Claim: The Bible says that three wise men traveled from afar on camels to visit the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger.
Origins: As Santa Claus and his reindeer are to the secular celebration of Christmas, so the three wise men and the creche are to the religious celebration. Even most of the non-religious (or non-Christian) among us recognize the symbolism of the nativity scene: it depicts the biblical account of three wise men from the east who rode atop camels and followed a star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts for the newborn Christ child who lay in a manger.
The truth is, the Bible contains virtually none of these details. They have all been added over the years from sources outside the Bible.
Mathew 2:1 tells us:
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
it. Matthew doesn’t say how many wise men came from the east, doesn’t mention their names, and doesn’t provide any details about how they made their journey.
It has generally been assumed that the wise men (or magi) were three in number because Matthew 2:11 makes mention of three gifts:
However many wise men there were, and however they got to Bethlehem, the Bible tells us they arrived just after the birth and found the baby Jesus in a manger, right?
Not quite. Matthew 2:11 states:
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped
The wise men came “into the house,” not the stable, and they saw a “young child,” not a newborn. This passage indicates that the wise men didn’t arrive until quite some time after Jesus’ birth. (According to
To sum up: we know from the Bible that wise men came from the east, that they followed a star to Bethlehem to find the Christ child, and that they brought him gold, and frankincense and myrrh. We must look to sources external to the Bible to find the origins of any of the other familiar details, however.
Last updated: 30 July 2007