So while we’re on the topic of Magi, because Magi come up all the time, we have a bit of a Christmas navigation problem to solve.
It’s a small problem. But, you’re probably going to celebrate about 70 Christmases in your life, so getting the bugs worked out of your grasp of the story isn’t a bad investment.
The problem centers on that famous Christmas star — the one that led those observant pagan astrologers to Jesus in Bethlehem.
(Sidebar: Don’t miss the sad irony that, while the Jews had access to prophetic Scriptures that actually told them the location of the Messiah’s birth, it was as group of witchcraft-practicing Gentiles who found the baby first. Now that is food for thought.)
Anyway, the star. Never mind what it was or how it looked. The most important thing is what it did — pinpoint the location of the house where Jesus and his family were located. Frequently, you hear holiday carols or sermons or greeting cards describe this star as being located in the eastern sky. Like, The First Noel:
For all to see there was a star
Shining in the east beyond them far.
But think about it. If the Wise Men started out their journey to Bethlehem from the east, and then they saw a star in the east and followed that star, they would have ended up in China. And that would have been extremely awkward. Allow me to illustrate with a handy, historically accurate diagram (below).
The confusion comes from when the Magi are telling Herod about how they ended up on his doorstep in Jerusalem. They explain, “We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:2).
At first look, it seems like “in the east” refers to the star. But as we’ve already seen, the star appearing in the eastern sky is a navigation fail. So, “in the east” must actually modify the subject of the sentence — the “we.” As in, “We, in the east, saw his star.”
Because I know you want to see more grammar in action, I have included some handy diagrams.
Bottom line, when you’re reading your Bible, slowing down to notice the details is a “bright” idea. Just ask the wise men. However many of them there were.