Tuesday, January 6, 2015


(Not to be confused with the old Henry Van Dyke story, "The Other Wise Man.")

The French writer Michael Tournier wrote a wonderful treatment of the “fourth wise man” legend in his 1982 novel, “The Four Wise Men.” (In the event you think you might actually read this novel, I would suggest you stop here and go do that; otherwise, read on.)

The last two paragraphs of the book have stayed with me over the years, and I offer them on this January 6th as a kind of Epiphany devotional. Here is a brief set-up: The fourth wise man, Taor, Prince of Mangalore, was late in setting out, and the other three had no choice but to start without him. Once he does begin his journey, he meets with many delays and misfortunes, the greatest of which is being imprisoned in the salt mines of Sodom. His travails and prison sentence take such a toll of time, that, having set out in search of a newborn baby, he is not able to pick up the trail until 33 years have passed; he is now an old man. But he does pick up the trail. Released from the mines, and having learned from a fellow prisoner that the baby grew to be a prophet named Jesus, who blessed the poor and spoke of peace, Taor sets off and makes inquiries along the way. He hears one report after another, he is getting closer. Finally, he learns that on that very day Jesus and his disciples are having the Passover meal at the home of one Joseph of Arimathea, and that he may be able to find him there if he hurries. After some vague directions, he comes upon the room. Here are those concluding paragraphs:
“The room was empty. Once again he had come too late. People had eaten at this table. There were still thirteen wide, shallow goblets, each with a squat foot and two handles. In some of the goblets there were still a few pieces of the unleavened bread which the Jews eat at Passover time in memory of their fathers’ flight from Egypt.
“Taor’s head reeled. Bread and wine! He reached for a goblet and raised it to his lips. He picked up a piece of unleavened bread and ate it. Then he toppled forward, but he did not fall. The two angels, who had been watching over him since he left the salt mines, gathered him into their great wings. The night sky opened, revealing a sea of light, and into it they bore the man who, after having been last, the eternal latecomer, had just been the first to receive the Eucharist.”

The Four Wise Men, Grand Staircase
National Monument, Utah