Friday, 29 November 2019

Who were the Magi?

Every December, schools and churches throughout Christendom attract adoring parents, grandparents and assorted relatives to the dramatic highlight of the year: The Nativity play.
Amongst the cast of characters, played with effortless charm by cute, bright-eyed 5-11 year olds, are the Magi - also  known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings from the Orient - drawn by the famous Star to Bethlehem and the infant Jesus.
For many, this is a delightful story but, as many  propaganda specialists will appreciate, one subject to religious spin. This is my attempt to cut through traditional perceptions and find the truth from the  original account in Matthew Chapter 2.
So, who were the Magi?
The Greek ma'goi (plural of ma'gos) likely refers to sorcerers or conjurers; experts in occult practices such as astrology and other forms of divination condemned in the Bible. According to the 5th century Greek historian Herodotus, they belonged to a priestly class and were probably Zoroastrian, following the predominant religion of the time. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: "A ma'gos in the Hellenistic world had supernatural knowledge and ability and was sometimes a practitioner of magic." Early Christian commentators Justin Martyr, Origen and Tertullian also agree that the Magi were astrologers.
Their names are unknown and the Matthew account doesn't specify how many  of these astrologers visited  Jesus.  In fact, little is known about them, other than they discerned a star 'rising' in the East from whence they came. As only  the astrologers could 'see' it, this was obviously not a real star or conjunction of planets.+ Nor did it lead the astrologers to Bethlehem. Instead, the travellers were guided to Jerusalem where they asked, "Where is the one born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when we were in the East, and we have come to do obeisance to him." On hearing the news, King Herod became agitated and gathered all the chief priests and scribes in secrecy to discover where the Christ (anointed one) was to be born, which is clearly stated in the prophecy at Micah 5:2: "But you (Bethlehem) Ephrathah, the least of the clans of Judah, from you will come for me a future ruler of Israel whose origins go back to the distant past..." (Jerusalem Bible).
Disguising his true purpose, Herod then commanded the astrologers to go to Bethlehem, find the child and report back to him with the exact location, "so that I too may go and do obeisance."
Again, the star appeared to the astrologers and this time led them, not to a stable as tradition would have it, but  to the house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were now living.  Rejoicing at finding  the Messiah, the astrologers paid  homage to Jesus, presenting him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.*
Despite their good intentions, the visitors had unwittingly  put Jesus in danger, having alerted Herod to his existence, and they were given divine warning in a dream not to return to the king but to return home by another route. Joseph also had a dream in which an angel told him to flee with his family to Egypt where the precious gifts no doubt helped them survive until Herod died the following year.  But not before committing one of the worst atrocities on record.
Furious at being outwitted, and determined to kill his rival, Herod ordered the death of all boys aged two and under in Bethlehem and it's surrounding districts. A tragic end indeed to the journey of the Magi.

+Tradition portrays the star as a good sign from heaven, "a divine pre-arrangement whereby....the child Jesus was honoured and acknowledged by the Father as his beloved son." However, the fact that it guided the astrologers first to Jerusalem and Christ's mortal enemy Herod, shows it was actually an evil  phenomenon, one of the "lying signs and portents" of Satan.

*On presenting Jesus at the temple for purification 40 days after his birth, Joseph and Mary were so poor they could only afford a sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two pigeons as a sacrifice. This wouldn't have been the case had they already received such generous gifts from the astrologers.


  1. I have always been fascinated by the myth and the truth behind the stories

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