The Magi and the Birth of “the Redeemer of the World”
By Frank Manasseri
The Magi were pagan Gentiles who were directed by the True God via the prophet Daniel. This Biblical account demonstrates the efficacy of the Creator’s awesome ability to coordinate even the stars and constellations within the universe which He created to bring about His purposes and plan for the benefit of mankind.
Growing up in the Bronx in a family of Italian descent we always kept the Christmas tradition of placing the Nativity scene beneath the decorated tree on Christmas Eve. In the stable Mary and Joseph were kneeling surrounded by sheep, cows, and other farm animals. The baby Jesus and the shepherds did not appear in the stable until Christmas morning. It was not until the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th that the Magi made their entrance to worship the young child. I had questions then about who these Magi were and some of those questions remained many years later.
Remembering those childhood days I still had some unanswered questions about the Magi, or as tradition have taught the three Kings or Wise Men who came from the East to worship Christ.
While reading the section of scripture about the Magi in Matthew 2:1-3, I thought to myself, “why such a fuss about three men on camels showing up one day without prior notice at Jerusalem?”
Questions arise such as, who were the Magi, and why did they travel such a long distance bringing gifts to a child who was born in an obscure town outside of Jerusalem? How did these men even learn of the birth of this child? Why were those specific gifts chosen, and who chose them?
After further investigation I began to learn just how much information is packed into these few verses of scripture. Additional study opened up greater meaning and insights concerning this world changing event which was the fulfillment of the promise of God made in Genesis 3:15.
Scripture along with other historic evidence supports the view that there may have been many more who turned up at Herod’s doorstep one day asking about the birth of the King of the Jews than just three men on camels.
Who Were the Magi?
The Greek historian Herodotus writing in the fifth century BCE, identified the Magi as a caste of Medes who had a powerful priestly function in the Persian Empire. These Magi were also known as King Makers since they had the powerful to set up or pull down kingdoms.
In the Book of Daniel these Magi are shown as “astrologers” and grouped with magicians, sorcerers, and others known as Chaldean’s acting as advisers to the court of Babylon with the responsibility of interpreting dreams. The role of “his star” in Matthew 2 suggests a connection with astrology which differs from astronomy.
Astrology is the “study” of how the position of the planets, and sometimes how the passing of smaller celestial bodies affect your life, or the lives of others. Really, ancient astronomy was astrology. When a new star showed up, it meant the birth of a king. When they saw a “shooting star” it meant a military victory.
These Gentile astrologers pursuing their observations of the stars in the heavens, encountered a celestial sign of God in the stars and planets. God broke into their system of astrology through the prophet Daniel to make this great event known in order to fulfill His Plan and announce the birth of His only begotten Son which is recorded in Matthew 2:1-21 (KJV)
Historically the Magi stem from an ancient hereditary priesthood of the Persian Empire and held a powerful influence over many rulers and kingdoms in ancient history. These priests and astrologers were respected by rulers and were highly esteemed for their ability to interpret astrological signs and dreams. Over the course of many centuries the Magi traveled to various parts of the East moving over the Silk Road by way of caravans. These caravans were usually accompanied by an entourage of armed guards for protection. This may be the reason why Herod and the entire city of Jerusalem were stirred up when the Magi arrived unannounced outside the walls of their city. If it had only been three men on camels, why would Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem have been so troubled?
The Prophet Daniel Instructs the Magi
Many centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophet Daniel had been called upon by Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon to interpret his dream (Daniel 2). The king had previously called upon the wise men of Babylon to both reveal his dream and interpret its meaning or the king would put them to death. These Magi had tried to honor the king’s request, but they had failed and were sentenced by the king to be put to death. Daniel who was the Prime Minister of the Persian Empire approached Nebuchadnezzar and asked for more time for him to pray to his God for the interpretation. The King agreed, and the execution of his wise men was postponed.
God gave Daniel understanding in all visions and dreams so Daniel was able to tell the King what he had dreamed and also interpreted the dream. This pleased Nebuchadnezzar and he rescinded the execution of Daniel and the Chaldean’s. Because Daniel was able to please the King by interpreting the dream he was rewarded by being appointed Rabmag, or Chief of the Magi.
Daniel Appointed the Master of the Magi
Daniel’s unusual career included holding the position of a principal administrator in two world empires, the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When King Darius the Median appointed the prophet, a Jew, over the hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots by jealous Medes to throw Daniel into the lion’s den. (Daniel Chapter 6). Once again God rescued Daniel who was then elevated in the Persian Kingdom of Darius.
