Let me ask you a question: in the first century of the Common Era (C.E.), where did most of the Jews live? If your answer is "the land of Israel", you would be wrong. No, the greatest number of Jews in the first century lived in Babylon. Here's why:
Remember when the Jews were deported to Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar? Well, when the Jews were allowed by King Cyrus to return to the land of Israel, the great majority of them stayed in Babylon. They had become comfortable there, and just didn't go back "home".
So, these were Jewish wise men were looking for a Jewish messiah - - because they were descended from those Babylonian Jews. (Who else would have been looking for a Jewish messiah?!) . This is also why they watched the stars. They knew, because of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 that a special star was associated with the coming of Messiah.
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come forth from Jacob,
and a scepter will arise from Israel.
Numbers 24:17 (BSB)
And, it wasn't just the Wise Men who made this assumption. About 100 years after the time of Jesus, a false messiah arose, called by many "Son of the Star", Bar Kochba. You may have heard of the Bar Kochba rebellion, a very ill-advised revolt of the Jews against the Romans in the 2nd century C.E.1
As for the title of "Wise Men", it was applied to others in Scripture, namely Daniel. "Chakamim" is a Hebrew term meaning "wise men", and it was applied to rabbis and sages. Another term associated with the Wise Men of the book of Luke is "Magi", a Greek word derived from the Babylonian word "Mag", which can mean astrologer, scientist, scholar or even counselor.
Now, let's talk about King Herod for a minute, that monarch who ruled Judea during the time of Jesus' birth. What an appalling man! In current time, the USA is celebrating its successful murder of Al Bagdadi, the titular head of ISIS and a truly demonic individual. King Herod said, "Hold my beer." Caesar Augustus, a contemporary, wryly commented that it was better to be a pig in Herod's household than to be a relative2, because Herod's insanity led him to kill his favorite wife, his sons and thousands of other people. He was paranoid over losing his throne, and this paranoia drove him, quite literally, mad.
It is very important to note that the Jewish historian, Josephus, documented in great detail the death of King Herod. In the spring of 4 B.C.E., Herod was struck ill by God, because he had committed a very vile act toward the priesthood. (Josephus records that his illness commenced at the time of a lunar eclipse, which occurred in March of that year - - 4 B.C.E.) Also according to Josephus, Herod died in September of that year, around the time of Sukkot, which is when Jesus was born. This is why there was a "stable" in which He was born; it was more accurately a sukkah, as it was called in Genesis 33:17.
So, let me suggest a re-oriented timeline, which is perfectly compatible with Scripture and also with the customs of that time.
1. Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth, where they are "put up" in one of the many sukkot (plural of sukkah) that have popped up around the city for the festival. This is another reason why it was so crowded there in Bethlehem. It was not because of the census! The census had been decreed and was being conducted over a period of months. Bethlehem was experiencing the overflow crowd from Jerusalem, since Feast of Booths/Tabernacles/Sukkot was taking place at that time. Sukkot is one of the three "required" feasts for Jewish males to attend. Therefore, Joseph was "attending", and registering for the census while in the area. "Two birds, one stone"
2. Jesus is born, and as Bethlehem is only about five miles from Jerusalem, news of His birth reaches Jerusalem, probably via the shepherds (Luke 2:17). "Herod is troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matthew 2:3).
3. Then, concurrently, the Babylonian Jewish Wise Men follow the Star to Judea and naturally go inquire of Herod where the child would be born. (Matthew 2.) . They were (wrongly) assuming this heir and future king would be of Herod's royal family....SO far from it...
4. Herod meets with them and waits for them to return and tell him where the child is.
5. The Wise Men pay homage to the young child shortly after his birth. By this time, the sukkot have been disassembled, and they find Mary, Joseph and Jesus staying in a (relative's) house. (Compare Luke 2:7 and 16 with Matthew 2:11.) Warned by God in a dream the Wise Men return home, avoiding Herod.
6. Joseph is warned in a dream to flee with Mary and Jesus into Egypt. They go and stay for approximately a month.
7. While they are gone, Herod realizes he has been duped, issues his murderous edict (Matthew 2:16) and succumbs to the dreadful illness that came upon him the previous spring. The baby males in Bethlehem area are murdered, in "execution of" (sorry...) Herod's command.
8. Getting word of this fortuitous development, Mary and Joseph return to present Jesus at the Temple, forty days after His birth, in accordance with Jewish law. (It is there they encounter Anna the prophetess and Simeon, the prophet.) . Luke 2:22-38
One last thing - - if you have studied carefully, you may say, "But Herod commanded all baby boys two years old and younger be slain." Doesn't this support a later arrival time for the Wise Men?
This is the traditional Christian teaching, but it ignores the Jewish customs of the first century C.E. In those days, it was common to count the time "in utero" as year one and to say on the 8th day after birth that the child was beginning his or her second year. Therefore, in actuality, the way we count birthdays, only the baby boys under one year of age were murdered.3 What a horrible, evil man! What a demon-possessed earthly ruler!
By contrast, as God was removing Herod, He was sending His son to "tabernacle" with us. Hallelujah! Let's close by thanking God for His "inexpressible gift" (2 Corinthians 9:15) as we reflect on
Isaiah 9, considered by many Jewish theologians to be a Sukkot text. Marvel at the majesty of God!
6For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be upon His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of His government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness
from that time and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7 (BSB)
3 Good, J. (1998). Rosh HaShanah and the Messianic Kingdom to come: an interpretation of the Feast of Trumpets based upon ancient sources. Nederland, TX: Hatikva