According to popular renditions of the Christmas story, three wise men follow the star of Bethlehem to Jesus’ manger. This common Christian retelling of Matthew’s birth narrative is imprecise for more than one reason. First, the text never says how many wise men travel to Bethlehem; the number three simply aligns with Matthew’s reference to three kinds of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (see Matt 2:11). Second, Matthew doesn’t mention a “manger” (that’s Luke). Finally, while most English translations call these travelers from the east “wise men,” Matthew’s original readers may not have understood them to be particularly wise!

The Greek word translated “wise men” is magi (μάγοι), a Persian loanword used to describe astrologers who may have functioned as Zoroastrian priests. For these pagan tourists to waltz into Jerusalem and ask about the location of a newly born “King of the Jews” — especially while Herod already reigns as king of Judea (!) — is not a smart geo-political move. Moreover, these so-called wise men agree to meet with Herod after he finds out their messianic mission, and they blindly trust his lies about wanting to worship this newborn king (see Matt 2:7-9). When the men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the king realizes that he had been “mocked” (ἐνεπαίχθη) – the same word used to describe the “mocking” of Jesus as “king of the Jews” (cf. Matt 20:19; 27:29, 31, 41). When the intellectually questionable magi dupe Herod, Matthew presents Herod as being especially slow on the uptake!

According to Philo of Alexandria, a first-century Jewish philosopher and contemporary of Jesus, Balaam the seer was a magos (μάγος; the singular of magi), and he is one of the least intelligent figures in all of Scripture (see Philo’s Life of Moses 1.264). As Balaam rides his donkey on his way to curse the Israelites (see Num 22:22-35), God sends an angel that only the donkey can see. When Balaam begins to strike the donkey for refusing to move, the donkey speaks to Balaam and calmly explains the irrationality of his behavior, and the angel affirms the donkey’s explanation. Balaam’s donkey is smarter than he is! When Balaam finally gets around to cursing Israel (see Num 23-24), God turns his would-be curse into a blessing – the so-called seer, who Philo calls a magos, turns out to be totally inept.

There is good reason to think that Matthew also understood Balaam to be a magos, since the evangelist alludes to Balaam’s curse-turned-blessing via the “star” that the magi follow to Bethlehem. At the conclusion of Balaam’s speech, the seer predicts the coming of a figure who many Jews of Matthew’s day interpreted as the Messiah: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star (כוכב; kokhav) shall come from Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). Just as Balaam the magos sees a star rise out of Israel, Matthew’s magi say of Jesus, “We have seen his star at its rising, and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:2). While Matthew’s link from Balaam to the magi may not present the latter as particularly “wise,” as with Balaam, God gives these Gentiles a vision of a star that points them to the king of the Jews.



    • It doesn’t matter to me who may or may not have been present at my Savior’s birth.
      I am a Gentile and firmly believe that Jesus Christ was God on Earth.
      How blessed we are to have a God who loves us so much that He sends His only begotten son to sacrifice Himself to save us from our sins. Jesus truly is the Lamb of God. I love Him with all of my heart and soul.

      • Two or three or more magi….the most important statement in the article is this one: While Matthew’s link from Balaam to the magi may not present the latter as particularly “wise,” as with Balaam, God gives these Gentiles a vision of a star that points them to the king of the Jews.

        • Also, the scriptures do not say where they came from except east. This eliminates Europe and Africa, but leaves Asia, even China and possibly Japan. Five days a week eighteen months travel at twenty-five miles per day could arrive in Jerusalem in the two years specified, after studying the stars.

        • The assumption is these are mystics from eastern countries. The fact is They are form East of Jerusalem where those Jews still in Babylon and possibly the 10 lost tribes as they would be the only ones who cared about a new king in Judea. Early reports are 12

    • The number of the Maji does not really matter . But I feel that the fact that they were Israelites that had been exiled 700 years earlier is much more important .
      As the sons of of Jacob are blessed because of their ancestor’s . And GODS love An promises to your roots . Undeserved by you ,but as your ancestors loved you . So has GOD loved them .

    • But there were wise men/magi that came to visit our Savior. Scripture does not say how many wise men there were but the fact no manger is mentioned is not problematic at all because the scripture said the three wise men came to see a “child”, not an infant. It also says the magi visited the “house” where the family was staying so this was some time later, not at the birth in a manger. We construct stuff in our heads as true from long held tradition.

      • I agree with you 100% These visitors came when Jesus is a child in a house not when he was a newborn.the shepherds were the ones who visited Him when He was just born

  1. It is amazing how our long held traditions keep us from the obvious. Thank you, Dr. Schaser for challenging us to pay attention to what is REALLY in the text.

    • Hi William. This has nothing to do with your post. Just wondering if you have any relational links back to Sheho Saskatchewan.
      Skibinski is a familiar last name in that area where I originally came from.


    • But what are the facts, evidence, proof of when those tombs were placed there? Who said these are the wise men from scripture? I’m not saying they aren’t but how do you know they are? I’m willing to accept an answer like it’s on record by someone (need a name) who lived in that first century that the bodies there are the “three wise men”.

    • Thank sir for the information I know that,you are not against the verses of Matthew but you giving us more details we appreciate your work that you have done

      • I think this is revisionism. A purely intellectual approach to biblical interpretation strips it of spirituality, presents a derogatory halo of intellectual superiority, and makes the story no longer recognizable to those who knew it before. This is not to detract one bit from the great research work you are doing. So bit of modesty is needed in presenting them.

    • William Why would they end up in Germany? They came from the East and returned with the Good news of Jesus ‘ birth visiting Jesus in the house a year after His birth. My personal opinion the ” star ” was an angel. Can’t see stars during the day.

  2. That they were scholars is at once apparent; no one who was better connected with reality would have approached such a monster asking innocently “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” But eventually it dawns on them what they’ve done, and they slip out of sight after visiting Bethlehem. They, like other scholars, are so focused on their specialty that that only is what is real to them, while political reality doesn’t even register on their radar. As for the later myths about them, people have always preferred myths to facts…

  3. I’ve been a christian for 30 yrs. and have always heard it taught that we only guess that there were three magi because only 3 gifts are presented. And it’s doubtful they arrived alone but probably had a whole retinue of servants with them. And they could very well have been on horses, not camels as all the Christmas cards depict. What is noteworthy is the fact that they worshiped Jesus and no one forbid it. I do wonder about those shepherds….how old were they? Did they all die before the manifestation of this Christ, His ministry?

  4. The Manger was where Jesus was born, and judging by the reaction of Herod, it may have taken the magi over a year to travel to Bethlehem, by which time they were in a house.

    How likely is it that the Maji had the prophecy from Daniel when he was in captivity in Babylon relating to the birth of Messiah? Is there any basis for this idea?

    • Good question. Since Matthew doesn’t give us any indication that the magi were familiar with Israel’s Scriptures or prophetic tradition, we don’t have a textual or historical basis for such an idea.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

    • Jesus was prob 2 years old in His own house, by the time the Magi got to visit. This is the truth vs popular myth which many choose to beleive by putting up their nativitity sets.

  5. Recuerde Sr Dr Eliyahu que la palabra “Sabio” se aplicaba y se aplica al conocedor en profundidad de la palabra de el camino de salvación de Dios Yavhe. Y la palabra se interpreta, porque la mayoría de las veces no se describe como “recetario de cocina”. Saludos y gracias.

  6. It seems to be, that no one correctly states what is written about Balaam…it is Balak that wants him to curse Israel, and every time Balaam informs him he will only do what the LORD tells him to do. So what does Balak say? “What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enimies , and behold, thou has Blessed them altogether.”

  7. I suppose that the Wisemen coming from the east is well accepted. In that case may I ask, if there has been any indication of how far East of Jerusalem (or Bethlehem) they had come from? Was it just Iraq, Ur of the Chaldean or even as far as modern day Pakistan?

    • Matthew’s text doesn’t tell us the exact location, unfortunately. However, “magi” are associated with magicians of Babylonia in Daniel (cf. Dan 2; 5), and the word itself is a loanword from Media-Persia. So either of these places would be appropriate as places of origin for Matthew’s magi.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • They saw the star in the East, that means they were looking from the West. Also, it was not a star as such. No star can point them to a house

  8. It has been shown there was an astronomical event at the time of Jesus’ birth. This event aligned a few planets which to the naked eye appeared like a very bright heavenly object. This was what was observed by the(most probably Jewish) scholars from east of Israel. The actual birth of Jesus took place on 12/08/03BC-not 100%sure of the year. However it is provable. I am not sure where you can research this, but if one astronomer knows about it, then others will too. They used an app which maps the movement of the skies, and went back in time….

    • Go to Luke and read his account, in the 6th month, Hebrew time, also, Elisabeth was in her 6th month, also they went back to Nazareth after 40 days, also the star reappeared for the wise men.

  9. I got the connection between the Chaldeans and the magi; always figured it was Daniel, when he was listed as head of the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar, who told them of the star to follow and find the King of the Jews, since they were astrologers. However because of the 3 gifts, I kind of assumed there were 3 of them plus their caravan (no caravan traveled far without armed guards and camel herds in that time because all the supplies had to be carried along and there were brigands to contend with along the route.)

  10. (2) Yahshua was not born in a manger (a trough in which livestock are fed that is mockery and blasphemous against the Holy One of Israel and I believe the word manger was purposely used to mock Yahshua.) Also, a crib is a baby bed and not a trough. However, the Holy Scripture clearly says: “The Torah/Word/became flesh and tabernacled among us (among the Hebrew people.”(John 1:14) after all, wasn’t He born on the Day of Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles – in a Sukkah/Tent/Tabernacle? .. Have to continue I’ve run out of space…

  11. To the East of Judea was Parthia, an empire of loosely connected states, whose wars with the Romans had spilled into Judea and prevented Herod occupying his own thrown for several years. At the time of Jesus birth there was unrest, an uneasy treaty with Rome, and an unpopular (soon to be murdered) king in Parthia. Magi have appeared repeatedly in the history of the Parthian Empire as those who have advised and appointed kings. Little wonder then, that when Parthian kingmakers boldly arrive in Herod’s Palace looking for the new king, Herod is troubled, and “all Jerusalem with him”.

    • You are correct. The Parthians aligned with the Hasmonean dynasty and drove Herod out of Jerusalem and Herod took a complicated route to Rome. He asked Mark Anthony to help him drive the Parthians back across the Euphrates river. So when this entourage arrived in Jerusalem(about 1500-1700 strong) Herod was definitely afraid and disturbed. This Magi confirmed most of the kings in the East and Herod was a political appointee and not confirmed as royal.

  12. Re.Yahshua was wrapped in “Swaddling Clothes”, most Christians don’t know that the so-called Swaddling Clothes were the clean-washed-blood-stained-garments of the Temple Priests who did the sacrificing of the animals. These Garments possess an intrinsic Holiness, after all, Yahshua was and is The High Priest. This connects with Rev.19:12-13 12He has eyes like blazing fire, and many royal crowns on His head. He has a name written on Him that only He Himself knows. 13HE IS DRESSED IN A ROBE DIPPED IN BLOOD, and His name is The Torah/Word of YHWH.
    Praise YAH! SHALOM!

    • Bethany, thank you for your comments. No biblical data equate Jesus’ swaddling clothes with priestly garments. More, if the swaddling clothes have been “washed” of blood and then used to swaddle Jesus, this would eliminate a connection between the robe dipped in blood in Revelation and the unstained clothes of Jesus in Luke. There is good evidence to see Jesus in a priestly role according to Luke, but such evidence is not to be found in Jesus’ swaddling clothes. Rather, the reference may go back to the Wisdom of Solomon 7:4, in which the writer describes Solomon as being wrapped in swaddling clothes. Thus, Jesus’ clothes as an infant would point to his role as a king (like Solomon) rather than a priest.

