The Three Wise Men

22 Dec
Just thought I’d do a quick post about the so-called “Three Wise Men” that will be the in the stories and hymns of Christians worldwide the next couple of days.
The word that Matt uses for the “wise men” at Matt 2.1 is μάγοι :: magoi, which is magicians. He doesn’t number them either, but simply has the plural word “magicians”. The author of Acts of Apostles also uses the word μάγος for, ironically, a false prophet and sorcerer (NIV) named son of Jesus (Acts 13.6 ἄνδρα τινὰ μάγον ψευδοπροφήτην Ἰουδαῖον ᾧ ὄνομα Βαριησοῦς [bar Iesous = son of Jesus]). Other writers in antiquity used the same word μάγος that Matt does:
Herodotus, in The Histories, writes:
When the bridges and the work at Athos were ready, and both the dikes at the canal’s entrances, built to prevent the surf from silting up the entrances of the dug passage, and the canal itself were reported to be now completely finished, the army then wintered. At the beginning of spring the army made ready and set forth from Sardis to march to Abydos. As it was setting out, the sun left his place in the heaven and was invisible, although the sky was without clouds and very clear, and the day turned into night. When Xerxes saw and took note of that, he was concerned and asked the Magi (τοὺς Μάγους) what the vision might signify. They declared to him that the god was showing the Greeks the abandonment of their cities; for the sun (they said) was the prophet of the Greeks, as the moon was their own. Xerxes rejoiced exceedingly to hear that and continued on his march.
Euripides, in Orestes:
[1495] passing right through the house, o Zeus and Earth and light and night! whether by magic spells or wizards’ arts (μάγων τέχναις) or heavenly theft. What happened afterwards I do not know; for I stole out of the palace, a runaway.
[1500] So Menelaus endured his painful, painful suffering to recover his wife Helen from Troy to no purpose.
Plato, Republic:
[572e] to be repeated in his case. He is drawn toward utter lawlessness, which is called by his seducers complete freedom. His father and his other kin lend support to these compromise appetites while the others lend theirs to the opposite group. And when these dread magi (δεινοὶ μάγοι) and king-makers come to realize that they have no hope of controlling the youth in any other way, they contrive to engender in his soul a ruling passion to be the protector
The translator of Orestes decided to translate μάγος as wizard. So if one really wanted to troll fundamentalist Christians, we might substitute Harry, Hermione, and Ron as the three who visited Jesus on Christmas (lol).
(Harry, Ron, and Hermione rushing to baby Jesus before Herod can kill him)
Here is the Tufts dictionary definition of the Greek word μάγος:
Μάγος [α^], ου, ὁ,: Magian, one of a Median tribe hence, as belonging to this tribe,

2. one of the priests and wise men in Persia who interpreted dreams
3. enchanter, wizard, esp. in bad sense, impostor, charlatan
as Adj., magical, “μάγψ τέχνῃ πράττειν τι” , “κεστοῦ φωνεῦσα μαγώτερα”

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Posted by on December 22, 2011 in christmas, early Christianity


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