Myth and Message of 'Three Kings'

Manila Bulletin, January 4, 2002 | Go to article overview

Myth and Message of 'Three Kings'


THE Christmas season officially ends on the feast of the so-called "Three Kings."

But did you know that what used to be called "Feast of the Three Kings" in our calendars is now feast of "Epiphany?" Why the change? Were the "Three Kings" dethroned or demoted?

Year after year we have been told about pious legends and stories surrounding the Christmas event. Unfortunately some of these have no biblical foundation, but fictitious embellishments which have been accepted as true.

* * *

The myth of the "Three Kings" is a classic example. The mysterious personages who journeyed from the East were not kings!

Matthew, the only evangelist who relates the episode of these personages, wrote: "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea... behold, Magi came from the East to Jerusalem and asked: 'Where is the baby born to be the King of the Jews?'" (Mt 2:2).

* * *

Note that the evangelist calls those strange visitors "magi," not kings. And who were the magi?

The magi were engaged in the study of astrology, necromancy and divination. Astrology was an "in thing" in those days. The magi were also called "wise men" due to their "zealous observance of justice and virtue."

That the "wise men" were transformed into "kings" by common belief is due to the corrupt interpretation of a messianic prophecy in the Old Testament thus: "The Kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer gifts, the Kings of Arabia and Saba shall pay tribute. All the kings of the earth shall adore Him" (Ps 72).

* * *

What is the authentic message of the "magi" episode and how does it fit into the Christmas story?

The evangelist is teaching the UNIVERSALITY of Christ's salvation. Meaning, the Messiah was accepted not only by the Jews, the chosen people but also by pagan visitors. Precisely because of this, the Christian calendar calls the feast "Epiphany" (from the Greek "epiphanein") which means "manifestation. …

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