555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered

191. Who Were the Magi?




These wise men were from either Arabia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, or somewhere else in the East. "East" is not to be understood in our wide, modern sense, but referred to those countries that lie to the east as well as north of Palestine. Thus, Persia is referred to as the "East" (Isa. 46:11). While it is true that the Gospel account does not state the number of wise men, but simply says they were from the East, many ancient traditions have been preserved from the early days of the Christian Church, among them one which states that there were three Magian princes, and gives their names as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who came with a large retinue of servants and camels. Magism is supposed to have originated in Chaldea and thence spread to the adjacent countries. The Magians are believed to have been originally Semitic. Among the Greeks and Romans they were known as Chaldeans. Daniel sympathized with the order during his exile, and probably became one of their number. They believed in God, hated idolatry and looked for a Messiah. The latter fact alone would almost be regarded as conclusive evidence of their Semitic descent. There are no absolute data, however, for asserting it positively. For many generations the Magi has looked for the ful ailment of the prophecy contained in Numbers 24:17 ". . . there shall come a star out of Jacob . . ." and when the light as guiding star indicated the direction of Judea they knew the prophecy had been fulfilled. "His star" can be interpreted as "his sign." Whatever form it assumed, it was sufficiently marked as an astronomical phenomenon to claim attention. Some writers have contended that it was visible to the Magi alone; others hold that it was a heavenly light, standing as a beacon of glory over the manger; still others, that it was the luminous figure of an angel. Tradition asserts that "the star" guided the Magi both by day and by night. The infant Saviour was probably over two months old when the visit of the Magi took place. They had seen the phenomenon of the star long before their arrival in Jerusalem, two months after Jesus had been presented in the temple, and it was some time after this that the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and went thence to Bethlehem to worship him and offer gifts. It must have taken them many months to accomplish the journey from their own country to Palestine. The Magi brought the first material Christmas gifts when they presented their love offerings.