From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

MAGI ( μάγοι, Authorized Version and Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘ wise men ’).—The only reference to Magi in the Gospels occurs in Matthew 2, where we have the well-known story of the visit of the Oriental Magi to the infant Jesus. The following article will deal with (1) certain difficulties in the narrative, (2) the historical value of the narrative, (3) the legendary additions to the narrative.

1. The difficulties are occasioned chiefly by the vague and indefinite character of the record. The first question that suggests itself is, What class of people had the Evangelist in his mind when he used the term μάγοι? Now, according to Herodotus (i. 101), the Magi were a Median tribe which in the time of Gaumata, the pseudo-Smerdis, made a determined attempt to substitute Median for Persian rule ( ib. iii. 61 ff.; Ctesias, Pers. [Note: Persian.] 41 (10) ff.; Justin, i. 9, 10; Agathias, ii. 26). Through the failure of this revolt the Magi lost all political importance, but they were influential as the priestly caste (Herod. i. 132; Amm. Marc. xxiii. 6; cf. the Levites among the Hebrews, SBE [Note: BE Sacred Books of the East.] iv. pp. lxii, lxiii), and as religious instructors of the Persian kings (Cic. de Divin. i. 41; Philo, de Special. Leg. 18; Pliny, HN xxx. 1). The introduction of this Magian priesthood is ascribed to Cyrns (Xen. Cyr. viii. 1. 23); and classical writers conversant with Persian affairs use the word magus as synonymous with ‘priest’ (Apul. Apol. i. 25, 26; cf. Strabo, pp. 732, 733; Philo, Quod omn. prob. lib. 11; Dio Chrysost. Or. 36, p. 449, 49, p. 538; Diog. Laert. proœm. 6; Porphyr. de Abstinent , iv. 16; and the lexicons of Hesych. and Suidas). Darius Hystaspis made Mazdaism the religion of the Empire (Behistun inser., and Sayce, Ancient Empires of the East ), and from his time, at any rate,—for how long before, if at all, is disputed,—the Magi are identified with the Zoroastrian worship, and are represented as the disciples of Zoroaster (Plato, Alcib. i. 122; Plutarch, de Is. et Os. 46, 47; Pliny, HN xxx. 1; Apul. Apol. 26; Diog. Laert. proœm. 2; Amm. Marc. 23:6; Agathias, ii. 24; Aug. de Civ. Dei , xxi. 14). In the Avesta, however, the priests are called, not magi , but âthravans  ; though even in the sacred texts the word ‘magi’ is found in a few instances. Finally, it may be noted that these Median magi are credited with skill in philosophy (Strabo, pp. 23, 24; Nicol. Damasc. fr. 66; Diog. Laert. proœm. 1), natural science (Philo, Quod omn. prob. lib. 11; Dio Chrysost. Or. 49, p. 538), and medicine (Pliny, HN xxx. 1, cf. xxiv. 17). They are also described as interpreters of dreams (Herod. i. 107, 120, vii. 19), astrologers ( ib. vii. 37; Pliny, HN xxxvii. 9; Amm. Marc. xxiii. 6), soothsayers and diviners (Cic. de Divin. i. 41; Strabo, p. 762; Pliny, HN xxx. 2; Diog. Laert. proœm. 7; Aelian, Var. Hist. ii. 17; Amm. Marc. xxiii. 6).

In a technical sense, then, magi denoted the members of the sacerdotal class in the Persian Empire. But in the LXX Septuagint Daniel the word is used to render the Heb. ‘ashshâphim Authorized Version ‘astrologers,’ of Babylonia ( Daniel 1:20;  Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 2:10;  Daniel 2:27;  Daniel 4:7;  Daniel 5:7;  Daniel 5:11;  Daniel 5:15. Some would explain the title Rab-mag in  Jeremiah 39:3;  Jeremiah 39:13 as = ‘chief magian,’ but without probability). Moreover, classical writers sometimes confuse the words magi and Chaldœi (Ctes. Pers. [Note: Persian.] 46 (15); Justin, xii. 13). The latter term, however, is properly used in Daniel ( Daniel 1:4;  Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 2:4-5;  Daniel 2:10;  Daniel 4:7;  Daniel 5:7;  Daniel 5:11) and by classical authorities (Herod. i. 181, 183; Diod. Sic. ii. 29–31) to represent a class, or the class, of Babylonian priests or learned men (Driver, Daniel , pp. 12–16), renowned for their skill in astronomy, astrology, and sorcery (Cic. de Divin. i. 41, de Fato , 8, 9; Diod. Sic. ii. 29–31; Strabo, p. 762; Curtius, v. 1; Apul. Flor. 15; Porph. Vit. Pyth. 6; Diog. Laert. proœm. 6; cf. Lenormant, La magie chez les Chaldéens  ; R. C. Thompson, Reports of the Magicians and Astrologers of Nineveh and Babylon  ; W. L. King, Babylonian Magic and Sorcery  ; Chantepie de la Saussaye, Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte  ; Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria ).

Lastly, the words magi and Chaldœi came to be applied not only to the members of a sacerdotal caste, but in a secondary sense to all those who cultivated magic arts (Soph. Œd. Tyr. 387; Tac. Ann. ii. 27, xii. 22, 59; Juv. Sat. x. 94, with Mayor’s note; Dio Chrysost. Or. 36, p. 449). In Rabbinical writers this bad sense is predominant (Edersheim, Life and Times , i. p. 210), and the same may be said of the passages in the NT (other than Matthew 2) in which magi are referred to ( Acts 8:9;  Acts 8:11 Simon Magus,  Acts 13:6;  Acts 13:8 Elymas). In the LXX Septuagint the Egyptian conjuring is described as μαγικὴ τέχνη ( Wisdom of Solomon 17:7). And Jerome says: ‘Consuetudo et sermo communis magos pro maleficis accepit’ (Hieron. Com. in Daniel 2 , cf. Isid. Ety. viii. 9).

In what sense, then, did the author of Matthew 2 understand the term? The majority of the Fathers affix the worst interpretation, and lay stress on the idea that magic was overthrown by the advent of Christ (Ign. Ephes. 19; Justin M. Dial. 78; Tertull. de Idol. 9; Origen, c. Ccls. i. 60; Max. Taur. Hom. 21; Hilar. de Trin. iv. 38, Com. in Matthew 1  ; Aug. Serm. 200, § 3; Theophylact, in loc. ); and this was the common opinion even in the Middle Ages (Abelard, in Epiph. serm. 4; Aquinas, Summa , III. xxxvi. 3). But the consensus of later commentators rejects this view. There is no hint or suggestion of reprobation in the Gospel narrative. On the other hand, there is no indication that the Evangelist is alluding to any particular class of magi. He appears, on the contrary, to use the term in the general sense of sages from the East, who busied themselves with astronomy ( Matthew 2:2;  Matthew 2:7;  Matthew 2:9-10) and perhaps with the interpretation of dreams ( Matthew 2:12). There is certainly no attempt in the narrative to contrast Christianity with Zoroastrian or Babylonian worship.

Closely connected with the above is the further question of the region whence the Magi are supposed to have come. Mt. calls them simply μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν, i.e. ‘Oriental magi.’ The expression is quite indefinite (cf.  Matthew 8:11;  Matthew 24:27,  Luke 13:29,  Revelation 21:13). Various attempts have been made, however, to identify the particular part of the East whence the Magi may have come (Patritius, de Evang. iii. p. 315 ff.; Spanheim, Dub. Evang. ii. p. 291 ff.). The oldest opinion inclines to Arabia (Justin M. Dial. 77, 78; Tertull.  Judges 1:9; Epiphan. Exp Fid. 8, and most Roman commentators, e.g. Corn. a Lapide, in loc. ), partly on account of references such as  Psalms 72:10,  Isaiah 60:5, partly on account of the character of the gifts, partly by reason of the close intercourse that subsisted between Arabia and Palestine (Edersheim, i. p. 203). On the other hand, Arabia is to the south rather than the east of Judaea (cf.  Matthew 12:42 βασίλισσα νότου), and in the NT it is usually specified by its geographical name. Other places suggested are Persia (Clem. Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] Strom. i. 15; Chrysost. in Mt. Hom. 6. § 1, 2, 3, 4; 7. § 5; Op. Imp. in Matthew 2 ap. Chrysost. vi.; Diodorus Tars. ap. Phot. cod. 223; Theophylact, in loc.  ; Juvencus, Evang. Hist. i. 276), Chaldaea (Max. Taur. Hom. 21; Origen, C. [Note: circa, about.] Cels. i. 58), Parthia (Wetstein, in loc.  ; Hyde, Rel. Vet. Pers. [Note: Persian.] c. 31), and Egypt (Möller, Neue Ansichten ). But the language of the Evangelist is ‘too indefinite, and perhaps intentionally too indefinite, to justify any decision’ (Trench, Star of the Wise Men , p. 4), and it is unsafe to draw any inference from the nature of the presents (Weiss, Life of Christ , i. p. 266). One thing alone seems clear—the Magi were heathen and not Jews (see references in Meyer, Com. in loc. ). The form of their question ( Matthew 2:2) would be sufficient to establish this, apart from the ecclesiastical tradition which represents their homage as the first-fruits of the Gentile world (Aquinas, Summa , III. xxxvi. 8).

The cause of the coming of the Magi is roughly indicated in the words, ‘we have seen his star in the rising’ (ἐν τῇ ἀνατολῇ). It seems clear that they were induced to make the journey by some sidereal appearance; but what exactly this appearance was is not conclusively determined (see art. Star). From this phenomenon, however, whatever it may have been, the Magi inferred the birth of a Messiah-king of the Jews. We cannot say precisely by what means they arrived at this inference. It is unlikely, for chronological and other reasons, that their expectations had been excited by the Zoroastrian prediction of the coming of Soshyos ( SBE [Note: BE Sacred Books of the East.] iv. p. xxxvii); nor is it probable that an independent tradition of Balaam’s prophecy ( Numbers 24:17) had been preserved by their ancestors and handed down to them (Origen, c. [Note: circa, about.] Cels. i. 60, Hom. in  Numbers 13:7; Op. Imp. in Matthew 2 ap. Chrysost. vi.); nor is there any historical evidence that there was at this time among the nations any widespread expectation of the advent of a Messiah in Palestine (Tac. Hist. v. 13 and Suet. Vesp. 4 are derived from Josephus BJ VI. v. 4, and refer to the Flavian dynasty). On the other hand, the Jews themselves were undoubtedly expecting the Messiah (Charles, Eschatology , p. 304; Toy, Judaism and Christianity , p. 330), and a Rabbinical tradition, which may be previous to Christ’s birth, declared that a star in the East was to appear two years before the Messiah’s advent (Edersheim, i. pp. 211, 212; Strauss, Life of Jesus , English translation p. 174 and references; cf. the name Bar-Cochba). Hence the source whence the Magi derived their inference that a king of the Jews was born may well have been the Jews of the Diaspora, whose tenets would doubtless be known to the wise men of the lands in which they sojourned.

The time of the visit of the Magi is quite uncertain. By ancient writers it was usually supposed that they arrived at Bethlehem on the 13th day inclusive after the birth of Christ, i.e. Jan. 6 (Aug. Serm. 203. 1). Most commentators, however, place their coming after Christ’s presentation in the Temple; and some, as an inference from  Matthew 2:16, delay it till Jesus had reached or nearly reached His second year (see Patritius, iii. 326 ff.; Spanheim, ii. p. 299 ff.; Trench, p. 109 ff.; Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem  ? pp. 215–220). Here also the evidence is insufficient to warrant a definite conclusion.

2. The historical value of the narrative has been frequently impugned, the principal objections being as follows. The account of the Magi is found in the First Gospel only, and is not corroborated by either Lk. or Josephus or any pagan historian. (The references in Macrobius, Sat. ii. 4. 11, and Chalcidius, Tim. 7. 126, cannot be regarded as independent evidence). Moreover, it is not easy to see how Mt.’s narrative can be harmonized with that of Luke. Many of the details, again, are suspicious; the conduct of Herod, as here represented, seems inexplicable (Meyer, in loc. ). Finally, the story in general is vague, and on a priori grounds may even be held to be improbable. These objections are not without force. Doubtless too much stress has been laid on the absence of confirmatory evidence, and the argument from the silence of Josephus can scarcely be sustained (Edersheim, i. pp. 214, 215; Trench, p. 102 ff.). The difficulties in connexion with Herod’s attitude have also been overestimated (Weiss, i. p. 269). Yet the divergence between Mt. and Lk., though certainly not incapable of explanation (Ellicott, Huls. Lect. p. 70), is sufficiently serious; and the positive evidence for the truth of the narrative is slender. It may be urged, however, that there is no reason for denying the existence in the narrative of at least a substratum of historical fact, though possibly the facts have been treated with a certain amount of freedom. Such a view, at any rate, appears to account for the story better than any rationalistic explanation hitherto put forward.

