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2. Visit of the Magi and Flight to Egypt
1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet,
6And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah:
For out of thee shall come forth a governor,
Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel.
7Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. 9And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; 15and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son.
16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men. 17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying,
18A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she would not be comforted, because they are not.
19But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead that sought the young child's life. 21And he arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; and being warned of God in a dream, he withdrew into the parts of Galilee, 23and came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene.
16. Then Herod when he saw Matthew speaks according to what Herod felt and thought about the matter. He believed that the Magi had deceived him, because they did not choose to take part in his wicked cruelty. He was rather taken in his own trickery, — in his base pretense, that he too intended to pay homage to the new King.
Josephus makes no mention of this history. The only writer who mentions it is Macrobius, in the Second Book of his Saturnalia, where, relating the jokes and taunts of Augustus, he says: When he heard that, by Herod’s command, the children in Syria under two years of age had been slain, and that his own son had been slain among the crowd, “I would rather,” said he, “have been Herod’s hog than his son.” But the authority of Matthew alone is abundantly sufficient for us. Josephus certainly ought not to have passed over a crime so worthy of being put on record. But there is the less reason to wonder that he says nothing about the infants; for he passes lightly over, and expresses in obscure language, an instance of Herod’s cruelty not less shocking, which took place about the same time, when he put to death all the Judges, who were called the Sanhedrim, that hardly a remnant might remain of the stock of David. It was the same dread, I have no doubt, that impelled him to both of these murders.
There is some uncertainty about the date.211211 “Toutefois on ne sait pas certainement si ce fut en mesme temps.” — “However, it is not known certainly if it was at the same time.” Matthew says, that they were slain from two years old and under, according to the time which he had inquired at the Magi: from which we may infer that Christ had then reached that age, or at least was not far from being two years old. Some go farther, and conclude that Christ was about that age at the time when the Magi came. But I contend that the one does not follow from the other. With what terror Herod was seized when the report was widely spread about a new king who had been borne,212212 “Quand les premieres nouvelles vindrent de la naissance du nouveau Roy, et que le bruit en commenca a courir;” — “when the first news arrived of the birth of the new King, and when the noise about it began to spread.” we have lately seen. Fear prevented him at that time from employing a traitor, in a secret manner, to make an investigation.213213 “La crainte l'empescha lors d'envoyer secretement quelque traistre pour espier comme tout alloit;” — “fear prevented him at that time from employing some traitor to spy how all went.” There is no reason to wonder that he was restrained, for some time, from the commission of a butchery so hateful and shocking, particularly while the report about the arrival of the Magi was still recent. It is certainly probable, that he revolved the crime in his mind, but delayed it till a convenient opportunity should occur. It is even possible, that he first murdered the Judges, in order to deprive the people of their leaders, and thus to compel them to look upon the crime as one for which there was no remedy.214214 “Et pent estre qu'il a premierement mis a mort les Juges, afin qu'apres avoir oste au poure peuple ses conducteurs, il peust sans contredit luy tenir le pie sui la gorge, et en faire a son plaisir.” — “And perhaps he first put the Judges to death, that, after having deprived the wretched people of their leaders, he might without opposition, set his foot on their throat, and do with them at his pleasure.”
We may now conclude it to be a frivolous argument, on which those persons rest, who argue, that Christ was two years old when he was worshipped by the Magi, because, according to the time when the star appeared, Herod slew the children who were a little below two years old. Such persons take for granted, without any proper ground, that the star did not appear till after that the Virgin had brought forth her child. It is far more probable, that they had been warned early, and that they undertook the journey close upon the time of the birth of Christ, that they might see the child when lately born, in the cradle, or in his mother’s lap. It is a very childish imagination that, because they came from an unknown country, and almost from another world, they had spent about two years on the road. The conjectures stated by Osiander215215 Andrew Osiander, (grandfather of Dr Andrew Osiander, a Lutheran divine,) author of several works which gained him not a little celebrity, among which is Harmonia Evangelica — Ed. are too absurd to need refutation.
But there is no inconsistency in the thread of the story which I propose, — that the Magi came when the period of child-bearing was not yet over, and inquired after a king who had been born, not after one who was already two years old; that, after they had returned to their own country, Joseph fled by night, but still in passing discharged a pious duty at Jerusalem, (for in so populous a city, where there was a constant influx of strangers from every quarter, he might be secure from danger;) that, after he had departed to Egypt, Herod began to think seriously about his own danger, and the ulcer of revenge, which he had nourished in his heart for more than a year and half, at length broke out. The adverb then (τότε) does not always denote in Scripture uninterrupted time,216216 “Sans qu'il y ait rien entre-deux;” — “without there being anything between the two,” but frequently occurs, when there is a great distance between the events.