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It was vital, a matter of life and death, to any ruler to know whether a day was auspicious or not for making war, or taking another wife, or building a wall or fortress, or even fencing in a new pleasure garden. Everyone knew that stars had effect on the affairs of men, since in was ordained by the gods that men would live beneath them and be subject to them all their days.
Many people worshiped the stars as gods, and revered them in great temples and shrines. Starcraft, then, was their guide in all their doings, and the temples grew rich from the gifts of the people who sought favor from this star and that star they thought governed them.
Men who studied the stars most closely, curiously enough, did not always believe in them as gods. They came to find, after years of recording the stars, their names, and their positions, that the rituals and offerings were poor bribes to offer so splendid a host of heavenly lights. Their groupings, too, told them things that most men could not know. The tales spun by firelight in tent or palace were fanciful, they realized. The majesty they came to see in the heavens could not be explained by the various tales of the exploits of men and gods that men had devised to explain the stars and how they were arranged.
Magi, for thus star-gazers were called in Parthian Persia in the west, formed a small but tightly-knit community. In the chief towns and in the palaces and temples of the various rulers, the magi were highly educated men who knew more than the priests and common people could never know in supersititious rites centered on selfish, refractory, fearsome and unknowable gods. Appeased one week with a rich offering at the temple, the same god could send a plague or a barbarian army the next week--so how could the god's followers ever trust him? More certain than religion was learning, inscribed in books, by educated men. Passed down to them were the books of the earliest times, inscribed on clay tablets. They could read these after long years of studying the dead languages of Akkad and Chaldea and ancient Babel. The knowledge they gleaned was vast, and though much of it spoke of gods nobody believe in anymore, the movements and groupings of the stars remained as true as it had been in times long past.
In the Western lands and kingdoms, wherever there was a sizable court and city, a magus could be found, employed by the temple or the ruler. He in turn trained others, usually lesser princelings or second or third sons of the ruler who would not be given any throne to sit upon unless the eldest son and heir died. The magus was a man held in awe by common people and king alike. He knew what they could not know, and interpreted the heavens to them when they felt need of such counsel. Many a magus knew priestcraft, and could tell fortunes, when called upon, by employing the signs found in livers and other organs of sacrificed beasts and birds. But it was left to the magus to decide if such sign-telling and revealing of future events by such signs was his province or not.
Some magi and star-gazers refused to deal not only with priestly sign-telling but with the elaborate bribery that went on over the whole world when people sought the stars’ favor for their own advantage. They could grow very rich on such suppliants, and many did, but some refused, knowing that the stars were beyond such rude attempts turn them to men’s account.
Beyond the western lands, near the deserts that the Silk caravans from the far eastern countries had to cross to get to the west, a great wall would be erected, starting in the 6th century, by various kings and emperors.
Curious about the man, the silk merchant interrupted his breakfast to go and see about him. It was a fine morning, and very early, so he had time to investigate him.
Taking some armed servants, he rode over to the fortress tower. Here the man was visible for miles as he stood on the crest of the 100 foot tower.
Before he reached the tower’s base, however, Wan found the man’s camp, which was a tent and several donkeys. A servant stepped out of the tent, holding a spoon, saw Wan and his men and immediately grabbed a bell on a rope at the tent door and rang it like he was going to split the bell.
Several nearly grown boys ran toward the tent, shouting.
Merchant Wan got down from his donkey and bowed as he saw the man on the tower show his head and look down at the disturbance.
Wan waited where he dismounted, holding his men close by him so as not to alarm the man and his servants.
He bowed as the man came forward, seeing that he was no commoner but a well-dressed man of the court, with a special hat.
He bowed again, and the star-man returned his bow.
Wan Li’s servant introduced his master, bowing many times. Introduced by his servant, Wan Li found himself presented to the man who turned out to be Prince Cho Loo of Jiayuguan, a royal prince of mature years. An hour later the men were still talking over tea while their servants stood around outside the door of the tent.
“I must sleep now,” the prince and star-man said after a while. “Would you abide with me here, or return to your own camp. You and your caravan are welcome here, so that we can continue my talk. I can show you the stars tonight that I have been studying. I seldom can speak to a man of your parts, and I have a further reason to hold you I will tell you later.”
On the spot, Wan Li decided to detain his caravan to the west. He could not find it in himself to go without talking more about the things the star-gazer had revealed to him.
Hours later, as the day waned, Wan Li returned from his caravan’s camp to the wall tower.
Prince Cho Loo came out from his tent rubbing his eyes. A servant brought him some water in a golden bowl enlaid with jade, and star-man rinsed his face and hands. He saw Wan Li was already present waiting for him, and he smiled.
“Come have tea with me, and something to eat!” the prince cordially invited Wan Li.
Wan Li bowed, and followed him into the tent.
An hour of great excitement for Wan Li followed, as it grew darker still and the stars began to brightly shine above the fortress parapets.
“I have decided to go to the west, even to Ta-Ts’in, the Land of Gold, to see if there are any like myself who have seen this great thing in the heavens,” the prince of stars explained carefully to the wide-eyed Wan Li. “Could you take me there as you go with your silk goods to sell them in the western markets? I will pay you well for your company and protection.”
Now Wan Li had many armed men and could easily escort and protect thirty or more such star-men as Prince Cho Loo.
Wan Li’s face shone. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, he knew at once. He could learn many wonderful things directly from the lips of this sage, and since he was not a scholar of the classics this was just as good, in his opinion, since he was not much of a reader of books, preferring the life of action.
Nevertheless, he was a man full of wonder and questions about the world, having seen so much of it in his lifetime, and here was a man who could tell him almost everything about the heavens, which few men knew anything about!
Prince Cho Loo’s face grew more sober as he went on. “I myself do not worship the stars, for they are not my gods as they are for many men, but I reverence them as the abode of the Highest God, whom our forefathers once knew. He has become unknown to us, though I have read ancient tablets that spoke of Him walking and moving among mortal men..."
Wan Li showed by his expression he had never heard such things before. He could scarcely believe his ears.
The prince did not seem to notice Wan Li’s impolite puzzlement and continued. “Yes, our forefathers knew of one God above all gods, and it was He who created the heavens, not each god his own star as many today believe. This Greatest Deity is true, the others are false imaginations of foolish people or priests who use the people’s folly and ignorance for their own enrichment. Well, this Great Deity has given evidence of Himself in the heavens, to prove to this world that He alone is God and Creator…”
Wan Li, who knew the names of dozens of gods and knew that thousands were worshipped all over Kuo, could hardly contain his shock. Was the star-gazer impious, and a blasphemer? Would he call down the wrath of various sky-gods and star-deities?
But he listened and realized as he listened that this was a man of great piety. His white beard testified to his age and maturity and long years of study.
“My son,” the prince said, “would you be willing to escort me to Western kingdoms safely, for I have a duty to perform, a holy pilgrimage to make.”
Wan Li waited, for he could find no words to respond with.
“But it is time to go up on the tower. Will you come? I go up here on the wall, because here I can be alone with the stars, far from the turmoil of the town and the courtiers’ busybody ways.”
Wan Li, thinking of the immense profits that awaited him in the west, was hard put to decide. But he had to know more, and he bowed.
“You are sent by the Lord Most High, “ the prince told Wan Li as they climbed the stone steps of the tower. “I had planned to set out tomorrow in the morning, without an escort if necessary, But here you presented yourself to me! I thank the God of heaven!”
Wan Li was almost out of breath as the prince led the way as quickly as a much younger man. At the top the stars shone almost like torches, and there were so many that the effect was of many royal queens’ necklaces of diamonds thrown across the heavens.
On top the tower Wan Li found the prince’s servant waiting, guarding the special instrument that the prince used to study the stars more closely.
The crystal eye was held in a long bamboo tube fastened to three legs of heavy wood anchored with stones, and now the prince began to look through the bamboo tube at a particular part of the heavens. It took some time before he was satisfied at the position, and then he called for his servant to turn the screws that fixed the bamboo tube in one place and setting.
That done, the prince stepped away from the crystal eye, and invited Wan Li to take a look.
