I heard an idea that the Magi that followed the star, came and brought gifts to Jesus, came from Japan. However, the one saying this didn't mention the source. He mentioned the fact that Japanese people are really smart and even in those days they knew how to interpret the astronomy.

While the Bible doesn't specify the origin country of the magi, I'm wondering if there is any source we can trust mentioning where they came from.

Wikipedia says:

The phrase from the east (ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν), more literally from the rising [of the sun],[citation needed] is the only information Matthew provides about the region from which they came. Traditionally the view developed that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen as the kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom.[citation needed] There is an Armenian tradition identifying the "Magi of Bethlehem" as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India.[26] Bible historian Chuck Missler has also written about this tradition.[27] Historian John of Hildesheim relates a tradition in the ancient silk road city of Taxila (near Islamabad in Pakistan) that one of the Magi passed through the city on the way to Bethlehem.[28]

Are there any other sources?


5 Answers 5


In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 2nd century Christian apologist Justin Martyr states that the Magi in the Nativity account came from Arabia, relating them to Isaiah's prophesy:

Isaiah 8:4 (Brenton LXX)

For before the child shall know how to call his father or his mother, one shall take the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria before the king of the Assyrians.

Justin counters Trypho's objections that the prophesy relates to Hezekiah and not Jesus:

But show me yourselves [i.e. "you Jews"] first of all how it is said of Hezekiah, that before he knew how to call father or mother, he received the power of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria in the presence of the king of Assyria. For it will not be conceded to you, as you wish to explain it, that Hezekiah waged war with the inhabitants of Damascus and Samaria in presence of the king of Assyria. For before the child knows how to call father or mother, the prophetic word said, He shall take the power of Damascus and spoils of Samaria in presence of the king of Assyria. For if the Spirit of prophecy had not made the statement with an addition, "Before the child knows how to call father or mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and spoils of Samaria," but had only said, "And shall bear a son, and he shall take the power of Damascus and spoils of Samaria," then you might say that God foretold that he would take these things, since He foreknew it. But now the prophecy has stated it with this addition: Before the child knows how to call father or mother, he shall take the power of Damascus and spoils of Samaria. And you cannot prove that such a thing ever happened to any one among the Jews. But we are able to prove that it happened in the case of our Christ. For at the time of His birth, Magi who came from Arabia worshipped Him, coming first to Herod, who then was sovereign in your land, and whom the Scripture calls king of Assyria on account of his ungodly and sinful character. For you know,” continued I, “that the Holy Spirit oftentimes announces such events by parables and similitudes; just as He did towards all the people in Jerusalem, frequently saying to them, Thy father is an Amorite, and thy mother a Hittite [Ezekiel 16:3].

Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter LXXVII

No other ante-Nicene Church writing that I am aware of associates the Magi of the Nativity account with any other and/or more specific location.


We will never know for sure where the Magi are truly from. There are many legends that abound in relation to these little known personages who are known to us thanks to the Gospel of St Matthew.

Magi (Majusian)

From old Persian language, a priest of Zarathustra (Zoroaster). The Bible gives us the direction, East and the legend states that the wise men were from Persia (Iran) - Balthasar, Melchior, Caspar - thus being priests of Zarathustra religion, the mages. Obviously the pilgrimage had some religious significance for these men, otherwise they would not have taken the trouble and risk of travelling so far. But what was it? An astrological phenomenon, the Star?

Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, was erected in 329 by Queen Helena in the area it was believed to be where Jesus was born. In 614, The Church was saved from destruction by the Persian rampage because of the mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian Garb on the floor of this church. - Wise Men and Women Still Seek Him Today

Another local legend about the origins of the Magi comes from Marco Polo.

"The Travels" of Marco Polo translated by Ronald Latham for Penguin Classics and the first story Marco Polo relates about Persia proper is about the three Magi.

Marco Polo's version relates the version of the story prevalent in Iran in the middle of the 12th century with specific references to places in Iran making it very interesting reading. I also looked up Magi in the dictionary and learnt that it is indeed plural for magus, meaning "a: a member of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians; b often capitalized : one of the traditionally three wise men from the East paying homage to the infant."

Here is the Ronald Latham translation:

In Persia is the city called Saveh, from which the three Magi set out when they came to worship Jesus Christ. Here, too, they lie buried in three sepulchres of great size and beauty. Above each sepulchre is a square building with a domed roof of very fine workmanship. The one is just beside the other. Their bodies are still whole, and they have hair and beards. One was named Beltasar, the second Gaspar, and the third Melchior.

Messer Marco asked several of the inhabitants who these Magi were; but no one could tell him anything except that they were three kings who were buried there in days gone by. But at last he learnt what I will tell you.

Three days farther on, he found a town called Kala Atashparastan, that is to say Town of the Fire-worshippers. And that is no more than the truth; for the men of this town do worship fire. And I will tell you why they worship it. The inhabitants declare that in days gone by three kings of this country went to worship a new-born prophet and took with them three offerings -gold, frankincense, and myrrh - so as to discover whether this prophet was a god, or an earthly king or a healer. For they said : 'If he takes gold, he is an earthly king; if frankincense, a god; if myrrh, a healer.' - The Magi, revisited

There is a fairly recent letter by a Bangladeshi doctor who worked in Iran which contains a tidbit of interest on this subject.