Of these attempted explanations the most important may briefly be summarized. ( a ) The older school of critics sought for the basis of the history mainly in the prophecies of the OT. Thus Strauss laid great stress on  Numbers 24:17, while Keim emphasized Is 60. From these and other prophetical passages ( e.g.  Isaiah 9:2;  Isaiah 42:6;  Isaiah 49:6-7,  Psalms 68:29;  Psalms 68:31;  Psalms 72:10), supplemented possibly by Jewish or pagan tradition, the Evangelist is supposed to have built up his story. But it is incredible that the history could have been constructed from such material, or that such a fulfilment could have been deliberately devised for prophecies which at the time were understood to have so different a significance (Edersheim, i. p. 209). Moreover, it should be noted that ‘the Evangelist who at other times searches zealously for the fulfilment of OT predictions, nowhere refers in this narrative to one of these prophetical passages, from which it is said to have arisen (Weiss, i. p. 267). ( b ) A different, and very fanciful explanation has been offered by W. Soltau, Usener, and others (Soltau, Birth of Jesus Christ  ; Usener in Encyc. Bibl . art. ‘Nativity,’ cf. his Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen , i. ‘Das Weihnachtsfest’). According to this, Mt.’s account is the outcome partly of the operation of heathen superstitious ideas, partly of the transformation of a story recorded by Dio Cassius and Pliny. Thus, for the incident of the star, Soltau appeals to the widespread belief that such portents were manifested in connexion with the birth and death of kings and heroes (for instances see Wetstein, in loc.  ; Winer, Biblisches Realwörterbuch , vol. ii. p. 613); and, for the Massacre of the innocents, Usener refers to the story of Marathus concerning the birth of Augustus (Suet. Aug. 94). The visit of the Magi is represented as a Christian transformation of the story related by Dio and Pliny about the visit of Tiridates and his Magians to Nero (see the passages quoted by Soltau, op. cit. pp. 73, 74). In the year a.d. 66 the Parthian king Tiridates, the Magus, bringing other Magi with him, journeyed to Rome, worshipped Nero as the sun-god Mithra, and afterwards travelled home by another way through the cities of Asia. Now to the Christians of the East Nero was Antichrist: hence it is argued that just as, in the early legends, the miraculous events of Christ’s life were transferred to Antichrist, so the story of being worshipped by Magi may have been transferred from the Antichrist Nero to the Christ. The whole narration of the Magi, then, Soltau dismisses as an insertion ‘of Hellenistic origin’ ( op. cit. p. 49). But he does not explain how this insertion received so characteristic a Jewish form, or why such alien elements should have ‘crystallized themselves in just the most markedly Jewish part of the New Testament, while they are passed over in silence elsewhere’ ( Interpreter , Jan. 1906, pp. 195–207). On the whole it is easier to suppose that the events recorded actually took place, than to believe the far-fetched explanations of them offered by Soltau and Usener. ( c ) Other critics, again, resort to a mythological solution, and regard the adoration of the Magi and the attendant events as ‘not history, but pious transformations of current mythic stories.’ Réville believes that it was suggested by the Mithraic legend, though he admits that the supposition is incapable of proof ( Études publiées en hommage à la faculté de théologie de Montauban , 1901, p. 339 ff.). Pfleiderer and Cheyne maintain that the star, the worship of the wise men, and the persecution of the Holy Child have many prototypes in tales concerning heroes of old, and belong to a pre-Christian international myth of the Redeemer (Pfleiderer, Early Christian Conception of Christ  ; Cheyne, Bible Problems ); on which it may be remarked that although striking parallels can undoubtedly be produced, yet resemblances do not necessarily presuppose an imitation. ( d ) Another suggestion is that the narrative exhibits the characteristic features of Jewish Midrash or Haggâdâ, and is governed by an apologetic purpose. The writer’s object is to show that the prophecy of  Deuteronomy 18:15 was fulfilled in Jesus, and he endeavours to do this by drawing a parallel between the early career of Moses and that of the Christian Messiah (see the Midrash Rabbâ to Exodus in the section which deals with the birth of Moses, and cf. Josephus Ant. ii. ix. 2). Jesus is throughout represented as the antitype of Moses. This is the underlying motive of the narrative, to which may be added another influential idea, viz. the desire to suggest the homage of the Gentile world (G. H. Box in Interpreter, loc. cit. ). The simplicity of the Gospel story, however, seems to be at variance with this hypothesis.

Allusion may here be made to the theory that the history of the Magi was added to the Gospel as late as the year a.d. 119. The evidence for this is a Syriac document, ascribed to Eusebius of Caesarea, which was published with an English translation by W. Wright in the Journal of Sacred Literature , vols. ix., x., 1866, from a 6th cent. British Museum codex, Add. 17, 142. The title is, ‘Concerning the star; showing how and through what the Magi recognized the star, and that Joseph did not take Mary as his wife.’ This tractate relates that the prophecy of Balaam about the star was recorded in a letter written by Balak to the king of Assyria, and preserved in the Assyrian archives. At last, in the reign of king Pir Shabour, the star appeared, and the Magi were sent with great pomp to do homage to the Messiah. The colophon at the end states: ‘And in the year 430 (= a.d. 119), in the reign of Hadrianus Caesar.… this concern arose in (the minds of) men acquainted with the Holy Books; and through the pains of the great men in various places this history was sought for and found and written in the tongue of those who took this care.’ As to the meaning of this statement, however, critics are not agreed (see F. C. Conybeare, Guardian , April 29, 1903; and, on the other side, Church Quarterly Review , July 1904, p. 389). The more probable explanation seems to be that ‘the Holy Books’ refers, not to the OT but to the narrative in Matthew 2, already, therefore, incorporated in the Gospel in a.d. 119; and that the ‘history’ is not Matthew 2, but the legend about the preservation of Balak’s letter and the coming of the Magi in the reign of Pir Shabour.

To conclude this part of the subject, it may be pointed out that the story of the Magi must stand or fall with the other Matthaean narratives of the Infancy. All were probably drawn from some written source, Jewish-Christian in character, and perhaps originally Aramaic in language. The value of this source cannot here be determined (see artt. Birth of Christ, Matthew). It is sufficient to point out that if a Palestinian or semi-Palestinian origin of the narratives can be sustained, the hypothesis of direct pagan influence in their formation must be rejected.

3. Of the legendary accretions to the story of the Magi, the following deserve notice. From the 6th cent., if not before (Tert. Marc. iii. 13,  Judges 1:9 are not decisive), the opinion prevailed that the Magi were kings. This belief is first unambiguously stated in a sermon ascribed to Caesarius of Arles (Aug. Opp. v. Append. Serm. 139. 3); and it prevailed universally during the Middle Ages (cf. Paschasius, Exp. in Mt. ii. 2). Hence the festival of Epiphany received the name Festum Trium Regum. The idea would, of course, find support in such passages as  Psalms 68:29;  Psalms 68:31;  Psalms 72:10,  Isaiah 49:7;  Isaiah 49:23;  Isaiah 60:3;  Isaiah 60:10;  Isaiah 60:16; but there is no suggestion of it in the Evangelic narrative. (For discussions see Patritius, iii. p. 320 ff.; Spanheim, ii. p. 273 ff.; Barradius, Com. ix. c. 8).

The number of the Magi is not specified in the Gospel. Eastern tradition fixed it at twelve ( Op. Imp. in Matthew 2 ap. Chrysost. vi.; cf. the curious MS fragment quoted in Classical studies in honour of Henry Drisler , p. 31—‘Twelve kings set out from Persia to go to Jerusalem,’ etc.), or thirteen (Bar Bahlul in Hyde, Rcl. Vet. Pers. [Note: Persian.] c. 31). But in the West the number of the Magi was reckoned at three (Max. Taur. Hom. 17, 20; Leo M. Serm. 31. § 1, 2; 34. § 2), probably on account of their threefold gift (Abelard, Serm. 4: ‘Quot vero isti magi fuerint, ex numero trinae oblationis tres eos fuisse multi suspicantur’), though allegorical reasons were also found (Patritius, iii. 318 ff.).

The familiar names of the Magi—Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar—first occur in Bede, where also is given a remarkable description of their persons, derived most probably from some early work of art. ‘Primus fuisse dicitur Melchior, senex et canus, barba prolixa et capillis.… aurum obtulit regi Domino. Secundus nomine Gaspar, iuvenis imberbis, rubicundus.… thure, quasi Deo oblatione digna, Deum honorabat. Tertius fuscus, integre barbatus, Balthasar nomine.… per myrrham filium hominis moriturum professus est’ ( Collect. v. 541. For the association of the gifts with the several Magi, contrast the familiar verse, ‘Gaspar fert myrrham, thus Melchior, Balthasar aurum’). Other names are found, e.g. Appellius, Amerius, Damascus: Magalath, Pangalath, Saracen: Ator, Sator, Peratoras, etc. (Patritius, iii. p. 326; Spanheim, ii. pp. 288, 289; Hebenstreit, de Magorum nomine, patria et statu dissert. , Jenae, 1709). Hyde quotes thirteen names, among which the three familiar to Western tradition do not occur ( Rel. Vet. Pers. [Note: Persian.] c. 31).

Symbolical meanings were early attached to the gifts. Thus Irenaeus says: ‘Matthaeus autem Magos ab Oriente venientes ait.… per ea quae obtulerunt munera ostendisse quis erat qui adorabatur: myrrham quidem quod ipse erat qui pro mortali humano genere moreretur et sepeliretur: aurum vero quoniam rex, cuius regni finis non est: thus vero, quoniam Deus, qui et notus in Judaea factus est, et manifestus eis qui non quaerebant eum’ ( Hœr. iii. 9. 2, cf. Max. Taur. Hom. 21; Leo, Serm. 34. 3; Origen, c. Cels. i. 60; Ambros. in Lk. ii. 44; [Aug.] Serm. 139. 2; Hilar. Com. in Matthew 1  ; and Christian poets, Juvencus, Ev. Hist. i. 285; Prudent. Cath. xii. 69 ff.; Sedulius, Carm. Pasch. ii. 96; [Claudian] Carm. Append. 21). Mediaeval tradition invented histories for these gifts. The gold consisted of thirty pennies, which had once been paid by Abraham for the cave of Machpelah, and which were afterwards given to Judas. Some of the myrrh is said to have been administered to Jesus on the cross ( Quarterly Review , vol. lxxviii. p. 433 ff.).

Miraculous elements were increasingly introduced into the narrative, and the whole history was gradually amplified. Thus the star is alleged to have shone with surpassing brilliance (Ignat. Ephes. 19; Leo, Serm. 31. 1; Protevang. Jacob. 21; and pass. quoted in Barradius, Com. ix. 9), having the sun, moon, and other stars as ‘chorus’ to it (Ignat. loc. cit. ). According to Eastern tradition, there was in the star an appearance of the Virgin and Child (Lightfoot, ap. Fath. ii. 81), or of a young child bearing a cross ( Op. Imp. in Matthew 2 ap. Chrysost. vi.). The star was alleged to be an angel (Suicer, Thes. s.v. ἀστήρ); and according to Greg. of Tours it was still, in his time, to be seen in a well at Bethlehem ( Mirac. i. 1). Similarly a mass of details were invented about the Magi themselves, their journey, and their later life and death. Here it need only be noticed that they are reported to have been baptized by St. Thomas. (A full account of the Magi-legends will be found in Crombach’s monumental monograph, Primitiœ gentium sive historia et encomium SS. Trium Magorum. See also the epitome in the Quarterly Review , vol. lxxviii. p. 433 ff., of the mediaeval stories collected by John of Hildesheim; and the Boll. AA. SS. Jan. d. i. vi, and xi.).

The bodies of the Magi are said to have been discovered in the East in the 4th cent. (according to one tradition, by St. Helena herself), and to have been brought to Constantinople and deposited in the Church of St. Sofia. When Eustorgius became bishop of Milan, they were transferred to that city, whence, in the year 1162, they were again removed by Frederic Barbarossa to Cologne ( Boll. AA. SS. Jan. d. vi.). The festival of Epiphany (the celebration of which in the West is mentioned first by Amm. Marc. xxi. 2) commemorated originally Christ’s manifestation to the Magi, together with His baptism, His miracle at Cana (Max. Taur. Hom. 29; Isid. de Off. Eccl. i. 27; Abelard, Serm. 4), and the miracle of feeding the 5000 ([Aug.] Append. Serm. 36. 1). But soon the manifestation to the Magi became in the West, if not exclusively, yet principally, dwelt upon (see, e.g. , Leo’s Epiphany Sermons ); and the common Western synonym for Epiphany was Festum Trium Regum (Bingham, Ant. xx. 4; DCA [Note: CA Dictionary of Christian Antiquities.] i. p. 617 ff.; Boll. AA. SS. Jan. d. vi.). In the Middle Ages the Magi were considered the patron saints of travellers, and inns were called after them. Their names were also used as charms to cure epilepsy and snake-bite (Spanheim, ii. pp. 289, 290). See also art. Star.

Literature.—Besides the books referred to above, see Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, art. ‘Magi’; PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , vol. viii. art. ‘Magier’; Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Nativity’; Kraus, RE , vol. ii. art. ‘Magier’; Moroni’s Dizionario , vol. xli. art. ‘Magi’; Hamburger’s RE , art. ‘Zauberei’; Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , artt. ‘Magi,’ ‘Star’; Suicer, Thesaurus , artt. λίβανος, μάγος; Winer, Biblisches Realwörterbuch , vol. ii. artt. ‘Magier,’ ‘Stem der Weisen’; Hone, Everyday Book , Jan. 6; and the various Comm. on Matthew. An English monograph by F. W. Upham, The Wise Men , is of little value. The discussions of Spanheim and Patritius should be consulted, while Crombach’s elaborate study is a treasury of curious information.

F. Homes Dudden.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

or MAGIANS, a title which the ancient Persians gave to their wise men, or philosophers. Magi, among the Persians, answers to σοφοι , or σιλοσοφοι , among the Greeks; sapientes, among the Latins; druids, among the Gauls; gymnosophists, among the Indians; and priests, among the Egyptians.

The ancient magi, according to Aristotle and Laertius, were the sole authors and conservators of the Persian philosophy; and the philosophy principally cultivated among them was theology and politics; they being always esteemed as the interpreters of all law, both divine and human; on which account they were wonderfully revered by the people. Hence Cicero observes that none were admitted to the crown of Persia, but such as were well instructed in the discipline of the magi; who taught τα βασιλικα , and showed princes how to govern. Plato, Apuleius, Laertius, and others, agree that the philosophy of the magi related principally to the worship of the gods; they were the persons who were to offer prayers, supplications, and sacrifices, as if the gods would be heard by them alone. But, according to Lucian, Suidas, &c, this theology, or worship of the gods, as it is called, about which the magi were employed, was little more than the diabolical art of divination; so that μαγεια , strictly taken, was the art of divination. These people were held in such veneration among the Persians, that Darius, the son of Hystaspes, among other things, had it engraven on his monument, that he was the master of the magi. Philo Judaeus describes the magi to be diligent inquirers into nature, out of the love they bear to truth; and who, setting themselves apart from other things, contemplate the divine virtues the more clearly, and initiate others in the same mysteries. The magi, or magians, formed one of the two grand sects into which the idolatry of the world was divided between 500 and 600 years before Christ. These abominated all those images which were worshipped by the other sect, denominated Sabians, and paid their worship to the Deity under the emblem of fire. Their chief doctrine was, that there were two principles, one of which was the cause of all good, and the other the cause of all evil. The former was represented by light, and the latter by darkness, as their truest symbols; and of the composition of these two they supposed that all things in the world were made. The sect of the magians was revived and reformed by Zoroaster. This celebrated philosopher, called by the Persians Zerdusht, or Zaratush, began about the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Darius to restore and reform the magian system of religion. He was not only excellently skilled in all the learning of the east that prevailed in his time, but likewise thoroughly versed in the Jewish religion, and in all the sacred writings of the Old Testament that were then extant: whence some have inferred that he was a native Jew both by birth and profession; and that he had been servant to one of the prophets, probably Ezekiel or Daniel. He made his first appearance in Media, in the city of Xix, now called Aderbijan, as some say; or, according to others, in Ecbatana, now called Tauris. Instead of admitting the existence of two first causes, with the magians, he asserted the existence of one supreme God, who created both these, and out of these two produced, according to his sovereign pleasure, every thing else. According to his doctrine, there was one supreme Being independently and self-existing from all eternity. Under him there are two angels; one the angel of light, the author and director of all good; and the other the angel of darkness, who in the author and director of all evil. These two, probably speaking figuratively, out of the mixture of light and darkness, made all things that are; and they are in a state of perpetual conflict; so that where the angel of light prevails, there the most is good; and where the angel of darkness prevails, there the most is evil. This struggle shall continue to the end of the world; and then there shall be a general resurrection, and a day of judgment: after which, the angel of darkness and his disciples shall go into a world of their own, where they shall suffer in everlasting darkness the punishment of their evil deeds; and the angel of light and his disciples shall go into a world of their own, where they shall receive in everlasting light the reward due unto their good deeds; and henceforward they shall for ever remain separate.

