RECENT exploration of an unidentified (for security reasons) site in the Middle-East is alleged to have uncovered scrolls which appear to date from around the first century AD and would seem to be records of interviews with local people by officials of the time investigating widespread rumours concerning unusual events in Judea and Galilee.
[DISCLAIMER] Provenance of these scrolls has yet to be established and extracts are printed here strictly on that basis.
LET ME TELL YOU what it was really like.
For a start it was cold. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t get snow in Judea because you do! Not often, mind, and mostly in the hills. But that winter was a bad one and no mistake.
How did we get involved? It was all down to that syphilitic idiot Augustus and his stupid damned census. Whoever heard of anything so crazy? Jews wandering back and forward across half of Palestine looking for where their great-grandfathers came from. And in the middle of the worst winter for who knows how long!
And not just Jews, mind. This whole farce was right across the province. Anatolia, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia …
We weren’t kings, by the way. That was just a tale invented later. Made a good story, I suppose. And we weren’t all that wise, either, unless it was at spotting a good business opportunity. We were traders, pure and simple, but we reckoned where better to turn a profit than where people are on the move.
So, to cut a long story short, we packed up the camels and headed for Judea. Why Judea? Search me. Could have been anywhere. It just happened to be Judea.
It was a good trip. Apart from the cold, that is. Sold most of our stuff before we ever got close to Jerusalem and we were just about there when we started hearing funny stories about shepherds having visions.
I still can’t understand why we paid any heed to them. Stories about peasants hallucinating aren’t exactly something to get excited about. I mean, being a shepherd is a bit of a boring job and cold and you need a drop of something warming to keep the chill out … know what I mean?
But for some reason all three of us got hooked on the idea that this story meant something. None of us could explain why but we felt certain this wasn’t just idle market chatter.
And then, of course, there was the star.
We’d never seen the like. And neither had anyone else in Jerusalem so far as we could tell. They thought it was a bad omen — those who bothered to think about it at all.
But Balthasar — yes, they got our names right, whatever else — I’m Melchior, by the way; anyway, Balthasar — he’s the brainy one; did a bit of studying with a couple of the Persian mystics before he went on the road. He said there are lots of signs and symbols in the skies and this looked like one to him and he thought it might mean the birth of somebody important.
Then Caspar piped up and said that the Jews believed that a great leader would come to free them from bondage — though he did admit that according to their writings their god had freed them from bondage several times already and all the thanks he ever got was to have them thumb their noses at him so he just let them get captured again.
Anyway, Caspar thought that from something he’d read this latest big chief, they called him a messiah apparently, was due about now so maybe this was it.
Well … he sounded convinced and census was over and we weren’t in any great hurry so we thought “what’s to lose; why not go and nose about and see what’s what.” Except that we didn’t know what or who we were looking for or even where.
Balthasar said we had to be looking for a baby because that was what the star was all about and Caspar said he thought we were looking for a king though he didn’t seem quite sure why.
So I said that since we didn’t have a clue we’d need to ask someone and the best person to ask where the next king of the Jews had been born had to be that old bruiser Herod. So why didn’t we go and ask him. They both looked at me as if I was mad and you can understand why: three travelling salesmen pitch up at Herod’s palace unannounced and ask if someone can tell them where the next king of the Jews has been born.
But nobody had a better idea, so that’s what we did. Spun a bit of a yarn about signs in the heavens and enough of Balthasar’s mystic stuff to make us seem more important than we really were. Not all that difficult when you remember we’re supposed to be salesmen. And come to think of it that’s probably where the “wise men” version of the story came from.
We never got to see Herod himself of course — probably just as well – and we were kept hanging around for a couple of days before we got a summons to some dignitary who told us “Try Bethlehem. And if you find this king come back and tell us. Herod would like a word with him.” Well, we took that with a fine pinch of salt, I can tell you.
So off to Bethlehem we went without a clue what we were going to do when we got there until Caspar had the idea of asking a couple of shepherds if they knew anything that might help.
Oh! they knew all right! And they were full of it. It was them and a couple of others that had been involved from the beginning and they told us the full tale — bright lights, singing angels, the lot. And a king born in a stable. Easy to understand why the local populace wasn’t exactly falling over themselves to believe it.
But then we’ve slept in some funny places in our time and when it’s time to be born then you don’t have a lot of choice and if this young couple had turned up late and the only place left that was dry and warm-ish was a stable … well!
Once census was done and everybody away they found somewhere a bit more congenial, according to one of the shepherds.
“D’you see that star?”, he said “They’re in that house you can see over there, directly underneath it.”
So off we go again with Balthasar muttering something about gifts. “You don’t visit kings without taking gifts,” he said. And I’m thinking, this is mad. But we’ve got this far we might as well go through with it.
I’ve still got some myrrh left and Balthasar’s got a few spices including some frankincense he couldn’t shift. Caspar’s sold out and says he’s got nowt to give, the old miser. “You’ll just have to give him some of your gold, then,” I said. Caspar’s never been short of the odd gold piece, believe you me.
And when we get there, what’s special about this baby? For a start he looks like a baby. Small and ugly. Is he a king? How would I know? But we all agreed afterwards there was something about him and about being in his presence. We thought that he could be destined for something but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on what. Caspar said he thought he might be some sort of god but then Caspar always was a bit weird.
Next day, Balthasar ups and says we ought to head off towards Damascus instead of going back to Jerusalem ‘cos he’s had a dream that says Herod wants the kid dead and I say you didn’t need a dream to work that one out and off we go and that’s about it.
It wasn’t till later I found out the evil old sod had got his revenge anyway by murdering every boy child in Bethlehem. Bastard!