January 9th, 2018

A few of you have asked for ‘more’ concerning the wise men and their journey. I will tell you what I know…

The name wise men or ‘magi’ seems to be the ubiquitous moniker for the group of men who traveled “from afar” and presented the “baby” Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

First, let’s talk about the word magi. Transliterated directly from the Greek “μάγος”, the word becomes magos. Magos is how the English language transliterates, but the word translates from magos to magus in our understanding rather than just our way of speaking (comprehension vs. phonetics). Magus, as defined by good ol’ Webster (okay, not really, but defined by lexicons), is defined as:

a.     the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

b.     the oriental wise men (astrologers) who, having discovered by the rising of a remarkable star that the Messiah had just been born, came to Jerusalem to worship him

c.     a false prophet and sorcerer

Let’s set aside the notion of these men being sorcerers and false prophets and concentrate on their capabilities as scientists and astronomers (not to be confused with astrology—no horoscopes were harmed in the writing of this article). These men were likely held in high esteem as educators and thus became emissaries of the Kings in their region. This is why they’re sometimes referred to as “The Three Kings”; they were ambassadors of their monarchs. It is important to note that nowhere within scripture are these men named outright—the names Caspar/Gaspar, Balthasar/Balthazar, and Melchior are those attributed to the men, but without reference. Being of Eastern descent, they would travel great lengths teaching and showing people of other nations their science—alchemy, their understanding of the stars, etc…

Next, location, location, location. It is widely held in current cultural nuance that these men were present at the birth of Jesus. That is not accurate. If we take a closer look at scripture, Matthew 2:11 states, “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Notice that, in reference, Jesus is a ‘child’ not an infant. Weird. Most likely these men had departed their homeland—that of Persia (common-day Iran and Iraq)—as they saw the ‘new star’ in the sky which heralded the coming of the Christ-child. (Note: These men were also likely to be of the Zoroastrianism religion, of which one of the tenets was to pursue and discover the champion, or destroyer of evil. This is an ancient and obscure monotheistic religion that helped shape some of the Abrahamic religions). As the star appeared, they departed their lands. Traversing such a great distance would’ve most likely been impossible with only three people; dangers such as robbery, injury, or sickness loomed heavily, making it necessary for multiple people, or a caravan, to make the journey rather than a few dudes on camels. Just sayin’. This trip was well over nine thousand miles and would’ve taken, at minimum, a little under two years’ time to complete. Thus, upon arrival, Herod does the math quickly—after asking them when they left—and orders the murders of every infant in the region aged two years and under.

As you are aware, modern nativity scenes show three wise men present at the time of Jesus’ birth. This is an impossibility, but one that—given the amount of time between the nativity narrative and present day—has been widely accepted and left unquestioned. I hope this answers the curiosity some of you had regarding my momentary mention of the magi. What else have we not questioned? What else is there that you’d like to know? Would a bible study be beneficial for you—one that concentrates on reading for spiritual growth AND for better understanding of the written Word?

Feel free to email me with any questions or comments, I’m always happy to nerd out a little on Bible talk! Take care and have a great week.


Fr. Sean+