Jonathan's Interview with the Bethlehem Shepherds--Letters of Melker, Priest Of The Synagogue at Bethlehem
Sanhedrim, 88 B. By R. Jose Order No. 2
Jonathan, son of Heziel, questions the shepherds and others at Bethlehem in regard to the strange circumstances reported to have occurred there, and reports to this court.
"Jonathan to the Masters of Israel, Servants of the True God- In obedience to your order, I met with two men, who said they were shepherds, and were watching their flocks near Bethlehem. They told me that while attending to their sheep, the night being cold and chilly, some of them had made fires to warm themselves, and some of them had laid down and were asleep; that they were awakened by those who were keeping watch, with the question "What does all this mean? Behold, how light it is!, that when they were aroused it was light as day, But they knew it was not daylight, or it was only the third watch. All at once the air seemed to be filled with human voices, saying, 'Glory! Glory! Glory to the most high God! and Happy art thou, Bethlehem, for God hath fulfilled his promise to the fathers; for in thy chambers is born the King that shall rule in righteousness. Their shouting's would rise up in the heavens, and then would sink down in mellow strains, and roll along at the foot of the mountains, and die away in the most soft and musical manner they had ever heard; then it would begin again high up in the heavens, in the very vaults of the sky, and descend in sweet and melodious strains, so that they could not refrain from shouting and weeping at the same time. The light would seem to burst forth high up in the heavens, and then descend in softer rays and light up the hills and valleys, making everything more visible than the light of the sun, though it was not so brilliant, but clearer, like the brightest moon. I asked them how they felt--if they were not afraid; they said at first they were; but after awhile it seemed to calm their spirits, and so fill their hearts with live and tranquility that they felt more like giving thanks than anything else. They said it was around the whole city, and some of the people were almost scared to death. Some said the world was on fire; some said the gods were coming down to destroy them; others said a star had fallen; until Melker the priest came out shouting and clapping his hands, seeming to be frantic with joy. The people all came crowding around him, and he told them it was the sign that God was coming to fulfill His promise made to their father Abraham. He told us that fourteen hundred years before God had appeared to Abraham, and told him to put all Israel under bonds-- sacred bonds of obedience; and if they would be faithful, he would give them a Saviour to redeem them from sin, and that he would give them eternal life, and that they should hunger no more; that the time of their suffering should cease forever; and that the sign of his coming would be that light would shine from on high, and the angels would announce his coming, and their voices should be heard in the city, and the people should rejoice: and a virgin that was pure should travail in pain and bring forth her firstborn, and he should rule all flesh by sanctifying it and making it obedient. After Melker had addressed the people in a loud voice, he and all the old Jews went into the synagogue and remained there praising God and giving thanks.
"I went to see Melker, who related to me much the same as the shepherds had reported. He told me that he had lived in India, and that his father had been priest at Antioch; that he had studied the sacred scrolls of God all his life, and that he knew that the time had come, from sings given, for God to visit and save the Jews from Roman oppression and from their sins; and as evidence he showed me many quotations on the tripod respecting the matter.
"He said that next day three strangers from a great distance called on him, and they went in search of this young child; and they found him and his mother in the mouth of a cave, where there was a shed projecting out for the sheltering of sheep; that his mother was married to a man named Joseph, and she related to them the history of her child, saying that an angel had visited her, and told her that she should have a son, and she should call him Jesus, for he should redeem his people from their sins; and he should call her blessed forever more.
"Whether this is true or not remains to be proved in the future. There have been so many impostors in the world, so many babes born under pretended miracles, and all have proved to be a failure, that this one may be false; this woman only wishing to hide her shame or court the favor of the Jews.
