Easton's Bible Dictionary
Mentioned in Daniel
2:12 included three classes,
(2) Chaldeans, and
The word in the original (hakamim) probably means "medicine men. In Chaldea medicine
was only a branch of magic. The "wise men" of Matthew
2:7 , who came from the East to Jerusalem, were magi from Persia or Arabia.
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
In addition to the uses of "wise" specified in the article WISDOM, the adjective
is employed occasionally as the technical description of men who are adepts in
magic, divination, etc. (e.g. in Genesis
41:8 ; Exodus
7:11 ; Esther
1:13 ; Daniel
2:27 ; 5:15).
Naturally, however, in the ancient world the boundary between genuine knowledge
and astrology, etc., was exceedingly vague, and it was never denied that real
knowledge could be gained along lines that we know to be futile. So the initiation
of Moses into all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts
7:22) or of Daniel into all the learning of the Chaldeans (Daniel
1:4) met with no disapproval. These great men could be trusted to avoid the
moral and religious pitfalls of such pursuits. For the ordinary Israelites, however
the uncompromising prohibition of idolatry closed the door definitely to all studies
of this kind. See ASTROLOGY; DIVINATION,
etc. And for the Wise-men of Matthew 2 see MAGI.
Burton Scott Easton
bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, define, hakamim, history of, magi, wise men, wisemen