Bethlehem Arrival Of The Holy Family
FRIDAY, the 23rd of November. The distance of the way from their last resting- place to Bethlehem would be about three leagues ; they made a circuitous route at the north of Bethlehem and approached the city on the south side. They made a halt under a tree outside of their route. Mary dismounted from the ass and put her clothes in order ; then Joseph proceeded forward with her towards a large building surrounded with other smaller buildings and courts. They were still a few minutes from Bethlehem. There were trees there, and many people were preparing tents all about. It was an old house belonging to the family of David, and which had belonged to Joseph s family. Some relatives or acquaintances of Joseph lived there still ; but they treated him like a stranger, and would not recognize him. This was now the house where they received the taxes for the Roman Government. Joseph, accompanied by the Blessed Virgin, and holding the ass by the bridle, proceeded to this house, for all persons who arrived were bound to make it known there, and they there received a billet without which they were not allowed to enter Bethlehem.
The Sister said afterwards, with some intervals in her statement : The young ass is no longer with them ; it runs round the city towards the south : there was there a little valley. Joseph has entered into the large building. Mary is in a little house with some women ; they are very kind to her, and give her something to eat. These women cook for the soldiers : they are Roman soldiers, who had straps round their loins. The season is very pleasant here, and not very cold. The sun is seen above the mountain, which is between Jerusalem and Bethania. They have here a most beautiful view. Joseph is in a large room which is not on the ground floor : they ask him who he is, and they consult the large scrolls which are hanging on the walls ; they unfold them, and read there his genealogy and also that of Mary. They did not appear to know that she also, by Joachim, descended in a direct line from David. The man asked him where his wife was.
It is six years since the people of this country had been regularly taxed. There had been a good deal of disorder and confusion. This impost had been two months in operation : it had been paid from time to time during the past seven years, but not regularly ; it has now to be paid double. Joseph has arrived rather late for the payment of the duty, but they have treated him very politely. He has not yet paid. They asked him what were his means of subsistence, and he replied that he had no landed property that he lived by his trade, and that he also received assistance from his mother-in-law.
There were a great many writers and important officials in the house : in the upper part were Romans and many soldiers ; there were also Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, elders, and a number of Scribes and functionaries, both Jews and Romans. There was no meeting of this kind at Jerusalem, but in several other parts of the country; for example, at Magdalum, near the Lake of Gennesareth, where the people of Galilee came to pay as well as the people of Sidon, in consequence, as I believe, of certain commercial arrangements. It is only those who have no landed property who are obliged to go to the place of their birth.
The produce of the tax for the next three months will be divided into three parts, of which each has a different destination. The first is for the benefit of the Emperor Augustus, Herod, and another prince who dwelt in the neighborhood of Egypt. He had taken part in a war and possessed certain rights over a portion of the country, and on this account something had to be paid to him. The second part was for the building of the Temple : it seemed to me that it had to be applied to pay off a debt. The third part should be for the widows and the poor, who have received nothing for a long while ; but, as happens nowadays, the money scarcely ever goes to the right persons. Good pretexts are given for raising the duty, and almost all remains in the hands of powerful people.
When what concerned St. Joseph was arranged they made the Blessed Virgin also come before the writers ; but they did not read their papers to her. They told St. Joseph that he need not have brought his wife with him, and they had the appearance of joking with him about the youth of Mary, which caused him slight confusion.