During this time of year we often hear of the Three Wise Men. We hear Christmas songs that mention them, and see pictures of three older men in flowing robes. But where does the number three come from?
The pictures in this post come from my Grandma’s Scrapbooks.
The wise men are only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. Here is the account in Matthew 2:1-12 from the ESV.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
From the account in Matthew we know that wise men came from the east. However, we don’t know anything more about their identity or how many there were from the account in the Gospel.
Of course there are traditions that give us their names and where they are from, but these traditions vary.
The most common tradition is that there were three wise men, kings, astrologers or magi and that their names were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Or, they may have been Larvandad, Gushnasaph and Hormisdas or Hor, Karsudan and Basanater.
The most common place of origin is India, Persia and Arabia but some believe that they may have come from Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen or as far away as China. There are even some claims as to where they died and where their bones are today.
Many stories about the three wise men have been circulated and some also claim that they later became Christians.
They have also been depicted many different ways in art and literature.
In artistic representations we often see the wise men visiting Jesus in the stable. From the account above we find that they visited Jesus and Mary in a house.
Another interesting depiction of the three wise men is in the book Ben-Hur by General Lew Wallace. At the beginning of the book we find them journeying to see Jesus at his birth and later in the book we read about Balthasar coming back looking for Jesus during his ministry. The daughter of Balthasar also plays a pivotal role in the story.
Oh, did you know that the name Ben-Hur appears in the Bible? You can find out where in a post I wrote: Ben-Hur
Is it important for us to know how many wise men there were or what their names were? Do we need to know what happened to them after they visited Jesus?
What is important is that they were seeking Jesus. It was not only the Jews, but others as well who knew the prophesies of the coming Messiah.
Throughout history man has been waiting for the coming of Christ except for the very short time when he came and dwelt with us on earth.