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What does the Bible say about the Magi? We are very familiar with the Star of Bethlehem and the Three Wise men following its trajectory. They have become a part of the Christmas drama. Nevertheless, upon closer inquiry their role inadvertently may not have been as noble as is generally portrayed. Originally, the ancient Magi of the Medes were known for their extraordinary religious knowledge. Some amongst their number proved to be expert in dream interpretation. This factor influenced Darius the Great (550–486 BC) the establish them as being placed in charge of all affairs relating to the state religion of Persia. This resulted in the Magi becoming a supreme hereditary Median priestly caste of the Persian Empire that continued down to the time of Christ despite changes in governmental affairs in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquests. Israel and Persia had a similar history in that both regained their independence - Israel under the Maccabean leadership and the Persians being the dominating ruler class within the Parthian Empire. The Parthian Kings made the claim that they were the real heirs of Cyrus the Great’s empire. The Median class of wise men or Magi insinuated themselves into positions of great influence within the governmental ranks. Leading up to Christ’s birth, the Romans unsuccessfully tried to conquer Parthia. The results were a military standoff. This resulted in Augustus Caesar appointing Herod as “King of the Jews.” Consequently, Israel became a rebellious buffer state situated between two mighty contending empires, Rome and Parthia. The politics of the day was that Herod always felt threatened by his subjects because at any time they might conspire to bring the Parthians to their aid and dethrone him. This brings us to the story of the “wise men.” They were probably members of these Parthian [Persian] Magi. It is also likely that they were comprised of a large, self-sustaining entourage traveling under the protection of an adequate cavalry escort to assure their safety while journeying into Roman territory. There were no doubt adequate signs that their mission was peaceful and that they were not an invading force. It is this picture that explains why King Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were all “troubled” by their presence. (Matthew 2:3) Now let’s consider the “Star” that led them to Jerusalem and then disappeared. Why would the star do this? It should be obvious that this was a very dangerous thing to do. Because of their status the Magi apparently got easy access to King Herod, an appointed outsider by Rome, to ask him, “Where is he that is BORN King of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2) What was Herod and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to think? Was this a ploy as a prelude for another war with Parthia? So you see the problem. Right after this, the guiding “star” reappears and leads them directly to Jesus. Why didn’t it do this in the first place if it was from God? Were it not for divine intervention, in the form of a “dream” which the Magi fully understood and respected, the baby Jesus might have been killed. (Matthew 2:12) Eventually, the “star” resulted in the death of all the children 2 years and under in Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. (Jeremiah 31:15) Finally, lets examine the apparent basis that many quote that motivated the Magi to make their Journey. We are told that the appearance of the star was prophesied by Balaam, God’s enemy. (Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 2:15) Additionally, stargazers or astrologers were not to be listened to. (Isaiah 47:13-14) So, what are we to conclude? In my opinion, I do not believe the “Star of Bethlehem” was from God but instead was from the Devil. However, like many things the Devil tries to do to mislead or harm God’s people, it was turned into a benefit. Because the Magi brought money to Mary and Joseph, they were able to flee into exile until danger to Jesus had passed. In that way, the Magi and the Star were a blessing.
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