The three wise men, dismantled

Adorazione dei Magi. Sandro Botticelli. 1475.

Whether you’ve been good or bad and whether you believe in them or not, the Three Wise Men are a figment of your imagination. Within the next few paragraphs I’ll show you so, shall we?

The Holy Scriptures say…

Bethlem Star.

To know what the Bible says, we have to read what the evangelists tell about the life of Jesus in the gospels. In this case, the only one who comments about the Epiphany is Matthew:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.”

 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2, 1-12. The Holy Bible.

So, according to this passage, we can highlight…

  • When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the days of King Herod…
  • Magicians came from the east to Jerusalem, asking where is the King of the Jews was born
  • For we have seen his star in the east, and come to worship him.

As we read the text carefully and inquire into the context where it happened, I am extremely struck by…

  1. Let say there was just three magicians… why then King Herod himself, the highest authority of Jerusalem, was troubled as well as the whole city of Jerusalem, at the arriving of such eminences? The magicians would had travelled with their servants and a large number of people, because if they carried with them such expensive gifts for Jesus, they had to be well supported to protect themselves from possible attackers on the roads. Moreover, if his presence troubled the king of Jerusalem and his inhabitants, his arrival had to be an spectacle, so that even Herod himself would show so much interest in knowing who was that Child for whom they bothered to travel following the eastern star to worship Him.
  2. Lets say they were kings… The word that Matthew chooses to describe the travelers is not kings but magi, from the Greek «magoi», which meant a wise wealthy and recognized person who had great knowledge of science, especially astronomy.
  3. When the star stopped, they entered the HOUSE where the Child was… but, it was in a manger where they worshiped baby Jesus, am I right? This indicates that the Epiphany had to take place some time after the birth of Jesus, because they no longer find him in a manger, but in a house. Also, if we continue reading Matthew’s gospel, he tells us that when the wise men departed, an angel appeared to Joseph in dreams to tell him to flee with Mary and the Child to Egypt, and later on, we read that Herod, being mocked by the magicians who did not return to him to reveal where the Child was, ordered to kill all the CHILDREN UNDER TWO YEARS… Why then children under two years and not only the babies? So, Jesus must have grown up when the magicians arrived in Jerusalem.

From Magi to Kings…

Our Majesties crowns.

And it was “Quintus Septimus Tertulianus” one of the Christian Church Doctors, who somewhere around the 2th or 3th century by mistranslation of the Psalm 72 of the Old Testament, thought that the magi should be kings…

May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

Psalm 72, 10-11. The Holy Bible.

From some to three magi…

Saint Domitila Catacombs. Rome.

It is not until the fifth century when some magicians (kings now), according to Pope Leo I in one of his Ephipany Sermons become three…

But why just three?

  • If they are three gifts (gold, incense and myrrh) then it should be three kings.
  • At that time, only three continents were known: Asia, Europe and Africa, so, why not one king from each continent?
  • Three are the ages of man: youth, adulthood and old age.
  • They can also represent the three ethnic races: Persian, Arab and Hindu.
  • And three are the Holy Trinity too

Got it already or should I go on?

The three kings baptism…

Saint Apollinare. Ravenna, Italy. VI century mosaics.

They say that the three wise men’s names appeared for the first time in a non-canonical gospel, «The Armenian Gospel of Childhood» dating from the 4th century. Much later, in 9th century, the names were accepted in the Liber Pontificalis of Ravenna.

It is curious that the Italian mosaic of the church of Saint Apollinare the New in Ravenna, made towards the 6th century… This piece of art represents the three kings carrying their offerings walking towards Mother Mary who holds the Child and is surrounded by angels. Well, just above the three men, one can read their names: Balthassar, Melchior and Gaspar.

Gold, Incense, Myrrh

Gold, inciense, myrrh.

And that’s how Three easter Kings, their origin, their names and their gifts were created. It must also be said that at the beginning, they were of white complexion, since the church related the dark color with the devil until the 15th century. Then it is represented one of the kings with brown complexion, equally to warn that Christianity has overcome every earthly frontier…

To be more exact the thing remains more or less so…

Melchior, the most advanced in age, came from Persia carrying gold. Followed by Gaspar, middle-aged, from India carrying incense. Finally, from Arabia, we have the most jovial of the three, Balthasar a young man of color who travels with the other two kings carrying myrrh to entertain the Child of Bethlehem.

Gold alludes to the condition of Jesus, King of Kings. Incense to the divinity of that Child, God made man for the salvation of the world. And finally myrrh is linked to death, because it is ointment used to treat the bodies for burial.

The tradition of giving presents

Christmas presents.

From what I have been sharing in these paragraphs, we can understand that just as their Majesties from the East came to the manger with gifts to offer the newborn Son of God, Every year on the night of January 5th, they do the same with the good children who believe in them, going to their houses in secret, because they must be asleep, so as not to be seen.

The other version is found in the previous post, where I talk about the Holy Innocents, The Saturnals and all the great similarity that these traditional Roman festivals keep with our Christmas, so please, take a look and whether you have behaved well or not, I read you in the comments.

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