Who are the Magi?
, a word of Median or Chaldaean origin, was the name of the sacerdotal caste which among the Medians, Persians, Chaldaeans, and other Eastern nations occupied an intermediate position of great influence between the despot, to whose council they often were called, and the people, whose leaders in revolt they often were. As the administrators of the religion of Zoroaster they were the priests among the population belonging to the Medo-Persian empire. They alone had the right to perform the religious ceremonies. Distinguished by a peculiar dress, living apart by themselves, and forming a complete hierarchy, they were engaged in keeping alive the sacred fire on the altar of Ormuzd and combating the evil plans of Ahriman. But they were not only the priests of the Persian nation; they were also its scholars. Deeply versed, according to the measure of the time, in philosophy and the sciences, especially astronomy, they accompanied the king even in war as his advisers, Jer 39:3; but as, at that time, a practical application of science did not mean the subjugation of natural powers and their employment for useful purposes, but the divination of future events and their possible modification through spiritual and mysterious agencies the Magi became on this field mere soothsayers, fortune-tellers, dream-interpreters, not to say sorcerers and enchanters. When the Greeks became acquainted with Persian religion and civilization, and here discovered a system of divination and oracles quite different from their own, it was natural enough for them to throw a special odium on the representatives of this system ,- and in the Greek-Roman literature the Magi always appear as impostors. Not so in the O.T. During the Captivity the Jews became well acquainted with them, and Daniel describes them as men of wisdom, Dan 1:20; he intercedes for them with Nebuchadnezzar, Dan 2:24; and accepts a position as their chief or master. Dan 5:11. The same impression of dignity, truthfulness, and aspiration after the true religion is conveyed by the narrative in Matt 2:1-14. Whence these Magi came we have no means of ascertaining, but it is a very probable inference that by the intercourse between the Magi and the exiled Jews some seeds of Messianic expectations were sown and took root among the former, and by special Providence these wise men were led to the cradle of the Messiah as a sign of the coming of the Gentiles. They were the forerunners of the heathen converts. The Christian legend represents them as three kings. Their memory is celebrated on Epiphany, the 6th of January, or the festival of Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles. See Star of the Wise Men.