The Noteworthy Shepherd

Palestine Angels Appeared

What happened to the shepherds after the angels visit and their trek to Bethlehem to find a “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Did they all become true believers? This is fanciful take on one who did and one who did not. 

Guest blogger, Michael V. Motte

My name is Eliezer. I am a poor shepherd from Egypt. It is quite rare for a shepherd to be able to read and write, but I could because I was not always poor or a shepherd.

My father was a prosperous carpet merchant in the town of El Minya, which is not far south of Cairo. I was young, privileged and irresponsible. Unfortunately, my love for gambling got me into deep trouble. Father came to my aid several times when I racked up gambling depts I could not pay. But he finally had enough of my bad behavior and disinherited me. He threw me out of the house and out of his life 

Now I was on my own and as irresponsible as ever. I piled up more debts and when I could not repay them, I was sold into slavery. Because I was educated and could think for myself, I quickly rose over the stupid scum I was forced to work with.

It was during my time as a slave that a remarkable event happened. What I am about to recount is not my story but a story I recorded as given to me by Oahu, a mere boy at the time. This is a debt of honor in Oahu’s memory.

I am a skeptic. I do not believe in the gods. How mankind got here is beyond my understanding. I choose not to try to figure it out. I believe faith is just superstition by another name.

Yes, I witnessed what Oahu supposedly witnessed, but I don’t think any of it really happened. I believe that the roasted lamb we had for our evening meal that night might have been bad and caused us all to have the same hallucination. 

I will start by telling you that I was the leader of a group of shepherds. There were about eight of us. I write the following as Oahu, the youngest of our group dictated it to me.

Oahu tells his story

The group of shepherds Eliezer and I were with were foreigners from the deserts around Egypt. Most of us were little more than slaves to our cruel Arab masters. It was grueling and often dangerous work. There was scorching sun by day and frigid cold by night. Wolves were never far away, and bandits would not hesitate to slit our throats to steal the sheep.

I was on the “late watch” that night, just another routine night. We had not even driven any wolves away. I had just turned sixteen. I remember pulling my robe tighter around me trying to fight off the cold and stay awake. I knew if my overseers caught any of us dozing, we would get a thrashing, but they were sleeping deeper than we were so for now I had nothing to fear.

Sometimes in the heat of a summer’s night thunderstorms would barrel through. We could see them coming in their fury and trouncing us with rain that fell so hard it hurt. I always wondered why the rain god, (if there was one), was so angry in the summer. If lightning fell it was sudden, bright, and loud, often causing the sheep to stampede. It was hard to control both the sheep and our dogs, but as this was in the dead of winter, there would be no thunder.

Suddenly, as if a tremendous lightning bolt had fallen without any sound an incredibly bright blinding light lit up the valley around us as if it were day. I distinctly remember seeing our shadows, sharp and well-defined streaking off into the distance. The light did not flash as lightning does but remained there like a sunbeam in the middle of the night. Strangely our masters and all the animals fell into a deeper sleep. 

In the middle of the light was this ghost, or angel, or whatever. He was dressed in white flowing robes and floating in the sky and was vastly larger than any man we had ever seen. He spoke in a deep rumbling voice making it clear to us that neither he nor those that would follow were ghosts. They were some kind of messengers. He spoke to us in a language not our own, yet we could understand him perfectly.

This messenger told us that we should not be frightened but rejoice. We were scared out of our wits because none of us had ever seen such a sight and we were definitely not rejoicing. There must have been some special power in the messenger’s words for suddenly an immense calm fell over us all. 

He told us that we should go to Bethlehem to see and worship a baby that would be born that night. This baby would command our worship. 

Now, the only time when we were religious was when it was convenient, or we were in imminent danger. Nevertheless, we knew how to follow orders and we knew we must follow our visitor’s instructions. 

No sooner had he uttered those words than an immense group of these strange visitors appeared with him. It looked like there were hundreds, maybe thousands singing praises to this child. The night sky grew many times brighter than it had been before. While all this was happening our sheep, dogs and overseers dozed or grazed as peacefully as if it had been an ordinary night.

As suddenly as they appeared, they vanished. There was silence for a long time before old Alek, the eldest, said, 

“What are we going to do?” Then more silence.

As in most groups there is always a take charge individual. Finally, Eliezer said, 

“I’ll tell you what we are going to do. We are going to Bethlehem tonight. Now!”

Another replied, “How can we do that. Our masters will kill us, and the sheep will all run away!’