Of the controversy as to Zoroaster, Zeratusht, or Zertushta, and the sacred books said to have been written by him, called Zend or Zendavesta, which has divided the most eminent critics, it would answer no important end to give an abstract. Those who wish for information on the subject are referred to Hyde's "Religio Veterum Persarum;" Prideaux's "Connection;" Warburton's "Divine Legation;" Bryant's "Mythology;" "The Universal History;" Sir W. Jones's Works, vol. iii, p. 115; M. du Perron, and Richardson's "Dissertation," prefixed to his Persian and Arabic Dictionary. But whatever may become of the authority of the whole or part of the Zendavesta, and with whatever fables the history of the reformer of the magian religion may be mixed, the learned are generally agreed that such a reformation took place by his instrumentality. "Zeratusht," says Sir W. Jones, "reformed the old religion by the addition of genii or angels, of new ceremonies in the veneration shown to fire, of a new work which he pretended to have received from heaven, and, above all, by establishing the actual adoration, of the supreme Being;" and he farther adds, "The reformed religion of Persia continued in force till that country was conquered by the Musselmans; and, without studying the Zend, we have ample information concerning it in the modern Persian writings of several who profess it. Bahman always named Zeratusht with reverence; he was, in truth, a pure Theist, and strongly disclaimed any adoration of the fire or other elements; and he denied that the doctrine of two coeval principles, supremely good and supremely bad, formed any part of his faith." "The Zeratusht of Persia, or the Zoroaster of the Greeks," says Richardson, "was highly celebrated by the most discerning people of ancient times; and his tenets, we are told, were most eagerly and rapidly embraced by the highest in rank, and the wisest men in the Persian empire." He distinguished himself by denying that good and evil, represented by light and darkness, were coeval, independent principles; and asserted the supremacy of the true God, in exact conformity with the doctrine contained in a part of that celebrated prophecy of Isaiah in which Cyrus is mentioned by name: "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me," no coeval power. "I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace," or good, "and create evil, I the Lord do all these things." Fire, by Zerdushta, appears to have been used emblematically only; and the ceremonies for preserving and transmitting it, introduced by him, were manifestly taken from the Jews, and the sacred fire of their tabernacle and temple.

The old religion of the Persians was corrupted by Sabianism, or the worship of the host of heaven, with its accompanying superstition. The magian doctrine, whatever it might be at first, had degenerated; and two eternal principles, good and evil, had been introduced. It was therefore necessarily idolatrous also, and, like all other false systems, flattering to the vicious habits of the people. So great an improvement in the moral character and influence of the religion of a whole nation as was effected by Zoroaster, a change which is not certainly paralleled in the ancient history of the religion of mankind, can scarcely, therefore, be thought possible, except we suppose a divine interposition, either directly, or by the occurrence of some very impressive events. Now as there are so many authorities for fixing the time of Zoroaster or Zeratusht not many years subsequent to the death of the great Cyrus, the events connected with the conquest of Babylon may account for his success in that reformation of religion of which he was the author. For, had not the minds of men been prepared for this change by something extraordinary, it is not supposable that they would have adopted a purer faith from him. That he gave them a better doctrine, is clear from the admission of even Dean Prideaux, who has very unjustly branded him as an impostor. Let it then be remembered, that as "the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men," he often overrules great political events for moral purposes. The Jews were sent into captivity to Babylon to be reformed from their idolatrous propensities, and their reformation commenced with their calamity. A miracle was there wrought in favour of three Hebrew confessors of the existence of one only God, and that under circumstances to put shame upon a popular idol in the presence of the king and "all the rulers of the provinces," that the issue of this controversy between Jehovah and idolatry might be made known throughout that vast empire.—Worship was refused to the idol by a few Hebrew captives, and the idol had no power to punish the public affront:— the servants of Jehovah were cast into a furnace, and he delivered them unhurt; and a royal decree declared "that there was no god who could deliver after this sort." The proud monarch, himself also is smitten with a singular disease;—he remains subject to it until he acknowledges the true God; and, upon his recovery, he publicly ascribes to him both the justice and the mercy of the punishment. This event takes place, also, in the accomplishment of a dream which none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret. It was interpreted by Daniel, who made the fulfilment to redound to the honour of the true God, by ascribing to him the perfection of knowing the future, which none of the false gods, appealed to by the Chaldean sages, possessed; as the inability of their servants to interpret the dream sufficiently proved. After these singular events, Cyrus takes Babylon, and he finds there the sage and the statesman, Daniel, the worshipper of the true God, "who creates both good and evil," "who makes the light, and forms the darkness." There is little doubt but that he and the principal Persians throughout the empire, would have the prophecy of Isaiah respecting Cyrus, delivered more than a hundred years before he was born, and in which his name stood recorded, along with the predicted circumstances of the capture of Babylon, pointed out to them. Every reason, religious and political, urged the Jews to make the prediction a matter of notoriety; and from Cyrus's decree in Ezra it is certain that he was acquainted with it; because there is in the decree an obvious reference to the prophecy. This prophecy, so strangely fulfilled, would give mighty force to the doctrine connected with it, and which it proclaims with so much majesty:—

"I am JEHOVAH, and none else, Forming Light and creating Darkness

Making Peace and creating EVIL;

I JEHOVAH am the author of all these things."

Here the great principle of corrupted magianism was directly attacked; and, in proportion as the fulfilment of the prophecy was felt to be singular and striking, the doctrine blended with it would attract notice. Its force was both felt and acknowledged, as we have seen in the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the temple. In that Cyrus acknowledged the true God to be supreme, and thus renounces his former faith; and the example, the public example, of a prince so beloved, and whose reign was so extended, could not fail to influence the religious opinions of his people. That the effect did not terminate in Cyrus, we know; for, from the book of Ezra, it appears that both Darius and Artaxerxes made decrees in favour of the Jews, in which Jehovah has the emphatic appellation repeatedly given to him, "the God of heaven," the very terms used by Cyrus himself. Nor are we to suppose the impression confined to the court; for the history of the three Hebrew youths, of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, sickness, and reformation from idolatry, of the interpretation of the hand writing on the wall by Daniel the servant of the living God, of his deliverance from the lions, and the publicity of the prophecy of Isaiah respecting Cyrus, were too recent, too public, and too striking in their nature, not to be often and largely talked of. Beside, in the prophecy respecting Cyrus, the intention of almighty God in recording the name of that monarch in an inspired book, and showing beforehand that he had chosen him to overturn the Babylonian empire, is expressly mentioned as having respect to two great objects, first, the deliverance of Israel, and, second, the making known his supreme divinity among the nations of the earth. We again quote Lowth's translation:—

"For the sake of my servant Jacob,

And of Israel my chosen,

I have even called thee by thy name,

I have surnamed thee, though thou knewest me not.

I am JEHOVAH, and none else, Beside me there is no God;

I will gird thee, though thou hast not known me,

That they may know, from the rising of the sun,

And from the west, that there is None Beside Me"

It was therefore intended by this proceeding on the part of Providence to teach, not only Cyrus, but the people of his vast empire, and surrounding nations,

1. That the God of the Jews was Jehovah, the self-subsistent, the eternal God;

2. That he was God alone, there being no deity beside himself; and,

3. That good and evil, represented by light and darkness, were neither independent nor eternal subsistences, but his great instruments, and under his control.

The Persians, who had so vastly extended their empire by the conquest of the countries formerly held by the monarchs of Babylon, were thus prepared for such a reformation of their religion as Zoroaster effected. The principles he advocated had been previously adopted by Cyrus and other Persian monarchs, and probably by many of the principal persons of that nation. Zoroaster himself thus became acquainted with the great truths contained in this famous prophecy, which attacked the very foundations of every idolatrous and Manichean system. From the other sacred books of the Jews, who mixed with the Persians in every part of the empire, he evidently learned more. This is sufficiently proved from the many points of similarity between his religion and Judaism, though he should not be allowed to speak so much in the style of the Holy Scriptures as some passages in the Zendavesta would indicate. He found the people, however, "prepared of the Lord" to admit his reformations, and he carried them. This cannot but be looked upon as one instance of several merciful dispensations of God to the Gentile world, through his own peculiar people, the Jews, by which the idolatries of the Heathen were often checked, and the light of truth rekindled among them. In this view the ancient Jews evidently considered the Jewish church as appointed not to preserve only but to extend true religion. "God be merciful to us and bless us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health unto all nations." This renders Pagan nations more evidently "without excuse." That this dispensation of mercy was afterward neglected among the Persians, is certain. How long the effect continued we know not, nor how widely it spread; perhaps longer and wider than may now distinctly appear. If the magi, who came from the east to seek Christ, were Persians, some true worshippers of God would appear to have remained in Persia to that day; and if, as is probable, the prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel were retained among them, they might be among those who "waited for redemption," not at Jerusalem, but in a distant part of the world. The Parsees, who were nearly extirpated by Mohammedan fanaticism, were charged by their oppressors with the idolatry of fire, and this was probably true of the multitude. Some of their writers, however, warmly defended themselves against the charge. A considerable number of them remain in India to this day, and profess to have the books of Zoroaster.

2. The term magi was also anciently used generally throughout the east, to distinguish philosophers, and especially astronomers. Pliny and Ptolemy mention Arabi as synonymous with magi; and it was the opinion of many learned men in the first ages of Christianity, that the magi who presented offerings to the infant Saviour,   Matthew 2:1 , came from southern Arabia; for it is certain that "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." were productions of that country. They were philosophers among whom the best parts of the reformed magian system, which was extensively diffused, were probably preserved. They were pious men, also who had some acquaintance, it may be, with the Hebrew prophecies, and were favoured themselves with divine revelations. They are to be regarded as members of the old patriarchal church, never quite extinguished among the Heathen; and they had the special honour to present the homage of the Gentile world to the infant Saviour.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

MAGI. The plural of magus , which occurs in   Acts 13:8 (tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘sorcerer’ see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Used as a plural word it denotes the ‘ wise men ’ of   Matthew 2:1-23 (see the RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] note at v. 1). The subject of this article is twofold (1) the elucidation of that narrative, and of one or two other Biblical references to the Magi; (2) the brief delineation of the religion connected with the Magi, in its relation to the religious history of Israel. These two points need not be kept apart.

Herodotus tells us that the Magi formed one of six tribes or castes of the Medes. Since another of the six is expressly named as ‘Aryan,’ it seems to follow that the other five did not belong to the conquering race; and the Magi would accordingly be an aboriginal sacred caste, like the Brahmans in India. When Cambyses, the son of the great Cyrus, died, the Magi seem to have made an attempt to regain civil power, of which Cyrus and his Aryans had deprived them; and a Magian pretender Gaumâta held the throne of Persia for some months, until dispossessed aod slain by Darius in b.c. 522. There is reason to believe that the Magi, in the course of a generation or two, made a bid for spiritual power: they conformed to the religion of the conquerors, profoundly altering its character as they did so, and thus gained the opportunity of re-asserting their own sacred functions among their fellow-countrymen, who were predisposed to accept their re-introduction of the old beliefs under the forms of the new. We have but little evidence to guide us in re-constructing this primitive Median religion. The sacred caste itself appears to be mentioned in  Jeremiah 39:3;   Jeremiah 39:13 (see Rab-Mag); and a ritual observance, preserved still in Parsi worship, figures in   Ezekiel 8:17 , from which we gather that sun-worship, accompanied with the holding of the barsom (‘bunch of fine tamarisk boughs,’ as the geographer Strabo defines it) to the face, was a characteristic of Magian ritual before it was grafted on to Persian religion.

There are three special characteristics of Magianism proper which never obtained any real hold upon the religion with which the Magi subsequently identified themselves. These are (1) astrology , (2) oneiromancy , or divination by dreams, aod (3) magic , which was traditionally associated with their name, but was expressly forbidden by the religion of the Persians. The first two of these features appear in the narrative of the Nativity. We have evidence that the Magi connected with the stars the fravashi or ‘double’ which Parsi psychology assigned to every good man a part of his persooality dwelling in heaven, sharing his development, and united with his soul at death. A brilliant new star would thus be regarded by them as the heavenly counterpart of a great man newly born. That dreams guided the Magi at one point of their adventure is expressly stated (  Matthew 2:12 ); and it is fair to postulate similar direction in the initial interpretation of the star. There is, of course, nothing in this to convince those who have decided that the narrative of the Magi is legendary; nor is this the place to examine the difficulties that remain (see Star of the Magi). But it may at least be asserted that the story has curiously subtle points of contact with what we can re-construct of the history of Magian religion; and the invention of all this perhaps involves as many difficulties as can be recognized in the acceptance of the narrative as it stands.

