Easton's Bible Dictionary
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(Authorized Version wise men)
In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament the word occurs but twice, and then only
incidentally. ( Jeremiah
39:3 , 39:13
) "Originally they were a class of priests among the Persians and Medes who formed
the kings 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." --Schaffs 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 Nebuchadnezzars
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.
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 ; 13:8
In one memorable instance, however, the word retains its better meaning. In the
Gospel of St. Matthew, ch. ( 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 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 , 11
(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.
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.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ma'-ji, (Magoi (Matthew
2:1 , 7
, "Wise-men," the Revised Version (British and American) and the King James Version,
"Magi" the Revised Version margin)):
1. Originally a Median Tribe:
Were originally a Median tribe (Herodotus i.101); and in Darius' Inscriptions
Magush means only a member of that tribe. It was one of them, Bardiya, who pretended
to be Smerdis and raised the rebellion against Cambyses. Rabh Magh in Jeremiah
39:3 does not mean "Chief Magus," but is in Assyrian Rab mugi (apparently
"commander"; compare tab mugi sa narkabti, "commander of chariots"), having no
connection with "Magus" (unless perhaps Magians were employed as charioteers,
Media being famous for its Nisean steeds). The investment of the Magi with priestly
functions, possibly under Cyrus (Xen. Cyrop. viii), but probably much later, was
perhaps due to the fact that Zoroaster (Zarathustra) belonged, it is said, to
that tribe. They guarded the sacred fire, recited hymns at dawn and offered sacrifices
of haoma-juice, etc. Herodotus i.132) says they also buried the dead (perhaps
temporary burial is meant as in Vendidad, Farg. viii). They were granted extensive
estates in Media for their maintenance, and the athravans and other priests mentioned
in the Avesta may have been of their number, though only once does the word "Magus"
occur in the book (in the compound Moghu-thbish, "Magus-hater," Yasna, lxv.7,
Geldner's edition). The Magi even in Herodotus' time had gained a reputation for
"magic" articles (compare Acts
13:6 , 8).
They also studied astrology and astronomy (rationes mundani motus et siderum (Amm.
Marc., xxiii.6, 32)), partly learned from Babylon.
2. The Magi at Bethlehem:
These latter studies explain why a star was used to lead them to Christ at Bethlehem,
when our Lord was less than two years old (Matthew
2:16). No reliable tradition deals with the country whence these particular
magi came. Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Epiphanius fancied that they came from
Arabia, founding their opinion on the fact that "gold, frankincense and myrrh"
abounded in Yemen. But the text says they came not from the South but from the
East. Origen held that they came from Chaldea, which is possible. But Clement
of Alexandria, Diodorus of Tarsus, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Juvencus,
Prudentius and others are probably right in bringing them from Persia. Sargon's
settlement of Israelites in Media (circa 730-728 BC (2
Kings 17:6)) accounts for the large Hebrew element of thought which Darmesteter
recognizes in the Avesta (SBE, IV, Intro, chapter vi). Median astronomers would
thus know Balaam's prophecy of the star out of Jacob (Numbers
24:17). That the Jews expected a star as a sign of the birth of the Messiah
is clear from the tractate Zohar of the Gemara and also from the title "Son of
the Star" (Bar Kokhebha) given to a pseudo-Messiah (130-35 AD). Tacitus (Hist.
v.13) and Suetonius (Vesp. iv) tell us how widespread in the East at the time
of Christ's coming was the expectation that "at that time men starting from Judea
would make themselves masters of things" (compare Virgil, Ecl. iv). All this would
naturally prepare the Magi to follow the star when it appeared.
See also ASTROLOGY; ASTRONOMY; DIVINATION;
Herodotus; Xenophon; Amm. Marcellinus; Strabo; Spiegel, Altpersische
Keilinschriften; Geldner, Avesta; Muss-Arnolt, Assyrian Dict.; BDB; RE.
W. St. Clair Tisdall
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, gifts of the magi, magi, priests, wise men, wisemen