Matthew 2:1 merely says the wise men came “from the east,” which would make sense if they were from Persia. The fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius, as well as later Roman Catholic liturgy, cited verses 10, 11, and 15 of Psalm 72 as evidence that the alleged three kings were from Tarshish, Sheba, and Seba, identified in medieval times with Spain, Ethiopia, and Arabia (Proof of the Gospel 5.4). The inclusion of Ethiopia explains why one of the wise men is usually depicted as black. Another passage cited as a prophecy of kings coming to Christ is Psalm 68:29, “Because of thy temple at Jerusalem shall kings bring presents unto thee.” Verse 31 reads “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God,” which was used as evidence that one of the wise men was from Africa.
Christian writers of the sixth century AD suggested that the “three” wise men represented the three major “races” of the Mediterranean basin, descending from Noah’s sons, Shem (the Semites), Japheth (the Europeans), and Ham (the Hamites or Africans), thus representing all mankind. There are, of course, obvious problems with this view, both in the fact that the wise men came to Bethlehem together and that neither Europe nor Africa is east of the land in which Christ was born. Moreover, Matthew 2:12 informs us that “being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.” Had they come from different lands Matthew would have used the plural “countries.” Some early depictions of the wise men show them wearing Persian-style caps.