The Contrarian in me believes that the Magi rode on horses, not camels.
Since this is the Christmas season, I thought that I would write some thoughts about the Magi. There is a good amount of lore, legend, and tradition associated with this class of prophets, seers, magicians, and spiritual adepts which most of our translations of the Bible call these Magi that visited and honored the Christ child as, “The Wise Men.”
Philip Schaff, the reputable church historian, stated that the Magi had been around for awhile and were a priesthood class who advised kings and rulers, who subscribed to them on issues of Statecraft, consistent with their influence and powers of priestcraft. Some see a similar development, a union of statecraft and spiritual workings, in our modern times, as described by author Peter Levenda, in his book series, Sinister Forces. In Egypt, in the time of Moses, this was certainly true among the Egyptians, as the Pharaoh had a priest class called magicians, or a court of Magi too (as Magi is a plural rendition for magicians), to advise him. The Greeks also had some equivalent of this. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court had so developed spiritual powers in which they were able to duplicate the first three plagues of God administered by Moses!
The Magi were part of the royal court of the Chaldeans, and became the same under King Nebuchadnezzar‘s Babylon, and later in the Persian Kingdom. The Magi were renowned as astronomers and astrologers, who engaged in star gazing and monthly prognostication, which they used to advise royalty. In their ranks were also those with a gift for prophecy; and those with the ability to interpret spiritual phenomena such as dreams, signs or omens as input into future events. There were others who may have some psychic ability or divination powers, and some who were just fakes. This goes far back into Antiquity. Indeed, before Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew people, was told to “come out” of the city of Ur of the Chaldees, Josephus tells us that Abraham was a gifted individual, well above his peers, who was wise and skillful in the “celestial sciences” of the Chaldeans.
Could Abraham then have been one of the Magi in its earlier origins? He was called a Prophet, whose prayers were attended to by Yahweh (Genesis 20:7).
A little later when Israel came into the “Promised Land” or Canaan, we read about the Prophet Balaam, who also hailed from the same area as the Magi, as did Abraham, in Mesopotamia. He was hired to “curse” the nation of Israel to stop their invasion and conquest of Canaan. It appears that statecraft worked in tandem with the power of witchcraft, as I briefly mentioned already. The Prophet Balaam could not “curse” the Israelites however, and instead “blessed” them in a series of four pronouncements about Israel.
In Balaam’s final utterance, he talked of seeing a “vision of the Almighty,” by “falling into a trance…having his eyes open,” and predicted that, “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not near: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel… and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion…” (Numbers 24:16-19).
Was Balaam a Magi?
More than a few authorities think so.
Then later, Samuel the Priest-Prophet of Israel, organized a “school of the Prophets.” This also functioned as a sort of priest or prophet class, perhaps along the lines of the same of the Magi advisers in the Chaldees. They were a force for moral good in influencing the masses and their rulers in Israel to be loyal to the worship of Yahweh despite the enticing worship of the Fertility and Fire gods, which was based on “sex-magick.”
This “school of the Prophets” consisted of a group of individuals who felt called to engage in this activity and lent themselves to the instruction and leadership of more experienced persons who had a more highly developed spiritual sense of “seeing” or gift of prophecy. This “school” continued from Samuel to the Prophet Elisha‘s day.
Further on at the time of Israel’s captivity in Babylon and Media-Persia, Daniel saved the lives of the Magi priest class from the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar by being able to interpret his dream. For this distinction, Daniel was appointed head of the Magi, and was known as “Rab-Magi” (Daniel 2:48; 5:11).
We read further in the Bible, that the Magi were first called “Wise Men” in the Book of Esther (1:12-14). Their counsel helped Esther to ascend to the very throne of the Queen of Persia.
The Magi Follow a Star…
The Prophet Daniel had been given a sizable portion of Messianic prophecy. Some information beforehand about the Messiah (which was generated from Genesis 3:15 and the testimony of Antediluvian or Pre-Flood Patriarchs, such as Enoch) had already been placed in oral form among Messianic enthusiasts along with the input from Balaam’s vision prophecy and other Messianic references from the Prophets and David the Psalmist.
There was then a general body of Messianic information then in addition to the coming of the Messiah that Daniel no doubt shared with the Magi that was not recorded in the Book named after him.
This would not be unusual.
There are several such instances. For example, there is no record in the Old Testament writings about Jesus being called a Nazarene expressly (Matthew 2:23). This has perplexed Bible scholars for years. This particular prophecy could well be oral prophecy handed down. Another instance is Adam, the father of all living human beings, who prophesied of a Great Flood judgment. This occurred in Noah’s time. Apparently, Noah was not the first one to predict the Flood. Adam’s prophecy was not written in the Bible, however.
Thus, Daniel could have shared not only the history, culture, and religion of the Hebrew people with the Magi, but its most intimate hopes of a coming Messiah. With the position of authority that Daniel was given, he would have been able to diffuse such prophetical revelations without fear of reproach or persecution. Since the Persians were also a Semitic people, they had somewhat in common with the Hebrews as well as a physic bond of sorts.
