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February 11, 2004

Three wise somethings

By Paul Majendie

LONDON Feb 10 (Reuters) - Three Wise Men May Have Been Neither Wise Nor MenBy Paul MajendieLONDON - The Three Wise Men who followed the star to Bethlehem bearing gifts for the baby Jesus may not have been all that wise -- or even men.

The traditional infant Nativity play scene could be in for a drastic rewrite after the Church of England indulged in some academic gender-swapping over the three Magi at its General Synod in London this week.

A committee revising the latest prayer book said the term "Magi" was a transliteration of the name used by officials at the Persian court, and that they could well have been women.

"Magi is a word which discloses nothing about numbers, wisdom or gender embodied in the term," a Synod spokesman said on Tuesday after the revision was agreed by the Church of England's parliament which meets twice a year.

In the authorized 17th century King James bible used by up to 70 million worshippers in Anglican churches around the world, the gift-bearing visitors are referred to as "The Three Wise Men."

Now they are to be called just "Magi" and no longer gender-specific in the Anglican prayer book.

"Changing 'Wise Men' to 'Magi' seems to be an entirely sensible move," the Synod spokesman said.

The revision committee said: "While it seems very unlikely that these Persian court officials were female, the possibility that one or more of the Magi were female cannot be excluded completely."

There is no theological dispute about the gifts they brought -- gold, frankincense and myrrh -- but the prayer has been changed to use the word Magi on the grounds that "the visitors were not necessarily wise and not necessarily men."

Synod officials denied that the Church of England, a pillar of the Establishment in Britain, was being seized by an attack of political correctness and pandering to feminists.

The decision was greeted by mocking newspaper headlines like "The Three Fairly Sagacious Persons" and "Is it unwise to call the Magi men?"

On Tuesday, the Synod will be turning its attention to "Gender Neutral Titles."

Anglicans are debating whether words like "Chairman" can be replaced at committee meetings by more neutral words like "Chair."

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