The Info List - Magi

(/ˈmeɪdʒaɪ/; singular magus /ˈmeɪɡəs/; from Latin
magus) denotes followers of Zoroastrianism
or Zoroaster. The earliest known use of the word Magi
is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, pre-dating the Hellenistic period, refer to a Magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest. Pervasive throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia
Western Asia
until late antiquity and beyond, mágos, "magician", was influenced by (and eventually displaced) Greek goēs (γόης), the older word for a practitioner of magic, to include astrology, alchemy and other forms of esoteric knowledge. This association was in turn the product of the Hellenistic fascination for (Pseudo‑)Zoroaster, who was perceived by the Greeks to be the "Chaldean", "founder" of the Magi
and "inventor" of both astrology and magic, a meaning that still survives in the modern-day words "magic" and "magician".[citation needed] "μάγοι" from the east visit Jesus
in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew, and the transliterated plural "magi" entered English from Latin
in this context around 1200 (this particular use is also commonly rendered in English as "kings" and more often in recent times as "wise men")[1]. The singular "magus" appears considerably later, when it was borrowed from Old French
Old French
in the late 14th century with the meaning magician.


1 In Median sources 2 In Greek sources 3 In Chinese sources 4 In Graeco-Roman sources 5 In Semitic sources 6 In Christian tradition 7 In the Quran (Islamic tradition) 8 See also 9 References 10 External links

In Median sources[edit] The Avestan
word magâunô, i.e. the religious caste of the Medes, (see Yasna
33.7: ýâ sruyê parê magâunô "so I can be heard beyond Magi"), seems to be the origin of the term. The term only appears twice in Iranian texts from before the 5th century BCE, and only one of these can be dated with precision. This one instance occurs in the trilingual Behistun inscription
Behistun inscription
of Darius the Great, and which can be dated to about 520 BCE. In this trilingual text, certain rebels have 'magian' as an attribute; in the Old Persian portion as maγu- (generally assumed to be a loan word from Median). The meaning of the term in this context is uncertain. The other instance appears in the texts of the Avesta, i.e. in the sacred literature of Zoroastrianism. In this instance, which is in the Younger Avestan
portion, the term appears in the hapax moghu.tbiš, meaning "hostile to the moghu", where moghu does not (as was previously thought) mean "magus", but rather "a member of the tribe"[2] or referred to a particular social class in the proto-Iranian language and then continued to do so in Avestan.[3] An unrelated term, but previously assumed to be related, appears in the older Gathic Avestan
language texts. This word, adjectival magavan meaning "possessing maga-", was once the premise that Avestan
maga- and Median (i.e. Old Persian) magu- were co-eval (and also that both these were cognates of Vedic Sanskrit magha-). While "in the Gathas the word seems to mean both the teaching of Zoroaster
and the community that accepted that teaching", and it seems that Avestan maga- is related to Sanskrit magha-, "there is no reason to suppose that the western Iranian form magu (Magus) has exactly the same meaning"[4] as well. But it "may be, however", that Avestan
moghu (which is not the same as Avestan
maga-) "and Medean magu were the same word in origin, a common Iranian term for 'member of the tribe' having developed among the Medes
the special sense of 'member of the (priestly) tribe', hence a priest."[2]cf[3] In Greek sources[edit] The oldest surviving Greek reference to the magi – from Greek μάγος (mágos, plural: magoi) – might be from 6th century BCE Heraclitus
(apud Clemens Protrepticus 12), who curses the magi for their "impious" rites and rituals. A description of the rituals that Heraclitus
refers to has not survived, and there is nothing to suggest that Heraclitus
was referring to foreigners. Better preserved are the descriptions of the mid-5th century BCE Herodotus, who in his portrayal of the Iranian expatriates living in Asia minor uses the term "magi" in two different senses. In the first sense (Histories 1.101), Herodotus
speaks of the magi as one of the tribes/peoples (ethnous) of the Medes. In another sense (1.132), Herodotus
uses the term "magi" to generically refer to a "sacerdotal caste", but "whose ethnic origin is never again so much as mentioned."[4] According to Robert Charles Zaehner, in other accounts, "we hear of Magi
not only in Persia, Parthia, Bactria, Chorasmia, Aria, Media, and among the Sakas, but also in non-Iranian lands like Samaria, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Their influence was also widespread throughout Asia Minor. It is, therefore, quite likely that the sacerdotal caste of the Magi
was distinct from the Median tribe of the same name."[4] Other Greek sources from before the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
include the gentleman-soldier Xenophon, who had first-hand experience at the Persian Achaemenid
court. In his early 4th century BCE Cyropaedia, Xenophon
depicts the magians as authorities for all religious matters (8.3.11), and imagines the magians to be responsible for the education of the emperor-to-be. In Chinese sources[edit]

