It was done to fulfill a request by my wife Dixie, who wanted me to do something Christmas-related.
So, why not recreate a simple iconic Christmas scene – the Magi heading into Bethlehem – but with “twists” to evoke greater interest and avoid boring stereotypes.
This led to producing “Magi Quest”. After a little research “twists” were incorporated by placing the image title directly in the work to draw attention to what the event really was; an epic journey by the Wise Men, and by silhouetting them with the Milky Way – to give them and the Guiding Star over Bethlehem a grander and more relevant celestial context.
Magi (Web- N): Plural use of “Magus” meaning a member of a hereditary priestly class among the ancient Medes and Persians, one of the traditionally three wise men from the east paying homage to the infant Jesus.
Quest (Web- N/V): search, pursuit, investigation, inquest, meaning a jury of inquest or investigation, an act or instance of seeking, pursuing, and searching, a chivalrous enterprise in medieval romance usually involving an adventurous journey, to search a trail, to go on a quest, to search for, to ask for.
We could almost stop there… …but, no… …let’s go on our own “quest” for understanding…
Whether the strict Biblical record is adhered to or outside sources are allowed to heighten understanding, the actual “Magi Quest” was really an Epic Magi Journey; full of twists and turns like: long distance arduous travel, following a natural / supernatural Guiding Star, timely directive dreams, dreams with Angels issuing warnings, high palace intrigue, and tragic mass murder – like a 5-star epic movie adventure where the Good Guys win.
The basic Biblical story line from Matthew 2: 1-16, states that the Magi set out on a long journey from the east following a Guiding Star (method of God’s Guidance), seeking to locate Jesus the New Born King, to worship Him, and give gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh (respectively for a king or ruler, god or man, living or dead). Along the way they ran into Herod in Jerusalem, and left on his orders to locate the New Born Christ Child in Bethlehem and then return to Herod to confirm their find. But, after locating the Child they were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod and instead departed for their home country by a different route. After Herod realized the Magi weren’t coming back he ordered all the new born males (two years and under) in Bethlehem and the surrounding districts killed. Herod, the political and religious elite, and “all Jerusalem” felt threatened by the New Born King. This then, involved a whole city? Leaders and followers at all levels? Whatever; they feared being usurped; no doubt feared the loss of their wealth, prestige, and position; and sought to assure the New Born King’s death by taking the extreme measure of killing thousands of children in and all around Bethlehem. The Magi had already left and weren’t around to see this – and having been warned by an Angel in a dream, Joseph and Mary also avoided this – and safeguarded The Son – by fleeing into Egypt.
The Wise Men followed the Guiding Star – and common sense says they were wise because they obeyed God, knew Who to worship, gave meaningful gifts, then got outta Dodge before the storm broke, so to speak. Smart guys!
By itself , the Biblical record is full of epic twists and turns – but what the record does not directly state about the Magi is also of interest and may help to underline just what an extreme quest they might have made. There are many interesting side questions and observations.
Were there only three Magi? Were they from more than one country? Did they start then travel the whole distance together, or meet up along the way?
The traditional “three Magi” theory comes from the fact that three gifts were given; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But, the record in Matthew just states that “wise men from the east came to Jerusalem”. There is no exact number of wise men given in the Bible. It might have been just two, or three, or even more. Folklore holds that there may have been as many as twelve. We just don’t know based on the Biblical record alone.
Mathew 2:12 states that the Magi “departed for their own country another way” after the dream warning about Herod. This sounds like all the Magi were from the same country and returned there together. But, some scholars believe this translation may also mean something like “each of the Magi departed for their own country”; meaning that they may also have broken party at some point and departed back separately or in small groups to more than one country; however many Magi or countries involved.
Without going into deep details, a linguistic study from traditions and legends of the Magi names (Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar with variant spellings and derivatives); suggests that there were only three Magi but that they might have come from widely separated countries – from some combination of what is now modern day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India and even China; all east of Bethlehem. It is also not known if they were somehow already all together in one country when their journey began – or if they met up along the way. In either case, they all “followed the Guiding Star”; completely believing the Star would lead them to the Christ Child so they could worship Him and give gifts; gifts they had to select ahead of time or along the way; gifts they might have had to transport over long distances. Whatever the case may be, this shows an elevated amount of faith, prophetic insight, coordination, deliberate preparation, arduous perseverance, and a willingness to “follow a dream message” to flexibly change directions when warned.
How far did the Magi travel?
One thought that struck me was that because they “departed a different way” back to their own country (or countries), once done, their journey back might have been much longer than the journey in. But, it also might have been shorter or the same. There is no way of knowing for certain that I am aware of. Whatever the case, the Magi trip to Bethlehem and back likely involved hundreds if not thousands of miles. Hope their camel-saddles were comfy!
Just three camels? Or, were there more, and were donkeys or other animals present as well?
As expected, camels were the predominant mode of long distance travel for that day and that fits the traditional view of the Magi. But because of the long travel distance, other camels might have been used – as well as donkeys – for pack animals. I saw just such a “camel train” made up of more than 60 camels and donkeys while overseas… …goats following. Milk? Meat?
The a forementioned points out the interesting possible twists to what we thought we knew huh?
In the end I chose to adhere to the traditional Christmas icon of three Magi on three camels heading into Bethlehem; with the Guiding Star leading the way. And Milky Way? Yes, Way!
Truly, even in its simplest form, the actual “Magi Quest” was an Epic Christmas Journey!
An aside: I finished “Magi Quest” at the beginning of The Twelve Days Of Christmas…
Time of Execution: 20 Hours
Technique / Media: Graphite Rendering, Prismacolor, Ink, Oil Pastel, Acrylic, Gouache, on Illustration Board
Size: 10” x 10”