The doctrine of the fravashi , just now referred to, may be paralleled rather closely in the Bible; and it is at least possible that the knowledge of this dogma, as prevailing in Media, may have stimulated the growth of the corresponding idea among post-exilic Jews. When in   Matthew 18:10 Jesus declares that the angels of the little ones are in heaven nearest to the Throne, the easiest interpretation is that which recognizes these angels as a part of the personality, dwelling in heaven, but sharing the fortunes of the counterpart on earth. This gives a clear reason why the angels of the children should be perpetually in the Presence they represent those who have not yet sinned. So again in   Acts 12:18 Peter’s ‘angel’ is presumably his heavenly ‘double.’ The conception was apparently extended to include the heavenly representatives of communities, as the ‘princes’ of Israel, Greece, and Persia in   Daniel 10:1-21;   Daniel 12:1-13 , and the ‘angels’ of the churches of Asia in   Revelation 2:1-29;   Revelation 3:1-22 . If this doctrine really owed anything to the stimulus of Magianism, it is in line with other features of later Jewish angelology. It is only the naming and ranking of angels, and the symmetrical framing of corresponding powers of evil, that remind us of Parsi doctrine: the Jews always had both angels and demons, and all that is claimed is a possible encouragement from Parsi theology, which developed what was latent already. A more important debt of Judaism to Persian faith is alleged to be found in the doctrine of the Future Life. From the beginning Zoroastrianism (see below) had included immortality and the resurrection of the body as integral parts of its creed. It is therefore at least a remarkable coincidence that the Jews did not arrive at these doctrines till the period immediately following their contact with the Persians, who under Cyrus had been their deliverers from Babylonian tyranny. But though the coincidence has drawn some even to adopt the linguistically impossible notion that the very name of the Pharisees was due to their ‘Parsi’ leanings, a coincidence it remains for the most part. The two peoples came to the great idea by different roads. The Persians apparently developed it partly from the analogy of Nature, and partly from the instinctive craving for a theodicy. The Jews conceived the hope through the ever-increasing sense of communion with a present God, through which their most spiritual men realized the impossibility of death’s severing God from His people. But we may well assume that the growth of this confident belief was bastened by the knowledge that the doctrine was already held by another nation.

How well the religion of the Magi deserved the double honour thus assigned to it that of stimulating the growth of the greatest of truths within Israel, and that of offering the first homage of the Gentile world to the infant Redeemer may be seen best by giving in a few words a description of the faith in general.

Its pre-historic basis was a relatively pure Nature-worship, followed by the common ancestors of the Aryans in India and Persia, and still visible to us in the numerous elements which appear in both Veda and Avesta the most sacred books of India and Iran respectively. To Iranian tribes holding this faith came in the 7th cent. b.c., or earlier, the prophet Zarathushtra, called by the Greeks Zoroaster. He endeavoured to supersede Nature-worship by the preaching of a highly abstract monotheism. The ‘Wise Lord,’ Ahura Mazda (later Ormazd ), reigned alone without equal or second; but Zoroaster surrounded Him with personified attributes, six in number, called Amesha Spenta ( Amshaspands ), ‘Immortal Holy Ones,’ who were the archangels of the heavenly court. The problem of Evil he solved by positing a ‘Hurtful Spirit,’ Angra Mainyu (later Ahriman ), with his retinue of inferior demons (see Asmonæus), who is a power without beginning, like Ormazd, creator of all things evil, and perpetual enemy of God and of good men. In the end, however, he is to be destroyed with his followers, and Good is to triumph for ever. Truth and Industry, especially in agriculture, are the practical virtues by which the righteous advance the kingdom of Ahura Mazda. The eschatology is striking and lofty in its conception, and the doctrine of God singularly pure. Unhappily, with the prophet’s death the old polytheism returned, under the guise of angel-worship, and the Magi were ere long enslaving the religion to a dull and mechanical ritual. Many of these degenerate elements have, however, been largely subordinated in modern Parsism. The small community, mostly concentrated round Bombay, which today maintains this ancient faith, may assuredly challenge any non-Christian religion in the world to match either its creed or its works.

James Hope Moulton.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

("magicians".) Called "wise men"'  Matthew 2:1. Hebrew Chartumiym , "sacred scribes," from two roots "sacred" and "style" or "pen" ( Cheret ); priests skilled in sacred writings, and in divining through signs the will of heaven. A regular order among the Egyptians, devoted to magic and astrology. (See Divination .) The word is Persian or Median; it appears in Rab-mag, "chief of the magicians" ( Jeremiah 39:3), brought with Nebuchadnezzar's expedition, that its issue might be foreknown. The Magi were a sacerdotal caste among the Medes, in connection with the Zoroastrian religion. "They waited upon the sacred fire, and performed ablutions, and practiced observation of the stars." Muller (Herzog Cyclopedia) says that the Median priests were not originally called Magi, but by the names found in the Zendavesta "Atharva," guardians of the fire, and that the Chaldaeans first gave them the name Magi. Nebuchadnezzar gathered round him the religious teachers and wise men of the nations he conquered ( Daniel 1:3-4;  Daniel 1:20).

The Magians probably lost some of the original purity of the simpler Median religion by contact with the superstitions of Babylon: still there remained some elements of truth and opposition to idolatry, which formed common ground between them and Daniel ( Daniel 5:11;  Daniel 6:3;  Daniel 6:16;  Daniel 6:26;  Ezra 1:1-4;  Isaiah 44:28). Artaxerxes, Pseudo Smerdis "the "Magian," naturally thwarted the rebuilding of the temple to the one true God, for he had reintroduced a corrupted Chaldaic magianism instead of Cyrus' purer faith in Ormuzd. The Zoroastrian religion Darius restored, and destroyed the Mugtans; as the Behistun inscription states, "the rites which Gomates (Pseudo Smerdis) the Magian introduced I prohibited, I restored the chants and worship," etc. Naturally then the Jews under Darius resumed the suspended work of building the temple ( Ezra 4:24;  Ezra 5:1-2;  Ezra 6:7-8).

All forms of magic, augury, necromancy, etc., are prohibited in the Zendavesta as evil and emanating from Ahriman the evil one. The Magi regained power under Xerxes, and were consulted by him. They formed the highest portion of the king's court, the council about the king's person. Gradually the term came to represent divining impostors. However, Philo uses it in a good sense: "men who gave themselves to the study of nature and contemplation of the divine perfection, worthy of being counselors of kings." So in  Matthew 2:1 it is used in the better sense of "wise men," at once astronomers and astrologers "from the E.," i.e. the. N.E., the region toward the Euphrates from whence Balaam came ( Numbers 23:7;  Numbers 22:5). (See Balaam .) Balaam' s prophecy seems to have been known to them: "there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall arise out of Israel." Accordingly the very guide they look to is a star (a meteor probably), and the question they ask is "where is He that is born King of the Jews?"

Moreover, Daniel, "chief of the Magi," had foretold Messiah's kingdom ( Daniel 2:44;  Daniel 9:25); naturally the Magi ("wise men") looked for the kingdom and the king among the people of him whose fame as a Magian they had heard of. Zoroaster's predictions led them to look for Zosiosh, the Head of the kingdom who should conquer Ahriman and raise the dead. Their presents, "gold, frankincense, and myrrh," were the usual gifts of subject nations ( Psalms 72:15;  1 Kings 10:2;  1 Kings 10:10;  2 Chronicles 9:24;  Song of Solomon 3:6;  Song of Solomon 4:14). They came to the infant Jesus some considerable time after the shepherds in Luke 2, for now He is no longer in an inn but in the "house" ( Matthew 2:11). (For Details, See Jesus Christ, Bethlehem, And Herod.) The star remained stationary while they were at Jerusalem, where they had turned aside; but when they left it the star again guided them until they reached Christ's birthplace.

Only so long as we follow the sure word of revelation have we guidance to Jesus and safety in Him ( 2 Peter 1:19). Herod discovered the foretold birthplace of Messiah from the scribes' quotation of Micah ( Micah 5:2) in answer to his query where He should be born. But the Child had escaped, and the Magi, being warned of God in a dream (they were famed for interpretation of dreams), had returned a different way, before Herod's cruel decree for the slaughter of the infants took effect at Bethlehem. Matthew, dwelling on Christ's kingly office as the Son of David, gives the history of the Magians' visit, since they first hailed Him as King. Luke, dwelling more on His human sympathy, gives the history of the divinely guided visit of the humble shepherds. Luke records the earlier event, according to his plan stated in his preface, "to write all things from the very first," and omits the already recorded visit of the Magi, which seemed the presage of an earthly kingdom, as unsuited to the aspect of lowliness and identification with the needs of universal mankind in which he represents our Lord.

The names given by tradition to the "three kings" so-called (presumed to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa;  Psalms 72:10 was the plea for their kingship), Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, are of course mythical, as is the story of their bones being in the shrine of Cologne, having been removed first from the East by Helena to Constantinople, then to Milan, then to Cologne. In the sense "magician" Simon Magus at Samaria is an instance ( Acts 8:9-10); also Elymas the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet who with. stood Paul and Barnabas at Paphos ( Acts 13:6-12); also the exorcists and those who used "curious arts" and who "brought their books together, and burned them before all men" to the value of "50,000 pieces of silver," at Ephesus ( Acts 19:13-19).

Pharaoh's magicians practiced the common juggler's trick of making serpents appear "with their enchantments" (from a root, "flame" or else "conceal," implying a trick:  Exodus 7:11-12); but Aaron's rod swallowed theirs, showing that his power was real, theirs illusory. So they produced frogs after Moses had done so, i.e. they only increased the plague, they could not remove it. At the plague of lice or mosquitoes they could not even increase the plague, and had to say, This is the finger of God ( Exodus 8:7;  Exodus 8:18-19). At last the plague of boils broke out upon the magicians themselves ( Exodus 9:11); they owned themselves defeated, "they could not stand before Moses." The peculiarity of Balaam was, he stood partly on pagan magic and soothsaying augury, partly on true revelation.(See Balaam .) For "enchantments" translated "auguries" ( Numbers 23:3;  Numbers 24:1). The Teraphim were consulted for divining purposes ( Judges 18:5-6;  Zechariah 10:2). (See Teraphim .) There is extant the Egyptian Ritual of amulets and incantations.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [5]

Or MAGIANS, an ancient religious sect of Persia and other eastern countries, who, abominating the adoration of images, worshipped God only by fire, in which they were directly opposite to the Sabians.

See Sabians The Magi believed that there were two principles, one the cause of all good, and the other the cause of all evil; in which opinion they were followed by the sect of the Manichees.

See Manichees They called the good principle Jazden, and Ormuzd, and the evil principle Ahraman or Aherman. The former was by the Greeks called Oromasdes, and the latter Arimanius. The reason of their worshipping fire was, because they looked upon it as the truest symbol of Oromasdes, or the good god; as darkness was of Arimanius, or the evil god. In all their temples they had fire continually burning upon their altars, and in their own private houses. The religion of the Magi fell into disgrace on the death of those ringleaders of that sect who had usurped the sovereignty after the death of Cambyses; and the slaughter that was made of the chief men among them sunk it so low, that Sabianism every where prevailed against it; Darius and most of his followers on that occasion going over to it.

But the affection which the people had for the religion of their forefathers not being easily to be rooted out, the famous impostor Zoroaster, some ages after, undertook to revive and reform it. The chief reformation this pretended prophet made in the Magian religion was in the first principle of it; for he introduced a god superior both to Ommasdes and Arimanius. Dr. Prideaux is of opinion that Zoroaster took the hint of this alteration in their theology from the prophet Isaiah, who brings in God, saying to Cyrus king of Persia, I am the Lord, and there is none else: I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil, ch. 45: 7. In short, Zoroaster held that there was one supreme independent Being, and under him two principles, or angels; one the angel of light or good, and the other the angel of evil or darkness; that there is a perpetual struggle between them, which shall last to the end of the world; that then the angel of darkness and his disciples shall go into a world of their own, where they shall be punished in everlasting darkness; and the angel of light and his disciples shall also go into a world of their own, where they shall be rewarded in everlasting light.

Zoroaster was the first who built fire-temples; the Magians before his time performing their devotion on the tops of hills and in the open air, by which means they were exposed to the inconvenience of rain and tempests, which often extinguished their sacred fires. To procure the greater veneration for these sacred fires, he pretended to have received fire from heaven, which he placed on the altar of the first fire- temple he erected, which was that of Xis, in Media, from whence they say it was propagated to all the rest. The Magian priests kept their sacred fire with the greatest diligence, watching it day and night, and never suffering it to be extinguished. They fed it only with wood stript of the bark, and they never blowed it with their breath or with bellows, for fear of polluting it; to do either of these was death by their law. The Magian religion as reformed by Zoroaster, seems in many things to be built upon the plan of the Jewish. The Jews had their sacred fire which came down from heaven upon the altar of burnt offerings, which they never suffered to go out, and with which all their sacrifices and oblations were made Zoroaster, in like manner, pretended to have brought his holy fire from heaven; and as the Jews had a Shekinah of the divine presence among them, resting over the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, Zoroaster likewise told his Magians to look upon the sacred fire in their temples as a Shekinah, in which God especially dwelt.

From these and some other instances of analogy between the Jewish and the Magian religion, Prideaux infers that Zoroaster had been first educated and brought up in the Jewish religion. The priests of the Magi were the most skilled mathematicians and philosophers of the age in which they lived, insomuch that a learned man and a Magian became equivalent terms. This proceeded so far, that the vulgar, looking on their knowledge to be more than natural, imagined they were inspired by some supernatural power. And hence those who practised wicked and diabolical arts, taking upon themselves the name of Magians, drew on it that ill signification which the word Magician now bears among us. The Magian priests were all of one tribe; as among the Jews, none but the son of a priest was capable of bearing that office among them. The royal family among the Persians, as long as this sect subsisted, was always of the sacerdotal tribe. They were divided into three orders; the inferior clergy, the superintendents, or bishops, and the archimagus, or arch-priest. Zoroaster had the address to bring over Darius to his new-reformed religion, notwithstanding the strongest opposition of the Sabians; and from that time it became the national religion of all that country, and so continued for many ages after, till it was supplanted by that of Mahomet. Zoroaster composed a book containing the principles of the Magian religion. It is called Zendavesta, and by contraction Zend.


Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Ma'gi. ( Authorized Version, Wise Men). In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the word occurs but twice, and then only incidentally.  Jeremiah 29:3;  Jeremiah 29:13. "Originally, they were a class of priests, among the Persians and Medes, who formed the king's privy council, and cultivated as trology, medicine and occult natural science. They are frequently referred to by ancient authors. Afterwar, the term was applied to all eastern philosophers." - Schaff's Popular Commentary.

They appear in Herodotus' history of Astyages as interpreters of dreams, (i. 120); but as they appear in Jeremiah among the retinue of the Chaldean king, we must suppose Nebuchadnezzar's conquests led him to gather round him, the wise men and religious teachers of the nations which he subdued, and that thus, the sacred tribe of the Medes rose under his rule to favor and power.

The Magi took their places among "the astrologers and star gazers and monthly prognosticators." It is with such men that, we have to think of Daniel and his fellow exiles as associated. The office which Daniel accepted,  Daniel 5:11, was probably rab-mag - chief of the Magi.

2. The word presented itself to the Greeks as connected with a foreign system of divination and it soon became a byword for the worst form of imposture. This is the predominant meaning of the word as it appears in the New Testament.  Acts 8:9;  Acts 13:8.

