I’ve always liked the story of “the three wise men.” My nomadic heart gets swept away by images of men with regal faces, rich robes and high turbans traveling by camel over desert sands. For years after my third son was born, my fascination drew me to Christmas cards that featured “the three wise men.” I know the Bible doesn’t say that there were exactly three magi, but I have three boys, and I pray they will follow in the wise men’s proverbial footsteps – seeking The One that the star signaled. So, my interest was naturally piqued when I ran across “The Story of the Other Wise Man” a few years ago and it has become one of my favorites.
Last week I had my literature students read it along with The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. Both stories feature a solitary man of great endurance, but the object upon which their fortitude is fixed and the outcome of their epoch struggles is quite a contrast. The word craftsmanship is also a delightfully juxtaposed. Hemmingway’s sparse style is elegant in its simplicity and relatively horizontal focus while Van Dyke’s descriptions are ethereal and roam from the dungeons of earth to the stars of heaven.
It takes the reader less than an hour to follow the other wise man on a journey of thirty-three years spent threading his way through the regions occupied by modern day Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. He is continually waylaid and slowed in his travels by a besetting compulsion to help those in need and later by a rabbi’s suggestion that the one he seeks might be found among the poor, the lowly, the sick, or the imprisoned. His story ends in Jerusalem one Passover.
The primary biblical allusion in the story comes from Matthew 25:34-40. Others include the book of Daniel, Matthew 2, Matthew 27 and Luke 11:9.