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The Three Wise Men
"Guys, I think we should go to that town..."
In Christian tradition the Magi (Greek: μάγοι magoi), Three Wise Men, Three Kings or Kings from the East are said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts. They are mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew , which says that they came "from the east to Jerusalem" to worship the Christ, "born King of the Jews". Because three gifts were recorded, there are traditionally said to have been three Magi, though Matthew does not specify their number.
According to Matthew, the magi followed a star which came to be known as the Star Of Bethlehem
. As they approached Jerusalem, Herod tried to trick them into revealing where Jesus was, so that he might be put to death. Upon finding Jesus, they gave him three symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The tradition of gift giving for Christians dates back to this story. In many countries, they're the equivalent of Santa Claus
. Furthermore, they have dreams from God warning them of King Herod's murderous true intentions for Jesus and return home by a different route to ensure they tell him nothing. Unfortunately, this inadvertently leads to Herod committing the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem to attempt to remove this threat to his throne.
The Eastern church gives a variety of different names for the kings. In the West, the names have been settled since the 8th century as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
Appearances of the Magi in Fiction:
- They appear in From the Manger to the Cross, a film about you-know-who.
- In the Justice League of America comic story "2000 Light Years to Christmas" the League helps three aliens counterparts of the Magi recover the gifts they bore for a messiah born on another planet that they had lost on Earth.
- In the Twilight Zone episode "Paladin of the Lost Hour" the old man who holds back doomsday from happening hints that he's really Caspar.
- In the short story "The Fourth Wise Man" the Mage Artaban arrives too late to meet baby Jesus, as he had stopped along the way to help people in need. He only finds Jesus on the day he was crucified, and fails to rescue him because, again, he stopped to help someone. A voice (presumably Jesus') tells him however that his kindness to others was just the kind of real gift he wanted from people.
- The Magi themselves do not appear in O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi", but they inspired the characters to give each other presents.
- The Three Sages in Chrono Trigger are named after the Magi, at least in the English version.
- The three Magi arrive with gifts for Brian at the start of Monty Pythons Life Of Brian, though it turns out that the real Messiah had been born across the street.
- In The X-Files episode "Existence", which likens Baby William's birth heavily to the birth of Christ (including a prominent Star Of Bethlehem), the Lone Gunmen step into this role, bringing gifts and admiring the baby.
- The Magi are the night visitors in Amahl And The Night Visitors.
- In the Ed, Edd n Eddy Christmas Special "Jingle Jingle Jangle", the Kanker sisters take on the role, bringing the Eds the gifts of "mold, franks and cents, and fur."
- An SCTV Christmas show has an extended commercial with Edna Boil and her line of holiday fashion for dogs, modeled by little yappy dogs. Creepy enough, then she highlights the true meaning of Christmas with Magi costumes worn by "We Three Pups".
- The Tom Holt novel Grailblazers reveals that Santa Claus was one of the Wise Men, doing community service to expiate the sin of Convenience Store Gift Shopping for the Messiah; unlike his colleagues who planned ahead, he left things until the last minute and couldn't come up with anything better than a pair of socks.
- The French movie Les Rois Mages (lit. "The mage-kings", which is how they're called in France) is a comedy about the Magi suddenly finding themselves in modern-day Paris. They end up finding a baby underground... at the Place de l'Étoile ("Star square").
- In Mike Royko's humorous column "Mary and Joe: Chicago Style," the Nativity is set in 1960s Chicago, where the Magi are mistaken for hippies and detained for illegal possession of gold and suspicious herbs. Meanwhile, there's no room for a poor couple from out of town in any of the city's social services, but Mary gets treated for post-partum delusion when she mentions who the baby's father is...
- In Umberto Eco's novel Baudolino, the Magi are thought to have come from the legendary kingdom of Prester John. In order to get Emperor Frederick's support for an expedition to the kingdom, the protagonist produces the relics of the Magi, found in a church in Constantinople, though he and the canon he gets the relics from both acknowledge that they're not the real remains.
- Played by Quagmire, Joe and Cleveland a Family Guy parody.
- A popular Christmas card reads "Fortunately, a few hours later, three wise women stopped by..." Mary's exclaiming "Diapers, receiving blankets and an infant mule seat! Now these I can use!"
- In Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, Jesus' childhood buddy Levi, (but mostly called by his nickname Biff) is resurrected to tell his version of the Gospel. In this version, the years where Jesus disappears from the Bible he spent looking for the 3 wise men, trying to learn how to be the Messiah. In the book, the three turn out to be an immortal (and rather immoral) magician, a Shaolin master, and a hermetic Yogi. Jesus learns important things from all of them, even if sometimes the most important thing he learns is what not to do.
- Referred to once as the "Three Wise Guys" in The Far Side.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the MAGI supercomputer consists of three systems named, appropriately enough, after the wise men.
Tropes involving the Magi:
- Away In A Manger: Canonically, the Gospel of Matthew says that the Magi arrived "at the house", not the manger, indicating that their visit likely occurred some time later when Mary and Joseph had found a more permanent accommodation. (This might also explain why Herod ordered all male children under two years to be killed, not just newborns.) However, they are often portrayed in Nativity scenes, probably a fair case of Artistic License.
- Badass Beard: All have it.
- Canon Foreigner: The Fourth Wise Man.
- Cross Cultural Kerfuffle:
- Should kids in Hispanic America—especially in Puerto Rico— get their presents from Santa or the Magi? The eternal debate!
- The Magi are often pictured in Arabic gear.
- The Determinator: Artaban spent *his whole life* trying to deliver his present to Jesus.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: So cool, multiple kings show up to give him birthday presents!
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: The Wise Men see through Herod's ruse and give him the slip without showing him where the Messiah was, setting up this trope.
- Numerological Motif: Three Kings, three presents.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Like traveling on camel to deliver presents to the Son Of God personally.
- Rule of Three: Naturally. (Except in "The Fourth Wise Man.")
- Samaritan Syndrome: What kept Artaban from finding Jesus.
- Token Minority: Melchior is often depicted as being Black.
- Five-Token Band: Many versions actually make the three different races to symbolize the entire world coming together in awe of Christ.
- Word of Dante:
- The Bible never specifies exactly how many Magi there were; the number three is a later tradition due to them bringing three gifts.
- The non-canonical names "Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar" apparently came from a Greek manuscript from Alexandria that was written around AD 500.