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Who Were the Magi?
Archdiocese of Washington ^ | 12-29-17 | Msgr. Charles Pope

Posted on 12/30/2017 10:09:18 AM PST by Salvation

Who Were the Magi?

December 28, 2017

The Gospel of Matthew says, After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem (Mat 2:1). Matthew uses the Greek term μάγοι, (magoi) and notes simply that they came from the east.

Exactly what “Magi” are is debated. The Greeks of antiquity (ca. 450 B.C.) used the term to refer to a priestly class of men among the Medes and later the Persians, but in later centuries it was used in a wider sense; it came to be applied to men skilled in hidden knowledge and magic. By 200 B.C., its meaning would include men skilled in astronomy and those given to visons and the interpretation of dreams. This expanded definition continued into New Testament times.

What is interesting is that Matthew presents these Magi as men of great dignity while other references to magi in the New Testament are generally negative. For example, in the Acts the Apostles there is a man named Simon, a man described as μαγεύων (mageoun), practicing magic:

But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me” (Acts 8: 9-24).

Thus, Simon, a magos and therefore likely among the magoi (or magi), while presented in a sympathetic light, is in need of conversion precisely because of his past as a magician or magos.

The Didache also says, you shall not practice magic (μαγεύσεις (mageuseis)) (Didache 2.2).

Thus, in the time of the New Testament, being among the magoi was generally not considered a good thing at all. Matthew’s description of the Magi is a significant exception. He presents them as noble, wise, and persistent in their pursuit of the truth. They are morally upstanding in the face of Herod and more zealous than the Jewish scribes whom they consult. In the end, they worship Christ and offer him fitting sacrifices, whereas Jesus’ own people did not even offer Him a room in the inn. The situation drips with irony.

Given that the Magi are following a star, in using that term, Matthew likely has in mind their role as astronomers. He may not have intended significant references to magic, dream interpretation, or fortune-telling.

So, it is likely that they are wise men, ancient astronomers in particular.

We often think of the Magi as Kings, although the text does not call them that. This mischaracterization may be a result of conflating two Old Testament texts that are read at Epiphany:

The kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute.
All kings shall pay him homage,
all nations shall serve him
(Psalm 72:10-11).

The wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD
(Is 60:5-6).

For the record, the text in today’s Gospel does not call them kings, but Magi. And although they offer gold and frankincense, they do so in fulfillment of Isaiah 60 as Magoi not as kings.

St. Thomas, in his Summa Theologica, sidesteps these questions about the exact identity of the magi and instead emphasizes their role. He writes,

The Magi are the “first-fruits of the Gentiles” that believed in Christ; because their faith was a presage of the faith and devotion of the nations who were to come to Christ from afar. And therefore … the Magi, inspired by the Holy Ghost, did wisely in paying homage to Christ (Summa Theologiae, III, Q 36, art 8).

So, their key identity is that they are Gentiles and have been called. Up to this point in the Christmas story, Jesus was manifest only to Jews in Bethlehem—but now the Gentiles come. This detail cannot be overlooked; it is clear that the gospel will be going out to all the world. St. Paul rejoices in this fact when he speaks of

the mystery made known to me by revelation.
It was not made known to people in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the
gospel (Ephesians 3:4-6).

Rejoice, fellow Christians, especially if you are of Gentile origin. The truest identity of the Magi is you. You are among the magi who seek him. Yes, wise men still seek the Lord.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: catholic; christmas; epiphany; magi
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1 posted on 12/30/2017 10:09:19 AM PST by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ArrogantBustard; Catholicguy; RobbyS; marshmallow; ...

Monsignor Pope Ping!

2 posted on 12/30/2017 10:13:09 AM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

Zoroastrians or Parsi. They are a religion who was forced out of Persia into what is now India and Pakistan. They tend to be ethnically Persian but they have a very old multi god religion. Traditionally they are very bright. And some have compared them to Jews in Europe. In that they are often rich, smart and powerful. But they are outside the common culture.

3 posted on 12/30/2017 10:19:22 AM PST by poinq
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To: Salvation

Would have been so much easier had the scriptures explained things in the needed detail instead of all this interpretation stuff.

4 posted on 12/30/2017 10:28:43 AM PST by joesbucks
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To: joesbucks
Would have been so much easier had the scriptures explained things in the needed detail instead of all this interpretation stuff.

So, are you saying that God didn't quite give us His Word to YOUR satisfaction? Are you saying that His Word is not enough to show us who He is, and who we are, and why we need Him? If so, that says a lot.

