By: Gary L. Durham, Th.D. (Ph.D.)
Their brief appearance on the stage of history is nothing short of sensational. There is both mystery and astonishment surrounding their identity, their knowledge, and their discernment. One must first ask, "Who were they and where did they come from?"
The caste of the magi may be traced back in Scriptures to Babylon during and after the Exile. In Babylon they were first known as the Wise Men. This included, "...magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers..." (Daniel 2:2). It is clear from Daniel two, verses 12 and 13, that Daniel and his friends (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego), were considered part of this caste of men known as the Wise Men of Babylon who were to be advisors to the King on a great breadth of subjects, including religion, science, philosophy and politics. They were a mixture of various religions and disciplines.
When the Persian Empire conquered the Medes there was a priestly caste among the Medes known as the Magi. When the Media-Persians conquered Babylon as recorded in the fifth chapter of Daniel (as well as in secular history), they brought this Magi caste with them. It is clear from the Biblical historical record that Daniel was one of those from among the Wise Men of Babylon that were absorbed into this class.
From this class of men came many of the satraps that Darius appointed to help rule this diverse kingdom. Daniel was chosen as one of three administrators to which the 120 satraps, chosen by this Media-Persian king, were accountable. It was Darius' plan, as expressed in verse 3 of the 6th chapter, to put Daniel over the whole kingdom—which seems to have been done after the “Den of Lions” event (see Daniel 6).
By all accounts, Daniel was a very powerful and influential Magus. The Magi that appear during the birth of Christ are most likely members of a sect of Magi which followed the teachings, prophecies, and the God of this most famous of the ancient Magi, Daniel. Most of the Magi were astrologers. However, what is not commonly known by Christians today is that there were two classes of astrology.
There was the original astrology, which came to man from the patriarchs from before the flood—the Antediluvian (according to ancient Jewish Rabbinical sources). This was, in its original form, a revelation by the Spirit of God, through Adam, Seth and Enoch as a manner of inscribing upon the patterns of the stars a message, given by God, on how the promise of God at the Gates of Eden to send a Seed of the Woman who would crush the Serpent’s head was to be fulfilled.1
This was like hieroglyphic writings upon the stars by which symbols were correlated to stories that contained what had been revealed by God to these early men. What was revealed is how He would redeem humanity back to Himself by means of a Savior. Therefore, the original constellations were a Gospel story written in a place that would not pass away during the time of men on earth, so that men of every age could know of God’s promise.
There is good research by Christian scholars like Joseph A. Seiss (Gospel in the Stars) and of lesser orthodoxy, yet, confirming some of the same facts (though applying different understandings in some places), Dr. E. W. Bullinger (The Witness of the Stars). Both gives ample confirmation that this is indeed true history as well as confirming that the message that was written over the stars in every way conforms to the same message we have in our Bible in both Testaments. It does not depart from it by adding or subtracting any doctrine that is clearly essential to our faith.
There is, in this respect, a comment by the Jewish philosopher, Philo, who lived in the time of Christ and the Apostles, that there was a school of Magi in Babylon, known as the Eastern School, that—unlike many of the schools of Magi, that were corrupted with false religion and vain heathen mythology—was filled with men of learning and great character who were filled with wisdom from the true God.2
It is very likely many of these Magi were Jewish as many of the Jews did not return from the Exile and continued in Babylon. And we know from Scripture that the greatest of all the Magi was Daniel, who came to the office of administrator of the whole Kingdom of the Medes and Persians under Darius after the Lion’s Den account in Daniel 6.
We know also, there were other Jews who were selected for the caste of Wise Men, and later the Magi, as recorded in, Daniel 1:3-4. Four of their names in Hebrew were, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Daniel 1:6). The last three (3) are better known by their Babylonian names, which are, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Daniel, even before being elevated by Darius, was elevated by King Nebuchadnezzar to be the ruler over the whole of the province of Babylon, which was the province of greatest honor and power. It was the capital where the King primarily resided, and his three (3) friends were made administrators under Daniel of this same province.
Daniel, himself, did not return from the Exile but remained in Babylon—likely too advanced in years to consider returning—and it is reasonable that many of those within the caste of the Magi, who were Jewish, did not return as their positions of power and responsibility would have given them a life that would likely have been chosen over the hardships of those who returned to the destroyed city of Jerusalem. Thus, they remained part of the Diaspora which continued into the time of Christ, and even now into our day, as many Jewish people continue to live as Jews outside Israel in many other countries of the world.
