An image by Robert T. Barrett illustrating The Other Wise Man, written in 1895 by Henry van Dyke, published by Harper and Brothers. Van Dyke tells the story of Artaban, a wise man from Persia who, 2,000 years ago, planned to set out with the other three wise men — Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar (link and link) — to find the Christ Child, but was delayed along the way…
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem…” —Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 2:1)
“Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.”
—Henry van Dyke, the opening verses in his book “The Other Wise Man” (published in 1895, 126 years ago now)
Letter #2, 2022, Monday, January 3: Artaban, Part #6
As the new year begins, I am continuing to publish daily readings in 10 parts of a little-known fictional story about… a fourth “wise man”(!) from the East named Artaban — for reasons I gave in my Letter #197, sent out at the end of last year…
Artaban, like the other wise men, his friends, planned in about 2 B.C. to set out from Persia to seek and honor the Child Jesus.
But Artaban is delayed on his way, and does not arrive in Bethlehem in time to see the new-born Jesus.
Here below is the text of Part #6 of this story, so you may listen to the reading and read along with the text…
“The Other Wise Man”
We have now posted the 6th in a 10-part series of a reading of the classic Christmas story “The Other Wise Man.” It is available here on YouTube (or by clicking the video below) or on Rumble.
The story was written by Henry Van Dyke in 1895 (link). We offer this to you as a kind of Christmas present during the 12 days of Christmas. We hope that it might be a type of pilot for the creation of a kind of “book club” in which we would prepare readings of great stories and documents to try to help families, especially during this time of lockdown, to have time for reading together with children and grandchildren, during the holidays, and throughout the year. If you have a comment or suggestion, please feel free to respond to this email, or send an email to [email protected]
Here is the text of Part #6 of the story of “The Other Wise Man,” by Henry van Dyke:
Part #6: The Other Wise Man
By Henry van Dyke
It was already long past midnight. Artaban rode in haste, and Vasda, restored by the brief rest, ran eagerly through the silent plain and swam the channels of the river. She put forth the remnant of her strength, and fled over the ground like a gazelle.
But the first beam of the sun sent her shadow before her as she entered upon the final stadium of the journey, and the eyes of Artaban, anxiously scanning the great mound of Nimrod and the Temple of the Seven Spheres, could discern no trace of his friends.
The many-colored terraces of black and orange and red and yellow and green and blue and white, shattered by the convulsions of nature, and crumbling under the repeated blows of human violence, still glittered like a ruined rainbow in the morning light.
Artaban rode swiftly around the hill. He dismounted and climbed to the highest terrace, looking out towards the west.
The huge desolation of the marshes stretched away to the horizon and the border of the desert. Bitterns stood by the stagnant pools and jackals skulked through the low bushes; but there was no sign of the caravan of the wise men, far or near.
At the edge of the terrace he saw a little cairn of broken bricks, and under them a piece of parchment. He caught it up and read: “We have waited past the midnight, and can delay no longer. We go to find the King. Follow us across the desert.”
Artaban sat down upon the ground and covered his head in despair.
“How can I cross the desert,” said he, “with no food and with a spent horse? I must return to Babylon, sell my sapphire, and buy a train of camels, and provision for the journey. I may never overtake my friends. Only God the merciful knows whether I shall not lose the sight of the King because I tarried to show mercy.”
For the Sake of a Little Child
THERE was a silence in the Hall of Dreams, where I was listening to the story of the Other Wise Man. And through this silence I saw, but very dimly, his figure passing over the dreary undulations of the desert, high upon the back of his camel, rocking steadily onward like a ship over the waves.
The land of death spread its cruel net around him. The stony wastes bore no fruit but briers and thorns. The dark ledges of rock thrust themselves above the surface here and there, like the bones of perished monsters.
Arid and inhospitable mountain ranges rose before him, furrowed with dry channels of ancient torrents, white and ghastly as scars on the face of nature. Shifting hills of treacherous sand were heaped like tombs along the horizon.
By day, the fierce heat pressed its intolerable burden on the quivering air; and no living creature moved on the dumb, swooning earth, but tiny jerboas scuttling through the parched bushes, or lizards vanishing in the clefts of the rock.
By night the jackals prowled and barked in the distance, and the lion made the black ravines echo with his hollow roaring, while a bitter, blighting chill followed the fever of the day. Through heat and cold, the Magian moved steadily onward.
Then I saw the gardens and orchards of Damascus, watered by the streams of Abana and Pharpar, with their sloping swards inlaid with bloom, and their thickets of myrrh and roses.
I saw also the long, snowy ridge of Hermon, and the dark groves of cedars, and the valley of the Jordan, and the blue waters of the Lake of Galilee, and the fertile plain of Esdraelon, and the hills of Ephraim, and the highlands of Judah.
Through all these I followed the figure of Artaban moving steadily onward, until he arrived at Bethlehem.
And it was the third day after the three wise men had come to that place and had found Mary and Joseph, with the young child, Jesus, and had lain their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh at his feet.
Then the other wise man drew near, weary, but full of hope, bearing his ruby and his pearl to offer to the King. “For now at last,” he said, “I shall surely find him, though it be alone, and later than my brethren. This is the place of which the Hebrew exile told me that the prophets had spoken, and here I shall behold the rising of the great light. But I must inquire about the visit of my brethren, and to what house the star directed them, and to whom they presented their tribute.”
(To be continued)