We Three Kings (Kings of Orient)
DESCRIPTION: "We three kings of orient are, Bearing gifts we travel afar." The three "kings" come from different lands to visit the Christ Child; they offer their gifts and explain that they have been guided by a star
AUTHOR: John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891)
EARLIEST DATE: 1865 (sheet music); probably composed 1857, and there is a published edition with a dedication claiming a date of 1863
KEYWORDS: Jesus Bible Christmas carol religious
REFERENCES (5 citations):
OBC 195, "Kings of Orient" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuld-WFM, pp. 627-628, "We Three Kings"
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #94, "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (1 text)
Robert J. Morgan, _Then Sings My Soul, Book 2: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories_, Nelson, 2004, pp. 88-89, "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "The Golden Carol (The Three Kings)" (subject)
We Three Kings (The Rubber Cigar) (Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 115; DT, WE3KING2)
We Three Kings of Orient Are (New Zealand parody from Fred Dagg/John Clarke) (GarlandFaces-NZ, p. 297)
NOTES [293 words]: The basis for this song is Matthew 2:1-12. The story has been expanded and modified heavily, however. We note the following:
1. There is no reason to believe that there were three visitors. All we know is that they gave three gifts. Their names are completely unknown. They may not even have been from the east (the orient); it was the *star* which was in the east.
2. The visitors were not kings and were not wise men. They were "magi" -- Babylonian mystics and perhaps astrologers. Jews would generally consider magi to be evil sorcerers (the Greek word "magos," apart from the uses in Matt. 2:1, 7, 16, is used only in Acts 13:6, 8 of Simon Magus, a magician who claimed to be "the great power of God").
According to Montague Rhodes James, editor, Latin Infancy Gospels: A New Text, with a Parallel Version from Irish, Cambridge University Press, 1927 (I use the 2009 Wipf & Stock paperback reprint), p. xxvii, "It is not before the sixth century that [the Magi are]... described [as kings], at least commonly, though Kerhrer quotes a passage from Tertullian (adv. Marc. III.13) which is capable of being interpreted in that sense."
LindaJo H. McKim, Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993, p. 64, says that Hopkins published this song in his Carols, Hymns, and Songs in 1857, but I have been unable to verify a date before 1865. McKim, pp. 64-65, says that Hopkins was born in Pittsburg in 1820 and went to the University of Vermont and General Theological Seminary. He worked as a pastor and ten became professor of church music at General Theological Seminary. He also edited a religious magazine and designed stained glass windows. He died in Hudson, New York in 1891. I know of nothing else memorable from his pen. - RBW
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