Calling the Magi 'Pagans'? Matthew 2:1-12

I recently saw a meme that said that the Magi were pagans who worshipped Christ.

Pagans? I thought they were Zoroastrians and therefore monotheists, or is pagan defined as anyone other than Jewish?
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Comments

  • I’d say calling the magi “pagan” is anachronistic, as that designation didn’t come into use as such until centuries later. The appropriate categorization in the context of the story would seem to be “Gentile.”

    And yes, as the magi were (presumably) Zoroastrians and therefore monotheistic, the concept of “paganism” that developed in the church later would not seem to apply, anachronistic or not.

  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    "Pagan" is a somewhat flexible term. It comes from the Latin paganus, which literally meant someone who lived in the countryside. In its earliest days Christianity was much more prevalent in cities and those who maintained the old ways were more rural, hence the term. In the middle ages it came to mean any non-Christian religion and in modern usage tends to only be applied to polytheistic faiths.

    So it's anachronistic only in the modern sense of the word.
  • TurquoiseTasticTurquoiseTastic Kerygmania Host
    In Zoroastrianism the good and evil principles are independent, so perhaps they should be called "ditheistic" rather than "monotheistic".
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Pagan....Morse's name at Oxford University because they didn't know his Christian name
  • Yeah I also thought Zoroastrians were ditheistic. Mazda and Ahriman are equal; neither is prior nor superior to the other. Admit my knowledge is very nail of the thumb.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    "Pagan" is a somewhat flexible term. It comes from the Latin paganus, which literally meant someone who lived in the countryside. In its earliest days Christianity was much more prevalent in cities and those who maintained the old ways were more rural, hence the term. In the middle ages it came to mean any non-Christian religion and in modern usage tends to only be applied to polytheistic faiths.

    So it's anachronistic only in the modern sense of the word.
    Regarding the bolded: Because the magi were rural, or because they were non-Christian at a time when Christian wasn’t an option? (And I’m assuming that the meme referred to in the OP uses “pagan” in the modern sense.)


    In Zoroastrianism the good and evil principles are independent, so perhaps they should be called "ditheistic" rather than "monotheistic".
    mousethief wrote: »
    Yeah I also thought Zoroastrians were ditheistic. Mazda and Ahriman are equal; neither is prior nor superior to the other. Admit my knowledge is very nail of the thumb.
    As I understand it, academics debate whether Zoroastrianism is properly described as monotheistic, dualistic or pantheistic. But my knowledge may not cover much more than the nail of mt’s thumb.

  • I've never heard of pagan = not monotheist. That seems a bit of an odd place to draw the line, if you must.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited December 29
    My dictionary (Merriam-Webster) gives “Heathen, especially one who follows a polytheistic religion” as the first definition of “pagan.” “Heathen” is in turn defined as the first definition “an unconverted member of a people or nation who does not practice Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.”

  • I have a sneaking suspicion that that definition arose as a result of "Who would be most likely to call someone ELSE a pagan?" which would of course be the three listed religions. Polytheists by and large tend to ignore what other people do, being more syncretic, though there are vocal and persecuting exceptions.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited December 30
    Quite likely, I think.

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    My dictionary (Merriam-Webster) gives “Heathen, especially one who follows a polytheistic religion” as the first definition of “pagan.” “Heathen” is in turn defined as the first definition “an unconverted member of a people or nation who does not practice Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.”

    I have among my friends both folk who define themselves as pagan and other who specifically identify as heathen. I can't say I quite understand the distinction but it seems important.
  • Really it's quite simple. Pagans are people from the paganus (rural countryside) whereas heathens are people from the heath (rural countryside).
  • DafydDafyd Hell Host
    My impression is that modern people who call themselves pagans are inspired by celtic imagery and are more likely to be hippyish and modern people who call themselves heathens are inspired by norse mythology and are more likely to be a bit far right. But that's just an impression.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Really it's quite simple. Pagans are people from the paganus (rural countryside) whereas heathens are people from the heath (rural countryside).

    Latin and Germanic basically. But etymology is not meaning.
  • Dafyd wrote: »
    My impression is that modern people who call themselves pagans are inspired by celtic imagery and are more likely to be hippyish and modern people who call themselves heathens are inspired by norse mythology and are more likely to be a bit far right. But that's just an impression.