In one memorable instance, however, the word retains its better meaning. In the Gospel of St. Matthew,  Matthew 2:1-12, the Magi appear as "wise men" - properly Magians - who were guided by a star from "the east" to Jerusalem, where they suddenly appeared in the days of Herod the Great, inquiring for the new-born king of the Jews, whom they had come to worship.

As to the country from which they came, opinions vary greatly; but their following the guidance of a star seems to point to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, where astronomy was cultivated by the Chaldeans. See Star of The Wise Men of The East .

(Why should the new star lead these wise men to look for a king of the Jews?

(1) These wise men from Persia were the most like the Jews, in religion, of all nations in the world. They believed in one God, they had no idols, they worshipped light as the best symbol of God.

(2) The general expectation of such a king. "The Magi," says, Ellicott, "express the feeling which the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, tell us sixty or seventy years later had been, for a long time, very widely diffused. Everywhere throughout the East, men were looking for the advent of a great king who was to rise from among the Jews. It had fermented in the minds of men, heathen as well as Jews, and would have led them to welcome Jesus as the Christ had he come in accordance with their expectation."

Virgil, who lived a little before this, owns that a child from heaven was looked for, who should restore the golden age and take away sin.

(3) This expectation arose largely from the dispersion of the Jews among all nations, carrying with them the hope and the promise of a divine Redeemer. Isaiah 9; Isaiah 11; Daniel 7.

(4) Daniel himself was a prince and chief among this very class of wise men. His prophecies: were made known to them; and the calculations by which he pointed to the very time when Christ should be born became, through the book of Daniel, a part of their ancient literature. - Editor).

According to a late tradition, the Magi are represented as three kings, named Gaspar, Melchior and Belthazar, who take their place among the objects of Christian reverence, and are honored as the patron saints of travellers.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [7]

Magi, Great, Powerful. Wise men, "rabmag,"  Jeremiah 39:3, which is used as a proper name, and properly signifies the prince Magus, or chief of the Magi. In Babylon the magi were known by the name of "wise men" and "Chaldeans."  Isaiah 44:25;  Jeremiah 50:35;  Daniel 2:12-27;  Daniel 4:6;  Daniel 4:18;  Daniel 5:7-8;  Daniel 5:11-12;  Daniel 5:15. To their number, doubtless, belonged the "astrologers" and "star-gazers,"  Isaiah 47:13; also the "soothsayers" and the "dream interpreters."  Daniel 1:20;  Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 2:27;  Daniel 4:7;  Daniel 5:7;  Daniel 5:11. Daniel describes them as men of wisdom,  Daniel 1:20; he intercedes for them with Nebuchadnezzar,  Daniel 2:24; and accepts a position as their chief or master.  Daniel 5:11. The same impression of dignity, truthfulness, and aspiration after the true religion is conveyed by the narrative in  Matthew 2:1-14. Whence these Magi came we do not certainly know, but probably from the lands of the Jewish captivity on the Euphrates.

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]

1. Men whose interpretation of the stars led them to Palestine to find and honor Jesus, the newborn King ( Matthew 2:1 ). The term has a Persian background. The earliest Greek translation of  Daniel 2:2 ,Daniel 2:2, 2:10 uses “magi” to translate the Hebrew term for astrologer (compare   Daniel 4:7;  Daniel 5:7 ). The magi who greeted Jesus' birth may have been from Babylon, Persia, or the Arabian desert. Matthew gives no number, names, or royal positions to the magi. Before A.D. 225 Tertullian called them kings. From the three gifts, the deducation was made that they were three in number. Shortly before A.D. 600 the Armenian Infancy Gospel named them: Melkon (later Melchior), Balthasar, and Gaspar. The visit of the magi affirms international recognition by leaders of other religions of Jesus' place as the expected King.

2. In  Acts 8:9 the related verb describes Simon as practicing sorcery, with a bad connotation. Such negative feelings had long been associated with some uses of the term.

3. In  Acts 13:6 ,Acts 13:6, 13:8 Bar-Jesus or Elymas is designated a sorcerer or one of the magi as well as a false prophet. Paul blinded Simon, showing God's power over the magic arts.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [9]

This is the Greek word in  Matthew 2:1-16 which is translated 'wise men' in the A.V. They had come from the East, and inquired for one who was born King of the Jews, for they had seen His star in the East, and had come with their gifts to do Him homage. Though magicians and magi are often classed together, they are not necessarily the same. Philo describes the magi as "men who gave themselves to the study of nature and contemplation of the divine perfections, worthy of being the counsellors of kings." In this sense Daniel was called master of the 'magicians,' but which others translate as 'scribes.' Dan, 4:9. How the magi connected the star with 'the King of the Jews' is not known. By the scattering of the Jews they may have heard of the prophecy of Balaam ( Numbers 24:17 ) or of Daniel's prophecy. God who warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, may have in the same way led them to associate the above prophecies with the appearance of the star . See Star In The East God thus raised up from the Gentiles a testimony as to the 'holy child' in the midst of Jerusalem, though all there were troubled at the announcement.

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(n. pl.) A caste of priests, philosophers, and magicians, among the ancient Persians; hence, any holy men or sages of the East.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [11]

is the Latin form of the Greek term Μάγοι , Magians, rendered "wise men" in  Matthew 2:1 l 7, 16, and occurring likewise in the singular Μάγος , "sorcerer," with reference to Elymas ( Acts 12:6;  Acts 12:8). Compare the epithet Simon Magus. The term is still extant on the cuneiform inscriptions (see Olshausen, ad loc. Matt.). It corresponds to the Heb. מִג Mag. The term magi was used as the name for priests and wise men among the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. So the word Rabmag, in our version of  Jeremiah 39:3, used as a proper name, properly signifies The Prince Magus or Chief Of The Magi. While the priests and literati were known by the general name of magi, they were also known by the name of Wise Men, and likewise Chaldaeans (Isaiah 44:52; Jeremiah 1:35;  Daniel 2:12-27;  Daniel 4:6;  Daniel 4:18;  Daniel 5:7;  Daniel 5:11-12;  Daniel 5:15). To their number doubtless belonged the astrologers and star-gazers ( Isaiah 47:13). So, also, the Chaldee soothsayers and dream-interpreters either denote various orders of magi, or they are merely different names of the same general class ( Daniel 1:20;  Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 4:7;  Daniel 5:7;  Daniel 5:11). (See Magician). In the following account of this important and interesting class, we supplement what we have elsewhere said upon the subject.

I. Etymology Of The Name. In the Pehlvi dialect of the Zend, Mogh means Priest (Hyde, Relig. Vet. Pers. C. 31); and this is connected by philologists with the Sanscrit Mahat (great, Μέγας , and Magnus; Anquetil du Perron's Zend-Avesta, 2:555). The coincidence of a Sanscrit M Â Ya, in the sense of "illusion, magic," is remarkable; but it is probable that this, as well as the analogous Greek word, is the derived rather than the original meaning (comp. Eichhoff, Vergleichung Der Sprache, ed. Kaltschmidt, p. 231). Hyde (1. c.) notices another etymology given by Arabian authors, which makes the word cropt-eared (parvis auribus), but rejects it. Prideaux, on the other hand (Connection, under B.C. 522), accepts it, and seriously connects it with the story of the pseudo-Smerdis who had lost his ears in Herod. 3:69. Spanheim (Dub. Esvangc. 18) speaks favorably, though not decisively, of a Hebrew etymology.

II. Their Original Seat. This name has come to us through the Greeks as the proper designation of the priestly class among the Persians (Herod. 1:132, 140; Xenoph., Cyrop. 8:1, 23; Plato, Alcib. 1:122; Diog. Laert. Parouem. 1, 2; Cicero, De Divin. 1:41; Apul. Apol. 1p. 32 ed. Casaubon, p. 290 ed. Elmenhorst; Porphyr. De Abst. 1. 4.; Hesych. s.v. Μάγος ). It does not appear, however, that Magism was originally a Persian institution, and it may be doubted if in its original form it ever existed among the Persians at all.

The earliest notice extant of the magi is in the prophecies of Jeremiah ( Jeremiah 39:3;  Jeremiah 39:13), where mention is made of Rab-mag, a term which, though regarded in the A.V. as a proper name, is a compound of רב and מג , and signifies Chief Nmagus, after the analogy of such terms as רִבאּקָרַיס ( Ch ( Chief Eunuch ) , רִבאּשָׁקֵה ( Chiefbufler ) , etc. (See below, § iv.) The Rab-mag of Jeremiah is the same as the Rab Signin Al Kol Chakimin ( כל חקמיו רב סגנון על ) of Daniel (2:48); the Τῶν Ἱερέων Ἐπισημότατος Οὕά Βαβυλώνιοι Καλοῦσι Χαλδαιους of Diodorus Sic. (2:24); and the Ἀρχίμαγος of the later Greek writers (Sozomen, Hist.  Ecclesiastes 1:13). This indicates the existence among the Chaldaeans of the magian institute in a regular form, and as a recognized element in the state, at a period not later than 600 years B.C. In Jeremiah 1, 35, ittevidently the same class that is referred to under the designation of the "wise men of Babylon." In the time of Daniel we find the institute in full force in Babylon ( Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 2:12;  Daniel 2:18;  Daniel 2:24;  Daniel 4:3;  Daniel 4:15;  Daniel 5:7-8). From him we learn that it comprised five classes-the Chartumsinim, expounders of sacred writings and interpreters of signs (1:20; 2:2; 5:4); the Ashaphim, conjurors (2:10; 5:7, 11; comp. 47:9,12); the Meekashephim, exorcists, soothsayers, magicians, diviners (2:2; comp.  Isaiah 47:9;  Isaiah 47:13;  Jeremiah 27:9); the Gozerim, casters of nativities, astrologists (2:27; 5:7,11); and the Chasdin, Chaldaeans in the narrower sense (2:5, 10; 4:4; 5:7, etc.; compare Hengstenberg, Beitrage, 1:343 sq.; Havernick, Comment '''''Ü''''' B Daniel, p. 52; Gesenius, Thes. ad voc.). So much was Magism a Chaldtean institution that the term Chaldaean came to be applied as a svnonym for the class (Diod. Sic. 2:29 sq.; Strabo, 16:762; Diog. Laertius, Proaem. 1; Cicero, de Divinat. 1:1; Curtius, Hist. 3:3, 6; Josephus, War, 2:7, 3; Aul. Gellius, 15:20, 2; Apuleius, Asin. 2:228, etc.).

Whether Magism was indigenous in Chaldaea, and was thence carried to the adjacent countries, or was derived by the Chaldaeans from Assyria, it is impossible now to determine with any certainty. In favor of its Assyrian origin it has been urged that the word מג is found as the name of the Assyrian fire-priest (Movers, 1:64, 240), and that the priests of the Assyrian Artemis at Ephesus were called Meg-Abyzi (Strabo, 14:641). But on this nothing can be built, as we find the syllable Meg or Mag occurring in names and titles belonging to other peoples, as Mag-Etzer (fire-priest), the father of Artemis among the Phoenicians; Teker-Mag, Teker the Magus (on a Cilician coin), etc. When it is considered that the Chaldaean was the older nation, and that the Assyrians derived many of their religious beliefs and institutions from the Chaldaeans (Rawlinson, Five Great Monarchies, 1:308; 2:228), the probability is that they derived the institution of the magi also. That the institution was originally Shemitic is further confirmed by the Phoenician tradition preserved by Sanchoniathon (ap. Euseb. Praep. Evang. 1:10), that Magos was a descendant of the Titans, and, with his brother Amynos, made men acquainted with villages and flocks. It must be confessed, however, that the word מג has more obvious affinities in the Indo-Germanic than in the Shemitic tongues (see above, § 1); but this can hardly be allowed to weigh much against the historical evidence of the existence of the magi in Shemitic nations anterior to their existence among those of the Aryan stock.

That Magism was not, as commonly stated, a Persian institution, is shown from several considerations:

1. The word does not appear to have existed in the Zend language; at any rate, it does not occur in the Zend-Avesta.

2. The religious system of the ancient Persians was a system of Dualism, as the most ancient documents concur with the monumental evidence to prove (see Rawlinson's Herodotus, 1:426), but with this Magism had no affinity.

3. In the Zend-Avesta, the Yatus, the practicer of magical arts, is vehemently denounced, and men are enjoined to pray and present offerings against his arts, as an invention of the Dews.

4. Xenophon informs us ( Cyrop. 8:1, 23) that the magi were first established in Persia by Cyrus (comp. also Ammian. Marc. 23:6; Porphyr. De Abstin. 4:16, etc.), a statement which can be understood only, as Haeren suggests (I, 1:451 sq.), as intimating that the magian institute, which existed long before this among the Medes, was introduced by Cyrus among the Persians also.

5. Herodotus (1:101) states that the magi formed one of the tribes of the Medes; and he also attributes the placing of the pseudo-Smerdis on the Persian throne to the magi, who were moved thereto by a desire to substitute the Median for the Persian rule (3:61 sq.; compare Ctesias, Persica, c. 10-15; Justin, Hist. 1:9; and the Behistun inscription as translated by Sir H. Rawlinson; see Rawlinson's Herodotus, 1:427).

6. Herodotus mentions that, after this attempt of the magi had been frustrated, it became a usage among the Persians to observe a festival in celebration of the overthrow of the magi, to which they gave the name of Magoplonia ( Μαγοφονία ) , and during which it was not safe for any magus to leave the house (3:79; Agathias, 2:25), a usage which could have had its origin only at a time when Magism was foreign to Persian beliefs and institutions. 7. We find no allusion to the magi in connection with any of the Medo- Persian kings mentioned in Scripture, a circumstance which, though not of itself of much importance, falls in with the supposition that Magism was not at that time a predominant Persian institution. The probability is, that this system had its source in Chaldaea, was thence propagated to Assyria, Media, and the adjoining countries, and was brought from Media into Persia, where it came at first into collision both with the national prejudices and with the ancient religious faith of the people. With this accord the traditions which impute to Zoroaster, after he came to be regarded as the apostle of Magism, sometimes a Parthian and sometimes a Bactrian origin. (See Zoroaster). Eventually, however, Magism seems to have been adopted into or reconciled with Zoroasterism, perhaps by losing its original theosophic character, and taking on a more practical or thaumaturgic phase.

