Leaving the blacksmith shop, the strange-looking carriage sped recklessly through the city, almost hitting some of the people and animals that crowded along the roadside. Then it hurried onward, northwesterly over the rocky roads, which led toward the seacoast city of Tiberius. As dusk began turning to darkness, the driver caught sight of an inn, or ‘caravansary,’ a little way ahead. He gave the reins a jerk, and soon the carriage stood before the huge caravansary. The driver dismounted and led the horses up to the arched iron gate. Within seconds, the driver, horses, and carriage were standing inside a huge populated quadrangular courtyard.
The somewhat weak smell of human body odor gave way to the more pungent smell of animal life, drawing his attention to the stalls at the other side. Several men were struggling to get some mules into one of them. Having untied the horses from the carriage, he led them over to one of the stalls. Selecting a stall, he led them into it and closed the door.
“I wish it was that easy with these critters!” grunted one of the men who were pushing the mules.
“Here, let me help.” The stranger added his efforts to theirs. It was a battle, but soon the mules were securely in the stall.
“Thanks a lot for your help.”
The stranger shrugged. “Better to help than to hurt as some people do.”
“True,” agreed the man, puzzled at the abruptness of the stranger’s reply.
As they began walking back toward the center of the courtyard, the speakers caught, for the first time, a real glimpse of each other’s appearance. Despite the unsteadiness of the illumination from the flickering lamps along the walls, the stranger could see that these men, as well as the group toward which they were walking, were dressed in Roman tunics, but had beards like Jews. He knew what that meant. They were Herodians, a sect of Jews in favor of Herod’s regime.
The other spoke first. Noticing the stranger’s odd appearance, he asked, “Where are you from, sir, if I may be so bold as to ask?”
“I just came up from Jerusalem.”
“I didn’t mean that,” the man retorted. “I meant originally. You look as if you are neither Jew nor Roman.”
“And you, sir,” rejoined the stranger, smiling cynically, “look as if you are both!”
“I am a Herodian.”
“And I, a dissident, though a Jew by birth, and Roman by citizenship. And so, we were both wrong, weren’t we?”
By now they had reached the group seated on the ground. After a few words of greeting, the stranger turned to go. But, one of the men in the group called out, “Ah, mister! Will you join us for evening prayers, sir?”
“I’m afraid I’m quite tired from my journey and shall be quite satisfied to say my own prayers while falling off to sleep. Thanks anyway.”
Another voice from the group blurted, “The LORD requires sincere attention to prayers.”
“I’m sure the LORD will understand.” The stranger turned to go, and then stopped. “But tell me, why do you stick to the Jewish form of worship, while acting and dressing like gentiles?”
“We are still Jews,” said the second man.
“And,” the first added, “we hold onto our beliefs in matters of religion, but in matters of dress and life---”
The stranger interrupted. “---you act like the gentiles. You’ve become a sickening mixture of Jew and gentile, just like the leader you support. He is neither Jewish nor Roman. Yet he tries to be both.”
“Now, hold on here!” exclaimed the first man. “Are you trying to tell us that Herod is not Jewish?”
“I thought it was an accepted fact,” added another voice, “that Herod is descended from a famous Jew.”
The stranger chuckled. “A very effective rumor! It was started by Herod the great to gain the respect of naive Jews like you. No, Herod is really half Idumean and half Samaritan. The so-called ‘royal family’ is Idumean.”
“You mean they descended from Esau, who sold his birthright to our father, Jacob?”
The stranger nodded.
The first man grimaced. “But those people have been our enemies for years – ever since they refused to let us pass through their land.”
The stranger continued, acting as if he had not heard this last remark. “They had their own identity for a while, but they were defeated by John Hyrcanus about 150 years ago, and became practically Jewish, taking on many of the Jewish ways. They started taking on some Roman ways when the Romans handed them Judea some thirty years ago. So, you see, Herod is trying to be both, as you are, but, in reality, he is neither.”
“Just how do you know all this?” asked the first man.
“I am a student of history, and of life, as well.”
“And you have checked out all of this thoroughly?”
“Well,” said a skeptical-sounding voice from the group, “if you’re so much a student of history, tell us: whatever happened to Herod’s foster-brother, that Jewish lad who was adopted by Herod’s father?”
“Yes,” said the first man, “uh, what was his name? Manahius, or Manaheeam or something of that sort I believe.”
“Something of that sort.” The stranger straightened. “But, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. The man seems to have disappeared, speaking of which, I really must do the same. Good night, gentlemen.” He sauntered off to one of the rooms, and in seconds was asleep.
“Strange fellow, isn’t he?” commented the first man.
“He couldn’t stay for evening prayers,” noted the second, “but he had time to tell u us all about Herod’s history.”
“Do you think he could be right?” asked another.
The first man scowled. “Of course not! Everyone knows Herod is Jewish!”
The next morning, before the men awoke, the strange-looking carriage and its strange driver were gone.
“He certainly was quick to get out of here, whoever he was!”
“Yeah! Wonder who he was. Well, no matter. To morning prayers, shall we?”
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