“Three will go and the rest will stay and watch the sheep,” Eliezer said. “We will cast lots. I will be your leader. The two winners and I will go together. Don’t fear our masters. It is obvious a deep spell has been cast over them. I do not think they will stir till we return, so let’s be quick about it!’

“No one liked the idea, but no one had a better plan, so we cast lots. I was the youngest and the smallest. When I won one of the two slots some grumbled. They didn’t think I should be allowed to count but Eliezer—because I was a fair gambler—would have none of it. He said that I won fair and that I would be going with them.

Eliezer reminded everyone that we should not make such a bold visit without taking a gift. That presented a dilemma: we had scarcely any money. We thought perhaps we could take one of the little lambs knowing it would not be missed. We didn’t mind a little thievery but were unwilling to give a stolen gift at such a special time. We finally scraped together sixteen mites. That would have to do.

The journey to Bethlehem was not long. We were pleased and puzzled when we discovered our destination was not a palace but a stable. It was a relief because we would not seem so out of place as we would showing up at a palace.

The baby’s father, whose name we learned was Joseph, must have heard the noise as we approached. He bounded out of the stable with his staff held high, ready for battle. He had a wild look on him, the look fathers have when they are ready to defend their family. He was justified in his defense because there were plenty of thieves and ne’er-do-wells about.

Joseph was quickly joined by the old innkeeper with his own staff. I was never sure if he was defending his property or defending his guest.

Eliezer quickly prostrated himself motioning for us to do the same. 

“Who are you and what do you want,” Joseph demanded. In broken Aramaic, Eliezer told him of our visitation by the angels and their directions to us. Joseph eyed us with both fear and alarm. Finally, he relaxed a little, told us in a menacing tone to wait where we were, and went back into the stable. We could hear muffled voices but could understand nothing.

Coming out, with a friendlier voice he told us we could come in. He asked us to enter quietly and not to come too close. He feared we had fleas or lice. 

That is not as insulting as you would think, you see shepherds were almost the lowest of our society. The only class beneath us were the unclean, the lepers, diseased and deformed. We were among dirty animals for weeks at a time and water was not easily available. Besides, we were not concerned as much about being clean as we were about eating and water for drinking. And yes, we did have both fleas and lice; it was impossible not to. 

Joseph reluctantly escorted us to where his wife, Mary, and the baby were, but kept an ever-present eye on us. There was no way we could have harmed anything in that circle, not even a fly! Mary was modestly draped as the baby nursed at her breast. She had a puzzled look about her. How, she wondered, could we know anything about this special birth. Eliezer tried with his limited Aramaic and with Josephs’ permission to explain what had happened to us and what the angel had directed us to do.

An old woman, apparently the inn-keepers wife, was giving motherly support to this new mother. As a much-experienced mid-wife she leaned over and whispered something in Mary’s ear. Mary now understood. She nodded and motioned for us to come closer.

I, as the youngest, should been behind the other two but found myself so close that I could almost touch him. Mary turned the baby toward us so we could see him better. I know it doesn’t sound possible, but I am sure my eyes locked with his as he looked at me. It seemed that he was welcoming me into his family.

Men in that day could not show any weakness, nevertheless, tears filled our eyes. We made a secret pact later that we would never divulge our weakness that night. We were not quite sure how to worship anything, much less a baby, but I am sure whatever powers were there that night were pleased.

Before long Joseph signaled it was time to leave. Outside Eliezer took the small bag of coins and handed it to Joseph. Eliezer told him it was all we had, and it was for the baby, so Joseph could not refuse. We left a short time later knowing the town watchman would not be pleased with dirty shepherds rambling about in his town.

You would think that was the end of the story, but it was only the beginning. Our overseers were still in a deep sleep when we returned. As day came most of the others passed off what they had seen as some collective dream, but not I.

The next few months were as humdrum as could be. We reached our destination, and the sheep were sold. It was now time to head back. We had more sheep to take north.

It was then I suffered a terrible life altering event. We were moving a large flock of sheep North when a huge desert adder slid from under a bush. A full-grown ram almost stepped on the vile serpent. He panicked, turned to run, and collided with me causing me to fall hard on my back and hit my head on a boulder. I was caught totally off guard. I do not remember anything after that for a long time.

How long I was unconscious I do not know. My companions thought I was dead or would shortly die. This created a problem for my masters. They could not abandon me, but they had no intention of monetarily aiding a non-productive worker. Even though they were cruel and heartless what religion they had would not allow them leave me to alone to die. 

They waited till nightfall and carried me on a crude litter to the marketplace. Our master left me there with enough coins to satisfy his conscience and whatever gods there might be. 

