Over the next month, I'll be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model, a large papercraft crèche that you can find and download here:
Advent Calendar Day 12: Caspar
Sometimes called “Gaspar,” this is the European king, coming from Turkey (then Tarsus). He’s almost universally depicted as elderly, serving to exemplify the final stage of life. He gives the gift of gold, which is likely where the Tarsus association stems; Tarsus was the big merchant hub, gold its dearest offering.
He’s usually the first of the kings to kneel before the baby Jesus, an action which carries with it a lot of significance (and ties them to Psalm 72:11). Kings, unless ceding defeat of pledging fealty, wouldn’t have bowed, and in doing so Caspar both fulfills the prophetic interpretation of the Psalm and mirrors the kneeling of later Christian religious observance. Narratively, his venerable age (and station) give the other kings precedent to follow suit.
In many traditions, Caspar was Indian, hailing from the part that is now Afghanistan. There are more theories tying Caspar with historical figures than other kings, most of them to this region. Because of this, Caspar is, like Balthazar, sometimes depicted riding an elephant.
Since I depicted the other two in the more generally accepted Noahic tradition, I figured Caspar ought be in there as well, so that there’s thematic unity amongst the three designs. Thus the Turkish rather than Indian version, with the Bactrian camel a nod to the Central Asians that would later claim descent from the Magi, the most notable of whom was probably Kublai Khan.