The moon hung low on the horizon gliding among icy white caps of winter clouds.

Pearlescent stars twinkled in a sea of the darkest Tyrian purple as the cold night wind lashed the face of the sky and dropped to the Earth, sighing among the rocks and shrubs clustered among the hills above Bethlehem in Roman Iudaea.

Two men in rough homespun stand on a hillside overlooking the night.

The town far below was bustling. The Roman Governor, Cyrinus, decreed that a census be taken. Jews from the outlying settlements were flocking to the towns of their forefathers to register.

With passing curiosity, the two men watch for a minute, then no more. They had flocks to attend to.

“Dov, it is cold and damp tonight. I want to sit by the fire,” a little funny young man spoke, funny from his frizzy black hair to his prominent nose to the scraggly wisps of hair on his receding chin. Dov was his exact opposite: tall, powerful in build, with long, dark, curling locks and a bushy beard, and he had to stifle an urge to roll his eyes at funny little Jethro. Jethro, his mother’s brother’s son.

Dov told him, “You may. But don’t wake Mordechai. He’ll kvetch up a storm. And him I need to watch later tonight.”

“Yes, yes, Dov, I promise I won’t. I will just warm up for a little bit, then I’ll be back to help you watch.”

“And that goes for your little friend, too. Keep him quiet,” Dov said, looking down at the lamb Jethro cradled in his arms.

“Yes, Dov. Little Shai’s a good boy,” Jethro said as he walked away, hugging Shai closer to his chest. “Sleep, Shai, sleep. We’ll get warm by the fire.”

Dov turned back to watch the flock and wandered among the resting sheep.

Near a stand of brush, the sheep had bedded down. A familiar bleating drew Dov; the lead ram was unusually grumpy.

“Old Avi, something is the matter?”

Avi regarded Dov and laid his head down again.

Dov resumed his watch, perched on a rock.

How many nights have I sat out here watching Zacharias’ flocks? How many since I was 13 and father sent me to the fields, to the wilds? Wolves, sikrin, zealots come for the sheep. Me and my brothers, we chase them off. The only excitement I get. Such is my life.

Dov’s broad shoulders slumped.

Why, oh Eli? Why am I the son of a poor father, a poor grandfather? All the way back to Moses, to Abraham I am poor. The Pharisees and Sadducees talk and talk, endless it is. Endless is the trouble they stir up. “What is the will of God?” “What says the Torah?” “How are we to regard these Romans?” “Or Herod.” Feh! The Zealots fight, cause trouble, swords come out. Blood runs. The Romans are in charge, but in Galilee, all is aflame. And I am a shepherd. No one important. Night after night, day after day, I watch the sheep.

The sheep began to bleat in unison. Something upset them and they rose restless.

Dov jumped to his feet. He circled around the brush ready to lash out at a foe, man or wolf. He peered among the dim shadows. Wind whispered caressing stone and bush. It grew in intensity whipping Dov’s robes. He looked to the sky and saw a glowing circle of gold-tinged white light.

Dov’s eyes widened; his mouth dropped open.

Figures appeared just beyond the threshold of the luminous disk.

“Mordechai! Jethro!” Dov shouted as he ran back to the fire. Old Avi followed after Dov; the flock followed Avi.

Behind them, the deep note of a shofar sounded, rising in brilliance until it penetrated Dov’s bones and rattled his teeth.

Dov’s heart pounded in his chest.

He saw Mordechai standing, staff ready, knuckles white in the firelight. Jethro clutched Shai to his chest, mouth agape. Dov joined them in the fire’s light. The fire’s flames leapt until the little camp was bathed in light. Through the din of the shofar, the sheeps’ bleating, Dov heard Mordechai saying, “Look! Look! Look!” Three men stood out, dressed in the billowing white garments of desert warriors of the south, their dark, flaming eyes set in faces of granite.

The flock parted to let them through. The men approached. The one in the lead carried a gold-cased shofar. Of his two partners, one held a staff, and bringing up the rear was a giant armed with a large bronze sword on his shoulder.

Dov and Mordechai hit their knees and bowed to the Earth, shielding their faces. Jethro stood still, gaping as Shai bleat and kicked.

“Jethro! Get your ass down!” Dov whispered in a harsh tone.

Jethro dropped and huddled on the ground with Shai, “Oh please, please, Malakhi Elohim. Don’t hurt me or my brothers, or little Shai. He’s a good boy. You can pet him, see.” Jethro stroked the kicking lamb. “Be good Shai, be good. Bubbe says the Malakhi Adonai watch over the good Jews.”

Dov, peeved, nudged Jethro. “Jeth, shut your mouth.”

“Okay, Dov,” Jethro said.

“Shut up, both of you,” Mordechai added.

The man with the shofar, in a firm and gentle voice, spoke to the shepherds. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people.”

Dov, still hugging the ground, peeked.

The man with the sword stepped forward and leaned down. “Uh, fellas. That means you can get up. Gabe has something to tell you.”

The shepherds rose to their knees. The swordsman waved his hand, beckoning them to stand up. They stood up shaking and dusted themselves off.

