Who are the Magi: Balthazar, Gaspard and Melchior

The Magi are part of culture, whether you are Christian or not. Today, they are still present in some of our traditions such as the Epiphany. We explain in our article the story of the Magi, who would have lived in the first century and played a prominent role with the child Jesus, as described in the Gospel according to Matthew.

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Article plan The

  • Magi: Where did they come from?
  • Who are the Magi Kings?
    • From Jerusalem to Bethlehem in Judea
  • The arrival of the Magi near Jesus
  • Gold, incense, myrrh: the gifts of the Magi to Jesus
  • The Magi and the Epiphany: January 6

The Magi: Where did they come from?

The Magi are three in number. In the Gospel according to Matthew, in the Bible, it is reported that three rich and powerful figures arrive from Jerusalem to worship the child Jesus in Bethlehem, just after the announcement of his birth.

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It is told, in the story of Saint Matthew, that the Magi are fine astronomers and that they manage to spot themselves by looking at the sky. E One of the stars shines more than the others: it is the Star of the Shepherd (Venus, a priori), Christmas Star, Star of the Magi, Star of Bethlehem or Polar Star, located to the North. The Wise Men predict by observing the stars that the birth of the King of the Jews will take place.

Following the Star of the Shepherd of the Eyes and observing it, all three of them manage to go to the stable of Joseph and Mary, where the said miracle of the birth of the child Jesus will take place. The Magi come in adoration of Jesus: “worship” is one of the most represented symbols in the history of Christianity, especially in painting.

The Magi come to see the child but arrive with their hands full of gifts, as gifts for the king of kings who was born. Their symbolic gifts are incense, myrrh and gold, the symbol of which will be detailed below.

Who are the Magi Kings?

The Magi are three characters who would have existed. It is mentioned in the Gospel according to Matthew but not in the other Gospels, which is surprising. Three are the Kings named Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar respectively.

They are oriental characters whose existence is still celebrated through the Epiphany, which celebrates every year on January 6th among Christians from the West.

The names of Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar appeared only late in tradition, in the 6th century or even perhaps in the 8th century AD , in a Latin manuscript. The Magi, however, would have come from different continents to meet in Jerusalem and make the way together to Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of Jesus.

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem in Judea

These three Kings arrive and present themselves exactly 12 days after the birth of the child Jesus. In the Gospel according to Matthew, the names of the three Magi do not appear, nor even the number of three kings. Nothing greatly historical can be decrypted in this narrated story, which is confusing.

Saint Matthew would have recounted history 70 to 90 years after the birth of Jesus but does not extend to these mysterious astrologers or astronomers. Their existence is therefore disputed at the level of history, but nevertheless it remains a very important traditional holiday for the majority of Christians. The Kings would not have been Kings, nor perhaps even three! In his gospel and in the New Testament, St. Matthew refers to magi, who in reality may have been simply astrologers, or renowned astronomers who knew how to read in the stars.

By gathering their knowledge, the Magi traveled a journey together with the idea of bringing highly symbolic gifts to worship Jesus, who they believed was the incarnation of the king of the Jews . The story of the Magi Kings is therefore romanced and often told as a legend in which several references to beliefs borrowed and prior to Christianity appear.

Arrival of the Kings Magi near Jesus

If we stick to tradition, let us call the three Magi Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar. When these three eminent characters set out together towards the star, we know, by inference, that they would have come from Persia or Babylonia, where the profession of mage was indeed recognized and practiced. These were divination, medicine and astrology .

Persia corresponds to current Iran and Iraq. parallels have also been made between Zoroastrianism (Zarathustra) and Christianity. Zoroastrianism was reportedly professed 400 years earlier and also predicted the coming of a Messiah, which would justify the approach of these three characters from the East.

When the Magi arrived near Jesus, they lay down valuable gifts: gold, myrrh, incense.

Gold, incense, myrrh: the gifts of the Magi to Jesus

The Magi arrive with unusual gifts for Jesus. These gifts are sumptuous, expensive and are rare.

Gaspard offers myrrh to the child Jesus. Myrrh is then used for embalming the dead. Myrrh represents the strong symbol of human life and death. This is related to the fact that Jesus was above all a human being. Myrrh would be a symbol of Jesus’ death on the cross.

By the way, Gaspard is often depicted as coming from Persia, and looks like a white-haired old man. Gaspard plays an important role because he refuses to denounce Jesus as the King of the Jews before King Herod. The three kings then returned to their respective lands.

Melchior offers incense to the child Jesus. Incense is a strong symbol: it is about honoring the deities, and therefore God, here. Jesus is therefore recognized as a human being but also as a divine being. His divinity is recognized by the Magi by this present.

Melchior is often portrayed as a young male character, with a face reminiscent of Asian features, especially in India.

Balthazar offers gold to the child Jesus. Gold is a gift reserved for kings. By offering gold to Jesus, Melchior performed a strong symbolic act. He acknowledges by this gesture the fact that Jesus is truly, according to what the Magi read in the stars, a king, and not just one: the King of the Jews.

Balthazar is often depicted with a black face. He would be the descendant of Ham, himself the son of Noah. Balthazar represents Arabia and admits the kingship of Jesus.

The Magi and the Epiphany: January 6

In the nursery that is made before Christmas, we often depict the three kings who arrive on January 6 to bring their gifts, 12 days after the birth of the child Jesus on Christmas night.

The Magi are placed near Mary, Joseph the carpenter and the animals, in the stable that saw Jesus be born. Epiphany is today a somewhat commercial festival (in France). Among Christians all over the world, the Epiphany is not celebrated in the same way. For example, in Spain and in Iberian culture, gifts are only open on January 6, the day of Reyes (the Kings).

January 6 represents the day of the adoration of Jesus by the Magi. Epiphany means “apparition” in Greek. The Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday of January in France. This day is not a holiday unlike Christmas. On the day of the Epiphany, we eat a cake of the Kings. The Galette des Rois, by the way, can be made in various ways depending on the regions and culinary traditions. Franginane , brioche with candied fruits, natural brioche with orange blossom water… The variants of the galette des Kings de l’Epiphany are more numerous every year, depending on the inventiveness of chefs cuisine!

Today, many festivals are “diverted” in order to meet the needs of consumption. Traditionally, we buy a galette des Kings as a family. A bean is placed upstream of baking, in the patty. The youngest of the family then places himself under the table at the time of cutting and distributes the shares by naming the person. The happy person who finds the bean in his share de galette des Rois finds himself king (or queen) and can choose his queen (or king). A wreath of paper is supplied with the cake that is bought in bakeries.

The Galette des Rois is found throughout January in the bakeries of France. Beyond history and its great mysteries, the galette des Rois is a fun moment to spend with the family, with the children!