Friday, December 23, 2005

We Three Kings of Orient Are

A comment I posted at Ezra's about the coolest guys there when Jesus was born:

Does anyone know exactly where the Three Kings were from? If I ever move into a religious community that does nativity plays or some such, I'll try to get a part as the Frankincense guy. I like the idea that a Hindu showed up at the Nativity and was like, "Hey, it's another God! Good thing I'm a polytheist! Man, ain't he the spitting image of the baby Krishna. Here, let me light some incense. Om."

Update: Constantine gives me a helpful link to this information -- turns out I was right! Or at least Bede says so.

According to tradition dating back to medieval times, their names were Balthasar, Gaspar (or Casper), and Melchior. They are often depicted as representing the three races. The Bible says they came from the East, but exactly where is not known. Arabia, Babylon, and Persia are popular choices. According to one tradition, Balthasar was king of Arabia, Gaspar was king of India, and Melchior was king of Persia.

An 8th century saint, Bede the Venerable, described the kings this way: "The first was called Melchior; he was an old man, with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Baltasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man."

4 comments:

Brendan Ritchie said...

You should read T.S. Eliot's 'The Journey of the Magi'. I am not so sure what sort of authority Eliot was on such things, but since he labels them Magi I assume he thought they were followers of Zarathrusta. At least, when I studied the poem about 4 years ago, that is what I thought. Here is a nice discussion of the poem:

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/a_f/eliot/magi.htm

Anonymous said...

As you've probably realized, the NT doesn't say "three" and it doesn't say "kings."

From a secular point of view, the whole story appears to be added to the Gospels pretty late in the drafting and aren't part of the oldest Gospel (Mark) or the oldest NT texts (Paul's letters). It's the kind of scene-a-faire the ancient world belatedly attached to people who became famous.

Anonymous said...

The same reason why Hindus are not offended or threatened by "Merry Christmas". When it comes to gods, godly men or holy days, "more the merrier" is indeed the guiding principle.

Alejandro said...

In "Ben Hur" (the novel; I can't remember if this was in the film) they are described as being: Gaspar, Greek; Melchor, Indian; and Baltasar, Egyptian. I don´t know if Wallace invented this or got it from a previous writer.