Posted on 30-12-2009
Filed Under (History, India, Numismatics) by Rashtrakut

The Indo-Scythian King Azes II is mostly known by his diverse coinage.  However, in the West and the Numismatic world he is often known by claims that he was on of the Three Kings/Wisemen/Magi who attended the birth of Jesus.  There is of course no evidence in the historical record to support this assertion and the historical Azes may not even have been alive at the time of the birth of Jesus.

Indo-Scythian Kingdom from Wikipedia

None of this has prevented (even reputed) coin dealers from attaching the relatively obscure Indo-Scythian King who ruled a loosely held kingdom across Northwestern India and Afghanistan (that crumbled shortly after his death) to the Nativity.  Given the tendency for price inflation of items connected to the Bible this has likely elevated the asking price for and interest in the coins of Azes II which are largely minted in the style of the Indo-Greeks.

Azes II Coin from Wikipedia

Silver coin of King Azes II (r.c. 35-12 BCE). Obv: King with coat of mail, on horse, holding a sceptre, with Greek royal headband. Greek legend ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΖΟΥ "The Great King of Kings Azes". Rev: Athena with shield and lance, making a hand gesture identical to the Buddhist vitarka mudra. Kharoshti legend MAHARAJASA RAJADIRAJASA MAHATASA AYASA "The Great King of Kings Azes". Buddhist triratna symbol in the left field.

Even if the three magi who visited Bethlehem were actually Kings, that one of them would be a central Asian nomad who abandoned his kingdom to travel across the hostile Parthian Empire to a small hamlet in an obscure corner of the world strains credulity.

The historicity of other parts of the Nativity, particularly the Massacre of the Innocents has also been questioned.  The massacre (like the story of the Three Kings) appears in only the Gospel of Matthew.  It also bears striking similarities to the story of the birth of Moses (not to mention stories of numerous deities and heroes in the ancient world like Romulus and Remus, Krishna, Jason,  Cyrus the great, etc. whose lives were miraculously spared in infancy).  It is also entirely absent in the historical record of King Herod.  Herod’s bloody reign and life that saw him kill his father-in-law, brother-in-law, favorite wife, sons and Jewish zealots who displeased him are cheerfully counted in the records.  A massacre that would have immediately reminded his subjects of the story of Moses is glaringly absent in the records and is not believed to have been a historical event today.

The history of the Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythian kingdoms has been put together largely based on their coinage.  The house of Azes I continued this, with a nod to their origins by showing the king riding a horse.  The coinage offers a fascinating insight into the now disappeared culture of the region now known as Afghanistan.  As such they are worthy of standing on their own merit rather than through spurious connections to a region the kings likely never heard of.

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(3) Comments   


Aditya Kane on 31 December, 2009 at 1:31 am #

This is quite interesting, actually the whole idea of nativity is quaint. Wasnt Alexander called son of Zeus? Pharoahs son of Raa? Jesus was probably in similar tradition called son of God.

Rashtrakut on 3 January, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

Alexander claimed to be son of Zeus and after conquering Egypt took over the tradition of the Pharoahs in calling himself son of Ammon. His claims to divinity were greeted with some amusement back in Greece. The Spartans wryly noting “If Alexander wants to be a god, let him be” However, the scope of his conquests made that view more common in coming years. The claim of Jesus to divinity is outside the normal Jewish tradition of prophets and who knows at what point that happened. If you look up the Arian heresy and the Council of Nicea, as late as the fourth century Christians were arguing (and killing each other) over the unprovable question of whether as son of God he was born divine or raised to the godhood.

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