Saturday, December 22, 2012


The wise men - or magi - presenting gifts to Jesus in this picture were, according to tradition, Persian scholars trained in the disciplines of astrology.

Whether there were three of them is a matter of conjecture because the Bible mentions only that "wise men from the east" brought three presents for the newborn king.

Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that they were instrumental in helping the baby Jesus escape death after Herod issued a decree to have all new born boys executed.  An educated reader of the gospels would be reminded not only of the story of Moses' avoidance of a similar decree by Egypt's Pharaoh but also of the accounts of the Old Testament that describe how Cyrus the Great of Persia secured safe passage back to Jerusalem for the exiled Jews in Babylon (five hundred years earlier than the birth of Christ).

Indeed, the prophet Isaiah refers to Cyrus as the anointed one - the same term applied to Jesus.  I gather the original Hebrew term is something like our modern word 'messiah' and in ancient Greek it would be rendered like our term 'christ'.

So this nativity scene in the style of Persian art is rich with meaning and reminds us that the history of Western civilisation owes so much to the Iranians of antiquity.

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