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Wise men and the starBy Prof Lal Dena, Inpui.com Patron and History professor at the Manipur University.

The Gospel according to Mathew writes: “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, ‘where is he that is born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Mathew 2:1-2)

Most spectacular and extraordinary astronomical phenomenon did occur on the night when Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born at Bethlehem. This was the appearance of what is popularly known as the Star of Bethlehem which guided the wise men from the East to the small town of Bethlehem in Palestine. What was this star? Or was it a comet? Was it a supernova? Was it completely a new star? Opinions of the astrologers are sharply divided on the nature of the star.
First, some scientists are of the view that the star could perhaps be a certain kind of a comet. It is popularly believed that the sight of such comet was a bad omen foretelling an impending famine or disaster. Could the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, be regarded as a bad omen? At the same time, we cannot ignore what had happened soon after the birth of Jesus. Herod ordered to kill all the boys below two years old in Bethlehem and its vicinity with a sole motive of killing the babe Jesus whom he considered to be a potential danger to his position.

Secondly, Johannes Kepler contends that the Star of Bethlehem must have been a supernova that appeared as a result of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 7 B.C. The conjunction that Kepler thought was the cause of the generation of the nova, has itself come to be regarded by many as the Star of Bethlehem. As a matter of fact, in the course of the year 7 B.C., a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the constellation of Pisces occurred three times. Again this incident took place on 19 May, 7 B.C.

Thirdly, God is the creator of the world. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3). So most popular view among the Christians is that God had specially created the star to reveal to the world that Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem to save mankind. The star guided the wise men to Bethlehem and maybe, after it had done the work, disappeared again.

Now let us try to identify the wise men. Who were the three wise men? In the original Greek text, the wise men are called Magi. The Magi of the Bible story were first elevated to kingship in the sixth century by Caesarius of Arles. As per the Jewish historical documents, the wise men were Melchior, Casper and Balthasar who were of course well-versed in “magical” practices, being experts in the methods of astrology. They were highly learned men and perhaps belonged to a royal class and this fact is testified by their kingly dress and precious gifts to the babe Jesus.

Melchior was a Greek by nationality. He looked elderly with a grey hair and long beard. Caspar was believed to have come from India. He still looked young without beard with a little bit of red face. Balthasar looked pale with a short beard and was believed to have come from Egypt. It is thus an established fact that the three wise men belonged to different nationalities coming from different countries. The question here is: where did they meet? From which country did they start their pilgrimage to Bethlehem? There is no consensus opinion on this. Persia, (Iran) once a powerful empire in the Old Testament times, could be the place where the wise men met and studied together here. In English Bible, the wise men are called Magi. The Greek term Magi means to Magus which refers to a Zoroastrian priest of Persia. Maybe from Persia, the three wise men started their journey to Jerusalem in search of the newly born babe Jesus. Other scholars have suggested that Arabia (Saudi Arabia) or Babulon (Iraq) could perhaps the place from the wise men first sighted the star and then proceeded to Jerusalem.

Let us now see the impact of the Star of Bethlehem on mankind. The Star had both positive and negative impacts on mankind. First, it appears that the wise men were deeply devoted religious people, well-versed in Old Testament scriptures which foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. As soon as they sighted the star, they realized that it was the star of God, for they said, “We have seen his star in the east.” Faithfully did they follow it perhaps riding on their camel which was the common means of long journey at that time and had come to Jerusalem. Perplexed at the loss of the star in Jerusalem, they came to Herod and asked: “Where is he that is born of the king of the Jews?” But they did not give it up. They persistently kept on moving and Mathew records, “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.”(Mat.2:9-10). Meichior offered a gift of gold, Casper frankincense, and Balthasar myrrh to babe Jesus. Thus to those who believed, the Star of Bethlehem gave an exceeding joy, an eternal joy.

There are other groups of people who were impacted by the star negatively. Herod, the priests and the scholars of law were confused and perplexed. They had soon frantically conducted their high level research by consulting old documents and had come across what Micah, a prophet, had prophesied: “But, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.” (Micah,5:2). For majority of mankind, seeing is not belief. They go on with their own wisdom but being blinded their own understanding. What happened to Herod? Power-hungry and blood thirsty Herod indulged not only in mass infanticide but also butchered his own family members - his wife Mariamme, mother-in-law Alexandra, his three sons – Antipater, Alexander, Aristobulus, his brother-in-law, his uncle and other close relatives who were likely to claim the kingship. Look at our society today. There are still many small Herods who are playing with innocent lives.

Let us re-read the passage we have quoted at the beginning and meditate upon it. Let us see what impact it has on us. We can learn, if we want, both good and bad lessons from the behaviors of the wise men, the priests, scholars of law and Herod. For those who believe, the Star of Bethlehem is the star of promise, love, faith, hope and peace which are the only lasting foundation of a happy and stable society. For those who are obstinate, it is a star of confusion, jealousy, revenge and murder. Which one we should choose? It is up to us. On this happy day of Christmas, grace and peace to all of us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Happy Christmas.

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