WHO ARE THE MAGI

The Magi are the legendary wise men of the east. The term magic is derived from them.

They were a priestly caste and were one of the six tribes that were mentioned by Herodotus. The Magi had great information about divination and dream interpretation. Eventually the Magi found their way into Greece, India and China.

In Christian tradition the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men, The Three Kings, or Kings from the east - although it is not said in the Bible how many Magi there really were - are sometimes considered to be Median, perhaps Iranian Zoroastrian priests, who were also proficient in astrology from Ancient Persia. The Gospel of Matthew states that they came "from the east to Jerusalem" to worship the Christ, "born King of the Jews". According to Matthew, they navigated by following a star which came to be known as the Star of Bethlehem. As they approached Jerusalem, Herod tried to trick them into revealing where Jesus was, so that he might be put to death. Upon finding Jesus, the Magi gave him three highly symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Because three gifts were recorded, there are traditionally said to have been three Magi, though Matthew does not specify the number. The Magi were then warned in dreams that revealed Herod's deadly intentions for the child and decided to return home by a different route, in order to thwart them. This prompted Herod to resort to killing all the young children in Bethlehem, an act called the Massacre of the Innocents, in an attempt to eliminate a rival heir to his throne. Jesus and his family had, however, escaped to Egypt beforehand. After these events, the Magi return home and passed into obscurity.

The bible never says that there were "three" wise men, it just states that "each" brought a gift, the majority assumes that since there were three gifts that there must have been 3 wise men. In the Eastern church a variety of different names are given for the three, but in the West the names have been settled since the 8th century as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The names of the Magi derive from an early 6th century Greek manuscript in Alexandria, translated into the Latin Excerpta Latina Barbari. The Latin text Collectanea et Flores continues the tradition of three kings and their names and gives additional details of their clothes, coming from Syria. In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagbha, Badadakharida and Badadilma. None of these names is obviously Persian or is generally agreed to carry any ascertainable meaning, although Caspar is also sometimes given as Gaspar, a variant of the Persian Jasper "Master of the Treasure" from which the name of the mineral jasper is derived. One candidate for the origin of the name Caspar appears in the Acts of Thomas as Gondophares (AD 21 - c.AD 47), i.e., Gudapharasa (from which 'Caspar' derives via the contrived corruption 'Gaspar'). This Gondophares declared independence from the Arsacids to become the first Indo-Parthian king and who was allegedly visited by Thomas the Apostle. Christian legend may have chosen Gondofarr simply because he was an eastern king living in the right time period. In contrast, the Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. These names have a far greater likelihood of being originally Persian, though that does not, of course, guarantee their authenticity. The first name Larvandad is a combination of Lar, which is in southern part of Iran, and vand or vandad which is a common suffix in Middle Persian meaning "related to" or "located in". Vand is also present in the names of such Iranian locations as Damavand, Nahavand, Alvand, and such names and titles as Varjavand and Vandidad. Alternatively, it might be a combination of Larvand meaning "the region of Lar" and Dad meaning "given by". The latter suffix can also be seen in such Iranian names as "Tirdad", "Mehrdad", "Bamdad" or such previously Iranian locations as "Bagdad" ("God Given") presently called Baghdad in Iraq. Thus the name simply means "born in", or "given by", Lar. The second name, Hormisdas, is a variation of the Persian name Hormoz which was Hormazd and Hormazda in Middle Persian. The name referred to the angel of the first day of each month whose name had been given by the supreme God (of Zoroastrianism) who, in Old Persian, was called "Ahuramazda" or "Ormazd". The third name, Gushnasaph, was a common name used in Old and Middle Persian. In Modern Persian, it is Gushnasp or Gushtasp. The name is a combination of Gushn meaning "full of manly qualities" or "full of desire or energy" for something and Asp, Modern Persian Asb, which means horse. Horses were of great importance for the Iranians and many Iranian names, including the presently used Lohrasp, Jamasp, Garshasp, and Gushtasp, contain the suffix. As a result, the second name might mean something like "as energetic and virile as a horse" or "full of desire for having horses". Alternatively, Gushn is also recorded to have meant "many". Thus the name might simply mean "the Owner of Many Horses".

Marco Polo claimed that he was shown the three tombs of the Magi at Saveh south of Tehran in the 1270s: In Persia is the city of Saba, from which the Three Magi set out and in this city they are buried, in three very large and beautiful monuments, side by side. And above them there is a square building, beautifully kept. The bodies are still entire, with hair and beard remaining. A Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral, according to tradition, contains the bones of the Three Wise Men. Reputedly they were first discovered by Saint Helena on her famous pilgrimage to Palestine and the Holy Lands. She took the remains to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople; they were later moved to Milan (some sources say by the city's bishop, Eustorgius I), before being sent to their current resting place by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in AD 1164. The Milanese celebrate their part in the tradition by holding a medieval costume parade every 6 January. A version of the detailed elaboration familiar to us is laid out by the 14th century cleric John of Hildesheim's Historia Trium Regum ("History of the Three Kings"). In accounting for the presence in Cologne of their mummified relics, he begins with the journey of Helena, mother of Constantine I to Jerusalem, where she recovered the True Cross and other relics: Queen Helen began to think greatly of the bodies of these three kings, and she arrayed herself, and accompanied by many attendants, went into the Land of Ind after she had found the bodies of Melchior, Balthazar, and Casper, Queen Helen put them into one chest and ornamented it with great riches, and she brought them into Constantinople and laid them in a church that is called Saint Sophia.

