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  • Writer's pictureMandella Green

Episode 14: Epiphany-The Visit of the Magi

The Adoration of the Magi. by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, (1833-1898) in 1888 and woven in 1894 with wool and silk on a cotton warp. The tapestry, measuring 2580 x 3840 mm., was executed by Morris & Co. while at Merton Abbey. It is now in the collection of Manchester Metropolitan University.


Epiphany: 1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.


magos: a Magian, i.e. an (Oriental) astrologer, by impl. a magician

Original Word: μάγος, ου, ὁ

Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine

Transliteration: magos

Phonetic Spelling: (mag'-os)

Definition: a Magian, an (Oriental) astrologer, by implication a magician

Usage: a sorcerer, a magician, a wizard


μάγος, μαγου, (Hebrew מַג, plural מָגִים; a word of Indo-Germanic origin; cf. Gesenius, Thesaurus, ii., p. 786; J. G. Müller in Herzog viii., p. 678; (Vanicek, Fremdwörter, under the word; but the word is now regarded by many as of Babylonian origin; see Schrader, Keilinschriften as above with 2te Aufl., p. 417ff)); from Sophocles and Herodotus down; the Sept. Daniel 2:2and several times in Theod. ad Dan. for אַשָׁף; a magus; the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldaeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.; cf. Winers RWB, under the word; J. G. Müller in Herzog, the passage cited, pp. 675-685; Holtzmann in Schenkel iv., p. 84f; (BB. DD., under the word ). In the N. T. the name is given:

1. to the oriental wise men (astrologers) who, having discovered by the rising of a remarkable star (see ἀστήρ, and cf. Edersheim, Jesus the Messiah, i. 209ff) that the Messiah had just been born, came to Jerusalem to worship him: Matthew 2:1, 7, 16.

חַרְטֹם] noun masculineExodus 7:22 engraver, writer, only in derived sense of one possessed of occult knowledge, diviner, astrologer, magician(probably = ם + חֶרֶט, see Di Ol§ 216, 5 Sta§§ 295, 327 a) **the fact that the word is always applied to Egyptian magicians, except Daniel 2:2 (late), suggests Egyptian origin, but no agreement among Egyptologists: HarkavyJas., 1870, Mars-Avril, 169 proposes χαρ, speak + tum, hidden = teller of hidden things; WiedSamml 44 thinks Hebrew word perhaps imitating an Egyptian cher-‰em-t, he who holds the book; FC Cook'Speaker's' Comm. i. 279proposes cher-tum = bearer of sacred words. — only plural absolute חַרְטֻמִּים Genesis 41:24 4t.; חַרְטֻמִּם Exodus 8:15; Exodus 9:11; construct חַרְטֻמֵּי Genesis 41:8 2t.; —

1 magicians of Egypt Genesis 41:8 (E; "" חֲכָמִים), Genesis 41:24 (E), Exodus 8:3; Exodus 8:14; Exodus 8:15; Exodus 7:11 ("" חֲכָמִים, מְכַשְּׁפִים), Exodus 7:22; Exodus 9:11 (twice in verse) (all P).

2 magicians of Babylon Daniel 2:2 ("" אַשָּׁפִים, מְכַשְּׁפִים, כַּשְׂדִּים).

The Book of the Cave of Treasures

translated from the Syriac by E. A. Wallis Budge

[The Star and the Magi.]

Now, it was two years before Christ was born that the star appeared to the Magi. They saw the star in the firmament of heaven, and the brilliancy of its appearance was brighter than that of every other star. And within it was a p. 204 maiden carrying a child, and a crown was set upon his head. Now it was the custom of the ancient kings, and the Magi of the Chaldeans, to consult the Signs of the Zodiac about all the affairs of their lives. And when the Magi saw the star they were perturbed, and terrified, and afraid, and the whole land of Persia was disturbed. And the kings, and the Magi, and the Chaldeans [Fol. 40a, col. 2], and the wise men of Persia, were stupefied, and they were exceedingly afraid of the portent which they saw. And they said, "Peradventure the king of the Greeks hath determined to wage war against the land of Nimrod." And the Magi and the Chaldeans were terrified, and they consulted their books of wisdom, and through the might of the wisdom of their books they understood and learned, and stood upon the strength of the truth. Now, in truth, the Magi of the Chaldeans discovered that by means of the motions of the stars, to which they gave the name of "Signs of the Zodiac," they were able to know and understand the strength (or, importance) of events before they took place. And this same knowledge is also given to those who go down into the sea, and by the motions of the stars they know beforehand when there is going to be a disturbance of the winds, and when a violent storm is going to rise up against them, and p. 205 whenever they are about to be threatened with danger from winds and waves. Thus also was it with the Magi. When they saw and read in the [Fol. 40b, col. 1] "Revelation of Nimrod" they discovered therein that a king was born in Judah, and the whole path of the Dispensation of Christ was revealed unto them.