At first, Wan Li could see nothing but brilliance, but his eyes adjusted, and the individual stars shone beautifully to his gaze. Never had they looked so great and shining to his eye as through the crystal eye.
After a long gaze he returned the instrument to the prince.
Prince Cho Loo, instead, gave orders to his servant to begin the dismantling of the crystal eye. Another servant, at his call, began the climb up with boxes strapped to his back, one of them much longer than the other.
“You have seen the stars of the sign of the people called Israel in the west. One of them, I have found, has appeared in their midst, and it is new. It means great things, a Birth that has taken place among men of a Son of Heaven!”
Wan Li could not help himself. “What are you saying, O prince?”
The prince looked at the merchant, and folded his hands. He shook his head slowly. “I cannot explain it all right now. But we will have time on our long journey. Before the end you will understand what you saw tonight.”
The prince of starcraft knew his man. It took quite some time to reach the west, almost a year, and then Wan Li was not yet in possession of a full revelation of the new star’s meaning.
Most strangely, the star itself moved before them, and seemed to guide them exactly toward the land of the great miraculous Birth of the Son of Heaven that the star’s appearance heralded.
The Sign-Family of the Fish (Pisces in Greek) was the star group signifying Israel, and here the star had first appeared. It moved, however, across the heavens and guided them, as they stopped for each rest of the caravan at dusk and took view of the Star’s latest position. Always it moved westwards, they found.
What pest-houses the caravansaries were! Heaps of dung in the courtyards, spawning hordes of flies, and dirty children crawling and playing on them! Prostitutes, some of them mere children, plying their trade among the cameleers and donkey-herders and shepherds! Thieves were everywhere, forcing the magi to set constant guard on their animals and goods. With all the dangers and the noise and stench, it was all the more insulting when they were overcharged by shameless innkeepers.
It was always with great relief when they arose from troubled rest and set forth from the inns and gained the free, unpeopled wilderness.
What wretchedness they found in human habitations, what beauty and peace they found in wilderness and desert places! They passed by many a village without stopping—for good reason. Starving dogs ran out to nip at the camels’ legs and had to be driven off. Beggars, seeing the dust of their train, hurried out to intercept them, exposing the most pitiful cases of maiming and blindness and poverty to them in the hopes of thrown coins. Demoniacs, men, women, and even children, hurled filthy, naked bodies at them, spittle flying from their gnashing teeth, held back only by heavy chains attached to thick wooden posts. But they had to be careful in open country. Robber bands lay in wait in the surrounding hills and rocks, watching for an opportunity to swoop down upon them if they thought they could catch them in an unwary moment. They sometimes stopped anyway, just to help poverty-stricken mothers clutching starving babies or beggar children who had been turned out of homes to make their own living.
What evils they witnessed everywhere along their route! They came upon murdered men’s corpses, belonging to some caravan, who had been set upon and stripped of everything, their animals, goods, money, clothes, and of course their lives. Women too had been raped and rope tied around their hands and necks, killed by passing caravaneers, their bodies flung to the side of the road. From time to time they met tax-collectors, who always went forth amply protected by armed soldiers. These were the worst oppressors of the poor, for they took everything they wanted, by force if necessary. Following hard on their heels were unjust judges and provincial rulers, who seized whatever they wanted from defenseless villages and towns within their jurisdiction. Sometimes whole villages were ransacked in this way, the men and elderly slain, the women taken for concubines, and male and female children sold into slavery or inducted into prostitution houses if they were good-looking. Such mourning amidst desolation—it was unbearable to any man of compassion. They were told by the few survivors in such places that because they could not raise the enormous bribe money demanded they had been attacked without mercy.
If men were unspeakably cruel, so was famine and drought. Sands drifted across formerly cultivated fields and choked the wells. Irrigation systems went to wrack and ruin, and lions prowled in the streets of once wealthy, crowded, and thriving towns and cities.
But warfare between tribes and cities and clans produced just as much desolation in districts that should have been full of people and good living but showed only blackened sites where armies had suddenly attacked and spared no one, not even the huts of the poor.
Wan Li should have been inured to such things, but times had worsened, so much so that even he was shocked to see so many places had changed greatly for the worse after his last trip through. “What is the world coming to, if it continues to go downward so quickly?” he wondered, over and over, as scenes grew no better but worse as the journey lengthened.
Priests and charlatans in religious robes also rivaled the warring bands and militias for destructiveness. They preyed upon the ignorant and superstitious, fleecing them at every opportunity that great desperation always produced in the common folk. No wonder young girls were sold to temple service as concubines and to the brothels maintained by various rich men and rulers. Their parents had to way to feed their own families, after being impoverished by the corrupt administrations of the provinces. It was all the more repugnant to the eyes of the magi, seeing how the priests took advantage, when they witnessed hordes of ruined, miserable people seeking the aid of a temple and its god. Witches also were in abundance, infesting every marketplace with many booths in which they demanded high sums for fraudulent foretellings of the future. Truly, a cloud of doom and oppression hung over the whole world! It was so thick and black it was a wonder it did not completely shut out the sun and keep its ray from reaching the inhabitants of the earth!
They reached the first cities of Persia, formerly the greatest world-ruling empire, but now only one province of the great Parthian realm. This was not yet the West ruled over by emperors of T’sin, where the Fertile Crescent of highly populated cities and kingdoms and many farmers and shepherds with their flocks made for much wealth and mortal glory. Yet here in the east had flourished a very great civilization in its day, which was now only slowly waning due to its loss of the imperial scepter to the Parthians-—a rival people to the once powerful but fatally pleasure-loving Persians. The Parthians began as a much weaker nation in numbers and wealth, but they had held back from strength-sapping luxury and ease and, thanks to a superior fighting spirit that could gladly accept hardship, were now the proud overlords of their former masters. Surely the Parthians would prove wiser rulers than those they had yet encountered!
But it was not to be. Everywhere the same crimes and wretchedness repeated themselves, over and over. The whole world seemed overthrown by darkness, and beset by a thick black cloud of evil and despair!
Why, the star-men wondered, was the world grown so dark when their star had appeared to shine so brightly upon it? It was as if the whole earth had plunged into death and destruction, without any hope of ever coming out.
Yet it was here at this nadir of their journey that they received welcome and recognition. It was almost as if everyone knew the star-men. Servants and couriers ran out to greet them before they even reach the city market of Tabriz.
“You are invited to the house of Lord Otiartes,” they were told. “There is plenty provender for your beasts and drovers and men-servants, too. ”
After the many, varied experiences of caravans and caravansaries, which they would like to have forgotten, they were only too pleased to receive this invitation.
Only Wan Li, who had never been invited to such a great personage hardly knew how to accept the invitation. But Prince Cho Loo was not unused to high honors, and he acccepted with a formal bow, sending a message on ahead with signs of various stars that any star-man would recognize.
Given luxurious lodgings in the palace with many servants, with the dying world and its wretchedness and troubles shut out by the high walls of the palace, Wan Li and Prince Cho were dined, then given opportunity to rest the night, but Prince Cho Loo seemed in a hurry to meet their new friend, and ask why they had been invited there.
He sent word that it was time to view the stars, and asked if Lord Otiartes would favor them with his presence.
Soon after that their host appeared in the hall of the palace, and they were summoned.
Their host got up from his throne-like divan and went forward to greet his bowing guests.
“I heard of you from my own men who are stationed along the Silk Road. I must see to my own trade caravans, you understand, and their well-being. I do not depend on hearsay from the idle-talkers in the street. Thus I heard of your coming, and something of your intention. Can you tell me more? Do not fear to tell me. I wish to know more about this One you call the Most High God of Heaven and his special Star of Nativity.”
Prince Cho Loo’s face showed no expression as he bowed once again. His voice hardly showed his surprise, but he seemed to take more time with his words, the only indication to Wan Li, who had grown to know Prince Cho better, that the prince was not yet sure of this newfound host.
A hour later, after many questions were answered, the pace of Prince Cho’s speech quickened. Wan Li could see that Lord Otiartes, a young man with plain-speaking, honest ways, had gained the prince’s confidence.