III. Profane Accounts Of The Order. The magi were originally one of the six tribes (Herod. 1:101; Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 29) into which the nation of the Medes was divided, who, like the Levites under the Mosaic institutions, were entrusted with the care of religion, an office which naturally, in those early times, made this caste likewise the chief depositaries of science and cultivators of art. Little in detail is known of the magi during the independent existence of the Median government; but under the Medo-Persian sway the magi formed a sacred caste or college, which was very famous in the ancient world (Xenoph. Cyrop. 8:1, 23; Ammian. Marcell. 23:6; Heeren. Ideen, 1:451; Schlosser, Universal Uebers. 1:278). Porphyry (Abst. 4:16) says, "The learned men who are engaged among the Persians in the service of the Deity are called magi;" and Suidas, "Among the Persians the lovers of wisdom ( Φιλόσοφοι ) and the servants of God are called magi." According to Strabo (2:1084, ed. Falcon.), the magi practiced different sorts of divination 1, by evoking the dead; 2, by cups or dishes (Joseph's divining-cup,  Genesis 44:5); 3, by means of water.

By the employment of these means the magi affected to disclose the future, to influence the present, and to call the past to their aid. Even the visions of the night they were accustomed to interpret, not empirically, but according to such established and systematic rules as a learned priesthood might be expected to employ (Strabo, 16:762; Cicero, De Divin. 1:41; AElian. V. H. 2:17). The success, however, of their efforts over the invisible world, as well as the holy office which they exercised, demanded in themselves peculiar cleanliness of body, a due regard to which and to the general principles of their caste would naturally be followed by professional prosperity, and this, in its turn, conspired with prevailing superstition to give the magi great social consideration, and make them of high importance before kings and princes (Diog. Laert. 9:7, 2) an influence which they appear to have sometimes abused, when, descending from the peculiar duties of their high office, they took part in the strife and competitions of politics, and found themselves sufficiently powerful even to overturn thrones (Herod. 3:61 sq.). These abuses were reformed by Zoroaster, who appeared, according to many authorities, in the second half of the 7th century before Christ. He was not the founder of a new system, but the renovator of an old and corrupt one, being, as he himself intimates (Zend-Avesta, 1:43), the restorer of the word which Ormuzd had formerly revealed, but which the influence of Dews had degraded into a false and deceptive magic. After much and long-continued opposition on the part of the adherents and defenders of existing corruptions, he succeeded in his virtuous purposes. and caused his system eventually to prevail. He appears to have remodeled the institute of the magian caste, dividing it into three great classes: 1, Herbeds, or learners; 2, Mobeds, or masters; 3, Destur Mobeds, or perfect scholars (Zend-Av. 2:171,261). The magi alone he allowed to perform the religious rites; they possessed the forms of prayer and worship; they knew the ceremonies which availed to conciliate Ormuzd, and were obligatory in the public offerings (Herod. 1:132).

They accordingly became the sole medium of communication between the Deity and his creatures, and through them alone Ormuzd made his will known; none but them could see into the future, and they disclosed their knowledge to those only who were so fortunate as to conciliate their good will. Hence the power which the magian priesthood possessed. The general belief in the trustworthiness of their predictions, especially when founded on astrological calculations, the all but universal custom of consulting the will of the divinity before entering on any important undertaking, and the blind faith which was reposed in all that the magi did, reported, or commanded, combined to create for that sacerdotal caste a power, both in public and in private concerns, which has probably never been exceeded. Indeed the soothsayer was a public officer, a member, if not the president, of the privy council in the Medo-Persian court, demanded alike for show, in order to influence the people, and for use, in order to guide the state. Hence the person' of the monarch was surrounded by priests, who, in different ranks and with different offices, conspired to sustain the throne, uphold the established religion, and conciliate or enforce the obedience of the subject. The fitness of the magi for, and their usefulness to, an Oriental court were not a little enhanced by the pomp of their dress, the splendor of their ceremonial, and tie number and gradation of the sacred associates. Well may Cyrus, in uniting the Medes to his Persian subjects, have adopted, in all its magnificent details, a priesthood which would go far to transfer to him the affections of his conquered subjects, and promote, more than any other thing, his own aggrandizement and that of his empire.

Neither the functions nor the influence of this sacred caste were reserved for peculiar, rare, and extraordinary occasions, but ran through the web of human life. At the break of day they had to chant the divine hymns. This office being performed, then came the daily sacrifice to be offered, not indiscriminately, but to the divinities whose day in each case it was an office, therefore, which none but the initiated could fulfill. As an illustration of the high estimation in which the magi were held, it may be mentioned that it was considered a necessary part of a princely education to have been instructed in the peculiar learning of their sacred order, which was an honor conceded to no other but royal personages, except in very rare and very peculiar instances (Cicero, De Divin. 1:23; Plutarch, Themistocles). This magian learning embraced everything which regarded the higher culture of the nation, being known in history under the designation of "the law of the Medes and Persians." It comprised the knowledge of all the sacred rites, customs, usages, and observances, which related not merely to the worship of the gods, but to the whole private life of every worshipper of Ormuzd the duties which, as such, he had to observe, and the punishments which followed the neglect of these obligations, whence may be learned how necessary the act of the priest on all occasions was. Under the veil of religion the priest had bound himself up with the entire public and domestic life. The judicial office, too, appears to have been, in the time of Cambyses, in the hands of the magi, for from them was chosen the college or bench of royal judges, which makes its appearance in the history of that monarch (Herod. 4:31; 7:194; comp.  Esther 1:13). Men who held these offices, possessed this learning, and exerted this influence with the people, may have proved a check to Oriental despotism no less powerful than constitutional, though they were sometimes unable to guarantee their own lives against the wrath of the monarch (Herod. 7:194; compare  Daniel 2:12); and they appear to have been well versed in those courtly arts by which the hand that bears the sword is won to protect instead of destroying. Thus Cambyses, wishing to marry his sister, inquired of the magi (like Henry VIII) if the laws permitted such a union: "We have," they adroitly answered, "no law to that effect; but a law there is which declares that the king of the Persians may do what he pleases" (Heeren, Ideen, I, 1:451 sq.; Hyde, Rel. Vet. Persarum, ch. 31, p. 372 sq.; Brisson, Princip. Pers. p. 179 sq.).

Among the Greeks and Romans they were known under the name of Chaldseans (Strabo, 16:762; Diog. Laert. Proaem. 1), and also of magi (Diog. Laert. 8:1, 3). They lived scattered over the land in different places (Strabo, 16:739; compare  Daniel 2:14), and had possessions of their own. The temple of Belus was employed by them for astronomical observations, but their astronomy was connected with the worship of the heavenly bodies practiced by the Babylonians (Diod. Sic. 2:31; Ephraem Syrus, Op. 2:488; consult Ideler, in the Transactions Of The Berlin Academy For 1824-25 ), and was specially directed to vain attempts to foretell the future, predict the fate of individuals or of communities, and sway the present, in alliance with augury, incantation, and magic (Aul. Gell. 3:10. 9; 14:1; Am. Marcell. 23:6; p. 352, ed. Bipont; Diod. Sic. 2:29; comp  Isaiah 47:9;  Isaiah 47:13; Daniel 2).

IV. Position Occupied By The Magi In Theperiod Covered By The History Of The O.T. In the Hebrew text the word occurs but twice, and then only incidentally. In  Jeremiah 39:3;  Jeremiah 39:13 we meet, among the Chaldaean officers sent by Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem, one with the name or title of Rab-Mag ( רִבאּמִג ). This word is interpreted, after the analogy of Rab- shakeh and Rab-saris, as equivalent to chief of the magi (Ewald, Propheten, and Ilitzig, ad loc., taking it as the title of Nergal-Sharezer), and we thus find both the name and the order occupying a conspicuous place under the government of the Chaldieaus. It is clear that there were various kinds of wise men, and it is probable that these were classes belonging to one great order, which comprised, under the general name of magi, all who were engaged in the service of religion; so that we find here an ample priesthood, a sacred college, graduated in rank and honor (see Bertholdt, 3 Excurs. zumn Daniel; Gesenius, Comment. on Isaiah 2:351 sq.). The word Rab-Mag (if the received etymology of magi be correct) presents a hybrid formation. The first syllable is unquestionably Shemitic, the last is all but unquestionably Aryan. The problem thus presented admits of two solutions:

(1.) If we believe the Chaldaeans to have been a Hamitic people, closely connected with the Babylonians, (See Chaldaean), we must then suppose that the colossal schemes of greatness which showed themselves in Nebuchadnezzar's conquests led him to gather round him the wise men and religious teachers of the nations which he subdued, and that thus the sacred tribes of the Medes rose under his rule to favor and power. His treatment of those who bore a like character among the Jews ( Daniel 1:4) makes this hypothesis a natural one: and the alliance which existed between the Medes and the Chaldaeans at the time of the overthrow of the old Assyrian empire would account for the intermixture of religious systems belonging to two different races.

(2.) If, on the other hand, with Renan ( Histoire Des Langues Shenitiques, p. 66, 67), following Lassen and Ritter, we look on the Chaldaeans as themselves belonging to the Aryan family, and possessing strong affinities with the Medes, there is even less difficulty in explaining the presence among the one people of the religious teachers of the other. It is likely enough, in either case, that the simpler Median religion which the magi brought with them, corresponding more or less closely to the faith of the Zend-Avesta, lost some measure of its original purity through this contact with the darker superstitions of the old Babylonian population. From this time onward it is noticeable that the names both of the magi and Chaldaeans are identified with the astrology, divination, and interpretation of dreams, which had impressed themselves on the prophets of Israel as the most characteristic features of the old Babel religion ( Isaiah 44:25;  Isaiah 47:13). The magi took their places among "the astrologers, and stargazers, and monthly prognosticators."

It is with such men that we have to think of Daniel and his fellow-exiles as associated. They are described as "ten times wiser than all the magicians (Sept. Μάγους ) and astrologers" ( Daniel 1:20). Daniel himself so far sympathizes with the order into which he is thus, as it were enrolled, as to intercede for them when Nebuchadnezzar gives the order for their death ( Daniel 2:24), and accepts an office which, as making him "master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldaeans, soothsayers" ( Daniel 5:11), was probably identical with that of the Rab-Mag who first came before us. May we conjecture that he found in the belief which the magi had brought with them some elements of the truth that had been revealed to his fathers, and that the way was thus prepared for the strong sympathy which showed itself in a hundred ways when the purest Aryan and the purest Shemitic faiths were brought face to face with each other ( Daniel 6:3;  Daniel 6:16;  Daniel 6:26;  Ezra 1:1-4;  Isaiah 44:28), agreeing as they did in their hatred of idolatry and in their acknowledgment of the "God of Heaven?" The acts which accompanied his appointment serve as illustrations of the high reverence in which the magi were held: "Then the king, Nebuchadnezzar, fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him" ( Isaiah 44:46; see also  Isaiah 44:48). From the 49th verse it would seem not unlikely that the administration of justice in the last resort belonged to this priestly order, as we know it did to the hierarchy of northern and more modern courts. (See M Ü nter, Antiq. Abhandlung. p. 144; Bleek, in Schleiermacher's Theol, Zeitschr. 3:277; Hengstenberg's Daniel, p. 341.)

The name of the magi does not meet us in the Biblical account of the Medo-Persian kings. If, however, we identify the Artaxerxes who stopped the building of the Temple ( Ezra 4:17-22) with the pseudo-Smerdis of Herodotus, (See Artaxerxes), and the Gomates of the Behistun inscription, we may see here also another point of contact. (Compare Sir Henry Rawlinson's translation of the Behistun inscription: The rites which Gomates the magian had introduced I prohibited. I restored to the state the chants, and the worship, and to those families which Gomates the magian had deprived of them" [ Journ. Of Asiatic Soc. vol. 10, and Blakesley's Herodotus, Excurs. on 3:74]). The magian attempt to reassert Median supremacy, and with it probably a corrupted Chaldaized form of Magianism, in place of the purer faith in Ormuzd of which Cyrus had been the propagator, would naturally be accompanied by antagonism to the people whom the Persians had protected and supported. The immediate renewal of the suspended work on the triumph of Darius ( Ezra 4:24;  Ezra 5:1-2;  Ezra 6:7-8) falls in, it need hardly be added, with this hypothesis. The story of the actual massacre of the magi throughout the dominions of Darius, and of the commemorative magophonia (Herod. 3:79), with whatever exaggerations it may be mixed up, indicates in like manner the triumph of the Zoroastrian system. If we accept the traditional date of Zoroaster as a contemporary of Darius, we may see in the changes which he effected a revival of the older system. It is, at any rate, striking that the word magi does not appear in the Zend-Avesta, the priests being there described as atharva (guardians of the fire), and that there are multiplied prohibitions in it of all forms of the magic which, in the West, and possibly in the East also, took its name from them, and with which, it would appear, they had already become tainted. All such arts, auguries, necromancy, and the like, are looked on as evil, and emanating from Ahriman, and are pursued by the hero-king Feridoun with the most persistent hostility (Du Perron, Zend-Avesta, vol. 1, part 2, p. 269, 424).

The name, however, kept its ground, and with it probably the order to which it was attached. Under Xerxes the magi occupy a position which indicates that they had recovered from their temporary depression. They are consulted by him as soothsayers (Herod. 7:19), and are as influential as they had been in the court of Astyages. They prescribe the strange and terrible sacrifices at the Strymon and the Nine Ways (Herod. 7:114). They were said to have urged the destruction of the temples of Greece (Cicero, De Legg. 2:10). Traces of their influence may perhaps be seen in the regard paid by Mardonius to the oracles of the Greek god that offered the nearest analogue to their own Mithras (Herod. 8:134), and in the like reverence which had previously been shown by the Median Datis towards the island of Delos (Herod. 6:97). They come before the Greeks as the representatives of the religion of the Persians. No sacrifices may be offered unless one of their order is present chanting the prescribed prayers, as in the ritual of the Zend-Avesta (Herod. 1:132). No great change is traceable in their position during the decline of the Persian monarchy. The position of Juidaoea as a Persian province must have kept up some measure of contact between the two religious systems. The histories of Esther and Nehemiah point to the influence which might be exercised by members of the subject-race. It might well be that the religious minds of the two nations would learn to respect each other, and that some measure of the prophetic hopes of Israel might mingle with the belief of the magi. As an order they perpetuated themselves under the Parthian kings. The name rose to fresh honor under the Sassanidae. The classification which was ascribed to Zoroaster was recognized as the basis of a hierarchical system, after other and lower elements had mingled with the earlier dualism, and might be traced even in the religion and worship of the Parsees.

