Paul Greenberg

"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.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.