There was a second class of astrology, and it was a corruption of the first, and original, class. It was filled with hundreds of pagan mythologies and defiled the original astrology. These corruptions, first begun under Nimrod after the time of the flood, were carried in every divided tongue to every part of the world from the city of Babylon and its cursed tower. These were distortions of the message God had Adam, Seth and Enoch write on the stars as prophecies concerning the coming of the Seed of the Woman who would crush the Serpent’s head.
This corrupt form of astrology promoted a false and corrupt understanding of the constellations which was used in the false religions of the ancient world to justify their idol worship and weave stories about their false gods. Some scholars, neglecting the Biblical account of Babel, have tried to establish that all the use and meaning of the stars, began with the Egyptians. However, the Egyptians and their star interpretations come centuries after Babel. There is even an ancient rabbinical tradition that when Abraham went down to Egypt, that he rebuked the Egyptians for their corruptions of the meaning of the constellations and tried to teach the Egyptian priest the original divine meaning given to the Antediluvian patriarchs.
The points of corruption were many. They had to do with false stories of how some false goddess had already fulfilled—or soon would fulfill—the promise to bring the Seed—the great, anointed ruler—into the world who would crush the Serpent and restore mankind to paradise.
These false stories and religions of the ancient world centered around the various versions which many believe originated with one Semiramis, near Babel, who tried to claim deity by alleging she had been impregnated by a sunbeam, which caused her to give birth to the promised Seed—Nimrod reborn (who was her former husband before his death. Thus, in many of the resulting “Mother-Son Cults” of the ancient world, most of her counterparts were spoken of both as the mother and the wife of the child in her arms).
It seems that all the ancient religions remembered God’s promise, in some distorted form, given at the Gate of Eden. They also had some faint understanding of the prophecies given by Adam, Seth and Enoch through the Holy Spirit concerning how the Seed would come, how he would provide atonement, and how He would banish all evil. These pagan religions were, in their original form, perversions and false claims of the fulfillment of this prophecy.
The story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) is likely a story of where this corruption of the constellations began. For the actual Hebrew in which this account is recorded in Genesis chapter eleven (11) by the best translators is translated as referring to the tower, not as a tower that reaches to the heavens, but which, “on its top was the heavens.” This is likely a reference to the zodiac. This was the beginning of the corruption of the message handed down by the Antediluvians and the likely beginning of the worship of the stars as deities that were supposed to control or influenced human life, which would impregnate most all of the pagan religions.
As the mother-son cult of a false goddess and false seed/son originated before the division of languages, it spread over the whole earth to become known by many different names. And soon each isolated culture developed imaginary and false stories of their own around these false deities. These false virgins and sons were known in the various parts of the worlds by different names.
In Egypt—Isis and Osiris. In India—Isi and Iswara. In Asia—Cybele (pronounced, Sib-uh-lee) and Deoius. In Rome—Fortuna and Jupiter-puer (Jupiter, the boy) or as Venus, goddess of love with her son, Cupid, with his wings, bow and arrows. In Greece—Ceres (pronounced, See-rees) the Great Mother, with the babe at her breast, or as Irene, goddess of Peace, with the boy Plutus in her arms. In China—Shing Moo, the Holy Mother, represented with a child in her arms and a glory around her head—reminding one of later Madonna-Child statues.3
The key corruption of these false religions was centered around teaching that the stars were deities that controlled the lives of men and exerted great power over nations and people individually. This led to the worship of the stars and the attempts at fortunetelling by means of the stars, which is condemned in Scripture.4
We are told that the heavens will be used to communicate once again at the second coming of the Messiah. Jesus tells us in Luke 21:25: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”5
It is reasonable to conclude that the Magi who came looking for Jesus, the Messiah, were from the Eastern school that followed the true meaning of the stars and the uncorrupted, Antediluvian understanding of the constellations. This School was likely the School of Magi founded and first administrated by Daniel. Therefore, it is likely that many of the Magi of this School were Jewish, though not necessarily all.
These would have been followers of the true God of the Jews, as Daniel allowed no other. They would have been familiar with, and possessed in-depth knowledge of, the writings of the Prophet Daniel which would have been their revered founder and prophet. However, this adds a further question: How did they know about Christ’ birth from over 500 miles away from the event (as a crow flies) and around 700 miles away as to traveling route?
How Did the Magi Know the Messiah Was Born?
To answer this question, we need to realize the two important sources of information that would have been important to these Magi from the Eastern School.
