Evidence #448 | May 21, 2024

Revelation of the Magi

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon shares numerous parallels with an early Christian text known as the Revelation of the Magi. These parallels lend plausibility to the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document written by Christian believers who had been displaced from the Holy Land.

In 2008, an early Christian document called the Revelation of the Magi was translated into English for the first time by Brent Landau.1 Although previously available in other Western languages, it was largely unknown to the English world. According to this text, the Magi were spiritual leaders of their people in a land called Shir. It purports to be a first-person retelling of the Magi’s experiences as they worshipped God and waited for the advent of Jesus’s birth prior to their brief appearance in Matthew 2.

It seems likely that the work was originally composed in Syriac (an ancient language related to Aramaic). It is preserved in a single codex dating to the eighth century AD called the Chronicle of Zuqnīn, a history of the world named after a monastery in southeastern Turkey where it was produced.2 Despite its late provenance, Landau has argued that the Revelation of the Magi originally dates much earlier, as the work is accurately summarized in a 5th-century Latin commentary called the Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum.

The Wise Men Seek Jesus. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Furthermore, the text concludes with an addition involving the visitation of the Apostle Judas Thomas. When Landau compared this addition to other texts written about the Apostle Thomas, he concluded that it “was composed in an environment where liturgical forms similar to those in [the Acts of Thomas] were in use, but at a time when traditions about the precise places Thomas evangelized were still somewhat in flux. Therefore, a third-century date for the composition and interpolation of the Judas Thomas episode seems appropriate.”3

As for the rest of the text, Landau dates its composition in the mid-second century to early-third century AD.4 He believes that “based on the way that the compiler of [the Chronicle of Zuqnīn] has handled other literary sources that he incorporated, there is no reason to think that he has altered the text in any substantial respect.”5

The Book of Mormon and the Revelation of the Magi

In a recent study, Spencer Kraus observed that the Revelation of the Magi has many teachings comparable to those found in the Book of Mormon. Kraus writes,

The Revelation of the Magi is an ancient text that claims to be the history of a people who lived outside the land of Israel, believed in Jesus Christ, looked forward to his mortal advent, and learned their place in the wider Christian world through the instruction of Jesus and the visitation of the Apostle Thomas. The Book of Mormon is similar in many ways. … [It records how two nations] lived outside the land of Israel, believed in Jesus Christ, looked forward to his advent and eventual visit to their land, and even learned how they would fit into the wider Christian world through visions of Jesus’s mortal ministry and his Apostles in the Old World.6

Many of these parallels can be described in terms of the structure of the early Christian church in other lands, prophecies of Jesus’s birth and ministry, visionary experiences and theophanies, and doctrinal truths that reflect ancient Christian thought.

Church Structure

In the Revelation of the Magi, there are not the traditional three wise men, but twelve. These twelve Magi are given the authority to perform ordinances for their people and teach them from the books of sacred scripture dating back to Adam and his son Seth. Like Christ’s disciples in the Book of Mormon, each of the twelve Magi are named, and each are specifically compared to the Twelve Apostles to be called in Jesus’s mortal ministry.

Christ with His Disciples in the Americas. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Furthermore, just as an angel tells Nephi that the twelve Nephite disciples are to be under the authority or stewardship of the Twelve Apostles, the Magi seek baptism at the hand of Judas Thomas. They are also commissioned by him to join the Twelve Apostles in the ministry, highlighting how the Apostles ultimately stand at the head of the Church.7

Revelation of the Magi

Book of Mormon

The names of the wise men and kings were called as follows: Zaharwandad son of Artaban; Hōrmizd son of Sanatruq; Auštazp son of Gudaphar; Aršak son of Mihruq; Zarwand son of Wadwad; Arīhō son of Kosrau; Artahšišat son of Hawīlat; Aštanbōzan son of Šīšrawan; Mihruq son of Humam; Ahširaš son of Sahban; Nasardīh son of Baladan; Merōdak son of Bīl. (Rev. Magi 2:3)

And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenonhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah—now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen—and it came to pass that they went forth and stood in the midst of the multitude. (3 Nephi 19:4)

You will be witnesses for me in the land of the East together with my disciples, those who are chosen by me to preach my Gospel (Rev. Magi 19:6, cf. 21:5)

And I also saw and bear record that the Holy Ghost fell upon twelve others; and they were ordained of God, and chosen. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the twelve disciples of the Lamb, who are chosen to minister unto thy seed. (1 Nephi 12:7–8).

