("magicians".) Called "wise men"' Matthew 2:1. Hebrew chartumiym, "sacred scribes," from two roots "sacred" and "style" or "pen" (cheret); priests skilled in sacred writings, and in divining through signs the will of heaven. A regular order among the Egyptians, devoted to magic and astrology. (See DIVINATION.) The word is Persian or Median; it appears in Rab-mag, "chief of the magicians" (Jeremiah 39:3), brought with Nebuchadnezzar's expedition, that its issue might be foreknown. The Magi were a sacerdotal caste among the Medes, in connection with the Zoroastrian religion. "They waited upon the sacred fire, and performed ablutions, and practiced observation of the stars." Muller (Herzog Cyclopedia) says that the Median priests were not originally called Magi, but by the names found in the Zendavesta "Atharva," guardians of the fire, and that the Chaldaeans first gave them the name Magi. Nebuchadnezzar gathered round him the religious teachers and wise men of the nations he conquered (Daniel 1:3-4; Daniel 1:20).
The Magians probably lost some of the original purity of the simpler Median religion by contact with the superstitions of Babylon: still there remained some elements of truth and opposition to idolatry, which formed common ground between them and Daniel (Daniel 5:11; Daniel 6:3; Daniel 6:16; Daniel 6:26; Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 44:28). Artaxerxes, Pseudo Smerdis "the "Magian," naturally thwarted the rebuilding of the temple to the one true God, for he had reintroduced a corrupted Chaldaic magianism instead of Cyrus' purer faith in Ormuzd. The Zoroastrian religion Darius restored, and destroyed the Mugtans; as the Behistun inscription states, "the rites which Gomates (Pseudo Smerdis) the Magian introduced I prohibited, I restored the chants and worship," etc. Naturally then the Jews under Darius resumed the suspended work of building the temple (Ezra 4:24; Ezra 5:1-2; Ezra 6:7-8).
All forms of magic, augury, necromancy, etc., are prohibited in the Zendavesta as evil and emanating from Ahriman the evil one. The Magi regained power under Xerxes, and were consulted by him. They formed the highest portion of the king's court, the council about the king's person. Gradually the term came to represent divining impostors. However, Philo uses it in a good sense: "men who gave themselves to the study of nature and contemplation of the divine perfection, worthy of being counselors of kings." So in Matthew 2:1 it is used in the better sense of "wise men," at once astronomers and astrologers "from the E.," i.e. the. N.E., the region toward the Euphrates from whence Balaam came (Numbers 23:7; Numbers 22:5). (See BALAAM.) Balaam' s prophecy seems to have been known to them: "there shall come a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall arise out of Israel." Accordingly the very guide they look to is a star (a meteor probably), and the question they ask is "where is He that is born King of the Jews?"
Moreover, Daniel, "chief of the Magi," had foretold Messiah's kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Daniel 9:25); naturally the Magi ("wise men") looked for the kingdom and the king among the people of him whose fame as a Magian they had heard of. Zoroaster's predictions led them to look for Zosiosh, the Head of the kingdom who should conquer Ahriman and raise the dead. Their presents, "gold, frankincense, and myrrh," were the usual gifts of subject nations (Psalm 72:15; 1 Kings 10:2; 1 Kings 10:10; 2 Chronicles 9:24; Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 4:14). They came to the infant Jesus some considerable time after the shepherds in Luke 2, for now He is no longer in an inn but in the "house" (Matthew 2:11). (For details, see JESUS CHRIST, BETHLEHEM, and HEROD.) The star remained stationary while they were at Jerusalem, where they had turned aside; but when they left it the star again guided them until they reached Christ's birthplace.
Only so long as we follow the sure word of revelation have we guidance to Jesus and safety in Him (2 Peter 1:19). Herod discovered the foretold birthplace of Messiah from the scribes' quotation of Micah (Micah 5:2) in answer to his query where He should be born. But the Child had escaped, and the Magi, being warned of God in a dream (they were famed for interpretation of dreams), had returned a different way, before Herod's cruel decree for the slaughter of the infants took effect at Bethlehem. Matthew, dwelling on Christ's kingly office as the Son of David, gives the history of the Magians' visit, since they first hailed Him as King. Luke, dwelling more on His human sympathy, gives the history of the divinely guided visit of the humble shepherds. Luke records the earlier event, according to his plan stated in his preface, "to write all things from the very first," and omits the already recorded visit of the Magi, which seemed the presage of an earthly kingdom, as unsuited to the aspect of lowliness and identification with the needs of universal mankind in which he represents our Lord.
The names given by tradition to the "three kings" so-called (presumed to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa; Psalm 72:10 was the plea for their kingship), Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar, are of course mythical, as is the story of their bones being in the shrine of Cologne, having been removed first from the East by Helena to Constantinople, then to Milan, then to Cologne. In the sense "magician" Simon Magus at Samaria is an instance (Acts 8:9-10); also Elymas the Jewish sorcerer and false prophet who with. stood Paul and Barnabas at Paphos (Acts 13:6-12); also the exorcists and those who used "curious arts" and who "brought their books together, and burned them before all men" to the value of "50,000 pieces of silver," at Ephesus (Acts 19:13-19).
Pharaoh's magicians practiced the common juggler's trick of making serpents appear "with their enchantments" (from a root, "flame" or else "conceal," implying a trick: Exodus 7:11-12); but Aaron's rod swallowed theirs, showing that his power was real, theirs illusory. So they produced frogs after Moses had done so, i.e. they only increased the plague, they could not remove it. At the plague of lice or mosquitoes they could not even increase the plague, and had to say, This is the finger of God (Exodus 8:7; Exodus 8:18-19). At last the plague of boils broke out upon the magicians themselves (Exodus 9:11); they owned themselves defeated, "they could not stand before Moses." The peculiarity of Balaam was, he stood partly on pagan magic and soothsaying augury, partly on true revelation.(See BALAAM.) For "enchantments" translated "auguries" (Numbers 23:3; Numbers 24:1). The Teraphim were consulted for divining purposes (Judges 18:5-6; Zechariah 10:2). (See TERAPHIM.) There is extant the Egyptian Ritual of amulets and incantations.
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'magi' Fausset's Bible Dictionary".