A Search for the Origins of Sacred Three Kings


Everyone knows the story of Three Kings or Wise men who had travelled to Bethlehem to meet with Jesus Christ after his birth. The story has emanated from one of the gospels named the Book of Matthew. They are important personalities in the story. Over the years there have been many speculations about these Wise men, but there is little fact to support these. To start inspecting the origins of these three men, we have to go back to their oldest source of origin: Book of Matthew. What does this gospel tell us? It firstly says that Magi came from the east and travelled to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem they sought an audience with King Herod. Upon meeting the King explained seeing a star in the sky and dreams that foretold they would meet with the King of Jews if they followed the Star. Upon hearing their tale, the King asked when Magi had first seen the star, and they answered. King Herod asked the Magi to find this baby and let him know. There is no mention of the country/countries these wise men had come from. They then left the royal court and travelled to an unknown location where they met with baby Jesus and Mary. Matthew makes no mention of Joseph. On meeting the baby they showered gifts. They gave three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. That night they had a dream which warned them against the cruel intentions of Herod. So, they woke up next morning and travelled back to their native lands without information Herod. That is where the role these Wise men ends in the Bible, there are no more details.

Magi Meet Christ

Magi Meeting Baby Christ at Bethlehem

 

Many of the later folklores that have passed on from generation to generation will help in reconstructing some of their identity. First of all there is confusion over the number of wise men. The Bible only tells that three types of gifts were given to Christ. Scholars have held that only three magi each one gifting an unique item had travelled. But this may not be the case. Few of them might have gifted gold, why should only one person gift one item? In fact the story depicted in many Syriac churches numbers the Wise men as twelve.

King Herod & Magi

On their Way Magi sought audience with King Herod

 

There is also confusion over: whether they were kings or commoners? Magi in general sense means Zoroastrian priest or astrologer. But the ease with which they had an audience with King Herod strongly points them to be kings and nothing less. Most of Western Christian followers believed that the Wise men were indeed three in number. In one of the accounts Encyclopaedia Britannica states the names of these Magi to be: Balthasar the King of Arabia, Gaspar the King of India and Melchor the King of Persia. If we go through ancient documents, these were prominent kingdoms in the sixth century and Herod would definitely meet kings of these lands at shortest notice.

Tombs of the Three Kings

Supposed Tombs of the Three Kings in Modern Day Iran

 

Though the Bible does not tell us much about the travel back and later life of Magi but some sources do. As per a seventeenth century book named Chronicon of Dexter it is mentioned that the Magi returned to their Kingdoms and started preaching a new religion. They were martyrs for the cause. What caused their deaths is not clearly mentioned in the text. However, Marco Polo the famous navigator came across the tombs of three wise men in the Persian city of Saba. He believed that these three wise men were the ones mentioned by Matthew.

 

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