[NOTE.--As touching the nature of that star, whether it was a star in its nature, or in appearance only, it is right to know that it was not of the other stars, but a secret power which appeared like a star; for all the other stars that are in the firmament, and the sun and moon, perform their course from east to west. This one, however, made its course from north to south, for Palestine lies thus, over against Persia. This star was not seen by them at night only, but also during the day, and at noon; and it was seen at the time when the sun is particularly strong, because it was not one of the stars. Now the moon is stronger in its light than all the stars, but it is immediately quenched and its light dissipated by one small ray of the sun. But this star overcame even the beams of the sun by the intensity of its light. Sometimes it appeared, and sometimes it was hidden entirely. It guided the Magi as far as Palestine. . . . . . This was not an ordinary movement of the stars, but a p. 206rational power. Moreover, it had no fixed path. It did not remain always in the height of heaven, but sometimes it came down, and sometimes it mounted up. Book of the Bee (chapter xxxviii).]

And straightway, according to what they had received from the tradition which had been handed down to them by their fathers, they left the East, and went up to the mountains of Nôdh, which lie inside the entrances to the East from the lands on the skirts of the North, and they took from them gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. And from this [passage] understand, O my brother Nemesius, that the Magi knew the whole service of the Dispensation of our Redeemer through the offerings which they brought: the gold was for a king, the myrrh for a physician, and the frankincense for a priest, for the Magi knew Who He was, and that He was a king, and a physician, and a priest. Now when the son of the king of Sheba was a little boy his father brought him [Fol. 40b, col. 2] to a Rabbi, and he learned the Book of the Hebrews better than all his companions and his fellow countrymen, and he said unto all his slaves, "It is written in all the books of genealogies that the king shall be born in Bethlehem."

[The Magi in Jerusalem.]

And the Magi having made ready to go up, the kingdom of the mighty men of war was p. 210 perturbed and terrified, and there was with the Magi so mighty a following that all the cities of the East were in dismay before them, and Jerusalem also. And when they entered the presence of Herod, he trembled before them, and he commanded them, saying, "Depart in [Fol. 41a, col. 1] peace, and seek diligently for the young Child, and when ye have found Him, come and show me, that I too may go and make obeisance unto Him"; though deceit was hidden in Herod's heart, he offered homage with his mouth. Now when, the Magi went up to Jerusalem there was great commotion in Judea, because of the edict of Augustus Cæsar, which commanded that every man should be registered in his country, and in the city of his fathers. Because of this Herod was greatly perturbed, and he said unto the Magi, "Go ye and search for Him." Now the Magi are called "Magi" because of the garb of Magianism in which the heathen kings arrayed themselves whensoever they offered up a sacrifice and made offerings to their gods. They made use of two different kinds of apparel; that which appertained to royalty [they wore] inside, and that which appertained to Magianism outside [Fol. 41a, col. 2]. And thus also was it with those who went up prepared to make offerings to Christ, and they were arrayed in both kinds of apparel.

p. 211

And when the Magi had gone forth from Jerusalem, and from the presence of Herod, that same star which had been their guide on the road appeared to them, and they rejoiced greatly. And the star went on before them until they entered the cave, where they saw the young Child swathed in bands and laid in a manger. Whilst they were on their way up thither they said within themselves, "When we arrive there we shall see mighty and wonderful things, according to the law and custom which prevail among royal personages when a king is born." Thus did they think that they would find in the land of Israel a royal palace, and couches of gold with cushions laid upon them [Fol. 41b, col. 1], and the king and the son of the king arrayed in purple, and awestruck soldiers and companies of royal troops, and the nobles of the kingdom paying him honour by presenting gifts, and tables laid out with meats fit for the king, and vessels of drink standing in rows, and men servants and women servants serving in fear. Such were the things which the Magi expected to see, but they saw them not; they saw sights which were far better than these when they went into the cave. They saw Joseph sitting in astonishment, and Mary in a state of wonderment, but there was no couch with cushions laid upon it, and no table with p. 212 food laid out upon it, and no sign of the preparations which accompany royal state. And although they saw all this humble estate and poverty, they had no doubt in their minds, but they drew nigh in fear and made obeisance to Him in honour, and they offered [Fol. 41b, col. 2] unto Him, gold, and myrrh, and frankincense. And it was very grievous unto Mary and Joseph that they had nothing to set before them, but the Magi fed themselves with food of their own providing.