Chinese Bronzeware script
Bronzeware script
for wu 巫 "shaman".

Cross potent.

Victor H. Mair provides archaeological and linguistic evidence suggesting that Chinese wū (巫 "shaman; witch, wizard; magician", Old Chinese
Old Chinese
*myag) was maybe a loanword from Old Persian
Old Persian
*maguš "magician; magi".[5] He describes:

The recent discovery at an early Chou site of two figurines with unmistakably Caucasoid or Europoid feature is startling prima facie evidence of East-West interaction during the first half of the first millennium Before the Current Era. It is especially interesting that one of the figurines bears on the top of his head the clearly incised graph ☩ which identifies him as a wu (< *myag).[5]

These figurines, which are dated circa 8th century BCE, were discovered during a 1980 excavation of a Zhou Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
palace in Fufeng County, Shaanxi
Province. Mair connects the ancient Bronzeware script
Bronzeware script
for wu 巫 "shaman" (a cross with potents) with a Western heraldic symbol of magicians, the cross potent ☩, which "can hardly be attributable to sheer coincidence or chance independent origination." Compared with the linguistic reconstructions of many Indo-European languages, the current reconstruction of Old (or "Archaic") Chinese is more provisional. This velar final -g in Mair's *myag (巫) is evident in several Old Chinese
Old Chinese
reconstructions (Dong Tonghe's *mywag, Zhou Fagao's *mjwaγ, and Li Fanggui's *mjag), but not all (Bernhard Karlgren's *mywo and Axel Schuessler's *ma). In Graeco-Roman sources[edit]

Byzantine depiction of the Three Magi
in a 6th-century mosaic at Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo.

