Gift of Gold

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Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path. The text specifies no interval between the birth and the visit, and artistic depictions and the closeness of the traditional dates of December 25 and January 6 encourage the popular assumption that the visit took place the same winter as the birth, but later traditions varied, with the visit taken as occurring up to two winters later.

This maximum interval explained Herod's command at Matthew — 18 that the Massacre of the Innocents included boys up to two years old. More recent commentators, not tied to the traditional feast days, may suggest a variety of intervals.


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The wise men are mentioned twice shortly thereafter in verse 16 , in reference to their avoidance of Herod after seeing Jesus, and what Herod had learned from their earlier meeting. The star which they followed has traditionally become known as the Star of Bethlehem. The Magi are popularly referred to as wise men and kings.

The term refers to the Persian priestly caste of Zoroastrianism. Their religious practices and use of astrology caused derivatives of the term Magi to be applied to the occult in general and led to the English term magic , although Zoroastrianism was in fact strongly opposed to sorcery. The King James Version translates the term as wise men ; the same translation is applied to the wise men led by Daniel of earlier Hebrew Scriptures Daniel The same word is given as sorcerer and sorcery when describing " Elymas the sorcerer" in Acts —11 , and Simon Magus , considered a heretic by the early Church, in Acts — Taylor, New Testament.

Although the Magi are commonly referred to as "kings," there is nothing in the account from the Gospel of Matthew that implies that they were rulers of any kind. The identification of the Magi as kings is linked to Old Testament prophecies that describe the Messiah being worshipped by kings in Isaiah , Psalm , and Psalm , which reads, "Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations serve him.

By AD all commentators adopted the prevalent tradition that the three were kings. He once wrote: "But the most ridiculous contrivance of the Papists on this subject is, that those men were kings Beyond all doubt, they have been stupefied by a righteous judgment of God, that all might laugh at [their] gross ignorance. The New Testament does not give the names of the Magi. However, traditions and legends identify a variety of different names for them.

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One candidate for the origin of the name Caspar appears in the Acts of Thomas as Gondophares 21 — c. This Gondophares declared independence from the Arsacids to become the first Indo-Parthian king, and he was allegedly visited by Thomas the Apostle. According to Ernst Herzfeld, his name is perpetuated in the name of the Afghan city Kandahar , which he is said to have founded under the name Gundopharron. The Parthian Empire , centered in Persia, occupied virtually all of the land east of Judea and Syria except for the deserts of Arabia to the southeast.

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Though the empire was tolerant of other religions, its dominant religion was Zoroastrianism, with its priestly magos class. Although Matthew's account does not explicitly cite the motivation for their journey other than seeing the star in the east, which they took to be the star of the King of the Jews , the Syriac Infancy Gospel provides some clarity by stating explicitly in the third chapter that they were pursuing a prophecy from their prophet, Zoradascht Zoroaster. Sebastian Brock, a historian of Christianity, has said: "It was no doubt among converts from Zoroastrianism that… certain legends were developed around the Magi of the Gospels".

A model for the homage of the Magi might have been provided, it has been suggested, by the journey to Rome of King Tiridates I of Armenia, with his magi, to pay homage to the Emperor Nero , which took place in 66 AD, a few years before the date assigned to the composition of the Gospel of Matthew. There was a tradition that the Central Asian Naimans and their Christian relatives, the Keraites , were descended from the biblical Magi.

Toghrul became identified with the legendary Central Asian Christian king, Prester John , whose Mongol descendants were sought as allies against the Muslims by contemporary European monarchs and popes. And know that the power of Christ has been, and is, so great, that the people of that land are Christians; and the whole land of Chata [Khitai, or Kara-Khitai ] believes those Three Kings.

I have myself been in their churches and have seen pictures of Jesus Christ and the Three Kings, one offering gold, the second frankincense, and the third myrrh. The Magi are described as "falling down", "kneeling" or "bowing" in the worship of Jesus. They were indicative of great respect, and typically used when venerating a king.

While prostration is now rarely practised in the West it is still relatively common in the Eastern Churches, especially during Lent. Kneeling has remained an important element of Christian worship to this day.