5 posted on 12/30/2017 10:34:13 AM PST by lupie
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MAGI -- Make America Great Israel.

6 posted on 12/30/2017 10:39:17 AM PST by SunkenCiv (,,
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To: joesbucks

Probably did before some monk with autocorrect got hold of it.

7 posted on 12/30/2017 10:43:26 AM PST by bigbob (People say believe half of what you see son and none of what you hear - M. Gaye)
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To: SunkenCiv

Some think they were Chinese, based on the two years it took them to arrive.

8 posted on 12/30/2017 10:45:54 AM PST by CondorFlight
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To: Salvation

Gift of the MAGA:


Frank instincts:

and Brrr:

9 posted on 12/30/2017 10:56:25 AM PST by XEHRpa
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To: XEHRpa

Gold, frankinsense and myrrh.

10 posted on 12/30/2017 11:08:15 AM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

That is a beautiful rendition of We Three Kings.

11 posted on 12/30/2017 11:10:42 AM PST by Spunky
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To: Salvation

Thank you for listing myrrh, which Msgr Pope did not mention. Of the three it is interesting that the first two were for a living king while the third, myrrh, was used for embalming. Thus one gift foreshadowed Jesus’ death on the cross as sacrifice for our salvation.

Here are two short, but interesting articles on the Maji and the gift of myrrh, both on the same link:

12 posted on 12/30/2017 11:35:54 AM PST by GreyFriar (Spearhead - 3rd Armored Division 75-78 & 83-87)
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To: joesbucks

I always though they was Moe, Larry, and Curly...

13 posted on 12/30/2017 11:43:04 AM PST by NFHale (The Second Amendment - By Any Means Necessary.)
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To: joesbucks
Like most literature, Scripture assumes a certain amount of cultural familiarity with the era and milieu in which it was written. To Matthew's original readers in AD 40 or 45, "Magi from the East" may have been a fairly self-explanatory or even commonplace concept.

That's why you have be careful of applying Scripture passages to modern situations uncritically. For example, people try to use Jeremiah 10:3-4 as some sort of Biblical condemnation of Christmas trees. But nobody in Jeremiah's immediate audience would have ever heard of or seen a Christmas tree; much less would they recognize that passage has having anything to do with them. A good rule of exegesis is that, if your interpretation of a passage would have been complete nonsense to the original readers of passage, the people to whom it was actually written, your interpretation is the wrong one.

14 posted on 12/30/2017 12:31:42 PM PST by Campion (Halten Sie sich unbedingt an die Lehre!)
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To: Salvation

It is thought that the magi came from the region of Yemen. Even today frankincense is readily available on the sidewalks of the city of Sana’a. And so is myrrh.

15 posted on 12/30/2017 12:46:34 PM PST by 353FMG
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To: 353FMG

I just checked, you can get it at Amazon too:)

16 posted on 12/30/2017 1:12:29 PM PST by Cold Heart
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To: lupie

I’m unafraid to say a very strong yes. Why so much difference of meaning? Why so many denominations who have different understandings about parts of the text? Why even does the author of the piece in the OP hedge use the word likely so often?

17 posted on 12/30/2017 2:31:30 PM PST by joesbucks
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To: Salvation

“The truest identity of the Magi is you.”

No. That line conflates two truths as if they are the same truth; they’re not. While the Magi can be said to be gentiles, and you may be a gentile, that does not make you a Magi or the same as the Magi.

The Magi were of a generation where NOTHING of Yeshua’s mission and message had yet been delivered, or even known, at all. Current generations, and all generations following Christ’s mission have the message of that mission before them. Some gentiles may be “called” to Christ today, within the sea of Christ-awareness that exists today. The calling of the Magi reflects a much deeper action of the Holy Spirit, acting in a total void of human knowledge of what was to come. It was a calling of a different order. We are not the Magi. We have every advantage of the knowledge of Christ before us, yet we are harder to respond to the calling of the Holy Spirit than the Magi who had zero, except G-d.

The Magi were forerunners, which we are not.

18 posted on 12/30/2017 2:34:39 PM PST by Wuli
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To: GreyFriar

Thank you for the link at post #12.

19 posted on 12/30/2017 4:01:34 PM PST by zot
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To: Cold Heart

Are you saying that the Magi were employed by Amazon?

20 posted on 12/30/2017 5:00:24 PM PST by 353FMG
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