Scala/Art Resource, NY

“Severa—may you live in God” reads the inscription on this fourth-century funerary plaque from the Catacomb of Priscilla, in Rome. Severa appears at left; at right is the familiar magi scene, with an unusual addition: A man standing behind Mary points out the star. Although some art historians have speculated that this is Joseph, others believe it represents the Old Testament prophet Balaam, who predicted that a rising star coming out of Jacob would herald a great ruler of Israel (Numbers 24:17). According to the second-century church father Origen, the magi headed to Judea after reading Balaam’s prophecy.