[NOTES.--In addition to the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought, they laid before the Child as an offering thirty zûzê of silver. Their weight was according to the weight of the sanctuary, but they were equal to six hundred pieces according to the weight of the country. (The Syriac zûzê = the Arabic dirham and the Greek drachme.) The thirty pieces were made by Terah, who gave them to Abraham, who gave them to Isaac. With them Isaac bought a village, and the man who received them took them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh sent them to David as a contribution towards the building of the Temple, and Solomon placed them round the door of the altar. Nebuchadnezzar carried them away to Babylon, and gave them to certain royal Persian hostages, who took p. 213 them to Persia and gave them to their parents. When the Magi set out for Jerusalem they took the thirty pieces with their other offerings out with them they bought from certain shepherds at Edessa "the garment without seam," which an angel had given to them. Abgar, king of Edessa, took the thirty pieces and the garment from the shepherds, and sent them to Christ. Christ kept the garment and sent the thirty pieces to the Jewish treasury. The priests gave them to Judas Iscariot for betraying our Lord, but he repented and took them back to the priests. After Judas hanged himself the priests purchased a burial ground for strangers with the thirty pieces (Book of the Bee, chapter xliv) . Another legend says that Joseph had the thirty pieces, and that with them he bought spices to embalm Jacob. They passed into the possession of the Queen of Sheba, who gave them to Solomon (Sandeys, Christmas Carols, London, 1883, page lxxxiii).]

[The Circumcision of Christ.]

Now Christ was eight days old when the Magi presented their offerings; and Mary received them at the very time when Joseph circumcised Christ. In truth, Joseph circumcised Him according to the Law, but he only went through (or imitated) the act of cutting, for no [flesh] p. 214 whatsoever was cut off from Him. For as [a rod of] iron passeth through the fire and cutteth the rays thereof, without any part of it being cut off from it, so in like manner was Christ circumcised without anything being taken from Him.

[The Conversion of the Magi.]

And the Magi lived with the Child three days, and they saw the hosts of heaven going up and coming down to Christ. And they heard the sound [Fol. 42a, col. 1] of the praises of the angels, who sang hymns and cried out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Mighty God, with whose praises the heavens and the earth are filled." And they were in great fear, and in truth they believed in Christ, and said, "This is the King Who hath come down from heaven and become man." And Perôzdhâdh answered and said unto them, "Now know I that the prophecy of Isaiah is true. For when I was in the school of the Hebrews I read in [the Book of] Isaiah, and I found [written] therein thus: 'For unto us a child is born, and unto us a son hath been given. And His Name shall be called Wonderful, and Counsellor, and God, Giant of the Worlds'" (Isa. ix. 6). And it is written in another place, "Behold, a virgin is with child, and she shall bring forth a son, and his name shall be called p. 215 'Emmanuel,' which is, being interpreted, 'God with us'" (Isa. vii. 14). And because He became like a man, and the angels were coming down [Fol. 42a, col. 2] from heaven to Him, truly He is the Lord of angels and men. And all the Magi believed and said, "Truly this King is God. Kings are born unto us frequently, and mighty men, the sons of mighty men, are born unto us on earth, but it is an unheard-of thing for the angels to come down to them." And straightway they all rose up, and did homage to Him as the Lord and King of the world. And having prepared food for their journey, they went down to their own country by a desert road.

[The Massacre of the Innocents.]

Now, there are certain men who will dispute this [statement] and say, "Where was Christ when the children were massacred, for it is written that He was not found in the land of Judah?" It was because of this massacre that He fled to Egypt, so that there might be fulfilled that which is written [Fol. 42b, col. 1]. "From Egypt I called my Son" (Hos. xi. 1). And know this also. When Christ entered Egypt all the idols therein were swept from their places, and fell down, and were broken, so that there might be fulfilled that which is written, "Behold, the p. 216 Lord rideth on a swift cloud, and entereth Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be broken before Him" (Isa. xix. 1).

[NOTE.--When Joseph and Mary and the Child reached the gate of the city of Hermopolis, there were by the two buttresses of the gate two figures of brass that had been made by the sages and philosophers; and they spoke like men. When our Lord entered Egypt these two figures cried out with a loud voice, saying, "A great king has come into Egypt." Book of the Bee (chapter xl.)]

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