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What nationality were the Wise Men
who visited Christ?
By William Warda
Medieval Christian Assyrian icon depicts the visit of Wise-menThe white Syriac type over the blue area reads Molada or: Birth. ON the left the wise men are bringing gifts.
to Honor Christ
Assyrian or Syriac [assyrian language] traditions trace the establishment of christianity in Mesopotamia to the down of the Apostolic age and also claim that the Magi's who visited the infant Christ were of Assyrian origin .
While Western literature limits the number of the Wise men to three the Assyrian accounts claim that there were twelve Assyrians (Aturayee) astronomers who followed a bright star up to Edessa from there they sent three from among their party with presents to visit Jesus, the infant King. The Western names for the three Wisemen are Malcolm, Kasper and Bagdassar.
The etymology of the names attest to their Assyrian origin. Malkoon appears to be a corruption of the Assyrian Malkuna which means ‘little king’, Bagdhassar seems to be corruption of the Biblical Belshassar a variation of the Assyrian name Bell-shar-essur which in Akkadean it meant ‘Bell appointed a King’. Casper is Kehwa-Spar or the Morning Star. The corruption in these names is understandable as they were passed on to the West by the Greeks who had probably acquired them from other sources. (Sabro a publication of (syrian Orthodox church of America), Nov-Dec. 2000. no 7)
The fact that the fourth century Mar Aphrim, the Assyrian saint believed that the Wise Men who visited Christ were assyrians is evident in one of his hymns where he imagines the Lullaby Virgin Mary may have sang to the Child Christ after the Wise Men departed.
"My little boy:
Jews in slavery were taken to Assyria and Babylon.
Their temple was plundered.
In return [now] Assyrians brought back what was taken;
They brought gifts to you my son Jesus.
See my son the once mighty Assyrians
Today they bring gifts and worship you
The sons of the mighty, now put down king’s crowns at your feet."
The fifth century writer "Narsai Kinnara D Rukhah" (the harp of the soul) wrote:
"When the great Assyria realized this [that Christ was born] called upon the Maggie [astronomers] and told them to take gifts and present them to the Great King (christ). This will rejoice Assyria and would please Pars [Persia]." He added: "King Herod (of Israel) felt demeaned by the Assyrian [respect to the Christ by the traveling Maggie] therefore in anger he ordered the killing of the infants." (Odishu Malco Ghivargis "We are none other than Assyrians", JAAS, Vol. XIV NO. 1, 2000)
This interpretation is in reference to the following biblical account:
Matthew 2:1 - "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [*] from the east came to Jerusalem." (* Footnote: Traditionally Wise Men). Matthew 2:7 - Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Matthew 2:16 - When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Timothy I, Patriarch of the Church of the East, in a letter dated about 785 to the Bishop of Nineveh in reference to the twelve Magians (Greek magoi) who visited Christ when he was born wrote:
“If Rome is accorded the first and highest rank because of the Apostle Peter how much more should Selucia and Ctesiphon [the residence of the Church of the East Patriarchs southeast of Baghdad by the Tigris] on account of Peter’s Lord? If first rank and position is due to the people who confessed on Christ before all others, and believed in him, then we Easterners were the ones to do so. We showed our faith openly in the persons of our Twelve Envoys, who were guided by a star, and in the gifts which they offered to Christ-gold, as to the King of all kings, and the Lord of all lords; Frankincense, as to the One who is God over all; and myrrh, to signify the passion o his humanity for our sake..”
(William G. Young, “Patriarch, Shah and Caliph”, Christian Study Centre, Rawalpindi, Pakistan 1974 p. 3)