how many Magi?

I think I read somewhere that the tradition in Eastern Catholic/Orthodox churches is that there were twelve rather than three magi.
True? Can anyone fill me in?


Not that I have heard. What I heard is that we get their names from the traditions of the Eastern Churches.

Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

all that I have ever read indicated 3.

Where might you have read this? I’ve never heard of any mention of 12.

The bible never mentions the number or names of the magi.The gifts were three-gold -frankincense and myrrh-symbolizing Jeus as king ,priest and prophet. Being very rich and expensive gifts it would not be unusual to share with others the price of such a costly gift.Neither are camels mentioned or animals inside the manger.Most of our images of the Epiphany come from popular culture and not from Matthew.

If so it isn’t reflected in iconography. The Nativity icon shows three magi, typically left of the Mother of God in the cave, traveling on horseback toward the the cave.

Thats exactly it, Its easier to ‘paint’ three magi, with three gifts, than a bunch of magi, with their (most likely large) entourage.

From my personal experience in the Ukrainian Catholic tradition, it has always been Three, something we learn right from childhood when we agree to play parts in our Parishes’ Nativity Plays or “Vertep” in Ukrainian, a tradition handed down from the old country, which we as kids presented every year to the entire community in our church hall.

There were always, always 3 magi, and I know this because in our verteps - nativity plays and concerts - my acting career encompassed the chort - devil (which gave my mom palpitations because after two stunts in that gig, my brother took over for the next year as chort); and also I often played one of the 3 Wise Men (try tsari in Ukrainian). I can still remember my friend Steve as a Wiseman surprising us other two when out of a mixture of fear of forgetting his lines on stage and vanity to be best actor he strategically placed his lines in Ukrainian in cheat-sheets in the Gift Box of Treasure he was bringing and presenting - a wise man indeed at whose brazeness we could only marvel.

So long story short, every Ukrainian tradition I know of speaks of three wise men or Magi from time way back. According to the authoritative “Encyclopedia of Ukraine” (University of Toronto Press), the “Vertep” and their characters date at least back to the 16th Century with students from the Kyivan Mohyla Academy enacting them.

I assume you’re being facetious. :slight_smile: Sacred Icons are written very specifically and everything in them has a theological, sacramental meaning and purpose. “Easier” isn’t a consideration. :slight_smile:

Yes, we definitely can imagine the magi did have an entourage of servers to assist them on their very long trip and being such important guys. If we had smell-o-vision I think the Nativity Icon would be quite smelly, all those travelers, and the livestock. At least our Lord is getting a bath. :slight_smile:

The Russian Orthodox Sluzebnik (Altar Book) gives their names as Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.

I don’t know where you got the idea that the Orthodox Church says there were 12 magi.

I really can’t recall where I heard it – it’s just one of those things that I always meant to find out about.
Thanks to all who answered.

I have also heard that 12 have been claimed but I can’t recall where…We actually don’t know how many there were…I think because 3 gifts were given, it was assumed there were 3

I found this at New Advent

The Gospel narrative omits to mention the number of the Magi, and there is no certain tradition in this matter. Some Fathers speak of three Magi; they are very likely influenced by the number of gifts. In the Orient, tradition favours twelve. Early Christian art is no consistent witness:

* a painting in the cemetery of Sts. Peter and Marcellinus shows two;
* one in the Lateran Museum, three;
* one in the cemetery of Domitilla, four;
* a vase in the Kircher Museum, eight (Marucchi, "Eléments d'archéologie chrétienne", Paris, 1899, I 197).

Actually I’ve also heard mention of the number 12, (in particular reference to the Syriac Churches), but cannot recall the source (other than what was already posted). Somehow I seem to think it might have come from from Edessa, but I have nothing to support it beyond a fuzzy 35+ year old memory. It would be interesting to see if any of our Chaldean and/or ACoE members might be able to supply something more tangible.

nobody knows the exact number

From I hope it helps.

in Christian tradition, the noble pilgrims “from the East” who followed a miraculous guiding star to Bethlehem, where they paid homage to the infant Jesus as king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1–12). Christian theological tradition has always stressed that Gentiles as well as Jews came to worship Jesus—an event celebrated in the Eastern church at Christmas and in the West at Epiphany (January 6). Eastern tradition sets the number of Magi at 12, but Western tradition sets their number at 3, probably based on the three gifts of “gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11) presented to the infant. Gospel of Matthew relates how at Jerusalem they attracted the interest of King Herod I of Judaea by announcing Jesus’ birth: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). Herod extracted from them the place of Jesus’ birth, requesting that they disclose the exact spot upon their return. They continued on to Bethlehem, where they worshiped Jesus and offered him gifts. Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, “they departed to … (200 of 1078 words)

This is sort of an interesting article on the magi from beliefnet

I don’t want to ruin any thoughts of what you have held for years about the Gospel story of the Magi’s visit, but can I say that there weren’t three of them, that they weren’t kings, that they didn’t have camels, and we aren’t even sure that they were men.

When we hear the stories of Jesus’ early life, it is almost impossible to look at a text apart from what we think we know about it. For most of us, the birth stories of Matthew and Luke are entwined with one another and their Hebrew scripture roots.

In Matthew, the Magi come to a house in Bethlehem; there is no manger, no shepherds, and no heavenly host. Three gifts are named: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In Isaiah 60, gold, frankincense, and camels are listed among the tribute of nations and kings. In Psalm 72, kings bring gifts to Israel’s king and fall down before him.

You were there?

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