12 Matthew’s Magi as Experts on Kingship

In: The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi
Author:
Albert de Jong
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Abstract

Since the Greek word magos (a loan-word from Old Persian magu-) is semantically polyvalent, interpretations of the role and the literary function of the magi in Matthew’s narrative on the birth of Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem have tended to be very different. The important role of the Star of Bethlehem in Matthew chapter two has led many scholars to assume that the magi must appear in this story because they were widely known as experts in astrology. Knowledge of astrology, however, is not commonly attributed to the magi in Greek literature; this is the case independent of the question of whether the magi were seen as Zoroastrian priests or as practitioners of what has been called, after them, the art of ‘magic’. In the absence of convincing arguments for an astrological role of the magi, both in historical reality and in the Greek literary imagination, this chapter argues that the role of the magi in Matthew’s story must be interpreted in the light of their connection with kingship. This was a connection they had both in historical reality and in the imagined Persian courts of authoritative Greek authors.

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The Star of Bethlehem and the Magi

Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Experts on the Ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman World, and Modern Astronomy

Series:  Themes in Biblical Narrative, Volume: 19

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