We have returned to the time of year when we hear once again the story of the Wise Men—the Magi who came from the East, according to Matthew’s Christmas story (Matt 1-2).
In recent reading, I was noticing how much Matthew was concerned with the fulfillment of prophecy. We encountered five, or possibly six, prophetic fulfillments in birth story from Matt 1:18 to 2:23:
1) Citing a verse from Isaiah 7:14, Jesus will be born of a virgin (Matt 1:22-23).
2) Jesus’ appearance fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 concerning His coming from Bethlehem. And thus the chief priests and scribes advised the Magi to go to search in Bethlehem. (Matt 2:4-6).
3) In 2:14-15, Matthew cites the family’s fleeing to Egypt and their later return as a fulfillment of Hosea’s prophecy (Hosea 11:1) that God “called my son out of Egypt.”
4) He would be called a Nazarene (Matt 2:23) because, ultimately, He grew up in Nazareth.
5) Herod’s slaughter of the innocent children (Matt 2:16-18) is cited as the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.
There is one more prophecy which was probably cited in the original version of Matthew. But the citation was later blotted out—most likely due to the political problems it would have caused: The Roman empire, in the 4th century AD (when the books of the New Testament were being compiled) did not want to give any credence to the accuracy of the Prophet from its current arch-rival–the Persian-Zoroastrian empire.
Fortunately, another version of the story of the Magi was preserved in the Syriac Infancy Gospel. It was finally translated into English and published in 1697.
Let us compare two of the verses from both sources, which appear to be nearly identical phrase-to-phrase, if not word-to-word. The King James version is in blue, the Syriac is in red for ease of comparison:
The phraseology is so similar, it almost certainly comes from a single source. And yet, there is one major phrase (shown in italics above) which has disappeared: “according to the prophecy of Zoradascht” (Zoradascht is another name for Zoroaster, the Prophet who founded the Zoroastrian religion about 1000 years before the birth of Jesus.)
In the days of Matthew, there would have been no political problem with citing Zoroaster as a source of accurate prophecy: The Jewish people did not see Persian Zoroastrianism as a threat–Cyrus the Great was regarded as saintly for allowing the Jewish people to return from Persia to rebuild Jerusalem. Christianity had not yet become aligned with the Roman empire, and Zoroastrianism alignment with the current rulers of Persia was not particularly strong. (The Parthians had come down from central Asia after the decline of the Alexandrian/Greek empire, but were not strongly aligned to the Zoroastrians.)
Matthew wanted to show how Jesus’ coming was hugely important news. It was not simply the fulfillment of Jewish religious prophecy—it was greater than that. It was also the fulfillment of prophecy of the great religion to the East—the Zoroastrian religion. So he included the story of the Magi at the very beginning of his gospel.
And time has proven him right: Later research into the Zoroastrian religion found that Zoroaster had made several references to new Messengers who would appear about once every thousand years. (Indeed, the concept of the millennium as a typical span of time between religions can be traced to Zoroaster’s teachings.) So the timing was right. The idea that a virgin would give birth is also found in Zoroaster’s teachings. And prophecies given by the conjunctions of stars or planets or comets or a “shower of stars” can also be found. Although the specific passage that guided the Magi has been lost to history, the concepts are clearly there. Thus, the assertion that the motivation for the journey of the Magi was a prophecy of Zoroaster becomes highly credible.
But the question remains, “Was it the star alone that impelled them to leave their native land and search for their promised Messenger in the land of the Jews?” This seems odd. Or did they have some knowledge of Jewish prophecies, left over from the time some 5 centuries earlier, when the Jewish people had been in their care in Persia? Did they perhaps notice that one of the time-related prophecies of Daniel (in Chapter 9) closely matched the time-related prophecies of Zoroaster? Could this be the reason that they came, specifically asking for “He that is born King of the Jews”?
The convergence of two different prophecies from two entirely different sources is a powerful argument for the validity of those prophecies.
And surprisingly, it has happened again in the modern era! Two very specific prophecies, entirely independent of each other–one from the Bible and the other from the Quran–pinpointed a single year more than a millennium before the event. Both converged on the year 1844 AD. Our fictional characters, Zach and James, in The Wise Men of the West, are in the process of discovering this very non-fictional fact, struggling to understand its implications and courageously following leads in order to find the Promised One during these, the Latter Days.
To follow them, to share in their discoveries and to open new doors for understanding the modern world: