Skip to comments.The Secret Life of the Magi Kings [Epiphany]
Posted on 01/06/2009 6:32:25 AM PST by Ebenezer
The sight of three sumptuously-dressed potentates giving the first Christmas gifts has been portrayed in innumerable ways: in classical paintings, in greeting cards, and even in some billboard on a public square.
We know their names: Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Standing on one side of the stable, in the company of animals, shepherds, and a few angels fluttering around the beams. They sing John Henry Hopkins' immortal Christmas carol "We Three Kings of Orient Are", and each one describes the meaning behind the gift he carries.
There is only one problem. The Bible never mentions only three kings or "wise men" from the East, and it definitely does not mention their names. These unknowns bring three gifts but do not appear at a stable since, at least in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Mary and Joseph live in a house in Bethlehem. There are only two Nativity accounts in the Bible, in Matthew and Luke, and it is Luke who places the Babe on the manger "because there was no room for them in the inn." The Magi appear in no other Gospel except Matthew's.
Who are these mysterious visitors?
The answer seems to go back to the origins of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all the way to the Persian prophet Zoroaster, who might have lived in the 6th or 7th century B.C., or even 1,000 B.C., depending on the source. Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Persian texts, and other sources suggests that all our concepts of evil, Heaven and Hell, Final Judgment, and angels originated with Zoroaster's teachings.
Matthew's Wise Men or "Magi", the only word of Persian origin in the original Greek Bible, were evidently Zoroastrian priests, [Zoroastrianism] being the official religion of Persia. It is not surprising that they made themselves present at Christ's birth. According to several sources, the Magi tended to be present at extraordinary events in the ancient world. In his writings, Pliny places a group of them in the midst of smoke and debris following the fire that consumed the great Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (c. 356 B.C.). These Magi announced that the great destruction of the temple foretold the (immaculate) birth of Alexander the Great who, of course, conquered the known world, was declared a god, and died at the age of 33 years.
Processions of Magi also appear in celebrations whose hosts were persons [of] doubtful [reputation] such as Nero. It is not always clear whether they came to bless or censure, to forgive or to condemn, and [they] frequently leave without explaining the purpose of their visit. Just as Zoroaster was seen in the West as the Supreme Magus, master of occult arts, the Magi were feared and respected, and they were despised at times for charging exorbitant fees for their arcane skills.
Some scholars have interpreted the presence of the Magi at the Nativity as a demonstration of pagans kneeling before the superiority of Christianity. But in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Magi appear as noble and respected figures whose esoteric talents are used in the service of Truth and God.
However, it is true that Matthew restricts the visitors' occult skills to the necessities of his story. They give their gifts, display a little astrological knowledge when King Herod interrogates them, and then they leave. It is almost as if they were making Matthew nervous. But they have to be there as a type of payment for a debt. After all, in a text now known as the Arabic Gospel of Jesus' Infancy, Zoroaster predicted the miraculous birth of a Messiah to human parents.
It took several hundred years for Matthew's "wise men" to turn into the Three Kings Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar. Several versions dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, some of them by saints and Fathers of the early Church, point out that the number of kings present at the Nativity was as high as 14 and as low as two. They mention names such as Hormazd, Karsudas, and Melkon, and they are regents of Arabia, Persia, India, and, in one case, simply "the East".
However, by the early 11th (sic) century, when what began as a persecuted Jewish sect had turned into the official faith of the Roman Empire, everybody suddenly [and] unanimously decided the number and identity of Jesus' first visitors. Emperor Justinian I, who reigned from Byzantium (present-day Istanbul) [since] the Goths had sacked Rome a while back, ordered the placing of Nativity mosaics in the main basilicas in Ravenna (Italy) and Bethlehem.
Justinian's mosaics simply reveal how interrelated religion and imperial politics were: the portrayals of the birth of a Divine Child were used to establish an orthodox Roman dogma over the heretical Arianism of Ravenna's former rulers (who denied Christ's divinity). These mosaics not only "revealed" for the first time the names and ages of the Three Kings, but they also portrayed them wearing traditional Persian attire.
Towards the beginning of the 8th century, the identity of Matthew's Magi had taken root so firmly that England's distinguished historian, the Venerable Bede, categorically affirmed that the visitors had three different ages and that at least one was white and another was black.
What became of the Three Magi?
In the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany, there is a calendar of saints that includes the following obituary: "Having gone through many trials and vicissitudes for the Gospel, the Three Magi met in Sewa in A.D. 54 to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. Immediately after the celebration of Mass, they died: St. Melchior on January 1 at the age of 116 years; St. Balthazar on January 6 at the age of 112; and St. Caspar on January 11 at the age of 109 years."
Their mortal remains are said to be in a gold urn encrusted with jewels behind the cathedral's main altar. They have been there since 1164, when the German monarch Frederick Barbarossa took the urn from its basilica in Milan. The bodies that were finally in Milan had apparently been discovered in Sewa in present-day Turkey, not long before Justinian commissioned his mosaics.
Unfortunately, the authenticity of the Cologne relics is quite doubtful. On one hand, the Church did not establish the Feast of the Nativity as a holiday until approximately the year 336. On the other hand, more than 100 years after Barbarossa took the urn from Milan, Marco Polo insists that he was shown the embalmed bodies of the Magi in their tomb in Saveh, a city south of modern Tehran.
I recently discovered enough evidence in Saveh which supports the Venetian merchant's claim, and I discovered that, to this day, a strange story is told there about some ancient Persian priest-kings who left for Israel a long time ago in search of a special child.
Faith of our Fathers ping
Blessings to all today, the Feast of the Epiphany.
Feliz Día de Reyes to all!
Pelican State ping
Epiphany/Twelfth-Night greetings to all.
A few days ago there was a thread dealing with their origin... might be interesting.
Felicidades to you as well.
And the harm in believing is...?
All these pseudo-intellectuals who have nothing better to do than to chip away at Christianity, morality and values are quite tiresome and may I say, ignorant.
What they “know” would fit in a teacup and leave enough room for an elephant. What they “feel” fits nowhere.
“If music be the food of love, play on”
—Orsino, Act I, scene i, 12th Night - W. Shakespeare
Not the William “The Bard of Staten Island” Shakespeare but the other one. :~)
BUMP FOR LATER
No harm, NTHockey. I believe in the Three Kings, academic posturing and all.
I’m in the travel and transportation industry. No rest for the weary.
Seems to me that much of this article doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Well, the article is one man’s view, for what is worth.
The Kings River in California (from which Kings County gets its name) was originally named Rio de los Santos Reyes (River of the Three Kings) by the Spaniards, in honor of the Magi, in 1806.
“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”—Isaiah 60:3
It was later that iconographers and preachers decided to make these Wise Men the representatives of the Gentile Nations, and still later that they often came to be portrayed as white, black, and yellow, representing the European, African, and Asian continents, which, of course, come together at the unique geographic nexus of Israel.
It's fascinating,though, isn't it?
Matthew's Wise Men or "Magi", the only word of Persian origin in the original Greek Bible, were evidently Zoroastrian priests, [Zoroastrianism] being the official religion of Persia.
Paradise, another Sanskrit/Persian word, does appear in the Textus Receptus Strong and Thayer both say so. (Strong's 3857) (Lk. 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:14, and Rev. 2:7)
It also shows up in the Masoretic text as a foreign word, as Brown, Driver and Briggs as well as Strong show. (Strong's 6568)(Neh. 2:8, Eccl. 2:5)
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