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Byzantine art usually shows the Magi in Persian dress (breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps). Mosaic, Ca. 600 Upon meeting Jesus, the Magi are described as handing over gifts and "falling down" in joyous praise. The use of the term "falling down" more properly means lying prostrate on the ground, which, together with the use of kneeling in Luke's birth narrative, had an important effect on Christian religious practice. Previously both Jewish and Roman tradition had viewed kneeling and prostration as undignified, reserved in Jewish tradition for epiphanies; although for Persians it was a sign of great respect, often showed to the king. But inspired by these verses, kneeling and prostration were adopted in the early Church; while prostration is generally no longer featured, kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day. Three of the gifts are explicitly identified in Matthew gold, frankincense and myrrh and have become one of the best known items from Matthew; it is often assumed that these three are the only gifts the Magi are described as giving. Gold is thought to have been given by Melchior, frakincense by Balthasar, and myrrh by Caspar (It has been suggested by scholars that the "gifts" were in fact medicinal rather than precious material for tribute. They are often linked to chapter 60 of the Book of Isaiah and to Psalm 72. Both of these reports gifts being given by kings, and this has played a central role in the perception of the Magi as kings, rather than as astronomer-priests. In a hymn of the late 4th-century hispanic poet Prudentius, the three gifts have already gained their medieval interpretation as prophetic emblems of Jesus' identity, familiar in the carol "We Three Kings" by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., 1857. Many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of the gifts have been advanced, since while gold is fairly obviously explained, frankincense, and particularly myrrh, are much more obscure. They generally break down into two groups: That they are all ordinary gifts for a king myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable. That they are prophetic gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of priestship, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. Sometimes this is described more generally as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering.

The gifts themselves have also been criticized as mostly useless to a poor carpenter and his family. In the Monastery of St. Paul of Mount Athos there is a 15th century golden case containing purportedly the Gift of the Magi. It was donated to the monastery in the 15th century by Maro, daughter of the King of Serbia George Vragovitch, wife to the Ottoman Sultan Murat II and godmother to Mehmet II the Conqueror (of Constantinople). Apparently they were part of the relics of the Holy Palace of Constantinople and it is claimed they were displayed there since the 4th century AD. After the Athens earthquake of September 9, 1999 they were temporarily displayed in Athens in order to strengthen faith and raise money for earthquake victims. At this point the Magi leave the narrative by returning another way so as to avoid Herod, and do not reappear. Gregory the Great waxed lyrical on this theme, commenting that having come to know Jesus we are forbidden to return by the way we came. There are many traditional stories about what happened to the Magi after this, with one having them baptised by St. Thomas on his way to India. Another has their remains found by Saint Helena and brought to Constantinople, and eventually making their way to Germany and the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral.

The Magi are described as having followed a star to Bethlehem, which thus traditionally became known as the Star of Bethlehem. Since at least Kepler's time there have been many attempts to link it to an astronomical event, with the most commonly cited being a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC, fitting in with Matthew's chronology pointing to Jesus being born before 4 BC, and unlike Luke's which points to AD 6. Although traditionally the Magi, coming from the east, are described as having seen a star in the east, the Greek word in question is anatole, which many scholars feel more accurately translates as a star rising in the morning, meaning a heliacal rising. The star was just above the horizon but hidden by the brightness of the sun.

In Matthew 2:9 it states that the star came and stood over where Jesus was, seemingly stating that the star pointed out the specific house or village that Jesus was in. Quite how it did this is unspecified in the text, and artists have portrayed a wide array of means. Hill comments that the star standing over a fixed location is an undeniably miraculous action which defies all attempts to rationalize the star as a natural nova or conjunction. However, it is perfectly possible for a previously moving star or conjunction to appear to halt its location in the sky the sun freezes in its annual north-south motion for three days twice a year, at the winter and summer solstice (coincidentally due to precession of the equinoxes, 25 December was the winter solstice at the time).

According to most forms of Christianity, the Magi were the first religious figures to worship Christ, and for this reason the story of the Magi is particularly respected and popular among many Christians. The visit of the Magi is commemorated by Christian churches (but not the Eastern Orthodox) on the observance of Epiphany, January 6. The Eastern Orthodox celebrate it on December 25 along with Christmas. This visit is frequently treated in Christian art and literature as The Adoration of the Magi. Upon this kernel of information Christians embroidered many circumstantial details about the Magi. One of the most important changes was their rising from astrologers to kings. The general view is that this is linked to Old Testament prophesies that have the Messiah being worshipped by kings in Isaiah 60:3, Psalm 72:10, and Psalm 68:29. Early readers reinterpreted Matthew in light of these prophecies and elevated the Magi to kings.

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