The History behind the Three Kings / Wise Men / Magi in the Christmas Story

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After Jesus was born, the Magi came to look for him, probably from an area that is now in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

Although they are often called the “three kings”, they were kings. One theory is that they would have been kings of Yemen, during this time the kings of Yemen were Jews. Three is only a conjecture because they brought with them three gifts: but how many were of them, they would have had many more servants with them.

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The History behind the Three Kings / Wise Men / Magi in the Christmas Story

They were definitely men of learning. Certainly they were men of great learning. The word Magi comes from the Greek word ‘magicians’ (from which the English word ‘magic’ comes). The magicians come from the old Persian word ‘Magupati’. This was the title given to priests in a sect of ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism. Today we called them astrologers. At that time, astronomy and astrology were part of the same general studies (and “science”) and went hand in hand with each other. The magicians would have followed the patterns of the religious stars. They would also have been very rich and would have had great esteem in their own society and by people who were not of their country or religion.

They had seen a new unusual star in the sky, and they knew it was the birth of a special king. Nobody really knows what the new star in the sky was, and there are many theories that include comets, supernovas, a conjunction of planets or something supernatural! Get more information about the star on the Star of Bethlehem page in the Christmas Customs section.

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The 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 does not have a beard!) And wears a green cape and a gold crown with green jewels. He is the king of Saba. Gaspar represents the incense brought to Jesus.
Melchor, who has long white hair and a white beard and wears a gold cape. He is the king of Arabia. Melchor represents the gold brought to Jesus.

Balthazar, who has a black skin and a black beard (or no beard!) And wears a purple cape. He is the king of Tarsus and Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of myrrh that was brought to Jesus.

The History behind the Three Kings / Wise Men / Magi in the Christmas Story

Herod asked the Magi to find Jesus and tell him where he was, he could not go to worship him as he said, but so he could kill him. I thought that Jesus sounded like a new king who could eat and take away his power.

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When the Magi found Jesus and Mary, they would have been living in a normal house in Bethlehem, because by then Jesus would have aged between one and two. Then they gave him their gifts. Gifts seem strange enough to give to a baby, but Christians believe they had the following meanings:

  • Gold: is associated with kings and Christians believe that Jesus is the King of kings.
  • Incense: is sometimes used in worship in churches and showed that people would worship Jesus.
  • Mirra: it is a perfume that is put on dead bodies to make them smell good and show that Jesus will suffer and die.

The gifts are also all things that come from the 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 do so, so Herod could not carry out his horrible plan.

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