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Reference: Magi


("magicians".) Called "wise men"' Mt 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" (Jer 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 (Da 1:3-4,20).

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 (Da 5:11; 6:3,16,26; Ezr 1:1-4; Isa 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 (Ezr 4:24; 5:1-2; 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 Mt 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 (Nu 23:7; 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 (Da 2:44; 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 (Ps 72:15; 10/2'>1Ki 10:2,10; 2Ch 9:24; Song 3:6; 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" (Mt 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 (2Pe 1:19). Herod discovered the foretold birthplace of Messiah from the scribes' quotation of Micah (Mic 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; Ps 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 (Ac 8:9-10); also Elymas the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet who with. stood Paul and Barnabas at Paphos (Ac 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 (Ac 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: Ex 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 (Ex 8:7,18-19). At last the plague of boils broke out upon the magicians themselves (Ex 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" (Nu 23:3; 24:1). The Teraphim were consulted for divining purposes (Jg 18:5-6; Zec 10:2). (See TERAPHIM.) There is extant the Egyptian Ritual of amulets and incantations.

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The plural of magus, which occurs in Ac 13:8 (tr 'sorcerer'

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This is the Greek word in Mt 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 (Nu 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.

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(Authorized Version wise men).

1. In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament the word occurs but twice, and then only incidentally.

Jer 29:3,13

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. Afterward 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

Da 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.

Ac 8:9; 13:8

3. In one memorable instance, however, the word retains its better meaning. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, ch.

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

See Star of the wise men

See East

(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. Isai 9, 11; Dani 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. --ED.) 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.

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MAGI, or MAGIANS, a title which the ancient Persians gave to their wise men, or philosophers. Magi, among the Persians, answers to ?????, or ?????????, 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 ?? ????????, 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 ??????, 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

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