"I am informed that she will be tried by our law, and, if she can give no better evidence of her virtue than she has given to Melker, she will be stoned according to our law, although, as Melker says, there never has been a case before with such apparent divine manifestations as were seen on this occasion. In the past in various instances virgins have pretended to be with child by the Holy Ghost, but at the time of their delivery there was no light from the heavens, and no angels talking among the clouds and declaring that this was the King of the Jews. And, as to the truth of these things, the whole of the people of Bethlehem testify to having seen it, and the Roman guard also came out and asked what it meant, and they showed by their actions that they were very much alarmed. These things, Melker says, are all declared in the Scriptures to be the sign of His coming. Melker is a man of great learning and well versed in the prophecies, and he sends you this letter, referring you to those prophecies:
Melker, Priest of the Synagogue of Bethlehem, to the Higher Sanhedrim of the Jews at Jerusalem:
"HOLY MASTERS OF ISRAEL: I, your servant, would call your attention to the words of the prophet in regard to the forerunner, and the rise as well as the conductor of a great and mighty nation, wherein should dwell the true prin- ciples of righteousness and the conductor of the outward formation of a national domain of God upon earth. As evidence of the fact, the vision and affliction that has befallen Zacharias of late is enough to satisfy all men of the coming of some great event; and this babe of Elizabeth is beginning of better times.
"What has occurred here in the last few days, as Jonathan will inform you, forever settles the question that the day of our redemption is drawing nigh. The sections of these divisions are three: First, the general survey; the original foundation and destiny of man in his single state; the proto-evangel; the full development of mankind; the promises to the fathers of the covenant people; Judah, the leader tribe; section second, the Mosaic law and the Mosaic outlook; the prophecy of Balaam; section third, the anointed one; and the prophets of the past exile: Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; Malachi's prophecy of the forerunner of the Lord. Now, noble masters of Israel, if you will refer to the several sections of the divine word, you will not fail to see that all that has been spoken by the prophets in regard to the works of God upon earth has been fulfilled in the last few days in the two events, the birth of the child of Elizabeth and that of Mary of Bethlehem.
"The unlimited freedom which some men take with these holy writings of God, as to the above prophecy, subjects us to the severest criticism. It is, however, most satisfactory to see and hear that the divine grandeur and authority of the sacred oracles are in no way dependent on the solution of carnal critics, but rest on an inward light shining everywhere out of the bosom of a profound organic unity and an inter-connected relation with a consistent and united teleology.; over- leaping all time, the historical present as well as the past, and all the past brought to light in these two events that have just transpired. Indeed, all past time is blending with the present horizon, and the works of God in ages past are just beginning to develop themselves at this particular time, and the present scenes are bringing us close on to the ways of God upon earth. While we reverence these men of God, we should not misquote their language. Take, for example, the third section of Isaiah, where he prophecies of the captive Israelites, instead of his consolation to the captive. While one of his words refers to the future condition and the reason therefore, the other is sweet in consolation of the Israelites while in this state of captivity, and full of the blessed promises in the future.
"But let the spirit of prophecy bear us on with the prophet into future time, far beyond the kingdoms of this world into a glorious future, regardless of the Romans, Babylonian, or even the Maccabeean rule or rulers; but never forgetting that the prophet is one who is divinely inspired, and is called, commissioned, and qualified to declare the will as well as the knowledge of God. Yes, he is a seer. His prophecy is of the nature of a vision, involving and enveloping all tie faculties of the soul, and placing the prophet in the attitude to God of being outside the body and independent of it. Yea, far better without the body than with it, for the further the soul gets from the body the more active it becomes. This fact is demonstrated in our dreams. The vivid powers of the soul are much more active in dreams than at any other time; the perception is clearer, and the sensitive faculties are much more alive when asleep than when awake. We see this verified in the dying man. His eye is usually brighter, his mind is clearer, his soul is freer and less selfish, as he passes on and nears the eternal states.
"So is the prophet. He becomes so personal with God that he uses the personalities with seeming presumption; while it is the indwelling power of God's spirit inflating the soul and setting the tongue on fire, So was the moving language of the words to which you have been referred. It seems to me those men of God saw distinctly the gathering light; they saw the travailing of the virgin, they saw the helpless infant in the sheep trough; they heard the mighty chanting of the heavenly host; they saw the ambition of the human nature in the Roman soldiery aiming to destroy the child's life; and in that infant they saw human nature in its fallen and helpless condition; and it appears as if they saw the advance of that infant into perfect manhood. As he becomes the theme of the world, his advancing nature will triumph over all as he does escape the Roman authority this day, so he will finally triumph over all the world, and even death itself shall be destroyed.
