Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Where did the wise men in the Bible come from?”
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No nativity set is complete without a set of three wise men, bringing their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Yet, for as integral as these figures are in our Christmas traditions, we have little confirmed information about who they were or where they came from. The gospel of Matthew simply states:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, 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.
Elder James E. Talmadge in Jesus the Christ wrote of the wise men:
As a matter of fact, we are left without information as to their country, nation, or tribal relationship; we are not even told how many they were, though unauthenticated tradition has designated them as “the three wise men,” and has even given them names; whereas they are left unnamed in the scriptures, the only true record of them extant, and may have numbered but two or many.
What are some of these “unauthenticated traditions” about where these wise men traveled from?
The word “magi” give some biblical scholars a clue to the potential origin of these visitors. The word is used in the original Greek text of the book of Matthew and can refer to a hereditary priestly class in the ancient Medes and Persian civilizations. Today, that’s modern-day Iran and Iraq. This priestly class is often associated with scholarship and astrology.
In other traditions from the Western church, the wise men each hail from a different location—Balthasar as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India. Their status as kings rather than scientists or priests has been conflated with prophecies about Christ, such as found in Psalms 68:29:
Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee.
Though we have no current way of verifying where the wise men came from, who they were, or what sort of lives they led, we can be inspired by their desire to seek out the Christ child and worship Him. They stand as a symbol of dedication and adoration of our Lord.
Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.