1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
1 CHAPTER II.
NOTES ON CHAP. II.
Verse 1. Bethlehem of Judea] This city is mentioned in
Jud 17:7, and must be distinguished from another of the same name
in the tribe of Zebulon, Jos 19:15. It is likewise called
Ephrath, Ge 48:7,
or Ephratah, Mic 5:2, and its inhabitants Ephrathites, Ru 1:2;
1Sa 17:12. It is situated on the declivity of a hill, about six
miles from Jerusalem. Beth-lechem, in Hebrew, signifies
the house of bread. And the name may be considered as very
properly applied to that place where Jesus, the Messiah, the true
bread that came down from heaven, was manifested, to give life to
the world. But lehem also signifies flesh, and is applied to
that part of the sacrifice which was burnt upon the altar.
See Le 3:11-16; 21:6. The word is also used to signify a
carcass, Zep 1:17.
The Arabic version has [Arabic] Beet lehem, and the Persic
[Persic] Beet allehem: but [Arabic] lehem, in Arabic, never
signifies bread, but always means flesh. Hence it is more proper
to consider the name as signifying the house of flesh, or, as some
might suppose, the house of the incarnation, i.e. the place where
God was manifested in the flesh for the salvation of a lost world.
In the days of Herod the king] This was HEROD, improperly
denominated the GREAT, the son of Antipater, an Idumean: he
reigned 37 years in Judea, reckoning from the-time he was
created-king of that country by the Romans. Our blessed Lord was
born in the last year of his reign; and, at this time, the sceptre
had literally departed from Judah, a foreigner being now upon the
As there are several princes of this name mentioned in the New
Testament, it may be well to give a list of them here, together
with their genealogy.
Herod, the Great, married ten wives, by whom he had several
children, Euseb. l. i. c. 9. p. 27. The first was Doris, thought
to be an Idumean, whom he married when but a private individual;
by her he had Antipater, the eldest of all his sons, whom he
caused to be executed five days before his own death.
His second wife was Mariamne, daughter to Hircanus, the sole
surviving person of the Asmonean, or Maccabean, race. Herod put
her to death. She was the mother of Alexander and Aristobulus,
whom Herod had executed at Sebastia, (Joseph. Antiq. l. xvi. c.
13.-De Bello, l. i. c. 17,) on an accusation of having entered
into a conspiracy against him. Aristobulus left three children,
whom I shall notice hereafter.
His third wife was Mariamne, the daughter of Simon, a person of
some note in Jerusalem, whom Herod made high priest, in order to
obtain his daughter. She was the mother of Herod Philippus, or
Herod Philip, and Salome. Herod or Philip married Herodias,
mother to Salome, the famous dancer, who demanded the head of John
the Baptist, Mr 6:22. Salome had been placed, in the will of
Herod the Great, as second heir after Antipater; but her name was
erased, when it was discovered that Mariamne, her mother, was an
accomplice in the crimes of Antipater, son of Herod the Great.
Joseph de Bello, lib. i. c. 18,19,20.
His fourth wife was Malthake, a Samaritan, whose sons were
Archelaus and Philip. The first enjoyed half his father's kingdom
under the name of tetrarch, viz. Idumea, Judea, and Samaria:
Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 11. He reigned nine years; but, being
accused and arraigned before the Emperor Augustus, he was banished
to Vienna, where he died: Joseph. Antiq. l. xvii. c. 15. This is
the Archelaus mentioned in Mt 2:22.
His brother Philip married Salome, the famous dancer, the
daughter of Herodias; he died without children, and she was
afterwards married to Aristobulus.
The fifth wife of Herod the Great was Cleopatra of Jerusalem.
She was the mother of Herod surnamed Antipas, who married
Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, while he was still
living. Being reproved for this act by John the Baptist,
Mt 14:3; Mr 6:17; Lu 3:19, and having imprisoned this holy
man, he caused him to be beheaded, agreeable to the promise he had
rashly made to the daughter of his wife Herodias, who had pleased
him with her dancing. He attempted to seize the person of Jesus
Christ, and to put him to death. It was to this prince that
Pilate sent our Lord, Lu 13:31, 32. He was banished to Lyons,
and then to Spain, where both he and his wife Herodias died.
Joseph. Antiq. l. xv. c. 14.-De Bello, l. ii. c. 8.
The sixth wife of Herod the Great was Pallas, by whom he had
Phasaelus: his history is no ways connected with the New
The seventh was named Phoedra, the mother of Roxana, who married
the son of Pheroras.
