Did you know that the Wise Men weren’t at the manger, weren’t kings, and we don’t know how many there actually were? Most historians agree that the term “Magi” refers to a caste of Persian priests and astrologers/astronomers, but after this has been said all else seems to fall into the realm of legend and/or speculation.
WISE MEN NOT AT THE MANGER
“They entered the house where the child and his mother, Mary, were, and they fell down before him and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 NLT).
My guess is Jesus was a toddler due to Herod having all little boys two years and younger killed in and around Bethlehem, which was according to the time Herod calculated from the Wise Men. King Herod could have been making sure he took out the one born king of the Jews by padding the age with an extra 6 months or so (Matthew 2:16).
We have assumed and have been taught for many generations that there were three Wise Men, because of the legends we have been told as well as them giving three different types of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But we really don’t know how many there were. (Please see “Jesus Not Born Dec25th” http://wp.me/p158HG-nY for more information.)
The first guy to pad the Nativity Story with Magi myths was John Chrysostom (347-407 AD). He earned his nickname “golden mouth.” Chrysostom was the Patriarch of Constantinople who literally introduced Christmas to the church at Antioch in the 380s. Chrysostom numbered the Magi at twelve, and argued that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th to re-enforce the assimilation of the pagan sun god birthday in the church’s ecclesiastical calendar, because the licentious behavior of its participants were making true believers in Jesus Christ of Nazareth not only leery, but believers that the Synagogue was a holier place than these “new” churches of mixture.
Let’s go back in our minds for a moment to the earliest C-H-U-R-C-H to understand where these hard-core believers were coming from. The earliest Christians never knew, nor did they imagine, a Christianity that was not closely connected to the Jewish community. As late as the fourth and fifth century, we have evidence of Christians still existing within Jewish communities, and members of the Christian communities participating in Jewish (i.e. Biblical) festivals. Beyond the borders of Constantine’s empire, these influences persisted even longer.
The preacher of Antioch and later Constantinople, John Chrysostom, complained in a series of eight sermons to his congregation: “You must stop going to the Synagogue. You must not think that the Synagogue is a holier place than our churches are.”  In my research of Christmas, I found that many Christians, who defend their celebration of Christmas, usually cite John Chrysostom. This is understandable, because while he was the church patriarch of Constantinople, December twenty-fifth became a fixed festival for the Church. We should note, however, that he promoted separating the united Jewish and Gentile believers, which caused the woeful separation of the One New Man in Christ.
Chrysostom’s sermons line up with what was proclaimed in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea. “We ought not have anything in common with the Jews… our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course… we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews…” “We desire” is the optimal phrase here. It was not what God preferred for this statement blatantly contradicts God’s Word. I agree with much of the Apostolic Creed crafted by the Nicene Council; but if the Christian Church were to literally practice not having anything in common with the Jews, we would be forced to throw out the very foundation we stand on – the Bible and even Jesus for he came to earth as a Jew.
The notion that the Magi were kings is a long-standing, but incorrect, assumption originating in an erroneous belief that their coming was prophesied in Psalm 72: “The kings of Tarshish and the isles shall bring gifts; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” Second-century theologian Tertullian remarked that they were regarded as “almost kings.”
Western art and fable has certainly portrayed the Wise Men as kings, but in the East (where they’re from) they are never depicted as royalty.
Names were simply made-up and assigned to the three Magi, but they should have put their heads together because the Wise Men’s names differed from account to account. It was the 6th century Excerpta Latina Barbari, which gave them names that have endured: Melichior, Gaspar (Kasper or Caspar or Jasper), and Balthasar.
- Melichior is usually depicted as the oldest. Legend says he brought the gold.
- Gaspar is most often described as the young beardless king of Tarsus bearing the gift of frankincense in a jar or censer.
- Balthasar is often depicted as a dark-skinned African, who brought the myrrh.
In the words of John Milton, these “star-led wizards” (i.e., infamous Babylonian experts in astronomy/astrology, divination, and magic) have been part of Christmas from the beginning. Milton has been known for his epic poem Paradise Lost as well as serving as an official under Oliver Cromwell – the poster child blamed for the banishment of Christmas in England. See “Christmas Outlawed in England” http://wp.me/p158HG-8a .
