Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.
After my famlily moved to Provo in the early 90s, we started the tradition of going to see holiday sites in Salt Lake City between Christmas and the New Year. We would usually get exotic mall food at the Crossroads Mall, look at the ZCMI window displays and walk by the Lion House. Of course, we would see the lights at Temple Square. We would also see a movie at one of the many theaters in the Visitors Center. Over time we saw every holiday-themed film they had in the rotation. This week we will focus on one of them: The Story of the Other Wise Man.
This 22-minute film was produced by Bonneville Communications for the church, and, in my memory, is one of the church’s few animated films. The quality of animation is typical of that of the era. It’s based on a story written by Henry Van Dyke originally published in 1895 and tells the tale of Artaban—a magi of the Medes people of Persia (a people that lived in the mountainous region of what is now Northern Iran).
The film opens with Artaban riding his horse through the desert. In his hand are a ruby, a sapphire and a pearl. We cut to a palace gathering and we hear Artaban’s father questioning his decision to sell his home and all his possessions to get these treasures.
Artaban tells them of signs revealed from the stars and an ancient prophecy of a king that would be born with a sign of light from the heavens. Other people question his interpretation. Artaban invites them all to go on a quest with him to meet this king. He has been consulting with 3 other wise men and they have determined the time for the birth is nigh. They will wait for him 10 days after the new star appears. One by one his friends and family members decline his offer.
His father offers him a few final words:
“Those who wish to see great things must also be willing to travel by themselves.”
Cut to Artaban on a rooftop at night. The star of Bethlehem appears and he is excited to begin his journey to meet the three Wise Men. We next see him racing across the desert. He endures treacherous terrain and sandstorms but the star shines on. His horse falters, but he offers words of encouragement and the horse surges forward.
He finally arrives at Babylon on the evening of the 10th day, but he is still 3 hours away from the temple where he is to meet the Wise Men. He is about to continue on, but he is stopped by the sight of an old man lying in the path. Artaban thinks him dead, but he moans. Artaban struggles internally. If he stops to help the man he will miss the meeting with the Wise Men. He decides to help the man. He gives him water, feeds him and tends to his wounds. He leaves him food and healing herbs and leaves to try and catch up to the Wise Men. The old man has nothing to offer other than information that the King will be born in Bethlehem and not Jerusalem.
He arrives at the temple and finds a note from the Wise Men who urge him to cross the desert and follow them. He has no supplies and his horse is exhausted. He decides he must sell his sapphire and trusty steed to buy camels and supplies so he can make the long journey.
We see Artaban on a travel montage through the desert. He pauses for water and is scared by a snake mirage but continues onward. Artaban finally arrives at Bethlehem to find the town empty and inquires of a local woman what is going on. She said there are rumors of a new tax by Herod. All the men have taken their flocks into the mountains to hide them to avoid the tax. It’s the ancient version of off-shore banking. The woman also informs him that the Wise Men were there, but they left almost as quickly as they came. Mary and Joseph took their baby and fled to Egypt.
They are interrupted by another woman’s scream.
The soldiers of Herod have arrived and they are killing all the male children under a certain age. As a solider approaches the house where Artaban is, Artaban stands in front of the door and blocks the soldier’s way.
“I am alone in this place, and I have this [gem] for whomever will leave me in peace,” he says.
The soldier takes the ruby. Only the pearl remains. He sorrows in the woman’s house and prays for forgiveness. These treasures were to be for the new king and slowly they have disappeared. The woman insists he is blessed for his kindness and offers her gratitude.
Artaban’s travels continue without his camels. They are just gone. If I were going to go to Egypt from Bethlehem I think I would have kept the camels. He walks all across the ancient world from the pyramids to the palaces of Greece. He spends the rest of his life searching for the King and we see him age into an old man. He speaks to a scholar who tells him this king is born to be a spiritual king and Artaban should seek him in humble places. We see Artaban bringing bread to the poor and helping the weak and infirm.
After many years of travels Artaban arrives in Jerusalem again. He stops a man to ask where everyone is going. The man tells him they are all going Golgotha to witness the execution of two thieves and another man called Jesus of Nazareth. Artaban is distraught. After his long search the Prince of Peace is to die. He thinks he may be able to save Jesus with the pearl—his last kingly gift.
As he begins to head to the execution, a woman under guard passes by. She breaks away from her captors and runs to him to beg his mercy.
“My father was a Magi, but he has died, and I am being sold into slavery to pay his debts.”
Does he use his last treasure to save Jesus? Or does he give it to rescue this woman from slavery? After a moment of deliberation he frees the woman. Suddenly, however, the clouds go dark and the ground begins to shake. Pieces of buildings break off and fall into the street. Artaban laments the death of Jesus as a roof tile shakes loose and falls on him—striking him on the head. The woman catches him and helps lay him on the ground. As she does so the clouds part and rays of light fall upon Artaban. We hear the voice of Jesus.
“Come ye blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you”
“Not so my lord,” says Artaban. “For when fed I thee or gave thee drink? Or took thee in, or clothed thee, or healed thee. For these 33 years I have searched but I have never seen thy face or ministered unto thee.”
“Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto me.”
Artaban dies—his journey finally at an end. His treasure was accepted. He had found the King of Kings.
The Story of the Other Wise Man is a simple tale that seeks to put us in the place of Artaban. Most of us will not have physical treasures to give to the King, but we can all find unique gifts we can use to serve others and, in turn, the Savior. In this regard it’s much like the story of The Gift from a few weeks ago.
The words of “In the Bleak Midwinter” come to mind:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.
We all have gifts to give that can light the world.
Thoughts, Musings & Trivia
- Henry Van Dyke felt the story was inspired: “I do not know where this little story came from–out of the air, perhaps. One thing is certain, it is not written in any other book, nor is it to be found among the ancient lore of the East. And yet I have never felt as if it were my own. It was a gift, and it seemed to me as if I knew the Giver.”
- The story was dramatized in many ways. It was a play in 1951 and made several times for television. Martin Sheen starred as Artaban in a TV movie version called “The Fourth Wise Man”
- The story has also inspired the naming of a precious gem. The Star of Artaban is a 287-carat cabochon cut star sapphire located at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.