What Signs Did the Magi See As “His Star”?

Magi saw “His star” signaling the birth of the “King of the Jews” – something so moving they walked hundreds of miles to “worship” him. What did the Magi see? Clearly, in the Jesus of Nazareth Nativity as described by Matthew, the Magi had read signs in the night sky saying to King Herod:

MT 2:1-2 “…‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’” (NASB, NKJV)

MT 2:9-10 “…behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them…When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (NKJV)

Astrology, astronomy or was it something else?[1] Astrology is the belief that celestial bodies influence a person’s journey in life where horoscopes define a personality, successes, sorrows, challenges – a life’s destiny.[2] Astronomy is a science where positions of stars and planets follow a predictive path that can be charted past, present and future – no mystical meaning in the science.[3]

Zoroastrian theology of the Magi did not believe astrology determined a person’s future, rather a person’s spirit was chosen through a chain of decisions by the age of 15. It was a freewill choice result.[4] On the other hand, the Magi believed every planet has a significance.[5]

Going back millennia from the Assyrians and Babylonians down through the Greeks and Romans, planet-stars and certain fixed stars had names of gods varing by culture and language.[6] As these symbolic celestial bodies moved through the night sky, stargazer Magi viewed their interactions as having earthly significance.[7] Through a series of signs a story unfolded where one sign was associated with the next ultimately portraying a particular outcome.[8]

Unknown to many, Hebrew scholars have long accepted a belief that during creation God instilled the 12 constellations with influences in world events.[9] Man abused this knowledge by worshiping the stars instead of God thus He made it a forbidden practice.[10]

“The study of the universe as a whole was, like all other sciences in olden times, held in closest connection with religion, and was cultivated in the interest of the latter. The starworld was to the heathen an object of worship, but not to the Jews, whether national or Hellenized. With this reverence there was connected a superstition that the stars determined the destiny of man…It is obvious, therefore, that the Astronomy of the Talmudists [Jewish biblical sages] could not be an independent science any more than that of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, or of all other nations of antiquity or of the medieval ages: it was a department of knowledge belonging to theology.”[11] –Jewish Encyclopedia

Knowing how the Magi and the Hebrews viewed the constellations, the planets, their meaning and significance of their interactions serves as a key to solving the mystery of “His star.” By tying this information to the incredible factual astronomy events that played out on the night’s stage during the final years of the BC era, several theories  emerge that could possibly identify the star.

One is the comet star theory when two comets were observed, first in 5 BC lasting for 70 days and then a second tailless comet visible during a single night on April 24, 4 BC.[12] Another theory cites ancient Chinese records telling of a nova burst in the constellation Aquila the Eagle in 5 BC.

The comet theory has to overcome the fact that these were distinctly two very different visual events – one comet with a tail lasting for weeks; the other without a tail lasting for a single night. A nova is an explosion of a star creating a temporary brightening of the star before it fades back to a fainter state.[13] The nova theory is challenging in that it was a one-star, one-time event.

A popular theory is based on a series of conjunctions during the 7-6 BC timeframe involving very close proximity Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunctions. The trifecta took place inside the constellation Pisces, the Fish, on May 29, September 29 and December 5 of 7 BC and was followed by a massing of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 6 BC.[14] Jupiter and Saturn also twice came into close conjunction with the Moon.[15] Problematic for this scenario is that it does not offer an explanation for a single “star” having to rely heavily on astrological interpretation.

Rarity would be a factor since the Jupiter-Saturn triple conjunction was only the third since 562 BC. The scenario also had Babylonian astrology implications by taking place inside the constellation Pisces known to the Babylonians as Nunu.[16]

Pisces the Fish constellation, considered to be the house of Jupiter, is associated with water and rain making the Earth fruitful.[17] In the Hebrew Zodiac, Pisces is the twelfth sign called Dagim that falls in the twelfth Jewish month of Adar, and is one of the three constellations of the East.[18] Dagim represents fertility and pregnancy; a blessing. Adar is the month of joy holding the last holiday of the year, Purim, the celebration of hidden miracles and sets the stage for the month Nisan and the Passover.[19]

One starry scenario theory took place in 3-2 BC hitting squarely on several points, one that provides an astronomy science explanation for “His star;” matches the 2 BC timeline for the Caesar Augustus Pater Patriae registration decree; and deftly fits with the Magi’s view of cosmic signs. Seven extraordinarily close-proximity conjunctions tell an intriguing allegorical story that cannot be easily ignored.

An 18-month series of rare conjunctions began in 3 BC with the .67˚ Saturn-Mercury conjunction. Saturn was known as Ninib, Babylonian god of fertility, and Mercury as Nebo, “the messenger of the gods,” the god of record-keeping and scribe who delivered messages to the mortals.[20] In this scene, the messenger to mortals and the scribe record-keeper god met with the fertility god.

