They are one of the most recognised symbols of the festive season, emulated in nativity plays all over the world and whose imagery adorns the front of millions of Christmas cards.
However the three wise men who presented the newborn baby Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh could have been larger in numbers if a new interpretation of an ancient document is correct.
An eighth-century script has been translated into English for the first time and throws an incredible new light on the Christmas story.
The translation of the mysterious ‘Revelation of the Magi’ describes how the three wise men actually numbered over a dozen and came from a faraway land, possibly China.
The Magi was the term, used from at least the fourth century BC, for ancient stargazers who were able to read and manipulate the fate foretold in the skies.
The script also reveals how it was Jesus himself who was the famous star followed by the Magi.
Brent Landau, a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma, spent two years translating the eighth-century text from its original Syriac.
The document has been held in the Vatican for 250 years and the story is thought to have been first told in the late second, or early third, century.
This takes it back to possibly just 100 years after Matthew wrote his Gospel – the only one to include the story of the Magi.
Matthew never mentions how many the Magi numbered; they are described as three wise men simply because there were three gifts.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail
Kerry Mcqueeney and Katie Silver