    Some, sure, but heathen friends of mine get incandescent at the appropriation of Norse symbols by Nazis, and several of my pagan friends have different pantheons (e.g. Greek) with which they frame their relationship with the divine.
  • KarlLB wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Really it's quite simple. Pagans are people from the paganus (rural countryside) whereas heathens are people from the heath (rural countryside).

    Latin and Germanic basically. But etymology is not meaning.

    Yes. I was making a joke. Not all of mine are funny, I know.
  • DavidDavid Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Really it's quite simple. Pagans are people from the paganus (rural countryside) whereas heathens are people from the heath (rural countryside).

    Latin and Germanic basically. But etymology is not meaning.

    Yes. I was making a joke. Not all of mine are funny, I know.

    True, but that one was quite clever and I had appreciated it!
  • David wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    KarlLB wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    Really it's quite simple. Pagans are people from the paganus (rural countryside) whereas heathens are people from the heath (rural countryside).

    Latin and Germanic basically. But etymology is not meaning.

    Yes. I was making a joke. Not all of mine are funny, I know.

    True, but that one was quite clever and I had appreciated it!

    Thank you.
  • jay_emmjay_emm Kerygmania Host
    edited January 9
    I recently saw a meme that said that the Magi were pagans who worshipped Christ.

    Pagans? I thought they were Zoroastrians and therefore monotheists, or is pagan defined as anyone other than Jewish?

    Im guessing the context, but I imagine that the meme was relying on them being neither Jewish nor proto-Christians?
    (Though of course from the text we don't know that they were not. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some pious fiction that has the baby Jesus teaching them the Nicene creed, and there are some options that are more believable).

    In that case the word pagan is doing work that gentile isn't (although the combination of Jewish shepherds and gentile magi from the start would also be foreshadowing).
    And I'm not sure of an easy word to take its place. Given the derogatory etymology mentioned for it the fact that the modern definition for paganism excludes Zoroastrianism probably relates more to them being forgotten about.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Isn't a pagan anyone who worships some other god or gods? In the world of the New Testament, that means everybody except Jews, Samaritans, those referred to as proselytes or godfearers and Gentiles who become Christians. The most obvious pagans were those that worshipped the Greek or Roman gods, but there were plenty of others.

    Scripture is silent as to what religion the Magi came from, or even whether they all came from the same one. It strikes me that the significant point as far as scripture is concerned is where they came to, not where they came from, apart from its being somewhere in comparative religion terms 'outside'.

    Before I retired, there was somebody I worked with who called themselves a pagan. I don't really know enough about what that constituted beyond that they mainly worshipped 'the goddess'. Whether that was monotheism but with a different god, or whether they were quite content that other pagans could worship different gods, I don't know. They were vegetarian. So I'm pretty sure it didn't involve sacrificing animals. They hadn't been brought up as a pagan. They had chosen to be one as an adult.

  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited January 9
    Scripture is silent as to what religion the Magi came from, or even whether they all came from the same one.
    Except that Matthew says they were magi, which was the term for the priests-astrologers of Zoroastrianism. Granted, in the Greek-speaking world at the time, the term had also come to sometimes be used for magicians or sorcerers in general. But the few details we have of magi from the East who’d seen in a star—a star that no one else seems to have noticed—an announcement of the birth of a king and who “followed” that star does seem to strongly suggest that the strict meaning of the word magi is intended, as does the detail about their interpretation of dreams, which was another role of Zoroastrian magi. If that’s the case, then Matthew has told us their religion.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Enoch wrote: »
    Isn't a pagan anyone who worships some other god or gods? In the world of the New Testament, that means everybody except Jews, Samaritans, those referred to as proselytes or godfearers and Gentiles who become Christians. The most obvious pagans were those that worshipped the Greek or Roman gods, but there were plenty of others.

    Is that person a pagan or a heathen, or is there no difference?
  • jay_emmjay_emm Kerygmania Host
    Cambridge dictionary (Oxford had a page error for heathen) suggests that they would be simultaneously pagan (1. polytheistic or 2. "non standard") and heathen (usually non abrahamic).
    To me that looks like they are both fuzzy, roughly equivalent terms. And I think the actual answer to the question is going to rely on Modern English dictionary details (and not be as exciting as the pursuit).

