Happy Holidays from GemSelect
Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with the story of Jesus Christ being born on Christmas Day to Mary who immaculately conceived the holy baby and gave birth in a stable in Bethlehem. Part of the story tells of a bright star appearing in the east, guiding wise men to the newborn "King of the Jews". The three wise men worshipped the baby Jesus and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Many may not have heard of another story by Henry van Dyke called "The Other Wise Man". This story was published in 1895 and tells of a fourth wise man. This is an interesting story that has been dramatized several times, including a 1985 TV film starring Martin Sheen.
Henry van Dyke's story centers on the character of Artaban who is a priest from Persia. Artaban, like the biblical wise men, sees a bright star in the east as a sign that the King of the Jews has been born. Artaban sells his house and possessions to buy three jewels; a ruby, a sapphire and a pearl, to present to the King of the Jews. The sapphire is described as "blue as a fragment of the night sky", the ruby, "redder than a ray or sunrise" and the pearl is "one as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at twilight". Although Artaban intends the three precious gemstones to be gifts for the baby Jesus, he encounters three situations that cause him to give up the gems. First, on his journey by the rivers of Babylon, Artaban sees a man lying across the road. The man is suffering from a deadly fever and inspires pity in Artaban, who cares for the sick man. This act of compassion causes Artaban to be too late to join the three other wise men on their journey, who go ahead without him, so he decides to return to Babylon to sell the sapphire for a train of camels with which to cross the desert. Thus Artaban makes his way across the harsh desert with his ruby and pearl remaining.
When Artaban arrives at Bethlehem, he stops at the house of a woman with a baby, to ask the whereabouts of his brethren. Whilst at the house, the soldiers of Herod enter the village with the purpose of killing all the young babies. When the soldiers try to force entry into the house, Artaban stops them, telling one that he is alone and will give a precious jewel to be left in peace. He then shows the red ruby "glistening in the hollow of his hand like a great drop of blood". The captain sees the ruby and cannot resist. The soldiers are told by their greedy captain that there are no babies in that house and march on. The life of the child is thus saved by the compassion of Artaban, who now only has a pearl to offer as a gift for Jesus, which had "a mellower lustre, a soft and iridescent light, full of shifting gleams of azure and rose, trembled on its surface. It seemed to have absorbed some reflection of the colors of the lost sapphire and ruby... It becomes more luminous and precious the longer it is carried close to the warmth of the beating heart."
At this point in the story, Artaban has been traveling as a pilgrim for thirty-three years. He now has white hair, is "worn and weary and ready to die". He travels to Jerusalem once again to make one last effort to find Jesus. Artaban finds a commotion in Nazareth, with Jesus being crucified on that very day. Artaban sets out to find Jesus and on his way, he sees a troop of soldiers dragging a young girl, who begs Artaban to help her, since she is going to be sold as a slave. Without hesitation, Artaban takes out the pearl, "never had it seemed so luminous, so radiant, so full of tender, living lustre". His action sparks an almighty earthquake that sends the soldiers scurrying away. A tile from a nearby roof falls and strikes Artaban on his head and as he lays dying, a voice tells him that what he "hast done unto one of the least of these of my brethren, thou hast done unto me". Thus, he finds God.
We hope that you enjoyed the story and we wish you a wonderful holiday, whether you are celebrating New Year, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other of the world winter festivals.
- First Published: November-25-2014
- Last Updated: January-23-2019
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