Three weeks later came the .12˚ conjunction between Saturn and Venus who was the Babylonian’s divine personification of the goddess Ishtar, a composite goddess who had many attributes. Venus was the queen of heaven, the mother goddess, the goddess of love, marriage and childbirth.[21] Here, figuratively the god of fertility had met with the goddess queen.

Two months later, queen Venus made extremely close contact with its .07˚ conjunction with Jupiter, the king planet known to the Babylonians as Marduk, the patron god of creation.[22] The symbolic coming together of the king and queen is modestly obvious. Would the Magi have seen this as the sign of a royal conception? The two would meet again 9 months later.

Perhaps the Wise Men could have chalked this all up to coincidence…until a month later. In just a half-tick of the comic clock, they saw where king Jupiter left his visitation with queen Venus to begin a triple conjunction with the star Regulus.

Considered to be the king of stars that ruled the affairs of the heavens, Regulus was to the Persians the leader of the Four Royal stars, the four Guardians of Heaven.[23] As the brightest and chief star in the center of the constellation Leo the Lion, Regulus was known as the Heart of the Lion.[24] The star’s Babylonian name was “Sharru,” meaning the ‘breast, heart’ of the lion; in Hebrew, Sharru-ukin means “king; legitimate, true.”[25]

Leo is considered to be a royal constellation because of its status at the head of the Zodiac calendar dominated by king star Regulus and its direct path to the sun.[26] Well-known to the stargazers of the ancient world, Leo was called “Ser” or “Shī” by the Persians and “Arū” by the Babylonians, all meaning Lion.[27]

Over the next eight months since the Jupiter-Venus conjunction, Jupiter’s triple conjunction path revolved around Regulus where, in essence, the king planet circled a ring around the king star of the heavens. Taking place in the heart of Leo the Lion, the natal sign of Judah, this triple conjunction may have signaled the Magi where to find the newborn king of Israel.[28]

Jupiter moved from circling Regulus directly back to a reunion with Venus, 9 months since the last, for the striking appearance of a partial overlapping conjunction on June 17, 2 BC. Not a surprise to the Magi who would have anticipated its appearance, yet if this second Jupiter-Venus Conjunction was the second appearance of “His star” while the Magi were in Jerusalem, they reacted with “exceedingly great joy” when they actually saw it.

Appearing unannounced at the palace of Herod, the King did not question the declaration of the Magi whose centuries old reputation preceded them – renowned for their expertise in reading the stars and, according to Plato, as “king makers.”[29] Herod acted on the Magi’s information as fact, consulted with Jewish religious experts on prophecy, then focused his attention on Bethlehem wanting to know when “His star” had appeared.

Was the sign of “His Star” announced by the Magi to King Herod in his Judean palace actually the conjunctions of Jupiter and Venus in 3 and 2 BC?

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REFERENCES:

