For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing .
As some of you possibly know, Marjorie Holmes was a bestselling inspirational Christian writer. She wrote nonfiction books such as I've Got to Talk to Somebody, God and at least 3 novels that I know of.
The three novels I know of consisted of a trilogy covering the life of Jesus. They were written and published in this order: Two from Galilee: The Love Story of Mary and Joseph (the word "love" was taken out of later editions, alas), Three from Galilee: The Young Man from Nazareth, and The Messiah.
In this thread, I'm going to post excerpts from all three books, for your enjoyment. If anyone wants to read these novels in their entirety, it should be possible to order copies through Amazon.com.
I'll start in the first reply.
TWO FROM GALILEE: THE STORY OF MARY AND JOSEPH
WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR
THE MAGNIFICENT BESTSELLER
THE GREATEST LOVE STORY OF ALL TIME
Copyright © 1972 by Marjorie Holmes Mighell
Introduction copyright © 1986 by Marjorie Holmes Mighell
From hardback jacket dust:
One hushed Christmas Eve several years ago a woman sat in a darkened church. The greens, the carols, the beauty of the night—all contributed to the expectant stillness that filled the church. Suddenly she became aware of the strong sweet smell of the hay in the candlelit manger.
“It actually happened,” she thought in wonder. “It happened to real people in a real place with real smells and sounds and sights. And that young mother was no older than my own daughter.”
The impact of the discovery was overwhelming, and the woman left the church that night determined to tell the story of two real people whose lives were touched by God. The woman was Marjorie Holmes, and the story that was born in the scent of the hay was TWO FROM GALILEE.
And what kind of story is it? The author calls it “the greatest love story of all time—told for the first time as a love story.” Never before has there been a major novel about the love between the two people chosen by God to provide an earthly home for His Son. Never before has an author attempted to reveal the human aspect of the Holy Family without departing from a Scriptural base.
The purpose of this novel, in the author’s words, is to “breathe some life” into the participants of this great drama. “If the Bible story is not just a pretty myth but a reality, then they did live and dream and long and hope and suffer,” she says. For this reason, she has carefully unfolded the story of a young love that matures and deepens as Mary and Joseph face the difficulties created by the unexpected announcement that she is with child. As they come to know one another they are joined together by their love of God, their eagerness to do His will, and their mutual responsibility to the Child Mary carries.
This is a novel for young and old alike—for lovers, for mothers, for everyone who finds the Christmas story a source of timeless beauty and wonder. It is a story of divine love much needed in times like ours.
From back cover of 1986 paperback edition:
Here from Marjorie Holmes, one of the most beloved authors of our day, is the extraordinary bestselling novel that tells the story of Mary and Joseph as it has never been told before—the greatest love story of all—
TWO FROM GALILEE: THE STORY OF MARY AND JOSEPH
This is the story of two real people whose lives were touched by God: two people chosen by God to provide an earthly home for His Son. Here are Mary and Joseph—a teenage girl and a young carpenter—alone, frightened, in love, faced with family conflict, a hostile world, and an awesome responsibility. It is a story for young and old alike; for everyone who finds the Christmas tale a source of timeless beauty and wonder; a compassionate, emotional novel of divine love.
New from Marjorie Homes is the dramatic and deeply sequel to this timeless novel. It is called Three From Galilee: The Young Man From Nazareth, the wonderful novel that explores Jesus’ “lost years” between the ages of twelve and thirty. A vivid and unforgettable story.
Of all the books I have written, Two From Galilee will always be dearest to my heart.
It goes back, no doubt, to that magical Christmas Eve in a candlelit church when I sat next to my thirteen-year-old daughter, so close to the manger scene we could smell the hay. Real hay…its pungent fragrance transporting me back to the sweet-smelling fields and barns of my Iowa childhood. Filling me with a sudden, almost overwhelming sense of reality. For the first time in my life I realized, “Why, this really happened! On this night, a long time ago, there actually was a girl having a baby far from home…in a manger, on the hay!”
A very young girl surely, for I remembered reading somewhere that in the culture of Mary’s time every girl was considered ready for betrothal and marriage as soon as she went into her womanhood. And I thought, astonished: “When Mary bore the Christ child, she couldn’t have been much older than my own Melanie here beside me!”
With this sudden awareness came a thrilling conviction about Joseph: He must have been a young man, too. Old enough to protect and care for Mary, but young enough to be in love with her. And she with him. Why not? They were engaged to be married. Surely God, who loved us enough to send his precious son into the world, would want that son to be raised in a home where there was love—genuine human love between his earthly parents. (pp. v-vi, introduction)
And now she was a woman.
She was a woman like other women and her step was light as she hurried through the bright new morning toward the well. She knew she need not tell the others, they would know the minute they saw her. They would read her secret in her proudly shining eyes. And she read knew she need not tell her beloved (if indeed he was still her beloved) though to speak of it would have been unthinkable anyway. He too would know. If, pray heaven, there were some way to see him before this day was past.
She must arrange it somehow...would arrange it somehow. Anxiety mingled briefly with her joy, yet her resolve was firm. Her parents would be shocked if they suspected—she was a little shocked herself. But somehow, some way, before this day was over she would see Joseph. Make him realize that at last she too was eligible to be betrothed. To be married.
For she was a woman now.
In the doorway, Hannah pulled back the heavy drapery which smelled musty from the long rains, and watched her daughter go. Her eyes yearned after the small lithe figure in the blowing cloak, balancing the jug upon her head almost gaily, despite the dragging pain that even Mary could not deny. “Let Salome go in your place,” Hannah had offered, to spare her. But Mary had been insistent. “Of course not, she’s younger. It’s Yahveh’s way with women, that’s all. And all the more reason I should carry the water. I’m a woman now!”
“How long can I keep her?’ Hannah grieved, watching her first-born daughter disappear at the bottom of the windy hill. “How long will it be? Surely the Lord gave me the comeliest girl in Nazareth.” She turned back into the house with a proud if baffled sigh. “Never did boys regard me with such longing as boys have regarded Mary from the time she first ran playing in the streets. Never did my own mother look thus upon me.”
Mary was well past thirteen. Fortunately, her coming had been late. Something clanged harshly in Hannah. She herself had been barely twelve when given to the vigorous Joachim in marriage...But no, she would not dwell on that. He had proved a wonderful husband in the end, and if possible he loved this exquisite daughter even more than she did. He would not be pressured into a betrothal even now; he would save Mary for the proper suitor. Sentimentalist though he was beneath that gruff exterior, Joachim would never yield to foolish pleas. When they gave over their Mary, it must be to someone both rich and wise, someone truly worthy of so exceptional a bride.
The sun was fully up now, its pink light softening the objects in the rude, small room—the low table with its benches piled with cushions, the chest, the cold unkindled oven. She had better rouse the other children. But Hannah refrained a moment, savoring the thought of them sprawled on their pallets. Mine, she thought, and shuddered at the never-ending wonder. Yes, even though her eldest son was crippled and would never see the light of day...even so...out of these loins that were cold and empty so long, suckled at these breasts...
And she pondered Mary’s words—“the way of Jahveh with women.” So bravely spoken, and so vulnerable, somehow. Hannah’s breasts ached even as she gave a cryptic little laugh. She began to call the children, crisply, that they might not suspect her emotions, and cracked a stick of kindling smartly across her bony knees. The hurt of being a woman—she would draw it into her own body if she could, she would spare her child the whole monstrous business.
But no, not monstrous, she sternly corrected. Simply the Lord’s reminder that women were less than men. An afterthought, a rib. And it struck her as wry and startling that he should deign to honor one of them by making her an instrument of his great plan. For it was to be out of a woman that the Messiah would come. A virgin, a young woman. Not carved out of noble new-made clay like Adam, ready to smite the accursed Romans and bring Israel to her promised glory. Not flung like a thunderbolt from an almighty hand. No—as a squalling baby, the prophets said.