“I too have noticed this peculiar star you have identified,” their host said to them. “It is most strange to me. It does not appear in any of the old tablets, nor in the charts I have made of the heavens in most recent years. Yet it has appeared, a most auspicious omen! You say it is the sign of the nativity of the Son of Heaven! Who is he? Is he perhaps the Great One, the Redeemer some people here called the Zoziash?”
Prince Cho Loo shook his head. “I cannot say that, for he is the One the people of Israel, whose sign is the Great Fishes, are expecting to be born among them, to lead them forth as chief of all the nations and peoples of the earth. What he will do for other nations, I cannot tell. I only know he is the Son of Heaven, foretold in the oldest books of my own people from the earliest forefathers!”
“I must see this great Son of Heaven, as you call him!” the Persian magus avowed to them. “I have never believed in the petty, squabbling gods of my people and their various stars they claim govern their lives! That is a religion of fools, which is taken advantage of by the greedy priests of the temples! Such avarice and ignorance! It makes me sick in my heart and belly to see! Truly, we need a Redeemer, for we are a base people! My sins trouble my heart, so that I cannot sleep many nights. That is why I have studied the stars so often and laboriously. I cannot sleep, for the weight of my sins upon my heart!”
Lord Otiartes, saying this to his friends Wan Li and Prince Cho, would weep. It was amazing to see a man break down this way in the East, but Prince Cho’s eyes, not to mention Wan Li’s, would shine with tears as well. Soon they loved one another, from the heart, sharing the journey in the wake of the great Star of the Heavenly Son.
For the Star led them forth from Persia in the Parthian Empire to Bab-ili, or Babel, the chief metropolis in the eastern horn of the Fertile Crescent, which was also now ruled by the Parthian. The changes in administrations, from Chaldean to Medo-Persian to wholly Persian, from Persian to Alexander the Great, from Alexander to Hellenistic Seleucid, and from Seleucid to Parthian, had not affected starcraft. At Babel, which moved day and night with traffic from all nations, they came quickly to the notice of the local starcrafters, and many renowned wisemen and astrologers sought their company at various dinners. But the three magi, thronged by invitations, declined all but one. It came from an Armenian magus who had lately come to Babel from Edessa far to the north in Van, the land of powerful fortresses, tall mountains and deep, green valleys the Assyrians had called Urartu, leading a troup of his star-brethren. To reach Israel, they would travel that way up the great river Euphrates, but they would not go as far as Edessa. Yet this man might tell them of the route, for things might well have changed since Wan Li had last passed that way, and news was always valuable of conditions along the caravan route.
They reached the Edessan star-man’s camp at the edge of the vast “Great Market” that most caravans, going to all the world, camped at to do business, and found not one but ten magi from Edessa waiting to talk to them.
Using traders’ Aramaean, which everyone spoke along the caravan routes, the conversation went quickly to the great new Star that had arisen in the Sign-Family of the Two Fishes.
“Our people have long observed the stars,” the Edessans informed Prince Cho, “ever since the days of our father Noah. “It was from Noah our father that all the races of mankind sprang forth, like branches from a giant root-stem. He it was who told us of the great Signs which the Almighty Intelligence placed in the heavens! But there was one here, a prince of the Jews taken captive by the king of Babylon, that was before the Persians came and seized the scepter of Babylon--he passed great knowledge and visions on to the wise of that time, and they in turn passed it to me when I inquired of him in the city."
Of course, they inquired of the Armenian all he had heard about Prince Daniyel and his great visions and wisdom concerning the coming King of kings, whom they fully expected to be the Zoziash, the Great Redeemer the Persian star-men anticipated.
The next few days were hectic, as Wan Li’s caravan grew by leaps and bounds, when the Edessans joined their households to his and Prince Cho’s and Lord Otiartes. Now they were the talk of the city, and Babylon was so big that it took something to gain its attention. While in the Great Market, Prince Cho and Lord Otiartes did some business, purchasing frankincense from a Sebaean incense merchant from Arabia and also myrrh.
As they began the journey, they spoke of the Star and its possible meaning to mankind and even to their own lives and heart troubles.
They still, however, reached no consensus, on what the Son of Heaven might do for men, and if he were meant only as heaven’s favor upon the House of Israel. Yet they had to go and find out, for their questions burned within their hearts.
At various chief cities, word of them reached the ears of this magus and that wise man, and their caravan grew even larger.
Reaching sixty star-gazers in number, with hundreds of pack animals and men-servants, the caravan was the biggest on the road. Now they had no fear of being attacked by bands of bandits. Only hostile kings could do them harm, who had sufficient armies to attack and subdue a large, well-armed caravan such as this.
Prince Cho always said, on this subject, “But the Star will lead us without fail to the spot, for it has been faithful all this way.” This was encouraging word to Wan Li, who had a fortune in silken goods yet to sell at Caesarea on the coast for the big marts of Ta-Ts’in This was, due to his family’s decline of late, the only way he might recoup his family fortune, and he must be very careful with his remaining assets. If he should lose this caravan’s profits in any way, the family would be impoverished and unable to send forth another caravan on the Silk Road.
Prince Cho spoke the truth. They reached Jerusalem safely, following the faithful Star arisen in the Fish. On the edge of the vast Parthian empire, it was then ruled by a Ta-Ts’in governor in Syria Major, a province that included Jerusalem and all Judaea and Galilee, but there was an Idumaean usurper of the Jewish throne who had recently ruled the land, named Herod. Was he still alive?
The Edessans were doubtful. Even so they did not want to go up to Jerusalem, despite the Star’s clear leading them in that direction. King Herod had proved himself a man of blood, despite many magnificent works of public building spread all across his domain. A tyrant who murdered his own sons to keep the reins of power—could he be trusted not to attack them?
Prince Cho Loo’s wise advice prevailed. “We will go as suppliants seeking the king’s wisdom, and he will be flattered. We will not tell him all we know, just that we are seeking this one whose Star we have seen in the East. We will not be harmed, if he is so proud and vain as the report says he is.”
“Surely,” said Prince Sasan Hurrora the leading Edessan, “the chief priests and rulers of the Temple of the Lord God of the Jews will want to help us too. They must want to worship this Son of the Most High, whose Star has appeared to us! Surely, they will help us find the newborn Son, for all the Jews expect a Messiah to be born, who will restore their lost nation’s sovereignty and past greatness.”
“But what of this old king, the reigning Herod?” Wan Li questioned the sages around him. “He was here in power when I last visited the land and there were evil reports given me of him. I had no trouble with him, after I gave his agents bribes to turn away his greed from my caravan, so that he did not hinder me in any way. He has put many members of his own family to death, he is so afraid of his own sons taking his scepter! What a bloody father he is, killing his own sons! There is a saying that his pigs are safer than the royal sons of his household, though the devout Jews will not touch swine. Is he a Jew? Will he want to worship the new King of the Jews, this Messiah as you call him?”
The Edessans, to a man, shook their heads. Prince Hurrora answered, “No, he is not considered Jewish, for though he has some Jewish blood he is Idumean, and the Messiah must not be born of Esau, the father of the Idumeans, according to the Jewish teachers and their Law. Thus he is despised of the Jews, who deny him any legitimacy he might claim of possessing Jewish blood. But he rules the Jews with an iron fist, being given his throne by the all-powerful Romans of the West, and curries their emperor’s favor. So he will help us even if his heart is not with us. As for the priests and Temple authorities and chief rulers of the people they will want to help us find the Messiah who is the only one who can deliver them from the Romans. They must have found him by now!”
But the Edessans were mistaken about the chief priests and the Pharisees, due to a friendly embassy sent lately to their country by the Temple authorities. The envoys were most flattering, commending the elders of the city for the good relations in Edessa between Jewish merchants and local synagogue rabbis who served the Jews residing there and the people and their ruler.
Immediately, the magi asked all who came to their tents, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and are come to worship him.”