[1] Clevenger, John. “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.”  Lake County (Illinois) Astronomical Society. 2012. <http://www.lcas-astronomy.org/articles/display.php?filename=the_christmas_star&category=miscellaneous>
[2] “astrology.” Merriam-Webster. 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/astrology> “astrology.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/astrology>
[3] “astronomy.” Merriam-Webster. 2018. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/astronomy> “astronomy.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/science/astronomy>  Redd, Nola Taylor. Space.com. 2017. <https://www.space.com/16014-astronomy.html>
[4] Eduljee, K. E. “Is Zoroastrianism a Religion, Philosophy, Way-of-Life…? The Spirit.” Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/05/is-zoroastrianism-religion-philosophy.html>  Eduljee, K. E.  “Introduction. Zoroastrianism & Astrology.” n.d. <http://zoroastrianastrology.blogspot.com/>
[5] “Every Planet Has a Meaning.” Magi Society. Lesson 3. 2008. <http://www.magiastrology.com/lesson1.html>
[6]   Eduljee, K. E. “Zoroastrian-Persian Influence on Greek Philosophy and Sciences.”  Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/zoroastrian-influence-on-greek.html>  Eduljee, K. E. “Astrology & Zoroastrianism,” Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/astrology-zoroastrianism.html>
[7] Eduljee, K. E. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.” #2, #33. Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html> “Magi Astronomy.” Magi Society. 2008. <http://www.magiastrology.com/lesson3.html> Humphreys, Colin J. “The Star of Bethlehem – a Comet in 5 BC – And the Date and Birth of Christ.” pp 390-391. SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). 1991. <http://adsbit.harvard.edu//full/1991QJRAS..32..389H/0000391.000.html>
[8] Dickinson, David. “Is This Month’s Jupiter-Venus Pair Really a Star of Bethlehem Stand In?” Universe Today. October 14, 2015. <https://www.universetoday.com/122738/is-this-months-jupiter-venus-pair-really-a-star-of-bethlehem-stand-in/>  Roberts, Courtney. The Star of the Magi: The Mystery That Heralded the Coming of Christ. pp. 70-71. <https://books.google.com/books?id=480FI6lj3UkC&pg=PA145&lpg=PA145&dq=magi+signs+in+the+sky&source=bl&ots=wQlvIonSLe&sig=yX-toR4CMY1JnebNxQjvYVpHHnc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj9vsaQlonfAhUInKwKHYG5D144FBDoATABegQICBAB#v=onepage&q=magi&f=false>
[9] “Astrology.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/astrology>  Jacobs, Lewis. “Jewish Astrology.” My Jewish Learning. 2018. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/jewish-astrology/> “Jewish Calendar: Months of the Jewish Year.” Bukharian Jews USA. 2010. Matrix: “Hebrew Months and the Zodiac.” <http://www.bjewsusa.com/jewish_calendar_03.htm>  Borschel-Dan, Amanda. “As planets align, some see return of Jesus’ Star of Bethlehem.” Times of Israel. 26 October 2015. < https://www.timesofisrael.com/as-planets-align-some-see-return-of-jesus-star-of-bethlehem/>
[10] Deuteronomy 4:19.  “Astronomy.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2052-astronomy>  “star-worship.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13990-star-worship>  Krane, Lloyd. “Adar and the signs of the Zodiac.” Jewish Magazine. 2008.  <http://www.jewishmag.com/121mag/adar-mazel-sign/adar-mazel-sign.htm>
[11] Bold text and brackets added by author. “astronomy.”  Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011.
[12] Everitt, Henry.  “The Star of Bethlehem – A Chronology of the Life of Jesus.” Duke University|Department of Physics. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 32, p. 389 (1991).  <http://www.phy.duke.edu/~everitt/StarofBethlehem.pdf>  Strobel, Nick. “The Star of Bethlehem – An Astronomical Perspective.” Astronomy Notes. 2011. <http://www.astronomynotes.com/history/bethlehem-star.html>  “Star of Bethlehem may have been planets Jupiter and Venus.”. IU News Room. Dec. 2003.  <http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/1203.html&t=Star%20of%20Bethlehem%20may%20have%20been%20planets%20Jupiter%20and%20Venus>  Mosley, John. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.” International Planetarium Society Inc. Reprinted from the Planetarian. 1981. <http://www.ips-planetarium.org/?page=a_mosley1981>  Humphreys, Colin J. “The Star of Bethlehem – a Comet in 5 BC – And the Date and Birth of Christ.” pp 390-391.
[13] “Star of Bethlehem may have been planets Jupiter and Venus.” IU News Room.
[14] “Star of Bethlehem may have been planets Jupiter and Venus.” IU News Room.  Mosley. “Common Errors in ‘Star of Bethlehem’ Planetarium Shows.”  Clevenger, John.  “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.”  Greetham, Phil. The Nativity Pages. 2005. Index. <https://web.archive.org/web/20121011231348/http://www.btinternet.com/~prgreetham/Wisemen/theory.html>  “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.”  Flescher, Eric and Sessions, Larry. “Ten ‘Star’ of Bethlehem Myths: Part II.” Space.com. 2001. <http://web.archive.org/web/20041205014757/http://space.com:80/SpaceReportersNetworkAstronomyDiscoveries/flescher_Xmasstar2_122601.html>
[15] Molnar, Michael R. “Revealing the Star of Bethlehem.” 2015.  <https://web.archive.org/web/20160624012358/http://www.eclipse.net/~molnar/>  Clevenger. “Astronomy, Astrology, and the Star of Bethlehem.” Pratt, John P.  “The Star of Bethlehem’s Forerunner.” JohnPratt.com. Reprinted from Meridian Magazine. 2000.  <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/xmas_star.html> Fazekas, Andrew. “Christmas Star Mystery Continues.” National Geographic Daily News. 2008. http://web.archive.org/web/20170808084630/http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/12/081224-star-bethlehem.html>