Out of one of these selfsame humble, unworthy, bleeding bodies. And thus it was that every Jewish woman cherished her body for all its faults and thought: Even I could be the one. Thus it was that mothers looked upon their daughters as their breasts ripened and thought—even she! But not really. There lay in Hannah a practical streak as salty, flat and final as the Dead Sea. She was not one to pray overlong or fast and hear the fancied sounds of harps and angelic wings. She was not like her sister Elizabeth whose husband was a priest at the Temple and who consorted with the holy women there. She had Joachim and her five children and for her that was enough. When the time came (and it was near, many thought—after five hundred years of exile and slavery!) it would come, that’s all, and have little enough to do with her. (p. 1-3, Chapter 1)
The pink light was claiming the sky. The very breath of God was tinted as mists drifted down from the hills, across the fields, blurring groves and vineyards. Foliage sparkled with last night’s storm and petals gemmed the streets. In all the little houses people were stirring, and the singing that always signaled the beginning of a good day in Nazareth joined that of the birds. There was the smell of bread baking. And passing the big public oven dug near the well for the use of the poor, Mary could feel the heat of the coals and the crone Mehitabel slapped her loaves upon them.
“Mary!” Other girls carrying jugs or skins or leading livestock to drink at the trough, cried out to her. And it was as she had expected. Her cousin Deborah, who missed nothing, pounced on her secret and made it news. Above the creak of rope and bucket, the slosh of water being poured into pitchers and jars, the mooing and blatting of sheep and cattle, the ripple of it ran through the crowd. “Mary’s a woman now!” Offering a mixture of congratulations and commiseration, they made room for her nearer the head of the line. Old Mehitabel joined them, her cackle splitting the bright fruit of the morning. “I say it’s just the beginning of a woman’s misery. A heavy price to pay, I say, because Eve ate an apple. Now if it had been a pomegranate or a melon!...”
The women laughed. They could see a joke. For wasn’t their entire existence based on a proud if almost ludicrous anomaly? Here were the Jews, God’s chosen people—yet none had known such bitter hardships. And their land for generations had been occupied by heathens to whom they must pay tribute, but whom they would not deign to touch. There was something crudely cleansing about Mehitabel’s audacity.
Another voice spoke up. “But nobody’s really a woman until she’s lost her maidenhood. When that happens let us know, that’s when we’ll celebrate!”
Mary flushed. You must be thick-skinned to be a Galilean woman. You must not mind these jokes. Modesty quarreled with this brash discussion of the state they seemed to value above all else. The coming to bed with a man, the loving and begetting. But how could she blame them when her own thoughts could dwell on little else? Cleophas, Abner, the others, but above all, Joseph. Adored as a child, dreamed of as she grew older, scarcely daring to hope. One day she had summoned the courage to ask him, “Why haven’t you ever been betrothed?”
“Can’t you guess?” he smiled. “I’m waiting for you, little Mary.”
After that it was their secret, almost too precious to discuss. Yet a baffling change had come over him these past months; he avoided her, she never heard his voice except in the synagogue. Why, why? Had she done something to offend him? Or was he bowing to Hannah’s snubbing, too proud to beg for what he could not win? Heartsick at the prospect, Mary swung the bucket over the worn stone lip of the well and drew it up. Or had he changed his mind? The prospect was staggering. Could it be that Joseph had found somebody else?
Hoisting the moist weight of her jug to her head, she fell into step with Deborah, who had shooed her little sister ahead so they could talk as they climbed the hill. The child was plainly disgruntled, and although Mary felt sorry for her she was grateful. She was anxious to question Deborah, whose high white forehead and long elegant nose seemed almost to sprout antennae, so alert was she to all the latest gossip. Deborah would have heard. (pp. 12-14, Chapter 2)
Joseph could bear it no longer. Blindly, scarcely knowing what he was doing, he had flung off his leather apron and run out into the streets...Abner. The thought of that cold thin-necked creature ever laying his skeletal hands on Mary filled Joseph with such revulsion that he almost wretched. As for Cleophas. He caught up a rock and hurled it savagely over a precipice.
The handsome face taunted him. The heavy-lidded eyes, the seductive, gaily jeering mouth. Again Joseph heard the remark that Cleophas had made about Mary one Sabbath on the way to the synagogue. It had set Joseph at his throat. One minute friends, the next murderous enemies, they had rolled in the dust, dressed though they were in their best garments, battering each other. Then, panting, both were on their feet, and Cleophas, with an expression more of surprise than anger, was staring at the blood from his splendid purpling nose.
“Just look what you’ve done to my robe,” he’d scolded, grinning. “Now I’ll have to go home and change.” He glanced about, alert for his reputation. “Fortunately nobody saw us. And for her sake I won’t speak of this if you won’t.”
“For her sake!” Joseph had cried, furious. “What of that vile thing you said about her?”
“Oh, that. Come now, don’t tell me you haven’t thought of her that way yourself?” Suave even in his dishevelment, he had mopped his face with the skirt of his striped linen robe. “Or is it milk that flows in your veins instead of good red blood?” Cleophas laughed richly, flinging out his hands—“Of which I seem to have no lack!”
“What you lack is a decent tongue.”
“True, true,” Cleophas admitted cheerfully. “My tongue has been colored, no doubt, by the talk I hear in the ports of Tyre and Sidon. But I assure you I meant no offense either to you or to our pure and beautiful Mary.” He had even slapped a jaunty hand on Joseph’s taut shoulder. “And now let’s go before the gossips come along and ruin all of us.”
His rival’s casualness only increased Joseph’s indignation. From that day the mere thought of the merchant’s son had been enough to make his fists clench. And now it was he, even he, his mother said, who was about to seek Mary’s hand. (pp. 32-33, Chapter 3)
Upstairs, Deborah was helping Mary unbind her hair. She yanked the pins from the dark coronet and impishly began to tumble it about. “Come, come,” Mary protested, laughing. “Hand me the comb. It’s a maid my loosened hair is supposed to symbolize, not a wanton.”
Deborah held the comb wickedly away. Her slant green eyes were dancing. “What a glorious joke that would be, to sit demurely on the bench with disheveled hair all day, knowing that you were no virgin as the visitors believed, but wild and wanton.”
“It would be dreadful I should think.”
“I thought of it at the time of my own hair’s unwinding. I didn’t feel demure and virginal at all, but wanton. I thought how it would be if I had lain with some of the boys I’d kissed, and almost wished I had!”
Mary smiled at her cousin’s self-dramatics. “But what about Aaron? Don’t you love him?”
“Plenty of time for Aaron when he leads me to the marriage bed.” She attacked with the comb so vigorously that Mary winced. “As for love, you tell me what it’s like. How does it feel when you look at Joseph, what is it like when you kiss?”
“We don’t kiss,” Mary said softly. “Not yet.”
“You will. You’ll find they’re all alike, they can hardly wait. Even Aaron—this betrothal has been one long struggle. Don’t you tell,” she whispered. “It’s legal, of course, but still a disgrace. I wouldn’t think of it. But then, I’m not tempted.” She shuddered. “His lips—they’re like kissing a sausage.”
Mary gasped, shocked if amused. A sausage was heathen food. “Oh, Deborah, no, it shouldn’t be like that! When Joseph looks at me it’s like drowning sometimes, almost too lovely to bear. And his touch, even his hand on mine! I dare not even imagine what the rest of it will be like.”
“Well, you’re lucky.” Deborah took up the wreath of blue forget-me-nots. She could hear the other girls coming with their garlands and she wanted to be first. She felt very possessive of Mary; she wanted to claim and crown her, this cousin whose beauty had always been a thorn in her side, who seemed born to be loved. “But you’d better be well chaperoned, you’ve got a long wait ahead.”