    I guess one obvious related question would be to ask what did the various pagan groups call themselves. I guess it makes sense that polytheists and "non-standard" don't really have a well defined self-identity, you can focus on who you pay special attention to.

    A slightly more Kergy spin might be to ask what the bible calls the various other religions (if at all)?

    Anyhow working out from the text
    Matthew 2, NIV and Transliterated?*
    As mentioned there is only Magi and from Nick's post relates this and other clues to what they actually believed (regardless of how we would categorize it in modern terms).

    There's also a Simon Magus. Which (if he isn't Zorosastrian) might make it harder to wrap the Magi up as being Zoroastrian. But I can't see any clue pointing in another direction?

    *I'm not sure what the reliability and conventions of the version are. But if we're looking for the magic words (pun intended), it seems the easiest way of highlighting them.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Thanks for the reply. What it boils down to is that there is no real difference.
  • FWIW, Merriam-Webster (American) defines pagan as heathen (non-Abrahsmic), especially polytheistic.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Yes, round in a circle with a bit of a bump.
  • LatchKeyKidLatchKeyKid Purgatory Host
    I think they are part of Matthew's pervasive theme for a Jewish audience of including gentiles in the good news that starts with the genealogy and ends with what has come to be called the great commission. It doesn't really matter what type of gentiles they are for Matthew, but they are the first to worship him/give him homage.

    That idea reminds me of Mark where the first human to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God is a Roman centurion.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited January 10
    Enoch wrote: »

    Before I retired, there was somebody I worked with who called themselves a pagan. I don't really know enough about what that constituted beyond that they mainly worshipped 'the goddess'. Whether that was monotheism but with a different god, or whether they were quite content that other pagans could worship different gods, I don't know. They were vegetarian. So I'm pretty sure it didn't involve sacrificing animals. They hadn't been brought up as a pagan. They had chosen to be one as an adult.

    I believe we've had some self-identified pagans posting on the Ship. Not sure if they're still on board, but until they decide to weigh in, I will say that, based on my experience, yes, pagans are quite tolerant on religious matters, and would probably accept the worship of any variety of pagan gods, with the only stipulation being maybe that they disliked belief-systems that posited mankind as outside of nature, lording it over the rest of creation.

    I also know that some feminists are disdainful of goddess-centred spirituality, finding it to be just the flip-side of the old patriarchal stereotypes, eg. saying that nature is our loving mother implies that cities are prostitutes, with the latter having a negative connotation(this from a classroom discussion on the poet Gary Snyder).

    I have in my life resolutely failed to fit into any archetypal category, but I can see how this sort of thing might be helpful for some people. From what I can tell, most contemporary pagans are not theists in the sense of believing in a god as an objective reality.

  • jay_emmjay_emm Kerygmania Host

    I think they are part of Matthew's pervasive theme for a Jewish audience of including gentiles in the good news that starts with the genealogy and ends with what has come to be called the great commission. It doesn't really matter what type of gentiles they are for Matthew, but they are the first to worship him/give him homage.

    That idea reminds me of Mark where the first human to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God is a Roman centurion.

    I said earlier that you had both groups (shepherds and magi) but of course one is Matthew one Luke.
    Somewhere down the line it must have been a deliberate choice which visit was focused on. Any indication why? I think of Matthew as being the more Jewish / king one (so in some ways it fits in other ways it seems backwards)

    Obviously the Magi visit is coupled with Herod and Bethlehem. And is also (probably) set later than the birth narrative.
    Personally I'd say two years includes Herod's margin for caution (so on that basis e.g.18 months seems more likely)
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    jay_emm wrote: »
    In that case the word pagan is doing work that gentile isn't (although the combination of Jewish shepherds and gentile magi from the start would also be foreshadowing).

    It's foreshadowing that one can derive from various Christmas pageants, but not from the Gospel accounts. As you mentioned, Matthew has magi but no shepherds while Luke has shepherds but no magi. The idea that both authors knew both versions of the nativity story but chose to focus on different aspects seems like the kind of desperate attempt at harmonization common among modern readers of a literalist or inerrantist mode.

