Magi. The ancient word conjures intrigue. Who were these men? And most of all, what drove them to travel so far to pay homage to the newborn King?

Mosaic of the magi in Sant' Apollinare Nuovo in Raveena, Italy, 526 AD. Magi depicted in Persian clothing saved the church from being destroyed by the Persians in early 7th century.  Photo credit license: Nina Aldin Thune via Creative Commons
Mosaic of the magi in Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo in Raveena, Italy, 526 AD. Magi depicted in Persian clothing saved the church from being destroyed by the Persians in the early 7th century.
Photo credit license: Nina Aldin Thune via Creative Commons

The word magi, plural form of magos, is believed by many scholars to be Babylonian in origin. According to Strong’s Concordance, magi means “wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” Hence, it’s easy to see where the modern word magician comes from. The first time magi or magus was used was in the 6th century BC, in the Old Testament book of Daniel, when said wise men were called upon by King Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream. Recall that prior to this, King Nebuchadnezzar had seized Jerusalem and carried off the young educated men of Israel. Daniel and his three companions were cast among the magi. When no one could interpret his dream, Nebuchadnezzar ordered all the wise men be put to death. God provided Daniel the interpretation of the dream, not only saving him and his fellow Jewish companions, but the lives of all the wise men. Subsequently, the king placed Daniel in charge of the wise men, as well as over the entire province of Babylon (Daniel, chapter 2). Later we see Daniel continue to distinguish himself when King Darius set him up as a satrap (governor). This was typical of the additional duties magi performed, such as confirming the divine nature of the kingship, supervising the collection of land-taxes, and acting as judges.

 
Meanwhile, as these events with Daniel took place, there was a religious reformer named Zoroaster and his followers were called Zoroastrians. This group remained active throughout Babylonia for hundreds of years including during and after the time of Christ’s birth. In fact the King Vologeses I (51-80 AD) reinstated these magi at his court, and it was common practice for magi to visit and be accepted at court by other kings.

 
But could there be a deeper reason for their desire to pay homage? It turns out King Vologeses had family ties leading back to King Darius. Traditions and the passing on of knowledge is tantamount in keeping a religion alive. It is doubtful that the tales of Daniel and his God missed the magi’s notice. Whether they loved or hated him is not the point. The prophecy and dream interpretation made by Daniel (Chapters 2 through 7) was recorded not in Hebrew like the rest of the book, but switched to Aramaic, the language of the world. So at any time afterward, anyone could read how God granted that gift to Daniel, and that his prophecy of the Gentile world had all come true. The part in Aramaic also covers Daniel’s vision of the coming of the Son of man (Chapter 7). Couple this with the fact that the magi were trained to watch the skies for signs, as stars and comets were regarded as heralding the birth of kings.

 
Could it be that Daniel’s faithfulness in foreign captivity began a traditional teaching among the Zoroastrians and passed down through the generations of magi?

St Thaddeus Armenian Church, Iran. Constructed as Qara Kelissa in 68 AD in memory of St. Jude (Thaddeus)
St Thaddeus Armenian Church, Iran. Constructed as Qara Kelissa in 68 AD in memory of St. Jude (Thaddeus)

 
One more thing to note: After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the apostle Jude (also known as Thaddeus) went into Armenia and parts of Persia and in his mission work there ended up converting 3000 Zoroastrians to Christianity. Did he reference their homage to the newborn Jewish Messiah as the bridge to their salvation?

 

Whoever the magi were, they were certainly the first Gentiles with authority to recognize Christ as King.

 

Joy to the World!

 
Matthew 2:9b-11

and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

 

 

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The base of the skull showing the two potentially fatal injuries. A section of the skull has been sliced off.
The base of the skull showing the two potentially fatal injuries. A section of the skull has been sliced off. All images credit University of Leicester

This week, DNA test results confirmed skeletal remains discovered last Fall to be King Richard III. Investigators stated that the bones show he suffered 8 to 10 wounds, 2 inflicted to the head – either of which could have been fatal – and some “humiliation injuries” that likely occurred after he died and was stripped of his armor. (Armor, expensive as it was, was usually removed and given to the victor). While researching my book, I never once came across the term “humiliation injuries”, and recent searches of my resources came up empty. I believe this is a modern term, and here is why.