Mary too could hear the patter of her friends’ feet approaching. Her hair spilled over her shoulders in a sweet cascade, the shining hair of her maidenhood. A thrill of longing pierced her as she thought of the impending hours, months of waiting. Yet surely there was reason in postponement; surely it would only enhance the time when they could truly be together.
She smiled at her restless, importunate cousin. “The Lord will give us both strength,” she said. (pp. 61-62, Chapter 5)
She had never been so happy, so poised upon the brink of wonder. She felt a tender ecstasy in every living thing: her parents, the hobbling grace of Esau, the very beggars on the street. The little silver-gray donkey in its stall, the blunt-nosed sheep. And the inanimate—the fecund, seedy smell of newly awakened earth—how could she bear its fragrance? The odor of bread fresh from the oven, the raw tangy scent of clay drying on her hands.
She would lift them sometimes as gaze upon them in amazement. To be alive was a miracle, a holy thing. To be alive and roused to your being as a woman. At time she could not sleep. She would rise up from her couch and go out to the places where Joseph had kissed her, under the silvery olive trees. Or she would climb to the roof and lie gazing at the infinity of stars. And the words of the psalm would rejoice in her.
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
The singing silence of God was overpowering. He would speak to her any moment now. He had a message to give her before her marriage. A blessing perhaps, or an admonition surely; for to marry would be to leave childhood behind. The innocent bliss of its unquestioning acceptance. She had an instinctive knowledge that once she became totally a woman, a wife, she would feel God’s presence so completely no more...
Yes, Lord?...Lord?... It was too late even now; the pure channel of childhood was closed.
Then one day toward sundown she had gone down the path a little way, into the stable cave to water the [donkey]. She had emptied the skins into the trough and the stubby creature had bent its head to drink, when its pointed ears laid back. It shied and made an odd whimpering sound. “Hush now, what’s wrong?” Mary stroked its quivering nose to gentle it, following its blank stare toward the doorway where a shaft of sunlight poured through.
She heard her name, and at its sound the little beast reared.
“Yes, Father?” she said, thought it seemed strange that he should be home from the fields this early. “Here I am. In the stall.”
Suddenly she realized that it was not her father’s voice that called. She could not place it, nor the source of it, though she went to the low leaning doorway and peered out. The yard and the grove and the adjoining fields lay quivering with the falling light, peaceful and undisturbed. There was no one by the old stone cistern, no one by the vine-covered fence. Strange.
Puzzled, she turned back to the donkey. It had bent its ******* nose again to the water, but only hovered there, not drinking. Its sides were heaving. She could hear its uneasy breath. And now her own heart began to pound. She clutched its dry fur for comfort. “We must be hearing things, you and I,” she said.
Then she saw that the shaft of light pouring dustily through the doorway had intensified. It had become a bolt, a shimmering column, and in it she dimly perceived a presence. Neither man nor angel, rather a form, a shape, a quality of such beauty that she was shaken and backed instinctively away, though her eyes could not leave that living light.
Mary. Little Mary... The voice came again, gently, musically. Have I frightened you? I’m sorry. Be still now, at ease, there is nothing to fear. I am sent from God, who has always loved you, don’t you remember? He has watched you grow from childhood into womanhood, and now he has a message of great importance. So listen carefully, my child, and heed.
“I am his unworthy servant,” Mary whispered, though she scarcely believed her own voice. She was trembling. Could it be that her recently heightened awareness had affected her senses? Why was she speaking thus, alone with only the beast in the sun-white stall? “What…” it was difficult to form the words, “what is it that the Lord would have of me?”
There was a second of silence. Then, in clear ringing tones the answer came: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...
“The Messiah!” Mary gasped. Involuntarily, she shrank away. “I? I am to bear the Messiah?”
Even so. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
“But I am unworthy!” Mary cried. She was grasping the nibbled manger; she felt her bare feet upon the gritty earthen floor. The sweat poured down her face. “I have many faults. I have rebelled against my parents. I often envy my cousin. I have impure thoughts. How can I be the mother of this long awaited child?”
God knows the secrets of his handmaiden’s heart. He does not expect perfection. This child that he will send you will be human as well as holy. The Lord God wills it so, in order that man, who is human, can find his way back to God.
“But I am not yet married,” Mary protested. “How can this thing be when it is many months yet before I come to the bed of my husband?”
With God all things are possible, the voice said. Already he has quickened the womb of your aged aunt Elizabeth, so that soon she too will bear a son. Now the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and the child that is born unto you will be the Son of God.
“I will strive to be worthy,” Mary whispered. It was a moment before she could go on. For one stark, appalling instant she could feel something fleeing from her, something precious. She felt a sense of incalculable loss. “Behold, I am the willing handmaiden of the Lord.”
She closed her eyes, still gripping the donkey’s fur, the stall. When she opened them again the little beast was quietly drinking, and though the shaft of light still slanted through the doorway its intensity was diminished, the voice of her destiny gone.
But something else remained—some quiet consciousness that told her she must be still and wait now upon God. If he had sent his messenger at this quiet hour of evening, then surely he must be near, perhaps gazing at her even now. Soothing her, calming her, bidding her be still and yield to this astounding command. Again, for the flick of an instant, she felt the whiplash of dismay. Not fear, but sheer human bewilderment.
Joseph! What of Joseph, my beloved?
There was no answer. Only the breathless quiet, heightened by the beast that had dipped its head now contentedly to drink from the trough. The stillness, laced with birdsong. The trembling, pervading stillness that comes with sunset after a hard day’s work, when the body aches with weariness and yet is alive, alert, the more receptive to love. Mary stood waiting, humbled, bowed, flowing out to it, whatever it was. As the glory of God had possessed her in childhood, so it would possess her now in whatever manner it saw fit. Hers not to question, hers not to fear, hers only to submit.
And even as she waited, it happened as the angel had said. The Holy Spirit came upon her, invaded her body, and her bowels stirred and her loins melted, her heart was uplifted, her whole being became one with it—the infinite, the unknowable, the total fusion that is the bliss of God. Beside it even the kiss of Joseph was as nothing, even the dream of becoming his wife.
“My God, my God!” she cried, and the sweat ran down her limbs.
And so it was that Mary knew God and was one with God and became at once his child, his mate and his mother, and the miracle was achieved. (pp. 77-81, Chapter 7)
It had happened.
She had not dreamed it. Nor was it but one last sweet conversation with the Most High before she shed forever the innocence and trust of her maidenhood. It was a thing apart. And if it had been impossible ever to convince Hannah that such things were not untruths to be punished, or at best feverish imaginings, how then would it be possible to convey to her this astounding thing?
Yet it had happened. The finger of God had touched her, the presence of God had consumed her and kindled life within her. As surely as if Joseph had taken her unto himself...
Joseph...she scarcely dared think of him. He had become one of a company of strangers. Her parents, her family, people on the street—all laughed and spoke and prayed and toiled and moved in the usual way, so commonplace as to be well nigh terrifying. They did not know, they did not suspect, they could not see the awful veil that hung between them. They did not recognize the mark of God upon her.
But the time was fast approaching that they must.
She was newly nubile. Her blood should flow freely every four weeks—this much she knew. Yet twice now the moon had waxed and waned. Her breasts were swelling, and the nipples stung like little apples bitten and browned by the frost. Sometimes she felt so dizzy it was all she could do to creep to the chest for her clothes. And the smell of certain foods was nauseating. Once, straining the curds with Salome, her face went as white as the soured milk and she had to rush for the basin.
“What’s the matter, Sister?” Salome asked. “Are you nervous about the wedding?”
“Yes, that must be it.” Mary wiped her clammy brown with her apron. “It’s nothing. Please don’t tell Mother.”
Again she had gone into the cave to fill the lamps. And suddenly she could not bear the rich rank smell of the slippery oil. Her hands shook, she dropped and broke a little pink lamp that Hannah had carried all the way from Bethlehem, one that she always kept burning in her room at night.