And when all the brethren heard what Judas related to them, they all glorified with one voice the Lord of heavenly majesty through his Son, the will of perfect salvation. And they sought from Judas, the apostle of our Lord, to make them partakers with him in the seal of our Lord. (Rev. Magi 29:5)

And he said unto me: Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel. (1 Nephi 12:9)

Prophecies of Jesus Christ’s Appearance

Both the Revelation of the Magi and the Book of Mormon are also focused on the advent of Jesus Christ, as well as prophecies of his life and death. By far the most important prophecy handed down to the Magi is one said to have been uttered by Adam. According to this prophecy, a star would mark the birth of the Savior, shining brighter than the sun, moon, or other heavenly bodies.8 When the star finally appears, all of the people in the land of Shir are shocked or amazed, much like the Nephites in the New World.9 Both texts also clarify that the star appeared immediately prior to the Savior’s birth.10

When the Magi visit Bethlehem, they are also given a prophecy that darkness, destruction, and other natural disasters will be signs of Jesus’s death. These same signs (along with their fulfilments) are given by multiple prophets in the Book of Mormon.11

Revelation of the Magi

Book of Mormon

And also command your sons, and your sons their sons, until the mystery of the star that shines forth from the exalted majesty appears to your generations, a light like a star, and giving light to the entire creation and obscuring the light of the sun, moon, and stars, and not one of them is seen or is able to stand in the presence of its light. (Rev. Magi 4:3)

And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day. … And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:3, 5)

And we were afraid and shook when we saw it. And we cannot speak about the brilliance of the star of light, since its radiance was many times greater than the sun, and the sun could not stand out before the light of its rays. (Rev. Magi 11:5)

And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth. (3 Nephi 1:17)

And again, take with you the treasure that was deposited in this cave by your fathers and … I will be borne like a human being. (Rev. Magi 13:8)

Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets. (3 Nephi 1:13)

Another sign at which you will be astonished: in the hour that you see the sun darkened in the daytime like the night, and there is a great earthquake upon the earth, and the voice of the dead is heard from their graves giving praise, then at that time know that all the times and seasons have come to an end in my coming to you” (Rev. Magi 19:8)

But behold, as I said unto you concerning another sign, a sign of his death, behold, in that day that he shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened and refuse to give his light unto you; and also the moon and the stars; and there shall be no light upon the face of this land. … and the earth shall shake and tremble; and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time are solid, or the more part of it is one solid mass, shall be broken up … And many graves shall be opened, and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many. (Helaman 14:20–25)

Visionary Experiences

When the star first appears to the Magi, they ascend their sacred mountain and are greeted by the pre-mortal Savior soon before His birth. While the Magi initially fall to the earth, they see only the Savior’s hand as he addresses them and invites them to enter his presence to learn sacred truths. This is mirrored in the account of the brother of Jared, who likewise ascends a sacred mountain, sees the hand of the pre-mortal Jesus, falls to the earth, and is ultimately invited into the presence of the Lord where he learns sacred truths and principles.12

Throughout both the Revelation of the Magi and the Book of Mormon, multiple all-encompassing visions of Jesus’s pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal ministries are also experienced.13 Furthermore, when the Magi are baptized by the Apostle Judas Thomas, Jesus comes to them in heavenly light and again ministers to the people in Shir. Similarly, after the Nephite disciples baptized the people, Jesus appeared for the second day, attended by fire from heaven.14

Revelation of the Magi

Book of Mormon

And (something) like the hand of a small person drew near in our eyes from the pillar and the star, at which we could not look, and it comforted us. (Rev. Magi 12:4)

