An Ancient Memorandum

Archaeologist’s Note: The following document was found in what appears to have been a waste bin in the palace of a Near Eastern kingdom from around 2000 years ago. It was evidently written about ten days before the estimated winter solstice. No exact year is noted on the document, probably because at that time one year was much the same as another. Based on the disarray found in the excavated room, the last occupant appears to have departed in some haste.





The National Foreign Policy Council reviewed, per your esteemed and gracious request, your proposal to travel to the western land of Judaea. The request was staffed and an inter-bureau working group developed several policy options. Given your royal and exalted station, please accept my assurances that full consideration was given to your proposal. This memo summarizes the findings.

1. The National Intelligence Bureau assesses with strong confidence that no significant events will take place in Judaea in the coming weeks, months, or years. This area is widely recognized as a resource-deficient backwater noted only for occasional tribal instability. Technical analysis of astrological data suggests no anomalies that would change the current warning indications. The unusual star you believe you observed is estimated as most likely an outlying data point, which does not reflect any significant change to the local or regional situation. The NIB diverted substantial resources from high priority targets to develop the data needed for this analysis, but gaps remain in available information which would excuse any mistakes in its estimate. With a budget increase of 11 percent, appropriate means could be deployed to resolve these gaps, though additional facts would not likely alter the key judgments.

2. Re the political context as evaluated by the Bureau of Foreign Affairs: Judaea lies in the Roman sphere of influence. A visit by a royal official could be misread as an attempt to interfere in Roman imperial affairs. The Romans could interpret your visit as an effort to create alliances with local tribes, which would undermine their control, an outcome we must avoid, given our need for Roman cooperation. We explored the possibility of multi-lateralizing the proposed trip into a coalition of the willing by inviting the magi of our two neighboring kingdoms. Our best efforts with our diplomatic colleagues (two receptions and a dinner were convoked) produced no appetite for such a joint mission, though we agreed to meet again to institute a long-term process for similar cooperation and engagement where the potential for success is greater. A minor budget increase of six percent will be necessary to implement this process, which we will name in honor of your highness.

3. In line with the political judgment of the BFA, the Bureau of Warfare expressed concern that the proposed trip could involve our kingdom in conflicts for which we are not fully prepared and would thereby overstretch our forces as they undertake critical transformational initiatives. Robusting the force and ramping up personnel and equipment levels to those needed to mitigate the risk in a sustained mode would be possible with a budget augmentation of 33 percent over two years, assuming no major equipment design modifications – and sub-contractor availability.

4. The Bureau of Home Defense asserted that the trip could pose a risk of increased terrorist infiltration. Although they provided no explanation, merely saying this produced profound anxiety among the council members. We felt you should be informed. BHD is refining budget estimates to cover the cost of necessary countermeasures.

5. The inter-bureau legal subcommittee voiced caution about potential ethical violations associated with the costs of the trip (first-class travel is not authorized to Judaea, and military camel-lift could create a perception of misuse of tax funds). The lawyers were also concerned that, because the customs regulations in Roman territories are unclear and often arbitrary, there would be some risk of exposure on tax issues for any gifts you might bear as you travel.

6. Finally, the domestic political advisors were adamant that the government stay on-message with the sensitive winter solstice period less than two weeks off. Travel by prominent officials, especially paying a visit to an obscure Jewish family whose whereabouts would be the subject of intense media speculation, would divert attention from the agenda the Palace hopes to push across the finish line in the short winter days. There was also the usual well-founded concern about introducing religious overtones into our otherwise sophisticated policy apparatus.

Your highness, rarely have the components of your government been so reluctantly but firmly aligned in unanimous opposition to a proposal. Perhaps, with the cross-bureau budget increases noted above, the coming years will bring [document ends here because of deterioration].

Dr. Joseph R. Wood serves in the School of Philosophy and Theology of the University of Notre Dame Australia, and is a Fellow at Cana Academy.