In a panic Mary knelt to scoop up the fragments, knowing already it could never be mended. Even as she was trying to think what to say, she heard her mother’s brisk step. “Oh, Mother, forgive me,” she pleaded. “I’ll make you another. Though I know how much it meant to you, that it can never be replaced. The last thing I want is to grieve you.”
She could hear her own foolish lamentings while Hannah only stood shaking her head. But her mother’s eyes in the dim half-light of the cave were sharp upon her. “Rise, child,” she said. “You shouldn’t be kneeling on the cold floor like that, it’s nearly the time of your outflowing.” Hannah squatted to pick up the last shreds of the lamp, tucked them, these pitiable precious bits of clay of Bethlehem, into her handkerchief. “It’s not good for a woman to take a chill, it can hold her back.”
So she was watching, Mary realized. Counting the days. And in her dread already providing excuses to stave off suspicion, forestall a possibility too monstrous to credit. Yet the time was fast approaching when Hannah could be put off no longer. Spiritual though the child in her womb might be, God had seen fit to grip her flesh and give it substance. Purely human symptoms that would soon be evident to all eyes. Her parents. Joseph. His people.
What then? What then?
She was confused and frightened. She did not understand. She could only pray blindly: “Help me, help to be worthy of this thing that you have done unto me, oh my God. And these others who are so dear to me—when the time comes that they must know, help them to understand. Don’t let them cast me out!”
Meanwhile, Joseph continued to come to the rooftop, a fervent young shadow still preparing for their wedding day—by which time she would be deep in shame. (Or glory? Oh, God, sustain me, give me courage, let me not drag around drawing puzzled attention in my ignorance and wretchedness; let me grasp thy purpose, let me lift up my head and be proud!) Meanwhile her mother continued to guard her daughter even more zealously against the temptations of youth. And to watch. To watch. (pp. 82-84, Chapter
In the fields and orchards the grains and fruits ripened and swelled, like the bodies of the two women, Mary’s now, as well. And remembering her earlier misgivings, she was ashamed. Why could she not have been like her aunt, swept utterly into the marvel, beyond questioning or human concerns? Then one night she learned that despite Elizabeth’s continual rejoicing, she too had misgivings.
“I feel sure it will be a son,” she said as she walked about in the garden, to relieve her discomfort, after Zechariah was in bed. “I doubt if such a miracle would have been vouchsafed me if it were not to be a man-child.”
“It will be a son,” Mary said.
“Yes, a son, who will be a man of destiny.” Elizabeth caught her breath, stood silent a moment, pulling some dry leaves from the ivy. “With all the penalties that implies.”
“Penalties? What do you mean?”
“It’s a serious thing to be a leader sent from God. It’s a grave thing even to be a priest. There are responsibilities, such terrible responsibilities. And if this be true of priests, how much more so to be a prophet or a king. The mother of such a man pays dearly for the honor.”
Mary couldn’t answer. The Zealots...she remembered. Yes, hideous things happened to them. And often the foaming prophets. They were not men to be envied. But that the king should suffer? The very king?
Seeing how white and still she was, Elizabeth turned and came to embrace her. “Forgive me, Mary, for going on about myself. Or for causing you to worry.” She lifted the small set chin, gazed into the troubled eyes. “My son—greatly as I love him already,” she said, “I know that he will be as nothing compared to the child you are going to give the world. And we must trust in the Lord who will bring this about. We have no right to be afraid.”
“But what will he be like, this child that I carry?” Mary begged. “This baby I have been told is to be the Messiah? The Messiah—I’ve heard of his coming all my life, at home, and in the synagogue, but I’m confused. Will he come as a king to reign over Israel only or over all the world? Tell me, my aunt, you are married to a priest and you have studied. Will he have to go out and do battle with our enemies to bring that kingdom about? And is he going to bring an end to Israel’s suffering as a nation, or an end simply to suffering? All suffering. To the lepers and the beggars and the slaves, suffering such I’ve seen on this very journey, in Jerusalem. And in Nazareth—suffering such as my brother’s blindness.”
“We don’t know,” Elizabeth said. “God reveals to us only as much as we’re able to accept. We don’t know, Mary. And the prophets themselves didn’t know. They disagreed in so many ways. Some said the redeemer will be a king descending in triumph even as you describe; some say he will be a very poor man riding on a [donkey].” Her eyes were shining now, her long lips parted so that her white teeth flashed. “Only on one thing they all agreed—he’s coming, he’s truly coming! And there will be another before him who will help to pave the way.
“And the time is upon us,” she went no. “That much we do know, Mary. And we’re a part of it, you and I. Exactly what our roles are to be isn’t clear as yet. We can only wait and see. But that’s part of the wonder of it, too, the mystery. To wait patiently, not knowing, only trusting—and to try to be worthy of whatever is to be. To know, to have a conviction deep in the heart,” she cried softly, “and yet really not know at all. That’s life, Mary, and it’s also religion. God—who can really know God even after revelation? She asked. “And who can convey to another the essence of the revelation he has had? He can’t, he can’t. We can only wait and find out his meaning, each of us for himself, slowly, gradually.”
Mary was staring at her as if transfixed. And Joseph? She was thinking, What of my beloved? What is to be his role in all this? A sweet anticipation smote her, almost too intense to endure. The Feast of the First Fruits was almost upon them. Already pilgrims were on the road. Perhaps even now he was heading for Jerusalem! (pp. 128-30, Chapter 11)
Hannah shivered, bathing in the brackish water that had grown cold with waiting, then fumbling about for her clothes. How drab and poor they would appear before the finery of the others. She stood a moment, feeling baffled and defensive, feeling afresh her ignorance of the subtleties of draperies and stoles. It hadn’t mattered before; spare and almost boyish as she was she had spurned such trappings as more suited to the dull matrons of Nazareth. And then there had been Mary, so exquisite an adornment in herself.
Hannah set her teeth. She crept, on impulse, into the adjoining chamber and took up the mirror of polished metal. She saw, in a kind of fascination, her own bony cheeks and haunted eyes. She drove Mary’s forgotten comb through her hair; it was no use, she could not comb beauty into herself, and some of the gray strands clung to the teeth like a desecration. She turned to the case of cosmetics. All girls kept these scented pots of color. Sneering faintly at herself, yet with a trembling sense of performing some rite, Hannah scrubbed roses into her wrinkled skin. Her grotesque she looked, like a gaudy ghost going to some festival of the d_____. Yet she felt that she must sustain herself or her sick and quaking limbs would not carry her forth at all.
There now, she was ready. It was the best she could do, and no one would pay attention to her, anyway. All eyes would be focused on the bride, and the proud family of the bride.
Her husband looked at her with great tenderness and pity when she came down, but said nothing. The children were filled with their own excitement. They had been dashing back and forth all day, carrying flowers, stuffing themselves; now they reported that their aunt’s house was already bursting with guests and the courtyard overflowing. “Hurry, hurry, or we won’t be able to see the bridegroom knock!”
They gave her a spray of myrtle to carry and Hannah clutched it, the scent of it harsh and sweet. She felt herself being half-led, half-shoved along. The street was filled with guests bearing torches that lit up the trees so that they sprang at her like wet yellow mouths, belching sounds of merriment. The cymbals were playing, and the lyres. A crowd of youths surged up, already far gone in wine. Aaron was a popular fellow and they shouted his name in fond jests. Hannah could smell their breath as they made way for her and her family, shouting, “Step aside, these are kinsmen of the bride!” Despite the courtesy, Hannah’s skin crawled, for she heard, or imagined she heard, a backwash of comment followed by laughter. How dared they? She turned, longing to claw them with her bare hands, only they had vanished around a corner.
