I ’ve always loved the story of the Magi. These enigmatic sojourners from the East captured my imagination at an early age and have yet to cease inspiring my man-child sense of awe and wonder. Like the ever elusive Melchizedek of the Old Testament, the Magi inject a fresh sense of mystique into the embryonic development of the New Testament narrative. Just as Melchizedek, the priest and king of Salem, suddenly entered and exited the story of Abraham to both bless his identity and confirm his destiny with bread and wine, the Magi do the very same thing for the infant messiah but with the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They suddenly appear and evaporate from the scenery, as if they were some bizarre mirage manifested in the desert.
The word “magi” is the plural form of the word “magus.” In case you’re not a linguistic scholar, a magus is a magician. In fact, the same Greek word that is translated as “wise men” in the Gospel of Matthew is later translated as “magician” in two separate instances in the Book of Acts. That’s right, the earliest Christians believed that the wise men were magicians. That’s not to say that calling the Magi “wise men” is false. I’m sure they were wise, but what it does point to is how modern Christianity has sanitized the word to make it more palatable to those who fear the stigma attached to magic. Don’t worry, helicopter parents, I’m not trying to lure your kids into the occult. I’m just trying to be true to the text. What this does mean, however, is that when the Magi rolled into town to speak with King Herod and his religious entourage, people were probably wigging out. The Magi were the freaks and geeks of their time. Think of the goth kids in your high school who owned magic cards and played Dungeons and Dragons. Now, realize that the Magi were basically those kids on steroids. When I imagine the Magi in my mind’s eye, I see Oded Fehr’s portrayal of Ardeth Bay, the leader of the Medjai in the 1999 movie “The Mummy.” In case that doesn’t ring a bell, think of Johnny Depp’s “Captain Jack Sparrow,” but with more muscles and wearing all black attire. If you don’t know who Jack Sparrow is…you need to get out more.
Some scholars have theorized that the Magi were both Persian astrologers and Zoroastrian priests who had been influenced by the writings of the Prophet Daniel. That means that these mysterious travelers, who hailed from modern day Iran, were not only believers in the mystical nature of the stars, but also practitioners of alchemy and the magic associated with celestial bodies. For the Hebrew chief priests and scribes surrounding Herod, these would have been God’s last choice to use for… anything. But to God, the Magi were the perfect choice for following a star that would lead them to the one who had magically spoken stars into existence and who would grow into the alchemist who turned water into wine. After the visit of the Magi, Jesus became a refugee and an outsider. Perhaps that’s why God chose Iranian outsiders to coronate him as King.
You see, the people that we think of as rejects are often God’s first draft picks. When you draw a circle around yourself to define who is cool or who gets to be your friend, God sees everything beyond your little circle as the VIP list for his party. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were an exclusive and pedigreed breed who also happened to be totally clueless about his birth until these magical rejects showed up on the scene and gave them the update of the millennium. So, be careful who you exclude. God’s mysterious ways are not our own.
PAUL MICHAEL JONES is an artist who currently dabbles in music, photography and creative writing.