The Magi are also referred to as the Wise Men or the Three Kings.
Those who know something of the origin of the word Magi often point out how incorrect these other titles are. But, when we carefully consider the word Magi, we realize that all three titles are right and proper.
Magi is the plural form of the word Magus, a westernized version of the Persian word Mogh. The Moghs or the Magi were the clergymen of the Zoroastrian religion at the time of the infant Jesus.
The Magi existed before Zoroaster (the Persian Prophet). They served a polytheistic religion in which the sun (Mithra) was worshipped along with other natural phenomena like water (Anahita) and fire (Agni).
The Magi were theologians, astrologers, historians and clerics. They formed a social caste whose duty it was to serve the Persian religion. They taught other social castes, were consultants to the authorities and maintained social solidarity.
But Zoroaster was a monotheistic prophet who believed that the Magi of his time were leading the people astray.
During the time of Zoroaster, the Magi performed complicated and seemingly irrational rituals and ceremonies for every simple social act. The worship of agricultural gods through simple feasts in their honour had been replaced by elaborate and costly rituals and ceremonies.
The Magi easily exerted power over the ordinary people and authorities and exploited them.
Zoroaster converted a powerful king and his vizier to the new religion. This King fought against the Magi and converted them to the Zoroastrian religion around 1700 B.C.
In time, Zoroaster’s teachings enveloped ancient Iran (Persia), and the Magi, ever adaptable, became the servants of the Zoroastrian religion. They taught the people to worship the one God (Ahura Mazda), to fight Satan (Ahriman) and to celebrate God’s gifts.
When Jesus Christ was born, the Parthians ruled ancient Iran. They were from Parth, the north-eastern province of ancient Iran.
The Parthians established an autonomous system of government. Every province had its own provincial king (Shah), provincial dialect or language, provincial religion, provincial law and occasionally a provincial currency. This whole empire was ruled by the King of Kings. Freedom of religion was an essential part of the ruling system.
Before the Parthians came to power, their chieftains bore the title Kaavi, meaning king-priest. Consequently, the Magi flourished in the provinces as Kaavi.
A few decades before Jesus’ birth, the Magi compiled their holy scriptures and called it the Avesta. There are chapters in this book that clearly make reference to the coming of the Saviour of the world.
It was for this reason that the Magi, local kings and astrologers, followed the star in search of the infant Jesus, the Saviour of the world.
They brought three gifts for Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold was a royal symbol, a symbol of glory and power. In ancient Iran, local kings used to give gold to the King of Kings as a sign of obedience and homage. They removed their crowns in front of him in a gesture meaning that the King of Kings was the real power in the kingdom.
Frankincense and myrrh were used by different religious groups in the Parthian empire for anointing religious leaders, holy ones and youth who had reached the age of puberty.
The Magi were regional kings, but they did not travel with their wealth or courtiers when they set out to find Jesus.
They had, instead, a holy and specific destination revealed to them by a star. And they had three meaningful gifts to present to Jesus as the heavenly-ordained King of Kings and High Priest.
The Reverend Bahman Kalantari is Rector of the Church of Our Saviour The Redeemer Stoney Creek.