The house of Cora and Nathan was indeed swarming. Some people had mounted lamps on poles and these dipped about the courtyard like winged birds of fire. There was a tarry smell of smoke from the torches along with the perfumes and spices and oils. Their brother-in-law spied them being jostled and ignored and came expansively toward them, his pert homely face also rosy with wine. He was hearty with happiness, clutching Joachim by the shoulder and steering them inside.
“Cora, wife, come, come, your brother has arrived,” he called. And she left off her assertive last-minute adjustings of her daughter’s veil and greeted them effusively. She could afford to be generous, kissing them and exclaiming over Hannah’s robe which she could see had been hastily donned, it was so wrinkled, and glancing at the two pearls over which she had once quarreled with Joachim, for they had belonged to her mother and it didn’t seem right that they be handed on to a crude little urchin from Judea. Well, but her husband could afford to buy her jewels—they flashed now on her hands and in her wads of ornately piled hair. She exuded forgiveness and glory.
“Come, see Deborah, she’s just down from her chamber. Forgive me for saying so, but did you ever see such a beautiful bride?”
“No,” Hannah muttered, “no, never.” She choked on her own jealous love. The words were not merely the elaborate politeness required. “Our niece is radiant, she’s fairer than the crest of Mount Hermon at sunrise.” And it was true.
Deborah was on a raised bench decked with flowers and glistening palm fronds. She reigned there, cool, bemused, a trifle imperious, half-hidden in the gem-shot lavender veil. Her gown was white with a sash of gold, embroidered with flowers and pearls to match her sandals. Her slant green eyes darted about, afire like the emeralds in her myrtle crown. She was all harsh bright sparks and she was very beautiful, but she also seemed disdainful, anxious only to have the whole thing over with.
Her mother regarded her with a candid objectivity. “But more than that she’s always been such a good girl. And Aaron’s such a fine man. Who knows but what this union might produce the hope of Israel?”
Hannah flinched and turned away. “The hope of Israel,” Hannah echoed, though she felt strangled. It was the polite thing to say at weddings. Cora had meant nothing by it.
“The hope of Israel!” some others standing nearby took up the phrase and lifted their cups to the bride, who gave a vaguely contemptuous little nod and lowered her eyes. Joachim did not join in the toast. His grizzled jaw was working; he set down his cup.
Dressed in white the bridesmaids foamed about the little dais, holding their lamps aloft. They were singing the ancient wedding songs. Salome was among them, enjoying herself. Let her, Hannah thought, and raked such consolation as she could from the child’s slight loveliness. Let Salome at least draw pleasure from these doings. As for herself, she was here, she had been forced to come, let her enjoy herself as well. For life was harsh and the grave was always close, so why not celebrate when you can? Rejoice, drink the soothing wine, and toast the honorable, if rather pudgy, bridegroom when he comes.
Hannah’s rouged cheeks began to flame; she could hear her own voice ringing out, joining the songs that praised the virtues and beauty of the bride, who had never been the equal of her Mary, but who was unsullied, unscathed, and so could sit cool and remote on a flower-decked throne awaiting the arrival of her mate.
“Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead...Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil...My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the darling of her mother!” people chanted. There were tears in Cora’s eyes, Hannah saw with sympathy and a kind of incensed bafflement—for how was it that other women could feel so about their ordinary offspring? And then Hannah’s heart was stirred by the music and the wine and she turned and flung her arms about her sister-in-law.
“Oh, Cora, how fortunate you are!”
She felt Cora go tense in the embrace. A little croak of disbelief escaped her. And turning, Hannah saw a slight commotion in the doorway. The music had stopped, a startled silence washed through the crowd. “Mary!” someone whispered. “It’s Mary and Joseph.”
Oh, no, Hannah thought. But she felt a spurt of defiant gladness as well. For how beautiful Mary was, framed by the doorway in the courtyard, her face shining with the old radiance that had caused people’s heads to turn. And behind her stood Joseph, a trifle diffident, uncertain of their welcome, but never so gravely handsome, as if these past weeks had lent new dimensions to his sensitive face.
No one spoke, the embarrassed crowd drew aside as they entered, Mary bearing her burden high, like a queen. The virgins had stopped singing; exchanging troubled glances, they lowered their lamps. The married women began to murmur, some of them looked uncomfortable. “Such nerve,” someone muttered. “How dare they show up here?”
“Hush, be careful,” a neighbor warned. “That’s Hannah, her mother, standing there.”
“Well, let her hear. If a daughter can’t be trained to keep out of trouble let her at least be trained not to soil a wedding feast when she’s up to her chin with child.”
Hannah had gone limp. Now slowly she was braced to tiger strength. Her fists knotted, her lips drew back. Bridling, she turned and would have rent the speaker limb from limb but she felt the restraining grip of Joachim’s hand. “Stop,” he ordered, beneath his breath. “We cannot spoil our niece’s wedding.”
Our niece’s wedding! That he could think of anyone save his own child at such a moment seemed the final outrage. And she began to keen and wail within, and rock her little one against her breast: Oh, Mary, my baby, my little lost bird, why have you been so foolish as to expose yourself? These idiots, these jackals, they would never believe the truth if it were shouted from the housetops.
Nathan came striding in from the garden. He looked at his wife, who was plainly upset. This was Deborah’s doing. She adored her cousin, no matter what. Evidently she’d bidden Mary to come but said nothing, no warning—oh, she’d always been a sly one. And this marriage to Aaron whom she only tolerated, whom she almost despised—was this Deborah’s way of punishing them for their choice? Oh, what were children coming to anymore?
As for Mary and Joseph, if they had any respect for their relatives or their parents they wouldn’t have come. Yet here they stood, so comely both of them; under any other circumstances they’d have graced the occasion. There was something almost noble about them, making a mockery of their humble state—Joseph a mere carpenter, Mary a woman in disgrace. It would be too cruel to bid them to depart. Deborah would never forgive them. And Mary’s parents had already been through enough, Cora reminded herself with a mixture of acrimony and family loyalty.
Yet something else restrained her. Something she could not explain. An uneasiness smote her, a staggering concern. Hannah’s claim. Hannah’s preposterous hintings, which Cora had squelched, and rightly, as the last-ditch inventions of an overwrought woman well-known for an exaggerated passion for her child.
And yet, the sweet light that flowed almost tangibly from Mary. And Joseph, who stood behind her, one hand lightly cupping her shoulder. The gesture was loving, loyal, that of a heartbroken man who would support his beloved regardless of all the world. And yet more…so much more. Something that baffled and rocked the aunt; that look of secret suffering and gentle commitment on his face. As if something had died within him and something new had been born.
She wanted to cry out with it, to demand an explanation. She wanted, curiously, to prostrate herself before it. She was exalted and repulsed by it and she rejected it with all her being. This was her daughter’s wedding; there was no place for it here.
Deborah had sprung to her feet, hands outstretched. “Joseph! And Mary, my cousin. Oh, I thought you’d never come.” Bending, she threw back her veil almost gaily for Mary’s kiss.
At this the crowd murmured afresh. “These modern girls, have they no shame?” “It’s bad luck, her first child will be stillborn...” But a new commotion diverted them. Word had come from the courtyard. “He’s on his way, the bridegroom’s almost here!”
The news sent people running for doorways and into the garden to see the procession. The maids hastily regrouped, holding aloft their lamps that sputtered in the gusts of air from all the rushing about. The music could be heard drawing nearer, a bright tinkling of flutes and tambours and lutes. People did not resume their singing, they waited in a murmuring suspense, for the knock of the bridegroom on the richly ornamented door.
At last it came—boom, boom, boom! Mighty and demanding, almost comical in its urgency, and yet holy as well—the male for his mate. And people laughed and sang his praises as he entered in his swishing robes of Oriental splendor, grinning rather sheepishly under his fat turban that was so jaunty and gay with flowers. Plump and perspiring he stood before her with shy moist passionate eyes and a dimple in his round chin. He was shorter than Deborah when she stepped down, her face demurely hidden behind her veil.
