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2. Visit of the Magi and Flight to Egypt

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, 2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. 9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented 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. 13And when they were departed, behold, the 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 bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14When he arose, he 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 of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called 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 children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and 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, 20Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which 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 did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall 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.


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