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The Three Kings | The Three Wise Men | Biblical Magi

And The Star of Bethlehem

Three Kings

Guided by a star, the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar, went to Bethlehem to worship the new king. They brought gold, myrrh, and incense.

The Three Wise Men

Only the Gospel according to St. Matthew relates the episode of the three Magi. If we compare the popular tradition to the corresponding passage in the Bible, we quickly see that St. Matthew does not specify the name, the rank, or the number of visitors, but simply mentions "wise", "magi" or "astrologers" by listing the gifts brought to Jesus. Moreover, nowhere is there any trace of any canonization of these three magi by the Catholic Church.

It is likely that the number of Magi was determined by the number of presents. Their name, on the other hand, was mentioned for the first time in an account written in Armenian, which recounted the childhood of Jesus and likened the visitors to the three kings of India (Gaspard), Arabia (Balthazar) and Persia (Melchior).

Knowing the weight that Matthew gave to symbols, we can therefore consider that these three wise men are probably only literary figures to emphasize the importance of Jesus.

Moreover, it is unlikely that the bones - which arrived in 1164 under rather shady circumstances until Cologne, via Palestine, Byzantium, and Milan - are relics of the three Magi. These bones were probably intended, in an unstable political context, to strengthen the position of the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa by showing that kings had come first to adore the Infant Jesus and that the secular rulers were therefore above the princes of the Church.

The star of Bethlehem

Matthew being the only one to have evoked the Three Wise Men, it is in vain also that one will look for traces in other gospels of the star of Bethlehem. Here too, it must be supposed that it is a symbol showing that a sign had been given from Heaven.

Many theories strive, however, to explain the appearance of this star by an astronomical phenomenon.

The oldest of these, exhibited by Origen in the third century, proposes the work of a comet. This explanation is a priori quite credible, since comets were actually visible from earth at the time of the birth of Christ. However, it has also been possible to prove that much more conspicuous comets had already crossed the sky a few years earlier.

According to other theories, the sudden appearance of the star of Bethlehem could also be explained by the explosion of a supernova. However, no remains of such an explosion could be observed in the sky with the current means, which makes this hypothesis probably obsolete.

There remains a third possibility: a conjunction of planets. The frequent appearance of conjunctions at the time of the birth of Christ speaks in favor of this theory. However, as with the theory of the comet, we do not really understand what this particular conjunction had. Calculations have, moreover, shown that this conjunction was not perfect and that it was still possible to distinguish the two planets, which destroys the impression of a new star.

None of these theories is entirely reliable, so for the moment we can only invoke a miracle or admit the idea of ​​a simple symbolic representation.

What is a comet ?

Comprised of a mass of dust, gas and ice, comets, like planets, surround the Sun. However, as they approach the Sun, the ice particles evaporate, giving rise to the famous tail.

The conjunction of two planets

By conjunction we mean the apparent approximation of two planets. In other words, seen from the ground, the two planets give the impression of touching or following each other very closely. Reflected by sun rays, their surface appears larger and the conjunction more clear and visible than the two planets separately.