“What do you mean ‘King of the Jews’?” they were asked by the astounded Jerusalemites. “Do you mean Herod? He was born many years ago, but in another part of the land, not this city nor even in Israel, for his father was an Idumaean! Everybody round about here knows that? You must have come from far-off countries, where people are ignorant of these matters.”
“No,” they were told, “we mean only the One the prophets of your own people, and with them the great Jewish prince who served the kings of Babylon all his life, said would come to save Israel from her enemies, the Son of the Most High God, the Redeemer whose Star we have observed in the East and followed all this way to this city of your former kings, so that we might worship him.”
The visitors were made speechless, hearing this news about a Messiah and his star that they had completely missed seeing. "What great Jewish prince, who served the Babylonian kings of yore? Were they referring to Daniyel who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and carried off to Babylon in his youth?"
They hurried off to inform the Temple authorities, and some of them played both sides and went to King Herod as well, gaining double favor for the information. Still others ran to the Romans installed in the Fortress Antonia.
For several days the visitors still came, heard the reason for the magi’s coming, and reported it to all the rulers and people in the city, until everybody was talking about it. “The Messiah has already been born?” the people cried to one another. “Why weren’t we warned by the chief priests and scribes who rule over us? Why have they kept silent? They are wardens of the holy books of the prophets! How can we know if we must be so busy about our business and household affairs?”
Jerusalem was cast into an uproar, with many people deeply troubled and perplexed. “If the great Prophet of the Lord has indeed come, where then is he? What will we do? Why don’t the chief priests tell us what to do? Why are they saying nothing? Why did they keep silent? Surely, they must have known this One was born? But where is he? How old is he now?” Questions and rumors flew fast and thick. Nobody knew what to think or do about the matter.
Herod’s palace was also cast into a great dither. As king of Judaea, even if a puppet of Roma’s, he knew he must act or appear ludicrous and weak before all the people of his royal city and kingdom.
He summoned the chief priests and scribes, the leaders of Holy Israel over which he ruled with Roman power backing him. They came, haughtily, grudgingly, looking for some way to advance themselves at his expense—something he had grown to expect from them. “What was the son of Esau seeking to do now to harm their interests?” they were no doubt thinking. “How could they best thwart his evil plans, whatever they were?”
Now the Temple authorities and scribes knew Herod, by report of their own spies, was deeply troubled by the uproar over the magi from the East and their seeking the Messiah, who according to their starcraft had been lately born in the kingdom. They too were troubled by the report. Forewarned by all the reports given them by their spies, and some of the scribes had gone in person to interview the magi, they knew what was on Herod’s mind. But how was he to deal with it? That was the question. What purpose did he have calling him to his palace hall? What in the world did he expect them to do—if as the magi believed—the Messiah had already been born.
And, chief of all the questions, what would they themselves do about it? If the Messiah had been born, and as yet they had no proof he had, what were they to do? Follow the wise magi and go and worship the Messiah? What advantage would that give them anyway? They already had control of the Temple and its vast revenues, as well as ecclesiastical and much civil power over the nation.
Disturbed at the thought that there was possibly a supreme Authority now residing in the land superseding their own, One that could decide the policies to be set and how the Temple money was to be spent, the Temple’s chief priests and their scribes and followers quickly formulated their plans before they went to the king.
In secret cabal, Hananiah the reigning chief priest and his party decided to let others act, for then they would not be guilty of some unknown folly before the people. Let Herod handle the matter! Let him bear any blame before the Roman overlords in the matter. They bore the highest religious authority in the nation and governed in all religious affairs, but the foreign usupers, the Romans and their puppet, King Herod, ruled the state politic. Second only in power to the Roman governor of Syria Major, King Herod bore on his shoulders internal civil authority of the Judaean kingdom and was obliged to deal with the civil unrest created by the magi’s report of a newborn Messiah. Let the Idumaean take the full responsibility!
A scribe, however, asked Hananiah, “But if the Messiah has really been born in our country? What then? What will happen to us? Won’t we look impious if we fail to lead the people to him to worship him? They will abhor us if we do not go to him, will they not? For we are their leaders in the holy faith.”
Hananiah had already considered this question, and was not taken aback. “No, no, you do not regard this matter rightly. There can be no legitimate Messiah, not while the Roman army abides in power over us and decides the course of all nations from their chief city. We only see imposters and frauds posing as the Messiah. This is just another of that type, raised up by some foolish family to advance themselves by money of pilgrims this birth would bring them! All these hundreds of years, and thousands of years have passed before them, and no Messiah! He will never come, my son! All we see are these pitiful frauds, seeking to take away the Temple’s legitimate authority and power among the people. It is the same thing with this latest one—no different at all! As for the people, they are foolish and ignorant sheep as always. They are never satisfied and can be stirred up to follow this and this man who claims to be Messiah, but they can be soon brought back to their senses when the man is arrested and put to death as a blasphemer and insurrectionist.”
“That is true!” the others assembled cried. The matter was settled. They would do nothing. Let Herod handle the matter, but allow him to take no advantage by it whatsoever. Only let him bear any blame in the eyes of the people if anything went wrong.
“But,” the scribe persisted, “what if he asks where the Messiah is to be born? What will we tell him? You know the various prophecies, how they contradict themselves, one saying he is to come out of Egypt, the other referring to Nazareth, and yet another claiming Bethlehem!”
Hananiah turned the question back to the inquirer. “You decide and tell him! You are the one who reads the old holy books of the Ancients. I have no time for the coughings and forehead rubbings and fiddle-faddle of scholars concerning them! But be quick to find out, if you do not know, for I hold you responsible should Herod ask it of us!”
Frightened at the thought, the scribe hurried away. He went to the Temple archives, to pull out the ancient scrolls. Unused for many years, the dust was thick upon them, for the holy writings of the prophets were not being read, either in the Temple or in the city anymore.
Hours later, he had just found what he needed for Herod when Temple guards came to report that he was summoned, with the chief priest and the other leaders, to Herod’s court.
“But we find no need of that bother,” Hananiah replied. “We devout sons of Abraham have always eagerly awaited the Messiah since our birth! Every one of us, from greatest to the least, knows where it will occur, though when, it is not possible for any mortal to know since the Majesty on high keeps it hidden.”
Hananiah then beckoned to the scribe who had done his homework.
The scribe, bowing before Herod, then spoke. “It is not here in Jerusalem. Nor in Egypt. Neither is it Nazareth of Galilee. For the holy prophets say, and most of the rabbis and holy men agree, ‘In Bethlehem of Judaea.’”
“What, in that dirty little flyspeck of a town? Ridiculous! Why not in a city of kings, this splendid royal seat of mine, Holy Jerusalem, that I have adorned with wonderful buildings that are the talk of men the world over?”
Herod’s outburst about Jerusalem being his city brought thin smiles to the assembled Temple authorities and the chief priest. Hananiah caught the scribe’s eye and gave a nod for the scribe to continue.
“O great king, there is more to confirm my finding. The holy prophet says, ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you will come a ruler who wil govern my people Israel.’”
The scribe backed away, pleased that he had gained the great Hananiah’s favor by his hours of hard digging in the musty, old books. It meant at least thirty pieces of silver in his pocket!
King Herod, dealing with the information, was not so pleased. “I don’t see how they couldn’t be talking about just any ruler. Give me further proof it is the Messiah, the one Isaiah called “Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Immanuel-- the One who will rule over the whole earth from this city! Is He whom they meant?” Hananiah had dealt with the king long enough to know how to handle him like a serpent-trainer a deadly cobra. He stepped forward without any attempt at a bow. “But, sire, there is for all us Jews no need of further proof. It is a matter of faith, as you know, as a son of Abraham. The holy people of our nation have always believed, following the prophets, that a Messiah is meant. We cannot provide proof, other than what these magi—these wisemen of the East come lately to the city as you know—have brought.”
