Most likely, the magi came from Persia. By the way, magi is the root of our word “magician.” These magi probably were not magicians in the way we think of that term. They were likely part of the priestly class within the Zoroastrian religion—respected court advisors, scholars, sages, devout believers in God, and scientists of a sort. They studied the stars and looked to them for signs of God’s plans and world events. They were astrologers in a time when astrologers were not simply creators of horoscopes but students of the stars. Zoroastrianism originated in Persia (modern-day Iran) possibly in the late seventh or early sixth century before Christ. The prophet Zoroaster was to Zoroastrianism what Moses was to Judaism. Both religions shared a belief in one good and all-powerful God, in a host of other theological ideas, and in common ethical imperatives. Yet they were as different from one another as, say, Judaism is from Islam.
This is why I find the visit of the magi so remarkable. According to Matthew, God intentionally chose to invite a group of foreigners, priests of a different religion, to share in the joy of Jesus’ birth. And God used them to provide what would prove to be much-needed help for the Holy Family.
In response to their sighting of the star and their deduction that a king of the Jews had been born, these wise men, who were not Jews, traveled twelve hundred miles across the ancient highways from Persia to Judea in order to see the child, bring him gifts, and pay him homage. What does that tell us about the depth of their faith and the broadness of their understanding of God’s providence? — Adam Hamilton, Faithful: Christmas through the Eyes of Joseph (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017).
I have just completed a series of six Christmas Lessons. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.