Magi Myths

Saturday, Dec. 24                              

Mt. 2:1-2.  “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jersalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”  I have always had trouble with this acccount, on two counts—the Magi and the star.  Let’s start with the Magi.  The KJV translates the Greek word as “wise men.”  The NIV uses “Magi,” which is just a transliteration of the Greek word that is borrowed from a Persian word that was used in the centuries old religion, Zoroastrianism.  A “magus” was a magician, a sorceror, or an astrologer, take your pick.  Our English word “magic” comes from this word.  My guess is that the translators of both the King James Version and of our more modern versions tried to modify the meaning so as to make it more compatable with Christian theology.  One commentary went so far as to suggest the word “astronomer” for the Greek word. These travelers from afar were certainly wise, but not because they were magi.  They were wise because they had been open to divine revelation concerning Jesus.  They had no way of knowing about Jesus apart from revelation.  Whether or not they had Jewish input or knowledge of the Old Testament is uncertain.  Some commenararies say they were Jewish proselytes, but I think that is pure conjecture. They are often pictured as three kings, but the account in Matthew neither says they were kings nor that they were three in number.  Someone came up with names for them, too, but that is not true to the gospel account, either.  But no matter what they were back in their own country, Matthew pictures them as well informed, with divine instructions, and a desire to worship “the King of the Jews.”   Let’s keep it at that.

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