But he bore her away in triumph and honor, accompanied by the joyful procession of groomsmen and maids. And half of Nazareth trooped after them to the fine house he had built, where the wedding feast was to be held. There would be singing and dancing and toasts most of the night before they would be finally led to the bridal chamber, there to join their bodies in the hope that out of them might come forth a son who would be the saviour of them all. (pp. 163-69, Chapter 14)
Joseph was now very busy in the shop. For a time work had been slack. Many nights long after Mary was asleep he had lain worrying. How would he support her and the child, let alone aid his widowed mother, if people were so offended they no longer patronized him? He tossed and turned or got up to study the Scriptures by the glow of the night light in its niche. He was careful not to wake Mary whose small shadow was thrown against the wall. Mary wrapped in her mystery.
His faith floated in and out of him. He made futile attempts to grasp it where it hovered somewhere in the region of his breast, as if he could somehow clutch it, implant it there forever and be at rest. But always, when or how he could not say, it coasted off. He would find himself dry, empty, drained and resigned, avoiding prayer, either formal prayer or that instinctive calling out upon something stronger than he was—something powerful and reassuring.
Then the farmers began to come in. They wanted their tools readied for the spring. He fancied a kind of sheepish apology in some of them. People forgave easily in Nazareth, or they simply forgot. If he had deviated from the proprieties, well so had many of them. “And how is your wife?” they asked.
“Oh, fine, fine,” he responded as proudly as if the coming child were his own.
It was at such moments that the sweet mists of God blew in. He could relax a little as he went about the challenge of his tasks. It was as it had been when he was building his home. He was fashioning something meaningful once more. He was working for love, whether for love of God or of his wife he could not have said. But he whistled as he worked, and in his being almost more than in his mind, he prayed.
Snug in her house, Mary heard the thunder and the pelting rains. “Listen to it, isn’t it glorious?” she said to Timna, who often came to sew and spin with her.
“Yes.” Timna cocked her white head, her blue eyes reminiscent. “Jacob loved the rain.” She always managed to turn the conversation to him. Forgotten were his imperfections, she had adored him and now he was gone and she dwelled on him.
With Timna, Mary felt in harmony, at peace. She had dreaded what the scandal might do to their relationship, yet if anything, Timna had seemed to love her more. “Oh, my child,” she had cried in her gentle, dignified way, “how glad we all are that you have come home!” As for the baby, her only regret was that Jacob had not lived to enjoy it. “He’d always looked forward to having a grandson to teach his trade.”
His trade? A carpenter’s trade for the son of God? Mary wondered. Yet she dared not speak of it. Timna accepted this child as the son of her son. To inform him, “This is not Joseph’s baby, dear Mother Timna, but the child of the living God,” would be both cruel and shocking. Timna would have been forced to reject it, as Hannah had rejected it. As countless others would, no doubt, reject it. Human passion people could comprehend. But the passion of God for man—no, it was too appalling.
A flame of portent licked through Mary. In the protective gesture she had seen her aunt make, Mary cradled her bulging sides.
The rains finally ceased and the cold came down. Joseph tightened the cracks in their house and went up the hill to make fast the house of his father-in-law as well. Mary wove extra blankets for the baby, and swaddling clothes of the softest camel’s hair.
Her confinement would be upon her in early December. Women watched her with kindness now and plied her with tales. Unlike the weaklings of Egypt they prided themselves on easy births, yet they gloated too in their suffering, for was it not so ordered in the very beginning? Mary must be sure to put a knife under her pillow to cut the pain. Drinking purple aloes mixed with hot wine was good, powdered ivory if you could get it even better. Old Mehitabel, the crone at the well, slipped her a dead scorpion wrapped in a green rag. “Put it in your skirt,” she whispered. “It will drive the devils of pain away.” Mary took it fearfully, yet she could not affront the eagerness to help that sprang from those rheumy eyes.
To help. To ease the birth a little, perhaps to share in its glory. Where did all this passion for birth come from, this lust for coming life?
She stood on the mountainside one day with her basket of faggots and dung for the fire. As far as she could see the fertile hills went rolling, flanks tawny, becoming lavender where they melted into the sky. They gave off a pallid sheen, like the flesh that stretched taut across her own belly, shielding its tumbling life. Their eternal rhythms echoed its curve, the shape of her body that cupped and held the child.
And the sky merged with the hills, resting now after their summer labors, yet already rich once more with their hidden burden of life. All the throbbing, pulsing, germinating seeds. “Be fruitful and multiply!” The ancient command would be fulfilled, for the spring rains and sun would bring them leaping forward, all the flowers and grasses and grains and little furred, winged things that now slept so peacefully. Life sprang out of the earth and out of a woman’s belly and had its little span of time upon that earth, and then shriveled up like the weeds of the field and died. But the earth and the sky flowed on forever.
Were they then the only permanence? The only things fashioned by the hand of God that he loved enough to make eternal? Or was there something more, something that he meant to give the world through his coming child? (pp. 172-75, Chapter 15)
For four days they traveled, through the old towns of Nain, Sunem and Jezreel, then eastward across the boggy plains of Esdraelon until they reached the Jordan; then southward through its valley until they must climb again into the bleak hills of Judea. “I wish we dared go directly through Samaria,” Joseph told her as they plodded along. “It would be so much easier for you, but it would be too great a risk.”
Mary nodded. The enmity between the Samaritans and the Israelites had been growing worse. These eternal hostilities, why must they be? Would the time never come when men and nations could live in peace? Or was that the true significance of the miracle she carried? The Messiah. Perhaps through him these terrible conflicts would be settled; he would bring mankind together in love of their God.
She smiled at Joseph. “I am in your keeping. As long as we’re together, I don’t care how long the journey takes.”
She rode along beside him, uncomplaining, either of the cold dry east wind which lashed grit in their faces and made them cringe in their cloaks, or the fierce contrast of the khamsin, blowing its hot stifling breath from the desert. The skies were clear and cloudless after the drenching fall rains, but the nights were intensely cold. Despite the dirt, the jolting, all the discomfort, Mary smiled a great deal, half in a reverie of the coming child. She smiled faintly even as she dozed—as she was dozing now, on this day which Joseph hoped would be nearly the last one of their journey.
Joseph’s feet were sore, his whole body unutterably weary, but he knew he could not be half so miserable as she. He halted the donkey for a moment gazing upon her where she sat, head forward on her chest, one hand braced to support herself. He stood wondering if there were anything he could do to make her more comfortable. The marvel of her electing to come with him seemed more than he deserved. “Mary?” He wasn’t aware that he had spoken, but she started and gazed at him blankly for an instant. “Mary, have you any idea how beautiful you are?”
She laughed. “Oh, Joseph, dirty and disheveled as I am?”
He laid his cheek against hers. Then he took a handkerchief from his girdle, and, pouring a little water from one of the bags, proceeded to wash her dusty face, if only cool it a little. “Would you like me to lift you down so that you can stretch?”
“Yes, I need to walk about a bit.” He set her down upon the hard hot pavement, and she stood there trying to take in her surroundings. “I must have slept. Where are we?”
“Not far from Jericho. See, there’s the river. By nightfall we should be there. Perhaps beyond. And tomorrow night, if all goes well, we shall sleep in Bethlehem.”
“I hope so.” She had not realized how weak and trembling her legs were until she stood. Her body ached, her back was one fierce cramp, and the child was threshing about so that it was hard to speak. She drew a deep breath, still determinedly smiling. “The sooner we can reach Bethlehem the better it will be.”
“Are you all right, my beloved? Are you well?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes. Yes—it’s only riding so long. Come, I’ll walk beside you.”
“Very well, then I’ll ride,” Joseph laughed.
