the centre of astrology at the time. The oldest attested theory, dating from 160 AD, is that they were from Arabia. This fits with the gifts they brought, which come from that part of the world. Brown comments that the author of Matthew probably didn't have a specific location in mind and the phrase "from the east" is for literary effect and added exoticism.
- Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- Boring, Eugene "Gospel of Matthew." The New Interpreter's Bible, volume 8 Abingdon, 1995 pg. 140
- Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977.
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