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)