"We, as Jews, place too much confidence in the outward appearance, while the idea we get of the kingdom of heaven is all of a carnal nature, consisting of forms and ceremonies. The prophecies referred to, and many other passages that I might mention, all go to show that the kingdom of God is to begin with us, in the inner life, and rule there, and from the inner nature all outward actions are to flow in conformity with the revealed and written teachings and commands of God. So is the spirit of prophecy. While it uses the natural organs of speech, it at the same time controls all the faculties of life, producing sometimes a real ecstasy, not mechanical or loss of consciousness, though cut off for the time from external relations, He is thus circumscribed to speak, as did Balaam, the words of God with human life. This is to be held by us Jews as of the first and greatest importance, and we are to remember that his prophecy has the same reference to the future that it does to the past, and has respect to the whole empire of man. While it specifies individuals and nations, it often has reference to doctrines and principles; and in this light Israel is the result of prophecy, as a nation with her religious teachings. So is this virgin's babe born to be a ruler of all nations of the earth.
The Torah itself goes back to prophecy, as well as every prophet stands on the Torah, and on this rests all prophecy pronouncing condemnation on the disobedient and blessings on the faithful. It was on this principle that the covenant of inheritance was made with Abraham, and, in reality, so made with David. Thus all the promises, political, ethical, judicial, and ritual, rest on the Torah. In short, the whole administration finds its authority in the prophetic vision, as set forth by the commands of God, to regulate human life--commencing in the inner life and working out- ward, until the outward is like the inward; and thus advancing on from individuals to nations.
"The Messianic prophecy has no other justification than this. On this rests the church, and on this rests the theocracy. On this rests the glory of the future kingdom of God upon earth.
"The whole chain of prophecy is already fulfilled in this babe; but the development is only commencing. He will abolish the old cultus forever, but with man it will develop commensurate with time itself. There are many types in the shadow, in the plant, in the animal. Every time the Romans celebrated a triumph on the Tiber it shadowed forth the coming Caesar; so every suffering of David, or lamentation of Job, or glory of Solomon--yet, every wail of human grief, every dying sigh, every falling bitter tear--was a type, a prophecy of the coming King of the Jews and the Saviour of the world. Israel stands as a common factor at every great epoch of history. The shading of the colors of the prophetic painting does not obliterate the prediction of the literal Israel's more glorious future in the kingdom of God, Her historic calling to mediate salvation to the nations is not ended. With this new comer on the stage of earthly life. The prophecy is eschatological, refining the inner life as sell as shaping the outer life in conformity to good laws. Looking also to end of time and its great importance to us, it has something to teach, and we have something to learn. Along the ages past all the great, good, and happy have first learned their duties, and then performed them: and thus for thousands of years Israel has stood, hope never dying in the Hebrew heart, and has been the only appointed source of preserved knowledge of the true God. And this day she stands as the great factor and center around which all nations of the earth must come for instruct- ion to guide them, that they may become better and happier.
These sacred scrolls which we Jews received from God by the hand of Moses are the only hope of the world. If they were lost to mankind, it would be worse than putting out the sun, moon, and all the stars of night, for this would be a loss of sacred light to the souls of men. When we consider the surroundings, there never has been a time more propitious than the present for the establishing of the true religion, and it seems, by reviewing our history for hundreds of years past, that this is the time for the ushering in the true kingdom of God. The nations of the Earth that have been given to idolatry are growing tired of placing confidence in and depending on gods that do not help them in the hour of danger, and they are now wanting a God that can and will answer their calls.
