Daniel, Chief of Wise Men – a Hebrew Magi?
Magi from the East, known by a name that is the root word for “magic,” seems at complete odds with a Jewish Messiah account about Jesus of Nazareth. Perhaps surprisingly, there is a Jewish connection with these mystics from the East.
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.
As a captured Hebrew lad, Daniel and three other Hebrew boys were chosen to be educated in the school for Chaldeans to serve King Nebuchadnezzar. They would join an eclectic group of royal wise men known as the chakkiym, a cabal that included “the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans.” Particular ethnicity was not a requirement to be considered a wise man.
Chakkiym literally means “wise men” or simply “wise.” Two other Aramaic words exclusively appear in the Bible only in the first five chapters of the Book of Daniel, kisday and kisdiy. Aramaic kisday has the same meaning as the Hebrew Kisdiy meaning the “Clod-breakers.”
One day Nebuchadnezzar challenged the chakkiym to interpret his dream. Gladly they agreed … of course, once Nebuchadnezzar revealed his dream. Suspicious, the king said to the chakkiym that 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 and then convinced him to be allowed to approach the King. Nebuchadnezzar granted a days’ reprieve and that night Daniel with his friends prayed for the 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…”
Daniel then 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.
According to the prophet Jeremiah, the chief position for the wise men in Babylon was called Rab-mag. 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.”
Handwriting on the palace wall appeared during Babylonian 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. Daniel’s interpretation of the message foretold the Babylonian kingdom would be overthrown – it happened that very night.
Chaldeans did not disappear with the takeover by the Persians. Daniel’s reputation in Babylon as a head of the chakkiym wise men landed him in a position as a leader of the wise men in the Persian kingdom.
Cyrus, aka Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great, King of the Persian Empire, espoused Zoroastrianism as the main religion in his conquered territory. Zoroastrian priests known as Magi, like the chakkiym, were wise men and considered to have great royal influence in political affairs.
Persian and Chaldeans wise men meshed well with their mystical reputations. Their abilities and skills over the 500 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth were recognized by the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans.
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 also 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.”
Herodotus (c. 484-420 BC), 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 who allegedly killed the Magus ultimately paving the way to become a Persian ruler.
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. His two jealous counterparts conspired to have Daniel eliminated, the setting for the famed story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Unscathed in the den of lions, Daniel’s two rivals at the behest of Darius, 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. Their accounts of Chaldeans and Magi reveal striking similarities.
Pythagoras (c. 570-499 BC), a philosopher and mathematician, “journeyed among the Chaldaeans and Magi” to learn their ways. Democritus (c. 460-370 BC), a philosopher and scientist involved in development of the atomic theory of the universe, “was a pupil of certain Magians and Chaldaeans” from whom “he learned theology and astronomy.”
Plato (circa 428-347 BC), the famed Greek philosopher, called the Magi “king-makers.” He also wrote that a king’s son at the age of 14 is taught “the magian lore of Zoroaster.”
Famed Roman orator and lawyer, Cicero (106-43 BC) 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…”
Chaldeans were skilled in the science of astronomy, said historian Diodorus (c. 75-20 BC). He wrote, “the Chaldeans in Babylon and the other astrologers succeed in making accurate prophecies.”
Coexisting with the Roman Empire at the end of the millennium, though not without wars and confrontations, was the Parthian Empire. Considered by some to be the second Persian Empire, the Parthians also treated wise men and Magi with high esteem.
Renowned Greek historian, Strabo (c. 64 BC-21 AD), lived in the same era as Jesus of Nazareth. He referenced Poseidonius, a Greek philosopher whom he called the most educated man of his time. 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.”
“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 
Throughout the centuries, Magi and Chaldean wise men were renowned for their astronomy abilities and forecasting the future. Magi were also known for being king-makers. When the Magi came to the Jerusalem palace of Herod, without hesitation the King granted them immediate access to his palace and did not question their request. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” the Magi asked, because they had “seen his star and came to worship him.”
Daniel was the head of the Babylonian wise men, then a top official in the Persian Empire where Magi held great political influence. Can the conclusion be drawn that Daniel was a Hebrew Magi?
Updated February 21, 2023.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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