    My longer take on the details are in a different thread if anyone is interested.
  • LatchKeyKidLatchKeyKid Purgatory Host
    Crœsos wrote: »
    jay_emm wrote: »
    In that case the word pagan is doing work that gentile isn't (although the combination of Jewish shepherds and gentile magi from the start would also be foreshadowing).

    It's foreshadowing that one can derive from various Christmas pageants, but not from the Gospel accounts. As you mentioned, Matthew has magi but no shepherds while Luke has shepherds but no magi. The idea that both authors knew both versions of the nativity story but chose to focus on different aspects seems like the kind of desperate attempt at harmonization common among modern readers of a literalist or inerrantist mode.

    My longer take on the details are in a different thread if anyone is interested.

    Thanks for that summary.
    I find the modern melding of the different nativity stories and need for the accounts to be factually true as well as metaphorically true misses the different messages that the gospel authors are giving to their intended audiences. So their contribution to their overall themes in their gospels is missed as the gospels are read as just a collection of separate events.
  • (sigh)

    "desperate attempt".

    Have you never heard of narrative framing?

    Sheesh, it's as if you never told different accounts of a major event in your own life to different audiences before.

    My husband, for example, has at least as many versions of "How I survived the Vietnam War and got to America" as he has audiences, and the darkness of the account is heavily influenced by the age of the listeners and the occasion of the storytelling. Quite a few incidents are told to no one, though I hear about them (overhear them, sometimes) in the depths of a very bad night.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited January 11
    I think they are part of Matthew's pervasive theme for a Jewish audience of including gentiles in the good news that starts with the genealogy and ends with what has come to be called the great commission. It doesn't really matter what type of gentiles they are for Matthew,

    Though it is interesting that the Author chose Zoroastrian Gentiles, when it would surely have been more straightforward to choose some of the Roman or Greek Gentiles who must have been hanging round the area.

    I'm being deliberately ambiguous about 'the Author': I tend to the view that Matthew has mythical or legendary elements, in which case it is Matthew who is making a narrative choice to include Zoroastrians rather than Romans, and since it would be easier just to say 'and there were some legionaries tending their pila in the garrison nearby', he must have had some reason for making the story more complex than it needs to be. But I might be wrong and it all happen historically as described, in which case it is God who has decided to send Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior on a long journey, rather than just knocking at the door of the centurion down the road - and that must mean something too.
  • Being "from the East" makes them even more of a foreigner than Greek or Roman would be. Not only Gentiles, but not from the Roman Empire - quite possibly senior advisors to rulers of nations that Rome would consider as an enemy. Which could be read two ways - for Zealots and others that would be support for a revolt against Roman rule (which makes the reaction of Herod to be disturbed by this turn of events almost reasonable - his connections in Rome wouldn't be much good if he wasn't seen cracking down on potential rebellion and collusion with enemies of Rome), for later Christians wanting to be seen as loyal citizens of Rome (the alternative being lion food) then those foreign Magi as enemies of Rome coming to worship Christ is quite a challenge and pointer to the universality of the gospel.
  • DafydDafyd Hell Host
    Zoroastrians are also if you squint a bit monotheistic. (Ontologically they're dualists but one of the gods is not someone you'd want to worship.) And they're the same religion and empire as Cyrus the Great from Isaiah.
  • jay_emmjay_emm Kerygmania Host
    And rather parodoxically for the thread, on the crafted side from that either:

    The writer put in some (admittedly not that sophisticated) research and effort into giving his 'magi' verisimilitude. In which case there's some mildly interesting reason for the choice .

    Or the features that Matthew gives were sufficiently common that the Zoroastrian connection is dubious.

    --
    And from the 'it happened' side. You have something similar as you say with God's choice.

    One speculation I've seen somewhere (possibly the ship) was that they were other 'Daniels' educational/spiritual descendents. People educated in Persian thinking but also with some connections to Jerusalem.
    That would give some motivation for an author to chose them or God to call them.
    But does make a lot of assumptions.
    I suppose one thing supporting its plausibility is that the list of nations at Pentecost (acts 2) also includes Parthians, Medes and Elemites hearing in their own tongue.

  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    Being "from the East" makes them even more of a foreigner than Greek or Roman would be.

