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Wizards of the Orient

In the lands of the middle and far east, magic and religion were synonymous. Only in the western world have we bifurcated the two and set them against each other.

Mages of Arabia and Persia

Much has been written, both in history and fantasy, about men (and women) of the middle eastern worlds who practiced magic. Even in our modern era, when we think of an Arabian mage, we conjure images of a turbaned, bejeweled and robed man seated on a flying carpet, emanating power, with djinni at his command. Much of our imagery comes from "The 1001 Arabian Nights," whose stories dealt much with magic and mystery of the early Middle East. 

In reality, the wizards (Magi) of Arabia and Persia were predominantly astronomers, astrologers, and mathematicians. It is to them that we owe the knowledge of nothingness (Sifr), from which we get the concept of Cipher, or zero. All modern mathematics is built around the concept of zero, or the starting point. We owe also the mathematical branch of problem-solving, known as algebra (Al-Jabr), to these wise men of old. The word Al-Jabr literally means both  "restoration" and "reunion", and the roots of this mathematical practice can be traced back to the wizards of ancient Babylon.

Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar 

More has been written about these Persian astrologers than any others, having been identified in the Bible as the "three wise men from the east" who pay homage to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They are now thought to be me most likely Zoroastrian priests, rather than kings, and to have come from the Persian city of Saba. 

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Update: 08.12.2009.