It was a brilliant strategy. The chief priest, in one stroke, deflected all possible responsibility for proof from the Temple authority to the foreign visitors. Let them bear Herod’s ire if they could not persuade him in the matter! Also, Hananiah knew that it was a particularly sore point with Herod, the Idumean, to want to stand on his half-Jewish mother’s blood among the sons of Jacob, the people of Israel, in order to appear a legitimate king on a Jewish throne. Pressed on that point, Herod could be made to do most anything or refrain from certain actions as well, to avoid being seen as alien-blooded and outside the Covenant—which he was most certainly was, as a descendant of Esau whom God hated for selling his birthright.
King Herod let the chief priest and his people go. He had other matters to attend to, chief among them the summoning of the magi for proof of the Messiah.
To prove their words they showed him Herod’s newly minted shekel which showed by the palm and the other signs on it that he was claiming the Messiahship for himself and his family line.
Prince Cho took the coin, examined it closely, then passed it to the other wisemen. Every man who looked at it grimly shook his head, for they all knew the meanings of the signs inscribed on it.
This was most unwelcome news. Now the magi feared for their lives. A mad king who presumed to think he was Messiah and would risk a bloodbath of the Jews to force them to worship him would not welcome a rival Messiah. Far from it! Such a tyrant, who begat children on ten wives but who did not shrink from murdering his own sons to keep in power, would think nothing of murdering foreigners who had come to worship the rival Messiah of the Jews, which the Star had announced to the whole world.
But they were trapped in a deadly snake pit, with cruel spectators gathered all round to enjoy the spectacle of their last agonies!. Herod’s army of spies and armed men were plentiful as swarms of devouring locusts. They could do nothing but what the king allowed them to do. He now summoned them to court. This was no friendly summons—they were treated exactly as subjects who had no choice.
They may have waited two hours before the Great King finally came, his head and beard dyed as black as the dozen trumpet-blowing black Ethiopian eunuchs dressed half-naked in feathers and gold loin cloths who first entered the throneroom and heralded his appearance. A thunderous roar broke out in the hall from the hundreds of paid courtiers. The hired courtiers of Herod acted like he, not Jerusalem, was the chief joy of all the earth, and the king had to wave his hand repeatedly to get them to stop so court business could begin.
Not feeling so well on this day, with more important things on his mind, Herod put aside the oration he had planned to give, that was calculated to mightily impress the assembly. He knew they would be overwhelmed with his grand plans and conceptions for the complete rebuilding and modernization of Jerusalem and its walls in order to expand the city’s size and glory like unto Antioch, Alexandria, and even Roma. The Temple project was a key element of the master plan, of course, and it was proceeding with such success even Romans were talking about it with respect and a trace of envy. To please and impress the Greeks and Romans, he had added an amphitheater, baths, gymnasium, and the Fortress Antonia which the Roman army had taken for their own use—but there was so much more he could do to bring glory to his name and family line. If only he was feeling better and wasn’t so advanced in age! The naked youth of the Jewish nobility that surgically reversed their circumcisions in order to perform in the sports and training of the gymnasium—the abominable sight had infuriated the powerful party of Pharisees particularly, but what did that matter? Roma ruled the world, not this fanatical bunch of goat-bearded, long-faced hypocrites who were always conniving to unseat him from his throne!
Herod motioned to his Cupbearer. The Cupbearer pointed toward the magi with his court staff. It was the cue for which they were instructed to heed. The magi moved forward before the throne and all bowed before the tyrant, presenting suitable gifts to a king. As they did this, they were all wondering if he would soon throw them into his dungeons and then kill them for daring to reveal another Messiah to the Jews than the Messiah who was presently on the throne. Wan Li felt , thanks to the glances of people from the gate to the palace of Herod, felt even more an alien than the magi, due to the fact his skin was so yellow.
Yet the king, strangely, held back his infamous rage, after a glance at the impressive gifts, which were Parthian bows, a chest of fine Babylonian woven garments, and the even greater prize of bolts of fine silk that were worth their gold in weight. Everyone, including Herod, could see these were gifts worthy of a king. Pleased, he eyed the magi and the silk merchant with them with restraint that few at court had witnessed in him though many present knew of the king’s own claim to Messiahship. “I have called you here, so that you may learn what you have asked of me. Only I first must hear you on this appearance of a certain star—so you have reported--leading you here. What does a star have to do with the Messiah?”
This question was posed in a bland fashion, as if Herod did not know what signs and omens were in the heavens, when everyone in the world believed in them. Any great king or personage always claimed such signs appearing at his birth. All sorts of long-tailed stars, eclipses, and conjunctions of planets attended such royal births, or so it was reported afterwards by the court and current dynasty. Thus, he had to have known what this star signified—the birth of and Elect Someone with special greatness and heavenly favor. Who among the magi could find a suitable answer?
It was already decided who would speak for the magi. Prince Cho, having journeyed the greatest part of the way and been first to sight the Star, stepped forward and bowed. For the royal audience he had chosen his best robe. Dressed in a splendid red jade colored brocaded silk gown neck to ankle, his head crowned with a prince’s hat of celadon green silk studded with diamonds and pearls, he was easily the most stunning sight among the assembled, his wealth and nobility drawing every eye not only to his perfect manner in which he bore himself but to his strange race. Wise man as he was, he didn’t seem to notice the evil glances and snickering his almond-shaped eyes and bronze complexion caused the less cultivated among Herod’s nobles and palace guards.
Herod had not seen the star in question since he seldom looked skyward in the open air, for fear of arrows that the people might shoot at him up over his palace walls. Though he could claim to have seen it, that was beside the point. He was clearly no magus, he could take their word for it.
He nodded as if in approval. “Well done! I am pleased by your report.”
Then he cleared the court of all his tribe of sweet-tongued, favor-sucking nobility, and kept only the magi to speak with him.
The king smiled down upon them. “This is too important a matter to share with the grossly ignorant sort, who cannot appreciate the birth of the Messiah properly,” he began the private audience.
What could the magi say? They bowed.
“What is this star you describe?” the king inquired. “Give me its particular name. I probably know of it.”
Prince Cho bowed. “Then you know the figures—for the meaning of the star is joined by all the figures of the House of the Fishes.”
“Of course I know the figures!” the king snapped. “But what figures do you mean? I want to make certain we are perfectly agreed on them, since your country and mine are no doubt quite different and separated by great distance and diverse languages, so please specify them for the court record.”
The prince bowed even lower, to the level of a lowly fisherman-suppliant to the Imperial Cook installed in a secial receiving booth at the back of his emperor's palace. “By all means, Great King. For the king’s record, we of the East speak of the Fishes as a house containing the figures of the Bands, the Two Fishes, the Chained Woman, and the Crowned King. The bands attach to the Two Fishes to each other and also attach to the figures of a sea-monster and a ram in the neighboring house. Out of the tale of the heavenly ram previously proceeded a fish. Now we see the Two Fishes conjoined in one house. The attachment to the sea-monser entailed old bondage to false worship. The attachment to the ram entailed freedom and deliverance. Then in the House of the Two Fishes, we see them swimming vigorously in the heavens, and though our ancient teachers, the Babelites and Assyrians, hated this sign so much they refused to eat fish, the world has entered the Age of the Two Fishes…”
By this time, Herod was heartily sorry he had asked. His heavily-jeweled fingers were drumming and clicking noisely on the arms of his throne as he slouched back in his seat.
“Enough about fishes for now! I think I can almost smell them! Will you proceed more directly to the point of my question?”
The prince showed no sign he had witnessed this puppet of the emperor of Ta-Ts’in in the city of Roma behaving with crudity and boorishness, and he nodded with the most gracious manners.
“It is my great pleasure, O Great King! But allow me to speak one word about the Chained Woman, portrayed chained off the rock of Joppa on your coast, before going directly to the star in question. She, we have observed, is another figure signifying the Two Fishes, and she is oppressed during the whole of the new age that is now upon us. Yet we know she shall be rescued from her rock where she is chained by a certain Great Deliverer, the very one whose star we have followed to this place. We see in this figure that the house points both to now and also the future. For the Deliverer will become what we see in the next figure of the House of the Two Fishes, the Crowned King. This One is no longer the sacrificed lamb or heavenly ram but the Great Redeemer, enthroned in glory and all power. We know who he is, because he not only sits on the throne, but beneath one foot is the new pole-star, and the wise men of Egypt name the figure, ‘He who cometh to rule.’ In his shoulder shines a star whose name means, ‘Comes quickly.” A star at his middle means, “The Redeemer,” and at his left knee a star carries the meaning, ‘He who bruises or breaks.’ This is the great and glorious star of wonder in the middle of the figure of the Crowned King that led us here, O Great King!”