    This raises a question about Greek syntax which I am not qualified to answer. I won't bother to give the Greek sentence. The key words are, in English, 'we', 'star', and 'east''.

    The question is whether 'in the 'east' refers to 'we' or 'star'. I know some Greek grammar and vocabulary, but not much about syntax.


  • Moo wrote: »
    Being "from the East" makes them even more of a foreigner than Greek or Roman would be.

    This raises a question about Greek syntax which I am not qualified to answer. I won't bother to give the Greek sentence. The key words are, in English, 'we', 'star', and 'east''.

    The question is whether 'in the 'east' refers to 'we' or 'star'. I know some Greek grammar and vocabulary, but not much about syntax.
    I certainly can’t say from any knowledge of Greek, but fwiw, the NRSV translates that verse as “For we observed his star at its rising,” with a note that it can also be translated “in the East.” That suggests to me that the NRSV translators, at least, took “in the East” to refer to the position of the star in the sky.

    Also fwiw, the magi are identified as being “from the East” in the previous verse.

  • LatchKeyKidLatchKeyKid Purgatory Host
    (sigh)

    "desperate attempt".

    Have you never heard of narrative framing?

    Sheesh, it's as if you never told different accounts of a major event in your own life to different audiences before.

    My husband, for example, has at least as many versions of "How I survived the Vietnam War and got to America" as he has audiences, and the darkness of the account is heavily influenced by the age of the listeners and the occasion of the storytelling. Quite a few incidents are told to no one, though I hear about them (overhear them, sometimes) in the depths of a very bad night.

    I don't go with the idea that there is one person, as per your husband, who is writing the separate accounts/prologues of Matthew and Luke (or the John account, or the not-account of Mark, or the Revelation account.)

    It's more like Person A saying "I've got a story about a person who in so many ways is like stories of heroes of old, and they will recognise that in the telling." And Person B saying "I can do that as well, but my people relate more to a storyline of different heroes so I am going to frame it in terms that will get through to them."
  • TurquoiseTasticTurquoiseTastic Kerygmania Host
    One thing that has just dawned on me and might militate against my previous opinion is that Zoroastrianism would not have been totally unknown to Jews - after all, Persia looms fairly large in the later parts of the Old Testament. So, if the Magi were indeed meant to be from Persia, why not say so?
  • So, if the Magi were indeed meant to be from Persia, why not say so?
    It seems to me quite possible if not likely that the original readers/audience of Matthew’s gospel would have understood “magi from the East” to be saying exactly that—magi from Persia.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    An interesting tangent - would first-century Jews have known much of the world to the east or north beyond Persia?
  • jay_emmjay_emm Kerygmania Host
    edited January 13
    It's always interesting how much of the wider world people knew (sometimes you get the impression it's ridiculously small and that a casual stroll takes you further than they've been. Other times it seems they are the goers.
    Acts 2 has
    " 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”"
    Which always surprises me with how north east it goes. But doesnt really tell us much about who they chatted to and doesnt really take us beyond Persia (though it's interesting that Judea is just thrown in the middle.)

    I can't think of an obvious reference beyond that (and anything Daniel based)
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    edited January 13
    And then we have St Thomas making his way to Kerala and on to Sri Lanka! Who was the shipmate of years gone by who lived in Kerala? His name has gone from my head.

    Your point about knowledge about the north-east rather than the east generally is well made. The territories you refer to are those covered by the Persian Empire in its various forms.

    Interesting that the churches you mention as established in the NE seem to have lasted well - as did those in Armenia and Georgia.
  • Auxiliaries serving in the Roman military were often posted a long way from home. Some returned home after their military career was over, others settled where they'd been posted. So, there could have been people almost anywhere in the empire who had come from or spent time in Britain or Germany, North Africa, Spain ... if we go with the "I know someone who knows someone ..." then there could easily be quite a bit of knowledge about a surprisingly large part of the world. And, then beyond the borders of the empire territory wasn't unknown either. Alexander lead the Greeks into India, and that empire had left infrastructure throughout that area allowing trade and ongoing contacts, even further afield (think the silk road to China). I'm not sure how far south into Africa those trade links extended. The only parts of the world we can be certain that were unknown to 1st Century Mediterranean peoples would be the Americas, Australasia and Antarctica.
  • The only parts of the world we can be certain that were unknown to 1st Century Mediterranean peoples would be the Americas, Australasia and Antarctica.

