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Subject Planet X, the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem....
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Original Message Though much has been written on the Magi by many different sources in antiquity, only some of these sources, such as Herodotus, are reliable enough to use in any in-depth discussion of the Magi.

Questions of who they were, and what role they played in ancient Near Eastern history arise in our quest to understand why their appearance at the Nativity was accorded such a place of prominence in the Gospels.

Understanding who the Magi were will then serve as a prelude to a more in-depth study of the "Star of Bethlehem" phenomenon, as we come to understand how the Magi form the link between the Creation, the Nativity, and the mysterious Planet X.

The Magi in the Bible

Representations of the Magi and the Star of the Nativity are among the most popular Christian symbols come Christmas time. Yet, understandings of whom the Magi were and what they truly represented are often confusing, oversimplified, or factually inaccurate. For example, John MacArthur points out that "...most of the popular notions about the Magi are misleading. It is doubtful that they were anything like the camel-riding travelers we usually see portrayed in pictures and Christmas pageants.

Even the old standard Christmas song 'We Three Kings of Orient Are' may be wrong on several counts. There's no evidence that there were three of them - only that they brought three kinds of gifts (Matt. 2:11). Furthermore, Scripture does not say that they were kings; in fact, they almost certainly were not."1

David Haag also debunks some of the mythology that has arisen around the story of the Magi over the centuries, pointing out that much of it appears to have been embellished. "Folklore has even given names to the 'three wise men', calling them Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar - making them kings from Egypt, India, and Greece. Some even say that they were later baptized by Thomas and that Helena, the mother of Constantine, discovered their bones and had them placed in the church of Saint Sophia at Constantinople."2

Interestingly, the Magi represent the only significant Gentile authority in the Gospels to affirm that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. It could be that Matthew intended to convince the Jews of the divinity of Christ by including with the genealogy of Christ in his Gospel an account of Gentile authority that corroborated his witness. Certainly King Herod held the Magi in high esteem (Matt. 2:1-7), enough so to execute all the newborn babes in Bethlehem upon the affirmation of the Magi that the Messiah had just been born there (Matt. 2:16, 18; cf. also Micah 5:2 and Jeremiah 40:1).

An understanding of who the Magi truly were, then, as seen from the perspective of their historical and cultural context, could shed more light on their importance as a witness to the Nativity.

The Magi in History

According to our most reliable records and archaeological findings, the Magi have been identified definitively as being the priestly class of ancient Persia, with a level of authority just a step below the royalty. As priests they were primarily responsible for maintaining good communications between the gods and men, keeping careful track of the stars and planets and how their interactions determined the destiny of the state. Edwin Yamauchi explains that "the Magi ... functioned as priests and diviners under the Achaemenian Persians (600 to 400 B.C.). Herodotus (1.132) wrote that 'no sacrifice can be offered without a Magian'. The Magi also interpreted dreams (Herodotus 1.107, 120, 128).... The Persians continued to use derivations from the word magus as a word for 'priest' down to the end of the Sasanian era around 650 b.c."3

Gnoli confirms this observation, explaining, "The Magi were technicians of and experts on worship: it was impossible to offer sacrifices without the presence of a Magus. During the performance of a ritual sacrifice, the Magus sang of the theogony ... and was called upon to interpret dreams and to divine the future."4 The Magi were the ubiquitous priestly class of Media-Persian society, a tribe of holy men like the Israelite Levites in social function, who were the only ones whom, it was believed, could effectively commune with the state gods of Persia.

Scholars are divided on exactly what sort of relationship the Magi had with Zoroastrianism, the state religion of Persia inaugurated by Cyrus the Great, but what is certain is that they were the inheritors of a tradition of sacred poetry: a "theogony", or a song about the creation of the gods.

This song was probably heavily influenced by Enuma Elish, which was, besides being a creation story, also a story about the creation of the gods of the Babylonians. Moreover, the fact that the ancient Persians had conquered and subjugated the ancient Babylonians makes it certain that they did indeed inherit the ancient Creation tradition, and had made it a crucial part of their understanding of how the Earth had been created as the result of the combat between the most high God and a dragon, which symbolized Earth and another planet in our solar system.

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