I was really surprised yestereday when the preacher was preaching and telling the Christmas story, and he said he didn’t know who the Magi were. However, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because I only learned because I was reading the Bible with a Japanese girl, and we were trying to figure out who the Magi were, and she insisted that since they were called “wise men” and were from “the east,” they must have been Chinese because the Japanese have a lot of respect for the Chinese. I wasn’t sure she was right, so I began to research.
I thought perhaps the word “Magi” itself may be a clue because I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, and it was a clue. “Magi” comes from the word “magic.” These men were not only considered wise, but also magic. As I continued, I found out that there was a group in India during the time that Christ was born that were known for always looking at the stars like these guys who came to see Jesus at the time of his birth did. They always knew where the stars were and tried to tell the future by looking at the stars, hence, they were thought of as being magic and called “magi.” They were a tribe in India called named after their founder, Zoroaster.
Their religion was called Zoroastrianism. I had learned about Zoroastrianism when I took a World Religions class as a university student. The people of this religion believe in God, and they believe in the devil. However, unlike the Christian and Jewish belief that God is more powerful than the devil, the people of Zoroastrianism believe that God and the devil have equal power. In Christianity and Judaism, we are asked to serve God and let him protect us because he is the most powerful force in the universe, and I believe what they say. However, Zoroaster told the people that God and the devil had the same power, and that they were supposed to choose which one they wanted to serve. Either they should choose God or the devil.
The modern name for this tribe, the Zoroastrian people, is the gypsies. The reason why the gypsies have gotten such a bad reputation is because they are known for traveling around, kidnapping, murdering and stealing. Those are the ones who have chosen to follow the devil. Think of it, when we think about gypsies, what do we think of? They are the ones who read Christal balls, who read the stars, and who read taro cards. This tribe is still around, but I learned in Romania that not all of them have chosen to follow the devil.
The royal family of the Roma tribe of gypsies lives in Sibiu, Romania, in the same town, and for a time, just around the corner, from where I lived. I used to see the queen mother of the gypsies crossing the street quite often. She had long gray hair with a long braid on each side of her face, just in the front of her hair. She wore a bright colorful scarf on her head that was tied in the back. She wore a long colorful skirt and a colorful blouse with lots of jewellery. She also smoked a pipe. I saw her funeral procession. She was all laid out in a horse drawn wagon with lots of flowers around her. I met the princess of the gypsies. She dressed the same, but her hair was black, and she didn’t smoke a pipe. She tried to sell me a gypsy skirt for $200 because she found out I thought their skirts were pretty. She invited me for tea to her apartment. She owned a storefront and kept an apartment in the back of it across the street from the house of the King of the gypsies. A Pentecostal church met in her store front. Evidently, she had chosen to serve God, so not all gypsies choose to serve the devil. She invited me to church, but I didn’t go. People I met in Romania said you never saw the king of the gypsies on the street, and I never saw him. His house looked like a castle with high walls around it. Some said they had seen him on T. V., and he was a big huge fat man.
So, we wonder, if the magi were Zoroaster, and if the modern day name for this tribe from India is gypsy, then how did they get from India to the royal family living in Romania and traveling all over Europe causing trouble, and how did their name change? My Romanian teacher answered this question for me. The tribe has always had the tendency to be nomadic. Just like the Magi in the Bible who saw a big bright star, bigger than anything else and got on their camels or donkeys, or whatever they were riding, and took off looking for the source of the star, the whole tribe didn’t mind just taking off. The tribe migrated from India into Egypt and stayed there for a long time, until people almost began thinking of them as Egyptians.
However, they still had the tendency to roam. They left Egypt, and rather than call them “Egyptians” because they weren’t really Egyptian, people began calling them” Egypsies.” The royal family ended up in Romania, and there are many gypsies in Romania. Eventually, what happened to the word “Egypsies” is that it changed as language always does because people are living, so language is living. (When we began writing, more standardization came into language, and then with the advent of things like printing presses, universities, dictionaries, radios, and TVs, language has just kept getting more and more standardized.) However, this happened so long ago that the “E” was eventually dropped from the word “Egypsies” and the people of that tribe began to be known as gypsies.
We wonder, “Why on earth would God put gypsies in the story of Christ’s birth?” Well, firstly, you have to remember that many in the old world knew about the one God. Even in the far east in Korea, their first emperor, Dangun, had been the son of a man from the Tower of Babel, and they called Dangun’s dad “the son of God” in Korea, but not meaning like Christ, just meaning that he had a very close connection to God. If you study the Chinese characters, they are pictures, not just scribblings. Some of the meanings of the Chinese characters were obviously originally made from old stories we have in the Bible. The American Indian tribes had many gods, but one thing they could all agree on was “the Great Spirit,” the one who created them all and was more powerful than all. Many ancient religions talk about God. People have known about him since the beginning of time. Many, many people in the old world knew about God, not just the Jews. God had a plan that Jesus would die for the sins of the whole world, not just for the Jews. He had had that plan since the beginning of time when he threw mankind out of the Garden of Eden. He announced his plan right then to bring mankind back to him. He said Satan would strike the heal of Eve’s descendent, but that her descendent would “crush Satan’s head” meaning Jesus would die on the cross, but he would rise again, he would “crush sin.” God made a plan to save the whole world and bring them back to himself from the beginning of time. God wanted to incorporate people in the story of the birth of Jesus who were not Jewish, but were from other countries for us to understand that Jesus wasn’t just “king of the Jews,” but the king for the whole world. Yes, Jesus was born of Jewish parents, but he was born for the whole world, and including foreigners to Judaism in the story of Jesus birth who came to worship him told us that others beside Jews would be worshipping Jesus.
Hence those three magi showed up because they were doing what they always did, studying the stars. They found a star that was bigger than all the others that had never been there before and decided to check it out. They didn’t mind the long trip. That is what gypsies have always done—travel. These men had chosen to serve God, not the devil. They brought gifts to the new baby of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Again, you wonder what frankincense is, it is incense. A lot of people burned it in the old world because it smells good. You wonder what “myrrh” is. It was used in the old world to make things soft. Now a days, we use myrrh to make a thing we call “rosin.” I used rosin when I played the viola to rub on my bow to make the horse hairs on it soft. There weren’t a lot of luxuries in the old world, and these were luxurious items back then: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If we read the Bible, it doesn’t really tell us how many Magi there were, but there were three gifts, so people have assumed there were three wise men, Magi, or gypsies. In our song, we even call them “kings,” but the Bible never says they were kings. In a Romanian song, they say there were three shepherds, but the reality is there were gypsies, and we only assume there were three of them.