Who were the Magi?

Herod does not treat them as kings, neither does Matthew, nor James mention that they were kings. The tradition that the Magi were kings dates from the 6th century and is another piece of evidence of the early church’s political expediency. They taught that Jesus was the king of kings and it became necessary to show that he had been treated as royalty to reinforce this point. The Magi were thus converted into kings because a royal child should be visited by royalty to demonstrate his importance.

Most experts are convinced that the Magi were priests and/or astrologers. In fact, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible offers "Wise Men" as the word to describe of the Magi, with the translation "Astrologers" given as an alternative. Certainly, the Magi were watchers of the sky and astrologers (the difference between astrology and astronomy was not to be defined for many centuries) and would have understood the meaning of the Star in terms of their knowledge of astrology.

We believe that the Magi were probably Persian in origin, having been convinced by the strong circumstantial evidence that points to them. Read the article on "Where did the Magi come from?" to go through the evidence. Unfortunately, there is no poof at all for Persian astronomy, nor really for Persian science – unlike the Babylonians, if the Persians were astronomers, they have left no surviving observations.

The conclusion is then that the visiting Magi were probably Jewish astrologers who were the descendants of the original slaves captured by the Persians in the sack of Babylon and who were thus interested in the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies made as early as the 8th Century BC.


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