The Men From The Orient

Q. The question I have is concerning the Men from the Orient. We have been told that there were only three of them, but we really don’t know for sure. What I want to know is who came out with the idea that one of the Magi was black? Is there any biblical support for this?

A. The number of wise men, or Magi, has been assumed from the three gifts they brought, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There were probably many more, since according to Matt. 2:3 their arrival troubled King Herod and all of Jerusalem. They had come from Parthia, a little known but large and powerful kingdom of Persian (Iranian) origin that rivaled the Roman Empire in size and military strength.

The Magi were hereditary priests of Persia and always came from the same tribe. According to tradition they were founded by the prophet Daniel who gave them the anticipated date for the arrival of the Messiah that he had received from the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9:25). This is how they knew to come to Jerusalem when they did.

As far as I can tell the idea that one of the Parthian priests was a black man is only a legend and in any case cannot be confirmed in the Bible. The tradition that they represented several different races first arose in the 500’s AD along with their supposed names, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

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