Who Were The Wise Men?

Matthew 2:1-2  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

The feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, is the date traditionally observed for the arrival of the Wise Men to worship the infant Christ Child. We know that they worshipped Him and presented their gifts as the Scripture records:

Matthew 2:11  And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

And then they left. Who were the Wise Men? The Bible tells us very little at all as to just who they in fact were.

Some research into the identity of these mysterious men was provided long ago in a popular article. “True Story of the Three Wise Men,” by recently deceased ghost hunter Hans Holzer in Family Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement for Sunday, December 15, 1968. The information below is extracted from that article.

Caspar One of the Wise Men, traditionally called Caspar, is usually represented as a gaunt, aged man who brought the gift of gold to the Christ Child. In the first century, most gold came from India. In 1855, an English archeologist, A. Cunningham, wrote about an Indian king Gundaforus who is mentioned in the 3rd century document, The Legend of St. Thomas (remember that Thomas was the Apostle that tradition says went to India). This same king’s name was also spelled Gondohares as it appears on certain bronze and silver coins of the first century. Cunningham demonstrated how this spelling morphed into Gadaspar, and during the middle ages to Caspar that we commonly use today.

Holzer also speaks of other coins found “in the same area” which seems to imply India, although this is not entirely clear, that have been classified as “coins of an unknown king.” They bear the inscription Soter Megas which is Greek for The Greatest Saviour. The portrait is not that of a man at all but is intended to be a deity. On the reverse of these coins, there is a man on a camel holding a cross. It is evident that these Indian coins commemorate the visit of their king to Jerusalem.

Melchior The second Wise Man was apparently not too difficult to identify. The one we know as Melchior was Malichus, son of an Arab king in Petra, in the desert south of the Dead Sea. The gift of Melchior was frankincense, and that came from a place that the ancients called Punt. Punt and Petra prove to be the same place. It was at Petra that the three Wise Men came together and began to travel as a group.

Balthasar The dark–skinned Wise Man, Balthasar, was more difficult to track down. After the Italian take-over of Ethiopia in 1936, new information about ancient Ethiopia became available. One piece of information was a mention of a king named Beese Bazen and the very brief statement in the royal archives, “In the year eight of the reign of Bazen, Christ was born.” With some imagination, you can see how how the name Beese Bazen might eventually morph into Balthasar as it is carried through the centuries and into the Romance languages where this might be difficult to pronounce.

The gift of Balthasar was myrrh. Myrrh is the dried sap of several types of small bushes that grow along both sides of the Red Sea. At the time of the birth of Christ, both sides of the Red Sea were ruled by the dark–skinned king of Ethiopia. Thus it is apparent that Beese Bazen is in fact the wise man we know as Balthasar.

We see in the Wise Men the first signs of the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ is indeed for all nations. The Wise Men were coming from India far to the east, Petra relatively close by to the south, and Ethiopia much further away to the south west. Let us give thanks that Jesus Christ excludes no one, not even us!

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About Father D

I am a priest of the Continuing Anglican Church, the continuation of orthodox Anglicanism into the present 21st century. My theology is definitely that of a Reformed Catholic point of view, neither Roman nor Calvinist.
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One Response to Who Were The Wise Men?

  1. lizp4 says:

    Thank you for this! This is lovely. In the Byzantine Rite, this is called “Theophany,” and is represented by the icon of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan by St. John. I still have my Nativity set set up, and the Wise Men are all there.

    May your year be blessed.

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