The stories of Jesus birth are surrounded by myths and legends, some specific to certain cultures. A little boy brings a lamb, an ox and an ass look over the crib… Many of the stories have developed to convey the beliefs of Christians.
The well known, and somewhat eccentric 19th Century Vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall, R S Hawker, retold an Armenian myth about the three wise men, and also of what became of the Star of Bethlehem. (An interesting connection here with an earlier post about the night sky in Zimbabwe).
In 1854 Hawker write:
“According to an ancient Armenian legend, the three sons of Noah were raised from the dead to represent all mankind at Bethlehem. According to another, they slept a deep sleep in a cavern on Ararat until the Messiah was born, and then an angel aroused and showed them The Southern Cross, then first created to be the beacon of their way.
When the starry signal had fulfilled its office it went on, journeying towards the south, until it reached its place to bend above The Peaceful Sea in memorial of the Child Jesu.”
(From Notes and Queries 1854)
Hawker went on to put the Armenian legend into verse:
Three ancient men, in Bethlehem’s cave,
With awful wonder stand:
A Voice had call’d them from their grave
In some far Eastern land!
They lived: they trod the former earth,
When the old waters swell’d:—
The ark, that womb of second birth,
Their house and lineage held!
Pale Japhet bows the knee with gold;
Bright Shem sweet incense brings:
And Ham—the myrrh his fingers hold—
Lo! the Three Orient Kings!
Types of the total earth, they hail’d
The signal’s starry frame:—
Shuddering with second life, they quail’d
At the Child Jesu’s name!
Then slow the patriarchs turn’d and trod,
And this their parting sigh—
“Our eyes have seen the living God,
And now, once more to die!”
And the words have been put to the music of Frederick William Herschel, a musician, and also appropriately, an astronomer (he discovered the planet Uranus).