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"The Fourth Wise Man," based on the moving story, "The Story of the Other Wise Man" by 19th century writer Henry Van Dyke, traces a life-long search of a wealthy court physician and astronomer in ancient Persia named Artaban (Martin Sheen), who dedicates his life to finding the Messiah.


Blessed with brains, wealth and prestige, Artaban still feels empty and confused. He turns to the ancient scriptures for some sign of life's true meaning and discovers the prophecies concerning the imminent birth of the King of Kings. It is then he sells his possessions to buy three precious gems to present to the newborn King. Artaban and his reluctant slave, Orontes (Alan Arkin), set out on a journey that takes them across the desert where they are to rendezvous with three other Magi.


But Artaban is delayed when he stops to doctor a Hebrew exile, and misses the rendezvous. Refusing to give up his quest, Artaban continues the search, traveling to the Holy Land, to Egypt and back again. He is eventually imprisoned as an outcast. He now has only one gem left: a pearl. On his journey he has had to use one stone to pay for their caravan and another to bribe one of Herod's soldiers to save the life of a child. With the pearl, Artaban plans to ransom Jesus. But in Jerusalem he finds he must use the gem to ransom the daughter of his old adversary Tigranes (Richard Libertini), who has been sold into slavery to pay her father's debts.


Unable to stop the crucifixion, Artaban is deeply depressed, feeling his life has been wasted. But on Easter morning, the now risen Jesus appears to Artaban and tells him that he has in fact, given him a gift far more precious than gems – he has helped his brothers in times of need. Artaban now understands the true meaning of life.