[16] Kidger, Mark R.  The Star of Bethlehem: an Astronomer’s View. 1999. pp 254-256. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_ISv1gPQJV4C&lpg=PA25&ots=WsfPW9KFFR&dq=anatole%2C%20greek%2C%20magi&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=anatole,20greek,%20magi&f=false>  MacKenzie, Donald A. Myths of Babylonia and Assyria. 1915. Chapter XIII. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/mba/mba19.htm>  “Marduk.” New World Encyclopedia. 2014. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Marduk>  “Marduk.”  The 1911 Classic Encyclopedia. <https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Marduk> Leverington, David. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. 2003. Chapter 1.2.  <http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/08408/sample/9780521808408ws.pdf>  “Ancient Assyrian/Babylonian Cuneiform.” Virtualsecrets.com. n.d.  <http://www.virtualsecrets.com/assyrian.html> Allen, Richard Hinckley. Star Names and Their Meanings. pp 337, 341. 1899.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=5xQuAAAAIAAJ&dq=Hinckley%2C%20Star%20Names%20and%20Their%20Meanings&pg=PP2#v=onepage&q=Hinckley,%20Star%20Names%20and%20Their%20Meanings&f=false> Rosenberg.  The “Star of the Messiah” Reconsidered. pp 105-106.  Nolle, Richard. “The Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction.” Astropro.com. 1998. <http://www.astropro.com/features/tables/geo/ju-sa/ju000sa.html>;
[17] Rosenberg.  The “Star of the Messiah” Reconsidered. p 106.
[18] “The Month of Adar.” Bukharian Jews USA. 2010. <http://www.bjewsusa.com/jewish_calendar_03_12.htm>  Ullman, Yirmiyahu. “The Zodiac.” Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum College.  26 Nov. 2005.  <http://ohr.edu/yhiy/article.php/2394>  “Adar.”  International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah. Tzfat-Kabbalah.org.  n.d. <http://www.tzfat-kabbalah.org/whatis.asp?p=510>  “Pisces.” Dictionary.com. 2018. <https://www.dictionary.com/browse/pisces>  Ford, Dominic. “The Constellation Pisces.” In-The-Sky.org. 2018. <https://in-the-sky.org/data/constellation.php?id=67>  “astronomy.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[19] “Jewish Calendar:  Months of the Jewish Year.” Bukharian Jews USA.  Dovid, Avrohom. “Almanac of Important Jewish and Biblical Dates.” ThirdTemple.com. “Adar.’” n.d.  <http://www.thirdtemple.com/JewishTime/adar.html>  Heller, Rebbetzin Tzipporah. “The Choice of Adar.” n.d. <http://www.aish.com/h/pur/b/The_Choice_of_Adar.html>  “Adar.”  International Center for Tzfat Kabbalah.  “Purim.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12448-purim>
[20] “Mesopotamia.” Messenger|MEcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. 2014. http://archive.is/kBVO>  Cain, Fraser. “How Did Mercury Get Its Name ?”  Universe Today. 2010.  <http://www.universetoday.com/66432/how-did-mercury-get-its-name>  Leverington. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. Chapter 1.2. “Ancient Assyrian/Babylonian Cuneiform.”  Virtualsecrets.com.
[21] MacKenzie. Myths of Babylonia and Assyria.  Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings. p 274.  “Venus.” Myth Encyclopedia.  Myths and Legends of the World. 2014.  <http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Tr-Wa/Venus.html>  Leverington.  “Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. Chapter 1.2.  McCormack.  “Ancient Assyrian/Babylonian Cuneiform.”
[22] MacKenzie,  Myths of Babylonia and Assyria. Chapter XIII.   “Marduk.”  New World Encyclopedia.  “Marduk.”  The 1911 Classic Encyclopedia.   Leverington. Babylon to Voyager and Beyond – A History of Planetary Astronomy. Chapter 1.2.   McCormack. “Ancient Assyrian/Babylonian Cuneiform.”  “Jupiter.”  WyzAnt.com. 2014. <http://www.wyzant.com/resources/lessons/english/etymology/planets/jupiter>
[23] Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings. pp 255-257.   Olcott, William Tyler.  Star Lore of All Ages. 1911.  Reprinted 2017. pp 233-238.  Google Books. <http://books.google.com/books?id=PN7JxXoB1c8C&lpg=PP1&ots=SRZwDRc6dW&dq=Star%20Lore%20of%20All%20Ages&pg=PA233#v=onepage&q=&f=false>  Kaulins, Andis. “MUL.APIN – Sumerian Akkadian Astronomy.” LexiLine: History of Civilization. Section #13. 2013. <http://www.lexiline.com/lexiline/lexi182.htm>
[24] Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings.  pp 256-257.
[25] Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings. pp 255.  Olcott.  Star Lore of All Ages. p 237.
“Regulus.” Constellation Guide. 2015. <https://www.constellation-guide.com/regulus/> “Sargon.” Behind the Name. 2018. <https://www.behindthename.com/name/sargon>
[26] Martin.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 1.  Pratt, John P.  “Coordinates for the Constellations.” JohnPratt.com. 2001. <http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/sidereal/sidereal.html>  Martin.  The Star of Bethlehem. Chapter 1. Olson, Ross.“Summary of Conjunctions of Planets (“wandering stars”).” 1997.  Twin Cities Creation Science Association. n.d. < http://www.tccsa.tc/articles/star_dates.html>  Olcott.  Star Lore of All Ages. pp 236-237.
[27] Allen. Star Names and Their Meanings.  p253.
[28] Genesis 49:8-10; Numbers 23:3-9, 21-24.  Strobel. “The Star of Bethlehem – An Astronomical Perspective.”  Carroll. “The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective.”
[29] Plato. Republic. Book 9, Section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>

Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – a Hebrew Magi?

Magi from the East, known by a name whose root word is “magic,” seems at complete odds with a Jewish Messiah accounts about Jesus of Nazareth. Behind the curtains, was there a connection to these Magi and Daniel?

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had wiped out Jerusalem, raided the Temple, and ended the House of David ’s succession of sitting kings. Treasures taken as spoils of war included Hebrew people with particular desired qualities.[1]

One Hebrew captive boy was named Daniel who, along with three other Hebrew boys of royal and noble decent, was chosen to be educated for three years in the exclusive Babylonian school for Chaldeans in preparation for service to the King. They would become part of an eclectic group of royal wise men that included “the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans,” the cabal known as the chakkiym.”[2]

Chakkiym literally means “wise men” or simply “wise.”[3] Two other Aramaic words exclusively appear in the Bible only in the first five chapters of the Book of Daniel, kisday and kisdiy.[4] Aramaic kisday has the same meaning as the Hebrew Kisdiy meaning the “Clod-breakers” – the Chaldeans – mentioned separately from the magicians, astrologers and sorcerers.

One day Nebuchadnezzar challenged the chakkiym to interpret his dream.[5] Gladly they agreed  … once Nebuchadnezzar revealed his dream. Suspicious, the king said to the chakkiym if they truly had mystical powers, they should be able to know the dream itself as well as its interpretation. Under the threat of death and destruction, the chakkiym were commanded to reveal both the dream and its interpretation.

Realizing they were backed into a corner, the Chaldeans informed the King that his request was impossible because no one could do what he was asking. In a fit of rage, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the chakkiym to be executed.

All this was unknown to Daniel until Arioch, captain of the King’s guard, came to arrest and execute him as one of the kingdom’s chakkiym. Surprised by this nasty, unexpected turn of events, Daniel asked Arioch for details, then convinced him to be allowed to approach the King. Nebuchadnezzar granted a day’s reprieve and that night Daniel with his friends prayed for revelation of the dream.

Next day, Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets…”[6]

Daniel revealed both the King’s dream and its interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar was completely humbled, bowed down to Daniel, rewarded him with riches and made him head of all the kingdom’s chakkiym.[7]

According to the prophet Jeremiah, the chief position for the wise men in Babylon was called Rab-mag.[8] The Hebrew Word Study defines the word as “a foreign word for Magian” and Strong’s as “a foreign word for a Magian; chief Magian; Rab-Mag, a Babylonian official.”[9]

Handwriting on the palace wall appeared during ruler Belshazzar’s drunken party. At the urging of Belshazzar’s wife, Daniel was summoned to interpret the message on the wall. It is the last time the word chakkiym appears in the Bible.[10] Daniel’s interpretation of the message foretold the Babylonian kingdom would be overthrown – it happened that very night.[11]

Chaldean and Magi wise men meshed well with their mystical reputations, especially for Daniel’s God-given supernatural abilities of interpreting visions and prophecies. His reputation in Babylon as a head of the chakkiym wise men landed Daniel a position as a leader of the Magi wise men in the new kingdom. [12]

Cyrus, aka Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great, King of the Persian Empire, espoused Zoroastrianism as the main religion in his conquered territory.[13] Zoroastrian priests known as Magi, like the chakkiym, were considered to be wise men and held great royal influence in political affairs.[14]

Xenophon (c. 430-350 BC), a Greek intellect, quoted Cyrus, “set apart for the gods whatever the magi direct, as they interpret the will of the gods.” Similar to the Babylonian school for Chaldeans, Xenophon wrote, “…the first time the college of magi was instituted…” by Cyrus and “Influences of the Magi, continued in force with each successive king even to this day.”[15]

Herodotus (c. 484-420), a Greek historian, gave an account of a pair of Magi who attempted a silent coup through trickery of an imposter king who was a Magus. After 7 months, the Magus imposter was eventually discovered by seven men including Darius. The one who actually killed the Magus was Darius. The murder led to the “massacre of the Magi” by the populace.[16]

Darius, aka Darius I or Darius the Great, assigned Daniel as one of the three top government positions over the satraps (province governors and chiefs with the intention to place Daniel as administrator over all of them.[17] His two jealous counterparts conspired to have Daniel eliminated, the pretext for the famous story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Unscathed by the lions, Daniel’s two rivals met the terrifying fate intended for him.

Noted Hellenistic era Greek historians and philosophers provided additional insights to these mysterious wise men of Babylon and Persia.[18] Their accounts of Chaldeans and Magi reveal striking similarities.

Pythagoras (c. 570-499 BC), “journeyed among the Chaldaeans and Magi” to learn their ways. Democritus (c. 460-370 BC) himself “was a pupil of certain Magians and Chaldaeans” from whom “he learned theology and astronomy.”[19]

Plato (circa 428-347 BC), the famed Greek philosopher, called the Magi “king-makers.” He wrote that a king’s son at the age of 14 is taught “the magian lore of Zoroaster.”[20]

Parthian Empire, considered by some to be the second Persian Empire, followed the Greek Empire in world history. It coexisted with the Roman Empire at the end of the millennium, though not without wars and confrontations.[21]

Cicero (106-43 BC), famed Roman orator and lawyer, identified Magi as Persians: “I bring forth from Dinon’s Persian annals the dreams of that famous prince, Cyrus, and their interpretations by the magi… He was told by the magi, who are classed as wise and learned men among the Persians…”[22]

