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The Historian and The Rower's Nativity

This was written based on the real lives of the two ministers “leading” the play; one is a historian, the other a rower….

Scene 1 Ruth (Historian) and Simon (Rower)

R OK, here’s a teaser for you. You’re a rower and I’m a historian – what do we have in common?

S Easy – we both look behind us to work out where we’re going. It’s what makes us preachers too.

R How come?

S Well, when something’s actually going on, actually happening, we’re not often fully clear what’s happening.

R I think that’s putting it kindly.

S OK – but – as things go on, we begin to understand what it meant, and how it fits together.

R OK – so while it’s happening, we can’t understand it fully. But looking back, it makes more sense?

S Yes

R So you’re saying we’re thick; we can’t make sense of what is happening?

S No – not at all. It’s the way it’s always been, the way it has to be. It’s what makes us preachers – it’s the whole way the Bible story worked. People usually have no idea what’s going on – until they look back.

R And then the story becomes clearer?

S That’s right. Take Christmas for example. Do you think those involved had any idea what it was all about?

R Wouldn’t it be interesting to know?

Scene 2; Interviewer, secretary, centurion, statistician

I So, let me get this right. You were secretary to Quirinius, Governor of Syria

Sec That’s right

I And you were a centurion in Palestine

Cent Yes sir (ma’am)

I And you were ?

Stat I was the official government statistician, responsible for collating figures of population and nationality.

I Mr Sec, can you recall what was happening during Quirinius’ rule, when Caesar Augustus called for the census?

Sec It was just one of the regular censuses. We held them periodically for tax purposes, you see. We needed to know how many people were eligible for tax – and make sure they were paying, and the easiest way to do it was to require everybody to return to their home town and be counted. It meant they had to go no journeys, but most folk enjoyed it. It was an excuse to go and see family, have a bit of a holiday.

Cent Well, it may have looked like a holiday to you, but we found it a nightmare – all these people going on long journeys, and usually without making sure there was anywhere to stay when they go there. It was hard work for my men, I can tell you. Who knew what kind of sedition was being talked when people moved about the country. And they didn’t like the census at all.

Sec That’s true. There was a lot of resentment about it. But it needed to happen. Otherwise, how would we know how many we needed to tax – and we need the tax to keep things in order.

Stat And we needed to know how many people there were in each of the towns, and where they had moved to. We needed to keep track of the movements, and understand what was moving people. I mean, we had the impression of people moving into cities – but we needed to know if that was true.

Sec And we needed to keep track of the various families – in Palestine especially. The priesthood and so on goes in families you know. And we needed to keep in touch with the potential troublemakers in the community

Cent Now that I agree with – we needed to know where the trouble spots would be, and who might be plotting what. And that often ran in families – the priestly group had one agenda., and Pharisees another – to say nothing of the Sadducees. It was useful to keep track of them. But making them all move about the country – well, we were not convinced it was the best way.

Stat But if we didn’t bring them to their home town, how could we keep accurate records of where they went and who they moved among? No, we needed to do it the way we did. Though I admit it did cause a great deal of disruption. But sometimes that’s needed.

I And that year, when the census happened, did you notice anything unusual?

Sec Unusual – in what way?

I I don’t know – odd happenings, significant moments

Sec No, I don’t think so – did any of you?

Cent No – just the usual trouble makers finding any excuse to stir things up

Stat Nothing out of the ordinary. People went to their homes of their fathers just as we needed, and everything was very smooth. The figures were helpful, and we got what we needed to understand what was happening.

I It’s just that I heard stories of an unusual birth, a set of strange visitors, a religious event….

Cent I didn’t hear of anything like that – and I would have known

Sec I didn’t come across anything of the sort – and it was my job to keep an eye on anything unusual

Stat And I certainly didn’t notice anything. All was as it should be.

I Are you sure

All Oh yes – nothing unusual happened.

Scene 3; Interviewer, Geogrpaher, Wise man

WM Well, do you know why we’ve been called here

Geog Not really. I think somebody is doing some research, and wants to ask us some questions.

WM Really, it is most inconvenient. I have just taken delivery of some ancient texts, and I wanted to get on with the translations.

Geog Well, if they’ve waited this long, they’ll wait another hour

WM I suppose – but I wish she or he would hurry up

Enter I

I Thank you for agreeing to meet me. I just wanted to ask you some

questions, if I may.

WM Well, get on with it.

I I am trying to find out about a visit that happened here some years ago; some star gazers from the eastern country came with questions to you, I believe.

WM I’m sure I don’t remember

Geog From the east, you say? Now, just a minute… well, maybe I do remember what you were taking about

WM What do you mean

Geog Don’t you recall? Those folk who arrived looking for a new king? They got Herod in such a state! He had you and all the other wise readers in and asked you all about the prophecies and so on?

WM Oh yes – now that you say that. And you and the other mapmakers were brought in to try and show where these folk were supposed to go.

But that was all nonsense, surely. I haven’t thought of it in years.

Geog Me neither. Gosh it is must be – I don’t know how long ago. But I do remember how upset Herod got.

WM Yes – I think we all do, now that I recall, Didn’t he order some sort of military action?

Geog That’s right. In one of the small towns, I think. Goodness, I haven’t thought of that in years. I can’t even really remember what it was all about.

WM Nor can I. Something about a new king as you say – but I don’t remember any follow-up. There was no uprising or anything.

Geog No. It all seemed to fizzle out. Perhaps Herod’s military intervention worked… I can’t remember any details

WM Why did you want to know?

I Well, I did hear that somebody important was born then, that something very important did happen.