Mordechai grumbled under his breath, “Ack. My knees, my back. For this, I am too old.”

The man with the shofar continued, “For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” His arm swung back in the direction of Bethlehem. “And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.”

From beyond in the sky, a host of voices sounded forth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men of good will.”

Jethro jumped and giggled. “Wonderful, the Messiah has come! Do you want to pet my little Shai?” He held out the lamb to the swordsman.

The swordsman, bemused, patted Shai on the head with a gnarled hand.

“He is a good boy. You take care of him now, Jethro.”

Mordechai continued to kvetch under his breath, “To Bethlehem I have to go now? Oh my knees, my back.” Until the man with the staff came to him holding a small clay jar. “Hey, old timer, rub some of this on your aches and pains.”

“Unguents I have tried, poultices, pills, potions, drinks, all I have tried. Now you give a jar of—” Mordechai popped the cork and smelled the contents of the jar. “What is this? It doesn’t even smell.”

“Just rub it on your backside,” the man with the staff said.

“What? With B’nei Elohim watching, I am to rub my ass? With Raphael looking on?” Mordechai said.

“From the mice of the desert to the angels of God, there is not a creature that has not seen your bony ass. You shit outside,” Raphael said.

“Point taken.”

Gabriel spoke, “Raphael, we must go now.”

“But how are we to find the Messiah?” Dov called out, “Bethlehem is full of people. The mangers many.”

Gabriel turned back. “Old Avi, he knows the way.”

“Huh? Really?” Dov said, and the shepherds looked and the Archangels were gone.

“I guess this means we aren’t going to eat Old Avi then,” Jethro said.


Lucius scanned the night-shadowed streets of Bethlehem. He turned his eyes to the surrounding countryside.

This time of year, I will never get used to not seeing snow. Just pissing rain.

Lucius, once called by a different name, tried to remember Gaul of his youth. It felt sometimes like his memories started in Syria, in the army.

Neton and Jupiter, how did I end up here in Iudaea commanding these Samaritans? Caesar wants a census. Now I get to deal with crazy Hebrews asking, “Is this kosher?” Then they riot. Thank you, Legio III Gallica! Screwed by the big red weenie again. At least back in Syria, the whores are pro-class. Even in Jerusalem, there’s some decent action. But fucking Bethlehem, some two-whore town.

Lucius shook his head and called to his Samaritan opposite, “Baba, get two of your men and come with me.”

First tour of the night; no trouble, I hope. No one should be sleeping on guard duty. Yet.

With three men, Lucius set off on rounds.

A few dim lanterns adorning doorways shown in the gloom. Here, a wine shop lit up through the night. Hushed voices in alleyways and from second-story rooms. There, abandoned moonlit courtyards and passages. But the day’s activity had dwindled to nothing.

Lucius stopped when he heard an out-of-place sound.

“You hear that?” he asked Baba.

“No. What is it?”

The sound again.

Nothing unusual, something even familiar, something from his younger days back in Gaul.

Baba said, “I hear it now…sheep.”

“Yeah, a whole flock,” Lucius said.

Lucius and Baba looked at each other.

“What are sheep doing in the city? At night?” Baba said.

“We’re checking it out.” Lucius said.


Jethro saw the contingent of soldiers first. A tall, blond Roman officer with blue eyes and three Samaritans.

“Dov. Dov. soldiers!”

“I see, Jethro.” Dov turned to Mordechai. “Keep Jethro quiet. I’ll talk.”

“This I will do. I care not to talk to soldiers,” Mordechai said.

Dov saw the Roman officer cock an eyebrow and then extend his hand.

“Stop!” said the officer in rough Aramaic.

Then he said something to the older of the three Samaritan soldiers.

Two of the younger Samaritans approached.

One of the Samaritans put himself right in Dov’s face, jutting his nose. “We want to know why you’re coming through town in the middle of the night with your flocks.”

“Good soldier,” Dov backed up a step, “our master Zacharias sent for his flocks. The number of people in Bethlehem means he needs more meat, more milk to sell. Sales he cannot miss tomorrow.”

The Samaritan looked over at the other two shepherds. He saw Jethro and pointed him out to his partner.

The partner puffed himself up. “You. Jew Shepherd. What’s your business so late at night?”

Jethro look down at Shai shuffling his feet and just mumbled, “You talk to Dov. Please, good soldier, I don’t understand these things.”

“What was that, little Yahud? Speak up when a soldier of Herod addresses you.”

Jethro looked further down, down to the ground, down beneath the ground. “We go to see the Messiah.” He said in a mousy voice.

The Samaritan soldier glared right into Jethro’s face. “Speak up! I don’t want to have to smell your stinking sheep-fucker breath. Did you say ‘Messiah,’ retard?”

Jethro whined, “Doooooovvvvv!”

Dov gritted his teeth.

Lucius grabbed Baba, saying, “Baba, your boy is about to start some shit.”

“Already moving,” Baba took off.

The Samaritan talking to Dov froze, hissing at his partner.

His partner continued, raising his voice. “You believe you’re going to see the Messiah? No wonder you follow sheep, dolt.”

