Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Grand: How many miles did the wise men travel and were they kings?

Day 4 in our family "Questions and Answers" about the Christmas story.  Today Grand answers Hannah's question!

Hannah, age 9

Dear Grand, How many miles did the wise men travel and were they kings?

I wrote a little about the wise men in my answer to Molly but let’s see if we can discover a little more. The first part of your question is a little tricky because we don’t know for certain from whence they came. But as I suggested to Molly, they seemed to have a strong interest in the Jews. Many scholars believe they came from Babylon and were actually descendants of the Jewish people who were captured in Judah and deported to Babylon hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Babylon , the capital of Babylonia, was a city on the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq . So if we are right about this, they made a journey of almost six hundred miles. Another possibility is that they came from what is modern Iran , then called Persia , in which case they traveled over 800 miles.

Most everyone is familiar with the opening lyrics to this well known song, “We three kings or Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar.” So were there three of them and were they kings?   Matthew’s account, the only gospel to mention them, does not say there were three but the fact that three gifts are mentioned, i.e., gold, frankincense and myrrh has probably led to that assumption. Interestingly, the Bible does not say they were kings either. This tradition, as well as the three names ascribed to them of Casper , Melchior and Balthazar, come from early Christian writings and not Matthew’s gospel. In the Old Testament, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah will be worshipped by kings, which he certainly has been and will be again at his return, whether the Magi were actually kings or not.

Love, Grand

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