All About the Wise Men
The visit of the Wise Men; journeys, political intrigue and not a stable in sight!
The Story in the Bible
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 in the east 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 Christ 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 be the shepherd of 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 make a careful search 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 in the east 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 and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The History behind the Three Kings/Wise Men/Magi in the Christmas Story
After Jesus was born, Wise Men came to look for Him, probably from an area which is now in either Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or the Yemen. Although they are often called the 'Three Kings', the Bible does not say how many there were, or that they were kings. One theory is that they might have been Kings of the Yemen, as during this time the Kings of Yemen were Jews. Three is only a guess because they brought with them three gifts: but however many there were of them, they probably would have had many more servants with them.
They were certainly men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the greek word 'magos' (where the english word 'magic' comes from). Magos itself comes from the old persian word 'Magupati'. This was the title given to priests in a sect of the ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today we'd called them astrologers. Back then astronomy and astrology were part of the same overall studies (and 'science') and went hand in hand with each other. The magi would have followed the patterns of the stars religiously. They would have also probably been very rich and held high esteem in their own society and by people who weren't from their country or religion.
They had seen an unusual new star in the sky, and knew that it told of the birth of a special king in Israel. No one really knows what the new star in the sky was, and there are many theories including comets, supernovas, a conjunctions of planets or something supernatural! Find out more about the star in the Star of Bethlehem page in the Christmas Customs section. The Magi would have known about the prophesies of a special Jewish Savior (also known as the Messiah) from when the Jews had been held captive in ancient Babylon several hundred years before.
Legends are told about them and they have been given names. This is how they are often described:
- Gaspar (or Caspar), who has brown hair and a brown beard (or no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. Gaspar represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus.
- Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior represents the Gold brought to Jesus.
- Balthazar, who has black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) and wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Tarse and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus.
Herod asked the Wise Men to find Jesus and tell him where he was, not so he could go and worship him as he said, but so he could kill him! He thought that Jesus sounded like a new King that could come and take his power away.
When the Wise Men found Jesus and Mary, they would have been living in a normal house, probably in Bethlehem or Jerusalem, because by this time Jesus would have been aged between one and two. Then they gave their gifts to him. The gifts seem quite strange to give to a baby, but Christians believe that they had the following meanings:
- Gold: is associated with Kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of Kings.
- Frankincense: is sometimes used in worship in Churches and showed that people would worship Jesus.
- Myrrh: is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell nice; Christian believe that it showed that Jesus would suffer and die.
The gifts are also all things that come from east of Israel in Arabia.
When the wise men were about to go to tell Herod where Jesus was, they were warned in a dream not to, so Herod could not carry out his horrible plan.