As early as the 5th century BCE, Greek magos had spawned mageia and magike to describe the activity of a magus, that is, it was his or her art and practice. But almost from the outset the noun for the action and the noun for the actor parted company. Thereafter, mageia was used not for what actual magi did, but for something related to the word 'magic' in the modern sense, i.e. using supernatural means to achieve an effect in the natural world, or the appearance of achieving these effects through trickery or sleight of hand. The early Greek texts typically have the pejorative meaning, which in turn influenced the meaning of magos to denote a conjurer and a charlatan. Already in the mid-5th century BC, Herodotus
identifies the magi as interpreters of omens and dreams (Histories 7.19, 7.37, 1.107, 1.108, 1.120, 1.128). Once the magi had been associated with "magic"—Greek magikos—it was but a natural progression that the Greeks' image of Zoroaster would metamorphose into a magician too.[6] The first century Pliny the elder names "Zoroaster" as the inventor of magic (Natural History xxx.2.3), but a "principle of the division of labor appears to have spared Zoroaster
most of the responsibility for introducing the dark arts to the Greek and Roman worlds. That dubious honor went to another fabulous magus, Ostanes, to whom most of the pseudepigraphic magical literature was attributed."[6] For Pliny, this magic was a "monstrous craft" that gave the Greeks not only a "lust" (aviditatem) for magic, but a downright "madness" (rabiem) for it, and Pliny supposed that Greek philosophers—among them Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato—traveled abroad to study it, and then returned to teach it (xxx.2.8–10). "Zoroaster" – or rather what the Greeks supposed him to be – was for the Hellenists the figurehead of the 'magi', and the founder of that order (or what the Greeks considered to be an order). He was further projected as the author of a vast compendium of "Zoroastrian" pseudepigrapha, composed in the main to discredit the texts of rivals. "The Greeks considered the best wisdom to be exotic wisdom" and "what better and more convenient authority than the distant — temporally and geographically — Zoroaster?"[6] The subject of these texts, the authenticity of which was rarely challenged, ranged from treatises on nature to ones on necromancy. But the bulk of these texts dealt with astronomical speculations and magical lore. One factor for the association with astrology was Zoroaster's name, or rather, what the Greeks made of it. Within the scheme of Greek thinking (which was always on the lookout for hidden significances and "real" meanings of words) his name was identified at first with star-worshiping (astrothytes "star sacrificer") and, with the Zo-, even as the living star. Later, an even more elaborate mytho-etymology evolved: Zoroaster
died by the living (zo-) flux (-ro-) of fire from the star (-astr-) which he himself had invoked, and even, that the stars killed him in revenge for having been restrained by him. The second, and "more serious"[7] factor for the association with astrology was the notion that Zoroaster
was a Chaldean. The alternate Greek name for Zoroaster
was Zaratas/Zaradas/Zaratos (cf. Agathias 2.23–5, Clement Stromata I.15), which—according to Bidez and Cumont—derived from a Semitic form of his name. The Pythagorean tradition considered the "founder" of their order to have studied with Zoroaster
in Chaldea
(Porphyry Life of Pythagoras
12, Alexander Polyhistor apud Clement's Stromata I.15, Diodorus of Eritrea, Aristoxenus apud Hippolitus VI32.2). Lydus (On the Months II.4) attributes the creation of the seven-day week to "the Chaldeans in the circle of Zoroaster
and Hystaspes", and who did so because there were seven planets. The Suda's chapter on astronomia notes that the Babylonians learned their astrology from Zoroaster. Lucian
of Samosata (Mennipus 6) decides to journey to Babylon "to ask one of the magi, Zoroaster's disciples and successors", for their opinion. In Semitic sources[edit] In Arabic
texts, as in Greco-Roman tradition, Zoroaster
is "founder" of the magians, Arabic
majusya. In the 1980s, under the secular Ba'ath Party formerly led by Saddam Hussein, among the many propaganda campaigns of Iraq, the term majus was used during the Iran–Iraq War
Iran–Iraq War
as a generalization of all modern-day Iranians. "By referring to the Iranians in these documents as majus, the security apparatus [implied] that the Iranians [were] not sincere Muslims, but rather covertly practice their pre-Islamic beliefs. Thus, in their eyes, Iraq's war took on the dimensions of not only a struggle for Arab nationalism, but also a campaign in the name of Islam."[8] In Christian tradition[edit]

Conventional post-12th century depiction of the Biblical magi (Adoração dos Magos by Vicente Gil). Balthasar, the youngest magus, bears frankincense and represents Africa. To the left stands Caspar, middle-aged, bearing gold and representing Asia. On his knees is Melchior, oldest, bearing myrrh and representing Europe.

