Three Wise Men?

Monday, December 30, 2013

“We three kings of Orient are.”

It sounds good, but it’s all speculation.

Matthew does not tell us how many wise men (magi) there were. The reason tradition says there were three is because of the number of gifts, but that isn’t conclusive, of course.

Kings? Not likely. That isn’t what the word “magi” means. “Wise men” is a much better translation.

From the Orient? Well, yes, because the Orient includes the Middle East. The Bible only tells us that the wise men came from somewhere east of Bethlehem. They probably came from Mesopotamia or Persia, not from India or China.

So I don’t put too much trust in the words of the carol.

But I still enjoy singing it.

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The picture at the top of this post is titled “The Adoration of the Magi.” The original painting is in The Art Institute of Chicago’s collection, and its online resource lists the artist as “Workshop of Cornelis Engebrechtsz” and the date as 1515-1525.

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For more information on the historical circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, see In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church, by Paul L. Maier.

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