by Carl Nellis ***Exposition: If we follow church tradition, Melchior was Persian. At the end of the first century BC, Persia was ruled by the Parthian Empire, and was as unstable as Crimea is today. The last fifty years had seen decades of conflict with Rome and bloody civil wars. The Parthian king Phraates IV, who killed his father and brothers to take the Parthian throne in 37 BC, made peace with Augustus Caesar sometime before the turn of the century, likely so that he could focus his attention on ruling a turbulent empire. To secure this peace, he sent four of his sons to Rome as hostages. In 2 BC, Phraates IV was killed by his Roman wife, Musa of Thrace, who married their son and seized power for herself. This was the land that Melchior would have left behind to worship "one born king of the Jews."

Seen from where we are today, this looks like a dark world in a dark time: political control seized and misused for personal gain, armies crossing and recrossing the landscape, the next generation literally traded to foreign powers to advance the purposes of the current regime. This puts Israel's Herod in context for me. The Magi who met him would not be unfamiliar with the scheming of corrupt and violent princes.

I wonder what it was like to be a servant of Melchior, traveling with him to Jerusalem looking for a newborn king. What would a camel driver think of a Magus, a philosopher, a priest, who left a mangled homeland behind to worship a foreign baby? Relief, resentment, grief, apathy, wonder, confusion? ***



I hear from outside

The tent their talk,

Waving like wands

Along the oasis,


I see

We are

What is



Too small

To see


Light offers itself

Onto my feet

From the open flap,

My leather sandal straps






Tattered. My fingers

Stiff from driving toward

Jerusalem all month--

Tugging at the bit,






Fumble in the half light

Of the oil lamps hanging

Inside. To overhear I

Must myself be silent.


Little tongue

Secret little fire

And eye


Silver sand

Scattered in the ink

Flowing out


Melchior's words lifted

From the marks on his skin,

Spoken aloud to the rest

Hiding from the dark.


Without the silk walls

We, whom Phraates did not

Send to Rome, huddle around

dim fires before sleep.



Gentle and good

At the horizon