You no doubt expect to hear the whole story—and certainly I will give you a complete account of what happened. But I hope you will first permit me a personal word about my time here with you in this small corner of the world. So many years have passed. So much has been accomplished—so much of it exceeding a normal man’s lifetime that it is incumbent for a person such as I to speak to his people from his heart. I am getting old and life, even for men of my elevated position, is as transient as the wadis of the Negev. You should know my dear subjects that it is easy for the people to take for granted all that a man has done for them — whether that man is a carpenter, a king or even the divinely blessed Caesar Augustus himself. After he has put an empire, a kingdom, or even a house back together again, it is easy for those whom he has served to believe it all happened by course, when in fact its uniqueness is quite unmistakable.
What king, I ask you, prior to my ascendancy was able to bring peace to the disorder of this realm? Were the Hasmoneans able to do this? Huh! Mere pretenders! They were but midges swatted by a Roman lash. Forty years I have been your ruler, forty years your king. Our borders have expanded; the city of Samaria rebuilt; Jericho made into a jewel: settlements and strongholds founded throughout the land from Bet Sean to Masada. The great harbor of Ceasarea—Strato’s tower—is now the envy of the world. And what was Jerusalem before I graced it with my touch? When had this city ever seen such an edifice as the Fortress of Antonia? And this royal palace where you stand this evening, it alone would be enough for most royal reigns to boast. Then, of course, the Temple itself twelve years in the building! Not even Solomon saw such cyclopean stones, such massive walls, and such magnificence as I have lavished upon this realm. And if these were not enough will you not remember my own gold plate melted down during the famines to buy grain for my hungry subjects?
Yet in these wintry years do I receive greater love, greater loyalty, greater homage from my subjects? No! Plots and murderous schemes are my fate. Rumors of assassinations are heard within the streets when subservience is my due. Even within my own house suspicion reigns. In clandestine corners, my wives and sons conspire. Everywhere there is rivalry. Everywhere envy—poisoning the fragile minds of the young and the whimsical hearts of the old. But you my subjects, my loyal ones, I tell you now, that when the heavy bestial breath of death has been breathed into my nostrils, Jerusalem herself shall grieve. Yes, I have arranged that she herself shall wail like a motherless child running here and there for a comfort that will not come. Then too late she shall appreciate the day of her visitation. The wise among you will know the truth of it!
Now for an account of the things you have heard, and for which you have come. I promised I would tell you the full story. The Persians, who came to Jerusalem in recent days, spreading rumors of a newborn infant King of the Jews, were thought by many to be magi, purveyors of deep and hidden wisdom. They sought audience with me. So I opened my court to them. Through investigation I discovered they were stargazers. Like most in their profession, they were as starry-eyed and as ignorant of the affairs of this world as are those celestial realms into which they have looked. Lost in the configurations of the planets they have no mind for what makes for peace in such a kingdom as Palestine. It was a fool’s errand that brought them here. So I gave them the counsel fit for fools. I humored them, these dignitaries from Nabatia. I had the scribes and High Priests read to them from the ancient scrolls, until to Bethlehem they were sent. “Go find this child,” I told the fools. “Leave no stone unturned.” The very foolishness of their endeavor was demonstrated by their failure to find such a child-king. Did they, I ask you, ever return to Jerusalem? Of course not—No such king was found by their foolish journey. No, they slinked away in shame, without so much as acknowledging their error. Much time was wasted in such a venture. Much human resource, much wasted wealth—a costly journey, and all for what? May this be a lesson to the simple-minded that look for messiah-kings among us when such exemplary leadership is before their very eyes in my throne and government. I trust that no such deceived subjects are here this evening. You are not among those who follow stars; which look to the heavens to guide their daily lives; or are taken in and led astray by those who do. Your feet I trust are set squarely on the ground of this world.
Certainly you know as men of the world, and citizens of this earthly kingdom, that there are those who are so deceived. Who believe ill-founded rumors of messiahs born in humble settings; who find in obscure prophecy vain hope for their beleaguered lives. So it was in the region of Bethlehem. After these magi from the orient came, finding nothing at the end of all their foolery, and unable to learn from such an ill-fated venture, and ignorant as they were of the ways of the masses to believe in hearsay, they left the region, irresponsibly. What after all can one expect from those whose eyes are so fixed on the heavens that they have grown blind to life’s realities? But I, as you know, was left to deal with their folly. The rumors spreading throughout the village of a messiah-king’s birth could not be allowed to grow. These things disrupt the lives of many, throwing entire kingdoms into disarray. I could not allow it. Rebellion, inspired by political intrigue can be put down with even-handed force. But rebellions that are grounded in misguided beliefs and religion; well these need swift, unyielding vigilance. In such cases then, the innocent have to die for the guilty. The wise among you will understand this.
Let me conclude by clarifying one last aspect of this affair of state. The rumors of families fleeing to Egypt because of my necessary actions have been greatly exaggerated. My investigations have discovered that only one peasant man, along with his wife and her newly-born son, have left Palestine because of the events so recently reported. The finances for this hasty journey came evidently from gold, frankincense and myrrh, which this peasant man apparently stole from the Persians and then sold to a local Bethlehem merchant. Their departure by night reveals the misguided dimensions of the undertaking. As is so often the case, I do not believe we shall hear anymore of this matter. It has all been nothing but a minor event in the life of this kingdom. It is clear that on this day in January, the Pax Romana and the peace of Palestine fit as snugly as a sword in its sheath. Long live the divinely blessed Caesar! And may God bless this, my kingdom—and you my subjects!