Bored to the point of apoplectic rage, the king straightened in his posture, hearing the upshot at last.
“When did the star you claim to have seen first appear?” he went, his interest suddenly revived by a sudden instinctive feeling that his own throne was being threatened from this new quarter. Treachery, conspiracy against his throne and authority, was something he knew something about. His keenest instincts could detect it, even at a great distance!
“The time of the star’s discovery might tell us something use—er, illuminating.” the king observed drily, his eye glinting at the star-man.
Prince Cho told him, it was three years hence, just before the start of his own journey by six months of the lunar calendar.
“Then, the newborn king is not yet four years old, by your reckoning, if he was born at the time the star first appeared in the heavens to your eyes?”
Prince Cho and the other magi nodded.
“Well!” he declared. “It is unfortunate we-—the chief priests and their people-—missed this wonderful, wonderful event. We might have gone immediately to worship the newborn One! But that is spilt wine! Go down to Bethlehem, and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
The king raised his hand as a sign from his throne that the secret audience was ended. He left the throne room as the magi bowed, his aged, diseased-riddled body carried away by half-naked Ethiopian men-servants on a golden litter to his private, well-guarded apartments in the palace--where doctors awaited him with drug-laced, pain-deadening wines.
The company of magi and Wan Li were only too happy to depart from the overly gilded, feathered court and this deathly ill but wily old Fox-King to go in search of the one who was truly the Desire of All Nations, if he was truly all the sages said he was. Once they cleared the walls, heading out at night because it was only then they could possibly see the Star, they breathed easier. But where was the guiding Star that had led them to Jerusalem? They had to find the Star, for how otherwise could they find the Messiah it heralded?
The people of Jerusalem, seeing the big caravan from the East depart the city gate leading to Bethlehem, Hebron and the South just before it closed for the night, at a time when all other caravans were bedded down, wondered what they were doing. Weren’t they afraid of roving bands of bandits in the wild countryside? And where was the Messiah these foreigners were reputedly in search of ? No one had any answer, except that there was a rumor, among the many hundreds flying about, that it might be Bethlehem, the City of David, that the magi were headed to, taking the gate that opened to Benjamin’s towns and villages.
“What, little Bethlehem, you say?” “You couldn’t be speaking of –“--was the startled, laughing response by all who heard the rumor, sophisticated city people who had altogether forgotten that Jerusalem, too, was Benjamin’s territory, not Judah’s, the much mightier and royal tribe.
This incredulous laugh was the Jerusalemite state of mind, to look down upon everyone outside its hallowed walls and sanctified Temple precincts.
“Surely, not there! Surely, it couldn’t be-—it is such a paltry place! All those Ephrahtites can find to do is slap together crude little clay water pots or herd sheep and goats!”
“Oh, you are so right!” others crowed in agreement with the scoffer, with some spitting to show how distasteful the idea was to them too.
“Bethlehem-Judah’s fit only for smelly shepherds and their bawling folds. I don’t care what the old prophets said! Don’t drag up that claptrap! They were just old windbags, most of them, anyway! Did they ever do our holy nation one bit of good with all their yapping about destruction coming upon us for doing this and that thing that offended these self-righteous prigs? No, they’re off the track on this one for sure! Bethlehem has to be the last place where a royal king of Israel ought to be born, least wise the Messiah! Anyone in his right mind can plainly see that it is here, in our great royal city, at the Hasmonaean palace no doubt, our Messiah has be born!” Bethelehem and Jerusalem--they might as well have been worlds apart, though they lay nearly in each other's shadow.
On the short crow's hop over the hills to Bethlehem, less than half a day’s easy march, Wan Li’s thoughts came together on the object of the long journey. He had listened to all the things the magi had told him from the old books they had studied, giving him the wisdom and lore of the ages, wherever the Messiah of the Jews was spoken of. In this way he learned the many names of the promised One, names such as “Cornerstone,” “Counselor,” “Wonder,” “Everlasting Father,” “Hero God,” Immanuel,” “Jehovah,” “Judge of Israel,” “Man of Sorrows,” “Messiah,” “Mighty God,” “Mighty One,” “Prince of Peace,” “Redeemer,” and the one that intrigued Wan Li, “Rose of Sharon,” because few rulers were ever described as flowers except the greatest emperors of Kuo, whom fawning court poets compared to splendid but scentless chrysanthemums, not fragrant roses. That name, and “Immanuel,” were most unusual.
Wan Li had been astonished then and ever since by the names. No earthly king, however great, could claim such names, or so many! Imagine a king that could be called a “Rose”? But there were many more divine names of this coming Son of Heaven, the wise men had assured him. ‘We have made search of some of the old books, but there are libraries of other books we have not seen, there is not time enough to read them to gather all his names!” As for “Immanuel,” they told him it meant “God With Us.” The meaning was that God was with men by becoming a man, garbing himself in human flesh to share all things with his own creation! No god had ever done this, to descend to becoming a man in order to share man’s estate!
The Star? It failed to appear, however, leaving the silk merchant’s heart sinking with dread that they had come all that way for nothing even though he still had his silk to sell to the Roman bidders. The other stars seemed to mock them. Each seemed to cry, “Fools of the East! You imagined you saw a Great Star when no such Star ever existed or moved and behaved in such a manner as you describe! You imagined it! It was but a sly trick of the moon, of the clouds, and reflected light! Not any star arises, to guide you! See for yourselves! Where is your Great Star of the King of the Jews? Where the great Star of the Desire of All Nations heralded by the Jewish prince at the courts of the kings of Babylon? Where?”
The magi rode their camels on into the dark night, each not speaking to anyone, but glumly following the caravan as Wan Li led it forth on his lead camel.
: He felt an utter fool as they continued and approached the sleeping, shuttered environs of Bethlehem, a mud-bricked little tomb stood off on the right side of the dusty track of a road. What would they do now? Ask the local people, who would think them bandits or utter simpletons for coming so late in the evening, in search of none other than the Messiah?
Now that they reached Bethlehem, Wan Li, a practical man of business, was all for calling it quits and for heading back to Jerusalem. Was this nothing but a wild goose chase? With downcast countenance, fearing utter loss of face, he peered around at the magi following him. But they weren’t looking to him for leading. They had stopped! Wan Li himself reined in his protesting, spitting camel. He saw one magus after the other pointing heavenwards, and shouting. What was going on? Looking up, he could not believe his eyes for a moment. Always, in the past he had seen the Star from a great distance. But now it was like he saw a great shining explosion in the heavens, that gathered itself together into one beautiful orb, that glowed with many colors, shining outwards as if it had arms, then straight up and down at the center. It was the Star, but a Star that seemed to be rejoicing with its finest colors. Indeed, it was if the Crowned King of the Heavens, his most splendid diadem of diamonds, rubies and topazes and emeralds, had come unfastened and now was pinned on the heaven’s broad expanse! Rising omnipotently, shining everlastingly, beautiful, utterly divine!
Overwhelmed by the beauty and splendor pouring out upon the hills of the silent little town of Bethlehem from the rejoicing Star, which was all the greater because it was so close overhead, the magi and Wan Li could do nothing but gaze upwards, each rejoicing with great joy to see the Star of stars.
Gradually, they realized it was drawing away to the eastern edge of the town. They could not let it go, so they followed. It went not into the city proper that lay spread on the hills ahead of them but over to the side of it. Since they had to follow by the roadway and could not get down the steep sides to follow directly, it took them some time to go to where the Star came to rest over above a house near some shepherd’s caves and a small inn.
At last, Wan Li thought, he would be seeing this “Messiah,” this special “King of the Jews” heralded by the wondrous Star!
