Ben-Hur listened with every faculty intent.
“Many years ago, with my people- thy mother was with me, Esther, beautiful as morning over old Olivet- I sat by the wayside out north of Jerusalem, near the Tombs of the Kings, when three men passed by riding great white camels, such as had never been seen in the Holy City. The men were strangers, and from far countries. The first one stopped and asked me a question, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ As if to allay my wonder, he went on to say, ‘We have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him.’ I could not understand, but followed them to the Damascus Gate; and of every person they met on the way- of the guard at the Gate, even- they asked the question. All who heard it were amazed like me. In time I forgot the circumstance, though there was much talk of it as a presage of the Messiah. Alas, alas! What children we are, even the wisest! When God walks the earth, his steps are often centuries apart. You have seen Balthasar?”
“And heard him tell his story,” said Ben-Hur.
“A miracle!- a very miracle!” cried Simonides. “As he told it to me, good my master, I seemed to hear the answer I had so long waited; God’s purpose burst upon me. Poor will the King be when he comes- poor and friendless; without following, without armies, without cities or castles; a kingdom to be set up, and Rome reduced and blotted out. See, see, O my master! thou flushed with strength, thou trained to arms, thou burdened with riches; behold the opportunity the Lord hath sent thee! Shall not his purpose be thine? Could a man be born to a more perfect glory?”
Simonides put his whole force in the appeal.
“But the kingdom, the kingdom!” Ben-Hur answered, eagerly. “Balthasar says it is to be of souls.”
The pride of the Jew was strong in Simonides, and therefore the slightly contemptuous curl of the lip with which he began his reply- “Balthasar has been a witness of wonderful things- of miracles, O my master; and when he speaks of them, I bow with belief, for they are of sight and sound personal to him. But he is a son of Mizraim, and not even a proselyte. Hardly may he be supposed to have special knowledge by virtue of which we must bow to him in a matter of God’s dealing with our Israel. The prophets had their light from Heaven directly, even as he had his- many to one, and Jehovah the same forever. I must believe the prophets.- Bring me the Torah, Esther.”
He proceeded without waiting for her.
“May the testimony of a whole people be slighted, my master? Though you travel from Tyre, which is by the sea in the north, to the capital of Edom, which is in the desert south, you will not find a lisper of the Shema, an alms-giver in the Temple, or any one who has ever eaten of the lamb of the Passover, to tell you the kingdom the King is coming to build for us, the children of the covenant, is other than of this world, like our father David’s. Now, where got they the faith, ask you? We will see presently.”