One of the titles given to Daniel was “Rabmag”, meaning the “Master of the Magi.” (Dan 4:9 & 5:11). Daniel was in a key position to entrust to a secret sect of the Magi the Messianic prophecy whose fulfillment was signaled by an astrological sign in the constellation of ERUA (Virgo).
In his book, “The Sign of the Messiah – How I Identified the Star of Bethlehem,” Dr. Werner Papke wrote of the connection of the Magi to the Prophet Daniel:
“. . . how, we still may ask, did the heathen Magi, followers of the teachings of Zoroaster, hear about the prophecy Isaiah pronounced to the “house of David” more than seven hundred years before?
Well, today we know for sure Zoroaster, the founder of the Persian religion that is called after him, lived in Babylon from about 560 BC. At a time when the Jews stayed in the Babylonian Captivity they obviously told Zoroaster about Isaiah’s prophecy of the birth of the Messiah from a Jewish virgin of the house of David.
The Syrian scholar Abu’l Faragius (1226-1286)said:
… When Zoroaster was in Babylon he became a pupil of the prophet Daniel, who was deported to Babylon from the land of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar II in 605 BC. And in his “History of Dynasties” Faragius further writes that Zoroaster had predicted to the Magi “his star” would appear in the skies and signal the birth of a wonderful boy whom they were to adore. According to the “Avesta” which is the bible of the Zoroastrians, the redeemer of the world would be born of a virgin. When “his star” appeared in the womb of the celestial Virgin (ERUA), the Magi knew the Messiah was born from a Jewish virgin, and immediately started on their long journey to Jerusalem in order to adore the “King of the Jews.” (1)
During this period of around 560 BCE, Zoroaster who founded the Zoroastrian religion, had been a student of Daniel.
Evidence of the Future King of the World
There is further confirmation of the promise of a worldwide redeemer and king.
“Jews dwelling in Persian provinces among the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites ( Acts 2:9 ) may have so prepared the minds of the magi as to set them looking for “his star.” But in addition to the knowledge carried by captive Israelites, the men of the East had other light also. The great Chinese sage, Confucius (B. C. 551-479), foretold of a coming Teacher in the West, and Zoroaster, the founder of the Persian religion predicted the coming of a great, supernaturally begotten Prophet. To these Balaam had added his prophecy (Numbers 24:17). Moreover, the Septuagint translation made at Alexandria about 280 B. C. had rendered the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek, the language of commerce, and had carried the knowledge of Hebrew prophecy into all lands, and had wakened a slight but world-wide expectation of a coming Messiah. The Roman writers, Suetonius (70-123, A. D.) and Tacitus (75-125, A.D.) bear witness to this expectation that a great world-ruling king would come out of Judæa.”(3)
To this day Muslims around the world still believe this great prophet was Jesus of Nazareth who was born of a virgin called Mary. (Quran 19:22-33)
Daniel Provided the Gifts
Daniel was a wealthy man who may have even provided the gifts to be presented to the coming king by the Magi. About 500 years and many generations had passed before the sign the Magi were instructed to look for actually appeared in the constellation of ERUA (VIRGO). This discovery immediately prompted their long journey to fulfill the instructions their ancestors had received from Daniel.
Tradition has it that there were three Kings that arrived at Jerusalem in search of the “King of the Jews”. Tradition also influenced the renaming of “his star” to the “Star of Bethlehem” even though the Magi did not arrive until Jesus was about 18 months old. These Magi were never referred to in the scriptures as Kings but wise men. The Bible never refers to “his star” as “The Star of Bethlehem.” The number of these Magi who arrived outside the walls of Jerusalem is not mentioned in scripture either. All this probably came from tradition because of the number of gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus the Son of God was born in Bethlehem but the Magi did not arrive until he was about 2 years of age. Scripture supports that Joseph and Mary and the young child Jesus were living in a house in Nazareth when the Magi arrived bearing their gifts. Also why would the appearance of three men on camels cause such a fuss among the people of the city of Jerusalem? Most likely this traditional view is not an accurate picture of what really transpired during the years surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Herod was not a Jew but an Edomite whose title “King of the Jews” had been purchased from the Emperor of Rome. When the Caravan of the Magi along with military escort appeared outside the walls of Jerusalem Herod and all the people of the city were understandably troubled. When these Wise Men entered into the city they were most likely preceded by an entourage of musicians and dancers including the military escorts. Could it be Herod perceived their inquisition of where they could find the “King of the Jews” as a calculated threat against his kingship? After all it is a historical fact that he had recently purchased this title from the Emperor of Rome. Nevertheless Herod called in his wise counselors to see if they knew anything about this event. His scribes searched and discovered from the prophecies in the Tanach (the Old Testament) that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2) Bethlehem is about eight miles away from Jerusalem and even though this was a relatively short journey none of these learned Jews were motivated to go to see if this prophecy had been fulfilled. This is an interesting point to note which indicates Israel’s general rejection of the Messiah.