The caravan rested one day in Bethlehem after that late night interview granted them by the somewhat startled husband of the mother of the Messiah. An angel warned Wan Li in a dream, and he rose up and told the others immediately. Warned not to return to the king, they started before dawn and took another way, since the king’s spies and armed men would be looking for them at Tadmor and other caravan cities in the north that served as gateways to the East. As for the Edessans, they knew their lives were just as much at stake as the other magi if they left the caravan at this point, and so they trusted Wan Li and continued with him though it took them in the opposite direction from Van their homeland.
“The angry king will send companies of horseman against us, to capture and rob and kill us al on the north highway,” Wan Li explained to them, as his vast communication with men across the world had taught him what was in men, high or low, rich or poor. “His spies will tell him exactly where we will be arriving next, and his men will intercept us there, and none of us will escape his vengeance. The moment I saw him, I knew the heart of this man, and that was capable of any outrage.” No one thought to argue with that kind of wisdom, born of long experience.
Wan Li first divided the caravan, after quitting Bethlehem, into three parts. That was to make it less conspicuous and also if one part were taken by Herod, the others might still escape. He knew the land, and he led directly opposite the way caravans from the East would return to the East. Before they reached Idumea, King Herod’s homeland, they turned between Hebron and Beersheba onto lesser used byways to the East to reach the great Salt Sea wherin nothing could live, it was so salty. Their camels’ and donkeys’ hooves shod with tied sackcloth, they skirted every walled city and village, though there were few in desolate Idumaea. Coming out below Engedi and Herod’s palace-fortress of Masada, followed the shore down to the end of the Salt Sea and continued on the incense route to Sheba and South Arabia. When they reached the waters of the Sea of Aqabah and the port of Ezion-Geber where King Solomon once kept his ships for sea voyages to Ophir for its fine gold, they embarked on hired boats to trade cities of Parthian-ruled Persia that bordered the Rome-to- India sea route. Once in Persia, far from Herod’s power to hurt them, they trekked northward. Then, sadly, with many tears and embraces, at last they parted company, each to his own homeland with unforgettable memories.
As for Prince Cho and Wan Li, they did not talk very much on the homeward part of the journey on the Silk Road through the former imperial Persian satrapies of Bactria, Soghdiana, and Transoxiana. There was far too much for each man to ponder regarding his own soul and spirit. Many questions came to each man’s mind. Was this Messiah going to remain in Israel and not go to foreign peoples? What were all the non-Jewish nations to do then, go up to Jerusalem to seek his favor? How would they be received, being aliens to the House of Israel? Yet his human mother and her husband had treated them with respect and had not turned them away. They had been allowed full liberty to worship the divine Child.
Prince Cho felt his life fulfilled, to have seen the Star and the very One it heralded. What other star-scholar of Kuo could claim such an honor? He was deeply humbled, to the core of his being. And more than this honor, he felt himself changed deep within. He had come to find a Child, a Messiah, a King of the Jews, and had found something far greater. Seeing the great herald, the Star, was quite astonishing, but the personage the Star led them to was—was their undoing. No one among them had expected to meet with so holy a being on this earth that His holy presence emanated for many feet from the house confines and touched all who approached it. Truly, stepping within the pale of that holiness, they were undone!
In that condition they realized their unholy ways and their abject need of redemption! Indeed, the whole company of magi were inwardly transformed by the thought that at last they would see the Redeemer. They scarcely noticed the mother of the Child, nor her husband, nor did they take any particular note of the house. They had thought only for the Star-heralded Heavenly King.
Though it was late when they were admitted into the house, they begged to be allowed to see the Holy Child that had already smitten their hearts with this holiness. The mother came out of her inner chamber, when called by her husband. With a blanket around her, she stood shyly, wondering who their guests could be, then seemed to know by something told her inwardly, and went and got the Child to bring to them.
She no sooner brought them Child then everything seemed to stop, as if time stood still. If his holy presence was strong outside the house, it was overwhelming in his close presence!
Immediately, that Holy Presence of the Godhead flowing out from the tiny, wriggling form they beheld in His mother’s arms moved over Wan Li and the others, so powerfully that they sank to their knees, and then fell on their faces! It simply overwhelmed them, dissolving their knees and hearts.
One after another broke into sobs that could not be stopped.
Never had Wan Li, nor the others with him, felt such a sense of his own falling short of the glory of God, and his transgressions of the holy laws of God by giving his worship to lesser gods. He mourned and wept openly and begged the God of Heaven, the Father of the One before whom he lay prostrate.
“I will worship no other God but Thee, and This thy holy Son before me!” he had vowed in the carpenter’s modest dwelling, realizing his own people and nation’s great historical error in choosing to worship countless other gods. The star-men with him experienced the same conviction of heart and did the same, casting away all their gods with his as worthless, vain things before the most precious One on earth.
For time beyond knowing the Divine Presence was so strong, they all lay there helpless as babes and in tears, overcome and completely undone by the holiness, grace, and beauty of the Lord Redeemer.
But they had come with gifts, and after a time the Presence lifted just enough for them to recover their thoughts to honor this One whom they had long sought to worship.
Wan Li being the first, led as silence reigned. They had brought into the house their gifts-—Prince Cho’s frankincense, Lord Otiartes’ myrrh, and Wan Li’s and the Edessans’ gold. These they then lay back down at the feet of the young woman, who seated herself on a chair her husband brought from the bedroom. Again, no one could find any words to say. Overhead, the Star shone so brightly, that the windows flooded with light, and the rays entered and shone upon the Child. It was a moment of sheer wonder and amazement and the sense of the Lord’s holy Presence grew again so strong that they could scarcely breathe. All the grief and oppression they had witnessed in their coming, all the world’s sin, darkness, and gloom-—gone! Completely swept sway by that all-powerful Presence!
All the magi had stood in the presence of kings and rulers, some of them mighty in power. All had, therefore, witnessed the pomp and majesty of earthly powers and their palace courts. Earthly kings could impress and cause fear and awe in those who beheld them seated on their splendid thrones covered with gold and incrusted with jewels. One word of such a king meant great blessing or death bestowed on anyone present. Yet this Holy Child was different, vastly different. No king, however great, was holy as this Child was holy. His holiness was like a great, searching light shining forth from a magnificent, enormous jewel-—a light so pure and piercing that everything hidden was instantly brought to view, and every sin and taint exposed in blinding clarity. Human sins and flaws shrank back before such a light as this One. Such purity and righteousness was unbearable to sinful human beings. Only when the beholders wept for their sins and pleaded for forgiveness could they stand the Presence of so much holiness.
Yet Wan Li, who knew considerable Aramaic, later conversed with a sister of the mother, a young married woman of deep piety and gravity named Salome. He found out that the Child had been born, not in the present house, but in a shepherd’s stable a short distance away down the hillside that adjoined the shepherds’ pastures. As for it being a manger when it should have been a king’s palace, no one thought much about it. “There was no room for them in the inn,” the sister said. “We all came here for the Roman census and Mary and Joseph found no lodgings but the stable because of the many people returned to their natal city. After the birth, they removed here when the house opened for renters.”
Wan Li had managed to looked about a bit before he crept back outdoors to recover from the Presence of God. It was like any other house of these Jews, he observed, belonging to the working trades. Small, bare-floored, with little furniture, two rooms were considered quite adequate for raising a family. Trained in Eastern manners, he was too polite to inquire about the family’s plans for the Child, or how they were to protect him from his enemies, for surely he would have enemies in Jerusalem where the Idumaean Herod now reigned by Roman force as king over the Jews. He also wanted to ask the sister about her mother, but could put words to his questions, as if he were touching too holy a thing as the lineage of the Son of Heaven. Fortunately, the mother’s sister glanced at her husband first, and then, exchanging an meaning known to them, told him that both Joseph and Mary were descendants of the royal House of David.
“There is nothing to fear, sir,” added the sister, “for surely our people will accept the Child as their king and Messiah. All our prophets spoke of him and foretold His birth.”
