Christmas Is Over, Herod (Thinks He) Won
Editor’s Note: The following is a fictional narrative, relating Matthew chapter 2 from Herod’s point of view.
Did those Persian astrologer no-good liars think they got away with something? Those guys were clowns. What a mess they caused, and they made me do something awful. But, hey, that’s how the game works. Cause and effect.
So, I’m lounging around one of my palaces (I love seaside properties, and I’ve got the best), and my secretary of state bursts in, interrupts my goat burger, and shouts, “There is a newborn King of the Jews!”
Now, this sentence, it’s not right. It can’t be right. For everyone knows that I’m the King of the Jews. Best friend the Jews ever had in a king. Duly selected by my Roman patrons. That’s how one becomes King of the Jews. The Romans make it so. I keep them happy and, in turn, they keep me happy. That’s the way it works. So, I had no idea what my secretary was saying.
“What is the source of this fake news?” I inquired.
“I don’t know if it is fake news, my lord, but several men from Persia arrived in Jerusalem yesterday and made straightaway to your palace there. They traveled all the way from their home because they said they were reading the skies and saw a new star, which they believe is a sign that a new King of the Jews is born.”
Well, that got under my skin a little. I’ll admit, I am a bit superstitious, and I sneak readings of signs and omens from locals, whenever I can. Given the intrigue and—ahem—regime changes common in Roman politics, one can never be too careful.
So, I decided to leave my seaside resort and travel to Jerusalem to meet these exotic message bearers. I arrived at my palace.
But before meeting them, I decided I should do some homework—or, rather, ask my people to do some homework. That’s what you have people for! You see, I’m not much of a reader. Scrolls are cumbersome. I often go by my gut, regardless of what my advisers say. However, sometimes you need some actual info. So, I gathered my council of religious advisers and asked them, “Is there a prophecy regarding where the king of the Jews is to be born?”
“Yes,” they replied, “but can you tell us, our lord, why you are asking?”
“Okay,” I said. “But keep it to yourselves. If this info leaks out, a lot of people are going to be disturbed.” They agreed to keep quiet—yeah, right. More on that in a minute.
The advisers gathered together, re-read their scrolls, and came back to tell me that one interpretation would be that a child from David’s royal line would be born in Bethlehem. David’s line, really? Oh, that could be an issue for me. There are always people who don’t think the nation is free enough or Jewish enough. A Davidic child would appeal to them. But those folks who dream about rebellion also have a taste for losing; ANYONE who opposes Rome loses. Whatever the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does in history, he has not stopped the Romans from controlling the whole earth. David’s time is long gone, it is not coming back. The Romans are winners, and I’m not a loser. My lot is with them.
Well, I don’t know who leaked the news, the religious advisers or someone else in my administration. Man, I hate leakers. But leak the news some good-for-nothing did, and soon all Jerusalem was troubled. For, you see, lots of people owe their livelihood to me, and not just that huge new temple I’m building. Which means I had to take some action to quiet people down before someone got their own ideas.
With the scholars’ info in hand, I received the astrologers. Those guys were weird. Dressed funny, twitchy, sniffing around as if they were smelling the anxiety among my people. I asked them what they knew, they told me, I told them about Bethlehem. Then they thanked me and began to leave.
I stopped them and said, “I’d like a favor, though, and if you grant me the favor, you’ll have safe travels as long as you’re in my realm. Please, stop back here after you discover the child’s whereabouts. If he is who you think he is, I must meet him and pay my deepest respects! And I’ll want to bring that child under my protection, for there will always be someone who would want to take advantage of him and his family.”
The astrologers thanked me and agreed to return.
Well, they did not return. My anger built. I knew I should have sent a spy to follow them, rather than trusting those clowns. They probably looked at tea leaves or the stars or frog guts and discerned that my intentions were different from my words. Whatever. I was mad.
I called together a few members of my administration and asked them, “Based on when the astrologers said the star appeared, when was the child born?” They thought about two years ago.
Well, you hate to order men to slaughter children, but sometimes keeping power and showing your supporters who is in charge requires cruelty. So, I called my captains and gave them orders: go to Bethlehem and the surrounding regions. Any child two or under you find, kill it. No mercy.
Sometimes in my role, you have to do nasty deeds, or order nasty deeds to be done. It is the way of the world.
How do you control people? Keep them fearful. Keep them hungry. Keep them divided. Show them your power and strength. When necessary, cull them. If you instill enough fear, and then nurture that fear, you’ll keep enough people cowed sufficiently that insurrection is less likely. And my overseers require me to keep control.
I don’t know what kind of king that baby would have been, but he would have grown up and either taken me out or been a loser. There was no other choice.
No matter. He’s dead. I’m alive. I win again.