Chaldeans were skilled in the science of astronomy, said Diodorus (c. 75-20 BC). He wrote, “the Chaldeans in Babylon and the other astrologers succeed in making accurate prophecies.”[23]

Strabo (c. 64 BC-21 AD), a renowned historian, lived in the same era as Jesus of Nazareth. He referenced Poseidonius (whose works today are very rare), a Greek philosopher called the most educated man of his time.[24] Strabo wrote “the Council of the Parthians, according to Poseidonius, consists of two groups, one that of kinsmen, and the other that of wise men and Magi, from both of which groups the kings were appointed.”[25]

“And the priests of the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, and Magi, distinguished for their wisdom above those around them, obtained from our predecessors honour and authority…” – Strabo[26]

Reviewing the historical and Biblical accounts of Chaldeans and Magi over the 500 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth reveals certain truths. Chaldeans did not disappear with the takeover by the Persians. Instead, their abilities and skills were recognized by the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.

Heritage was not a requirement to be considered a wise man. As a captured Hebrew lad, Daniel was chosen to be placed in the school for Chaldeans to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s chakkiym. He was later chosen to be the top leader of the Magi in the Median-Persian Empire.

Title for a leader of the wise men in Babylon was a Rab-Mag, a word for head “Magian.” The title was used decades before the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonian Empire. By definition, Daniel was a Rab-Mag.

Magi and Chaldean wise men were typically referenced together, each recognized for their own skills, yet collectively they came to be known only as only Magi. Throughout the centuries, Chaldean wise men were renowned for their astronomy abilities and forecasting the future. Magi were known for being king-makers and also their prophetic abilities.

Magos, a Greek word for wise men who were renowned for their ability to read the stars, make accurate predictions and reputed for being king-makers, came to the palace of King Herod. Without hesitation, Herod granted them immediate access to his palace and did not question their request.

The Magos asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” – for they had seen his star and came to worship him.[27] Matthew does not indicate how many Magos came to Herod’s palace.

Can the conclusion be drawn that Daniel was a Hebrew Magi?

 

Updated 11/29/2021

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Daniel 1.
[2] Daniel 2:2. NKJV.
[3] Net.bible.org. Daniel 2. Hebrew text. “kasdiy <03779>;” “kasday <3779>;” “chakkiym <02445 <http://lexiconcordance.com>
[4] Guisepi, Robert. “The Chaldeans, The Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian) Empire.” International World History Project. Ed. Robert A. Guisepi. 2007. <http://history-world.org/chaldeans.htm> “Chaldea.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/place/Chaldea>
[5] Daniel 2.
[6] Daniel 2:27. NKJV.
[7] Daniel 2:46-48.
[8] Jeremiah 39:3, 13.
[9] RabMag H72348. Hebrew Bible Lexicon. http://lexiconcordance.com/search6.asp?sw=7248&sm=0&x=29&y=12>
[10] Daniel 5:15.
[11] Daniel 5.  Herodotus. The Histories. 1.191-193; 4.1. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D1%3Achapter%3D1>
[12] Daniel 6. CR Daniel 9, 10.
[13] Hooker, Richard. “Mesopotamia: The Persians.” Washington State University. 1996. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110514001358/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/PERSIANS.HTM> CYRUS ii. Cyrus I.  Encyclopædia Iranica. 2021. <https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cyrus-ii>  Cyrus. JewishEncyclopedia.com. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4828-cyrus>  Cyrus the Great. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Great> “Zoroastrianism.”  ReligionFacts.com. 2018. <http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm> “Zoroastrianism.” PersianEmpire.info. 2007. <http://persianempire.info/zoro.htm>  Hooker, Richard. “Mesopotamia: The Persians.” Washington State University. 1996. <http://web.archive.org/web/20110514001358/http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/MESO/PERSIANS.HTM> “Zoroaster.” Encyclopædia.com. 2016. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/philosophy-and-religion/ancient-religion-biographies/zoroaster> Gascoigne, Bamber.  “History of Zoroastrianism.”  HistoryWorld.net. n.d. <http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab71>  “Zoroastrianism.”  BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian> Eduljee, K. E. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.” Zoroastrian Heritage. 2011. <http://zoroastrianheritage.blogspot.com/2011/04/greek-perceptions-of-zoroaster.html>  “Zoroastrianism.” BBC|The British Broadcasting Corporation. 2009. “The Archaemenian.”<http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/zoroastrian> Jafarey, Ali Akbar.  “The Achaemenians, Zoroastrians in Transition.”  CAIS|The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. 1998.  <http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Religions/iranian/Zarathushtrian/achaemenian_zarathushtrian.htm> Soules, Jeremiah. “For the Glory of Ahuramazda:  The Political Effects of Zoroastrianism on Early Achaemenid Persia.” University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. 2010. pp. 18-21. <http://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/60912?show=full>
[14]Herodotus, The Histories. Book 3, Chapters 30, 60-79. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0126:book=3:chapter=30&highlight=smerdis >  Plato. Republic.  Book 9, section 572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0168:book=9:section=572e&highlight=magi>
[15] Xenophon. Cyropaedia. Walter Miller, Ed. c.370 BC. 4.5; .8.1. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Xen.+Cyrop.+1.1&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0204>   “Xenophon.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Xenophon>
[16] Herodotus. Histories. Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. n.d, Book XI, Chapter III. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[17] Daniel 6:2-3. Darius I. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I>  Darius I. JewishEncyclopedia.com <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4902-darius-i>  Darius iii. Darius I the Great. Encyclopædia Iranica. 2021. <https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/darius-iii> Darius I. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2021. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-I> Daniel 6. Herodotus. Histories. 3.90. Xenophon. Cyropaedia. 4.5.>
[18] Gascoigne, Bamber.   “Iran (Persia) timeline.” HistoryWorld.net. n.d. <http://www.historyworld.net/timesearch/default.asp?conid=static_timeline&timelineid=759&page=1&keywords=Iran+%28Persia%29+timeline> Eduljee. “Greek Perceptions of Zoroaster, Zoroastrianism & the Magi.”>
[xix] Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. 8.1; 9/7. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0258:book=9:chapter=7&highlight=Magians%2C> “Pythagoras.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pythagoras>  “Cyrus takes Babylon.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2018. <http://www.livius.org/sources/content/herodotus/cyrus-takes-babylon> “Democritus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Democritus> Diogenes. Lives. 9.7.>
[20] Plato. Republic. Trans.Paul Shorey. 9.572e. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D9%3Asection%3D572e>  Plato. Alcibiades 1. Trans. W.R.M. Lamb. c. 390 AD. 1 121e-1232. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176%3Atext%3DAlc.%201%3Asection%3D122a>  “Plato.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Plato>
[21] Lendering, Jona. History of Iran – Parthian Empire. 2018. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[22] Cicero, M. Tullius. Divination. Trans. William Armistead Falconer. 44 BC. 1.46. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D46> Cicero. Divinations. 1.2 <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D2>  Cicero. Divinations. 1.90 <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2007.01.0043%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D90>
[23] Diodorus. Library. Prologue; 15.50. “Diodorus Siculus.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Diodorus-Siculus>
[24] Pasidonius of Rhodes.  MT MacTutor. April 1999. <https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Posidonius>  Poseidonius. Britannica.com. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Poseidonius>
[25] Lendering, Jona. History of Iran – Parthian Empire. 2018. <http://www.iranchamber.com/history/parthians/parthians.php>
[26] Strabo. The Geography of Strabo. 17-23 AD.  H. L. Jones, ed. 1.2. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0239:book=1:chapter=2&highlight=magi>
[27] Matthew 2:2. NKJV, NASB.

