Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Three Wise Men: Also Mathematicians?

The Three Wise Men of the East were rumored to be great mathematicians that were often perceived by their contemporaries has having "supernatural powers" over numbers. Is the truth behind the story stranger than fiction?

By: Vanessa Uy

Frequently mentioned in the Bible as The Three Wise Men of the East or The Three Magi who were led to Bethlehem by a star, scholars first theorized them to be astrologers from Mesopotamia – now present day Iraq. But there’s a growing consensus that The Three Wise Men of the East were in fact Persian (Iranian) Zoroastrians who were known for their very advanced mathematical prowess. While the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that they brought for the infant Jesus were meant at the time to be understood as a sign that they believed the birth to be a great event.

Currently, The Three Wise Men or The Three Magi of the Bible were perhaps custodians of the Sacred Flame of the Fire Temples of Baku – a sacred site of holy pilgrimage to Zoroastrians. The mere fact that they arrived at the manger were Jesus was born hundreds of miles from their starting point only hints at their ability to navigate with extreme accuracy using celestial reference points. Does this prove that they have mathematical skills way above that of their other contemporaries?

Already well known during the Classical Hellenistic period as the priests of Zoroaster who had become custodians of Mesopotamian mathematical lore under the Persian Empire, The Magi’s mathematical knowledge was often seen as mystical or the blackest of all arts by outsiders. Given that during the time specialized mathematical knowledge being practiced by the Magi was considered a very indulgent luxury that they were often considered as magicians by their less educated brethren. Even the famous Greek mathematician Pythagoras was very much intrigued by the “mystical” mathematical abilities of the priests of Zoroaster.

For early Christian historians, Iran was always above all the land of “The Three Magi”, who are guided by the Star of Bethlehem, came to worship at Jesus’ birthplace. Further, continuing Jewish tradition, the early Christian historians identified Zoroaster with Ezekiel, Nimrod, Seth, Baruch, and even with Christ himself. After the early Christian writer Justin Martyr, Zoroaster and the Magicians could be cited by Christian apologists as being among the “witnesses” from outside whom they invoked to establish the truth of Christianity in pagan eyes; Even though latter Roman era Christian historians believed that Zoroaster founded particularly abominable superstitions of astrology and magic.

Even though the very early Roman Catholic Church had a very low opinion on Zoroaster and Zoroastrians in general, the Zoroastrians’ impeccable record keeping did manage to preserve ancient mathematical knowledge dating back thousands of years. Not to mention documentation of unique celestial events like appearances of comets and supernovae. We may even owe it to The Three Wise Men of the East or the Three Magi for noticing the Star of Bethlehem, because the “Christian West” managed to ignore the great supernova of 1054 despite the Chinese and Native Americans witnessing and recording the rare celestial event. Given that the entire Christian West ever came up as an excuse for not witnessing the great supernova of 1054 was war and pestilence.


Lilith Fair said...

Have you noticed why the words math, Magi and magic are often "almost" similarly spelled as almost being interchangeable. I too agree that given their lack of education, learned people - like the Three Wise Men or Magi of the Bible - are often viewed by common folk as having mystical powers. Given that working with numbers during the time of King Herod is tantamount to today's knowledge in ballotechnic superfluid / neutron bomb technology - an esoteric knowledge that is so far removed from everyday experience.

Vanessa said...

Zoroastrians usually visualize knowledge as a "Sacred Flame" being passed from Guru to student. Mathematical knowledge has always been indispensable since time immemorial. It's only that during the time of the Three Wise Men or Three Magi, they monopolize the mathematical services that traders and merchants needed to "balance their books". In my opinion, there are more often viewed of as financial advisers / hedge fund managers during the time of Jesus than as theoretical / quantum physicists. Even though their knowledge in astronomy / astrology at the time is beyond reproach.