Jesus was visited by Magi. The Greek word is of foreign origin. Rob Mag and refers to soothsayers, seers, astrologers, wisemen, physicians, sorcerers and magician. The last word is an English derivative of magi. The Medes, Babylonians and Persians all had such men who were highly revered. These ancient lands are called Iraq and Iran today.
Because of the popular song ("We three kings of Orient are bearing gifts we traveled afar....") and later legends which ascribed actual names to the three, most people have not been able to read the actual bible story. In the bible, it merely states that there were magi and that they brought three gifts. They are not kings. They arrive sometime after the birth of Jesus, in fact, they go into the house where he was (2:11).
Bethlehem is a small town, estimates of inhabitants vary but it was probably numbered in the hundreds. The questions about history are not easily answered. There is little doubt, though, that Matthew is sending an important message in this story. Jesus is under threat from Herod (the Jewish 'king') while Gentiles arrive to identify him as the "newborn king of the Jews." This is a key statement which Matthew wants his readers to hear and understand. Matthew does not speak of a temporary sojourn because of a census. Nor does he mention shepherds and angels. His concern is with Gentiles. He and Luke do not have the same story.
There is every possibility that Matthew and Luke are sharing historical remembrances of local people. It is equally likely that other wonderful events were left unreported. Perhaps most eye witnesses were long dead by the time they wrote their Gospels. If Jesus died at 33, then anyone old enough to remember his birth would have been in their mid to late 40's. Add to that a couple decades before the Gospels are written and suddenly you are talking about people in their 60's and 70's, or older. There would not have been an overabundance of people living that long. However, the amazing stories would have been recalled in family settings and dim remembrance possible long afterward.
The temptation to want facts can blind us to the truth. Who is Jesus? Matthew answers clearly, he is the king of the Jews. That is the central point which cannot be lost. How do we contemporary folk lost in our swirling doubts and questions deal with these Gospel stories? We need to answer the question, do I wonder? Is there room in my heart for mystery and amazement? I do not know if Matthew even intended for the birth narrative to be viewed as history. Tomorrow we will look at the OT parallels and ponder that.