The Magi’s Provocation of King Herod

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi had been traveling on a month’s long quest to find the newborn King of the Jews.[1] All that they knew was to start searching somewhere in Judea. It made perfect sense to start in Jerusalem with the King of Judea – Herod.

Immediately the Magi gained direct access to the King, their reputation as Magi making that possible. The first words spoken by the Magi to Herod in Matthew’s Nativity account set the stage in the palace:

MT 2:2Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?(NASB, NKJV)

No doubt, it was shocking news to the reigning king who knew nothing about this royal birth. After all, this child certainly was not Herod’s son. The question assumes two facts – the child is predestined to be the King of the Jews and he has already been born. Qualifying their revelation, the Magi explained how they knew this to be true saying:

MT 2:2For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him.(NKJV)

Now the second shock wave – not the star; no, it was the fact that they came to worship this newborn King of the Jews! No one worshiped the great Herod, yet these Magi traveled hundreds of miles from a foreign land emphasizing their personal conviction of what they had observed – what child would be worthy of such worship? The Magi left the palace without getting an answer.

Stirring the pot tends to cause people to act in peculiar ways. The Magi certainly shook things up with their declaration undoubtedly getting the attention of everyone else in the palace. Herod and all of Jerusalem were “troubled” by the news, translated from Matthew’s Greek text word tarasso meaning “to stir or agitate (roil water).”[2]

A newborn king of the Jews – who was his father if not from the House of Herod?  A child worthy of worship by the reputed king-makers? Now this was newsworthy! It must have been the hottest topic of conversation in Jerusalem.

Servants came from among the general population where they still had family and friends. Throughout history palaces of kings and queens have been notoriously unable to hold their secrets.

Many times it was the royal family members who could not keep things to themselves – good gossip is just too hard to keep a secret. Herod’s family was scandalously known for their loose lips.[3]

Herod was widely hated so the news undoubtedly raised hopes, yet at the same time, it was just as troubling – would the new king be worse than Herod or hopefully a good king? Either way, it would be years before this new king would begin his reign. Or, could he even be the promised Messiah?