Geog No, I don’t think so. It was - I think – in one of the small towns – Bethlehem, I think. Can’t have been anything important.,

WM No, it can’t have been important. I mean, I would have heard about it, wouldn’t I. It’s my job, after all. No, I think you must have got that wrong.

I Are you sure? I heard that somebody very significant was born, and things were never the same again.,

Both No. We would have known. We would have to – that’s our job!

Scene 4; Maid, groom, mother in law, interviewer

M You want to know about a night during the last census. You must be mad. Have you any idea how busy we were then?

I Well, it just seems to have been really important, and I wanted to understand better what it felt like to be there when it happened.

M When what happened?

I When the baby was born.

M Baby – I don’t remember a baby?

I Yes – our records tell us a baby was born that night – a really important baby. Everybody must have known

M Well everybody might have, but I didn’t. All I remember of that week was that the house was full and I had all my time taken up running backwards and forwards for the mistress, trying to keep the tables filled, the beds made and the dustbins empty.

G No use looking at me. I was busy too – besides, babies are not really my business. Woman’s work that, beds and baths and food and so on. I’m in the stables and the yard seeing to the animals. Not dealing with babies.

I But this baby was born in the outhouse because the rooms were all full?

G A baby born in the outhouse – I ought to remember that…. But I don’t think I do.

MiL A baby! Born in the outhouse! What sort of establishment do you think my son and daughter in law run here. A baby in the outhouse – whoever heard of such a thing.

M A baby in the outhouse – just a minute. I think… yes, I do remember something about that. [to MIL] Don’t you remember, there was that young couple. Shouldn’t have been travelling so near her time, but what with the census. And he didn’t have the brains to plan ahead. Anybody would think he didn’t know anything about the baby. But they arrived late one night

G And you put them in my outhouse. I never heard anything about it.

M Your outhouse? Since when was it was YOUR outhouse, I’d like to know. But I think we did put them in an outhouse. Your son was sorry for them

MiL Well, that would be just like him. But I don’t think I remember it.

M Well, now I come to think of it, I think it was the week that Sarah was getting married, and you were down to their place a lot, to help with the cooking.

MiL Well, I remember that – that was important. Biggest wedding of the year, and all the out of towners in for the census just made it bigger. No wonder I don’t remember this outhouse business – I had something important to deal with. [to interviewer] sorry I can’t help you, but as you see, I had mush more significant things going on than helping idiots who couldn’t plan ahead.

G In my outhouse? Are you sure? I mean, it just doesn’t seem likely. Where did they put this baby then?

M I can’t remember that – that didn’t matter. All I remember was vowing that when I wed, it’ll be a man who can plan ahead and will take proper care of me! [to interviewer] I remember them now – she looked really scared; and he was little more than a boy. Gosh – I’d completely forgotten about them. I wonder what happened. They stayed for a bit – couldn't travel with the little one. But then they disappeared, and we never heard anything else.

I I heard that the baby went on to become quite famous.

MiL Oh, I don’t think so. I mean, we would have heard, wouldn’t we,

G My outhouse. It must have made a real mess. Did they clear up when they left. And what about the animals – did anybody take a thought to them in all this ? It sounds quite scandalous. If I’d been around, I wouldn't have let it happen.

Scene 5 Sheep owner, Shepherd’s wife, interviewer

I I was wondering if any of you have ever looked after flocks up on the Bethlehem hillside?

SO Well, I used to have flocks out on the hills. Somebody else looked after them of course – it’s not a job for somebody with education. But I made a good living from it

SW My husband used to herd the sheep – but if it’s about the tax, it’s all paid

I No, not the tax. I’m asking round to see if people remember a particular night.

SO How long ago?

I Well, quite a few years now. But it was a very special one

SW A special night – what do you mean?

I I head that the shepherds met angels and were sent to see a new born baby who would change the world.


SW I think I would have remember that. It’s the sort of thing he would have talked about when he got home – at least, I assume he would have.

I Well, that’s what I was wondering. Did you ever hear anything about it?


SO there was one night – but I don’t think it can be what you were taking about. It was when the soldiers came.

I No, but it was about then I think. Just a few months before….

SO [slowly] no – I can’t think of anything that came before that.

SW I remember the night the soldiers came. The little boy next door was taken. But I don’t think there were angels involved.

I There weren’t angels then. The angels came a few months before – it was a night of great joy.


SW Sorry. I don’t remember that.


SW Just a minute. I do remember something. He came home one morning he and the others, and they were full of some story about angels and choirs and I don’t know all what. But I never heard any more about it and I put it down[confidentially, trying to avoid SO hearing] I put it down to too much to drink that night. They weren’t supposed to, but sometimes….

SO Oh,. I knew they did it. But as long as the sheep were safe. I mean, it’s not as if they left the sheep alone, is it.

I Well, I’m not sure. I think they might have.


SO [slowly] left the sheep on the hillside. Alone. With no protection.

Oh no, I’d have heard about that.

SW He’d never have done it – he wouldn’t have risked his job. Or at least, if he had it would only have been for something really important. And I don’t remember anything like that.

I So they didn’t talk about the angels as anything really important.

SW No, not really. As I said, we didn’t really take it that seriously.

SO If I’d heard about it, I would have. But I didn’t. So it can’t have been too important.

I I suppose not…..

Finale Ruth, Simon narrating and tinies miming

R Do you know, I begin to see what you mean; at the time, it’s not clear what’s happening.

S Yes. But looking back…..well, then we hear the full story. And it goes like this

Nativity tableaux

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