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date: 13 December 2019

Magi, the (Gk. Magos, from Old Persian Magus) 

Source:
The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture
Author(s):
Tom Devonshire JonesTom Devonshire Jones, Linda MurrayLinda Murray, Peter MurrayPeter Murray

In Matt. 2: 1–23, the story of the Magi opens with their arrival in Jerusalem from the east in the days of Herod the Great. They are described simply as ‘wise men’, and as a result of their question, ‘Where is the child who has been born King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage’, Herod had the books of prophecies examined, and it was discovered in Mic. 5: 2 that the Christ, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. He sent the wise men there, saying that they should return when they had found Him so that he might also come to worship the Child. ‘… ahead of them went the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down, and paid him homage. Then opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.’ An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him to fly with the Child and His mother into Egypt. When Herod realized that the wise men had tricked him by not returning, he had all the children in Bethlehem up to 2 years old massacred. Only Matthew tells this story, and his only description of the seekers is as ‘wise men’, and in the Greek Testament they are called ‘sages’. They were probably members of the Mazdean, a Zoroastrian priestly caste of Persians. No number is mentioned, and the tradition that there were three is merely inferred from the three gifts, nor are they given names. It was not until about 200 that Tertullian, a Carthaginian who was converted in Rome in 195/6 and returned to Africa to become eventually one of the African Fathers of the Church, called them Kings, and this became common only from the 6th century. The first to say that there were three and to name them as Caspar (or Gaspar), Melchior, and Balthasar was Origen (d. 254), and these names also became current from the 6th century. While the shepherds were the first Jews to venerate Christ, arriving immediately after His birth, the first Gentiles to recognize and worship Christ were the Magi, hence the Feast of the ... ...

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