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Three Wise Men

The Three Wise Men, also known as the Three Magi or the Three Kings, appear in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter two. There, they appear before Jesus as a child, noting that they observed his star in the east, and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They first visit Herod, asking where the new king can be found; Herod sends them to Bethlehem, and asks that they return when they have found him. The Magi, however, are warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, and their failure to report back leads directly to the massacre of the Holy Innocents.

The Three Wise Men frequently appear in Nativity scenes and other Christmas decorations; they are featured in the Christmas carol We Three Kings. An apocryphal tradition in the West gives them the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; other cultures have different names. It is not even stated in Matthew's account that there were in fact three Wise Men; only that there was more than one Wise Man, and that there were three gifts.

Artists have used the theme to represent the three ages of man. Since the Age of Discoveries, they also represent three parts of the world. Balthasar is thus represented as a young Negro.

Christianity celebrates them on Epiphany day, January 6. In Spanish Christmas, the three kings (los Reyes Magos) receive wish letters from children and magically bring them gifts on the night before Epiphany. Cities organize cavalcades in the evening, in which the kings and their servants parade on big and throw caramels to the children (and parents) in attendance. Currently this tradition, like that of the Christmas crib and the Christmas tree, coexists with Papa Noel in Basque areas with Olentzero and in Catalonia with the [Tió de Nadal].

A Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral exists in Cologne, Germany. According to tradition, it contains the bones of the Three Wise Men.

In Ben-Hur, Balthasar is an old man who goes back to Palestine to see the former child Jesus become an adult.

See also