As One Roman to Another

Paul Greenberg
Posted: Dec 25, 2007 12:01 AM
As One Roman to Another

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)" - Luke 2:2.

Brother, can you spare a dinarius? Or perhaps a few drachmae for an old soldier? I was not always as you see me here, just a lowly attendant at the baths. I received quite a good education back in Gaul. I've read my Julius Caesar - and Marcus Aurelius, too, though my Greek is not the best. Once I even had a command, but you know how it is. Wine, women and song have reduced me to this state, though I must say the songs never hurt me.

Another towel, sir? We keep a good supply. Thank you, sir, for the generous gratuity; it'll help ward off the cold in this intolerable climate. I don't think I'll ever get the damp out of my bones. But we've got the hottest springs and the most restorative waters this side of Chidester. How the Picts and Celts survive, I have no idea. I've heard their cries and seen their blue-smeared faces. A hardy breed, as you've doubtless discovered while patrolling Hadrian's Wall, which will probably prove as futile as the others to the north.

The Caledonians are the worst, but as long as the emperor's legions are here in strength, you might as well be back on the Tiber, what with the roads and amphitheaters and the posh villas just up the road. On the whole, this isn't the worst of posts, not at all.

The worst? Sir, there's no competition for that dubious laurel. Boudicca, the natives' warrior queen, that she-devil who turned on us, was a Roman matron compared to the rebels in Judaea with their fanatical ways.

Even the harsh throat-clearings of Brittonic would sound like a refined tongue compared to the strange gibberish spouted in Judaea. Of all the gods-forsaken provinces, that one is surely the most incorrigible. They never cease rebelling there. Even when the Emperor offered to put an image of their strange, invisible god in the Pantheon, it would not appease them. Indeed, it only inflamed them further. There is no reasonable compromise with a people who worship but one god, and he a jealous one at that.

Tacitus said it all when it comes to that abhorrent race: "Among the Jews, all things are profane that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they regard as permissible what seems to us immoral." They mutilate their manchildren, and will not expose even the weakest of their newborn to the elements, and so improve the race. Among them it is a crime to kill any infant. They do no honor to the gods like the rest of the world, and have no concept at all of civilized ways - the great games in the Coliseum, our learned symposia and vomitoria. Read your Tacitus, and you need know no more about that sullen tribe.

Who? No, when I was there, I never heard of the one you inquire after, this god who is supposed to have been born under a star in the humblest circumstances. Though his cult seems to be growing even here in the civilized world. He sounds, with all due respect, like just another of their wonder-working rabbis. That fly-specked land breeds prophets and seers of every description - the way we Romans do lawgivers and builders, leaders whose work lasts.

I doubt if the fad for these new, cryptic teachings you mention will last. Indeed, I can't imagine why they should have spread this far. Why would a Roman, a citizen of the world, be interested in such strange, upside-down sayings about the first becoming last and the last first? And the poor in spirit being blessed. What bosh. Those people never did have any idea of how to exercise power.

I do remember hearing of the great governor and tax collector Cyrenius. Now that's a name to conjure with! Mark my words, he'll be remembered for the ages, recalled every year. That's my prophecy.

As for this other one you ask about, with all respect, I cannot understand your interest in him. He had no military honors, did he? All his worldly goods, they say, consisted of a cloak. He never held political office, did he? Take it from one who has seen much, and understands the ways of the world. These new teachings are but passing fancies, all this talk about eternity only talk. The empire may decline but never fall. So the gods have decreed. Everyone knows it is Rome that is eternal.