And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear. (Ether 3:6)

And a humble and kind voice made itself heard by us, which called out and said to us: “Enter inside without doubt, in love, and see a great and amazing vision.” And we were encouraged and comforted by the message of the voice. (Rev. Magi 12:5)

Wherefore, having this perfect knowledge of God, he could not be kept from within the veil; therefore he saw Jesus; and he did minister unto him. (Ether 3:20)

And he baptized them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and when they all came up from the water, a certain child of heavenly light appeared to them, who descended from heaven and said to them: “Peace be with you, sons of all my mysteries” (Rev. Magi 31:1)

And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them. And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them. (3 Nephi 19:13–15)

Doctrinal Insights

Both texts also teach various doctrines that are remarkably consistent. For example, both the Revelation of the Magi and the Book of Mormon condemn infant baptism and refute the doctrine of original sin,15 both teach that Jesus fulfilled former laws,16 and both teach that all of creation was made for the benefit of mankind.17 Both texts also describe how God has called prophets for peoples in various lands throughout the history of the world to teach people about Jesus Christ.18

Revelation of the Magi

Book of Mormon

It has pleased my maker and my savior that you should find mercy before him; for he does not reckon against you my own sins because of his kindness. … For he does not neglect in his great mercy anyone who loves him and walks in justice before him. Even to those who offend him, he gives opportunity for repentance, and is gracious to them if they repent and seek (it) from him, because his mercy upon his world is great. (Rev. Magi 10:5, 7)

For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3:11–12)

And as you were worthy, behold, you have received him in perfect love without doubt. And again, you will be worthy to see him in his great light before which there will no longer be any mysteries, because they all are fulfilled in him (Rev. Magi 19:2)

And, notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. (2 Nephi 25:24)

It was not in vain that you were created in the world, and heaven, and earth, and all the worlds came into being for your sake.” (Rev. Magi 21:9)

The Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it. (1 Nephi 17:36)

He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. (2 Nephi 26:24)

And we were in great rejoicing and great exultation that we were thought worthy to see this complete gift of salvation for which all the kings, and righteous ones, and prophets, and powerful ones prayed, and hoped, and waited, that they might see this sight. (Rev. Magi 14:10)

For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us. (Jacob 4:4)


According to Kraus, “The many similarities may indicate that early Christians had some beliefs strikingly similar to the doctrines revealed in the Book of Mormon.”19 This text also shows that the Book of Mormon’s claims to be written by a people living outside of the land of Israel and waiting for the advent of the Messiah is not unprecedented. Just like the Christian believers described in the Revelation of the Magi, the Nephites grappled with questions about the nature of the Gospel in a worldwide context and how other nations might have worshipped Jesus Christ. As such, the Book of Mormon would fit into antiquity not only by its teachings, but also by its genre.20

There are no circumstances under which Joseph Smith plausibly had access to the Revelation of the Magi, since its translation into English occurred almost two hundred years after the Book of Mormon’s original 1830 publication. Kraus thus concluded that “the source of Joseph’s knowledge must be found elsewhere in the realms of the divine.”21

Spencer Kraus, “‘One Drop of Salvation from the House of Majesty’: An Analysis of the Revelation of the Magi and Restoration Scripture,Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 61 (2024): 235–269.

1 Nephi 12:7–91 Nephi 17:362 Nephi 25:242 Nephi 26:24Jacob 4:4Mosiah 3:11–12Helaman 14:3, 5Helaman 14:20–253 Nephi 1:133 Nephi 1:173 Nephi 19:43 Nephi 19:13–15Ether 3:6–20

1 Nephi 12:7–9

1 Nephi 17:36

2 Nephi 25:24

2 Nephi 26:24

Jacob 4:4

Mosiah 3:11–12

Helaman 14:3, 5

Helaman 14:20–25

3 Nephi 1:13

3 Nephi 1:17

3 Nephi 19:4

3 Nephi 19:13–15

Ether 3:6–20

Literary Features

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