Ian Paul, theologian, author and professor, blogging at Psephizo has a recent post examining the historicity of Matthew’s gospel concerning the stories we associate with Epiphany.
The Feast of the Epiphany in the church’s liturgical calendar is based on the events of Matt 2.1–12, the visit of the ‘wise men’ from the East to the infant Jesus. There are plenty of things about the story which might make us instinctively treat it as just another part of the constellation of Christmas traditions, which does not have very much connection with reality.
But he goes on to make a reasonable case for, if not the historical accuracy of the story, then at least its historical possibility.
Moreover, Matthew is making use of a text which was not known as ‘messianic’; in the first century, the idea that messiah had to come from Bethlehem as a son of David was known but not very widespread.
All this is rather bad news for those who would argue that Jesus’ birth was carefully planned to be a literal fulfilment of OT prophecy. But it is equally bad news for those who argue that Matthew made the story up to fit such texts, and for exactly the same reason. Of course, Matthew is working in a context where midrashic reading of texts means that they are a good deal more flexible than we would consider them. But he is needing to make maximum use of this flexibility, and the logical conclusion of this would be that he was constrained by the other sources he is using—by the account he has of what actually happened.
And in conclusion;
Clearly, God could have done a much better job of the whole business. But it rather appears as though Matthew felt unable to improve on what happened by fitting it either to the OT texts or his sense of what ought to have happened.
The modern reader might struggle with aspects of Matthew’s story. But it seems to me you can only dismiss it by making a large number of other, unwarranted assumptions.