A Note to Readers,
Book I: The World of Jesus,
Book II: Behold the Man,
Book III: If You Are the Son of God, Take Yourself Off This Cross,
About the Authors,
Also by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard,
MARCH, 5 B.C.
The child with thirty-six years to live is being hunted.
Heavily armed soldiers from the capital city of Jerusalem are marching to this small town, intent on finding and killing the baby boy. They are a mixed-race group of foreign mercenaries from Greece, Gaul, and Syria. The child's name, unknown to them, is Jesus, and his only crime is that some believe he will be the next king of the Jewish people. The current monarch, a dying half-Jewish, half-Arab despot named Herod, is so intent on ensuring the baby's death that his army has been ordered to murder every male child under the age of two years in Bethlehem. None of the soldiers knows what the child's mother and father look like, or the precise location of his home, thus the need to kill every baby boy in the small town and surrounding area. This alone will guarantee the extermination of the potential king.
It is springtime in Judea, the peak of lambing season. The rolling dirt road takes the army past thick groves of olive trees and shepherds tending their flocks. The soldiers' feet are clad in sandals, their legs are bare, and they wear the skirtlike pteruges to cover their loins. The young men sweat profusely beneath the plates of armor on their chests and the tinned bronze attic helmets that cover the tops of their heads and the sides of their faces.
The soldiers are well aware of Herod's notorious cruelty and his penchant for killing anyone who would try to threaten his throne. But there is no moral debate about the right or wrong of slaughtering infants. Nor do the soldiers question whether they will have the nerve to rip a screaming child from his mother's arms and carry out the execution. When the time comes, they will follow orders and do their jobs — or risk being immediately killed for insubordination.
The sword's blade is how they plan to dispatch the babies. All soldiers are armed with the Judean version of the razor-sharp pugio and gladius preferred by the Roman legions, and they wear their weapons attached to the waist. Their method of murder, however, will not be restricted to the dagger or sword. Should they wish, Herod's soldiers can also use a skull-crushing stone, hurl the baby boys off a cliff en masse, or just wrap their fists around the infants' windpipes and strangle them.
The cause of death is not important. What matters most is one simple fact: king of the Jews or not, the infant must die.
* * *
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, King Herod gazes out a palace window toward Bethlehem, anxiously awaiting confirmation of the slaughter. In the cobbled streets below him, the Roman-appointed king sees the crowded bazaars, where vendors sell everything from water and dates to tourist trinkets and roast lamb. The walled city of some eighty thousand residents packed into less than a single square mile is a crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean. With one sweep of his eyes, Herod can s