The next morning as vendors returned there was a lot of discussion on what they should do with me. I am not sure what would have happened if it had not been for a widow named Misha.

Misha’s husband had been killed in a similar accident some years previous. Her only son had been killed by a drunk Roman guard. The guard made up a story that that he was defending himself and was never punished.

Though she had almost nothing she knew she had to help. She told me later that I reminded her of her dead son, and she nursed me to health as best she could.

When I regained consciousness, the part of my body I could feel was wracked with incredible pain. Death would have been welcomed but I survived, though it was years before I would walk again. As soon as I was able to do anything for myself, Misha and one of her widow friends dragged me on my litter to the market each day so I could beg for food or money. 

It was a miserable existence but since that was all I knew I just cursed the gods. Pain hunger, and now pressure sores caused me to develop a very bad attitude. I hated the world and everything in it. If this was the way the gods were treating me now how much worse would it be when I died?

Once when I was begging I saw a wee boy tagging along with his mother. I recognized him at once, the baby in the stable! I think he recognized me as well because he broke free from his mother’s grasp and started tottering on his little legs toward me. Just as he was about to approach his mother scooped him up in her arms and scolded him for being naughty by running away from her

A wave of disappointment came over me, and I cursed life for I felt something good was about to happen, but then it didn’t. 

During this time Misha eked out a living by weaving baskets and I was able to beg enough to keep us from starving. The days became weeks, and the weeks became months and then years. 

From time to time, I heard of a miracle worker who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. He had a large following. It was said that he could heal the sick and even raise the dead. I doubted that it would ever mean anything to me though I wished it otherwise.

Then early one morning there was an excited crowd moving toward me. I thought it might be some rich merchant throwing money to the poor because it was the ‘Holiday of Giving.’ Through the crowd I spotted an ordinary man who did not appear to be wealthy, nevertheless he could hardly move because of the crowd.

Then our eyes locked. I knew it was the baby, the little child and now the man. He walked up straight to me and said, 

“Oahu my friend! I have waited a long time to do this!” He reached down and lifted me effortlessly. It felt as though fire spread through my body as feeling instantly returned. 

At first, I did not know what had happened but when he let go of me, I realized I was standing on my own! My withered limbs were now muscular as a galley slave and my pressure sours had disappeared. I cannot describe the emotions that engulfed me. I jumped and shouted. Was I dreaming? No, I wasn’t. I was perfectly whole. 

It was against tradition for a cripple to touch a whole man, but I could not help it. I grabbed this man with a mighty manly hug and swung him around in a circle. I set him down, dizzy with the new exertion. He looked at me and just laughed. 

Then he paused and said, “We will meet again.”

Those who knew my condition were both awed and frightened. The crowd pretty much knew what had happened and rejoiced with me and my friends. I was so busy rejoicing that I did not realize that he had moved on. 

For a few days I was the talk of the town. Misha cried for a week continually praising her God, Jehovah. I learned that I was not the only one that experienced miracles such as mine, I was just the latest. After a few days the excitement of the crowds wore off and I was just another story for the marketplace. 

Because I was eager to work, I soon found a job as an apprentice carpenter. Jacob, my employer, found I was reliable, a quick learner, and dependable. I was now able to provide for myself and Misha. The dear woman no longer had to work. However, she continued making baskets just because she wanted to up to the week before she died.

Jacob was a widower with no children. I became his son and he, my father. After he died, I inherited all that he had and led a comfortable life. 

Before he died, Jacob and I moved from Bethlehem to Cyrene because of better business opportunities. I was on my way back to Bethlehem to meet with a supplier of the Achaia wood that I used in making furniture when another life changing event occurred.

From time to time, I still heard stories of this ‘Jesus’ man. Once I heard him myself preaching from a boat. He had been doing this for some time but, according to authorities, was mostly stirring up trouble. 

On that fateful day, I got caught up in a mob following a large contingent of Roman solders driving three men condemned to death by crucifixion. That horrible punishment was unfortunately all too common. 

I thought such spectacles revolting and did not realize that this man Jesus was in the party of the condemned, that he had been accused of blasphemy and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. Without meaning to, I found myself at the front of the mob nearly abreast of the condemned. One of them turned his head and locked eyes with me. It was then I recognized him – the Jesus man. Suddenly I was sick to my stomach knowing there was nothing I could do.

Exhausted and in great pain, he stumbled and fell. The lead centurion cursed him and struck him with his whip several times. Then he realized that his prisoner could carry his cross no more.

