Virtually every detail of this delightful painting is wrong: there were probably 70 Magi on horseback, along with a small army for protection  

Forget three kings on camels – we’ve been misled for years by our twee traditions, says Mark Weeden, who also shows a surprising link to sorcery in high places

The “wise men,” or Magi, are an indispensable part of every Christmas nativity play. Who hasn’t sung, “We three kings of Orient are…”, or received cards showing three men on camels, following the star until it stood over the house where the baby Jesus lay?

The traditional story, however, may not be entirely accurate.  They certainly brought three different gifts, but the Bible does not actually specify the number of men (Matthew 2:1).

Also, it is not appropriate to translate the word “Magi” (or Magus in the singular) as “wise men,” since it is a proper name. The late Roger Price, who led the Chichester Christian Fellowship, did some wonderful research into these mysterious figures. The Magi appeared frequently in ancient literature, and were well known to the middle-eastern nations of Jesus’ day.

The Magi were a priestly caste for centuries before the incarnation, originating from Media. This became part of the Medo-Persian empire that ruled the known world from the sixth century BC.

He and the people feared first-century regime change

Although originally astronomers, the Magis’ knowledge merged in the course of time with astrology and so they came to be prognosticators of the future, or soothsayers. As such they were among the top nobles and officials throughout the royal courts of the ancient near east, and were thus mentioned in the Bible as well, for example in the books of Daniel and Esther. Their influence was so great, that they became king-makers.

Then we come to the biblical nativity account, where not just Herod, but “all Jerusalem with him” were troubled at their arrival (Matthew 2:3). Why would the whole city be troubled by three harmless men gently arriving on camels, according to our twee tradition? Because that wasn’t the way it happened.

Price’s research showed that around 70 Magi would arrive in some splendour. They rode horses (luxuries of privilege and power) accompanied by a small army of about 1,000 cavalry! They were king-makers, after all.

They were not charlatans with no power to influence, but a line of soothsayers whose power and influence held sway over kings and emperors

No wonder Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled! There was already political instability in Judea at the time, with military weakness too, and Herod had declining health. He and the people feared first-century regime change.

However, something interesting had happened with some of the Magi centuries before. They existed in King Nebuchadnezzar’s day, but were unable to interpret the dream he had forgotten. As a consequence of the king’s unreasonable anger, they faced certain death.

Daniel’s intervention and God’s revelation and interpretation of the dream saw their lives spared. As a consequence Daniel was made chief of all the Magi and other courtiers.  (Daniel 2:48 and 5:11)

Of course, Daniel did not follow the astrological ways of the others, but would have taught them the ways of the God of Israel. And he prophesied of the Messiah, which they would have recorded in writing, and we have the book of Daniel passed down to us in our Bibles.

Later there was a split among the Magi, with many following Zoroaster, a Persian ‘prophet’ and founder of the religion that bears his name. (Daniel had been taken from Babylon to Susa, the Persian capital – see Daniel 8:2).

However, a small number held to Daniel’s teachings and it was these who came into Jerusalem, not to remove Herod and install another king, but to see the fulfilment of what Daniel had prophesied –  the birth of the Messiah!

In the time of the New Testament, the other type of Magi were still around, setting up their stalls, displaying astonishing powers and telling fortunes for money. We read of Simon Magus, as previous generations used to refer to him (Acts 8:9, 11).

Now here it gets really interesting: Simon Magus practised magic. The Magi were magi-cians! It’s where our word “magic” comes from. (Not the sleight of hand that some entertainers do, but those with spiritual, or occultic power).

Likewise Bar-Jesus, the false prophet who was opposing the Apostle Paul’s ministry, was called Elymas “the magician” (Acts 13:6, 8).  In each case these are called Magi in the Greek texts, and we see them mentioned in the book of Esther as well as Daniel. They were not charlatans with no power to influence, but a line of soothsayers whose power and influence held sway over kings and emperors.

They were wielding influence in the courts of kings, while gaining power, prestige and wealth

Notice that Elymas was alongside Sergius Paulus, the proconsul (the governor of a province) to try to influence him, as were those throughout the centuries before, wielding influence in the courts of kings, while gaining power, prestige and wealth.

And so we come to modern rulers and see that there is still a strong temptation to engage with supernatural power that has an occultic source.

It is well documented that Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary, held séances in the “Red Room” of the White House. The President was influenced by his wife’s activities, calling on spirits to guide him in political matters, as witnessed by the reporter Prior Melton and then published in the Boston Gazette.

The President was influenced by his wife’s activities, calling on spirits to guide him in political matters

In similar vein another First Lady, Ronald Regan’s wife, Nancy, was heavily involved in astrology during her husband’s presidency. She regularly consulted famed astrologer Joan Quigley on matters relating to the president’s schedule, diplomacy and even Cold War politics.

Over here in Britain, Cherie Blair was well known for consulting her alleged “style” but actually New Age guru, Carol Caplin, who had an extraordinary influence over the Prime Minister’s wife. It was also widely reported that the Prime Minister and Cherie were involved in an occult activity in Mexico during their time at Number Ten.

There are individuals at the centre of American politics today who are practising witches (and high level ones at that.) The more things change, the more they stay the same! Or, as Solomon put it, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Some Christians may react in horror and disbelief at such a statement, but if that’s you, I encourage you to do some more research into your most holy faith and the battle which surrounds and opposes it.

Jesus Christ was born to be the light of the world, and to be our Saviour for any who would trust him

It’s been said, “It takes one to know one.” Thus it is notably ex-witches who have boldly exposed such truths after becoming born-again Christians.

The Apostle Paul said we were to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). As the “Magi-cians” were the powers behind the throne, and Elymas sought to influence the governor, so today there are still unwholesome influences in the shadows.

The Bible simply says: “The whole world lies in the power [but not authority] of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Soberingly, the street layout of America’s capital, Washington DC, contains several occultic symbols, which can be seen clearly from an aerial view.

Jesus Christ was born to be the light of the world, and to be our Saviour for any who would trust him, by taking our sin on the cross, delivering us from the kingdom of darkness (or, Satan) to his kingdom of righteousness.

That unnumbered group of Magi, influenced by and holding to Daniel’s prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, travelled a great distance to seek and worship him. Wise men and women still do!

Rev Mark Weeden
Rev Mark Weeden

Rev Mark Weeden is pastor of King’s Church, Arundel and leads Living Word Ministries, which trains Third World pastors and supports orphans. To hear this message (first preached 19 September 2021) or any others, email

Roger Price’s teaching, ‘Who were the wise men?’, can be obtained from CCF Tapes, a HEART Partner Ministry

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