First, they would have followed the insights given them in the prophecies of Daniel concerning the timing of the Messiah’s birth and death. The most important of these is the ninth (9th) chapter of Daniel where the Angel Gabriel gives Daniel a cryptic calendar organized according to the sacred system of Heptads (seven  year cycles) and patterned forward on the structure of the Exile which the Jews were about to complete, and which Daniel had read in the Prophet Jeremiah, would be 70-years long and was about to be completed in Daniel’s old age. Therefore, this is the reason Daniel falls down and prays for the restoration of Jerusalem in the first part of chapter nine.
It is in this context that God sends Gabriel to reveal to Daniel the calendar of Heptads and gives him an understanding of their organization and how they will unfold in the future beyond him.
It is here that we get our first clue into the answer to the question as to the incredible understanding of these Magi concerning the timing of the appearance of the Messiah and the purpose of His coming. These men were light-years ahead of even the best theologians at Jerusalem, who seem to be totally ignorant concerning the signs of the times—something Jesus would reprimand them for in the days of His ministry (see, Matt. 16:1-4). These Jerusalem theologians were equally confused concerning the nature of Jesus’ mission—something the Magi seemed to marvelously understand.
Many point to Balaam's fourth oracle, as recorded in Numbers 24:15-19, especially that part of verse 17 which says, “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel,” as the point of revelatory insight for these Magi. While they were no doubt aware of this prophecy, by itself, even with the appearance of the Star, and its placement in the constellations, it was hardly enough to cause them to set out on such a long and dangerous expedition. There had been other great stars and heavenly wonders. This Star became significant to the Magi because of a prophetic timetable, given by the angel Gabriel to Daniel, which they most certainly understood and gave much attention.
In Daniel, chapter nine, specifically verses 20-27, Daniel is told that God has determined to set the rest of time from that day forward into a timetable of Seventy heptads, "sevens" or "weeks" (our word "week" means, “a seven”). Six important things on God's agenda for all mankind will be fulfilled in this time frame: 1) to finish transgression, 2) to put an end to sin, 3) to atone for wickedness, 4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, 5) to seal up (fulfill and make no longer needed) vision and prophecy, 6) and to anoint the most holy [One] (which is, Messiah). Daniel was further informed that there would be definite divisions to these seventy “weeks” (sevens). First, it would all begin from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild the destroyed Jerusalem, which is the context of Daniel's interaction with God in this chapter.
From the issuing of this decree there would be seven “sevens” until the city is completed. From that point onward there would be sixty-two “sevens” until Messiah (the Anointed One) will be “cut off (put to death) and have nothing (fathering no fleshly descendants).” Then, Daniel is told, there will be another destruction of the city of Jerusalem and its sanctuary, followed by a time of war and desolations. This time of war and desolation will continue until a ruler arises who is of the people which destroyed Jerusalem and its sanctuary the second time.
This ruler will start the clock ticking again to complete the last “seven”—the seventieth “seven”—by “confirming a covenant (treaty) with many (meaning, many people or nations, not Israel alone as is so often erroneously declared. Israel may be among the, “many” but the point is a treaty for seven years for world government).”
From history, the Magi knew that the clock on the Seventy Weeks given to Daniel had started ticking in 444 B.C. when Cyrus, king of Persia, ordered that the Temple and the City be rebuilt, as recorded in Ezra 1:2-4 and 6:1-12. They also knew that the city and its walls were not completed until 395 B.C., 49 years later. This was the first division of the Seventy Weeks, which was to be 7 x 7. So, it was now clear to them that each “day” in these prophetic “weeks” was a year (a prophetic year of 360-days) of real time. This made it possible for them to calculate the general time of the arrival of the Anointed One. Daniel had been told that sixty-two “sevens” or 434-years after the seven “sevens,” this Messiah would be cut off (suddenly put to death).
Realizing the Messiah must reach full manhood (30 years of age in Hebrew and most ancient cultures) and carry out His ministry and mission before this time of death, the Magi in around 4 B.C. (3 B.C. being the time of Christ’s birth) knew, when they saw that Star, that there was only a little over thirty-some years left until His Sacrifice had to take place. They knew that Messiah had to come soon because the Scriptures could not be wrong!
It is important to take note that these were men of Scripture reading the face of the “prophetic sky,” and the original Gospel message in the stars, not pagan astrologers reading some hidden occult wisdom by means of pagan astrology. Yes, they were of the ancient priestly caste called the Magi, which included “wise men” from almost every known religion of the day. But these men were obviously followers of the greatest and most powerful Magi of both Babylon and Persia—DANIEL, THE SERVANT OF THE MOST HIGH GOD. And what they learned from the sky was only interpretable in an accurate way by their knowledge of Holy Scripture—the book of Daniel.
