First Clue: The Stone
On February 4, 781, a three meter high and one meter thick stone monument was erected in the capital region of Xian. It was inscribed in two languages: Chinese and Syriac. It stood 2.36 meters high, 0.68 meters wide, about 0.25 meters thick and is about two tons in weight.
It was a memorial to the official recognition of Christianity in the Tang Dynasty since the year 635 AD when a Syriac speaking priest named Alopen arrived in the Chinese capital of Chang’an (Xian). He was welcomed by the prime minister, Duke Fan Hiuen-ling.
Alopen was an able translator who dutifully worked at the request of the Emperor Taitsung translating the Gospel stories from Syriac into Chinese. Three years later in the 7th month of 738 he presented his work to the Emperor.
In return for his labor he was rewarded with a building and land for 21 monks in the western part of the capital city in a district called I-ning. He was also made “Protector of the Doctrine for the State.”
The monument tells a story of the growth and success of the “Luminous Religion” that spread into every province of China under succeeding emperors. By some estimates, the demographic size of this Asia church was twice the size of the Holy Roman Empire in the first millennium.
The Monument identifies the composer of the Syriac/Chinese inscriptions on the stone as Ching Tsing. It is generally agreed that this is the Chinese name for Adam. This priest was a well known personage in the mid-Tang period at the end of the 8th century. He is listed in the New Catalogue of the teaching of the Buddha (AD 785-804).
Adam was assisted in the composition and production of the Monument by Lü Yen , a local official of Taizhou.
The first word of the monument, “Daqin”, refers to lands west of China. In 1916 P. Y. Saeki, an extraordinary Japanese scholar who published a book on the Nestorian Monument, says that “Da Qin” is a reference to Judea and perhaps even to Bethlehem (Saeki, p. 38).
The Chinese of the Tang Dynasty also called the lands of the West as Fu-lin. Saeki cites Professor Hirth who posits the Fu-lin Bethlehem theory. Fu-lin is a corruption of But-lim which was the Chinese name for Bethlehem.
This was my first clue and connection to the story of the Wise Kings from China and the location of their origin. China knew of Syria and specifically Judea during the Tang Synasty. Jerusalem was its capital. Bethlehem was its suburb.
Second Clue: the Place
The Monument stood for 64 years in the vicinity of Xian (Chang’an) until disaster struck. Either to protect it or due to the enemies of religion it was buried. It was not rediscovered until 1623 when Chinese workers unearthed it. News of the discovery of the bi-lingual stone reached the new Chinese capital in Beijing where Jesuit missionaries sought to identify and report it. The Jesuits were completely unaware that Chrisitans had been in China for a thousand years before them. At first there was speculation that it was a forgery. But close inspection revealed that it was an authentic relic of the Ancient Syriac speaking Church of the East.
The stone monument stood in a courtyard about a mile outside the Western Gate of the city behind a temple called Chin-sheng-su where in 1907 it was witnessed by Professor Saeki and his team in this location. At the same time there was international competion to remove the stone from its location to Europe or the United States. Saeki witnessed the reaction of the Chinese to this interest in the stone and its removal to the Beilin Museum and its present location. He saw it on October 4, the 1326th anniversary of its dedication. The next day he reported seeing it begin moved to a new location.
In the meantime, Fritz Holm, obtained a copy of the stone and had an exact copy of it made and shipped to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Another replica was commissioned by Fritz Holm and financed by the Honorable Mrs. A.E. Gordon. in 1911 and sent to Mt. Koya in Japan where Kobo Daishi established a Buddhist monastery in 816 AD known as Kongobuji. It is the birthplace of the Shingon sect, or True Word sect, of Buddhism.
Still another copy of the stone sits at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
There are various theories about the original location of the Nestorian Monument. Several theories site it about a mile outside the Western Gate of Xian. This theory is strongly supported by the writings of two of the most famous Chinese Christians of the time, Dr. Leon Li and Dr. Paul Hsu.
This would make sense as the original Nestorian community was located in the I-ning district near the western gate. Saeki make a convincing case that the Stone was originally erected about 30 miles outside the capital city in a place called “Chou-Chih”
Pere Havret, in his book “La Stele Chrestienne d-Si-ngan-fou” concluded, the monument was discovered at or near “Chou-Chihi” which is 30 miles from “Hsi-an-fu”. He supports his theory with quotes from some rare books on the monument as well as documents preserved at Rome by Jesuit authors such as Kircher, Trigault, Bartoli, Thomas Ignace Dunyn-Szpot and Antoine de Gouvea.
The identification of Chou-chih as the first location of the Nestorian monument was my second clue and connection to the origin of the Chinese Wise Kings. Did they come from Chou-Chih about 30 miles southwest of Xian? The present day Da Qin pagoda is 30 miles southwest of Xian and is considered the original location of the Nestorian stone. So certain are Chinese authorities of this location that a duplicate stone of the one in the Beilin museum has been erected near the Da Qin pagoda.