“Would that you could. Poor Joseph. Would that you had a camel to ride, or a horse like the Romans.”
“Would that you were right, for then I would be rich and able to provide so much better for you and your child.”
“Our child,” she said. “This child that the Lord has vouchsafed into our keeping. Oh, Joseph, just because it is my body that will bear him does not mean that he is any less your child than mine.”
“I didn’t father him,” he said quietly. “Nothing can change that. Don’t think I’m protesting, Mary. It is a thing that is beyond protesting. Yet even you must agree that there’s no way to change that fact.”
“No.” She pressed his hand, trying to think how to comfort him. ‘And it matters to you. You would be less of a man if it did not matter, and I—surely I would love you less. And yet…” She groped for the words to express it. “In many ways he will be more your child than mine.”
“Yes, more,” she insisted. “A father is so important in Israel. A son needs his father to teach him the ways of the world, and of God and the Law. Once I have borne and suckled this child my task will be largely finished. But yours, Joseph, yours will be only beginning.”
“He may not need a father’s training. He who will come to us as the very son of God.”
“Perhaps he will need it more.” For a minute there was only the sound of the donkey’s hooves on the stones. They could smell the river, now swollen from the rains, and see the cranes that waded its opaque gray-blue waters. “He—surely the one who is to lead Israel out of her troubles—surely he will have to be very strong and wise. And I...I don’t know much about it, but I feel in my heart that he will come to us innocent and uninformed, a child like any child, needing guidance from us as well as from the one who sends him. Both of us, Joseph, but you especially. And that’s why you were chosen. For you were chosen—your honor is as great as mine.”
She spoke with such conviction that a thrill of hope ran through him. He knew that she was seeing this only as she wished to, because she loved him. He knew that he would never be as significant in the eyes of God as Mary, nor would he have it so. But her words had inspired and consoled him, given him new purpose, added an unanticipated new dimension to his destiny. (pp. 182-24, Chapter 16)
For forty days the rude little stable was their home. And each night the great star stood over its entrance. Joseph had never seen such a star, flaming now purple, now white, now gold. Its light illuminated the countryside. Dazed, he told Mary, “I’m afraid there will be others coming to see the child.”
“Let them come,” she murmured. “Oh, Joseph, isn’t he lovely? Just look at him—see, his eyes are open, he knows us! He’s trying to smile.”
“Foolish—all babies smile like that, they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“Oh, but this one does. Our baby does.”
Their baby...Joseph bent over her where she stood unwinding its swaddling bands. She did this several times a day to change it and exercise its limbs. Timidly at first, but now with confidence, she poured a little oil into her hands and massaged the tiny squirming body, the flailing fists, the curved kicking legs. Then she dusted it with powered myrtle leaves. The scent of it, ineffably new and tender, stirred Joseph deeply. He bent nearer and offered one of his fingers, and the child clung to it in a thrilling intensity of trust. It tugged, striving to direct the finger into its mouth.
Joseph laughed, over the pain of his blind adoration. His child. If not the child of his loins, yet it was still the child of his love. He thought of the ancient taboo, that no man should witness a woman giving birth. Yet God had surely led them to this place where no other woman was. The star outside confirmed it. Had that too been a part of God’s plan—to include him thus?
“My son,” he said, smiling. “No, no you must not eat the finger, my precious son.”
The fire glowed day and night, clucking softly, for Joseph went forth each day and brought back fuel for it. And he brought bread and juice and water, and sweets which they ate, often secretively in the still of the night, like children on a holiday. And with them, the core and flower and focus of their existence, was the baby, new, small, helpless, who yawned and woke and gazed at them again. Or cried, so that they would take turns walking him up and down while the other rested.
There was the snap of the fire, the rustle of the hay, the kick of a hoof in a neighboring stall. The starlight poured through the ***** of window, joining the yellow eye of the fire to throw long shadows. They could hear the voices of people coming and going in the courtyard. Music and laughter and raucous shouting floated down from the inn. Camels brayed, harnesses clanked, there was the thump of baggage. All, all made a kind of music for the strange, lovely, half-waking dream.
And sometimes it was interrupted by the coming of visitors, as Joseph had predicted. For the shepherds had spread the tidings. And some came who were only curious or skeptical, but some came who, like those shepherds, marveled and went away rejoicing. (pp. 203-05, Chapter 1
THREE FROM GALILEE: THE YOUNG MAN FROM NAZARETH
THE MAGNIFICENT SEQUEL TO TWO FROM GALILEE
Copyright © 1985 by Marjorie Holmes
From hardback dust jacket:
From one of the most beloved authors of our day, the long-awaited sequel to Two From Galilee:
Marjorie Holmes is a writer unparalleled in her ability to make religious history come alive on the page, and since the first publication in 1972 of Two From Galilee letters have poured in pleading with Marjorie to continue her beautiful story of Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus.
In this wonderful new novel Marjorie dares to deal with those “lost years” of Jesus’ young manhood—the years the Bible doesn’t even mention. Where did he go, what did he do during those years between the age of 12, when he was last seen debating the elders in the temple, and the age of 30, when he actually began his ministry? Was he like other young men of his time? What were those years like for Mary? Was her son as human as his brothers? Was it possible that he, too, could fall in love?
Using her remarkable talent for vividly recreating characters and background, Marjorie Holmes brings Jesus and his parents, brothers and sisters, and friends to life, as if they were real breathing human beings.
Written with great reverence, as only Marjorie could write about such a subject, Three From Galilee: The Young Man From Nazareth—the first part of a two-part serial—is a dramatic, deeply moving, and unforgettable story.
Back cover of paperback edition:
From Marjorie Holmes, one of the most beloved authors of our times, comes the stunning story you have been asking for, the inspiring sequel to her national bestseller, Two From Galilee…
THREE FROM GALILEE: THE YOUNG MAN FROM NAZARETH
Rooted in her broad knowledge of the Bible and of history, Marjorie’s wonderful new novel explores the “lost years” of Jesus’ young manhood—a period not even mentioned in the Bible. Where did he go and what did he do between the age of twelve, when we last see him debating the elders in the temple, and the age of thirty, when he began his ministry? What were those years like for Mary? Was her son as human as his brothers? Was it possible that he, too, could fall in love? With great reverence, Marjorie Holmes employs her remarkable talent for vividly recreating characters and background to bring Jesus, his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends to sparkling life. Three From Galilee: The Young Man from Nazareth is a dramatic, deeply moving, and unforgettable story.
Hannah had been restless all night. Her husband, Joachim, beside her on the pallet, heard the dry rustling protest of the straw tick repeatedly as she threshed about, felt her small bony hand groping for his. A habit she didn’t know she had, but one that always moved him strangely. She had been so young when he first brought her to his bed—scarcely twelve—and so frightened. But in sleep, at least, so trusting.
As he had clasped that tiny claw long ago and so many times since, he clasped it now, stroking it, trying to soothe her.
“Mary!” she cried out plaintively. “Mary.”
“Hush,” he muttered, though his own heart broke. “It’s all right, Hannah, my little one—the Lord is with them.”
If his wife heard, she gave no sign. With a little jerk, the hand was withdrawn. She turned on her back and began to breathe deeply. Now it was her husband who lay troubled, staring into the darkness.
Where were they? It had been weeks since a messenger from the caravan had brought them Joseph’s letter. Their obvious poverty smote Mary’s father. For it was written, not even on papyrus but on a shard of pottery, this letter saying Mary and Joseph were leaving Egypt at last. “Jerusalem should be safe now. I’ll surely find work there.” Mary and the child were well, Joseph added.
Hannah had wept wildly. “But when are they coming home?" she demanded of Joachim. “When will I ever see my grandchild?”
“Now, now, they will write again,” he told her.
