A great programme on Radio 4 this evening on the theology and history of the Magi– the Wise Men who, according to Matthew 2, visited the infant Jesus with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and Myrrh.
You can listen again here.
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
I love this story.
The way the coming of Jesus sent ripples out far beyond the edges of the Jewish world. The way his coming was anticipated, hoped for by ancient people searching for signs in the sky.
The way that men of a magical mystical tradition alien to the world of Jerusalem and Bethlehem were so transfixed by the hope brought be a coming king that they were prepared to travel hard long miles to attempt to find him. Some stress the Biblical condemnation of sorcery and astrology in such texts as Deuteronomy 18:10–11, Leviticus 19:26, and Isaiah 47:13–14, but there is no condemnation in the account above.
The sparse account of these men in Matthew has been added to by tradition. Names were added, and somewhere along the way, people started calling them Kings too.
Most accounts believe the Magi to be from Persia- Zoroastrian scholars well versed in astrology, and their own deep spirituality. They had their own belief in a coming Messiah, and a virgin who would conceive.
Many believe that it was from the Zoroastrian tradition that some Jewish sects- the Pharisees in particular- came to believe in an eternal life (more about this here.)
It brings to me again the possibility of a Messiah who came for all- not just a pre-selected few.