Medieval people were masters of torture and humiliation. These punishments were inflicted upon criminals, who were regarded as deserving scorn, derision, and mistreatment. All one need do is look up “hanged, drawn and quartered” – but I give WARNING – it’s not for the squeamish. The people would gather to witness these events as well as beheadings, stake burnings, and mocking parades of the guilty. It should be noted that kings were also paraded about so that the people witnessed and accepted their deaths, and succession could take place without uprising. The point is that in medieval times, death was a public event.

A likely scenario in King Richard III’s case is that the public saw him as a criminal, perhaps due to the missing princes, and mistreated his dead body. These humiliating injuries were never documented as such; the medieval people saw them as justified.

But were they? There is still debate over whether Richard was involved in killing the missing princes. Could it have been a smear campaign started by the Tudors to discredit Richard and his legitimacy to the throne? After defeating Richard on the battlefield, Henry Tudor became king, thus ending the War of the Roses and ushering in 118 years of reigning Tudor monarchs. But the mystery remains: who inflicted those wounds on King Richard and why?

I hope one day we find out.

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Terracotta Army detail, Xi'an, China
Terracotta Army detail, Xi’an, China

7,000 warriors standing ready for battle fully armed with swords, axes, lances, spears, and crossbows. But these warriors never put their weapons to use. The terra cotta army discovered in the mausoleum of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang (246-210 BC) is known the world over. The warriors are made of clay but the weapons are real.

Archeologists have always wondered how this vast amount of weapons, to the tune of tens of thousands, could have been manufactured with such quality and uniformity. For some time, it has been believed that the weapons were mass produced and assembled in a line (Fordism), meaning less skilled workers doing repetitive tasks. But new evidence proves otherwise.

40,000 bronze arrowheads found in the tomb were tested and revealed unique chemical signatures based on location, indicating different batches were made at each site. The conclusion is multiple autonomous workshops operated at the same time to produce finished products, such as quivers filled with 100 bamboo-shafted arrows adorned with feathers.

Standardization of weapons and this cellular production method (Toyotism) means repairs and replacements could take place quickly on the battlefield or far from home, which may be why the Qin army was so successful in ending centuries of war and uniting China under single rule.

Interested in learning more about how Qin Shi Huang built his terracotta army?

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Portrait of Richard III of England, painted c. 1520
Portrait of Richard III of England, painted c. 1520

A dead body discovered in digging up a modern day parking lot. Ancient records show the burial was beneath an old friary. The skull, severely fractured, and a metal arrowhead still embedded in the spine. But these are not just any skeletal remains, but possibly those of a king.

Sounds like the latest BBC Mystery, but this is a real life one. And the remains are being tested to determine if it is the body of King Richard III, who ruled for only 2 short years and died at the age of 32 in the Battle of Bosworth on August, 22 1485. Historic accounts state he died from a violent blow to the head by a poleaxe or halberd, driving his helmet into his skull. His body was carried to a local friary and, by one account, buried beneath the choir floor.

Whether that part is true or not, it begs the question – did the good friars fear people might desecrate the grave? Absolutely. Historical accounts tell of how two young princes mysteriously disappeared from the Tower of London (the Royal residence at the time) following their being declared illegitimate heirs, thus making Richard III king of England. Many believed Richard had the boys executed, although there is considerable debate about their fate. But if many people at the time believed Richard of foul play, the friars placed his body where no one would have an easy time finding it. And thus it remained, until now.

King Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle.

Fascinating.

For the rest of the story: National Geographic: Body Under British Parking Lot May Be King Richard III.

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