From The East to Cologne: The Myths of Wise Men from the East through the Ages
From the East to Cologne: The Myth of the Wise Men from the Eeast through the Ages. Borrowed from the pericope of the feast of Epiphany as recounted by St Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12) , the narrative of the magi from the East has been perpetuated through apocryphal gospels, monographs, drama, novels, poems, religious and secular research papers. The myth of the Wise Men reached its culmination point in the Middle Ages with the publication of the apocryphal gospels such as the Evangelium Infantiae Arabicum, The Armenian Childhood of Jesus and more specially, John of Hildesheim's Liber Gestis Tria Beatissimorum Trium Regum. Through the ages, the anonymous characters from nowhere in the East fascinated medieval story tellers and church fathers and they were soon reduced to three, names were assigned to them and clad in costumes with specific colours imbued with particular symbolism. Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea, and theologians such as Tertullian, Petrus Comestor, Origen and many others explained the symbolism of these elusive characters whose presence in Matthew's Gospel is often viewed as a fabrication of tinsel and glitterwax that is evocative of a typical tale of a fairy birth. Medieval theatre audiences and church-goers were treated to the reenactment of the splendiferous advent of the exotic oriental royals in the City of Judah. The fascination with magi has led to the creation of works by modern writers such as Henry van Dyke,s The Story of the Other Wise Man, Michel Tournier's Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar, T. S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi", W B Yates's "The Magi"' and many more. Curiosity about the myths of the magi has also inspired scientists who studied the phenomenon of the star that was supposed to have guided them to the cave where Christ was born. Towards the end of the twentieth century, a German pharmaceutical company, Bayer, had the sarcophagus containing the relics of the three kings opened, so that they could be examined scientifically. The remains were removed from Cologne Cathedral and scientific tests were performed on them. The purpose of this paper is to explore the extent to which the myths of the Wise Men have evolved from their beginning to the present and at the same time provide a cogent demonstration of how artistic creation can paint vivid characters from a vague description in the original text. In fact, the palimpsests of Matthew's Gospels are more descriptive than the archetypal text.
Keywords: Theology, apocryphal gospels, poetry, novel, drama and art.
Prof Sibusiso Hyacinth Madondo
Associate Professor, Department of Classics and Modern European Languages (French), University of South Africa