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  13. The tradition of three magi does come from the fact that there were three gifts. There might have been only two, there might have been five. Also, Matthew states (Mat. 2:11) that they visited Jesus at a house, not a stable. The fact that Herod ordered all male children up to the age of two to be killed indicates that Jesus may have been almost two years old when they visited. Evidently, Joseph and Mary decided to stay in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. What does it matter? The Bible is true, even if later tradition distorted the story.

  14. Thanks, Dr. Schaser! A very important issue especially in comparison to Luke’s story. I believe Matthew’s is more adequate concerning Jesus’ birth and his early ears. I wrote an article some 3 years ago, using the Torah code method and found that Jesus was born on 14 Tishri 3757 (that is, about 23 September 5 BC) with incredible statistical significance. I sent a copy to Dr. Eliyahu Lizorkin. If you are interested, let me get in touch with you, so you can read it yourself. Also, I would be interested in more sudies of yours.

  15. They WERE wise men, at least, because they were not Jews. They recognized Jesus, the Jews did not….
    Magi from the east – possibly Persia, evetually they were zoroastrian priests.

    • Günther, thank you for your contribution to the discussion. I agree with your assessment of the magi being priests from Persia, but to say that “the Jews did not” recognize Jesus isn’t the picture we get from the Gospel. In Matthew, Jesus’ Jewish disciples follow him (cf. 4:19-22; 9:9; 19:27), Jews pursue Jesus in the hopes of getting healed (e.g., 9:20, 27; 20:34), and “great crowds” of Jews follow him throughout the narrative (cf. 4:25; 8:1; 14:13; 19:2; 20:29; 21:9). Many Jews recognized and followed Jesus according to Matthew; by contrast, the magi do not follow Jesus — they return to their own country (2:12) — and they do not identify him as their king, but rather as the “king of the Jews” (2:2).

  16. I think Maria would have prepared for the birth of her child like any mother would. So she would have had clothe ready ! I have another question , Josef was told in a dream to flee to Egypt with his family and come back when being called! Maria and Josef went to the Tempel after eight days for Jesus circumcision , which Tempel? To flee to Egypt would have taken weeks! I would like to have your thoughts on that. I find a lot of speculation in the stories of the wise men. The gifts come from different regions!

    • Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Donata. The Temple that Jesus and his family visit is in Jerusalem (see Lk 2:22). Luke has the visit to the Temple, and Matthew has the trip to Egypt.

      • Matthew’s account implies that Jesus may have been approaching two years by the time the Magi found him. Apparently Joseph and Mary stayed in Bethlehem a while. There was time for the baby’s circumcision in the nearby temple before the magi ever showed up.

    • The Temple is in Jerusalem. The magi arrived two years after the star appeared, The star could have timed the magi to arrive just after the Temple visit or up to three years later, with all two year olds killed taken to mean those not yet three.

    • Donata, what temples are you considering as a possibility. The only ones of which I’m aware were in Egypt (Elephantine), which had been destroyed about 400 years prior, and the Samaritan temple in Shechem, which had also already been destroyed. Were there other [illegitimate] temples in existence at this time?

  17. Why would any king travel and go to worship another king? That’s just ridiculous. So who would worship the “King of Jews”? Of course only the Jews would travel to meet and greet the long awaited Messiah, the “King of the Jews”. There is no question in my mind that these “magi” were Jews coming to worship one of their own, the newborn Saviour of the world. Aetheists would not come to worship Him. There were no Christians back then. Muslims would not go to worship Him. So that only leaves one group who would go, the Jews.

