eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER XII



The eleventh day after the birth of the child in the cave,
about mid-afternoon, the three wise men approached Jerusalem by
the road from Shechem. After crossing Brook Cedron, they met many
people, of whom none failed to stop and look after them curiously.

Judea was of necessity an international thoroughfare; a narrow
ridge, raised, apparently, by the pressure of the desert on
the east, and the sea on the west, was all she could claim to
be; over the ridge, however, nature had stretched the line of
trade between the east and the south; and that was her wealth.
In other words, the riches of Jerusalem were the tolls she levied
on passing commerce. Nowhere else, consequently, unless in Rome,
was there such constant assemblage of so many people of so many
different nations; in no other city was a stranger less strange
to the residents than within her walls and purlieus. And yet these
three men excited the wonder of all whom they met on the way to
the gates.

A child belonging to some women sitting by the roadside opposite
the Tombs of the Kings saw the party coming; immediately it clapped
its hands, and cried, "Look, look! What pretty bells! What big
camels!"

The bells were silver; the camels, as we have seen, were of unusual
size and whiteness, and moved with singular stateliness; the trappings
told of the desert and of long journeys thereon, and also of ample
means in possession of the owners, who sat under the little canopies
exactly as they appeared at the rendezvous beyond the Jebel. Yet it
was not the bells or the camels, or their furniture, or the demeanor
of the riders, that were so wonderful; it was the question put by
the man who rode foremost of the three.

The approach to Jerusalem from the north is across a plain which
dips southward, leaving the Damascus Gate in a vale or hollow.
The road is narrow, but deeply cut by long use, and in places
difficult on account of the cobbles left loose and dry by the
washing of the rains. On either side, however, there stretched,
in the old time, rich fields and handsome olive-groves, which must,
in luxurious growth, have been beautiful, especially to travellers
fresh from the wastes of the desert. In this road, the three stopped
before the party in front of the Tombs.

"Good people," said Balthasar, stroking his plaited beard,
and bending from his cot, "is not Jerusalem close by?"

"Yes," answered the woman into whose arms the child had shrunk.
"If the trees on yon swell were a little lower you could see the
towers on the market-place."

Balthasar gave the Greek and the Hindoo a look, then asked,

"Where is he that is born King of the Jews?"

The women gazed at each other without reply.

"You have not heard of him?"

"No."

"Well, tell everybody that we have seen his star in the east,
and are come to worship him."

Thereupon the friends rode on. Of others they asked the same
question, with like result. A large company whom they met going to
the Grotto of Jeremiah were so astonished by the inquiry and the
appearance of the travellers that they turned about and followed
them into the city.

So much were the three occupied with the idea of their mission that
they did not care for the view which presently rose before them in
the utmost magnificence: for the village first to receive them
on Bezetha; for Mizpah and Olivet, over on their left; for the
wall behind the village, with its forty tall and solid towers,
superadded partly for strength, partly to gratify the critical
taste of the kingly builder; for the same towered wall bending
off to the right, with many an angle, and here and there an
embattled gate, up to the three great white piles Phasaelus,
Mariamne, and Hippicus; for Zion, tallest of the hills, crowned
with marble palaces, and never so beautiful; for the glittering
terraces of the temple on Moriah, admittedly one of the wonders
of the earth; for the regal mountains rimming the sacred city round
about until it seemed in the hollow of a mighty bowl.

They came, at length, to a tower of great height and strength,
overlooking the gate which, at that time, answered to the
present Damascus Gate, and marked the meeting-place of the
three roads from Shechem, Jericho, and Gibeon. A Roman guard
kept the passage-way. By this time the people following the
camels formed a train sufficient to draw the idlers hanging
about the portal; so that when Balthasar stopped to speak to
the sentinel, the three became instantly the centre of a close
circle eager to hear all that passed.

"I give you peace," the Egyptian said, in a clear voice.

The sentinel made no reply.

"We have come great distances in search of one who is born King
of the Jews. Can you tell us where he is?"

The soldier raised the visor of his helmet, and called loudly.
From an apartment at the right of the passage an officer appeared.

"Give way," he cried, to the crowd which now pressed closer in; and as
they seemed slow to obey, he advanced twirling his javelin vigorously,
now right, now left; and so he gained room.

"What would you?" he asked of Balthasar, speaking in the idiom of
the city.

And Balthasar answered in the same,

"Where is he that is born King of the Jews?"

"Herod?" asked the officer, confounded.

"Herod's kingship is from Caesar; not Herod."

"There is no other King of the Jews."

"But we have seen the star of him we seek, and come to worship him."

The Roman was perplexed.

"Go farther," he said, at last. "Go farther. I am not a Jew.
Carry the question to the doctors in the Temple, or to Hannas
the priest, or, better still, to Herod himself. If there be
another King of the Jews, he will find him."

Thereupon he made way for the strangers, and they passed the gate.
But, before entering the narrow street, Balthasar lingered to say
to his friends, "We are sufficiently proclaimed. By midnight the
whole city will have heard of us and of our mission. Let us to
the khan now."





Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site