    Can we even be certain of that? Rumours of a southern continent were circulating in the Roman period, and who knows what passed from a Torres Strait Islander to an Indonesian fisherman to an Indian merchant and so on until at least the idea was known.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Gee D wrote: »
    An interesting tangent - would first-century Jews have known much of the world to the east or north beyond Persia?

    Depends on who you're talking about. If you were an educated Jew in the first century you might have read Herodotus (who had much to say about the magi, both as one of the tribes of Medes and as a religious caste for the Persians) or Strabo. Most historical or geographical scholarly works of the time also doubled as sociological treatises on the people who lived in those places described. India seems to be as far east as these scholarly works are willing to describe, suggesting that as the limit of certain knowledge in that direction. The area north of the Black Sea and into the Caucuses also seems known, though better to Strabo than to Herodotus.
    Auxiliaries serving in the Roman military were often posted a long way from home. Some returned home after their military career was over, others settled where they'd been posted.

    Usually quite deliberately. The Romans didn't want legions that would get bogged down by taking sides in local political squabbles, which would be a risk if you stationed auxiliaries in their native lands. This point was reinforced by the revolt of some Batavian legions who were stationed near their homeland and got caught up in a general Germanic uprising. (This was around the same time as the Great Revolt in Judea.)

    After 20-25 years in the army auxiliaries were very Romanized and very often settled down wherever they mustered out of the army. From a Roman perspective this was very useful as it planted a whole bunch of culturally Roman colonies throughout the Empire.
  • Were you thinking of Welease Woderick?

    It is odd that Judea gets thrown into the middle. I suppose maybe Luke was just scribbling down the list, as one does, and "oops: here" hit him at just that point.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Were you thinking of Welease Woderick?
    .

    Thank you, that's right! Terrible that I could not recall the name of a regular poster.
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    An interesting tangent - would first-century Jews have known much of the world to the east or north beyond Persia?

    Depends on who you're talking about. If you were an educated Jew in the first century you might have read Herodotus (who had much to say about the magi, both as one of the tribes of Medes and as a religious caste for the Persians) or Strabo. Most historical or geographical scholarly works of the time also doubled as sociological treatises on the people who lived in those places described. India seems to be as far east as these scholarly works are willing to describe, suggesting that as the limit of certain knowledge in that direction. The area north of the Black Sea and into the Caucuses also seems known, though better to Strabo than to Herodotus.

    My fault, I should have been less imprecise. I meant something along the lines of those around me in the marketplace this morning. Probably by a century or so later, there would have been greater knowledge of the areas north after the establishment of Christian communities across northern Persia, in Armenia and perhaps in Afghanistan.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    edited January 14
    Gee D wrote: »
    Crœsos wrote: »
    Gee D wrote: »
    An interesting tangent - would first-century Jews have known much of the world to the east or north beyond Persia?
    Depends on who you're talking about. If you were an educated Jew in the first century you might have read Herodotus (who had much to say about the magi, both as one of the tribes of Medes and as a religious caste for the Persians) or Strabo. Most historical or geographical scholarly works of the time also doubled as sociological treatises on the people who lived in those places described. India seems to be as far east as these scholarly works are willing to describe, suggesting that as the limit of certain knowledge in that direction. The area north of the Black Sea and into the Caucuses also seems known, though better to Strabo than to Herodotus.
    My fault, I should have been less imprecise. I meant something along the lines of those around me in the marketplace this morning.

    Again, that also depends on who you include as a first century Jew. There were significant Jewish populations within the Persian empire. Jews within Persia probably had as good an idea (if not better) about what lay beyond their country's northern and eastern borders as any other Persian subject.
    Gee D wrote: »
    Probably by a century or so later, there would have been greater knowledge of the areas north after the establishment of Christian communities across northern Persia, in Armenia and perhaps in Afghanistan.

    This line of thinking seems to spring from the idea that Jews lived only within Judea in the first century and are only of historical interest insofar as they relate to Christianity. This leads to situations where the existence of the Iraqi Jews (for example) is ignored as an irrelevancy.
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