magi, wise men

The Greek magoi originally referred to Persian Zoroastrian “priests who were experts in astrology and in the interpretation of dreams. But the word may also be used in a derogatory sense of ‘magician’ or ‘charlatan,’ a meaning which it has in its only other New Testament occurrences outside Matthew’s nativity narrative (Acts 13:6,8). Matthew most likely has Babylonian astrologers in mind.” (Source: Newman / Stine; see also this interview .)

While most English translations either transliterate this as “magi” or translate it as “wise men,” most German versions (with the exceptions of Luther and Menge [publ. 1909]) use Sterndeuter, an old-fashioned term for astrologer. The Pfälzisch translation by Walter Sauer (publ. 2012) uses Sternegugger, also an old-fashioned term for astrologer with the verbatim meaning of “star watchers.”

In Luxembourgish, it is translated as weis Astronomen or “wise astronomers.” (Source: Zetzsche)

In Kwakum it is translated as “guardians of religious rites who look up at the starts to see the things to come” or “guardians of religions rites.” (Source: Stacey Hare in this post )

See also complete verse (Matthew 2:1).


The Greek and Hebrew that is translated as “shepherd” in English is translated in Kouya as Bhlabhlɛɛ ‘yliyɔzʋnyɔ — ” tender of sheep.”

Philip Saunders (p. 231) explains:

“Then one day they tackled the thorny problem of ‘shepherd’. It was problematic because Kouyas don’t have herdsmen who stay with the sheep all the time. Sheep wander freely round the village and its outskirts, and often a young lad will be detailed to drive sheep to another feeding spot. So the usual Kouya expression meant a ‘driver of sheep’, which would miss the idea of a ‘nurturing’ shepherd. ‘A sheep nurturer’ was possible to say, but it was unnatural in most contexts. The group came up with Bhlabhlɛɛ ‘yliyɔzʋnyɔ which meant ‘a tender of sheep’, that is one who keeps an eye on the sheep to make sure they are all right. All, including the translators, agreed that this was a most satisfactory solution.”

In Chuj, the translation is “carer” since there was no single word for “shepherd” (source: Ronald Ross), in Muna, it is dhagano dhumba: “sheep guard” since there was no immediate lexical equivalent (source: René van den Berg), in Mairasi it is translated with “people who took care of domesticated animals” (source: Enggavoter 2004), in Noongar as kookendjeriyang-yakina or “sheep worker” (source: Warda-Kwabba Luke-Ang), and Kwakum as “those-who-monitor-the-livestock” (source: Stacey Hare in this post ).

See also I am the good shepherd.