Information on the church converted from a temple by the wise man in Urumia

To whom it may concern,

Salam. I am a Bangladeshi doctor who worked in Iran under Ministry of Health from 1985 to 94. During my stay in Iran I travelled many areas-having archeological importance. The ancient churches of Iran was also included in my interest. Once on the way to the Ghara Kilisha I was in Urumia. In the city I had a chance of visiting one church. I have forgetten the name of the chuch but the thing which I still remember that there were two chuches in the same compound, One was recent made and the ancient one was under the ground. May be this was an assurian church. I was told by a local person that the ancient structure was not a church, rather it was a Zorostrian temple. One of the 3 wisemen who visited new born Jesus was a Zorostrian Priest who after the crucifixation started practising Christianity & converted the temple to the christian church. At that time videography was mamnoo in Iran so I could not do any videography.

Dr. N. D. R. - worked in Kerman Province

Anne Catherine Emmerich has this to say about the Thre Wise Men in her visions of the Life of Jesus Christ (Page 248):

Mensor, the brownish, was a Chaldean. His city, whose name sounded to me something like Acajaja, was surrounded by a river, and appeared to be built on an island. Mensor spent most of his time in the fields with his herds. After the death of Christ, he was baptized by St. Thomas, and named Leander. Seir, the brown, on that very Christmas night stood prepared at Mensor's for the expedition. He and his race were the only ones so brown, but they had red lips. The other people in the neighborhood were white. Seir had the baptism of desire. He was not living at the time of Jesus' journey to the country of the Kings. Theokeno was from Media, a country more to the north. It lay like a strip of land further toward the interior and between two seas. Theokeno dwelt in his own city; its name I have forgotten. It consisted of tents erected on stone foundations. He was the wealthiest of the three. He might, I think, have taken a more direct route to Bethlehem, but in order to join the others he made a circuitous one. I think that he had even to pass near Babylon in order to come up with them. He also was baptized by St. Thomas and named Leo. The names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar were given to the kings, because they so well suited them, for Caspar means "He is won by love"; Melchior, "He is so coaxing, so insinuating, he uses so much address, he approaches one so gently"; Balthasar, "With his whole will, he accomplishes the will of God." - 11. Journey of the Three Kings To Bethlehem


The word translated here as 'magi' is μάγοι (sing: μάγος), a word derived from Old Iranian. So the source of the word is going to be in the Persian empire, not Japan. Mάγος is derived from the Persian word for 'priest' - in New Testament times, magi were priests of the Zoroastrian god, Ahura Mazda. Magi could have come from Babylon, then an important city in the Persian empire, or even from Media, in the Persian heartland. This entire area was 'east' from the perspective of Jerusalem.

Spong casts a completely different light on the magi of Matthew's Gospel, as he says in Born of a Woman, pages 89-90, that the universal assumption of people he knows associated with New Testament study, is that the magi were not actual people. He says "Matthew was clearly writing Christian midrash." It is not hard to imagine Matthew's author wishing to show that even the priests of this then-great religion would want to worship Jesus.

  • No offense intended. Since I can't edit my comment, I just deleted it.
    – user22553
    Aug 20, 2016 at 21:13
  • I think Spong's statement says much more about the people he chooses to interact with that the strength of his argument ;)
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 21, 2016 at 1:43
  • @curiousdannii Well Spong is a bishop emeritus of the Episcopal Church, so presumably a good number of the people he interacts with are Episcopalian, but that does not mean that Baptists or Catholics won't agree with him. Aug 21, 2016 at 2:52

In all probability, the Magi were exiled Jews who lived in Babylon. Their query : " Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?....."(Mtt 2:2) and their implied knowledge of the scriptures (Ref: Mtt 2:5) betray their origin. Jack Kilmon, a Bible scholar and researcher has got some convincing arguments in favour of the said theory. His findings, including those relating to the 'Star of Bethlehem' are available in his website 'Scriptorium'.


The magi or kings were from Tarshish, Sheba and Seba (Psalm 72) and they, in turn, were from Shem, Ham and Japheth (Genesis 10), the fathers of all nations on earth. God, by perfect plan and design, led this entourage from the east (by a star) to represent all nations on earth for the birth-day of His only begotten. After all, this was one important birthday---so much so that all of heaven was emptied of angels to come join in the worship of the newborn king (Hebrews 1).

  • I think you should cite where the idea that they were from Shem, Ham and Japheth, I think you did that elsewhere in a comment. Weren't the Israelites (and everybody else living there from Shem's lineage anyways?).
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 9, 2019 at 17:05
  • Yes, Assyria had long since merged 10 tribes into their empire for about 1,000 years. Only Judah and Benjamin (plus some remnants) made up Judah. When you research the table of nations in Genesis, you will find Tarshish from Japheth, Sheba from Shem, Seba from Ham (Gen 10). Jan 9, 2019 at 19:36

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