V. Transition-Stages In The History Of The Word And Of The Order Between The Close Of The O.T. And The Time Of The N.T. In the mean while the title magi was acquiring a new and wider signification. It presented itself to the Greeks as connected with a foreign system of divination, and the religion of a foe whom they had conquered, and it soon became a by-word for the worst form of imposture. The rapid growth of this feeling is traceable perhaps in the meanings attached to the word by the two great tragedians. In AEschylus (Persae, 291) it retains its old significance as denoting simply a tribe. In Sophocles (Ed. Tyr. 387) it appears among the epithets of reproach which the king heaps upon Tiresias. The fact, however, that the religion with which the word was associated still maintained its ground as the faith of a great nation, kept it from falling into utter disrepute, and it is interesting to notice how at one time the good and at another the bad side of the word is uppermost. Thus the Μαγεία of Zoroaster is spoken of with respect by Plato as a Θεῶν Θεραπεία , forming the groundwork of an education which he praises as far better than that of the Athenians ( Alcib. 1:122 a). Xenophon, in like manner, idealizes the character and functions of the order (Cyrop. 4:5, 16; 6, 6). Both meanings appear in the later lexicographers. The word magos is equivalent to Ἀπατέων Καὶ Φαρμακευτής , but it is also used for the Θεοσεβὴς Καὶ Θεόλογος Καὶ Ἱερεύς (Hesych.). The magi, as an order, are Οἱ Παρὰ Περσαῖς Φιλόσοφοι Καὶ Φιλόφεοι (Suidas). The word thus passed into the hands of the Sept., and from them into those of the writers of the N.T., oscillating between the two meanings, capable of being used in either. The relations which had existed between the Jews and Persians would perhaps tend to give a prominence to the more favorable associations in their use of it. In Daniel ( Daniel 1:20;  Daniel 2:2;  Daniel 2:10;  Daniel 2:27;  Daniel 5:11) it is used, as has been noticed, for the priestly diviners with whom the prophet was associated. Philo, in like manner (Quod omnis probus liber, p. 792), mentions the magi with warm praise, as men who gave themselves to the study of nature and the contemplation of the divine perfections, worthy of being the counselors of kings. It was perhaps natural that this aspect of the word should commend itself to the theosophic Jew of Alexandria. There were, however, other influences at work tending to drag it down. The swarms of impostors that were to be met with in every part of the Roman empire, known as "Chaldaei," "Mathematici," and the like, bore this name also. Their arts were "artes magicse." Though philosophers and men of letters might recognize the better meaning of which the word was capable (Cicero, De Divin. 1:23, 41), yet in the language of public documents and of historians they were treated as a class at once hateful and contemptible (Tacitus, Ann. 1:32; 2:27; 12:22, 59), and, as such, were the victims of repeated edicts of banishment. See Lenormant, Chaldaean Magic (Lond. 1877).

VI. The Magi As They Appear In The N.T. We need not wonder, accordingly, to find that this is the predominant meaning of the word as it appears in the N.T. The noun, and the verb derived from it ( Μαγεία and Μαγεύω ) , are used by Luke in describing the impostor, who is therefore known distinctively as Simon Magus ( Acts 8:9). Another of the same class (Bar-jesus) is described ( Acts 13:8) as having, in his cognomen Elymas, a title which was equivalent to Magus. (See Elymas).

In one memorable instance, however, the word retains (probably, at least) its better meaning. In the Gospel of Matthew, written (according to the general belief of early Christian writers) for the Hebrew Christians of Palestine, we find it, not as embodying the contempt which the frauds of impostors had brought upon it through the whole Roman empire, but in the sense which it had had of old, as associated with a religion which they respected, and an order of which one of their own prophets had been the head. In spite of patristic authorities on the other side, asserting that the Μάγοι Ἀπὸ Ἀνατολῶν of  Matthew 2:1 were sorcerers whose mysterious knowledge came from below, not from above, and who were thus translated out of darkness into light (Justin Martyr, Chrysostom. Theophylact, in Spanheim, Dub. Evang. 19; Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in Matthew 2), we are justified, not less by the Consensus of later interpreters (including even Maldonatus) than by the general tenor of Matthew's narrative, in seeing in them men such as those that were in the minds of the Sept. translators of Daniel, and those described by Philo at once astronomers and astrologers, but not mingling any conscious fraud with their efforts after a higher knowledge. The vagueness of the description leaves their country undefined, and implies that probably the evangelist himself had no certain information. The same phrase is used as in passages where the express object is to include a wide range of country (compare Ἀπὸ Ἀνατολῶν ,  Matthew 8:11;  Matthew 24:27;  Luke 13:29). Probably the region chiefly present to the mind of the Palestinian Jew would be the tract of country stretching eastward from the Jordan to the Euphrates, the land of "the children of the East" in the early period of the history of the O.T. ( Genesis 29:1;  Judges 6:3;  Judges 7:12;  Judges 8:10). It should be remembered, however, that the language of the O.T., and therefore probably that of Matthew, included under this name countries that lay considerably to the north as well as to the east of Palestine. Balaam came from "the mountains of the East," i.e. from Pethor, on the Euphrates ( Numbers 23:7;  Numbers 22:5). Abraham, (or Cyrus?) is the righteous man raised up "from the East" ( Isaiah 41:2). The Persian conqueror is called "from the East, from a far country" ( Isaiah 46:11).

We cannot wonder that there should have been very varying interpretations given of words that allowed so wide a field for conjecture. Some of these are, for various reasons, worth noticing.

(1) The feeling of some early writers that the coming of the wise men was the fulfillment of the prophecy which spoke of the gifts of the men of Sheba and Seba ( Psalms 72:10;  Psalms 72:15; compare  Isaiah 60:6) led them to fix on Arabia as the country of the magi (Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Epiphanius, Cyprian, in Spanheim, Dub. Evang. 1. c.), and they have been followed by Baronius, Maldonatus, Grotius, and Lightfoot.

(2) Others have conjectured Mesopotamia as the great seat of Chaldaean astrology (Origen, Hom. In Matthew 6, 7 ), or Egypt as the country in which magic was most prevalent (Meyer, ad loc.).

(3) The historical associations of the word led others again, with greater probability, to fix on Persia, and to see in these magi members of the priestly order, to which the name of right belonged (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Calvin, Olshausen), while Hyde (Rel. Pers. l. c.) suggests Parthia, as being at that time the conspicuous Eastern monarchy in which the magi were recognized and honored.

It is, perhaps, a legitimate inference from the narrative of Matthew 2 that in these magi we may recognize, as the Church has done from a very early period, the first Gentile worshippers of the Christ. The name, by itself, indeed, applied as it is in  Acts 13:8 to a Jewish false prophet, would hardly prove this; but the distinctive epithet "from the East" was probably intended to mark them out as different in character and race from the Western magi, Jews, and others, who swarmed over the Roman empire. So, when they come to Jerusalem, it is to ask, not after "our king" or "the king of Israel," but, as the men of another race might do, after "the king of the Jews." The language of the O.T. prophets and the traditional interpretation of it are apparently new things to them. The narrative of Matthew 2 supplies us with an outline which we may legitimately endeavor to fill up, as far as our knowledge enables us, with inference and illustration. Some time after the birth of Jesus there appeared among the strangers who visited Jerusalem these men from the far East. They were not idolaters. Their form of worship was looked upon by the Jews with greater tolerance and sympathy than that of any other Gentiles (compare Wisdom of Solomon 13:6, 7).

Whatever may have been their country, their statement indicates that they were watchers of the stars, seeking to read in them the destinies of nations. They said that they had seen a star in which they recognized such a prognostic. They were sure that one was born king of the Jews, and they came to pay their homage. It may have been simply that the quarter of the heavens in which the star appeared indicated the direction of Judaea. It may have been that some form of the prophecy of Balaam, that a "star should rise out of Jacob" ( Numbers 24:17), had reached them, either through the Jews of the Dispersion, or through traditions running parallel with the O.T., and that this led them to recognize its fulfillment (Origen, C. Cels. 1; Hon. in Numbers 13 ; but the hypothesis is neither necessary nor satisfactory; comp. Ellicott, Hulsean Lectures, p. 77). It may have been, lastly, that the traditional predictions ascribed to their own prophet Zoroaster, leading them to expect a succession of three deliverers, two working as prophets to reform the world and raise up a kingdom (Tavernier, Travels, 4:8), the third (Zosiosh), the greatest of the three, coming to be the head of the kingdom, to conquer Ahriman and to raise the dead (Du Perron, Zend A v. 1:2, p. 46; Hyde, c. 31; Ellicott, Hulsean Lect. 1. c.), and in strange fantastic ways connecting these redeemers with the seed of Abraham (Tavernier, 1. c.; and D'Herbelot, Biblioth. Orient. s.v. Zerdascht), had roused their minds to an attitude of expectancy, and that their contact with a people cherishing like hopes on stronger grounds may have prepared them to see in a king of the Jews the Oshanderbegha ("Homo Mundi," Hyde, 1. c.) or the Zosiosh whom they expected. In any case they shared the "vetus et constans opinio" which had spread itself over the whole East, that the Jews, as a people, crushed and broken as they were, were yet destined once again to give a ruler to the nations. It is not unlikely that they appeared, occupying the position of Destur-Mobeds in the later Zoroastrian hierarchy, as the representatives of many others who shared the same feeling. They came, at any rate, to pay their homage to the king whose birth was thus indicated, and with the gold, and frankincense, and myrrh which were the customary gifts of subject nations (comp.  Genesis 43:11;  Psalms 72:15;  1 Kings 10:2;  1 Kings 10:10;  2 Chronicles 9:24;  Song of Solomon 3:6;  Song of Solomon 4:14). The arrival of such a company, bound on so strange an errand, in the last years of the tyrannous and distrustful Herod, could hardly fail to attract notice and excite a people among whom Messianic expectations had already begun to show themselves ( Luke 2:25;  Luke 2:38). "Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." The Sanhedrim was convened, and the question where the Messiah was to be born was formally placed before them. It was in accordance with the subtle, fox-like character of the king that he should pretend to share the expectations of the people in order that he might find in what direction they pointed, and then take whatever steps were necessary to crush them. (See Herod).

The answer given, based upon the traditional interpretation of  Micah 5:2, that Bethlehem was to be the birthplace of the Christ, determined the king's plans. He had found out the locality. It remained to determine the time: with what was probably a real belief in astrology, he inquired of them diligently when they had first seen the star. If he assumed that that was contemporaneous with the birth, he could not be far wrong. The magi accordingly were sent on to Bethlehem, as if they were but the forerunners of the king's own homage. As they journeyed they again saw the star. which for a time, it would seem, they had lost sight of, and it guided them on their way. ( (See Star In The East) for this and all other questions connected with its appearance.) The pressure of the crowds, which a fortnight, or four months, or well-nigh two years before, had driven Mary and Joseph to the rude stable of the caravanserai of Bethlehem, had apparently abated, and the magi, entering "the house" ( Matthew 2:11), fell down and paid their homage and offered their gifts. Once more they received guidance through the channel which their work and their studies had made familiar to them. From first to last, in Media, in Babylon, in Persia, the magi had been famous as the interpreters of dreams. That which they received now need not have involved a disclosure of the plans of Herod to them. It was enough that it directed them to "return to their own country another way." With this their history, so far as the N.T. carries us, comes to an end.

It need hardly be said that this part of the Gospel narrative has had to bear the brunt of the attacks of a hostile criticism. The omission of all mention of the magi in a Gospel which enters so fully into all the circumstances of the infancy of Christ as that of Luke, and the difficulty of harmonizing this incident with those which he narrates, have been urged as at least throwing suspicion on what Matthew alone has recorded. The advocate of the "mythical theory" sees in this almost the strongest confirmation of it (Strauss, Leben Jesu, 1:272). "There must be prodigies gathering round the cradle of the infant Christ. Other heroes and kings had had their stars, and so must he. He must receive in his childhood the homage of the representatives of other races and creeds. The facts recorded lie outside the range of history, and are not mentioned by any contemporary historian." The answers to these objections may be briefly stated.

(1) Assuming the central fact of the early chapters of Matthew, no objection lies against any of its accessories on the ground of their being wonderful and improbable. It would be in harmony with our expectations that there should be signs and wonders indicating its presence. The objection therefore postulates the absolute incredulity of that fact, and begs the point at issue (compare Trench, Star of the Wise Men, p. 124).

(2) The question whether this, or any other given narrative connected with the nativity of Christ, bears upon it the stamp of a Mythus, is therefore one to be determined by its own merits, on its own evidence; and then the case stands thus: A mythical story is characterized for the most part by a large admixture of what is wild, poetical, fantastic. A comparison of Matthew 2 with the Jewish or Mohammedan legends of a later time, or even with the Christian mythology which afterwards gathered round this very chapter, will show how wide is the distance that separates its simple narrative, without ornament, without exaggeration, from the overflowing luxuriance of those figments (comp. § VII, below).

(3) The absence of any direct confirmatory evidence in other writers of the time may be accounted for, partly at least, by the want of any full chronicle of the events of the later years of Herod. The momentary excitement of the arrival of such travelers as the magi, or of the slaughter of some score of children in a small Jewish town, would easily be effaced by the more agitating events that followed. The silence of Josephus is not more conclusive against this fact than it is (assuming the spuriousness of Ant. 18:4, 3) against the fact of the crucifixion and the growth of the sect of the Nazarenes within the walls of Jerusalem.

(4) The more perplexing absence of all mention of the magi in Luke's Gospel may yet receive some probable explanation. So far as we cannot explain it, our ignorance of all, or nearly all, the circumstances of the composition of the Gospels is a sufficient answer. It is, however, at least possible that Luke, knowing that the facts related by Matthew were already current among the churches, sought rather to add what was not yet recorded. Something, too, may have been due to the leading thoughts of the two (Gospels. Matthew, dwelling chiefly on the kingly office of Christ as the Son of David, seizes naturally on the first recognition of that character by the magi of the East (comp. on the fitness of this, Mill, Pantheistic Principles, p. 375). Luke, portraying the Son of Man in his sympathy with common men, in his compassion on the poor and humble, dwells as naturally on the manifestation to the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem. It may be added further that everything tends to show that the latter evangelist derived the materials for this part of his history much more directly from the mother of the Lord, or her kindred, than did the former; and, if so, it is not difficult to understand how she might come to dwell on that which connected itself at once with the eternal blessedness of peace, good will, salvation, rather than on the homage and offerings of strangers, which seemed to be the presage of an earthly kingdom, and had proved to be the prelude to a life of poverty, and to the death upon the cross.

