The Other Wise Man {Book Club}

We end our Christmas reading today with The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke. If you haven’t read it, please do. Know that it’s a bit longer than the other stories we’ve read, but really not that much longer :). Also, know that (in my opinion) the first section was a tiny bit boring and I wondered why in heaven’s name I had chosen it and feared there would be not one comment. Not one.

But since I told y’all to read it, I kept reading and hoped I would have something to say other than, “Well, that was boring and I’m sorry.”

I bring you tiding of good news—this story is worth reading! I actually teared up by the end and haven’t done that with any of the stories. I’m going to babble for a bit about the background so you won’t read any spoiler alerts.

Henry Van Dyke (November 10, 1852 – April 10, 1933) was an American author, educator, and clergyman.

A few interesting facts (from wikipedia)

  • Van Dyke chaired the committee that wrote the first Presbyterian printed liturgy, The Book of Common Worship of 1906.
  • In 1908–09 Dr. van Dyke was a lecturer at the University of Paris.
  • Similar to the author from last week’s story (Thomas Nelson Page), Van Dyke was appointed by Woodrow Wilson to be the Ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913. Van Dyke and Wilson were friends and had gone to Princeton together. I did not know this about WWI: “Americans all around Europe rushed to Holland as a place of refuge. Although inexperienced as an ambassador, van Dyke conducted himself with the skill of a trained diplomat, maintaining the rights of Americans in Europe and organizing work for their relief.”
  • Finally, he was a friend to Helen Keller.

History is so interesting!

Okay, before I derail myself and go off on a soap box about history, I also learned a bit about today’s story. It turns out, though I had never heard of it, it’s kind of famous.

  • A television adaptation of the story was presented on the Hallmark Hall of Fame show  in 1953. I realize this might only make Americans perk up. If you don’t know, Hallmark Hall of Fame made for TV movies are amazing until you find them sappy. The commercials though, always, and I mean always, tear jerkers. Love them. I didn’t know Hallmark movies went all the way back to 1953!
  • A full length (73 minutes) TV movie, titled “The Fourth Wise Man”, starring Martin Sheen, was broadcast on 30 March 1985. Where was I?!!

Now, for the story. The real story that Van Dyke wrote, although now I’m thinking of Martin Sheen. I’ve already said I found the first bit a bit slow. But what I did love, is it got me thinking about the world Jesus was born into, you know, the actual first Christmas. The other stories we’ve read were placed in setting more familiar to me, this one, however, required me to picture a world quite different from mine.

I’d love to hear from any of you who have lived in or visited that part of the world. How did the descriptions feel to you? How much has changed over the years?

I knew when Artaban bought three gifts, they were somehow going to be significant and I guessed how they might fit in with the symbolically significant frankincense, gold, and myrrh. How about you? How accurate were your guesses (I was one for three). It distressed me as I read the various excuses people gave for why they wouldn’t travel with Artaban to meet up with the other magi and hunt for The King. But as Christmas time, it probably distresses all of us to think of friends and family members who also won’t follow the Christ child today.

As Artaban was on his way and stopped to helped the dying Jew, I wondered which of his jewels he’d have to sell. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but the Sapphire being blue seemed to symbolize the water he’d need to cross the desert.

When he got to Bethlehem, and saw the woman with the baby, at first I thought it was Mary! and he’d found Jesus! But then to hear about the magi leaving so strangely in the night and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus leaving for Egypt, it clicked, this baby is going to be killed! Help them! I know what’s coming. The death of all the innocent children became painfully real. When the ruby Artaban offered was described as a “droplet of blood” I though of how he was willing to help the elderly and now the young innocent.

I didn’t see the thirty three year twist coming—though I’ve watched enough Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, it shouldn’t have been  major shock. To have given so much time and effort to searching for something (the king) and guarding your tribute (the pearl of great cost) only to part with it in the end—albeit for an honorable reason—made me wonder how many of us feel like we can relate a little too much.

I know the pearl of great price in the bible refers to the Kingdom of God, but in this story, I think it can also symbolize something precious. What is your pearl of great price God has asked (or maybe forced your hand a bit) to give to help others at significant cost to yourself?

“The quest was over, and it had failed. But, even in that thought, accepted and embraced, there was peace. It was not resignation. It was not submission. It was something more profound and searching. He knew that all was well, because he had done the best that he could from day to day. He had been true to the light that had been given to him.”

