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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Magi

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Or MAGIANS, an ancient religious sect of Persia and other eastern countries, who, abominating the adoration of images, worshipped God only by fire, in which they were directly opposite to the Sabians.

See SABIANS. The Magi believed that there were two principles, one the cause of all good, and the other the cause of all evil; in which opinion they were followed by the sect of the Manichees.

See MANICHEES. They called the good principle Jazden, and Ormuzd, and the evil principle Ahraman or Aherman. The former was by the Greeks called Oromasdes, and the latter Arimanius. The reason of their worshipping fire was, because they looked upon it as the truest symbol of Oromasdes, or the good god; as darkness was of Arimanius, or the evil god. In all their temples they had fire continually burning upon their altars, and in their own private houses. The religion of the Magi fell into disgrace on the death of those ringleaders of that sect who had usurped the sovereignty after the death of Cambyses; and the slaughter that was made of the chief men among them sunk it so low, that Sabianism every where prevailed against it; Darius and most of his followers on that occasion going over to it.

But the affection which the people had for the religion of their forefathers not being easily to be rooted out, the famous impostor Zoroaster, some ages after, undertook to revive and reform it. The chief reformation this pretended prophet made in the Magian religion was in the first principle of it; for he introduced a god superior both to Ommasdes and Arimanius. Dr. Prideaux is of opinion that Zoroaster took the hint of this alteration in their theology from the prophet Isaiah, who brings in God, saying to Cyrus king of Persia, I am the Lord, and there is none else: I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil, ch. 45: 7. In short, Zoroaster held that there was one supreme independent Being, and under him two principles, or angels; one the angel of light or good, and the other the angel of evil or darkness; that there is a perpetual struggle between them, which shall last to the end of the world; that then the angel of darkness and his disciples shall go into a world of their own, where they shall be punished in everlasting darkness; and the angel of light and his disciples shall also go into a world of their own, where they shall be rewarded in everlasting light.

Zoroaster was the first who built fire-temples; the Magians before his time performing their devotion on the tops of hills and in the open air, by which means they were exposed to the inconvenience of rain and tempests, which often extinguished their sacred fires. To procure the greater veneration for these sacred fires, he pretended to have received fire from heaven, which he placed on the altar of the first fire- temple he erected, which was that of Xis, in Media, from whence they say it was propagated to all the rest. The Magian priests kept their sacred fire with the greatest diligence, watching it day and night, and never suffering it to be extinguished. They fed it only with wood stript of the bark, and they never blowed it with their breath or with bellows, for fear of polluting it; to do either of these was death by their law. The Magian religion as reformed by Zoroaster, seems in many things to be built upon the plan of the Jewish. The Jews had their sacred fire which came down from heaven upon the altar of burnt offerings, which they never suffered to go out, and with which all their sacrifices and oblations were made Zoroaster, in like manner, pretended to have brought his holy fire from heaven; and as the Jews had a Shekinah of the divine presence among them, resting over the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, Zoroaster likewise told his Magians to look upon the sacred fire in their temples as a Shekinah, in which God especially dwelt.

From these and some other instances of analogy between the Jewish and the Magian religion, Prideaux infers that Zoroaster had been first educated and brought up in the Jewish religion. The priests of the Magi were the most skilled mathematicians and philosophers of the age in which they lived, insomuch that a learned man and a Magian became equivalent terms. This proceeded so far, that the vulgar, looking on their knowledge to be more than natural, imagined they were inspired by some supernatural power. And hence those who practised wicked and diabolical arts, taking upon themselves the name of Magians, drew on it that ill signification which the word Magician now bears among us. The Magian priests were all of one tribe; as among the Jews, none but the son of a priest was capable of bearing that office among them. The royal family among the Persians, as long as this sect subsisted, was always of the sacerdotal tribe. They were divided into three orders; the inferior clergy, the superintendents, or bishops, and the archimagus, or arch-priest. Zoroaster had the address to bring over Darius to his new-reformed religion, notwithstanding the strongest opposition of the Sabians; and from that time it became the national religion of all that country, and so continued for many ages after, till it was supplanted by that of Mahomet. Zoroaster composed a book containing the principles of the Magian religion. It is called Zendavesta, and by contraction Zend.

See ZEND.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Magi'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/m/magi.html. 1802.

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