What happened to the fourth Wise Man?

What happened to the fourth Wise Man?

The Three Wise Men have always had a great fascination, although nothing is known about them. Today we want to tell you about a character whom we know even less: the fourth Wise Man.

Before telling you who the fourth Wise Man was, it is good to remember who the three ‘canonical’ Magi Kings were. They are said to be Sages, who came from Babylon, or priests of Zoroaster. Some legends want them Kings from distant lands, Arabia, India and even China. And yet there is no definite information that they were really rulers. They came following a comet star, and so it is presumed that they were astronomers, or otherwise knowledgeable in the science of the sky.

Of the Three Wise Men, it was said and written all and the opposite of all. We also dedicated to them a very exhaustive article.

What happened to the fourth Wise Man

Read more:

Who were the Wise Men and their names
We all know the Three Wise Men as the three men who faced a long journey chasing a star with the sole purpose of paying homage.

You can not talk about Christmas without mentioning them. They are protagonists of the Nativity scene, in a sense mark the crowning of the coming of the Child Jesus, because their arrival in front of the hut, with the famous gifts, celebrates the recognition of Jesus not only by humble pastors but also in the eyes of the world of men of knowledge. Their coming coincides with the end of the Feasts, the Epiphany, and with the beginning of a much larger and more important story.

Today we want to tell you an even different story, tell you about a character almost never mentioned, just to thicken even more a mystery two thousand years old. Yet the fourth Wise Man has been present in the Christian tradition for a long time, although he has not been mentioned in any Gospel. Many legends tell of this fourth Wise Man, who never reached Bethlehem, never met Jesus, because he did not arrive in time to meet his companions and got lost along the way. It is said that his vain search has continued forever, that throughout his life he has continued to wander in search of that unique and special Child.

But let’s take a step back.

Three or four wise men?

Among all the evangelists only Saint Matthew mentioned the Three Wise Men in his Gospel: Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time of King Herod. And some of the wise men came to Jerusalem from the east, and asked: <Where is the king of the Jews who were born? We saw his star rise, and we came to worship him.>” (Matthew 2,1-2)

In fact, he did not express himself on how many were the Three Wise Men, nowhere is attested that they were only three. Only later legends have identified three, and have also given them names, although they change from tradition to tradition: Gaspare, Melchior and Balthasar.

It is likely that the number of Magi was defined by the desire to code these characters according to their symbolic value. The number 3 often occurs in Scripture and like other numbers is invested with a precise meaning. As the number 1 symbolizes for example the uniqueness of God, the number 7 the totality and completeness, the number 12 the human fullness, so the number 3 refers to the Most Holy Trinity, and not only. Like the number 7 or the number 10, the number 3 is also a symbol of perfection and completeness. Three travellers visited Abraham’s tent. Three days elapse between the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in this sense, the number 3 becomes a symbol of new life, of completeness, understood in an even higher sense.

The fourth Magio, according to legends, was called Artaban. He came from Persia and like the other three Magi, he saw the comet Star in the sky and recognized in it the sign of a great prodigy.

The gifts of the Magi

Returning to our Magi, we know that they offered the Child three gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. Even with regard to gifts, the choice is not dictated by chance. Gold was one of the most precious metals, an exclusive prerogative of the Kings, and with it, the Magio Melchior recognized the kingship of Jesus.

Gold, incense and myrrh

Read more:

Gold, incense and myrrh: the gifts that the three Magi Kings brought to the Infant Jesus
The Magi, fascinating and evocative figures of the Christmas tradition.

As for the gift of Gaspare, it was common to use essences and incense to honour the gods, so the incense he offers to Jesus is a way to affirm his divine nature.

Finally, Balthasar carried myrrh, used to produce a precious ointment used for aesthetic purposes, but also for the cult of the dead. It represents the investiture of Jesus to King and God, and in a certain sense His eternity, since the same ointment that is given to him at birth will be the one with which His body deposed from the Cross will be composed.

And what gift would the fourth wise man bring?

The fourth wise man, Artaban, brought with him three pearls to give to Jesus, as large as pigeon eggs and as white as the moon, or, according to other traditions, a pearl, a sapphire and a ruby.

three pearls

But what did happen? Artaban was unable to meet with the other Magi at the scheduled time of departure, so he set out on his own to find Jesus. But along the way, I met many poor and distressed people, and he gave them the precious treasure that should have been given to the King of Kings.

A pearl he gave to an old dying man, after having assisted and treated him.

A pearl was used to redeem a young woman enslaved.

A pearl I use to save a child who was about to be killed by a soldier of King Herod.

Artaban, the fourth King

One of the authors who devoted his attention to the story of Artaban is Henry Van Dyke, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, who in 1896 wrote the book Artaban, the fourth King. In this book he tells the story of the fourth Magio King and his pearls, accompanying him on his long and untiring journey in search of Jesus. Throughout his life Artaban continued to travel, collecting clues and searching for information about that Child to whom he would like to pay homage, guided by a star.

Finally, after thirty-three years, Artaban, now old and exhausted from his wanderings, arrived in Jerusalem. It was the time of Easter, and the city was traversed by a particular ferment, because a man, Jesus of Nazareth, was about to be executed for proclaiming himself the Son of God. Thus, when he believed that he had failed, that he had dedicated his whole life to pursuing an unattainable dream, Artaban found himself in front of the Child he had so sought, and at the highest and most dramatic moment of His mission in the world.

Artaban, on his deathbed, thus dialogues with a very sweet voice that is addressed to him in his last moments:

Artaban: “Ah, Master, I have been looking for you. Forget me. I once had precious gifts to offer you. Now I have nothing.”

Jesus: “Artaban, you have already given me your gifts.”

Artaban: “I don’t understand, my Lord.”

Jesus: “When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me a drink, when I was naked, you dressed me. When he was homeless, you took me in.”

Artaban: “It is not so, my Savior. I have never seen you hungry, nor thirsty. I have never dressed you. I have never brought you into my house. For 33 years I have sought you, but I have never seen your face and I have never helped you, my King. I have never seen you until today.”

Jesus: “When you did these things for the last, for the smallest of my brothers – you did them for me.”

It is clear the reference to Matthew 25,35-40: 35 Because I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you hosted me, 36 naked and you dressed me, sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to see me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, Lord, when have we seen thee hungry, and fed thee, thirsty, and given thee a drink? 38 When we saw you a stranger, and we took you in, or naked, and dressed you? 39 And when we saw you sick or in prison and came to see you? 40 And the king will say to them, Verily, I say unto you, every time ye have done these things to one of my younger brethren, ye have done it to me.

Thus ends the journey of Artaban, the fourth Magian King, who never arrived in Bethlehem, but who showed for his whole life such generosity as to make Jesus proud of him.

Other traditions about Artaban see him wandering the world, tormented with shame for not having been able to keep the gifts for Jesus, but even in these alternative versions the voice of the latter sooner or later comes to him in a dream to reassure him and thank him for all the good he has been able to do.

The meaning of his story does not change: every gesture of generosity made towards those who are poor, unhappy, desperate is a gesture of love towards Jesus. Artaban, the fourth Wise Man, is a role model for all of us, and not just at Christmas.