I loved the ending. The reminder that Jesus’ perspective is so often not ours and that service to him can look so different than I imagine. I’m thankful for that and need to keep hearing that message again and again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story! And next week we’ll share some of our favorite reads from 2015.

See you in the comments!


Next week we’ll share our top reads from 2015! Fun! I love new suggestions. And January is our spiritual memoir month. Join us for Wild in the Hollow  by Amber Haines

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 


  1. Anna December 21, 2015

    The beginning was a bit slow for me, too.  I liked these 2 quotes, though.  “Religion without a great hope would be like an altar without a living fire.” and (in response to someone saying that dark & light were equal and it was pointless to wait for the conflict between them to be ended.)  “…if the waiting must be endless, if there could be no fulfillment of it, then it would not be wisdom to look and wait.”

    We wait and hope because we know it is not endless!

    I didn’t catch the analogy between the color of jewels and their purpose, but I like what you said about it.  I thought of the other wise man as someone who obeyed while trusting God with the results.  I’m sure to him the way things happened didn’t really make sense.  But he was faithful to what he knew God would want, and trusted God with the results.  We can see that it was the right thing, but he didn’t really understand until his death.  33 years is a long time to continue to seek God and be faithful without obvious signs.  I’m sure my faith is not that strong, and I can admire his.

    I love the ending, too.  Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts or perspective, and the way we judge success or failure might not be His way.  He calls us to be faithful, and we can trust Him with the results.

    I have wondered how much the wise men understood before, during, and after their part in the Christmas story.  We’ve been reading a book with our kids, “Ishtar’s Odyssey” by Arnold Ytreeide.  There is a reading each day of advent, and it follows the story of a young boy whose father was one of the wise men.  He’s along on the journey, and it’s made me try to think about things from their perspective.

    1. Amy Young December 23, 2015

      “We wait and hope because we know it’s not endless” AMEN and AMEN.

      (And my “analysis” of the colors are just guesses :). I could be way off!!)

  2. Patricia December 22, 2015

    The story of ‘The Other Wiseman’ became a Christmas tradition in our family while living-serving ‘overseas’ when our children were little.   We first heard it as a dramatized narration on a Christian radio station when we were in the US on a time of ‘home ministry’.  I wrote the radio station to get a cassette copy of it.   We listened to it each year in three segments during our family devotional time in the days leading up to Christmas—and yes, eyes were moist (mine were dripping!) at the end.  It never fails to bring tears to my eyes! By the way, I have not been there (though close); but, Ecbatana was in Iran—the Encyclopedia Britannica says it was founded in about 678bc. by ‘semilegendary’, Deioces, the first king of the Medes.

    I am blessed over and over again by this story—Artaban, a man of great means,  who was willing (no determined) to do what was put on his heart, though none would go with him.  The magi he was to join stay ‘a step ahead of him’, but the reality that he was lead by the spirit of God in him.  We as God’s children are often asked to ‘go it alone’, and maybe to give up for others what we find dear to ourselves; but, none of us will ever out give God, our Father, who gave His Son that we might have the opportunity to live with Him (God) forever in Heaven.

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing ‘The Other Wiseman’—it remains my favorite Christmas story. It brings back treasured memories of ‘years gone by’.  And, yes, I have tears in my eyes

    1. Amy Young December 23, 2015

      I am smiling at the thought you you getting a precious cassette tape from a radio station. These are the traditions that warm my heart! And I still lug through life my cassette tape of A Christmas Carol 🙂

  3. Michele Womble December 22, 2015

    I read this story when I was in junior high – it was just laying around the house – so I pretty much knew how it went already, but was able to enjoy the beginning more without feeling that it was slow (since I was traveling an already trodden path, not in a hurry to find out what’s at the end).  So I was able to ponder the conversation between Artaban and his friends more than I did the first time (also because I was 12 the first time I read it, those conversations wouldn’t have been interesting.)  I loved this quote : “But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone.”

    I completely missed that as foreshadowing the first time around.  But found it interesting that he was finding traces  – “shadows” – of them in Egypt, for example, as he searched.  Now and then coming “face to face” with the King – only he didn’t realize it.

    1. Amy Young December 23, 2015

      I love these comments!!! Picturing a junior high Michele a bit bored and picking up this story because it was laying around. I think you’re right, if I went back and reread it, I could enjoy the beginning more, knowing where the story is going. This time I was so panicked I’d picked a dud, I wasn’t able to say, “Chill, read, enjoy.” And the shadows, yes, I missed many of them too 🙂

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