Behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” ...When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. (Mt. 2)

The problem I see here is that the wise men had already seen the Christ's star when they began their journey, and they were later guided to the precise house in which he was either born or being cared for in Bethlehem. What intervenes between these verses is Herod's investigation into the location of the prophesied messiah's birth and his instruction to bring the babe to him if he is located. But if the wise men had a kind of star-based GPS system that would bring them to the very place where Jesus lay, they wouldn't need to ask where he would be born. They would simply need to keep following the star.

The question is: since the star seems to have guided the wise me to Jerusalem and later guided them to the Christ Child's exact location, why did they need to ask directions?

  • This Q reminds me of Jesus asking Peter if he love him 3 times. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 3:53
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    The star led them to the Jews who did not know when their own Messiah was coming. Because of this ignorance of the Jews, the wise men needed further angelic (star) guidance to locate the actual place.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 15:20
  • The magis were not aided by "further angelic (star) guidance" . These were astrologers using astrology as a guide. Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 1:54

6 Answers 6


The unannounced presence in Israel of Persian Magi would not have gone unnoticed, especially as they neared the capital city. Parthian Persia stretched from the Euphrates to the Indus in a fusion of Greek and Persian culture. It had long practiced the exotic religion of Zoroastrianism. Highly educated, politically astute Magi could be seen as a threat - their motives for visiting would need to be examined by King Herod.

Not wishing to be viewed as spies, or to have their immensely long trip thwarted at the last stage, they would prudently seek an audience with King Herod. Further, they would thereby be able to obtain intelligence from the religious leaders at court. They would get confirmation that Israel was, at the time, in anticipation of the foretold Messiah. The religious leaders at court provided that - and much more! They knew from Hebrew prophecies that the insignificant little town of Bethlehem Ephrathah would be the actual place of birth. The relevant Hebrew scroll was that of the prophet Micah, where it said:

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

Perhaps the Magi did not have that crucial prophetic word, and given that there were three villages called Bethlehem in Israel, that precise wording in Hebrew would be critically important. That visit would also be part of fulfilling the other Hebrew prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15, quoted in Matthew 2:18 after the Magi had been warned in a dream not to tell Herod the exact location.

But the Magi needed to find out the last piece of the jigsaw, given that the second of the triple conjunctions had only got them as far as Jerusalem. Once their audience with King Herod was over, they received spectacular confirmation about Bethlehem, when the third triple conjunction occurred in the night sky, to pinpoint the house where Mary and the child were (Matthew 2:9-12). God was sovereignly in charge of all the details pertaining to the incarnation, so it was no irrelevance that the Magi paid their respects to King Herod, found the child, and scarpered before Herod could murder the Christ-child (Matthew 2:13-20).

Source for triple conjunction information: 1 September 2009 'Weekend' magazine review of a BBC2 documentary on Christmas Eve that year; David Hughes, Professor of Astronomy at Sheffield University presenting the case for that triple conjunction. I saw both.

  • 1
    I think it's clear they did not know of Micah's prophecy, at least not in the sense that it referred to the king they sought. If I understand you right, you are saying they knew from astrology that the king had been born, but the triple conjunction pinpointed it after their meeting with Herod? That makes a lot of sense. I'll just upvote your answer for now; will probably "accept" it after others have a change to offer alternative ideas. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 16:59
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    @Dan Fefferman. Hugh's theory details the first conjunction, seen by them when in Persia, giving them the clue to calculate when and where the second one would occur. Their astrological beliefs about stars and kings made them anticipate a new king would be born in Israel. The second conjunction would happen while they were on the very long trip (many months after first setting out). Confirmation, as it led them to Jerusalem! But there are alternative ideas. I just find this one particularly interesting.
    – Anne
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 17:14

I do not think the magi were asking directions because the "star" guided them to the place where the child lay (Matt 2:10).

The simplest explanation is they were obviously foreign dignitaries because they caused a great "stir" is Jerusalem when they arrived (Matt 2:3). Thus, their visit to Herod was a matter of ambassadorial courtesy. The magi simply wanted to show respect to the local government before pursuing their goal.

Thus, they left Herod, and guided by the star to the exact location came to worship Jesus (Matt 2:11).

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    Not sure what you mean in your first sentence. Their question does not seem to have been directed to Herod... or are you saying he was the one they asked? Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 16:52
  • @DanFefferman - as foreign VIP's the Magi did the diplomatic thing by first contacting the Government before going about their duties. Thus, they first spoke to Herod.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 19:50

MT 2:2 "Where is he who has been born the king of the Jews?".

When the wise men asked this question they did not know what answer Herod would give. They did not know what Herod did or did not know. Unless they asked it to prove his ignorance; to prove he was not a wise man.

We who have the New Testament know what happens in this story, but the people involved did not know what was going to happen next.

Perhaps for those who did not know what was going to happen next they might have half expected Herod to know his domain and at least be able to guide them on the next step of their journey, seeing that by following the star they had come to Jerusalem.

Did the wise men know that the star would continue to lead them after bringing them to Jerusalem? We do, but they might have had no idea how the story was to develop. Perhaps the wise men would not have been surprised if Herod had said, "Yes, a baby has just been born here in my palace".

MT 2:8 "And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and seach diligently for the child..".

"search diligently" suggests that Herod was not expecting the star to lead the wise men "until it came to rest over the place where the child was".

But then the wise men too, might not have forseen that that was what was about to take place. If the wise men knew that they must get to Bethlehem they still might not have known that the star would take them to the exact spot, so they were asking for information and further directions.


we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.

They were in the east when they saw the star. That inspired them to go to Jerusalem, but the star didn't necessarily stay around and lead the way.

They went to the King of Judea and asked him where this new "King of the Jews" was. The king determined from his advisors that the birth was prophesied to happen in Bethlehem, so he told the wise men to go there.

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.

Rather than going to Bethlehem though, when the star appeared again ("When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy"), it led them to Joseph's house in Nazareth, where "the young child", not "baby", was.

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

King Herod knew that Jesus was about two years old now, but didn't realize that he wasn't still in Bethlehem.

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    Nazareth is not mentioned in the text here. In fact, when it IS mentioned it's not as Joseph's hometown but as "a place called Nazareth" the family seems not to have been to prior to their time in Egypt. Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 17:04

The Gospel of Matthew specifically says “Magos,” referencing them as astrologers. Astrologers can be traced from the book of Daniel showing that they served kings for centuries, including Babylonian Kings. Daniel 2:48.

Daniel 2:48 ASV

Then the king made Daniel great, and gave him many great gifts, and made him to rule over the whole province of Babylon, and to be chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon.

Herod investigated where the promised Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-6). It was he who told the astrologers where to go.

Why Did the Magi Need to Ask for Directions? (Mt 2:2-9)

Because their astrology led them to the wrong location. The magis were not aided by "further angelic (star) guidance" as one OP claimed. These were astrologers using astrology as a guide.

Jesus was described as a child when astrologers found him which indicates that they did not visit Jesus on the night of his birth as Matthew 2:11 shows “And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother"

In addition, Matthew 2:7 shows us that the star appeared to the magi quite some time ago.

Matthew 2:7 ASV

Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared


The Magi legend introduces Herod as a villain for purposes of political satire establishing Herod's fear of losing kingship (after his attack on his children: Alexander and Aristobulus in 6BC). > For 1st Century Xtians, Herod's corrupt allegiance to Rome needed to be established for readers to celebrate the arrival of Israel's "salvation" יְשׁוּעָ from Roman oppression of the false demigod Καῖσαρ [Matthew 22:21]. חנוכה שמח


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