They weren’t kings – but they were smart. Therefore, it’s better to say “The three wise men” than to call them “the kings of the east.”
One of the great traditions of Christmas is the celebration of the three wise men who came to worship Jesus. Matthew 2:1 says,
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.”
Now the text doesn’t say there were three wise men. We assume there were three because they brought three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there could have been a dozen or twenty. The Syrians, the Armenians, and the church father Chrystostom, say there were probably twelve. But that’s not for sure either.
Tradition has given them names – Casper, Belthazar, and Melchior. But you won’t find those names in the Bible, either. Some have thought that they were representatives of the three sons of Noah: a Shemite (or oriental), a Hamite (or African), and a Jephthahite (or Caucasian). This is why sometimes one of the wise men is portrayed as a black man. Well, all of this is speculation, too. All we know for sure is that they were Magi.
The word “magoi” (or Magi) simply means “wise men.”
Actually, Magi were a group of men in the Orient that specialized in learning and study. They were mathematicians, historians, linguists, politicians, and astronomers. And because they were so smart, they were leaders in the government – counselors to kings and monarchs.
Now the particular Magi that were especially gifted in astronomy were the Babylonian Magi. So the fact that the Bible Magi were interested in the stars, tells us where they were from – they were from Babylon. Well, Babylon today is Iraq. Isn’t it ironic that Iraqi wise men came to worship Jesus!?!
Hey. I wonder of Saddam Hussein knew that his Iraqi wise men worshipped Jesus! If so – it probably really made him mad…
For further study, see: Beyond Wisemen