I’ve been thinking about Epiphany and the wise men for a bit. Its interesting how a so called sanitized view of those fellows seems to pervade much of Christian society.
Many folks hold them out to be Kings, and I think such is reasonable if one looks at their visit fullfilling old testament prophecy. The thing is, to simply state they are kings from afar, and that they were astronomers is only part, and realistically only a sanitized part of the story. More so, I think we loose something if the story is just left at that.
The study of the stars is what leads us to think of astronomy, today, a very hard science with an incredible amount of really nasty mathematical equations behind it, albeit extremely visually appealing. Back then, the study of stars was likely a lot more oriented along the lines of astrology, rather than orbital mechanics and spectral analysis.
The word magi is sometimes used to describe the wise men. Magi, were typically followers of Zoroaster, and for all practical purposes were Persian priest astrologers. If we do a bit of digging into the term “wise men”, we find it also refers to Simon the Magician (a believer, albeit an inept one, and for whom the sin of Simony is named) in Acts, yet another connection to astrology and sorcery. We also find Elymas, another sorcerer, albeit one who tried to lead people astry.
Lets look at the gifts they brought… gold, frankincense and myrhh. A vastly different type of offering than sacrificed animals as was the common practice of the day. Some records suggest that Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh were given to the mythical God Apollo hundreds of years prior. In todays world, we think very positively of the gifts… I’m not so sure said combination gifts would be looked at as being very popular amongst those who ascribe to a legalistic point of view back then.
Even more so, imagine the outrage amongst those who didnt like it that Jesus ate with sinners, that the first ones who came to be with him were sorcerers, and were guided by a star. God pretty much condemns folks who practice such in the OT, but yet he used exactly such folks to be the first recorded to see his Son.
What I find really impactful, is despite the practices and lifestyle of the wisemen, they knew of the Messiahs birth, they gave homage to God in his most humblest state, as a mere babe. If one does ascribe them to be Kings, their actions seem even more powerful. They set aside their works, their world, their lives to find what God had illuminated to them… They didnt miss the point, like so many others, who had the right lifestyle, the right actions, the right ancestry… yet got it all wrong.