Were The Three Wise Men Persian Magi?

Religious entities and researchers seem to differ on this opinion.

The tradition of the Three Wise Men or the Three Magi has been celebrated for centuries in different parts of the world on the day of January 6.

On the evening of January 5, all the children go out to gather grass or hay to give the camels or horses (depending on which version of the story you look at) of the Three Wise Men, and then go to bed dreaming of the presents the Three Wise Men would leave them the next day. 

We all know the story of how the Three Wise Men traveling with the guidance of the Star of Bethlehem and gifting baby Jesus myrrh, gold, and incense. We also know about how there was a fourth Wise Man, Artaban, who got lost and arrived after Jesus' death.

But is that all there is to this story? Were there really three Wise Men that went to see Jesus? Were they truly just researchers of knowledge and well educated?

Let us find out who the Wise Men were and where did this tradition come from.

The Three Magi
Image Credit: Pixabay

How The Three Wise Men Came To Be?

The concept of the Three Magi took form throughout time, having been added to by philosophers, artists, and scholars.

According to National Geographic, the Three Wise Men first appeared as a priestly caste from Media and Persia.

Later on, in the third century, a theologist and writer named Origins proposed that there had been three Magis who visited Jesus because of the three gifts that were presented to the baby.

Second-century paintings from the Santa Priscila catacombs presented the Wise Men as three noble Persians, states National Geographic.

In the VIII century, the Magi were depicted as kings and also got their names: Melchior (Melchor), Gathaspa (Gaspar or Casper), and Bithisarea (Baltazar). 

Depictions of the Three Magi

The three main Wise Men were described with different characteristics representing different parts of the world that were known at that time. 

Melchor was described as an old, white man with a white beard. He represented the white European races from the north, as well as the concept of old age.

Gaspar is often shown with brown hair and a brown beard. The second Magi represents the Asian races and youth.

Baltazar, with his black skin, is sometimes portrayed with or without facial hair. He is representative of Africa, as well as the concept of maturity. 

Image Credit: Lifeway Research

Wise Men vs Magi

You might have noticed that in this article "Wise Men" and "Magi" are used interchangeably. This is because in Spanish the title of The Three Wise Men is "Los Tres Reyes Magos". Translated literally it is The Three Magi Kings.

Throughout the ages scholars, theologists, and devotees alike have struggled with the term "Magi" whenever it is referred to Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltazar defending that the three did not practice magic at all but were just well-educated men. 

Many consider that "Magi" is just a reference to "wise men".

The Greek term "Magoi" designates men of various educated classes. These Wise Men were not magicians in the modern sense of performing magic. They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were men of integrity.

- El Deseado de Todas las Gentes (book)

Still "Magi" persists in some denominations that the Wise Men are given.

Where the Wise Men were said to come from might be the reason why in many places they are still referred to as Magi. 

The Three Wise Men were Persian

Ancient texts and beliefs place the origin of the Three Wise Men in either Persia (Iran) or adjacent lands. More specifically, they were said to be from the Orient or the East of Palestine. 

From the 1st millennium BCE (B.C.) and until the 7th century CE (A.D.) when Muslims invaded, the Persians, although of diverse ancestry, practiced what is now known as Zoroastrianism, states the Britannica Encyclopedia. 

And, according to Biblical Archeology, the majority of scholars place the birth of Jesus in 4 B.C. or before. This means that when Jesus was born, Zoroastrianism was still strongly practiced in Persia. 

Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D., states in his book Original Magic: The Rituals and Initiations of the Persian Magi that:

The prestige and reputation of the Magian priests of Mazda are nowhere clearer than in the Christian story of the Three Wise Men. This short narrative tells of the group of magoi or magi that visited the recently born Jesus.

The point of the existence of this story is that early Christians wanted to show that they had the approval of the Magians, then thought to be the most prestigious priesthood in the world.

-Stephen E. Flowers , Ph.D.

Image Credit: GoSouth

What is Zoroastrianism?

Zoroastrianism or Mazdayasna is one of the oldest practiced religions based on the teachings of Zarathustra or Zoroaster, as the Greek called him. 

It is said that Zarathustra was born into a polytheistic religion but after getting a vision of a single supreme entity he began to teach others to mainly worship the god Ahura Mazda. 

Zoroastrianism is believed to have helped shaped the three main religions of today, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, by introducing the beliefs and concepts of the idea of a single god, heaven, hell, and a day of judgment. Which these three religions didn't have before coming in contact with Zoroastrianism. 

In Zoroastrianism, they also believed in a version of the ultimate battle between good and evil. It was said that their god Ahura Mazda was in a constant battle with Angra Mainyu which represented everything bad and evil. This is the reason that Zoroastrianism is also said to be a religion of dualism. 

Fire and water were important tools for the Parsis (as the followers of Zoroastrianism became known after becoming refugees due to the Muslim invasion of Persia). 

The Parsis considered fire and water as purification tools, they had fire temples that contained an altar with a flame that was never extinguished, according to History. Truth and righteousness were very important values for them. 

Persian Magic

According to Stephen A. Flowers, Ph.D., that mazdan magic (craft of the magu), is not sorcery like many Greeks and Romans of ancient times tried to make other people believe, instead, it is a combination of spiritual wisdom or insight and science by which things are revealed and/or made to happen. 

Persian magic is the applied science of ritual and cosmology. 

As Zoroastrianism came in contact with other cultures, many outsiders couldn't comprehend their teachings and so they tried to make others believe that the magavans (Magians) were sorcerers or practitioners of witchcraft that would harm others.

This is probably one of the reasons why today, people still have trouble with identifying the Three Wise Men as Magi.

Persian Mageia was seen either as horrible witchcraft or as a system of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment, depending on the camp to which the writer belonged.

Those Greeks who opposed the Persians saw their ideology as witchcraft; those who admired them called it philosophia.

 - Stephen A. Flowers Ph.D. 

The Magi were definitely well educated and famed for their astrological knowledge, which they borrowed from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians.

The Magi were the first to systematize astrology into a system of magic that they used in their own science and cast horoscopes. So good were they with astrology that they were credited with its invention even though they only perfected it. 

The Magi were also credited with the invention of magic by Pliny the Elder, a famed first-century CE historian, even though again, they did not. 

So, were the Three Wise Men Magi?

According to many studies and researchers, it seems to be that they were indeed Persian Magi and they did practice "magic". 

Hopefully, this doesn't discourage anyone from celebrating this sacred holiday as many still argue that the Three Magi weren't magicians that practiced magic. Research states otherwise. 

Nevertheless, it is a beautiful tradition and story that contains many lessons regardless of individual opinions. Keep celebrating and keep believing.

A writer with a love for hot chocolate and rainy days. Has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and is experimenting with fantasy writing.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.

Start Writing