Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The familiar adjective μεγας (megas) means great or large and is used pretty much in the same way as the derived English prefix mega-: from greatness of physical size (John 21:11) to largeness in number (Mark 5:11), festive elaboration (Luke 5:29), width of category (Matthew 22:36), effect (Matthew 7:27), joy (Matthew 2:10), social clout (Matthew 20:25) et cetera.
This word occurs 240 times in the New Testament; see full concordance and comes with the following derivations:
- The substantively used adjective μεγαλειος (megaleios), meaning great(ness) or glorious(ness). This word occurs only in plural (in Luke 1:49 and Acts 2:11), in the sense of "great things". From this word comes:
- The verb μεγαλυνω (megaluno), meaning to make great or enlarge. This verb occurs 8 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
- The adverb μεγαλως (megalos), meaning greatly (Philippians 4:10 only).
- The noun μεγαλωσυνη (megalosune), meaning greatness or majesty. This noun appears to be an epithet of YHWH (Hebrews 1:3, 8:1 and Jude 1:25 only).
- The noun μεγεθος (megethos), meaning greatness (Ephesians 1:19 only).
- The superlative of μεγας (megas), namely the adjective μεγιστος (megistos), meaning greatest (2 Peter 1:4 only). From this word comes:
- The comparative of μεγας (megas), namely the adjective μειζων (meizon), meaning greater. This word occurs 32 times, see full concordance, and from it comes:
Our adjective is also part of two compound words:
- Together with the otherwise unused verb αυχεω (aucheo), meaning to brag, boast or assert loudly: the verb μεγαλαυχεω (megalaucheo), meaning to brag exceedingly (James 3:5 only).
- Together with the verb πρεπω (prepo), meaning to be conspicuously fitting: the adjective μεγαλοπρεπης (megaloprepes), meaning very conspicuously fitting (2 Peter 1:17 only).
From the same stem as the above, the noun μαγος (magos) describes a member of the proverbial Persian wisdom class from which we get our word "magician." The Magi or Magnificent Ones appear to have originated in the Zoroastrian tradition (possibly along with the Abrahamic breach into monotheism) and may even have had something to do with the birth of the Pharisaic sect of Judaism, which arose ostensibly in Judah right after the return from the Babylonian exile.
During that exile, and particularly during the Persian leg of it, the Jews became exceedingly prominent and had begun to pervade the government (think of Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Zerubbabel). They established wisdom schools and appear to have invented the systematic postal service as a means of continuous communication between their many synagogues. When the return was made possible by Cyrus the Great, may Jews elected to stay in Persia, which is how today the most widely used Talmud is the Babylonian one rather than the much more modest Jerusalem version.
Even during the time of Jesus, Persian Jewry was much more prolific and advanced that rural and Roman-subdued Judea, which explains how Matthew would tell of "Magoi from the East" who arrived in Jerusalem, looking for their king whom they knew had to be there somewhere (Matthew 2:1). Matthew's colleague Luke told the same story but called these men "shepherds abiding in the field [i.e. Persia] keeping watch over their flocks by night" (Luke 2:8).
Beside the magi who showed up in Bethlehem, Luke makes mention of an Elymas or Bar-Jesus the magos (Acts 13:8) and a certain Simon who acted like one (Acts 8:9). Our noun is used 6 times; see full concordance, and from it derive:
- The noun μαγεια (mageia), meaning a magic trick or art. It's used in Acts 8:11 only, applied to Simon, who appears as the quintessential sorcerer's apprentice: someone who's seen (or heard of) someone else perform actual great feats because of actual knowledge of nature, and then emulates their gestures and articulations in the hope of scoring some coin. Naturally, when Simon sees Philip, Peter and John he concludes that, unlike he, they were the real deal.
- The verb μαγευω (mageuo), to practise magic tricks (Acts 8:9 only). There's nothing wrong with some good fun but the detrimental effects of false faith can hardly be overstated. Someone posing as someone wise (say a doctor), while he only knows how to mumble like a doctors and perhaps weave a stethoscope around, just so that he can swindle the weak and dying, or their loved-ones, out of their cash, is an embodiment of a whole new sort of low. Scholars often wonder what allowed the Roman Empire to fall, and although the causes are probably legion, by the time of Jesus, the wisdom tradition had become so pervaded with imposters that the general audience was beginning to lose its trust in wisdom. A curious similarity is at hand today, in which the general audience has lost its trust in medical, political, historical and even cosmological sciences. The natural result of this will be wholesale collapse, a period of darkness and suffering, and finally a Renaissance. The last one took 1,500 years to reach but let's hope this time it'll be somewhat faster.