Please allow me to translate “star-led wizard have been part of Christmas from the beginning” is saying their growing legend started when Christmas did – in the fourth century. I know Milton probably meant that the Bible tells us that the star-led wizards came to see the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:2), but Milton’s reference to Christmas throws it into a different realm with the origins of a “Christian Christmas” in the fourth century. Please refer to “Where Christmas Comes From – Part 1” http://wp.me/p158HG-1t and “Where Christmas Comes From Part 2” http://wp.me/p158HG-2m .
Let’s dive a little deeper in the mysteries of the Magi Mythology. The Church chose January 6th as the day of Epiphany to commemorate, among other things, the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles in the form of the Magi.
In the Byzantine East, the date was marked with feasting, which often included riotous drinking, dancing, and cross-dressing.
In the West, church services began to include a place in the liturgy from the dramatic re-enactment of the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem. January 6th came to be known as Three Kings’ Day with the customs of the prize-laden cake, the Bean King, and Star Boys sprang up. The Star Boys have been said to have originated at Mont-St-Michel in the 13th century. The person who found the bean became king of festivities, which harkens back to Babylon and the custom of the Mock King. Please refer to “Yuletide Tradition – Kids in Charge” http://wp.me/p158HG-3A for more information.
Today, no depiction of the Nativity scene seems complete without the Magi (even though it’s scripturally incorrect). Kings cake (Louisiana), Twelfth Night cakes (England), and gateau des rois (France) are eaten in their honor; and in Europe, their initials K+M+B are chalked on homes and barns.
The earliest depictions of the Wise Men in Christian art show them looking alike and dressed correctly as Persians; but eventually it became usual to treat the three wise men as representatives of all parts of the Gentile world and make each identifiable. Some sources assigned Europe, Asia, and Africa as their homelands; others referred to Persia, Arabia, and India. Another tradition saw the three as the descendants of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japeth.
From the 6th century onwards (when the Excerpta Latina Barbari gave them legendary names that have endured), one of the Magi has often depicted as a black man. The most widespread story (i.e., legend) is of the Magi journeying to India, where they were converted by St. Thomas. The story goes that after the three became archbishops and led lives of exemplary piety. When they died , the legends said that they were buried together.
In the 4th century, their bodies were said to have been exhumed by Constantine’s mother (Helena) and taken to Constantinople, the capital of the newly Christianized Roman Empire, and then to Milan, which could have been a complete hoax with their record. When Milan was conquered and razed by the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1164, he ordered that the relics of the Magi be relocated to Cologne.
That’s pretty much the Magi Mythology in the best nutshell I can come up with. As you can tell, Biblically speaking, any number of Chaldean intellectuals and astronomers came to a house to find the one born king of the Jew. When they saw Mary and her child, they fell to the ground and worshiped Him; and then, gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Being warned by God in a dream (Matt 2:12), they didn’t return to King Herod but returned to Persia (i.e., modern day Iran) another way. Most everything else we are told has been made up in people’s minds according to some traditions of men. This golden image of “we three kings” was primordially propagated by a golden mouth to prop up a golden calf. Please refer to “Where Christmas Comes From Part 2” http://wp.me/p158HG-2m and “North Pole Going South?” http://wp.me/p158HG-kH.
Copyright Dec. 25, 2012 – Author: Robin Main.
The information in this article and more details can be found in Chapter 5 “The Golden Snare” or Chapter 6 “The Golden Calf” in my book: SANTA-TIZING: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up (available on amazon http://www.amazon.com/SANTA-TIZING-Whats-wrong-Christmas-clean/dp/1607911159/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1353692179&sr=1-1&keywords=SANTA_TIZING).
The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler
Shocked by the Bible by Joe Kovacs
 Separation from Judaism by Dr. Wayne Meeks, Professor of Biblical Studies at Yale University, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/wrestling.html
 Life of Constantine by Eusebius 3.17-20, specifically 3.18 NPNF 2nd sermon 1:524