Please refer to the source for more information.
From old Persian language, a priest of Zarathustra (Zoroaster). The Bible gives us the direction, East and the legend states that the wise men were from Persia (Iran) - Balthasar, Melchior, Caspar - thus being priests of Zarathustra religion, the mages. Obviously the pilgrimage had some religious significance for these men, otherwise they would not have taken the trouble and risk of travelling so far. But what was it? An astrological phenomenon, the Star?
- Matthew 2:1 - "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [*] from the east came to Jerusalem." (* Footnote: Traditionally Wise Men). Matthew 2:7 - Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Matthew 2:16 - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
- Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, was erected in 329 by Queen Helena in the area it was believed to be where Jesus was born. In 614, The Church was saved from destruction by the Persian rampage because of the mosaic of the Magi dressed in Persian Garb on the floor of this church.
- Magi, priestly caste in ancient Persia. They are thought to have been followers of Zoroaster, the Persian teacher and prophet, and they professed the doctrines of Zoroastrianism. By the 1st century AD, the magi were identified with wise men and soothsayers. Encarta Concise Encyclopedia - Religion & Philosophy.
Information on the church converted from a temple by the wise man in UrumiaTo whom it may concern,
Salam. I am a Bangladeshi doctor who worked in Iran under Ministry of Health from 1985 to 94. During my stay in Iran I travelled many areas-having archeological importance. The ancient churches of Iran was also included in my interest. Once on the way to the Ghara Kilisha I was in Urumia. In the city I had a chance of visiting one church. I have forgetten the name of the chuch but the thing which I still remember that there were two chuches in the same compound, One was recent made and the ancient one was under the ground. May be this was an assurian church. I was told by a local person that the ancient structure was not a church, rather it was a Zorostrian temple. One of the 3 wisemen who visited new born Jesus was a Zorostrian Priest who after the crucifixation started practising Christianity & converted the temple to the christian church. At that time videography was mamnoo in Iran so I could not do any videography.
I am interested to know more regarding the church and want to verify from your organization about the authenticity whatever I was told. Please let me know about your opinion. Please do reply.
Dr. N. D. R. - worked in Kerman Province
If you have any information in this regard to share with Dr. R. please send to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Holy Epiphany - by Lwis Williams
While oftentimes conflicting lore muddles the story of the Magi, those bearing gifts for the Christ child are Caspar of Tarsus, Melchior of Persian and Balthasar of Saba. Weary from desert travel, the Magi humbly offer their gifts. Caspar is young, European and offers gold. Gold finances the Holy Family's coming flight to Egypt and also symbolizes Christ's immortality and purity. For his generosity, Caspar receives the gifts of charity and spiritual wealth. Melchior is middle-aged, Persian and offers myrrh. Myrrh is a fragrant gum, which the ancient Israelites believed to strengthen children. This symbol of Christ's mortality was blended with wine and offered to him on the cross, and also mixed with aloes to wrap his body for the tomb. Melchior receives the gifts of humility and truth. Balthasar is elderly, Ethiopian and offers frankincense. Frankincense is a resin used in incense for worship and also symbolizes prayer and sacrifice. Balthasar receives the gift of Faith. And Christ, humbling himself to become man, offers us the greatest gift of all, the light that forever burns in the darkness.
- Wise Men of the East, also called Magi, or Three Kings of the Orient. In Matthew, noble pilgrims followed a star to Israel to pay homage to the newborn Christ Child (See Pilgrim). They asked King Herod the Great for assistance in finding the child. Herod could not help them but asked the men to return with news of the child. Warned in a dream, they did not return to Herod. Encarta Concise Encyclopedia - Religion & Philosophy.
- "In Search of the Birth of Jesus, the Real Journey of the Magi"
A Pilgrimage from Ancient Persian to Modern Bethlehem with Paul William Roberts
Esfahan -> Saveh -> Damascus -> Jerusalem -> Bethlehem
Roberts has woven the journey of the Magi with a comtemporary journey overland - by car and camel - from Iran to Bethlehem and has gathered up some intriguing information on the development of our civilization and our belief systems.
| The Magi, revisited |
Another translation of Marco Polo's classic
By H. Behzadi
May 28, 2002
We (or at least I) could never understand what the clerics were on about, as they seemed to speak in a foreign language. Those who have read Jamalzadeh's short but very witty ingenuous piece "Farsi Shekar Ast" ("Persian Is Nectar") will know what I mean. They seemed to pride themselves into making the subject at hand totally uninteresting and arcane. And to a child they were dangerous as they were liable to fail you in "Feqh". IMagine the risk of losing those beautiful summers having to study for a Religious Studies re-sit.
