It took a bit of fast talking to convince my editor to let me pursue the lead in Bethlehem. Two things were in my favor; the news desk was slow and I could stay at his uncle’s inn for free. Finally, he agreed. Giving me a letter for his Uncle Levi and a few coins for expenses he sent me on my way.
Bethlehem was still bustling with travelers when I arrived, much different than my last visit. I had stopped by on my way to Debir to chase down a lead about the olive crop failure. Bethlehem was quiet then, almost drowsy. It was more like Jerusalem on market day when I began my search for the shepherd. With the letter in hand, I approached Uncle Levi’s inn and gave the door a few quick raps. After a few minutes, I heard a gruff, “No Room.”
“It’s Nate from the Jerusalem Journal, Benjamin sent me,” I yelled through the door. After a few moments, I heard the bar being raised and the door creak open.
“Nate! Out traveling again for my nephew? Come in,” the old innkeeper invited. “Lets see, your last visit was what, three months ago?”
“Something like that. Nice to see you again.”
“So where are you off to this time? Egypt perhaps?” Levi asked.
“No, I’m following a lead right here in Bethlehem.” Levi’s eyebrows arched a bit wondering what story could be found in his village. I handed him the letter which he immediately read.
“So my Benjamin wants me to put you up as a favor, feed you too I suppose. How long are you planning on staying?”
“Only a day or two, it shouldn’t be hard to find one shepherd.”
“It might be harder than you think, there are many shepherds, and they are all scattered about in the hills.” Levi thought for a moment before continuing. “Tonight you’ll have to sleep on the floor. Tomorrow will be another story, but you are welcome to stay for as long as you need. Since you won’t be paying in denarii you’ll have to pay me in news, supper is ready, come and tell me what is going on in the big city.”
As requested, I told Levi all the news that I could come up with. He took great interest in court gossip and asked if there had been any unique visitors. Since that wasn’t my beat, I couldn’t answer him. Eventually, the conversation came around to why I was at his table.
“So what’s this about a shepherd? Expecting a drought of Passover lambs?” Levi asked.
“Nothing like that this time. A trader called Denny told me about something that happened the last time he passed through.”
“Denny? Who’s Denny?”
“Oh, that’s my nickname for him. His real name is David Ben Aaron. I call him Denny because he is always flipping a denarius.” Levi’s eyes reflected remembrance when I mentioned Denny’s habit.
“He’s a rascal Nate, I wouldn’t give a copper mite for anything that he says.”
“Well, he told me that a few days ago when he was in town…” I went on the relay Denny’s story about meeting the shepherd and the report of angels.
“Yes that was a very busy and strange night” Levi remembered. “We were full up, I had to turn a dozen or so away including your friend. There was one couple that I took pity on. They had traveled from Nazareth because of the census. She was soon to give birth, maybe a little sooner than they expected. Anyway, the inn was full, but I couldn’t turn them out into the cold like I did to your friend. My stable boy suggested that we could clear out a stall for them. With my approval, he quickly moved the cows, mucked out the stall, and laid down some fresh straw. The young woman’s birth pains began soon after they were settled. She is the fifth, no sixth, to give birth at my inn, although she is the first to do so in the stable.”
“I can think of worst places.” I thought there may be a human interest story worth looking into. “What did she have?”
“A lovely baby boy. But that’s not the strange part. The next morning I visited the new family to assure them there would be a room for them later that day. Joseph, the new father, informed me that more shepherds may come to visit the infant. It seems that a group came out of the hills last night and more may do the same today.” Levi looked at me and shrugged. “Who am I to argue with a new father?”
“So that was probably the shepherds that Denny saw,” I reasoned. “Did Joseph say anything about how the shepherds knew about the baby?”
“I asked him that very question. ‘God must have told them,’ was all he would say.” Levi rose and began clearing the table. “Its getting late Nate, give me a few minutes to make up a mat. You’ll be warm at least, we can talk more in the morning.
I was tired but had one question I had to get out of the way. “Say, Denny told me you raised your rates because of the census. Anything to that?”
“What exactly did that weasel tell you?” Levi quickly asked.
“That you wanted to charge him three times the expected rate.”
“I warned you not to trust him, the truth is the exact opposite. We were full when he arrived, he offered to pay me three times over if I would kick someone out so he could have a room. I told him no.”
I knew Denny’s story was a non-starter, but there seemed to be plenty of others to investigate.