When I was growing up in rural North Louisiana, Christmas was a magical time.  For me it was an amalgamation of Germany with a Western United States influence mixed with the Deep South that I lived in.  That made Christmas a very special time with a huge Christmas tree characteristic of German influence with meticulously wrapped gifts and a large Christmas dinner that had traditional pecan candies and pies.  When visiting my mother’s home in the Tahoe basin of Nevada they asked about these wonderful tasting nuts that we would bring from our yard.  My mother explained they were called pecans and they in turn introduced me to fresh raspberries that were not available fresh at the time in the deep south.

While there were geographical differences which meant that in a much simpler life we didn’t share all the trappings of a common gastronomic experience between America’s Far West and America’s Deep South; we did share one common Christmas experience.  This experience was the Christmas story as told in the Bible. This story is common to all geographical points of America and for that matter all parts of the world.  The site of Mary kneeling next to the baby Jesus with Joseph standing by gazing at the Holy Child were common scenes.  A star overhead with an angel observing the manger as shepherds knelt while their flocks grazed in the background are part of any nativity scene.  Also present in the scene of the holy birth but what is out of place with the common day to day existence of Bethlehem was the presence of three regally dressed men with camels in tow and bearing gifts of great value.  Said to have come from the East, these men intrigued me.  Who were they and where did they actually come from?

The three wise men are referred to as the Magi.  They are referenced in the Bible in the gospel of Mathew but the holy document does not identify their names or points of origin.  According to Mathew, the Magi had followed a special star that led them to Jesus where they presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  When they left they are never mentioned again and are lost to history; until now.

A traditional view of the Magi is that they were Babylonian or Persian or Yemeni Jews in origin.  Armenian tradition has the three wise men as being Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia and Gaspar of India. The origin of the story of the Wise Men comes from the Bible and these men are referenced only once, the actual numbers are not identified, the names are not given and the origin of the men is only stated as coming from the East.  This is what intrigued me; where in the east did these mysterious men come from.

Archeology has a way of proving the existence of what was only speculated.  Digging in the dirt or digging in existing archives that have been buried in some library for hundreds or thousands of years can bear great knowledge of how the world use to be.  Brent Landau, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma, has translated a twelve hundred year old manuscript that has been housed in the Vatican. This document is purported to have originated from a document that was written in the mid second century which makes it as being written less than one hundred years after Mathew’s Gospel was written. The origin of the information in the document was supposed to have been composed by the Magi themselves but Mr. Landau is hesitant to believe this to be fact.

In the translated document the three wise men actually are a minimum of twelve and possibly several times more. They came from as far away as China and were a part of a group that had been waiting for a star of extreme brilliance to come to fruition and herald the birth of God on earth. The star eventually led them to a cave to witness the Christ Child. When they left, the wise men returned to the East and spread the word of Christianity.

While this depiction of the Wise Men provides more insight into the men that first visited Jesus, it still provides no definitive identify of the men nor does it tell exactly where they came from. For now I am going to keep it simple and see the nativity as having three men from the “East”, regally dressed, offering gold and frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child and then disappearing into the desert on their camels. This keeps my brain less cluttered during this very special time of the year and allows me the opportunity to enjoy the true meaning of the holiday.

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