About 2,000 years ago in the land of Judea, King Herod ruled over
the Jews. He was a puppet of the Roman Empire and a tyrant to his
people, who all hated him. Hearing a prophecy that a Messiah had
been born in Bethlehem who would overthrow him, Herod ordered the
execution of all baby boys in that town. One couple with their
newborn son fled the City of David to Egypt, which had recently
become a part of the Roman Empire.
It is here on the Judean and Egyptian border that we meet the
family. The man leads a donkey, on which is seated his wife who is
holding a baby. They enter a Roman border fort to seek sanctuary.
Two Roman soldiers led by a centurion approach the family. “Hello,
Hello, Hello, what have we got ‘ere?” says the centurion.
The man speaks: “We’re from Judea and we’re fleeing Herod to save
our son. We want to go into Egypt. I’m Joseph and this is my wife
Mary. We want to escape Herod and his soldiers.”
“Joseph and Mary eh? Prove who you say you are. We can’t let any
old Julius and Juliannus in. You might be anyone, fundamentalists,
Zealots, Zoroastrians. We need proof you are who you say you are.
Official letters, tax forms, marriage certificates, anything like
that will do.”
Joseph becomes desperate: “But we’re fleeing, we don’t have any. We
didn’t have time…”
“No documents, no entry, sonny.” The centurion orders his two
soldiers to move the family on.
Mary breaks her silence: “Stop!” She leans down from the donkey and
whispers to Joseph who turns to the soldiers and tells them he has
something in the saddle bags.
The centurion stands with his arms crossed looking impatient. “Come
on, come on, we haven’t got all day.”
Joseph pulls out a small piece of parchment with writing on it.
“Here,” he hands it to the centurion. “We got that in the recent
census in Bethlehem. It’s where my wife had the baby.”
The centurion studies the parchment and reads out loud: “Joseph,
carpenter, registered in Bethlehem, Mary his wife, plus one infant.
Mmm, seems to be in order. OK, why do you want to come into
“It’s like I said. Herod, the king, he wants to kill boys under the
age of two. We must get into Egypt to escape him.”
“You expect me to believe that old Herod wants to kill all boys
under the age of two? You’re having me on. Why would he want to do
that? Anyway, as luck would have it we are being visited by one of
the wisest men in the whole Roman Senate. He can adjudicate on
this.” He orders one of the soldiers inside to bring out the
senator. A few minutes later, the soldier leads out a blind,
bearded man dressed in a white toga and wearing a purple sash
denoting high office of the Roman Senate. “Hail, Daius Marcius
Blunkettus,” shouts the centurion.
The two converse for some time before approaching the family. The
senator introduces himself, shakes hands with Joseph, nods
respectfully in Mary’s direction and kisses the baby. “And what do
you want to do when you grow up, young man?” he asks. Mary tells
the senator that the baby boy will most probably go in to his
“Ah, a little carpenter,” says Blunkettus. Joseph and Mary exchange
Senator Blunkettus addresses the family. “The centurion informs me
you are fleeing Judea. You say Herod wants to kill all boys under
the age of two. Now, I find it hard to believe that about Herod, a
true and trusted friend of Rome and one of the kindest and gentlest
men there is. But I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t examine
your claim in detail. Is that OK?”
“Er, yes,” mumbles Joseph as one of the Roman soldiers grabs him
and puts a hand over his mouth.
“Did you personally hear Herod give the order?”
“Arrgghegrh,” emits a gagged Joseph.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then,” says Blunkettus. “And did you see
any written order of Herod that proclaimed he was going to kill any
“Mmmmrrg,” replies the carpenter trying to struggle free from the
“Another ‘no’, so did you see the soldiers kill any babies?”
“Yes!” shouts Mary. The centurion half draws his sword and looks
menacingly at her.
“Well, I haven’t heard of Herod killing babies in Judea,” says
Blunkettus sarcastically, and all the soldiers concur that they too
have not heard of Herod killing babies.
“It was only in Bethlehem he was killing young boys,” replies
Joseph at last breaking free from the soldier.
“Only in Bethlehem? How convenient,” says the sarcastic senator.
“Well why didn’t you go somewhere else to escape – Jerusalem,
Damascus or even Parthia. Why bother coming all the way to
“There were soldiers everywhere, and because of the census they
knew we were from Galilee so we couldn’t go there.”
“Galilee?” says Blunkettus probingly.
“Galilee,” says the couple in unison.
“Ahh,” smiles the senator. “I’ve got you there haven’t I? You say
you are from Galilee, but you carry a document saying you are from
Bethlehem. You say you are fleeing Herod who is murdering little
boys, but your son is alive and well and proof that no such thing
is being done. And when you are challenged on this you claim he is
only killing babies in Bethlehem, where you say you don’t live. All
of it is lies and the documents are all bogus.”
The senator gives a dismissive wave of his hand as he is escorted
back inside and orders the centurion to send them back.
Joseph and Mary are distraught and the baby begins to cry.
“Cheer up,” says the centurion, “something will turn up. Imean I
believe you even if he doesn’t. It’s just that we can’t let in
everyone, we’d look like a soft touch. And they might bring
diseases. We don’t have the space. And we can’t afford to feed you
all. At least in the desert if you run out of food you can eat your
And with that the Romans all laugh and watch as the dejected couple
with the crying baby go back to Judea across the desert.