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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

03 January 2006

Names of the Magi

Q: What are the names of the three wise men?

The MagiA: The Bible doesn’t name names, nor does it mention three; it says “wise men [magi] from the east came to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1).” The number three is often assumed because they brought three gifts (verse 11). However, there may have been two or a whole bunch.

Different branches of the Christian Church have assigned different names: Among the Latins, from about the seventh century onward we find mention of variants of Gaspar (Caspar), Melchior, and Balthasar. The Syrians have Larvandad, Hormisdas, Gushnasaph, etc.; the Armenians, Kagba, Badadilma, etc. Other Christian bodies use still other names.

Someo of these names have been woven into various pious fables, works of historical fiction, and motion pictures. One of them, Gaspar, even comes back into the book and film Ben-Hur much after the time mentioned in Scripture.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


Blogger Sean said...

are you familiar with the practice in europe of chalking "20+CMB+06" on people's walls and doors etc? If I'm remembering correctly, they do it on Epiphany for the new year and the CMB is Caspar, Melchior, Belthasar.

I think they should be named larry, curly, and moe. If there is no real name provided, make it funny. For example, when my grandfather (Gilbert Daenzer) would tell me the story of the three little pigs, their names were ALWAYS Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! :D

fun with adiaphora, or the blurry line between it and sacrelige :D

03 January, 2006 10:10  
Blogger CPA said...

The Syrian names sound genuinely Persian, which makes sense since that's where the Magi were from.

05 January, 2006 20:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Syrian names sound genuinely Persian, which makes sense since that's where the Magi were from.

The Magi do not have to be Persian. the term was used for astrologer/astronomers as well as any wise men in Greek writing at the time. The attribution to a zorastrian persians is the same as the guesses to the names, it is entirely apocryphal and not supported in either the Bible nor text contemporary to the Bible. For all we know they were Arabs, Greeks (many of whom were to the east as this is 300 years after Alexander) or anyone else.

06 January, 2006 21:57  
Blogger Robert Elart Waters said...

Two points: first, we don't know that there were three wise men. The Bible mentions three gifts, but not how many people brought them. The earliest Christian tradition is that there were twelve.

Secondly, it isn't clear from the text- "we have seen his star in the East-" whether the Wise Men were in the East, or whether the Star was.

08 January, 2006 17:58  
Blogger solarblogger said...

I've been wondering if Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (early Colonial Lutheran leader) was named, directly or indirectly, after Melchior the wise man.

20 January, 2006 14:36  

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