… well, at first I thought so. Then I changed my mind. Now I’m back where I started, kind of.
Most nativity sets come complete with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a shepherd, some sheep and three wise men known to tradition as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.
So I’d say the vast majority of people think that the magi were on set shortly after Jesus was born. That’s what I thought too.
Then some people pointed out that the magi could not have been at the nativity for two reasons. First according to Matthew’s Gospel when the Magi found the baby, he was already in a house. Since Jesus was born in a stable or a cave, some time must have passed between the nativity scene and their arrival. Second, Herod sought to slaughter every child two years of age and under suggesting that Jesus was closer to the age of a toddler than an infant.
However, I came across new evidence which suggests that the magi probably arrived very close to the time of the actual birth of Jesus. Within 40 days. Possibly sooner. And while we can’t say for sure, it is completely within reason to suggest that they may have even been at the nativity.
1. Had to be within 40 days of his birth.
According to Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus was 8 days old he was circumcised. Then Mary and Joseph presented him to the priest in Jerusalem for the “rite of purification” which was an event that happened within 40 days of the child’s birth. After this time they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 2:22). But Matthew says that the magi found Jesus in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8-10). So they must have visited him within 40 days (just over a month, at the most. As we’ll see, it was probably closer to the birth).
2. They found him in a house.
Originally this was an argument against the idea that the magi were at the nativity. But now it seems to be a perfectly good reason to support the idea that they probably were at the nativity scene – or at least arrived very closely after. As I argue in my YouTube episode, “True Nativity Story Had No Stable,” Jesus was mostly likely born in a house, not a stable. So Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel mesh quite well. Magi found Jesus in a house. Jesus was born in a house. Magi most likely found Jesus in the house he was born in. Possibly at the nativity.
3. Herod kills children 2 and under.
The fact that Herod slaughter all children in the region of Bethlehem 2 years of age and under, while sometimes used to support the idea that Jesus was closer to 2, more likely suggests that Jesus was closer to an infant than a toddler. Herod, that megalomaniac, wanted to be sure to kill the baby. So he casts a wide net. If Jesus was closer to 2, Herod might have slaughtered all children 5 and under.
4. Jerusalem and Bethlehem are close.
Jerusalem is a mere 5 or so miles from Bethlehem. A short journey of only a few hours for camel riding men. Assuming that God and the magi were working on the same time-table – that God knew putting the star in the sky at the right time would lead the magi to find the baby – it is reasonable to assume that the magi arrived in Jerusalem the day (or the day before) Jesus was born. Having been sent by Herod to Bethlehem, they would have arrived only a few hours later. Possibly just after the birth, or the next morning.
It seems more reasonable to me now, to think that the magi were either at the nativity – in the house that Jesus was born in – or arrived very close to it; maybe the next morning. In order for this hypothesis to work you have to do away with the traditional assumption that Jesus was turned away from a local commercial inn and then born in a stable. He wasn’t. If you haven’t seen my Youtube episode for more on that, check it out.