Main article: Biblical Magi The word mágos (Greek) and its variants appears in both the Old and New Testaments.[9] Ordinarily this word is translated "magician" or "sorcerer" in the sense of illusionist or fortune-teller, and this is how it is translated in all of its occurrences (e.g. Acts 13:6) except for the Gospel of Matthew, where, depending on translation, it is rendered "wise man" (KJV, RSV) or left untranslated as Magi, typically with an explanatory note (NIV). However, early church fathers, such as St. Justin, Origen, St. Augustine
St. Augustine
and St. Jerome, did not make an exception for the Gospel, and translated the word in its ordinary sense, i.e. as "magician".[10] The Gospel of Matthew
Gospel of Matthew
states that magi visited the infant Jesus shortly after his birth (2:1–2:12). The gospel describes how magi from the east were notified of the birth of a king in Judaea by the appearance of his star. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem, they visited King Herod to determine the location of the king of the Jews's birthplace. Herod, disturbed, told them that he had not heard of the child, but informed them of a prophecy that the Messiah
would be born in Bethlehem. He then asked the magi to inform him when they find the infant so that Herod may also worship him. Guided by the Star of Bethlehem, the wise men found the baby Jesus
in a house; Matthew does not say if the house was in Bethlehem. They worshipped him, and presented him with "gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh." (2.11) In a dream they are warned not to return to Herod, and therefore return to their homes by taking another route. Since its composition in the late 1st century, numerous apocryphal stories have embellished the gospel's account. Matthew 2:16 implies that Herod learned from the wise men that up to two years had passed since the birth, which is why all male children two years or younger were slaughtered. In addition to the more famous story of Simon Magus
Simon Magus
found in chapter 8, the Book of Acts
Book of Acts
(13:6–11) also describes another magus who acted as an advisor of Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul at Paphos
on the island of Cyprus. He was a Jew named Bar- Jesus
(son of Jesus), or alternatively Elymas. (Another Cypriot magus named Atomos is referenced by Josephus, working at the court of Felix at Caesarea.) One of the non-canonical Christian sources, the Syriac Infancy Gospel, provides, in its third chapter, a story of the wise men of the East which is very similar to much of the story in Matthew. Unlike Matthew, however, this account cites Zoradascht (Zoroaster) as the source of the prophecy that motivated the wise men to seek the infant Jesus. [11] In the Quran (Islamic tradition)[edit] Although some Islamic scholars have inferred an implicit reference, the Qur'an mentions the 'Majūs' or 'Magus' or Magians (المجوس) explicitly only once:

Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Sabians, and the Nasrani, and the Magians, and those who associate [others with God] – surely God will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection. Lo! God is a witness over all things. — The Qur'an 22:17

See also[edit]

Anachitis – "stone of necessity" – stone used to call up spirits from water, used by Magi
in antiquity. Epiphany (holiday)
Epiphany (holiday)
– a Christian holiday on January 6 marking the epiphany of the infant Jesus
to the Magi. Fire temple


^ Matthew 2
Matthew 2
in Greek ^ a b Boyce, Mary (1975), A History of Zoroastrianism, Vol. I, Leiden: Brill, pp. 10–11  ^ a b Gershevitch, Ilya (1964), "Zoroaster's Own Contribution", Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 23 (1): 12, doi:10.1086/371754 , p. 36. ^ a b c Zaehner, Robert Charles (1961), The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, New York: MacMillan, p. 163 . ^ a b Mair, Victor H. (1990), "Old Sinitic *Myag, Old Persian
Old Persian
Maguš and English Magician", Early China, 15: 27–47 . ^ a b c Beck, Roger (2003), "Zoroaster, as perceived by the Greeks", Encyclopaedia Iranica, New York: iranica.com . ^ Beck, Roger (1991), "Thus Spake Not Zarathushtra: Zoroastrian Pseudepigrapha of the Graeco-Roman World", in Boyce, Mary; Grenet, Frantz, A History of Zoroastrianism, Handbuch der Orientalistik, Abteilung I, Band VIII, Abschnitt 1, 3, Leiden: Brill, pp. 491–565 , p. 516. ^ Al-Marashi, Ibrahim (2000). "The Mindset of Iraq's Security Apparatus" (PDF). Cambridge University: Centre of International Studies: 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-04-11.  ^ Gospel of Matthew2:1–12:9; Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
8:9; 13:6,8; and the Septuagint
of Daniel 1:20; 2:2, 2:10, 2:27; 4:4; 5:7, 5:11, 5:15). ^ Drum, W. (1910), "Magi", The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company  ^ Hone, William (1890 (4th edit); 1820 (1st edition)). "The Apocryphal Books of the New Testament". Archive.org. Gebbie & Co., Publishers, Philadelphia. Retrieved 20 October 2017.  Check date values in: date= (help)

External links[edit]

Lendering, Jona (2006), Magians, Amsterdam: livius.org . " Magi
from the East" at Gates of Nineveh The Magi
in Medieval Mosaics, Sculptures, Tympanums and Art The Ancient Order of the Cul