Who Were the Magi?
- According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Magi were a tribe of people within the larger people called the Medes. They were a hereditary priesthood tribe, somewhat like the Levites in Israel, who were the single tribe from the twelve that carried out the religious ceremonies of Israel. Similarly, of all of the tribes within the Medes, the Magi had been selected to function as priests in their pagan rituals.
Whether they originated all the way back in Ur of the Chaldees as a part of a nomadic people that were wandering about in that part of the world, or whether they first appeared in the Babylonian time, no one knows. But we do know that from the Babylonian to the Roman empires, they maintained a place of tremendous prominence and significance in the Orient.
The Magi were the key people in the eastern governments. They rose to a place of enormous political power by virtue of their very unique priestly function, occultic powers of divination, and knowledge of astrology and astronomy. During the four world empires, they served in a powerfully influential capacity as advisors to the royalty in the East, consequently earning the reputation of being ‘wise men’.
In the 6th century B.C., the Medo- Persian Darius the Great selected Zoroastrianism, with its emphasis upon astrology, as the national religion. This may account for the Magi’s focus in that field. So, on top of their own culture's religion was superimposed Judaism and after that, Zoroastrianism.
The law of the Medes and the Persians (Est. 1:19; Dan. 6:8) was the code of scientific and religious discipline of the Magi, and it was required instruction for anyone wishing to be a monarch in Persia. Besides controlling the kingly office, historians tell us that the Magi oversaw the judicial office as well. Esther 1:13 implies that the royal bench of judges was chosen from the Magi. By this kind of leverage, the Magi of the massive Medo-Persian Empire were able to control essentially the entire known world of the Orient.
The Magi were so powerful that historians tell us that no Persian was ever able to become king except under two conditions: (1) he had to master the scientific and religious discipline of the Magi, and (2) he had to be approved of and crowned by the Magi.
In short, the Magi were the king makers.