I know even less about Christianity and it wasn't till my daughter started school run by the local church in the suburbs of London, chosen mainly for its proximity and better reputation that I had any proper exposure to it. Don't worry! This is not an attempt to convert you. The religious schools in England are very popular with the immigrant communities, non-religious and even non-believers.
They are chosen solely because of their reputation for better discipline, smaller class sizes and higher standard of learning. In some ways it shows up something of the double standard by these groups and I have often wondered why the school organisers tolerate it. Some Catholic schools now insist on at least one parent being Catholic and the local priest confirming regular worship before acceptance.
One of the stories the kids become familiar with from an early age is the story of three Magi (or the three Kings) who foresaw the birth of Christ and went on a pilgrimage to see the newly born baby Jesus. My mother, god bless her soul, was kind of funky with a surreal aspect to her character. She had a habit of sometimes dropping and boring you (that is how it seemed to me then) with "pearls of wisdom" either totally unrelated to the subject of conversation or what you were up to at the time (like trying to find an excuse to get out of the house to play football in the street or to spy on the girls in the neighbourhood).
The funny thing was that she never liked anyone else doing the same to her and if she was concentrating, say reading a good book, the only response you could ever get would be a 'hmmm'. You could shout and scream about the house being on fire but if she was reading a particularly good novel, 'hmmmm' meaning: "don't bother me kid; let whatever is happening, happen without me."
Just after my mother moved to England I have a vague recollection of her dropping one of these pearls of wisdom without any solicitation on my part about the three Magi, according to her the the three Magi must have been Iranian as Magi must be the same as "mogh" in Persian meaning Zoroastrian priests, being young and not interested in these matters I never really paid attention.
I recently read "The Travels" of Marco Polo translated by Ronald Latham for Penguin Classics and the first story Marco Polo relates about Persia proper is about the three Magi. The Iranian published an excerpt from another translation in 1997 but I prefer the Penguin version as it is a better translation and Ronald Latham has used modern names where it has been possible to make a match. Thanks to the Internet I also found the story as it appears in the Bible in the Testament of Matthew.
Marco Polo's version relates the version of the story prevalent in Iran in the middle of the 12th century with specific references to places in Iran making it very interesting reading. I also looked up Magi in the dictionary and learnt that it is indeed plural for magus, meaning "a: a member of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians; b often capitalized : one of the traditionally three wise men from the East paying homage to the infant."
Here is the Ronald Latham translation:
In Persia is the city called Saveh, from which the three Magi set out when they came to worship Jesus Christ. Here, too, they lie buried in three sepulchres of great size and beauty. Above each sepulchre is a square building with a domed roof of very fine workmanship. The one is just beside the other. Their bodies are still whole, and they have hair and beards. One was named Beltasar, the second Gaspar, and the third Melchior.
Messer Marco asked several of the inhabitants who these Magi were; but no one could tell him anything except that they were three kings who were buried there in days gone by. But at last he learnt What I will tell you.
Three days farther on, he found a town called Kala Atashparastan, that is to say Town of the Fire-worshippers. And that is no more than the truth; for the men of this town do worship fire. And I will tell you why they worship it. The inhabitants declare that in days gone by three kings of this country went to worship a new-born prophet and took with them three offerings -gold, frankincense, and myrrh - so as to discover whether this prophet was a god, or an earthly king or a healer. For they said : 'If he takes gold, he is an earthly king; if frankincense, a god; if myrrh, a healer.'
When they had come to the place where the prophet was born, the youngest of the three kings went in all alone to see the child. He found that he was like himself, for he seemed to be of his own age and appearance. And he came out, full of wonder. Then in went the second, who was a man of middle age. And to him also the child seemed, as it had seemed to the other, to be of his own age and appearance. And he came out quite dumbfounded. Then in went the third, who was of riper years; and to him also it happened as it had to the other two. And he came out deep in thought. When the three kings were all together, each told the others what he had seen. And they were much amazed and resolved that they would all go in together.
