The Magi (i.e., Wise Men)

Who were the Magi and why would they come?  How would they know when and where to go?  There seems to be the idea in popular folklore that just because a “star” appeared, that that was all they needed to make the journey.  But all sorts of things go on in the sky all the time, from comets to novas to conjunctions.  Why would they come to Jerusalem and why now?

There is a world of mystery in regard to these visitors from the east that really is no mystery.  The reason for this is because our history is dependent upon Roman influence and there was “bad blood” between Rome and the homeland of the Magi.  That was because the best of Rome’s strength – its armies – had been thoroughly embarrassed by Persia (next post).

Persia had long had a soft spot in its heart for Israel.  Back during the “Babylonian” captivity, there were a number of Jews in important positions and then, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, Persian help was key in the rebuilding of the Temple and the city.  The prophet Daniel held the position of being the chief of the “wise men” in the empire, and this is pivotal to explain what made the Magi come at this point of time.  Through him this group had exposure to the prophecies in what we call the Old Testament.

But there were other factors as well.  What had perplexed me were the accounts in Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah in which the Kings of Persia referred to “the one God” and “the Most High God” [for example, Daniel 6:25-27; Ezra 1:2-4].  It confused me that such an acknowledgement of the One Supreme God (“He is the Living God”) seemed most unusual if they had a pantheon as most ancient cultures had.  From initial appearances, it would seem that this was tailored by the Biblical authors to promote the One-God view.

Then, in researching for Creation’s Ballet, I investigated Zoroastrianism, the religion that apparently dominated Persia at that time from Daniel to Ezra and Nehemiah.  What surprised me was that this was a monotheistic (one God) religion with many similarities to the worship of Jehovah, although there were differences as well, notably in the area of forgiveness and mercy.  Therefore it was no stretch of credulity when the kings would refer to “a Most High God” and “the Living God.”  Gradually there came to be a three god troika in the following decades, and then more of a pantheon, but Zoroastrianism seemed to have had a resurgence at the time of Jesus.
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The Magi themselves were one of the six “houses” of Persia, a special class of scientist-priests.  To say that they were “astrologers,” with the modern connotations of that word, is to do them a disservice.  Actually, the original word for astronomy was astrology.  It was the science of the stars as best as it was understood at that time (astronomy and astrology parted company only as late as the 1600’s AD), and as indicated in my previous posts, Godly astrology may well have had its roots as far back as Seth, son of Adam.  Even Job and the Psalms refer to specific constellations and the Mazzaroth (the Hebrew Zodiac).

As priests, they would also be the keepers of the Zoroastrian religion, and would be familiar with Zoroastrian prophecies that a sign in Virgo would herald a world Ruler Who would come from the root of Abraham. Ernest L. Martin [The Star that Astonished the World, Chapter II: “Who Were the Wise Men?”] identifies that a number of non-Jewish writers mentions the expectation that a world ruler was to come from Judea.

Although it is romantic to think that they saw a star that apparently no one else did, or that God gave them a unique revelation as He had to the shepherds in the field – both of which would probably end all discussions about “the star” -, my opinion is that the Magi were called upon to have faith in the same way that we are: they had the Word of God, His prophecies (promises), and His physical evidences to point them to the new-born King.  It would be the echo of Jesus’ words to “doubting” Thomas after the resurrection: “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed; but blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” [John 20:29].

Would they humbly submit to what God had been laying down throughout history in order to make a 1800 mile round-trip journey into hostile territory to honor the birth of the Most High God’s Son?  The challenge to us is that they did – would we have done the same?

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