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January 2019

The story of the other Wise Man

Judy East

As we enter this period between Epiphany and Easter this might be a good time to think about Arteban - the other wise man.  No don't rush for your bible, you won't find his story there, but legend has it .........

Arteban lived in Persia and like all good magi of the period he studied the stars and came to the same conclusion - there was to be a special event in a country to the West and he had to be there.   But Arteban wasn't rich, and he couldn't raise the money for his journey and a suitable gift in a hurry.  But at last he had his camel, his supplies and three beautiful gems to give the king.  Off he went.  It was a long, tedious journey and Arteban met many people on the way.  One day he came across a dying man and stopped to help him.  The man had nothing so Arteban sold one of his gems to buy comforts and medicines and stayed with the man till he died.   Then off he went again.

Arriving in Bethlehem he set about looking for the new king.  Eventually he found a woman with a child who told him all about Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the strange events, the threat from Herod and the family's escape to Egypt.  How disappointed Arteban must have been to find he'd missed them!  Could he follow them?  He would of course but even as he thanked the woman Herod's soldiers burst into her house looking for babies to kill.  Arteban stepped in their path, gave them his second gem and persuaded them to leave the woman and her child alone.   Now he had only one small gift instead of the magnificent three he had set off with but still the urge to find the king, and now he knew him as Jesus, drew him to follow the family to Egypt.   

He never found them.  Finally accepting that he'd missed his chance, missed perhaps the most important event of his lifetime, he continued his travels, never finding Jesus but helping the poor wherever he went until, 30 years later, old and ill, he found himself in Jerusalem.   Jerusalem!  Passover.  A city in turmoil. Unrest, riots, the rumoured trial of a charismatic leader.  Jesus!  Jesus?  The king he'd spent his life looking for?  He still had the gem.  He could use it - bribe Pilate, Herod, someone - surely it would buy Jesus' freedom!  Perhaps it wasn't too late after all.  But as he made his way through the streets he came across a disturbance, a woman crying, begging for mercy, her husband dead, his debts unpaid, she was being sold into slavery.  How could he turn his back on her?  Arteban took out his one remaining gem and paid for the woman's freedom.    The woman was full of gratitude but Arteban hardly noticed as he stumbled away.  He had failed, he had never found Jesus and now with his lifelong wish unfulfilled a falling tile hit him on the head.  It was all for nothing, all over he thought but then, as his eyes closed for the last time he heard a voice "As you did it for the least of these my brethren you did it for me."  

*This story exists in plays and operas and seems to have been first written up by Henry van Dyke in 1895, who says he was only rewriting an ancient legend. 

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