His birth! That was the most intriguing thing of all. How in the world, all the magi and Wan Li included wished to know, was a divine Son of Heaven born of a human mother? Many kings and emperors of both East and West claimed divine parentage, but it could never be proven, since no one was ever present at the moment of conception to verify that no mortal man had been involved but only some god.
The sister, not wishing they go away ignorant, anticipated this question as well. She told them all that had happened to her sister, from the angel’s visit to her own visit to her cousin Elizabeth. But it was her account of the events before the conception that gave them the answer, when Mary said to the angel, “How could she bear the Child, being a virgin and knowing no man?” Then came his response, that nothing was impossible with God, and that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and overshadow her, and the holy thing born of her would be called the Son of God.
This convinced them beyond any other necessary proof, for they were all men of the world. They were well-acquainted with Egyptian, Selucid, Greek, and Roman kings’ claims to divine conception and birth. One called Osiris in Egypt died, then came back to life. Another called Dionysus reputedly did the same. Baal the god of vegetation and the male and female favors was supposed to die and come again to life--like the vegetatable life and grain he was supposed to envigorate.
This was like none of them, for only this Son of God was holy and innocent, then after a blameless life and doing good to all men, he suffered the attacks and condemation of evil rulers, was slain on a tree, then died, rose again, and appeared to men in his eternal living body. Where were the other reborn gods anyway? No one could see them, except for the images men made of them. If the stories were true, they continued to commit evil deeds of fornication and adultery, and did other unspeakable things beyond number.
All this they knew well, having observed the gods and the temples, and how the chief priests and the temple servers all lived in riotousness and sin.
And Wan Li the silk merchant? He had not sold his precious silk in the Roman mart of Caesarea after all, and reaped a hunded fold gain over his investment. What was he to do later on return home? Sell fish? Well, then, he would sell fish from the river! A lowly fish-monger's life was at least honest, and he could not starve, having fish to eat!
Doing what was honorable, he had to let all his silken goods go to pay board for the caravan to be taken round to Persia. Of course, he lost many times the value of the silk into the greedy hands of the over-charging boatmen who were more robbers by trade than seamen! As for his offering to the most beautiful Child of the Rose, it was the last of his family wealth, a casket of gold he always carried in case he needed to use it for ransom or a bribe for an especially avaricious king or bandit. It was enough to finance another caravan, in case all was lost.
Yet, returning to his home impoverished except for the caravan’s animals and the slaves he kept to attend it, liable to bear much loss of face and reproach for his mishandling of the family fortune, he felt he had been granted something worth more than all the world’s money. His purse had given all it could. Yet he knew he could never pay for the privilege of entering the Child’s home, even before the noble and worthy Prince Cho, to be the first with almond-shaped eyes to gaze upon the Son of Heaven.
One look at such, indeed, was worth more than all the treasures of gold, myrrh, and frankincense the magi and Wan Li lay before Him. How could the world accept so much holiness in its sin-stained midst? He wondered. None of the gods of the earth were holy. They were fearsome, and said to possess certain great powers, but holy? Not one!
Wan Li never forgot the words that formed in his mind as he bowed and cried within himself for the mercy and forgiveness of the Father whose Child this clearly was. Nor would he ever forget the holiness of the Child’s nature and presence—holiness that only the God of heaven could possess. Now the words he heard in his spirit had to be divine, they were like nothing he had never heard from the lips of mortal man—
He was an aged man when he received word that Prince Cho was dying, and word came from a second messenger that the prince has died, but there was a letter to Wan Li. Having it read by a scribe from the street market, Wan Li heard the most astonishing report:
A servant whom I trust will give them to you only. Now I wish to tell you this final thing: I sent and received word a week ago of the Child of whom we both are witnesses, that He is the divine and holy Son of Heaven. Heaven-sent and holy, with none among men like him, yet He has been put to death by the chief priests of the capital, where the Temple stands.
I regret this terrible and appalling news. He was innocent in all his ways, and did much good and performed many miracles among the people, relieving the sick and the needy I was told, but the chief priests wickedly conspired to take his life because they feared his great following among the people, because it might alarm and impel the Roman authority over them to take away their own great power and wealth. Now I must end this letter. But know that there is more to the report, that his tomb in a certain rich man’s sepulchre was found empty, attended by angels, and He, victorious over death, is returned to heaven after being seen by many people! He is seated on high, on his throne, on the right side of the Father of All Living Things and Creator of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The words of his chief followers, eleven men chosen by him, to the chief priests after this were that Yeshua, his name, died to take all men’s sins and guilt upon himself, making himself a sacrifice pleasing to the Righteous Father in heaven, so that all men might escape divine punishment and wrath.
Do you believe it, sire? I believe it. Farewell, my dear friend and fellow pilgrim! Let us meet again and embrace if the Son of Heaven in whom we have believed, permits a reunion in his holy courts!”
He found the Twins, which spoke, Prince Cho had told him on the long journey to the West, of Immanuel. The Twins were really One Man, for the stars that made up the Twins spoke of two natures, God’s and man’s, combined in one only-begotten Son of Heaven. In the same sense, the Twins spoke of the two Earths, which the Almighty had joined by a wonderful crystal Bridge, which in turn spoke of Yeshua, the Bridge between a holy God and sin-sick man. Half-man and half-horse, another creature portrayed in the stars spoke of the same mighty God-Man, Yeshua. Who as Conqueror would draw his bow and destroy the Enemy, the Serpent who had first led man astray into sin and rebellion against God the Creator.
From the late report given him by Prince Cho, Yeshua, the God-Man, not only was clothed in mortal flesh in order to experience the human condition, but he had gone on to actually die for the sins and guilt of every man, woman, and child! As the only truly holy Man on earth, he could be made a perfect sacrifice for all mankind’s sins. Not only that He had risen triumphantly from the grave itself, and re-taken the scepter and throne of the Son of Heaven, and was seated at the right hand of the Father of All in Heaven!
He found the young virgin mother of Yeshua, and the Serpent-Devil who sought to swallow up not only her but also Yeshua’s sons and daughters born of faith in Him. He found the Two Fishes, which were the Old and New Dispensations of God’s Luck and Joy. The latter Fish far exceeded the former fish in glory of its stars, since Yeshua ruled from the time of the Latter Fish on into Eternity. It was at the beginning of the Latter Fish’s reign that the Star had appeared, the herald of Greatness to be born, which had led them to the West where the Son of Heaven was still a child when they came and worshipped Him. He found other star families which spoke of the Son of Heaven’s death for the sake of all mankind, to redeem them from their folly and sin—to pay the penalty of death exacted upon all men by the Holiness on high, Yeshua’s Father in heaven.
It was these stars portraying a sacrificial goat, a dying eagle, a dolphin and an arrow speaking of Yeshua’s death, and also his triumphant resurrection, that kindled a new spirit in Wan Li in such a way that he knew he was not only adopted as a son of Yeshua and His Father but entitled to eternal life! Redeemed and bought back from death by Yeshua’s shed blood as God’s own perfect sacrifice for sin, which was all portrayed in the figure of the sacrificial goat, as well as in the figure of the dying eagle, Wan Li then possessed the hope and assurance of his own salvation and eternal happiness. And through service to Yeshua, he too might become holy by letting Yeshua live his holy life in him.
What stupendous Luck and Joy News this was! It far surpassed anything excellent and worthy the sages of Kuo, who abounded in wisdom, had ever said. Such boundless, everlasting Joy and Luck was impossible to keep to himself. He not only shared it with his sons and family, teaching them all the things he knew about the Yeshua and showing them the stars of the Redeemer Prince Cho had pictured, but charged them to tell their sons and daughters and their neighbors as well, so that others might share their life-transforming Joy and Luck.
In days when he was well, he would walk to the tea house he had built to enjoy the garden in the morning.
This special tree has appeared on the earth to proclaim this Wonder, the One who is both God and Man. He was born among us as a man, though He comes from heaven and is God. He came in this way so that he might bear away in himself all the sin and misfortune of humankind, and so He died for us and then was raised back to everlasting life as Heavenly Emperor. He who believes in Yeshua the Variegated will have all sin and wrong-doing wiped away and be granted eternal Luck and Joy.”