Why were they visiting Jesus, and why were they bringing Him such unusual gifts?
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But because their visit was so significant, scholars throughout the centuries have attempted to discover information about their background and purpose in visiting the Christ child. Though some details have emerged through scholarly investigation, much of what the Christian world has traditionally believed about the Wise Men may be based more on myth and speculation than on history. Tradition holds that there were three men who visited the Christ child, a belief that comes from the fact that there were three gifts given: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
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Presumably, each man brought one gift. Some scholars, however, believe there could have been many more Wise Men, perhaps as many as Strangers who worship the new King of Judah and bring gifts fulfill Messianic prophecies. Origen specified that they numbered three to match their gifts and their named kingdoms. John Chrysostom preached about twelve Wise Men but his interpretation failed to find favor.
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These foreigners, the first Gentiles to see the Light, recognize what Herod and the Temple priesthood cannot: the newborn Savior. The wealthy, learned, alien Magi of St. Foreshadowing the universality of the Church, these Gentiles and Jews worship God Incarnate to show that salvation is offered to all men. Ancient Christendom spoke of multiple manifestations initially including the Nativity by linking the revelation of the newborn Christ with his later baptism in the Jordan and his first miracle at Cana.
These key points in his mission, which were imagined to have occurred on the same calendar date, also used to be celebrated in the pre-Vatican II Roman breviary.
Epiphany is an older feast than Christmas for it is attested in the East from the first half of the third century, at least 75 years before Christmas is mentioned as a holy day in Rome. By the late fourth century Christmas was also being celebrated in the East so Epiphany lost its Nativity connection there. The Baptism of the Lord became the chief focus of Epiphany and the subject of its special feast day icon. Nevertheless, the Adoration of the Magi has been a popular subject for artists since Late Antiquity. The earliest surviving examples are catacomb paintings from the second and third centuries and carvings on stone coffins from the first half of the fourth century.
On the coffins, three nearly identical Magi process toward the enthroned Madonna and Child. Their gifts allude to the alms the deceased person had given in his lifetime. Famous mosaics depicting the Magi also appear in the churches of S.
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Maria Maggiore in Rome and S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna They observe imperial Roman court etiquette by presenting their gifts with covered hands or on trays. The gold is often in the form of a royal wreath and the star appears as an emblem of divine kingship. By the tenth century, Western artists are portraying the Wise Men with crowns.
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They grow distinguishable because they have come to stand for the three ages of man, the three known continents of the Old World, and three races descended from the sons of Noah. In later medieval art the Magi lay aside their crowns to interact with the Christ Child and receive his blessing. Swaying back and forth like they are each on camels. Clicks the tongue and smacks the camels back Wow, Thanksgiving at King Herod's place was really great!
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They halt on their camels We're supposed to be following that star. I rode my camel to the courthouse and changed it to Wise Man 1! But if they did sing praises in the streets about us, it would probably go something like. How much more-.
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I said More not Myrrh-. I spy with my little eye something brown. I spy with my little eye something grainy. I spy with my little eye something….