Herod was not a Jew but an Edomite. Edomites were traditional enemies of Israel. He had recently purchased the title of “King of the Jews” from the Emperor of Rome which was a custom during this period of time. History reveals that all through this period of time tensions were high between Rome and the Parthian army. Consequently the arrival of the Magi’s caravan with their military escorts may have been perceived by Herod as if these Magi were attempting to perpetrate a border incident which could bring swift reprisal from Parthian armies.
Herod after learning about the prophecy of the birth of the ruler of Israel from his scribes requested the Magi keep him informed so that he could also go and worship this king.
The Long Journey
The Magi had sojourned a long distance with their precious cargo of gold, frankincense and myrrh through difficult and hostile territory in order to find and honor this “King of the Jews” whom Daniel had revealed to their ancestors. Their long and perilous journey along the well established major trade route known as the Silk Road commenced from Babylon which is now modern Iraq to the city of Jerusalem about 1000 – 1200 miles way. It is a historic fact these Magi traveled caravan style surrounded by a small army to protect them from thieves or other dangers they might encounter along the way. Thus when this large group arrived outside the gates of Jerusalem inquiring about the birth of a new king they may have been first perceived as an invading army. It is easy to see why all the citizens were troubled and overly concerned when the Magi and their entourage entered into Jerusalem with all the pomp and ceremony customary to these powerful “King Makers.”
After leaving Jerusalem the Magi continued following the celestial sign which led them to the place(5) where they found the young male child of about two years of age whom they then worshiped as the “King of the Jews.” The scriptures clearly indicate that Jesus was not an infant when the Magi arrived but a young child of about 18-24 months.
Significance of the Gifts
These gentiles presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These very gifts may have been provided centuries earlier by the prophet Daniel who was an influential and wealthy man. Daniel acquired wealth as a powerful man who was the Prime Minister in the Persian Empire under both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. The gifts are possibly prophetic, speaking of our Lord’s offices of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of His kingship, frankincense was a spice used in priestly duties, and myrrh was an embalming ointment used in burial anticipating His sacrificial death on the cross.
Warnings Given by Angels and Dreams
After finding the young child and presenting their gifts, the Magi “being warned in a dream” departed to their own country without returning to Herod as he had requested. They ignored the wish of Herod for them to return to tell him where this child could be found so he could worship him also.
Joseph the husband of Mary, was also warned in a dream by an angel to escape into Egypt. Joseph may have used some of the gold given by the Magi in order to escape to safety with Mary and the young child Jesus. Then after the Magi failed to return to Herod, the tyrant then ordered all male children two years old and under to be slaughtered in the region surrounding Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:16-18)
The Signature of God
The signature of God is evident to any and all who have eyes to see His handiwork. The Lord’s signature has been evident from ancient history up until this very time in which we are now living. The scripture clearly reveals the progression of events that led the Magi to come and worship Him who is born the King of the Jews. Beginning with the appearing in the heavens of the constellation of ERUA (Virgo) signifying the promised seed of Genesis 3:15, to the instructions given by Daniel to the Magi, this Babylonian priesthood faithfully passed along the instructions given by Daniel as Chief of the Magi to their successors. Generation after generation of Magi continued faithfully searching the heavens for hundreds of years until the appearance of “his star” to announce the promised prophesied redeemer of the world.
What may we learn from this story of the Magi and the Redeemer of the World? To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear we may learn how the events of history are divinely orchestrated by the Creator to bring about His purposes in His timing.
From the prophet Daniel’s imparting of the astrological details the Magi searched for in the heavens to the arrival of the descendants of those Magi at the home of the young child Jesus took many generations. (Daniel 9)
This biblical account is a vivid illustration of the precision the true God is able to perform in bringing about His purposes and plans for His universe which He created and loves.
(1) Herodotus (1. 101, 132)
(2) Dr. Werner Papke “The Sign of the Messiah – How I Identified the Star of Bethlehem”
(3) www. Biblestudytools.com
(4) Magi The Catholic Encyclopedia
(5) There is an ongoing controversy concerning whether or not the Magi found the “King of the Jews” in Bethlehem or Nazareth.