    • Thanks for your comments, C. R. A few points to consider on the magi’s ethnic identity: (1) it is unlikely that the magi were Jews, since they ask where “the king of the Jews” is to be born (Matt 2:2). They don’t say “our king,” or “the king of Israel,” which is the title that fellow Jews likely would have used (cf. Matt 27:42) — that is, other people called Jews “Jews,” while Jews tended to speak of themselves as “Israel” (cf. Matt 10:6; 15:24); (2) the only other group to use the title “king of the Jews” in Matthew’s Gospel are the Romans (i.e., non-Jews) who crucify Jesus; (3) the Gentile magi serve as the opening book end of Gentile inclusion in the Jesus story, which finds its closing bookend at the Great Commission (see Matt 28:19-20). More, non-Jews seek out Jesus at key points throughout the Gospel (cf. Matt 8:1-12; 15:21-28), so the magi begin a motif of Gentile inclusion that is secondary to the mission to Israel until the final verses of the Gospel. Thus, the internal evidence of the Gospel pushes us to view the magi as Gentiles, rather than Jews.

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  18. Magi were not stupid, and were not afraid of Rome. Parthia defeated Roman armies a few times, & knowing what God did for their leader Daniel centuries before, (who also probably told them to watch for the star) these “king makers” could come into Jerusalem confidently. Only unwise in assuming that this King would already be known of by Herod and by His own people. When talking to Herod, the magi make a point of Jesus being “born” King, knowing that Herod had bribed his way to this title. Google “We Three Kings? Missler” for a more detailed summary.

  19. The wise men in the East truly followed the star in September/October not December. The magi are truly from the East. Iam from a country in the far East. My grandfather predicted that the Messiah’s star that shone during His birth will shine again at a specific location in our Mountain Kekem when His return is near. My grandfather died in 2011 and this prophecy begaun in 2016. The star only appears during the end of September and begining October. Come November/December it goes off.

  20. We are reading the modern meaning of wise into the biblical Greek word magos, which was a different thing in those days. Yet in their “foolishness” (which is implied by the author of the article) they not only discerned that the King of the Jews had been born but also that He deserved to be worshiped. They were so convinced of their interpretation of the heavenly sign that they decided to come and do just that. Judging by that fact alone they were indeed wise (in the biblical sense).

  21. Thanks you Dr. Schaser. Unfortunately, your only aim is to demonstrate that these were not so wise men, linking them to Balaam. I beg to differ. These men were very wise, because they saw the star, understood its significance and ACTED. They journeyed for many months to get to Jerusalem, something the Scribes and experts of the Law did not do even for the short distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They were among the first worshipper of Messiah! Not for money or fame like Balaam. Instead, they brought fitting gifts. They were wise for obeying the revelation!!!

    • Matthew doesn’t tell us, so it’s up to speculation; but it appears that they arrive (sent by Jesus) and are killed by the scribes and Pharisees shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  22. Matthews’ gospel is distinctly Jewish, so we must make OT links. Stars don’t move north/south as this one did BUT the pillar of fire that led the Hebrews from Egypt to the Holy Land did! Has the word “star” misled us all these years. Was the star not God Hmiself?

    • Alison, do you not think that a pillar of fire standing over Bethlehem or Nazareth, or moving from the former to the latter, would have have been specifically described in the gospel accounts, and probably in other documents/histories of the time?

  23. Since star/shining in Hebrew thought could also mean a divine being, could the star either be The Angel of the Lord (God) or another divine being/messenger? What is your take on this? I am open to all possibilities, even them actually using a real ‘star’ as a guide somehow.

  24. That’s interesting to me that in Baalam we could find another figure after Hiob, Melchissedek (did I omit someone?), that is not Hebrew and is worshiper of Addonai. So, could we assume that it is an ‘Abrahamic’ monotheistic inheritance?

  25. Philo was a philosopher and he used allegory. So you cannot rely on him. Je used the word μάγοι, but we are not interested in what the allegory says, we are interested on what the torah says. What term does the Torah use and what is it’s meanning?

  26. but where their “wise”? 1st to herod recognized as king, giving news to a new born king sounds funny, herod knew how to be one, wants to see if child is meant king, No RETURN, A GREAT BUILDER thinks a hoax IF RETURNED, manger-sigth a HOAX, no need genocide order

  27. Dr Chuck Missler in his commentary on Daniel and speaking on Persians, states that the Magi were magistrates of Persia. These Magistrates the ones that got Daniel thrown into the Lions den. The Meads Magistrates “Magi” had the power to select the Persia king.