Such a catalog of Messianic information then, in particular the “star” prophecy of Balaam, of a special star appearance, that is, “a star out of Jacob,” would be of great value to a Eastern religious group of import who had a history of using astronomy and astrology to determine future events. Hence, the “star out of Jacob” became the “star of the King of the Jews.” And, when the Magi saw this star, which they were apparently on the look-out for, they rejoiced with “exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:11). I don’t know the wherewithal of how they determined this, but then they were the experts in this area, with centuries of stargazing of previous models.
Not only then at that time were the Magi looking for the Messiah, but devout Jews in Israel were also observing any available signs such as Simeon and Anna (Luke, chapter 2). They were part of evidently, a Messianic belief sect that simmered just below the usual Jewish religious fervor in the region. They kept fellow Messianic enthusiasts informed of any development. Hence, when John the Baptist entered on the scene in Palestine, he captured the imagination of these expectant folks, and they came out to see nearly in droves although he was well out of the public view as his baptismal ministry was centered in a locale of a “wilderness” (The Gospel of Mark, 1:3-4).
Such a Messianic expectancy was not shared by the rulers of Judea, but throughout the ancient world at that time, was a similar expectancy of a great event coming out of Judea.
This conviction was recorded by Roman historians. Suetonius wrote that, “an old and established belief…that men…from Judea, would rule the world” (Life of Vespasian, 4:5). Tacitus confirmed the same belief that “there was a firm persuasion… of rulers coming from Judea acquiring a universal empire” (Histories, 5:13). And Josephus, writes that “one from their country (Judea) should become ruler of the habitable earth.” Moreover, just as the Magi visited King Herod looking for the Christ child, the King of Armenia with a retinue of his own Magi, also visited the Roman Emperor Nero, a generation or so later, to consult with and inquire, and offer input on the general state of the Roman Empire in the midst of predicted major changes that they saw coming. The Roman poet, Virgil, apparently bought into this state of excitement and waxed eloquent in writing about a time of “golden days to come” (from his Fourth Eclogue, also known as the Messianic Eclogue).
The Magi started their journey following the “Star of the King of the Jews.” Upon reaching Jerusalem, they followed proper protocol, in addition to ask for further information, and called upon King Herod. Herod knew nothing about the object of their pilgrimage but grew alarmed of any prospective rivals to his rule. This he had been already disposed to do throughout his career, killing potential rivals even among his own children, seeking to dethrone him. Cleverly, Herod bade them on their way and to send word when they had found any such child, so that he could come, and “worship the child” too.
The Magi visited Herod for any assistance in finding the newborn King of the Jews. Neither Herod, who had been building the Jewish Temple of worship for years, nor the Jewish religious leadership knew anything about any celestial phenomenon that would herald the prophetic fulfillment of a Messiah. This despite, the sizable amount of Old Testament Messianic prophecy regarding a King.
This must have been an apostasy of the Jewish religious leadership from being attentive and watchful of the Messianic prophecies. Little wonder then, they were not receptive of either John the Baptist or Jesus.
The Jewish polity and its religious establishment were too interested in the continuity of their rule and their vested lucrative financial arrangements granted by the Romans. The “bazaars of Annas” was a byword in an era of graft, corruption, and greed by religious means. Indeed, the entire talk about a Messiah was a threat to their way of life, profits, and control of the Jewish Nation under their auspices.
Would the same situation and conditions exist today in which government and organized Christendom have more at stake in temporal interests than submitting to the “King of the Jews” with His attendant rule disrupting theirs?
Finally, the Magi kept to following the Star and found Christ. They gave gifts, and paid homage. This is the story behind the Magi and what we call Christmas, or the observance of the birth of Christ, with the background that a Universal rule would come in which righteousness would prevail. Such righteousness would preclude the specter of sin, sickness, disease, and death. Universal harmony and peace would be its salient features. A truly “Golden Age.” The whole prevailing theme behind Bible prophecy is this universal reign of righteousness and tranquility.
A wise body of men such as the Magi believed in this. They had been in existence for over a millennia. They sent emissaries who traveled over a good distance, bearing gifts and making homage to the young King. Once near the site, the Magi faced scrutiny and potential harm from a psychotic, crazed King. This King, became enraged that the Magi had discerned his deceit, and later ordered genocide upon a village of innocent children hoping to kill Christ. The whole account of this, which starts in the Book of Genesis and is weaved throughout the Bible to its end, should behoove even the most sophisticated, callous, or cynical of us to take notice.
It would seem incumbent upon us then with the hope of a Messianic figure yet to appear at the end of the present polity, which additional prophecy states that is the case, to search out the meaning not only of the birth of Christ, but what his life and resurrection means to us individually. To some, Jesus is still a baby in a manger; to others, he is still hanging on a cross; but to others with a lively hope… Christ lives in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. These believe in the record of God’s Word, the witness of answered prayer, the testimony of saints, prophets, patriarchs, and…
Thanks for reading.
Copyrighted. Joseph Spickard, 2013. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this intellectual property without prior permission from the author is prohibited.