Wise Men of the Nativity, an Introduction

The Wise Men from the East Recognized the Star of Bethlehem



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In the gospel of Matthew, the wise men from the east appear and just as quickly disappear. Their country of origin is never identified, their names are never cited, and how many traveled in their caravan is also unknown. Tradition has advanced the thought of three men, or three kings visiting the infant Jesus, because there are only three gifts mentioned. But the Bible doesn't support the traditions that over the centuries have taken precedence over the accuracy of God's Word.

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In Matthew chapter 2, verse one and following, most Bibles translate “wise men from the Greek word, magoi, a derivative of magos, which means great or powerful; magus, of which the plural is magi. The New International Version, New American Standard and the John Nelson Darby Translation, translates the Greek word, magoi, as Magi. Robert Young's literal translation renders the word Mages, Wycliffe translates it astrologers, and the contemporary Eugene H. Peterson paraphrase, called The Message, translates magoi as “a band of scholars. That's quite an accurate description of these men. Indeed, these were educated men who were extraordinarily knowledgeable of celestial movements and their meanings.

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The definitions of magus range from an expert black magic user, well-versed in the occult arts, to a member of the priestly caste in ancient Media and Persia traditionally reputed to have practiced supernatural arts. It extends to a magician, a mage, a priest or astrologer of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroaster, responsible for religious and funerary practices. Historically, the earliest Magi from Media or Persia predate Zoroaster, the Persian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism (628-551 B.C.). Although wise men, sorcerers and magicians are mentioned in Egypt in Exodus 7:11 and 22, and several other black arts practitioners are listed in Deuteronomy 18:10, these are different Greek words in the Septuagint and do not relate to this study.

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When Zoroaster became prominent in Persia, the Magi made Zoroastrianism their religion. When Zoroaster died, two sects ensued: those that continued to follow Zoroaster and those that returned to nature worship, sun worship, astrology, magical arts and sorcery. The eastern Magi were more loyal to Zoroaster. Some of the Zoroastrian beliefs are as follows:

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1. There is one universal God (known to them as Ahura Mazda), the one Uncreated Creator to whom all worship should be directed.

2. The universe is in conflict (good versus evil), involving humanity, which has an active role in the conflict.

3. In order to ensure happiness and deflect evil, one must choose to actively think good thoughts, speak good words, and do good deeds, and has a social resonsibility to do so.

4. God will ultimately prevail over evil, then the universe will undergo a renovation and time will end. In the final renovation, all will be reunited in God.

Similar to Judaism, the Magi believed in one God, the creator, source of all good, an adversary, the source of all evil, and they believed in angels and spirits, but forbade idol worship. They believed good would triumph over evil, and they had principles for moral behavior. These similarites made for common ground when Daniel was introduced in Babylon.

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“Then the king (Nebuchadnezzar) interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (renamed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego); therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm. (Daniel 1:19-20)

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In Jeremiah 39:3 and 13, there is a man identified as Rabmag, which means master magus or master magician. Several versions translate it the Rabmag, clearly implying that it is a title. Young's Literal translates Rabmag as chief of the Mages, and Darby renders it chief magian. This title, master of the magicians, is earned by Daniel himself, as recorded in Daniel 4:9 and 5:11.

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“There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar...made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers. (Daniel 5:11 KJV)

When Darius the Mede took over the kingdom of Babylon, ending Belshazzar's reign and the Babylonian Empire, he favored Daniel and promoted him over all other governors. Babylon's Magi, adept in astronomy and astrology, were absorbed into the Magi in Persia. It has been purported by Biblical scholars that Daniel likely had shared his knowledge of astronomy with the Babylonians, and subsequently the assembly of Magi in Persia. This information would have been preserved and passed down generation to generation. Thus the wise men of the east mentioned in Matthew 2 knew about “His star.

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Written by: Pete Miller

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