"King Herod sent for me the other day, and after I related to him of the God of the Jews and His works, of the many and mighty deeds He had performed for our fathers and for us as a nation, he seemed to think, if there was such a God as we professed, it was far better than to depend on such gods as the Romans had made, of timber, stone, and iron; and even the gods of gold were powerless. He said that if he could know that this babe that was declared by the angels, was such a God as he that saved the Israelites in the Red Sea, and saved Daniel, and those three from the fearful heat of fire, he would have pursued quite a different course toward him. He was under the impression that he had come to drive the Romans from their possessions and to reign as a monarch instead of Caesar. And I find this to be the general feeling throughout the world, so far as I can hear; that the people want and are ready to receive a God that can demonstrate in his life that he is such a God that the race of men can depend on in time of trouble; and if he can show such power to his friends he will be feared by his enemies, and thus become universally obeyed by all nations of the earth. And this, I fear, is going to be a trouble with our nation; our people are going to look to him as a temporal deliverer, and will aim to circumscribed him to the Jews alone; and when his actions begin to flow out to all the inhabitants of the world in live and charity, as is most certainly shown forth in the minth section of the holy prophet, then I fear the Jews will reject him; and, in fact, we are warned of that already in the third section of Jeremiah's word. To avoid this Israel must be taught that the prophecy of Isaiah does not stop with the Babylonian captivity and return to the kingdom of heaven, and that Ezekiel's wheels do not whirl politically or spiritually in heaven, but upon earth, and have reference to earthly revolutions or changes, and show the bringing to pass of the great events of which this of Bethlehem is the grandest of all.
"Neither is the outlook of Daniel to be confined to the shade of the Maccabeean wall of Jewish conquest. Nor are these great questions to be decided by our unsuccessful attempts to find out what the prophet meant, or what he might have understood himself to mean; but from the unity, totality, and organic connection of the whole body of prophecy, as referring to the kingdom of this world becoming subject to the kingdom of the Saviour of all men.
We, as Jews, are the only people that God has entrusted with the great questions, and, of course, the world will look to and expect us to give interpretation to these questions; and as we are entrusted with these things. God will hold us responsible if we fail to give the true light on this subject. Up to this time I am fearful the Jews as a nation are as much divided, and perhaps as much mistaken, as to the nature of His works, as any other people. I find, by conversing with the Romans, Greeks, and others, that all their knowledge of these things of Jewish expectation of a Redeemer has been obtained from the Jews, either directly or indirectly, and it was through them Herod got the idea of his being a temporal King, and to rule and reign by the might of carnal weapons; whereas, if we consult the spiritual import of the prophets, his office is to blend all nations into one common brotherhood, and establish love in the place of law, and that heart should throb high with love to heart, and under this law a universal peace. Wherever one should meet another they should meet as friends; for what else can the prophet mean, in section nine, where he shows that this King shall destroy all carnal weapons and convert them to a helpful purpose, and thus become the active worker in doing good to all men, and teaching all men to do good to each other?
"By reading all the scrolls of God, we find that the unity and totality of all the prophets go to bear us out in this idea, and all have reference to this Babe of Bethlehem. If we consult them as to the time, taking the revolutions of Ezekiel's wheels, they show plainly that the revolutions of the different governments of the world fix this as the time. Next, consult them in regard to the individuals connected with this great event. These are pointed to as the virgin wife, By Zacharias; next, the place has been pointed and named; then the light and the appearing of the angels have all been set forth, and also the opposition of the Romans has been declared, Now, I ask the High Court of the living God to look well on these things, and tell us how men that lived in different ages of the world, that lived in different portions of the country--men that never knew each other--men that were not prophesying for a party--men that had no personal interest in the subject as men-- men that jeopardized, and some of them lost their lives on account of having uttered these prophecies--how could they all point out the place, the time, and the names of the parties so plain and clear, if it was not revealed to them and ordained by God himself? I understand that the Romans and some of the priests have been saying that Zacharias was a hypocrites and that Mary was a bad woman. Such might be the case, so far as man is able to judge; but who, I ask, can forge such truth as these prophecies, and make them come true? Or who-can cause light to descend from the heavens and the angels come down and make the declaration that this was the Son of God, King of the Jews?
"Noble Masters of the Sanhedrim, I was not alone. I am not the only witness of these things. The principal people of Bethlehem saw them and heard them as I did. I would say to you, if this is not the Jews' King, then we need not look for any other; for every line of prophecy has been most completely fulfilled in him; and if he does not appear and save his won people I shall despair of ever being released, and I shall believe that we have misinterpreted the meaning of all the prophets. But I feel so sure that this is he I shall wait in expectation and with much anxiety, and I have no fears of any harm befalling him. All the Romans in the world cannot harm him; and although Herod may rage, may destroy all the infants in theworld, the same angels that attended his birth will watch over him through life; and theRomans will have to contend with the same God that Pharaoh did, and will meet with similar defeat."