Document discovered at the site of a first-century CE border station in the Sinai between Herod’s kingdom and Roman-occupied Egypt.
The papyrus document is a letter from the Herodian authorities in Israel to ‘Mary from Nazareth’. The letter was either undelivered or discarded by Mary, presumably because she and Joseph were illiterate. Biblical scholars are generally agreed that the letter confirms the historical reliability of Luke’s gospel. Among theologians there is some concern about the letter’s theological implications. A translation follows:
From: The Powers That Be
To: Mary from Nazareth, c/o Border Control [undated]
Re: Your so-called ‘Magnificat’
Dear Ms. Mary,
First, let me convey our hopes that you had an enjoyable and incident-free ‘flight into Egypt’ and that you, your baby, your ‘husband’, and your donkey — our donkey, actually — are well.
Secondly, let me assure you that we have no interest in extraditing you. Indeed, we have no interest in you at all. We do, however, for your own good, strongly advise you not to attempt to return. Especially, we advise you not to bring the baby Jesus back to Nazareth. We are confident that he, you, and your ‘husband’ can lead a productive life in Roman-occupied Egypt.
It is our disinterested hope that you will henceforth avoid the confrontational and extremist rhetoric of your so-called ‘Magnificat’, and that you will likewise teach your son, when he comes of age, to take a more constructive approach to politics and religion.
If I may profer some advice, albeit after the event, if you had invited us to engage with you in a balanced dialogue and exchange of views concerning a just society, we would have been only too glad to do so. If you had acted in this way, we believe that the recent unpleasantness sensationalized as the ‘massacre of the innocents’ need never have occurred. It may appear harsh to say so, Mary, but their blood is as much on your hands as on the hands of our security forces — although it would be not entirely inaccurate to say that the latter did in some measure over-react.
Let me outline some of the points that our experts — and we would have fielded only the best — would have made in response to the substance of your complaints, had you indicated an interest in a mutually respectful dialogue.
It is of course the central ‘verses’ of your Magnificat that most concern us:
— He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
— He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. — He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
I take it that by ‘the proud’ you mean those of us who are indeed ‘proud’ of what we have accomplished for our country, our religion, our families, our enterprises, and — yes — ourselves; and that by ‘the mighty’ you mean those of us in positions of power and authority, legitimate authority, I might add. The meaning of ‘the rich’ is self-evident. I need only add that those of us who might be so defined make no apology for our wealth, nor should we.
Let me tell you some of the ‘talking points’ which our team would have brought to a mutually respectful exchange of views. I shall treat the three ‘verses’ above in reverse order.
1. Of course we have no objection to the Lord ‘filling the hungry with good things’. To the contrary, we are more than willing to do our part in insuring that no one in the land goes hungry, on the understanding of course that ‘good things’ do not include luxury foods. We do, however, reject the implication that this is a zero-sum game. Surely ‘the hungry’ can be identified and fed a sustaining diet without driving ‘the rich’ empty from their tables? And is there currently no middle ground, no people of modest means who can nevertheless afford sufficient food?
2. While at present we are reluctant to negotiate power sharing with you, let alone vacating our ‘seats’ of authority, we are certainly willing to discuss enhancing somewhat the status of the lowly (‘them of low degree’). We have perhaps been somewhat insensitive to persons of your class, and we would be interested to hear from you about measures we might take to guarantee you and those like you a greater degree of respect. Again I point out that this is not a zero-sum game: your exaltation (within reason) does not require our humiliation.
3. I do not think that there are grounds for dialogue on the issue of the first ‘verse’ quoted above, and not merely because you advance no position on behalf of your own class, i.e. ‘them of low degree’. To be frank, I do not understand what you mean by ‘the imagination of their [i.e. our] hearts’. Allow me further to point out that the Lord hath not scattered us yet and appears to show no interest in scattering us in the foreseeable future. In fact, we think the Lord rather approves of us.
I remain yours truly,
Principal Secretary to The Powers That Be