These Magi further demonstrated their great learning and knowledge of Messiah and His mission by the gifts they brought. Gifts were always brought to a king or an important official. They were chosen to demonstrate the knowledge and estimation of the givers concerning their host. Since the Magi spent nearly a year finding the young King (they arrived around 9 to 10 months after the birth of Jesus), you can be sure that such devotion had thought carefully about the meaning of the gifts they were to bring to this High King of the ages.
Gold was a common gift for a King. By this they declared their understanding of His royal lineage, both earthly and Heavenly. Incense was offered only to a God (pagan kings, declaring themselves gods, often demanded incense from their subjects). By this act they declared their understanding that He was Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” By bringing myrrh, the bitter herb of death and burial, they revealed their understanding of Daniel's prophecy that the “Anointed One” would be cut off (put to death). They knew He was the Sacrifice for the sins of mankind—King, God and Sacrifice all in One!
These men stand out as a sharp rebuke to the ignorance of their day. All could have known and responded as they. But they were not watching the signs of the prophetic skies, nor were they properly reading and applying the knowledge of the Scriptures which pinpointed His coming and His death—and resulting resurrection, though not mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy.
When He comes again, will there be any “Wise Men”?
Reprint from THE COUNSELOR magazine, December 1990, and the Preacher’s Magazine and updated with expanded information in 2013.
1 According to Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century, Seth, the son of Adam, invented “that peculiar sort of wisdom which is concerned with the heavenly bodies and their order” (“Antiquities,” Book I, Chapter 2, Paragraph 3).
2 Philo of Alexandria (20 BC–50 AD), a Jewish philosopher living around the time of Jesus, wrote favorably about an Eastern School of magi, in his writing, Every Good Man is Free (11 §72). He placed them among the Persians. Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians, became a believer in the Hebrew God (See Dan. 4:34-37). Before this, he had appointed Daniel as chief minister over all of Babylon’s sages—Wise Men. This meant that Daniel, the Jewish prophet, had leadership over of those who would later be termed, the magi (Dan. 2:48b). It is possible that Daniel taught Hebrew scriptures and messianic prophecies to the other sages, especially to those who were Jewish. A Jewish tradition even claims that Daniel founded an order of magi and instructed them to watch for the Messiah through the generations. This is very likely because of what we see in the knowledge and response of the Magi that appear at the time of Christ.
3 It is reported in some early church histories of the missionary advance into China, that Jesuit monks were stunned when they saw in a Chinese temple the statue of Shing Moo with the babe in her arms. They at first took it to be the Madonna-Child and they wondered how these people had heard of Mary and the Christ Child, as they believe themselves to be the first Christians to come to this region. They of course learned that it was nothing of the kind. It was merely another pagan version of the mother-son cult which spread all the world at the division of languages and God’s dividing of the nations in judgment because of their rebellion at Babel.
4 God gave the stars and the constellations as signs and systems of marking time (cf. Genesis 1:14). Then through inspiration the ancient patriarchs used them to communicate knowledge revealed to them. They used them much like hieroglyphics. The stars are like a dot-matrix in the sky by which symbols or pictures are formed and given meaning, or attached to pieces of a story, in order to tell the story of God’s revelation as given to the first prophets, Adam, Seth and Enoch, concerning the good news of the coming Deliverer.
5 One application of the anthropocentric principle (a seemingly human-centered principle discovered by science that the universe is exceedingly fine-tuned—almost beyond human comprehension—for life, and intelligent life, on this planet to exist) is that what God is doing here on earth He is also displaying to us by the very universe itself. The story of evil’s defeat and demise is unfolding above us in the heavens. This, if true, is proof again that God is the author of the Story of redemption, and He is using all creation to proclaim its unfolding drama. And when the New Creation begins with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, once again, the heavens were used to declare what God was doing.
What a fascinating article!! I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years and I’ve never heard >90% of the content of this article!!! Thank you so much for compiling all this information and writing an article that is concisely and amazingly interesting! Saving this and I plan to share this content with others!!
This is indeed fascinating. Thank you!
I lead a Congregational Church and this held my interest. The information given was very full and much that I had not been aware of. I now understand who the Magi were and why they held so much knowledge of Jesus and his birth. Thank you very much.
What is even more remarkable is that 483 years (69x7) from 444 BC = 33 AD (remember that we are counting in 360-day years). 33 AD is the year that Christ died! See the BethlememStar website for more evidence for this.