“Wisdom of Magi” by William Klein

Little is known about the three “Magi” who pay the “Holy Family” a visit in scripture.  They are an integral part of the story in Matthew’s account and tell the story of encountering Herod on their journey following a star from the East to find the baby.

In Bethlehem there are graves that date back to around the time of Jesus.  One grave holds the body of the Catholic saint St. Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin.  Buried nearby are graves of babies and children.  Some historians have stated that this is factual evidence that the “slaughter of innocents” recorded in Matthew actually occurred.  Upon hearing of the birth of Jesus from the magi, Herod orders the death of babies.  The Jewish King was concerned that this child would overthrow him thus the call for these deaths. These graves can be found at the Church of the Nativity, the site that is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

It is written in Matthew that the magi follow the star to Bethlehem where they find the baby with his mother Mary and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gifts are significant, as they represent presenting gifts to a royal, a holy person, and prophet who scripture says will die for the sake of humanity to bring new awareness to the world. Isaiah notes that he will be like a “lamb who is led to slaughter”, a suffering servant who will be sacrificed in the name of God (Isaiah 53).

Magi is a significant title that some misappropriate as kings.  They are actual mystics and astrologers, interpreters of dreams.  Some scholars believe they hailed from the regions of Syria/Lebanon and Babylon or Arabia. There is uncertainty about the number of magi present, as there may have been more than three.  Some early Christian historians like Clement of Alexandria in the Stromata, written in 155AD, assert that they came from Persia.

The figures names are Balthazar, Melkior and Caspar.  The information about these people comes later, so the facts are speculative surrounding them.  Speculation is that one of the kings is from the Zoroastrian faith.  This is significant, as some scholars have asserted that their importance in Jesus’ life is that they became his teachers and trained him in theological understanding and the ways of the world.  Coming from the East, these are teachings that play in the spiritual development of this Messiah.

Christians do not always realize this, but Jesus’ message is appealing because it appeals to the whole world – East and West. The teachings are universal.  This is so because of their spiritual nature.  If one of the teachers was Zoroastrian then this presents an interesting spin on how Zoroastrianism and the battle of good versus evil plays out in Jewish scripture. It also proves to play a role in Jesus’ thought.

Although the Zoroastrian faith is secretive and the truths are explained and held by those who follow the faith, the common knowledge points of this religion are significant and reveal how it may have been a linchpin religion of the East and West. Zoroastrians talk about a “holy spirit” called “Spenta Mainyu”.  This spirit is a creative force for breathing new light into the world.  It also mentions an evil spirit “Shaitan” who chose the lie over truth.

The first Nativity scene that is depicted is at the site of Jesus’ birth.  Three images of the kings were depicted there and when Muslim invaders destroyed churches in response to the crusades, they spared this church because of the Arab figures depicted here. There is even a dedicated altar to the magi where the gifts were offered across from the star that supposedly marks the spot of Jesus’ birth.

In scripture one must consider what the author is trying to write.  Matthew was speaking to a Hebrew audience and attempting to convey to them the Messianic images thus making Jesus the Messiah. Some scholars suggest that the handing down of this information came from generation to generation, as it is written in Luke “Mary held these things in her heart”.

Whatever the case may be, the tenor of the magi offers an interesting introduction to Jesus and the mysterious events that occurred around his birth.

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