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The passages in question are these:

Matthew 2:1-2: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.'”

"Seeing a star" is one thing. But the extraordinary trek of these "magi from the east" is curious in that they made such a trip at all. Is there means by which we can understand how these men learned of Christ's obscure birth in Bethlehem, and of the child being "King of the Jews," One to be worshipped?

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  • This is Matthew's quiet criticism of the Jews. Why did they not know ? Why did they not observe the star ? They see the same heavens. They have the prophecies. Why were they not looking for Him ? (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    May 27 at 19:42
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Note the comments of Ellicott on Matt 2:1:

Wise men from the east.—The Greek word is Magi. That name appears in Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:13, in the name Rab-Mag, “The chief of the Magi.” Herodotus speaks of them as a priestly caste of the Medes, known as interpreters of dreams (I. 101, 120). Among the Greeks the word was commonly applied with a tone of scorn to the impostors who claimed supernatural knowledge, and magic was in fact the art of the Magi, and so the word was commonly used throughout the Roman world when the New Testament was written, Simon Magus is Simon the sorcerer. There was however, as side by side with this, a recognition of the higher ideas of which the word was capable, and we can hardly think that the writer of the Gospel would have used it in its lower sense. With him, as with Plato, the Magi were thought of as observers of the heavens, students of the secrets of Nature. Where they came from we cannot tell. The name was too widely spread at this time to lead us to look with certainty to its original home in Persia, and that country was to the North rather than the East of Palestine. The watching of the heavens implied in the narrative belonged to Chaldea rather than Persia.

That the word μάγοι is Persian, does not prevent it being applied to Chaldean learned philosophers/astronomers as well. Thus, we do not know from whence these magi came except the brief statement "from the east".

In any case, Daniel's influence in both the Babylonian court (Dan 2, 4) and the Persian court (Dan 1:21, Dan 6, Dan 1:1) made him both admired and reviled (Dan 6:4, 5, 25-28). Daniel's writings included a great prophecy of Messiah (Dan 9:24-27) that was known to the learned of the east.

Based on Matt 2:1, some of those in the East appeared better prepared to receive the Messiah than the Jewish leadership. In Matt 2:2 the Magi also appear to allude to the prophecy of Balaam (an Aramean prophet) in Num 24:17 - "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come forth from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. ..."

Thus, there was opportunity for these Magi (whoever they were) to know about the coming Messiah.

APPENDIX

If the Magi were Persian, then Jesus would have been born during the time of Phraates IV (37–2 BC) king of the Parthian Empire.

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  • Very interesting. + 1.
    – Xeno
    May 27 at 23:17
  • I always found it curious that they came from the east. Stars are never just east or west, the earth rotates so that they are usually always both, at some point of day. The only fix-stars are south or north, for that reason. Must have been a strange star indeed. May 28 at 9:26
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    @StianYttervik - good point - the very fact that the star arose over the place and remained relatively fixed in the sky and guided them to the correct destination finally settling over Bethlehem suggests it was no star at all but only appeared to be a star - perhaps a special light miraculously provided by God for the purpose.
    – Dottard
    May 28 at 10:26
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They were around since Daniels prophecy of the coming Messiah who would be cut off from his people. They new by the time and astrological formations of the birth of Messiah.

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  • While that's possible, would you set out on a long journey (perhaps hundreds of miles on camelback) to follow a bright star in the night sky? How could anyone predict, with any explicit accuracy, the arrival of the Messiah -- hundreds of years after the fact? It seems to me that there simply had to be some form of special revelation for anyone to embark on such an expedition.
    – Xeno
    May 27 at 23:13
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It could be as plain as this: they were shown a vision, had been visited by heavenly messengers, or simply had been taught all of their lives that He would come, what the signs of His coming were, and had learned to listen to the "still small voice" (Elijah, 1 Kings 9:11-12), in the same way as prophets and holy men before them. That would certainly provide the needed "incentive" to take on a journey that gets them there in 18-36 months.

Personally, I think they may have been the leaders of one or more undocumented group of believers to the east of Palestine. Christ mentions "Other sheep, which are not of this fold" (John 10:16) that he would "bring" (minister to & gather). It stands to reason that there could have been many such pockets of believers around the world that we don't know about.

Considering the lack of detail we have between Christ's birth and the beginning of his ministry (essentially nothing from a 30 year span), it is significant that the authors of the Gospels mentioned what little they did about these men.

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    This is actually what I suspect as well. As I noted in a previous comment, "It seems to me that there simply had to be some form of special revelation for anyone to embark on such a journey, [one that might extend hundreds of miles on camelback]."
    – Xeno
    May 28 at 5:05

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