For any king, especially with the personality profile of Herod, this whole affair, whether true or not, would be an embarrassment and no king should ever be embarrassed, especially Herod. As the story unfolds, the King came to quickly view this child’s birth as a real threat that must be dealt with such as Herod had done many times before using whatever means necessary.[4]

Processing in his mind the Magi’s alarming news, after they left the palace the King immediately assembled “all the chief priests and scribes of the people.”[5] Not just a select few, but all of the Jewish religious experts – the King was leaving no stone unturned.

Making it clear he believed the Magi’s proclamation,  he asked the  Jewish religious experts chief priests and scribes to determine “where the Christ (Messiah) was to be born.”[6] It was not a question of if rather where Christos, the Greek word for Messiah, was to be born. Their consensus response: “In Bethlehem of Judea” citing the prophecy of Micah.[7]

Up to this point, the actual appearance of the star witnessed by the Magi astronomers had been only incidental information. Had the star been the most attention-getting news from the Magi, a cynical Herod would have been expected to question it, even scoff at it – he didn’t. It was a detail; however, that did not pass his attention.

Matthew does not say Herod was unaware of the star event – it can only be said that he did not know when it had occurred. Events in the sky would likely have been a relatively petty matter to the King prior the Magi’s visit, especially considering his bigger political problems in the kingdom, with Rome, and his scheming family affairs.

Upon hearing of Micah’s prophecy from the Jewish religious experts, his focus changed. No star was mentioned in Micah’s prophecy nor recorded in the response by the chief priests and scribes although, as religious experts, they were likely fully aware of Balaam’s prophecy of a star coming forth from Jacob signifying a ruler of Israel.[8] Maybe they mentioned this to Herod, maybe not.

One thing is for certain, Herod had a new fixation:  when did this star appear? There could be only one reason why it was now important – knowing when the star appeared would establish a timeline.

Summoning the Magi back to the palace, Herod wanted this second meeting to be in secret. Since the word was all over Jerusalem about the Magi’s initial visit to the palace, why did Herod want their next meeting to be secret? It strongly suggests the King had something to hide.

Herod now possessed two details of interest to the Magi – Micah’s prophecy corroborating the birth of a Jewish ruler and the general location of Bethlehem where he could be found. This information would serve as leverage to learn when the star had appeared. During this second meeting, Herod got the information he wanted and the Magi got the information they were seeking.

One other thing Herod wanted… the Magi were to report back to him with the exact location of the child under the pretense that he, too, of course could worship the new king. But Herod worshiped no one or thing.

In Bethlehem, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped him offering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi may have intended to inform Herod of the child’s whereabouts until they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

Returning home by another route the Magi avoided Jerusalem. Enraged, Herod then ordered all the children 2 years and younger to be killed in the district of Bethlehem based on the timing of the star’s first appearance ascertained from the Magi.

Hard to believe anyone could be capable of this act? This same King, among many other murders, had killed a chief priest, his second wife, her grandfather, her two sons and would soon execute his firstborn son by his first wife.[9] Moreover, from his death bed he would summon all the principal men of his kingdom to Jericho, lock them in the hippodrome, and give orders to have them killed just to deny them the opportunity to gloat over his death.[10]

Does Herod’s reactions ring true to the Magi’s declaration that the Messiah, King of the Jews, had been born in Bethlehem?

 

Updated October 8, 2021

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] “Trade between the Romans and the Empires of Asia.” 2000. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.  <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/silk/hd_silk.htm>  “Trade Routes.” Smithsonian|The National Museum of American History. n.d. <http://web.archive.org/web/20160618154742/http://americanhistory.si.edu/numismatics/parthia/frames/pamaec.htm>
[2] Net.bible.org. Matthew 2:2 Greek text. <http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Mat&chapter=2&verse=2> Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D.  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. “tarasso <5015>”  Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1990.
[3] Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XV, Ch.VII-VIII; Book XVI, Ch. VIII, XI, IX, XIII, XVI. Book XVII, Ch. I, V. Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XVIII, XXII, XXIV, XXXI, XXXIII. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] Josephus. Antiquities. Book V, Ch. 1; Book XV, Ch. 1, 3, 6, 7; Book XVI, Ch.VII, VIII, X; Book XVII, Ch. IV, VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXVI, XXII, XXIV, XXVI, XXX, XXXI. “Herod the Great.” 2017. Livius.org. <http://www.livius.org/articles/person/herod-the-great
[5] Matthew 2:4. NRSV, NKJV, NASB.
[6] NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[7] Matthew 2:5. NET, NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV.
[8] Maimonides, Moses. Mishneh Torah. “The Law Concerning Moshiach.”  Kesser.org. n.d. <http://www.kesser.org/moshiach/rambam.html#SIE>   Rich, Tracey R.  “Mashiach: The Messiah.” Judaism101. 2011. <http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XV, Ch. III-VII, IX, XIII, XVI; Book XVI, Ch. XI; Book XVII, Ch. IX.
Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXII, XXVII, XXXIII.
[10] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Ch. VI.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Ch. XXXIII.