What were the names of the three kings who visited baby Jesus?
Tomorrow, January 6, is Three Kings Day, Epiphany. Do you know what their names were? Image credit: Wikipedia Public Domain Adoration of the Kings.
Scripture doesn't say. Nor does it describe them as kings, but as three magi. Some name them as Balthasar Melchior and Gaspar, but the evidence is spurious. Perhaps that there were 3 is more interesting. Also that they were Magi, wise men, who looked to the stars for omens, something condemned in the ten commandments. And from the East, symbolising occult practice also condemned by Moses. The number 3 also denotes completeness, the triple goddess in witchcraft, the 3 ethical principles of Zoroastrianism, the 3 primary colours, the 3 Borromean rings, the 3 valknut triangles, relating to the Norse God Odin, not to mention the trinity itself, but that appeared much later, the Holy Spirit inserted to replace the Mother Goddess because of the Church's denigration of women, which open another whole can of worms.
In reality when one looks deeply into this, the answer is somewhat complex. The word magoi often has the meaning of "magician", in both Old and New Testaments (see Acts 8:9; 13:6, 8 etc.). We find the same meaning in the second chapter of Matthew, though this is not the common interpretation.
It should be noted that no Father of the Church holds the Magi to have been kings. The Church, indeed, in her liturgy, applies to the Magi the words: "The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents; the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring him gifts: and all the kings of the earth shall adore Him. Neither were they magicians: the good meaning of magoi, though found nowhere else in the Bible, is demanded by the context of the second chapter of St. Matthew. These Magians can have been none other than members of the priestly caste already referred to. The religion of the Magi was fundamentally that of Zoroaster and forbade sorcery; their astrology skill in interpreting dreams were occasions of their finding Christ. (See Theological Aspects of the Avesta).
The Gospel narrative omits to mention the number of the Magi, and there is no certain tradition in this matter. Some Fathers speak of three Magi; they are very likely influenced by the number of gifts. In the Orient, tradition favours twelve. Early Christian Art is no consistent witness:
*a painting in the cemetery of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus shows two;
*one in the Lateran Museum, three;
*one in the cemetery of Domitilla,
*four on vase in the Kircher Museum,
*eight (Marucchi, "Eléments d'archéologie chrétienne", Paris, 1899, I 197).
The names of the Magi are as uncertain as is their number. Among the Latins, from the seventh century, we find slight variants of the names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; the Martyrology mentions St. Gaspar, on the first, St. Melchior, on the sixth, and St. Balthasar, on the eleventh of January (Acta SS., I, 8, 323, 664). The Syrians have Larvandad, Hormisdas, Gushnasaph, etc.; the Armenians, Kagba, Badadilma, etc. (Cf. ActaSanctorum, May, I, 1780).
Very interesting comment, John. Thank you. You should write a hub on this, I would like to read more.
Thank you, Phyllis; perhaps when and if I retire in a few years I will find the time to write a hub on this...
I'd enjoy reading that Hub! A workshop by a Hebrew linguist & an OT Bible scholar together taught us "3" in Hebrew scripture & secular literature at the time represented a number anywhere from 3 to 12, so "many kings" would sound right to me.
I agree, Patty - John could write a very good hub on this. I never knew that "3" meant "so many" - that is a good point to bring up. Thanks for commenting.
1 After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to...
Tradition gives the names of Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar, but there is no evidence to support the belief that these were the actual names of the magi. We don't even know for sure how many wise men there were. We have three distinct gifts, largely symbolic by nature, but that does not necessarily mean that there were exactly three wise men. People who lived during biblical times put a lot of stock in numerology, and three is considered a mystical number for a wide variety of reasons.
We must also remember that the Bible does not say that the Magi were kings. They brought gifts of great cost, and they were unusually literate for their time. Possibly that explains the desire to call them kings. I've always thought that a person who was a king would probably not have time to take a long journey to find a baby in a foreign land.
I asked a simple question - for three names. I did not ask for a religious debate. Whether they were kings, magi, wise men is not the point here. Whether or not the story is true is not the point. Since 1857 the song "We Three Kings of Orient Are" has been a popular Christmas carol. According to Wikipedia: "Though the event is recounted in the Gospel of Matthew, there are no further details given with regards to their names, the number of Magi that were present or whether they were even royal." Now, whether that is true or not is also not the point here. I just wanted to know if anyone knew the name of the three kings - and Epiphany is also called Three King's Day, which denotes the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. I will close the question due to the fact I did not ask for a debate on religious beliefs. I could have asked "What were the names of Santa's reindeer?" - but, instead asked for the names of three kings, or magi. Thank you all for commenting.
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