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towns or tracts that had each of them their king, but of some also which could not be very large, that had each of them several *. What number of the wise men or magi came to our Lord, is entirely unknown, and perhaps that of three was imagined for no other reason, than because the gifts which they brought were of three sorts. The occasion of their coming is expressed by St. Matthew in their own words; “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we are come to worship him.” That a very extraordinary person was to appear under this character about that time, was a very general persuasion throughout the east; as not only Jewish but heathen writers tell us, in conformity with the New Testament. And that this person was to have dominion over the whole earth, was part of that persuasion, founded on predictions of the clearest import. I need produce but one, from
* Jerem. xxv. 20–26
the above-mentioned 72d Psalm, which, as I before observed, plainly relates to Christ. “All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall do him service.” There were Jews enow even in Persia, and much more in Arabia, to propagate this doctrine, and show it to be contained in their sacred books; from whence therefore the wise men may well be supposed to have received it. But their knowledge that he was actually born, must stand on some other foundation; and what that was, themselves declare, “We have seen his star in the east”.” This must plainly mean some new appearance in the sky, which they, whose profession (as is well known) led them peculiarly to the study of astronomy, had observed in the heavens. Now any appearance of a body of light in the air is called by the Greek and Latin authors a star, though it be only a meteor, that is, a transient accidental luminous vapour, neither of considerable height, - In OF * Matt. ii. 2.
nor long continuance; in which sense also the Scripture speaks of stars falling from heaven”. And such was that which the wise men saw, as will appear from a circumstance to be mentioned hereafter. Possibly indeed the first light which surprised them might be that mentioned by St. Luke, when the glory of the Lord descending from heaven, shone round about the shepherds, and his angel came upon them, to bring them the news of our Saviour's nativity-E. For that glory, seen at a distance, might have the appearance of a star; and their seeing the star in the east, is not to be understood as if they saw it to the eastward of themselves; but means, that they being eastward of Judea, saw the star, seeming probably to hang over that country. Now such an uncommon sight alone, supposing their expectation of him raised (as there was then a general expectation of him) might naturally incline them to think he was come, and especially as it WaS
* Matt. xxiv. 29. Mark xiii. 25. + Luke ii. 9.
was a current opinion amongst persons professing skill in these matters, that the shining forth of a new star denoted the rise of a new kingdom, or of a great and extraordinary prince ; whence, as Pliny relates”, Augustus the Roman emperor said, that the comet which appeared on Caesar's death, whom he succeeded, was born for him, and that he was born in that comet; for so it seems he expressed
himself. This, I say, being a current opinion, the wise men would be apt enough to conclude, that the present star betokened the birth of that Prince, of whom (as they might easily have heard) it had been so very long foretold, “There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israeli.” . And it is a very remarkable circumstance, that one of the ancient commentators on the Timaeus of Platof, alluding: to this very star, expresses himself in these words: “ There 1S
* Wide Plin. Nat. Hist. L. ii. Ch. 25.
is a still more venerable and sacred tradition, which relates, that by the rising of a certain uncommon star, was foretold, not diseases or deaths, but the descent of an adorable God for the salvation of the human race, and the melioration of human affairs; which star, they say, was observed by the Chaldeans, who came to present their offerings to the new-born God”.” On their arrival at Jerusalem, and making the inquiry they came for, Herod we find was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. That so jealous a tyrant as Herod should be troubled at this event is no wonder; and it is no less natural that the people also should be disturbed and alarmed, not knowing what the consequences of so extraordinary a birth might be. Herod, therefore, calls the chief priests and scribes together, and demands of them, whether it were known where THE CHR1st should be born; and having learnt from them, that, according to the prophet Micah, Bethlehem was the place appointed by * See Brucker's History of Philosophy, v. iii. p. 472.