A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi
All people come to Christ as little children, but only some come as a child. There are many of us who are raised in church and led to Christ by our parents at an early age. There are others, however who find Christ as an adult, having lived long lives on a spiritual journey. These people in particular have a story to tell and it’s always worth hearing. Like the Magi, the wise men of the Bible who sought Jesus from distant lands, these people were led by their quest for the eternal.
T.S. Eliot was such a man. Eliot won the Nobel prize in literature in 1948. His literary life began as the articulate voice of despair having written works like ‘The Waste Land’ 26 years earlier in 1922. His life was forever changed five years later when he found the grace of Jesus and became His follower. His brilliant work ‘Journey of the Magi’ was published in August of 1927, two months after his conversion and it describes the quest timelessly.
Journey of the Magi remains one of the poet’s best-known and beloved works for its vividness of detail and its ability to invoke the imagination of its readers. The poem rests firmly upon one of the most profound mysteries arising out of the tale of the birth of Jesus Christ: how are we to understand the relationship between the Christ-child’s birth and his eventual death on a Roman cross? In what sense is he a child ‘destined to die’? And perhaps even more importantly for the reader, what difference does his death mean for me?
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Literature: T.S. Eliot reading his poem
(μάγοι, magoi). Designation for a group of men who arrive in Jerusalem looking for a newly born “King of the Jews.” They eventually find Jesus in Bethlehem, where they pay homage and bestow costly gifts.
In the 12th c., artists began to depict the magi as representatives of the three known parts of the world: Balthasar is African or Moor, Caspar is given Indian features or dress. Melchior represents Europe. Rembrandt’s 1632 magi painting (shown in this post) is one of three he created, each of them featuring a variation on the Moor, the Indian, and the elderly European on bended knee.
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Bruns, J. Edgar. “The Magi Episode in Matthew 2.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23, no. 1 (Jan 1961): 51–54.
Carter, Warren. “Between Text and Sermon: Matthew 2:1–12.” Interpretation 67, no. 1 (Jan 2013): 64–67.
Maalouf, Tony T. “Were the Magi from Persia or Arabia?” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (October 1999): 423–42.
Nolland, John. “The Sources for Matthew 2:1–12.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 60, no. 2 (Apr 1998): 283–300.
Yamauchi, Edwin M. Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1990.