So, in they went, all three together, and came before the child and saw him in his real likeness and of his real age; for he was only thirteen days old. Then they worshipped him and offered him the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh. The child took all three offerings and then gave them a closed casket. And the three kings set out to return to their own country.
After they had ridden for some days, they resolved to see what the child had given them. They opened the casket and found inside it a stone. They wondered greatly what this could be. The child had given it to them to signify that they should be firm as stone in the faith that they had adopted. For, when the three kings saw that the child had taken all three offerings, they concluded that he was at once a god, and an earthly king, and a healer. And, since the child knew that the three kings believed this, he gave them the stone to signify that they should be firm and constant in their belief.
The three kings, not knowing why the stone had been given to them, took it and threw it into a well. No sooner had it fallen in than there descended from heaven a burning fire, which came straight to the well into which it had been thrown. When the three kings saw this miracle, they were taken aback and repented of their throwing away the stone; for they saw clearly that its significance was great and good. They immediately took some of this fire and carried it to their country and put it in one of their churches, a very fine and splendid building.
They keep it perpetually burning and worship it as a god. And every sacrifice and burnt offering which they make is roasted with this fire. If it ever happens that the fire goes out, they go round to others who hold the same faith and worship fire also and are given some of the fire that burns in their church. This they bring back to rekindle their own fire. They never rekindle it except with this fire of which I have spoken. To procure this fire, they often make a journey of ten days.
That is how it comes about that the people of this country are fire worshippers. And I assure you that they are very numerous. All this was related to Messer Marco Polo by the inhabitants of this town; and it is all perfectly true. Let me tell you finally that one of the three Magi came from Saveh, one from Hawah, and the third from Kashan.
| Christ and the Persian magi|
Marco Polo on Persia's "Christian" fire worshippers
From Chapter XI (Of the province of Persia) of Marco Polo's "The Travels; The Description of the world" written in 1298. This translation is by William Marsden, revised by Thomas Wright (Konemann Travel Classics, Koln, Germany, 1996).
Persia was anciently a large and noble province, but it is now in great part destroyed by the Tartars. In Persia there is a city which is called Saba, from whence were the three magi who came to adore Christ in Bethlehem; and the three are buried in that city in a fair sepulchre, and they are all three entire with their beards and hair. One was called Baldasar, the second Gaspar, and the third Melchior.
Marco inquired often in that city concerning the three magi, and nobody could tell him anything about them, except that the three magi were buried there in ancient times. After three days' journey you come to a castle which is called Palasata, which means the castle of the fire-worshippers, and it is true that the inhabitants of that castle worship fire, and this is given as the reason.
The men of that castle say, that anciently three kings of that country went to adore a certain king who was newly born, and carried with them three offerings, namely, gold, frankincense, and myrth: gold, that they might know if he were an earthly king; frankincense, that they might know if he were God; and myrth, that they might now if he were a mortal man.
When these magi were presented to Christ, the youngest of the three adored him first, and it appeared to him that Christ was of his stature and age. The middle one came next, and then the eldest, and to each he seemed to be of their own stature and age. Having compared their observations together, they agreed to go all to worship at once, and then he appeared to them all of his true age.
When they went away, the infant gave them a closed box, which they carried with them for several days, and then becoming curious to see what he had given them, they opened the box and found in it a stone, which was intended for a sign that they should remain firm as a stone in the faith they had received from him.
When, however, they saw the stone, they marvelled, and thinking themselves deluded, they threw the stone into a certain pit, and instantly fire burst forth in the pit. When they saw this, they repented bitterly of what they had done, and taking some of the fire with them they carried it home.
And having placed it in one of their churches, they keep it continually burning, and adore that fire as a god, and make all their sacrifices with it; and if it happen to be extinguished, they go for more to the original fire in the pit where they threw the stone, which is never extinguished, and they take of none other fire. And, therefore, the people of the country worship fire.
Marco was told all this by the people of the country; and it is true that one of those kings was of Saba; and the second was Dyava, and the third was of the castle.