I am ashamed to say that I shrank back into the crowd for I feared what was about to happen. Then righteous anger came over me and I stepped forward and gave the lead centurion a look of defiance he was not about to ignore. He shouted orders to a couple of his solders who turned and marched toward me.

To my horror I was grabbed, dragged and pushed to the centurion. He glared at me, pointed at the fallen Jesus with his whip and shouted at me to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha. There was no choice. My hesitation was met with the sting of his whip across my back. 

As I reached the fallen man I saw as bloody a sight as I had ever seen. What was left of his robe was shredded into strips, soiled with dirt, sweat and blood. There was the strong smell of urine as the whip had accomplished an additional humiliation. 

Our eyes locked once again. In that moment all the reluctance and fear left me, and I felt nothing but compassion for him. I stripped off my own cloak and attempted to render what aid I could before I felt the whip on my own back again.

The guards yanked me to my feet cursing me and telling me to take the cross and move on or I might find myself nailed to one. As I shouldered his cross, Jesus said, 

“Do not fear, my friend, now you minister to me!”

Everyone seemed to be enjoying my plight; for they, even the other prisoners, laughed as I stumbled up the hill totally bewildered at what was happening. As we arrived at the summit of the hill the cross was roughly jerked away from me, and I was pushed to the ground with yet another lash of the whip.

I blacked out then and knew nothing until morning. I awoke and found myself lying under some sharp thorn bushes though how I got there I do not know. When I came to my senses the place, Golgotha, was deserted. 

At the top of the hill were three crosses. The center one was empty. From those on either side hung two dead men. They must have had an agonizing death because their faces were contorted in a most horrific display of suffering. Their limp bodies hung in a most awful manner. I was relieved to see neither of the two were the Jesus man.

I needed water and some food. I was glad to find that no one had robbed me after I had passed out. With my purse I was able to find a public bath house, eat and refresh myself.

While there I heard that this Jesus man did indeed die. Contrary to normal executions where the prisoner was left on the cross as a public display of Roman authority, Jesus had been removed shortly after he was pronounced dead. He must have had some powerful friends. I understand one was a merchant.

But Jesus did not stay dead. Three days later he was alive again. The officials tried to hush it up, they even hired false tellers to spread the rumor that some of his followers stole his body to perpetuate the lie that he did not rise from the dead. 

That very day I decided that I, a Gentile, would be one of the followers of this Jesus. In time, his followers accepted me as one of their own and taught me all I now know. I wanted to leave my past, even my name. They suggested, and I gladly accepted my new name, Simon. Thus I became known as Simon of Cyrene, the one who carried Jesus’ cross. 

I decided that I would help spread his message as best I could for the rest of my life. I sold my business and gave the money to the follower’s treasury. As far as I was concerned my lot was cast. I would follow Jesus.

Eliezer picks up the tale

I, Eliezer, will now tell you the rest of Oahu’s story. He can call himself Simon if he wants but to me, he is still Oahu. He did a most vile thing, insulting his fore-fathers by changing his name! He wanted to be called a filthy Hebrew name, ‘Simon,’ and call himself a ‘Christian.’ He deserves nothing better than stoning and being fed to the jackals for abandoning his heritage. If it were not for the honor of my oath, his story would not be told.

Oahu was faithful to his so-called ‘Messiah,’ I will give him credit for that! A couple of years later when persecution against these fanatics was reaching its peak, Oahu got himself into some real trouble.

The temple priest had had enough of this up-start, so they accused him of defiling the temple. Even I, still a skeptic, knew that Oahu would never do that. These so-called righteous men stirred up a mob of like-minded zealots who accused him of all kinds of things they knew he never did.

No one would wait for a trial of any kind. Henchmen drug him out of town to the rubbish pit yelling and screaming all the way. The elders would not defile themselves with such a task, so they urged the rabble following them to stone Oahu to death. He was not the first, nor would he be the last, to end his life this way.

Dragging him out of town was unnecessary because he willingly went with them to his death. He told them he was honored for the opportunity to die for his Lord. That proved to me that he really was crazy. 

Even for someone as cold and heartless as I, this was a travesty of justice. I thought for a moment that I should come to Oahu’s aid but quickly realized I did not want to become a target of this mob-mentality. Besides that, he got himself in to this mess, let him get himself out. Maybe this ‘Messiah-Savior’ would deliver him.

It has been nearly thirty years since those events. I am an old man soon to face my own mortality. The Jesus movement grows ever stronger, his followers spreading the news wherever they go. And many people believe. Included among them the most impoverished and illiterate and the most educated and wealthy. 

I can’t help thinking, perhaps it is not such a hoax after all.

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