arts / Church / Epiphany / Jesus

Epiphany – Journey of the Magi


The Coal Aston Carollers from North-East Derbyshire sang Lo! The Eastern Magi Rise in 1995 in a recording made by Ian Russell. It was released in 1998 on the Smithsonian Folkways CD English Village Carols: Traditional Christmas Carolling from the Southern Pennines. Ian Russell commented in the album’s booklet:

Arguably the Coal Aston Carollers’ favourite carol. The music is by Samuel Stanley of Birmingham and dates from 1802-1805. The lyrics are by Jehoiada Brewer and were written while he was a Congregational minister in Sheffield between 1783 and 1798. It is also sung at Poolsbrook in Derbyshire and Padstow in Cornwall. In Thorpe Hesley and Green Moor in South Yorkshire and Mastin Moor in Derbyshire the words are sung to the tune Eastern Star, which is not to be confused with John Hall’s tune of the same name sung at Castleton.

The Coal Aston Carollers sing Lo! The Eastern Magi Rise:

Lo! The Eastern Magi rise
At a signal in the skies.
Brighter than the brightest gem
Shines the Star of Bethlehem.

Now the holy wise men meet
at the royal infant’s feet.
Off’rings rich are made by them
To the Star of Bethlehem.

Night’s terrific shades give way,
Open dawns the promis’d day.
And on us as well as them
Shines the Star of Bethlehem.

The Other Wise Man

The first edition of 1896.

Though it is a work of fiction, written by Henry Van Dyke and first published in 1896, the legend of the fourth wise man is being widely accepted as almost Biblical.

From the introduction:

 Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
 May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
 While he who walks in love may wander far,
 Yet God will bring him where the blessed are. 

Yinitialou know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they travelled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem. But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus? Of the great desire of this fourth pilgrim, and how it was denied, yet accomplished in the denial; of his many wanderings and the probations of his soul; of the long way of his seeking, and the strange way of his finding, the One whom he sought—I would tell the tale as I have heard fragments of it in the Hall of Dreams, in the palace of the Heart of Man.”

According to Wikipedia,

The story “tells about a ‘fourth’ wise man (assuming the tradition that the Magi numbered three to be true), a priest of the Magi named Artaban, one of the Medes from Persia. Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the newborn ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child – a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl of great price.

“However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Since he missed the caravan, and he can’t cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip.

“He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. He saves the life of a child at the price of another of his treasures.

“He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After thirty-three years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light.

“Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the temple by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find Jesus, but having done much good through charitable works.

“A voice tells him ‘Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.'(Matthew 25:40)

“He dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man found his King.”

Interestingly, the story identifies the Wise Men as Zoroastrians from Persia:

“You have come to-night . . . at my call, as the faithful scholars of Zoroaster, to renew your worship and rekindle your faith in the God of Purity, even as this fire has been rekindled on the altar. We worship not the fire, but Him of whom it is the chosen symbol, because it is the purest of all created things. It speaks to us of one who is Light and Truth.”

I have always assumed the Wise Men were Zoroastrians and the significance of the journey of the Magi, to me, is that it was those of  another faith (who were astrologers, to boot) who were first to worship at the birth of Jesus, preceded only by the shepherds, who were the outcasts of society (which is why Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd).

The full text of the tale can be read in various formats at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19608/19608-h/19608-h.htm.

Thanks to the Rev. Alistair Helm who drew my attention to this tale.

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