(A movie was made with Martin Sheen – The Fourth Wise Man )
In the traditions of the Magi, there is no story more intriguing than that of the mysterious 4th Magi. The historical number was settled on three Magi, Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar. But history can’t seem to shake the fourth most popular Magi, Artaban!
In the recently translated REVELATION OF THE MAGI, there were twelve sons of kings mentioned as the Magi. One of the sons was Zarwandad, son of Artaban. Strangely enough, this lines up with the old legend of Artaban nicely. It also coincides with an Armenian prince, Artabanus, who died at the hands of the Sassanian usurper and conqueror, Ardashir. Artabanus was the last Arsacid ruler of the Parthian Empire and his death ushered in a completely new age in the area.
The Artaban of legend was recorded as preparing for the journey together with the other well known wisemen. He sold all he had and bought three gems (a sapphire, a ruby and a pearl); all nearly priceless. Starting out on his journey, he was a bit behind his commrades. Within a day of Jerusalem, he found a Jewish man near dead in his path. After deliberating what to do, stop and help this poor man and risk being late connecting with the other Magi or leave him. Of course he stopped and helped him although it threw him behind. But he realized he needed supplies and men for protection so he used one of the gems to purchase these and move on. Luckily, before he left the Jewish man in need, the man told him of the prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This helped him get a leg up on his brothers and maybe catch up.
In Bethlehem, Artaban found a citizen that seemed to have way too much information about the goings on of his Magi brothers and the young couple they visited. The bottom line was that all were gone; the Magi’s direction was hidden to her, but Mary and her child (yes, she used her name and home of Nazareth) went to Egypt, she thought. Unfortunately, he was interrupted by the cries of the mothers as the Roman soldiers marched through the streets killing the children. Being the good man that he was, he rushed and saved one child by bribing the Roman Soldier with another of his priceless gems.
For 33 years, Artaban stayed in Israel helping the sick, poor and downtrodden with the money he acquired from the sale of the first gem. With only one gem left, he guarded the last gem with his life. He was now an old man; stooped over and with white hair. But it didn’t stop him from hoping until the day he got word that the Anointed One had appeared in Judea. The tales of his miracles and deeds made Artaban’s heart leap! He traveled directly to Judea and found everyone going to the the FEAST OF THE PASSOVER. Inquiring of the crowds about this JESUS, he was told to go to GOLGOTHA for the messiah he had lived his life to find was scheduled to be executed.
On his way to see his Master, he came upon a group of soldiers dragging a young girl off to prison. She saw that he was Persian like her and began to beg and plead for help. Once again he was faced with a dilemma. After struggling with the situation, he, of course, gave his last gem to free the girl from her bondage. Thinking himself unworthy to bring even one gift to the one he had sought after for so long, he continued on as the midday sky grew dark. The earth shook violently throwing rocks from the houses. One such rock struck the elder Artaban, knocking the elderly man to the ground. Dying and bleeding, he was visited by a ghostly image of a man. As people tried to care for him, he apparently began to talk with the invisible figure for he answered:
“Lord,” he uttered, “but when did I see you hungry and fed you? When did I see you thirsty and gave you to drink? Thirty-three years I looked for you and not once did I see your face; never was I able to serve you, My King.”
The image of his LORD spoke back, “Truly I say to you, all that you ever did for your needy brothers you did for Me.”
Artaban’s journey ended with finding the one whom he searched for all of his life. And, although he came empty handed, his gifts were acceptable to King of Kings.
We’d be lucky to end the same way.