Dov exploded, “Shut up, you Samaritan son of a pig and a dog!”

The Samaritan wheeled towards Dov, spear at the ready.

Hoc age milites! Asta nunc!” the Roman officer’s voice, boomed his hand on his sword.

The two soldiers stopped and stepped back.

The older Samaritan soldier barked at the soldiers, “Stop now, and get behind me.”

“Yes, Baba,” they answered in unison.

He shot an acidic look at the younger soldiers. “Well, I will speak to you later.”

“Yes, Baba,” they replied in unison.

Baba spoke to Dov, “Is there any reason you have left the hills? Bandits? Zealots? This is all we want to know.”

Dov relaxed, “No. No bandits. No sikrin.

“What is this Messiah your friend speaks of?”

“It is nothing, Baba. My cousin, a simpleton he is.”

Baba looked at Jethro cradling Shai, then at Mordechai picking his nose and flicking a booger.

“Indeed. Well, be on your way,” Baba said.

Lucius watched the shepherds depart, Jethro bouncing the lamb in his arms as he passed.

Lucius looked up at the moon high in the sky and a bright shining star.

Maybe I should have stayed in Gaul, in sweet Uxellodunum. Stayed and been a shepherd. Instead, I am in the land of messiahs and madmen.

Lucius finished his post checks while thoughts of cool green mountains, clear streams, and snow flowed through his head.


Old Avi led the way. Out of the hills, down through the streets and alleys of Bethlehem, the shepherds followed.

A few curious faces, framed in lamp-lit windows, peered out at the strange procession.

A funny little man chirping, “We are to see the anointed one, the Messiah. To us the Lord sent his messengers. Us! Three shepherds.”

The gangly lamb bleated in agreement every time the funny little man spoke.

On the side of a hill just at the edge of Bethlehem, the three shepherds found a manger set in a cave. A warm glow showed its tenancy.

As Dov, Jethro, and Mordechai approached, a man came forward dressed in tradesman’s finery sans cloak.

Joseph wondered at the strange group before him.

“And who might you fellows be?”

Dov stepped forward, pulling his rude cap off. “Just simple shepherds from the hills of Bethlehem we are. The Malakhi Elohim this night came to us and told us to come see the anointed one.”

“A host of angels told us peace is to come!” Jethro blurted out.

“A manger they put you in? Feh! The company of the animals is better than men, I guess,” Mordechai said.

Joseph regarded their honest, if confused, faces. “I am Joseph of Nazareth, and my wife Mary has born a son. And Him you have come to see?”

“Yes,” Dove said.

“Come, come then. We would be honored to have those sent by the Elohim.

And they followed Joseph.

Inside were stabled oxen, donkeys, goats, and one old nag of a horse.

The manger’s tabby cat gazed at the three shepherds with cool composure.

“Mary, three shepherds have come to see the child,” Joseph said.

Jethro saw a young woman; she had curly black hair and the softest dark eyes above a handsome aquiline nose, cradling a sleeping newborn.

When she saw the three shepherds, Mary smiled and said, “So you have come to see my little Yeshua? Well, come and see.”

Nuzzling the babe, Mary cooed, “Little Yeshua, oh little Yeshua, some men have come to visit.”

“Look, Shai! It is the messiah,” Jethro said.

The infant woke with a squeak and giggle.

Dov and Mordechai knelt and peered at the infant, who gazed into each of their faces, smiling.

“Mary, wife of Joseph of Nazareth, Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael bid us to come see the anointed one,” Dov said.

“So small he is. And in such company,” Mordechai said.

Jethro brought Shai closer. “He can pet my lamb. Shai is a very good boy.”

And the infant, newborn though He was, stretched out his hand to stroke the lamb’s nuzzle.

Dov, Mordechai, and Jethro gazed and tears welled up in their eyes.

“The Lord has come at last, like grandmother promised,” Jethro balled.


And that night in Bethlehem, three voices shouted in joy through the streets, waking weary travelers.

“The Lord has come at last to Israel.”

“A savior is born unto us!”

“Rejoice, all you sons of Israel, sons and daughters of Abraham!”

The dwellers of Bethlehem and the weary travelers alike were roused.

Wives kvetched at tired husbands, “Tell the meshuggeneh to shut up.”

Husbands, old ladies, and youths stuck their heads out.

“Hey, schlemiel! People are trying to sleep.”

“Oy vey! It is late, couldn’t the messiah have come at nine o’clock?”

“Shalom, it is true?”

Bewildered Samaritan watchmen sweated.

Three shepherds waved their arms and proclaimed the glory of God. They led a flock of loud, bleating sheep and danced.

A few half-grown boys followed along and danced until they reached the edge of town, their mothers yelling after them.

As they passed the military post, Lucius watched from the front gate.

Jethro, with Shai on his shoulders, called out to Lucius, “Peace to all men of good will.”

Under his helmet, Lucius cracked a smile.

I guess in Iudaea, this is how kings are honored. Not by trumpets, not by marching soldiers, but by the poor and by the sheep.