The eighth was Elpida, mother of Salome, who married another son
With the names of two other wives of Herod we are not
acquainted; but they are not connected with our history, any more
than are Pallas, Phoedra, and Elpida, whose names I merely notice
to avoid the accusation of inaccuracy.
ARISTOBULUS, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamne, a
descendant of the Asmoneans, left two sons and a daughter, viz.
Agrippa, Herod, and Herodias, so famous for her incestuous
marriage with Antipas, in the life-time of his brother Philip.
AGRIPPA, otherwise named Herod, who was imprisoned by Tiberius
for something he had inconsiderately said against him, was
released from prison by Caligula, who made him king of Judea:
Joseph. Antiq. l. xviii. c. 8. It was this prince who put St.
James to death, and imprisoned Peter, as mentioned in xii. of
Acts. He died at Caesarea, in the way mentioned in the Acts, as
well as by Josephus, Antiq. l. xix. c. 7. He left a son named
Agrippa, who is mentioned below.
HEROD, the second son of Aristobulus, was king of Chalcis, and,
after the death of his brother, obtained permission of the emperor
to keep the ornaments belonging to the high priest, and to
nominate whom he pleased to that office: Joseph. Antiq. l. xx. c.
1. He had a son named Aristobulus, to whom Nero gave Armenia the
lesser, and who married Salome, the famous dancer, daughter to
AGRIPPA, son of Herod Agrippa, king of Judea, and grandson to
Aristobulus and Mariamne; he was at first king of Chalcis, and
afterwards tetrarch of Galilee, in the room of his uncle Philip:
Joseph. Antiq. l. xx. c. 5. It was before him, his sister
Berenice, and Felix, who had married Drusilla, Agrippa's second
daughter, that St. Paul pleaded his cause, as mentioned Acts 26.
HERODIAS, the daughter of Mariamne and Aristobulus, is the
person of whom we have already spoken, who married successively
the two brothers Philip and Antipas, her uncles, and who
occasioned the death of John the Baptist. By her first husband
she had Salome, the dancer, who was married to Philip, tetrarch of
the Trachonitis, the son of Herod the Great. Salome having had no
children by him, she was married to Aristobulus, her cousin-german,
son of Herod, king of Chalcis, and brother to Agrippa and Herodias:
she had by this husband several children.
This is nearly all that is necessary to be known relative to the
race of the Herods, in order to distinguish the particular persons
of this family mentioned in the New Testament. See Basnage,
Calmet, and Josephus.
There came wise men from the east] Or, Magi came from the
eastern countries. "The Jews believed that there were prophets in
the kingdom of Saba and Arabia, who were of the posterity of
Abraham by Keturah; and that they taught in the name of God, what
they had received in tradition from the mouth of Abraham."-WHITBY.
That many Jews were mixed with this people there is little doubt;
and that these eastern magi, or philosophers, astrologers, or
whatever else they were, might have been originally of that class,
there is room to believe. These, knowing the promise of the
Messiah, were now, probably, like other believing Jews, waiting
for the consolation of Israel. The Persic translator renders the
Greek μαγοι by [Persic] mejooseean, which properly signifies a
worshipper of fire; and from which we have our word magician. It
is very probable that the ancient Persians, who were considered as
worshippers of fire, only honoured it as the symbolical
representation of the Deity; and, seeing this unusual appearance,
might consider it as a sign that the God they worshipped was about
to manifest himself among men. Therefore they say, We have seen
his star-and are come to worship him; but it is most likely that
the Greeks made their μαγοι magi, which we translate wise men,
from the Persian [Persian] mogh, and [Persian] moghan, which the
Kushuf ul Loghat, a very eminent Persian lexicon, explains by
[Persian] atush perest, a worshipper of fire; which the Persians
suppose all the inhabitants of Ur in Chaldea were, among whom the
Prophet Abraham was brought up. The Mohammedans apply this title
by way of derision to Christian monks in their associate
capacity; and by a yet stronger catachresis, they apply it to a
tavern, and the people that frequent it. Also, to ridicule in the
most forcible manner the Christian priesthood, they call the
tavern-keeper [Arabic], peeri Mughan, the priest, or chief of
the idolaters. It is very probable that the persons mentioned by
the evangelist were a sort of astrologers, probably of Jewish
extraction, that they lived in Arabia-Felix, and, for the reasons
above given, came to worship their new-born sovereign. It is
worthy of remark, that the Anglo-saxon translates the word μαγοι
by [Anglo-Saxon], which signifies astrologers, from [Anglo-Saxon]
a star or planet, and [Anglo-Saxon], to know or understand.