VII. Later Traditions Which Have Gathered Round The Magii Of Matthew 2 : In this instance, as in others, what is told by the Gospel writers in plain, simple words has become the nucleus for a whole cycle of legends. A Christian mythology has overshadowed that which itself had nothing in common with it. The love of the strange and marvelous, the eager desire to fill up in detail a narrative which had been left in outline, and to make every detail the representative of an idea these, which tend everywhere to the growth of the mythical element within the region of history, fixed themselves, naturally enough, precisely on those portions of the life of Christ where the written records were the least complete. The stages of this development present themselves in regular succession.

(1) The magi are no longer thought of as simply "wise men," members of a sacred order. The prophecies of Psalms 72;  Isaiah 49:7;  Isaiah 49:23;  Isaiah 60:16, must be fulfilled in them, and they become princes ("reguli," Tertull. c.  Judges 1:9; C. Marc. 5). This tends more and more to be the dominant thought. When the arrival of the magi, rather than the birth or the baptism of Christ, as the first of his mighty works, comes to be looked on as the great epiphany of his divine power, the older title of the feast receives as a synonym, almost as a substitute, that of the Feast of the Three Kings.

(2) The number of the wise men, which Matthew leaves altogether undefined, was arbitrarily fixed. They were Three (Leo Magn. Serm. Ad Epiph. ) , because thus they became a symbol of the mysterious trinity (Hilary of Aries), or because then the number corresponded to the threefold gifts, or to the three parts of the earth, or the three great divisions of the human race descended from the sons of Noah (Bede, De Collect.).

(3) Symbolic meanings were found for each of the three gifts. The gold they offered as to a king. With the myrrh they prefigured the bitterness of the passion, the embalment for the burial. With the frankincense they adored the divinity of the Son of God (Suicer, Thes. s.v. Μάγοι ; Brev. Romans In Epiph. passim).

(4) Later on, in a tradition which, though appearing in a Western writer, is traceable probably to reports brought back by pilgrims from Italy or the East, the names are added, and Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar take their place among the objects of Christian reverence. and are honored as the patron saints of travelers. The passage from Bede ( De Collect. ) is in many ways interesting, and as it is not commonly quoted by commentators, though often referred to, it may be worth while to give it: "Primus dicitur fuisse Melchior, qui senex et canus, barba prolixa et capillis, aurum obtulit regi Domino. Secundus, nomine Gaspar, juvenis imberbis, rubicundus, thure, quasi Deo oblatione dignla, Deum honoravit. Tertius fiuscus, integre barbatus, Baltassar nomine, per myrrham filium hominis moriturulm professus." The treatise De Collectaneis is, in fact, a miscellaneous collection of memoranda in the form of question and answer. The desire to find names for those who have none given them is very noticeable in other instances as well as in that of the magi; e.g. it gives those of the penitent and impenitent thief. The passage quoted above is followed by a description of their dress, taken obviously either from some early painting, or from the decorations of a miracle-play (comp. the account of such a performance in Trench, Star of the Wise Men, p. 70). The account of the offerings, it will be noticed, does not agree with the traditional hexameter of the Latin Church: "Gaspar fert myrrham, thus Melchior, Balthasar aurum." We recognize at once in the above description the received types of the early pictorial art of Western Europe. It is open to believe that both the description and the art-types may be traced to early quasi-dramatic representations of the facts of the nativity. In any such representations names of some kind would become a matter of necessity, and were probably invented at random. Familiar as the names given by Bede now are to us, there was a time when they had no more authority than Bithisarca, Melchior, and Gathaspar (Moroni, Dizionar. s.v. Magi); Magalath, Pangalath, Saracen; Appellius, Amerius, and Damascus, and a score of others (Spanheim, Dub. Evang. 2:288).

In the Eastern Church, where, it would seem, there was less desire to find symbolic meanings than to magnify the circumstances of the history, the traditions assume a different character. The magi arrive at Jerusalem with a retinue of 1000 men, having left behind them, on the further bank of the Euphrates, an army of 7000 (Jacob. Edess. and Bar-hebreus, in Hyde, l. c.). They have been led to undertake the journey, not by the star only, or by expectations which they shared with the Israelites, but by a prophecy of the founder of their own faith. Zoroaster had predicted that in the latter days there should be a mighty One and a Redeemer, and that his descendants should see the star which should be the herald of his coming. According to another legend (Opus inmperf. in Matthew ii apud Chrysost. t. 6, ed. Montfaucon) they came from the remotest East, near the borders of the ocean. They had been taught to expect the star by a writing that bore the name of Seth. That expectation was handed down from father to son. Twelve of the holiest of them were appointed to be ever on the watch. Their post of observation was a rock known as the Mount of Victory. Night by night they washed in pure water, and prayed, and looked out on the heavens. At last the star appeared, and in it the form of a young child bearing a cross. A voice came from it and bade them proceed to Judaea. They started on their two years' journey, and during all that time the meat and the drink with which they started never failed them. The gifts they bring are those which Abraham gave to their progenitors the sons of Keturah (this, of course, on the hypothesis that they were Arabians), which the queen of Sheba had in her turn presented to Solomon, and which had found their way back again to the children of the East (Epiphan. in Comp. Doctr. in Moroni, Dizion. 1. c.). They return from Bethlehem to their own country, and give themselves up to a life of contemplation and prayer. When the twelve apostles leave Jerusalem to carry on their work as preachers, St. Thomas finds them in Parthia. They offer themselves for baptism, and become evangelists of the new faith (Opus impsers: in  Matthew 2:1. c.).

The pilgrim-feeling of the 4th century includes them also within its range. Among other relics supplied to meet the demands of the market which the devotion of Helena had created, the bodies of the magi are discovered somewhere in the East, are brought to Constantinople, and placed in the great church which, as the Mosque of St. Sophia, still bears in its name the witness of its original dedication to the divine Wisdom. The favor with which the people of Milan had received the emperor's prefect Eustorgius called for some special mark of favor, and on his consecration as bishop of that city he obtained for it the privilege of being the resting-place of the precious relics. There the fame of the three kings increased. The prominence given to all the feasts connected with the season of the Nativity the transfer to that season of the mirth and joy of the old Saturnalia the setting apart of a distinct day for the commemoration of the Epiphany in the 4th century all this added to the veneration with which they were regarded. When Milan fell into the hands of Frederick Barbarossa (A.D. 1162), the influence of the archbishop of Cologne prevailed on the emperor to transfer them to that city. The Milanese, at a later period, consoled themselves by forming a special confraternity for perpetuating their veneration for the magi by the annual performance of a "Mystery" (Moroni. 1. c.); but the glory of possessing the relics of the first Gentile worshippers of Christ remained with Cologne. (For the later medieval developments of the traditions, comp. Joan. von Hildesheim, in Quart. Rev. 78. 433.) In that proud cathedral which is the glory of Teutonic art the shrine of the Three Kings has for six centuries been shown as the greatest of its many treasures. The t

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [12]

The Magi were originally one of the six tribes into which the nation of the Medes was divided, who, like the Levites under the Mosaic institutions, were entrusted with the care of religion: an office which was held in the highest honor, gave the greatest influence, and which they probably acquired for themselves only after a long time, as well as many worthy efforts to serve their country, and when they had proved themselves superior to the rest of their brethren. As among other ancient nations, as the Egyptians, and Hebrews, for instance, so among the Medes, the priestly caste had not only religion, but the arts and all the higher culture, in their charge. Their name points immediately to their sacerdotal character (from Mag or Mog, which denotes 'priest'), either because religion was the chief object of their attention, or more probably because, at the first, religion and art were so allied as to be scarcely more than different expressions of the same idea.

Little in detail is known of the Magi during the independent existence of the Median government; they appear in their greatest glory after the Medes were united with the Persians. This doubtless is owing to the general imperfection of the historical materials which relate to the earlier periods. So great, however, was the influence which the Magi attained under the united empire, that the Medes were not ill compensated for their loss of national independence. Under the Medo-Persian sway the Magi formed a sacred caste or college, which was very famous in the ancient world for the practice of divination, astrology, and magic. According to Strabo the Magi practiced different sorts of divination—1. by evoking the dead; 2. by cups or dishes (Joseph's divining cup, ); 3. by means of water. By the employment of these means the Magi affected to disclose the future, to influence the present, and to call the past to their aid. Even the visions of the night they were accustomed to interpret, not empirically, but according to such established and systematic rules as a learned priesthood might be expected to employ. The success, however, of their efforts over the invisible world, as well as the holy office which they exercised, demanded in themselves peculiar cleanliness of body, a due regard to which and to the general principles of their caste would naturally be followed by professional prosperity, which in its turn conspired with prevailing superstition to give the Magi great social consideration, and make them of high importance before kings and princes—an influence which they appear to have sometimes abused, when, descending from the peculiar duties of their high office, they took part in the strife and competitions of politics, and found themselves sufficiently powerful even to overturn thrones.

Abuses bring reform; and the Magian religion, which had lost much of its original character, and been debased by some of the lowest elements of earthly passions, loudly called for a renovation, when Zoroaster appeared to bring about the needful change. As to the time of his appearance, and in general the particulars of his history, differences of opinion prevail, after all the critical labor that has been expended on the subject. Winer says he lived in the second half of the seventh century before Christ. He was not the founder of a new system, but the renovator of an old and corrupt one, being, as he himself intimates, the restorer of the word which Ormuzd had formerly revealed, but which the influence of Dews had degraded into a false and deceptive magic. To destroy this, and restore the pure law of Ormuzd, was Zoroaster's mission. After much and long-continued opposition on the part of the adherents and defenders of existing corruptions, he succeeded in his virtuous purposes, and caused his system eventually to prevail. The Magi, as a caste, did not escape from his reforming hand. He appears to have remodeled their institute, dividing it into three great classes:— 1, learners; 2, masters: 3, perfect scholars. The Magi alone he allowed to perform the religious rites; they possessed the forms of prayer and worship; they knew the ceremonies which availed to conciliate Ormuzd, and were obligatory in the public offerings. They accordingly became the sole medium of communication between the Deity and his creatures, and through them alone Ormuzd made his will known; none but they could see into the future, and they disclosed their knowledge to those only who were so fortunate as to conciliate their good will. Hence the power which the Magian priesthood possessed. The general belief in the trustworthiness of their predictions, especially when founded on astrological calculations, the all but universal custom of consulting the will of the divinity before entering on any important undertaking, and the blind faith which was reposed in all that the Magi did, reported, or commanded, combined to create for that sacerdotal caste a power, both in public and in private concerns, which has probably never been exceeded. Neither the functions nor the influence of this sacred caste were reserved for peculiar rare, and extraordinary occasions, but ran through the web of human life. At the break of day they had to chant the divine hymns. This office being performed, then came the daily sacrifice to be offered, not indiscriminately, but to the divinities whose day in each case it was—an office therefore which none but the initiated could fulfill. As an illustration of the high estimation in which the Magi were held, it may be mentioned that it was considered a necessary part of a princely education to have been instructed in the peculiar learning of their sacred order, which was an honor conceded to no other but royal personages, except in very rare and very peculiar instances. This Magian learning embraced everything which regarded the higher culture of the nation, being known in history under the designation of the law of the Medes and Persians. It comprised the knowledge of all the sacred rites, customs, usages, and observances, which related not merely to the worship of the gods, but to the whole private life of every worshipper of Ormuzd—the duties which, as such, he had to observe, and the punishments which followed the neglect of these obligations; whence may be learned how necessary the act of the priest on all occasions was. Under the veil of religion the priest had bound himself up with the entire of public and domestic life. The judicial office, too, appears to have been, in the time of Cambyses, in the hands of the Magi, for from them was chosen the college or bench of royal judges, which makes its appearance in the history of that monarch. Men who held these offices, possessed this learning, and exerted this influence with the people, may have proved a check to Oriental despotism, no less powerful than constitutional, though they were sometimes unable to guarantee their own lives against the wrath of the monarch.

If we turn to the books of Scripture we find the import of what has been said confirmed, especially in the book of Daniel, where the great influence of the Magi is well illustrated.

The Magi were not confined to the Medes and Persians. Since they are mentioned by Herodotus as one of the original tribes of the Medes, they may have been primitively a Median priesthood. If so they extended themselves into other lands. Possibly Magi may have been at first not the name of a particular tribe or priestly caste, but a general designation for priests or learned men; as Pharaoh denoted not an individual, but generally king or ruler. However this may be, the Chaldeans also had an organized order of Magi, a caste of sacerdotal scholars, which bore the name of 'wise men' 'the wise men of Babylon' , among whom Daniel is classed . Among the Greeks and Romans they were known under the name of Chaldeans, and also of Magi. They lived scattered over the land in different places , and had possessions of their own. The temple of Belus was employed by them for astronomical observations, but their astronomy was connected with the worship of the heavenly bodies practiced by the Babylonians, and was specially directed to vain attempts to foretell the future, predict the fate of individuals or of communities, and sway the present, in alliance with augury, incantation, and magic (;; Daniel 2).

It is easy to understand how the lofty science (so called) of these Magi—lofty while its scholars surpassed the rest of the world in knowledge, and were the associates, the advisers, the friends, and the monitors of great and flourishing monarchs, of indeed successively the rulers of the world—might, could indeed hardly fail, as resting on no basis of fact or reality, in process of time, to sink into its own native insignificance, and become either a mere bugbear to frighten the ignorant, or an instrument to aid the fraudulent: thus hastening on to the contempt into which all falsities are sure sooner or later to fall. The decline was indeed gradual; ages passed before it was completed; but as soon as it ceased to have the support afforded by the mighty and splendid thrones of Asia, it began to lose its authority, which the progress of knowledge and the advent of Christ prevented it from ever regaining. The estimation, however, in which Simon Magus was evidently held, as recorded in the Acts ('some great one,' etc.), gives reason to think that Magianism still retained a large share of its influence at the commencement of our era. It seems, indeed, to have held a sort of middle position, half way; between its ancient splendor and its coming degradation: whence we may understand the propriety of the visit paid by the Magi to the newborn King of the Jews (Matthew 2, 'star in the East'). For if the system had been then sunk so low as to correspond in any degree with our conception of these pretended arts, it is difficult to assign, at least to the unbeliever, a sufficient reason why the visit was made, or at any rate why it was recorded; but its credibility is materially furthered if the circumstances of the case are such as to allow us to regard that visit as a homage paid by the representatives of the highest existing influences to the rising star of a new day, in the fuller light of which they were speedily to vanish.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [13]

A priestly caste in the East, constituting the "learned" class, as the Druids in the West: the custodiers of religion and the rites connected therewith, and who gave themselves up to the study of sciences of a recondite character, but with a human interest, such as astrology and magic, and who were held in great reverence by, and exercised a great influence over, the people.