Is the traditional nativity scene accurate? Who are those wise men and are they really wise?
Who Were the Magi?
– at the “Nativity” scene
– 3 in number
– Representations of Shem, Ham, Japheth
– Often called Kings of Orient
– Named Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior who were martyred
— Whose skulls were found in the 12th century by Bishop Reinard of Cologne. These are on display in a cathedral
What we actually know.
– The text reveals they were not at the birth of Christ
– The number of Magi is not revealed (only the number of gifts)
– No indication of any kingship (this idea probably came from Isaiah 60 or Psalms 72:11)
– The word, ‘magi,’ is sometimes translated ‘wise men,’ but should probably be transliterated as it is a title for a tribe of people
– Magi were often court astronomers who were consulted by rulers for guidance.
– The Magi was a tribe of Medes (like the Levites were in Israel) and a politically powerful group
— Thought to come originally from Ur they became to the heart of the Babylonian Empire -> Roman Empire
— Book of Daniel – Daniel 2:10, Daniel 4:7-9, Daniel 5:11 (During the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, some 500 years earlier, King Nebuchadnezzar had a court of magi. Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel the Chief Magus of his court when Daniel was able to interpret a dream the other magi could not.)
— According to Philo, there were magi of various schools, and some were more respected than others. We know of a prestigious school of magi from the writings of Philo. Philo was a Jewish philosopher who lived in the time of Jesus. Philo wrote in praise of an Eastern school of magi. This school may have descended from the Babylonian magi of Daniel’s day. Matthew tells us the Wise Men were from the East, and Babylon is east of Judea. So it is possible the Wise Men were of this prestigious Eastern school.
— Some historians tell us the Magi were so politically powerful, no Persian King could be crowned except for under one of two conditions:
—— 1) He mastered the scientific and religious discipline of the Magi.
—— 2) He had to be approved of and crowned by the Magi
—— This was called the Law of the Medes and Persians (Esther 1:13,19)
— They easily got an audience with the King who actually cared they were in town asking questions.