A Caravan to Bethlehem

Christmas season has come round again and again we’re hearing the story of Jesus’ birth. However, over the centuries since the Apostle Matthew and “Luke, the beloved physician” penned their accounts of the nativity, many bits and pieces have been added to the initial tale. A heartless innkeeper, sheep and cows, a cold winter’s night, a littlest angel, a drummer boy.

We hear about Joseph and Mary making their lonely trek into Jerusalem with Mary riding on their donkey. Picturesque, but unbelievable. There’s actually no donkey in the Christmas story, which doesn’t say Mary didn’t ride one, but basically the donkey is an add-on. But the story of the “Good Samaritan” illustrates the very real danger of people traveling alone, especially on a dark night. Thieves jumped the merchant, robbed him, beat him and left him to die. The Samaritan rescued him. Because of this danger, very likely Joseph and Mary were in a caravan together with many other travelers headed for Bethlehem that night, all obeying Caesar’s command.

At the Christmas season we often hear, in one form or another, the story of the three wise men who traveled from “the East” or the Orient, to see the Baby Jesus. Again, you get the idea of three men – and I’m not sure how the number three got into the story – starting out across the desert bearing precious gifts. Legend has even attached names to the three.

Again, picturesque, but… Assuming they left Babylon and took a familiar route across the desert, and assuming the locals knew something about their trek – and their treasures – how far would these three brave souls have gotten all alone before thieves attacked them? In all probability they were traveling in a large group for safety sake. In reality, any kind of nobility or ambassador, at any point in history, traveled with his retinue of servants, helpers, in this case camel drivers, and at least a few bodyguards.

Bible scholars have always felt that the wise men, maybe a dozen or two, plus their retinue, would have made up a significant caravan. One that would have discouraged robbers. And this caravan, arriving at Jerusalem and inquiring for “he that is born king of the Jews” would have made quite a splash. Not just three fellows showing up at the palace with a tale of following a star.

But wait! Here again, the Bible doesn’t say they followed the star. It says they saw his star in the East. They realized this star, according to old Jewish prophecy, indicated the birth of a ruler in Israel. So they headed for the capital city. Ambassadors do that. Nobility does that. They head for the capital and want to meet with the head of whatever state they’re visiting. Where would you look for an infant king but in the palace? But when King Herod found out from the Jewish wise men where the baby would be born, he told the foreign dignities and off they went in the direction of Bethlehem.

“When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over the place where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Matthew 2: 9-10

This brings me to a rather sad part of the Christmas story, something the Bible doesn’t say. When the wise men left Jerusalem they continued on alone. Even though they’d announced the fulfillment of an old prophecy, the birth of a king, and the Jewish scribes had told them where the child should be found, we see no caravan of Jewish leaders, scribes or priests on the road to Bethlehem. The ones who claimed to be eagerly awaiting the Messiah didn’t rush to Bethlehem to greet him. The caravan of wise men hadn’t impressed them enough; they were still going to wait and see.

Ragtag Daily Prompt: CARAVAN

(Image credit: No-Longer-Here at Pixabay)

9 thoughts on “A Caravan to Bethlehem

  1. This highlights one of the problems I have with the bible. With any old document, really. If all these embellishments have been added since publication, then why should we make the assumption that the document itself does not contain embellishments?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very relevant question. First we need to note that none of these embellishments has ever been added to the actual Bible, but have been piled onto the traditions surrounding how we celebrate Christmas. The holly & ivy from England, the candles, the Christmas tree from German lands, etc. And, as James mentions below, the Dutch Santa Klaus. Santa and Rudolph are really quite new on the holiday scene.

      As to why the Bible doesn’t contain embellishments, that goes back to the Author. If we reject the idea that an almighty God had his hand in the writing of it, then anything goes. But if, as one verse says, “holy men of old were inspired to write” and God himself inspired them, and watched over his Word, then we can accept that this Word has come down to us as He intended it. I believe that godly men have undertaken to produce an accurate account, because they themselves feared misrepresenting God.

      We met one scholar who, in his search for truth, went through the Martin Luther version and the KJV, and made a note of every point of difference. When he was done, he studied his notes and concluded the differences were negligible; none of them affected the actual meaning.

      Sadly, in the recent past, some people got the idea that we need more readable translations and they’ve put in, altered, or omitted, this and that. Like Mary being a virgin, clear in the original texts; some new versions say “a young woman” and leave it at that. So we now have dozens of versions on the market. I won’t vouch for their accuracy, but I still believe a person can read and study and seek to know the will of God and God in Heaven will enlighten them.

      Sadly, too many “Bible scholars” just want to argue for their particular points of doctrine and ignore verses that don’t support that. This gives the impression that the Bible is very confusing; in fact it’s the readers who aren’t getting the whole picture.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, all of this is faith, after all. It boils down to faith that what was written down is reflective of events back then. In my comment, I meant the King James’ version as “modern”… just in terms of whatever existed before, had existed for 1500 years before he (or, indeed, Luther) became associated with it.
        Thinking about it, it is actually a marvel of the printing press, that we can pick up and read 500-year-old documents.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. And before the printing press, manuscripts were copied by hand, like the old English historical records, And even more ancient, the Ten Commandments, written on stone, and the whole Jewish history. Then AD, the letters of the apostles, all faithfully reproduced and passed on.

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    1. I know vaguely, but not all the details. There obviously was a man — I think in Constantinople? — who was very kind and charitable. The Catholic church canonized him as Saint Nicholas. This man, or legend, over centuries morphed into Santa Klaus — the Dutch version. Kind of like King Arthur or Robin Hood. Legend became much more intriguing and fun than the reality it replaced.

      Other cultures have added a “Black Peter” or “little Peter” who accompanies him and punishes the bad children. But really, I think it was the poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clark Moore that brought Santa Claus into general acceptance here in North America. And retailers will jump on anything that rings their tills. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Black Friday.

      To go one step further, I believe that Saint Nick/Santa Claus — this God-substitute who supposedly sees all children and is said to reward the good children and give nothing to the bad ones — and “Black Friday”, the retail feeding frenzy coming the day after Thanksgiving and totally destroying the spirit of gratitude and contentment, are both devilish in the way they’ve developed.

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  2. As far as we know, the Wise Men didn’t show up at the manger stall in Bethlehem at all. The first sight they had of Jesus was as a “young child,” not a newborn. Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt when he was warned in a dream to do so, to escape the slaughter of all boys two years old and under. Herod issued that horrendous order to try to kill the so-called King of the Jews, thereby securing his own throne. There was evil then, just as there is evil now. Plotting, scheming, unnecessary death, innocent blood shed to protect an evil and selfish man.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All very true — and yes, they wouldn’t have gone to the manger, as you say. Obviously Satan moved King Herod to carry out that awful slaughter, but God was fulfilling another prophecy, that “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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