The Christmas story is full of joy and wonder, but it also includes a cautionary tale about a diplomatic blunder. The blunderers are the three ostensibly wise men from the east who visit King Herod in Jerusalem to ask: “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
This query sets in motion a chain of events that culminates in Herod’s decision to massacre the baby boys of Bethlehem and its environs in a failed attempt to kill Jesus. This atrocity ensures that the king is one of the Bible’s most famous villains. By contrast, the wise men remain hugely popular. But did they really have to start their talks with Herod so naively?
Their opening question contained two major mistakes. The Magi give away their one big piece of intelligence—the existence of the Messiah—immediately, reducing their leverage. They compound this gaffe by simultaneously revealing the main gap in their intelligence: The exact whereabouts of this Messiah. This lets Herod seize the agenda, persuading the wise men to look for his new rival on his behalf.