the Fifth Week of Lent
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Ma'gi. (Authorized Version, wise men). In the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the word occurs but twice, and then only incidentally. Jeremiah 29:3; Jeremiah 29:13. "Originally, they were a class of priests, among the Persians and Medes, who formed the king's privy council, and cultivated as trology, medicine and occult natural science. They are frequently referred to by ancient authors. Afterwar, the term was applied to all eastern philosophers." - Schaff's Popular Commentary.
They appear in Herodotus' history of Astyages as interpreters of dreams, (i. 120); but as they appear in Jeremiah among the retinue of the Chaldean king, we must suppose Nebuchadnezzar's conquests led him to gather round him, the wise men and religious teachers of the nations which he subdued, and that thus, the sacred tribe of the Medes rose under his rule to favor and power.
The Magi took their places among "the astrologers and star gazers and monthly prognosticators." It is with such men that, we have to think of Daniel and his fellow exiles as associated. The office which Daniel accepted, Daniel 5:11, was probably rab-mag - chief of the Magi.
2. The word presented itself to the Greeks as connected with a foreign system of divination and it soon became a byword for the worst form of imposture. This is the predominant meaning of the word as it appears in the New Testament. Acts 8:9; Acts 13:8.
In one memorable instance, however, the word retains its better meaning. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Matthew 2:1-12, the Magi appear as "wise men" - properly Magians - who were guided by a star from "the east" to Jerusalem, where they suddenly appeared in the days of Herod the Great, inquiring for the new-born king of the Jews, whom they had come to worship.
As to the country from which they came, opinions vary greatly; but their following the guidance of a star seems to point to the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, where astronomy was cultivated by the Chaldeans. See Star of The Wise Men of The East.
(Why should the new star lead these wise men to look for a king of the Jews?
(1) These wise men from Persia were the most like the Jews, in religion, of all nations in the world. They believed in one God, they had no idols, they worshipped light as the best symbol of God.
(2) The general expectation of such a king. "The Magi," says, Ellicott, "express the feeling which the Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, tell us sixty or seventy years later had been, for a long time, very widely diffused. Everywhere throughout the East, men were looking for the advent of a great king who was to rise from among the Jews. It had fermented in the minds of men, heathen as well as Jews, and would have led them to welcome Jesus as the Christ had he come in accordance with their expectation."
Virgil, who lived a little before this, owns that a child from heaven was looked for, who should restore the golden age and take away sin.
(3) This expectation arose largely from the dispersion of the Jews among all nations, carrying with them the hope and the promise of a divine Redeemer. Isaiah 9; Isaiah 11; Daniel 7.
(4) Daniel himself was a prince and chief among this very class of wise men. His prophecies: were made known to them; and the calculations by which he pointed to the very time when Christ should be born became, through the book of Daniel, a part of their ancient literature. - Editor).
According to a late tradition, the Magi are represented as three kings, named Gaspar, Melchior and Belthazar, who take their place among the objects of Christian reverence, and are honored as the patron saints of travellers.
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Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Magi'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​sbd/​m/magi.html. 1901.