The Mysterious Magi of Matthew 2: Part Two  


The Holy Men by Liz Lemon Swindle
In part one of this series, I briefly described the origins of Zoroastrianism, the religion held by the magi mentioned in Matthew 2, who left their homeland and traveled to Israel to worship Jesus. We noted the passages mentioned in the Old Testament where these monotheistic adherents of Zoroastrianism equated their deity with the God of the Jews.

In contrast to the polytheistic paganism of other cultures, Judaism and Zoroastrianism held several core beliefs in common. An overview of Zoroastrian doctrines are 1) good will eventually prevail over evil (Rev. 20, 21); 2) creation was initially perfectly good, but was subsequently corrupted by evil (Gen 1:31, Rom. 5:12, 8:20-22); 3) the world will ultimately be restored to the perfection it had at the time of creation (Rev. 21:1, 4); and 4) the “salvation for the individual depended on the sum of [that person's] thoughts, words and deeds, and there could be no intervention, whether compassionate or capricious, by any divine being to alter this.” Thus, each human bears the responsibility for the fate of his own soul (Ezekiel 18).1

By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews and Persians had lived side by side for over five centuries, and the Persians (who conquered Babylon while the Jews were captive there) had access to various sacred texts. Such prophecies included the one made by the Babylonian sorcerer, Balaam, who foretold the rising of a star in Israel signaled a king (Numbers 24:17), as well as the multiple prophecies of the Jewish seer, Daniel, who worked as a counselor and adviser to several kings of Babylonian and Medean (a Persian puppet king) origin. Most likely of significant interest to the magi would be Daniel’s prophecies recorded in Daniel 7:13-14 and 12:13, which speak of one given authority to rule all peoples, and the judgment of the dead. In Zoroastrianism, this role would be fulfilled by Mithras, who, with the exception of being a created being, showed remarkably similarities with the Old Testament Angel of the Lord (many Christian scholars believe this ethereal messenger of the Jewish God was Jesus preincaranate). For instance, in the Yasht (a Zoroastrian hymn), we see Mithras in his role as ‘Judge of Souls’ as the rewarder of good and annihilator of the bad. Mithras was considered omniscient, undeceivable, infallible, eternally watchful, and never-resting.

It is not unlikely that after observing the “star of Bethlehem,” and studying the prophetic sacred texts available to them that the magi then looked into other Jewish scriptures. Quite possibly they compared Isaiah 7:14 (the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means 'God is with us') with their own belief in a coming restorer born of a holy maid, who would destroy evil: “We worship the Fravashi (guardian angel) of the holy maid, Eredat-fedhi, who is called Vispa-taurvairi. She is called Vispa-taurvairi (the all-destroying) because she will bring him forth, who will destroy the malice of Daevas (demons) and men….”2

All this should be taken into consideration when disputing the validity of Matthew 2, for when understanding the religious and cultural background of these “wise men from the east,” it is not inconceivable that they chose to undergo the arduous journey to Israel to worship to  the newborn “king of the Jews.”

1Quoted from the Zoroastrian Text frasho.kereti (also spelt Frashokereti).
2Book XXX.142 of the The Zend-Avesta: The Sîrôzahs, Yasts, and Nyâyis translated by James Darmesteter.