Epiphany is the time when the three wise men came and gave gifts to the Messiah. It is the origin of gift giving at the Christmas time. Some forms of Christianity still practice the giving of gifts on January 6th, instead of on Christmas day. It is an interesting story nestled in the second chapter of Matthew.
The Greek for the “wise men” is “magoi apo anatolon.” Literally it translates: magi from where the stars rise. The word “anatolon” which is often translated as “the east” is used repeatedly in reference to the rising of the star which the magi are following to find the Messiah. The Magi from the east saw the star in the east and followed it. The word anatolon has both the connotation of “rising” and “east.” Stars rise in the east and set in the west. Anatolon serves both as a geographical location and an action. The magi from the anatolon are searching for the Messiah by following the star’s anatolon. This is their realm of knowledge, expertise and location. They are successful in their venture and find the Messiah.
Are the Magi magicians, scientists of the day, crackpots, or representatives of other faiths? All of those scenarios have been presented in the literature at one time or another. Not much is known about whom these individuals are; who or what they represent exactly. The biblical account is silent. Christian tradition has assigned them names and places of honor. And the general designation of “wise men”, which may in light of the silence be the best designation, leaves much to the imagination. They were not questioned by the local authorities but rather accepted as valid emissaries on a mission. When they arrive at the side of the Messiah they are not questioned by the mother Mary but accepted.
What is the point of the story? This story only appears in the Gospel of Matthew. This gospel is largely concerned with proving that Jesus is the Messiah. The first chapter is devoted to two themes, first, to the lineage of Jesus back to the King David and the founder of Judaism ,Abraham; and second, to the miracle conception of the Messiah. The second chapter shows the secular rulers rejection of the “King of the Jews” but the acceptance of the “King of the Jews” by the “wise men.” The second chapter also shows an “exodus” event not unlike that of Israel in the time of their beginnings.
So what is the point of the story of the Magi?