The Magi Matthew 2:1-2

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him.—Mat_2:1-2.

In the visit of the Magi we have an incident of surpassing imaginative beauty. All through the ages it has been glorified by pencil and song. Yet, singular to say, the Epiphany is the only scene in the sublime opening of the drama of the life of Jesus for which St. Matthew claims no prophecy whatever. We are tempted to think that he might have referred to Balaam's language (Num_24:17). The Church in her Epiphany services has seen the bending forms of kings in the dim magnificence of the language of psalmist and seer (Psa_72:10-15; Isa_60:6). Still the fact remains that over the Epiphany alone in these two chapters St. Matthew makes us hear no joy-bells of prophecy filling the air. If he had foreseen that he would be accused of translating a picture of prophecy into the language of fact, he could scarcely have taken a more effectual way of defending himself than by omitting between Mat_2:11-12 of chap. 2 his familiar formula, “that it might be fulfilled.”

The Christians in the second century, discontented with the extreme plainness of the story in the Gospels, embellished it largely. We are told that the star sparkled more brilliantly than all the others in the sky. It was a strange and wondrous sight, for the moon and all the stars formed, as if in homage, a choir around it as it moved.

Later on the wise men are represented as princes, then as kings. They symbolize the Trinity. They are the lords of the three races of men. Their gifts have spiritual, then doctrinal, meanings. They are supplied with names and are made the patron saints of travellers. As the legend grew, and Art took it up, they arrive at Bethlehem attended by a great crowd of followers, splendidly dressed, and riding on horses and camels and bearing treasures. Kneeling in their royal robes, they adore the child in the manger, and the child bends forward to bless them.

Then come all the stories connected with them after their death. Their bodies rested for a long time in the magnificent temple that Eastern Christianity dedicated to the Divine Wisdom, which still bears that ancient title, though Mohammed claims it now instead of Christ. Milan received them next, and lost them; and now for six hundred years the great cathedral of the Rhine has grown up above their sacred bones, representing in its gradual up-building, and for a long time in its unfinished glory, not only the slow accretion of splendid and poetic thoughts around the solitary and ancient story, but also the growth of all those stories to which we give the name of myths.1 [Note: S. A. Brooke, The Early Life of Jesus, 27.]

From time immemorial they have been regarded as kings:
We three kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts, we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

In the cathedral at Cologne there is a golden reliquary in which are preserved, in the odour of sanctity, the relics of these men. I said to the venerable monk in attendance, “Do you really believe that these are the relics of the wise men?” “Oh yes,” he replied, “there is no question whatever as to their genuineness; we know their names—Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The Venerable Bede tells all about them.”2 [Note: D. J. Burrell, The Religion of the Future, 99.]

to be continued