Third Clue: the Sculpture
At the pagoda site a curious sculpture was discovered in 1999 by Martin Palmer and reported in his book on the Jesus Sutras. Inside the pagoda is a nativity scene. I believe this points to the origin and location of the Wise Kings of China who traveled to Bethlehem (Da Qin) to visit the Christ child.
Who were these Wise Kings? I believe they were Zoroastrians, members of an ancient dualistic and fire worshipping religion that originated in India and became the national religion of Persian Kings 500 years before Christ. It promoted a trinity of Gods that included Mithra who was born of a virgin, was born in a cave, his birth was predicted by a star, shepherds attended his birth, and followers practiced a communion of bread and water or bread and wine. So profoundly similar to the nativity story in the Gospel of Luke that St Ignatius in the second century that he said that Satan invented this religion to confuse Christians.
In the Chronicle of Zuqnin evidence points to a theory that the Wise Kings would have come from the capital which would have been Chang’an (modern day Xian). They would have worshipped on a mountain called the Mountain of Victories which is Mount Taishan. I believe this is a mountain outside of present day Xian in the Qianling Mountain Range. The five peaks of this sacred mountain area includes caves and inscriptions dating back 3,000 years. Zoroastrians certainly gravitated to this mountain area as did others. It was recognized as a place to welcome the sun and where heaven and earth meet. Emperors of China worshipped at the foot of this mountain.
Zoroastrians had a presence in Xian before the time of Christ. Some of the earliest firm evidence of Zoroastrian presence in China is found in the so-called “Ancient Letters,” dated to around 313 CE and found near Lou-lan, demonstrate the presence of Sogdian Zoroastrianism in Xinjiang by the early fourth century.
The magi were the priests of the Zoroastrians who had several temples in and around Xian. They were fire worshippers and students of the stars. Astrology was their forte.
Fourth Clue: Church of Hah, a Christian-Zoroastrian Connection
I lived for several years in a region of the upper Tigris called Tur abdin. It was once part of the Persian Empire. I lived in the monastery of Mor Gabriel a Syrian Orthodox Monastery of about 70 souls. The monastery was built in the year 397 AD. It clearly was built upon a Zoroastrian Temple. Outside the main sanctuary were bases of pillars identified my Gertrude Bell in the early 20th century as Zoroastrian. The main sanctuary had an eastward facing wall with slots that allowed sunlight through at the various equinox points.
On June 21, 1999 I predicted the appearance of sunlight in the main sanctuary as the sun rose that morning on the longest day of the year. A shaft of light pierced through the outer wall and through an interior doorway to a spot in the main nave where a brass plate was once affixed. I assume it identified the point as longest day of the year and high point of the sun in the eastern horizon.
Also in a nearby monastery of Mor Malki was a Zoroastrian artifact. It was a small square stone with four points used for fire sacrifices. This was a part of a Zoroastrian altar. Likewise, many of the Christian monasteries in the region built in the 4th – 6th centuries possessed similar Zoroastrian artifacts.
Perhaps the most spectacular former Zoroastrian site was in the community of Hah in the north eastern section of the region of Tur Abdin in southeast Turkey.
This architectural jewel sits next to a Zoroastrian ruin. It was a major temple in the region that served Persian armies and believers for centuries.
In Salah is another monastery where Persian armies slaughtered Christians for their faith in the 4th centuries. It too sits upon a Zoroastrian ruin.
The main rival to Christianity in Asia Minor and Central Asia in the first four centuries was this Zoroastrian religion. It was empowered by Persian armies and financed by traders along this portion of the Silk Road. It is not hard to imagine that circumstances were similar in China where rival religious fortunes and institutions were fighting for dominance. Certainly the Zoroastrians could lay claim to Christian beginnings.
In a small manuscript at the Monastery of Mor Gabriel I found a story in Syriac about the Wise Kings of the East. In this document it tells a story about 12 Wise men who came from the East and stopped to rest in the village of Hah. They were following a star to Bethlehem in search of the Messiah. They decided to leave nine of the Wise men in Hah and let the remaining three go onto Jerusalem where they would consult Herod. They found the Christ child in a cave in Bethlehem, offered gifts and returned to Hah on the upper Tigris River. They brought back with them swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus. The story says that they threw his garments into a fire. The cloth turned to 12 gold coins with the faces of each of the Wise men on each coin. This was a sign to the Wise men to remain in the village of Hah where they built a temple to commemorate the Christ Child.
French archaeologists reportedly found a first century foundation in the late 1980s under the Church of Hah. I had the honor of chanting an Aramaic Divine Liturgy in this beautiful Temple in 1991.