There are Magi and there are magi…

I thought it would be important, as a matter of clarity, to state an unsaid fact: there have been millions of Magi on the face of the planet and still are many.

Stating the word Magi, I realize that it means MANY different things.

Of course, we begin with the Persian prophet, Zoroaster, who first postulated the catechism for the Zoroastrian faith.  It was this belief system that had holy men who called themselves Magi.

But, I’m beginning to learn that things took many twists and turns through out the centuries.  And these twists and turns usually center around political power aka ‘who’s in charge’.

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DARIUS THE GREAT

As early as Old Testament times, there were struggles between the political powers and the holy men that the people revered.  King Darius is enveloped in one such struggle for power.  Without getting into too much detail right now, suffice to say that the position of MAGI has been more about social and political standing than anything sacred.

My second point would be that what Zoroaster began may have nothing to do with the various renditions of the faith throughout the ages.  As with the Hebrews of old and the Catholic faith in the more current era, Zoroastrianism became a rather syncretistic  faith.   In explanation, this means that the Magi allowed various elements of pagan religions to make their way into their once monotheistic faith.  Mithraism is just one of the powerful religions of the middle east that sank its teeth into the dogma of the Magi.  In other words, there were those who followed Zoroaster’s original religion and there were others that practiced a more popular version that made the people and the kings happy.  Sound familiar?

SO, just because they were Magi or from Magian stock doesn’t mean they had anything to do with the Magi who visited the Christ child.  In fact, besides three instances I know of (the Godaphares of India, the Baux family of France and King Bazen of Ethiopia), there are no real bloodline connections to the original nativity visitors.

However, I am convinced that the King/Magi son list from the REVELATION OF THE MAGI, although it concerns kings from 3rd Century Parthia, is connected in some way with those men who worshiped at Jesus feet.

For the most part, following these Parthian Kings, I have found many of the first Christian influences of their regions.  Once again, this may have had as much to do with the influence of Rome and their new state supported religion than anything akin to spiritual matters.  But some of the first Christian martyrs of the Persian, Iberian, Indian and Armenian realms came from these bloodlines.  So we cannot dismiss the possibility that some of these individuals (some of which became saints in the Eastern churches on level with Apostles) were sincere followers of Christ.

(Modern day Zoroastrians practicing in Iran and India)

But, let me be clear.  Even though these connections are my focus, I still love studying the history of the migration of the Persian people of Magian descent no matter their religious affiliations.

So…let’s continue!

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Artaban V and his Jewish connection?

We have previously touched upon the story of the 4th Magi, Artaban, and his sharing a name with the last king of Parthia, Artabanus V.  But, recently, I ran into something that I can only explain as strange.

There are plenty of connections between Parthians, Persians and the Jewish people.  But all other connections seem normal than a mention of Artaban and his relationship to a Jew named Rav.

Only preserved in the Palestinian Talmud is the story of the Parthian king and a high ranking teacher in the Palestinian Jewry.  Rav (175–247) , also known as Abba Arikha, was the founder of the Talmudic center at Sura.  He and Artaban exchanged gifts at one time.  The Parthian king sent a priceless pearl.  Rav sent back a Mezuzah.

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A mezuzah (Hebrew: מְזוּזָה‎‎ “doorpost”; plural: מְזוּזוֹתmezuzot) is a piece of parchment (often contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21).

When asked why he returned an everyday item in exchange for the priceless pearl, Rav simply replied,

Your possessions and my possessions together do not equal the value of this. Moreover, you sent me something that I must guard; but I sent you something that will watch over you when you sleep, as it is written ‘When you walk it will lead you, when you lie down it will watch over you’”

Oddly enough, the Palestinian Talmud says that there was more between them than gifts and respect.  It is stated that he aided the Parthian ruler with protection via ‘magic’.  This bond stayed to the end as Artaban V fell to Ardishir, the Sussanian usurper.  Rav exclaimed that the ‘bond is snapped’.

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The exilarch reminisced during the rise of the Sassanian Empire of a “rabbinic ‘Nostalgia'” for the era of the Arsacid kings that ended with Artaban.  And there is no explanation given in the Palestinian Talmud of why the Rabbi’s magic failed Arataban. What is clear is that Rav was deeply touched by the Parthians death and the fall of his families’ empire and that the Rabbi doesn’t seem to have reached out to Ardishir, the Sassanian ruler.