Apart from their names, the three Magi developed distinct characteristics in Christian tradition, so that between them they represented the three ages of adult man, three geographical and cultural areas, and sometimes other things. In one tradition, reflected in art by the 14th century for example in the Arena Chapel by Giotto in Caspar is old, normally with a white beard, and gives the gold; he is "King of Tarsus , land of merchants" on the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey, and is first in line to kneel to Christ. Melchior is middle-aged, giving frankincense from his native Arabia , and Balthazar is a young man, very often and increasingly black-skinned, with myrrh from Saba modern south Yemen.

Their ages were often given as 60, 40 and 20 respectively, and their geographical origins were rather variable, with Balthazar increasingly coming from Ethiopia or other parts of Africa, and being represented accordingly. The gift of gold is sometimes associated with Melchior as well and in some traditions, Melchior is the old man of the three Magi. Many different theories of the meaning and symbolism of the gifts have been brought forward.

While gold is fairly obviously explained, frankincense, and particularly myrrh, are much more obscure. See the previous section for who gave which. Myrrh was used as an embalming ointment and as a penitential incense in funerals and cremations until the 15th century.

The "holy oil" traditionally used by the Eastern Orthodox Church for performing the sacraments of chrismation and unction is traditionally scented with myrrh, and receiving either of these sacraments is commonly referred to as "receiving the myrrh". The picture of the Magi on the 7th-century Franks Casket shows the third visitor — he who brings myrrh — with a valknut over his back, a pagan symbol referring to Death.

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It has been suggested by scholars that the "gifts" were medicinal rather than precious material for tribute. It was these three gifts, it is thought, which were the chief cause for the number of the Magi becoming fixed eventually at three. This episode can be linked to Isaiah 60 and to Psalm 72 , which report gifts being given by kings, and this has played a central role in the perception of the Magi as kings, rather than as astronomer-priests. In a hymn of the late 4th-century hispanic poet Prudentius , the three gifts have already gained their medieval interpretation as prophetic emblems of Jesus' identity, familiar in the carol " We Three Kings " by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

John Chrysostom suggested that the gifts were fit to be given not just to a king but to God, and contrasted them with the Jews' traditional offerings of sheep and calves, and accordingly Chrysostom asserts that the Magi worshiped Jesus as God. What subsequently happened to these gifts is never mentioned in the scripture, but several traditions have developed.

Another tale has it being entrusted to and then misappropriated by Judas. One tradition suggests that Joseph and Mary used the gold to finance their travels when they fled Bethlehem after an angel had warned, in a dream, about King Herod's plan to kill Jesus. And another story proposes the theory that the myrrh given to them at Jesus' birth was used to anoint Jesus' body after his crucifixion.

There was a 15th-century golden case purportedly containing the Gift of the Magi housed in the Monastery of St.


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Paul of Mount Athos. After the Athens earthquake of September 7, they were temporarily displayed in Athens in order to strengthen faith and raise money for earthquake victims. The relics were displayed in Ukraine and Belarus in Christmas of , and thus left Greece for the first time since the 15th century.


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  8. Two separate traditions have surfaced claiming that they were so moved by their encounter with Jesus that they either became Christians on their own or were quick to convert fully upon later encountering an Apostle of Jesus. The traditions claim that they were so strong in their beliefs that they willingly embraced martyrdom. One tradition gained popularity in Spain during the 17th century; it was found in a work called the Chronicon of Dexter.

    The tradition appears in the form of a simple martyrology reading, "In Arabia Felix, in the city of Sessania of the Adrumeti, the martyrdom of the holy kings, the three Magi, Gaspar, Balthassar, and Melchior who adored Christ. Later, this was all brought into question when historians and the Catholic hierarchy in Rome declared the work a pious forgery. A competing tradition asserts that the biblical Magi "were martyred for the faith, and that their bodies were first venerated at Constantinople ; thence they were transferred to Milan in It is certain that when Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa imposed his authority on Milan , the relics there were transferred to Cologne Cathedral , housed in the Shrine of the Three Kings , and are venerated there today.

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    Gift of Gold

    There are several traditions on where the remains of the Magi are located, although none of the traditions is considered as an established fact or even as particularly likely by secular history. Marco Polo claimed that he was shown the three tombs of the Magi at Saveh south of Tehran in the s:. In Persia is the city of Saba , from which the Three Magi set out when they went to worship Jesus Christ; and in this city they are buried, in three very large and beautiful monuments, side by side. And above them there is a square building, carefully kept.