Introduction:The Three Wise Men were always a part of the Nativity scene. Here is the story of Bible, as appeared in St. Matthew 2:1, about the visit of wise men to the new born Jesus:
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together the entire chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 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 had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 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.
This Bible story does not tell how many wise men actually came from the east nor does it mention their names or their method of travel. It is only assumed they traveled by horse and they could have easily traveled by foot. The Bible doesn't claim these men to be kings. Their identification as kings in later Christian writings is linked to Old Testament prophesies such as that in Isaiah 60:3, Psalm 72:10, and Psalm 68:29, which describe the Messiah being worshipped by kings. This interpretation was however challenged by the Protestant Reformation.
The Conventional Version of the Bible Story: In the conventional version of the Bible story, the three wise men or magi (Magi is a term derived from Greek meaning a Zoroastrian priest) who were named as Gaspar (aka Caspar, Gathaspa, Jaspar, Jaspas), Melchior (aka Melichior, Melchyor), and Balthazar (aka Balthasar Bithisarea, Balthassar) started the gift-giving custom of Christmas by bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child on Epiphany, the day on which the infant was presented. The three magi have been described not only as wise men, but also as Iranian kings or Persian priests or Iranian astrologers. It should be noted that the visit of the Magi is commemorated in most Western Christian churches by the observance of Epiphany, 6 January. The Eastern Orthodox celebrates the visit of the Magi on 25 December.
The Tomb of Three Wise Men in Iran: Marco Polo claimed that he was shown the three tombs of the Magi at Saveh south of Tehran in the 1270s. Marco Polo was a Christian merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote the book of Il Milione, in which he introduced Europeans to the Middle East, Central Asia and China. In his book, he wrote that, "In Persia is the city of Saba, from which the Three Magi set out 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, beautifully kept. The bodies are still interred there, with hair and beard remaining".
The Bible Story in Persian Poetry: As already noted, according to the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi found Jesus by following his star, which thus traditionally became known as the Star of Bethlehem. In his poem entitled as the Birth of Jesus Christ (in Persian: Milaad-e Isaa Masih), the late Iranian poet Mehdi Hamidi Shirazi (1914-1986) referred to that star and the visit of three Wise Men to the new born Jesus. The Persian Text of that poem reads as follows:
میلاد عیسی مسیح و دیدار سه ایرانی
هویدا گشت نوری ، شادی افزا
درخشان کوکبی از زادن او
به بام آسمان ، برداشت آوا
چو ایرانی بدید آن اختر پاک
فراز چرخ چون خورشید عذرا
دوید آن سو، که آنجا شاد و خندان
بدارد هدیه های خویش اهدا: دکتر مهدی حمیدی شیرازی
Epilogues (Posted December 24, 2012):
1. The historian of Christianity, Sebastian Brock, has said: "It was no doubt among converts from Zoroastrianism that… certain legends were developed around the Magi of the Gospels". And Anders Hutgård concluded that the Gospel story of the Magi was influenced by an Iranian legend concerning magi and a star, which was connected with Persian beliefs in the rise of a star predicting the birth of a ruler and with myths describing the manifestation of a divine figure in fire and light (View here).
2. It should be also noted that there is not any significant supportive evidence for the claim that those Magi were Chinese. It sounds also nonsense as other sources on the Internet claiming the Magi were Arabs and traveled by camels!
Merry Xmas & Happy New Year!
Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Brown, R. E. (1977): The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, UK
Powell, M. A. (2000): "The Magi as Wise Men: Re-examining a Basic Supposition", New Testament Studies. Vol. 46
Saadat Noury, M. (2010): Various Articles on the History of Iran and First Iranians.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2010): Online Articles on Biblical Magi.
More on FIRST IRANIANS