Were they "Wise Men" or Kings?
and how many were there?
The question has been asked many times and the honest answer is that the Bible doesn't tell us: it provides no more certainty about WHO they were than about WHEN they visited, though it's most likely that the visit took place when Jesus was a toddler - remember Herod said all the boys under two years of age should be killed.
As early as the Fifteenth century, artists were showing three kingly looking men, clearly of Middle Eastern or African origin
ADORATION OF THE MAGI, ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
Considered one of Dürer’s greatest works from the period after his first trip to Italy, this relatively small painting — measuring less than a meter in size — was presented as a gift to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II by Christian II of Saxony in 1603. Dürer organized the composition around the figure of the “the third king,” a dark-skinned man depicted on the left who leads the viewer through the painting with his gaze. Unlike most Renaissance works on the same topic, the background is composed of a natural landscape rather than human-made architecture. The German artist was famous for his self-portraits, and he included one in this work too by painting the second king as a man with a beard and long hair.
Looking for something thought-provoking for today's 'window' I came across this poem which I had never seen before and thought it appropriate as it sums up our attitudes to those visitors from the East. You will note that this is the first of four poems. I've added a downloadable .pdf file of all four as I think they're all worth a read.
The Seekers ( the first of four poems in a series called Magi)
You ask from whence we came—
from many places. Some are legends now,
some unremembered. You make us into kings.
We were not kings, not even of ourselves.
Were we from the east? That is a point of view.
We set out from where we were. You give us names
like Melchior and Balthazar,
but those were not our names. From time to time
we have been called by many names—
Plato, Confucius, Archimedes,
Copernicus, Galileo, Newton,
Descartes, Darwin, Einstein, Heisenberg.
How long did the journey take? Months? Centuries?
When does a myth take hold,
in a moment or a thousand years?
Though calendars and clocks may shepherd it
with careful numbers, yet in the wilderness time
howls like a pack of wolves. We heard it all night long.
We were both men and women. What we shared
was an unquenchable desire to know
something not known before. Were we wise?
Wise to leave our homes, acquaintances and all
the comfort of familiar irritations,
shedding the fabric of our former lives
like an old coat? Wise to risk
everything on our unlikely theories
with no guarantee of safe return,
and reckless that the truth that we discover
may prove, for all we know, fatal
to everything to which we have thus far clung?
If this is wisdom, yes,
you may say that we were wise.
© Godfrey Rust,
Click on the image above to open and, if you wish, download, the series of poems
Wise Men from the East (Matthew 2: 2-12)
2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, [a]wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the [b]wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.