Earliest names of the Magi and Sassanian Kings

You will find many entries on the names of the legendary Magi here in this blog.  They vary from nation to nation and tongue to tongue.  But one of the earliest renditions of the three came from a 6th century Syrian source, one Zoroastrian scholar, Dariush Jahanian.

He listed the three Magi as follows:

Hormizdah, King of Persia

Yazdegerd, King of Saba

Perozadh, King of Sheba

Now, these names are not Sabaean or Arab, as one would expect, but Persian.

yazdegerd__I

But the real astonishing thing is that during the fourth through sixth centuries the Sassanian Empire, began by Ardishir I back in the 3rd Century, had kings of similar names!

YAZDEGERD I (399-420)

Yazdegerd II (438-457)

Peroz I (457-484)

Hormizd IV (579-590)

YAZDEGERD III (632-651)

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(Notice that the Sasanian Empire reached to Yemen also called Saba or Sheba and parts of Atabia)

Was the writers intent to honor these Sassanian Kings in some way?  Why not?  I see similarities in the twelve names given in REVELATION OF THE MAGI to Parthian Kings of the 3rd Century.  It is not far to go to believe that the kings list and the Syrian Jahanian’s list were not also so influenced.

 

Original Home of the Magi?

One of the seven great houses of the Parthian Empire (which ruled parts of Persia from 247 BC–224 AD) was the House of Mihran. I believe the blood line of the magi can be traced through these houses and especially Mihran due to their coming from the city of Ray in modern Iran; also called Rhaga.

This city was the ancient home of the Median Empire of old. According to the Histories of Herodotus, there were six Median tribes:

Thus Deioces collected the Medes into a nation, and ruled over them alone. Now these are the tribes of which they consist: the Busae, theParetaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi.

The Median Tribes resided in the area in the triangle of between Ecbatana, Rhagae and Aspadana.

The Torah (Jewish holy book) claimed Ray is one door of the Earth and the people of the world go there for their commercial affairs.  According to the Avesta (sacred book of the Zoroastrians), Ray was a famous base of the Zoroastrian priests and the religious center of Zoroastrians before Islam. It was considered their holy city for some historians believed Zoroaster’s mother was a native of Ray; called Reyeh in the Avesta. It is interesting that the mother of Zoroaster, the patriarch of the Zoroastrian religion, claimed an area of which the Magi factored prominently.

What is even more interesting is the fact that the city of Ray is today known as the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Magi and ‘Fire Temples’

Zoroastrian Magi have always had a connection with fire.

But through the first 500 years of modern history, Magi were in a phase that rejected the idea of a place of worship and were radically against a temple of any sort.  They were thought of as folly.

This would mean that the Magi who worshiped the Christ child were of the same ilk, probably.

However, around 500 AD, the thought seemed to shift and small open aired ‘fire temples’ began to pop up all over the middle east and much of the near east also.

There were four simple walls representing the four directions  and, at its center an open flame.  These began to pop up in Armenia and up through Azerbaijani and may leave a trail to follow the descendants of the Magi.

The Lion of Namrut and the 8 point stars

Just a curiosity really.  The only connection, SO FAR, with our Magi studies is the ‘magi star’ or the 8 pointed stars that are scattered across the relief.  But it’s position in Armenia both before the rise and fall of the Parthian empire and after make it impossible to ignore!

The relief is said to be the constellation Leo and also is considered to be frozen in time.  A particular time, really.  According to most experts, it points to 109 BC; the time of the crowning of King Mithradates.  Named after the pagan god, Mithra, who was very popular with the assimilating Zoroastrians.

The statue was actually erected by Mithradates son, King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene.  Other scholars point to the fact that the three planets shown and labeled above the lion/leo star chart actually passed through the constellation about 62 BC.  This could have possibly coincided with Anticuhus’ crowning by the Roman, general Pompey.

Whichever it was commemorating, we know that Antichus was a ‘helenized Zoroastrian’.  This and the eight point stars on his greatest commissioned work of art make him suspect of being a grand part of the legacy of the Magi.