  28. Daniel was put in charge of the Magi. Daniel taught the Magi scripture including the Balam prophecies. Later the Magi faced a blood bath which left only a few. It is fitting that the Magi sought out the King and proclaim Jesus to be King.

  29. Traditional belief and observance never correlated. Kings, if so, where was their accompanying entourage? Astrology was commonly practiced among ancient civilizations. Their arrival was most likely two years after the birth event. Herod’s mocking resulted in the slaughter of the innocents to prevent the rise of a rival king.

    • It is unlikely they’re astrologers, they’re wisemen. They need to know mathematics well, be educated. Who payed the education to them? One one, because they don’t know the relations on royal court and politics of the kings or rich people.

  30. Questions to consider: Correlation of events = Did a star appear to the shepherds; Mary’s purification, the circumcision and presentation of the child at the temple and the fulfillment of Zacharias’ request; the correlation of the magi, the flight into Egypt; the massacre of the innocents, the return to Nazareth?

    • We don’t know what kind of star was it. Was it star on heaven? They do not mention. Probably not. It could be a vision, just like vision of angle or vision of light. It could not be real star on heaven. Mt 2:2 doesn’t really explain why they came.

    • What motivated them to come? They either must hear the message of angles of God or be attracted by peace from God which attracted them. Or they had a dream. It could not be just heaven star. Rumors aren’t real reason to travel so far(!!!).

  31. Circumcision is 8 days after birth. Mary’s purification time was 40 days? Wouldn’t this prevent her from accompanying Joseph to the temple at Jerusalem? Thus, how long did Mary and Joseph remain in Bethlehem before going to the temple?

  32. I also, and always, thank Dr. Schaser for his insights. 1) William R. I’m sorry, but I believe your assumption re the Magoi being Israelites, requires too big of a jump. 2) MOST IMPORTANT. There is a part of the account that is so often missed. I refer to Daniel chapter 2. Some 500 years prior to HIS birth as a Son of Man, —>Daniel had saved the lives of the “wisemen” of that day from their deaths, and the deaths of their families (“your house”) so they owed Daniel AND his prophesies a great deal, to say the least! They had become great students of Daniel then and for 100ds of years after. I contend that their knowledge from Daniel’s teaching also provided them with the prophetic knowledge of when to head out to Israel. Of course, it was not a ‘star’ inthe literal sense, it was a divine light that moved across the sky. Do I have too many assumptions for some? I believe my teaching here is based on Biblical logic & a serious look at the logic of the whole biblical picture. B. Hal Miner Ph.D., Pastor

  33. Your commentary seems not very wise either. Balaam, whose donkey spoke, was from the time of Moses, a well-known, respected prophet in Gilead. The Magi saw Jesus’ star and headed for Jerusalem where any King of the Jews might be found. Jesus was about 2 (paidion) then. There’s more too.

  34. The Magi were astrologers, schooled as Daniel had been. In their day, they were thought very wise, and wealthy. They followed the star ONLY from Jerusalem to the HOUSE in Bethlehem. Likely having diplomatic status in Persia, Rome’s enemy, great care dealing with Herod was necessary.

  35. How did Herod know to kill all boy children 2 and under? He asked when the Magi first saw the star. The Magi were wise but only God could have known what was in Herod’s heart. He overrode custom. And they obeyed!!

  36. Read again Mt 2:1-2. The magoi came from the east, so we know they went west direction. But the star they saw was on the east! There are three posibilities:
    A) The star was not physical star on heavens and did not show direction to Bethlehem.

  37. The fact that they were able to note a star, and its significance, and know to follow it, attests to their wisdom! Especially since arrogant Pharisees, for all their “booksmarts”, were non the wiser! Though you wink at their wisdom, it ensured that Jesus wasn’t exclusive to Jews, thank God!


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