The Wise Men are a big part of the Christmas story. Oddly, they come in and disappear. The Bible seems to indicate that they were not Jews, and they came from the east. I came across a DVD called Mystery of the Three Kings by Questar Entertainment. I thought it brings up some really interesting points, and after learning a bit more about these Wise Men, I thought it brought up some interesting facts: these Wise Men probably came from Iran, and probably were members of a religious sect called Zoroastrianism, which is still in existence today.
The Book of Matthew refers not to kings, but “wise men”. This term Magi comes from Greek: μάγοι, magoi, which is the Mages. Biblical writers preferred the term “wise men” over the term “sorcerors”, which has a more negative connotation. Note Magi is the source to the word “magician.” The ancient historian Herodotus referred to Magi, as a mysterious religious community in Northern Iran (known as Persia). Ancient artwork shows the wise men as ancient Persian priests, and many scholars believe the Magi came from Babylon. Because they were highly regarded priests, they may have been mistaken for kings.
The religion they practiced was called Zoroastrianism, and they looked to the stars for guidance. It is the largest minority religion in Iran. According to my friend from Iran, the country is approximately 90% Muslim. Of the non-Islamic religions, Zoroastrianism is definitely the largest in Iran among the few Jews, Hindus, and Christians who do live there. (When I told her that the wise men may have come from Iran, she was quite surprised to hear this.)
Zoroaster was founding prophet of Zoroastrianism, a religion that has been around longer than Christianity, and is about as old as Judaism. It is a monotheistic religion. Prophecy and miracles were a big emphasis. Fire, representing light is a big part of their religious ceremonies. They also believed in a Messiah, just as the Jews. Persians also spoke Aramaic, just as the Jews did.
There is an ancient writing called the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. In this gospel, Zoroaster predicts the birth of Jesus, and the Magi’s journey to Jerusalem. The sign of Zoroaster is predicted by a star. The Magi were great astrologers. Modern astrology is descended from the Magi. In Babylon, stars were magical things. The signs of the Zodiac are the same today as they were in Babylon.
So, the question arises as to what star might have appeared around 6 BC. A clay tablet from Babylon (the Almanac of Sippa) in the British Museum tells of a great astronomical event. Jupiter and Saturn aligned in 7 BC. Astronomer Michael Molnar tells us that these planets were known to play the central role in kingship, or emporership. Jupiter tells of the coming of a new king. Saturn tells of the old ruler. When these 2 planets aligned closely in the sky, it meant the change of one ruler to another. Traditionally, the constellation of Pisces was the sign of Israel. These 3 objects aligned 3 times in the year 7 BC. This happens every 820 years, so it is a very unusual event. Jupiter also was eclipsed by the moon, and occurred in the East, which would be April 17, 6 BC. Molnar believes this is the date of the birth of Christ. It is an extremely unusual event, and would have been greatly noticed by the Magi.
Matthew and Luke seem to have some differing accounts of Jesus birth. In Luke, the wise men visit a manger. In Matthew, they visit a house. One tradition has it that the Wise Men visited 12 days after Jesus birth, but it could also be that Jesus may have been as old as 2, since Herod ordered all male boys killed under the age of 2. Whatever the time frame, the Bible says that these Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and Jesus escaped into Egypt. (If you’re interested in more on this video, I have 2 other posts on my blog–<a href-“http://www.mormonheretic.org/2008/12/13/christmas-story-part-1/”>part 1<a> and <a href=”http://www.mormonheretic.org/2008/12/25/the-3-kings-part-2/”>part 2</a>.)
Does it bother you that the Wise Men may have been astrologers? How would we feel if a member of another religions such as Islam, Judiasm, Buddhism, or even a Presbyterian said that Pres Monson was a prophet, but they decided to keep in their same religion? Would we include such a reference if an astrologer like Jeanne Dixon made a proclamation of a Mormon prophet?