But this silence. This strange silence. Mentally Joachim lay tracing their journey. They would come along the coastal plain, the Derech Hayam, Way of the Sea. He hoped they had joined a caravan. He thought of robbers—and of that devil Herod. For the news of Herod’s death, which had brought such great rejoicing, was only to be followed by a cruel blow: another monster was mounting the throne, Herod’s son, Archelaus. This news evidently hadn’t reached Joseph before they departed.
No, now, stop it. Worries loomed larger in the darkness, multiplied, did no good. Joachim kicked off the coverlet, then turned and trudged back to tuck it about the small figure hunched against the wall. (pp. 3-4, Chapter 1)
Mary sang too as she opened the little bag of locust flour she had brought all the way from Egypt, and mixed it with spices and honey. Her heart, like the doves, had scarcely left off its singing since her return. She felt akin to the doves, and grateful, as if God had sent these little messengers in welcome and reward, to observe the time of her own homecoming—and something more: to celebrate her life in its own new season.
For she realized now that she had been just a girl when she left, a very young girl, scared, confused, torn between her desperate love for Joseph and the awesome responsibility the Lord God himself had seen fit to put upon her body. No, more than her body—her very soul. But she had returned a woman. She had become a woman in that stable, in their ordeals in the desert, in the want they had known in Egypt, in Joseph’s arms. Toughened by suffering, uplifted by love, she had failed neither her God nor her husband.
She could go forth into the morning, head high, fearing nothing, a proud young wife and mother leading her beautiful son. The women at the well confirmed this; they threw their arms around her in welcome, made a place for her in the line. There was the creak of rope and buckets, the sloshing of water into their vessels, a merry chattering above the mooing and blatting of animals at the trough. They vied to be the first to share the village news, the latest gossip. Her own seeming fall from grace no longer mattered, they lavished kisses and compliments on her child.
Even her cousin Deborah, who now had two little girls clinging to her skirts. “Mary, Mary, why are you always so favored?” Deborah wailed. Deborah had a catlike beauty, a lively, excessive quality that made her dear. Their mothers had never quite succeeded in making them rivals. “Isn’t it enough that you snatch the handsomest man in Nazareth from the rest of us? Do you have to produce such a firstborn son?”
Mary hugged her, relishing the old exaggeration: caustic, playful, half envy, half genuine affection. “Nonsense. Your Aaron is a wonderful man, and your daughters couldn’t be more fair.”
Smiling as she remembered, Mary put the cakes onto the coals. They were made from a recipe given her by a Bedouin woman. How kind and hospitable those dusky, jet-eyed people. Several times they had offered shelter in their long, black tents: once from a sandstorm, again on bitter cold nights when jackals howled and there was nowhere else to turn. Mary had winced to see the women and children eagerly pulling off the heads and wings of the locusts, creatures that at home only spelled disaster, then drying the little bodies in the sun to be beaten into flour. But the little locust cakes were delicious.
She would carry some to Salome. Her sister had given birth two days before. Only a daughter, to everyone’s disappointment. Nonetheless, there would be a celebration feast. Oh, there was so much to celebrate, and the doves proclaimed it! She would take Jesus out among the birds again, as she had promised. They would climb the plateau that encircled the town, so she could show him his homeland. They would follow the back route, and on the way they would gather flowers.
The dew was still heavy in the grass; their sandals were quickly soaked. But even this seemed wonderful after the brutal heat of Egypt. Sometimes Mary’s throat still went parched and dry, and she would gulp whole pitchers of precious water. Her skin had lightened somewhat, but its sense of burning remained; she felt burned to the bone, seared by some fierce yet sacred fire, perhaps necessary to her own cleansing and reshaping. That must have been what God willed for her—and for Joseph. But even as the Lord had led their forefathers, he had brought them out of Egypt! They had returned to Nazareth and to Galilee, the very flower of Israel. Their Promised Land. Pray heaven they would never have to leave it again. (pp. 15-17, Chapter 2)
The dog was finally wrapped in a blanket and put in a basket beside Jesus’ bed. Later in the night Mary awoke to hear her son sobbing. Carrying a lamp, she tiptoed around the pallets of the other children. The basket, she saw, was empty. The small battered bundle was cradled in his arms. “He came to me!” Jesus said. His face was radiant even as the tears rolled down his cheeks. “He crawled out of his box and dragged himself to me. He is healed, Mother, I felt it. God is healing him! But he mustn’t go back to the fields,” the boy pleaded, “or the jackals will attack him again. He must live with us.”
Troubled, Mary sat down beside them. Her own fingers crept to the warm little head. “That would be very unusual, my darling. You know Jews don’t keep dogs; only Egyptians keep dogs.”
“Uncle Cleo does.”
‘Well, yes. A few rich people like Cleophas,” Mary laughed. Joseph’s oldest friend Cleophas rode a horse as high-spirited as he was, and beside it paced a hound he had brought from Cairo. But then Cleo had always been a law unto himself: merry, arrogant, thinking his father’s money could buy him anything. At one time, even Mary’s hand, Mary smiled to remember. Poor Cleo—his astonishment had been almost comical when her father gave her to Joseph instead. And Hannah was so distraught she took to her bed; she had been so anxious for Mary to have the merchant’s son…How strange life was, these battles caused by love. Yet now Cleo was like a favorite uncle to her young.
Mary was stroking the puppy cuddled close to Jesus. “But it isn’t the custom for people like us to have a dog.”
Jesus sat upright. “Bad customs should be changed, Mother! Dogs are God’s creatures. Dogs need people and people need dogs. It’s a bad custom not to love and care for dogs.”
Joseph relented, of course; he could deny his family nothing. And with a speed that astonished everyone, the dog healed. They named him Jubal for the joy he brought them. Also for the way he tried to join in when they were all singing and tootling away on the instruments Joseph had fashioned for them: timbrels, a flute, some horns, even a lyre. Esau, Mary’s blind brother, helped him; Esau had an uncanny feeling for musical things. The candles in the shop burned late as the two labored to make the wood like satin, the metal bright, eagerly testing the tender strings. Joseph had never been happier. Almost every night, after prayers and the evening meal, he would gather his family on the rooftop, and there, head cocked, beating time and smiling proudly even as he piped, Joseph would lead them.
Mary, putting the last dish in the cupboard or laying the fire for morning, sometimes felt like dancing to hear them, her darlings, like so many birds on a bough. Wiping her hands, she would scurry up the steps to sit beside Joseph on a cushion, listening with her shining eyes and her heart.
It was cool there under the stars; jasmine spilled its white fragrance over the wall, sweet…sweet as the sounds they were making, so young and bold and yet plaintive in the night. Her whole being seemed in tune with this music of her life. The very stars seemed to tilt toward her, sparkling, blazing, as if they too were striving to speak or sing. How close God seemed! Mary had not heard the voice of her Lord since childhood; not once since that incredible experience in the shed. Not even the voice of an angel, although, strangely, angels had repeatedly spoken to Joseph in dreams. Yet on such nights she felt as if the whole company of heaven were swirling close, blessing her, blessing her. Compressing as much happiness as possible into these few years.
For deep within her, on quite another level, Mary walked a dark and lonely road: aware, ever aware, of the changes sure to come...
Cleophas often dropped in on these evenings, still darkly handsome in his fine striped silks and jewels, bringing presents for the children. His own marriage had been a sad one. His wife was sickly; she had lost three babies before fleeing in disgrace to her parents in Acre. Cleophas had gone after her repeatedly, to no avail. Mary and Joseph welcomed him. They knew he envied their happiness, yet it comforted him to be near them.
“Cleo! Uncle Cleo!” The children pressed their instruments upon him. “Come join our music!” With a vigorous hug for everyone, he would perch on the parapet, and pretending at first to be confused, pluck clumsily at the lyre. “No, no, Uncle Cleo, you are holding it upside down!” the younger ones would shriek. “Ah, like this?” His eyes, under their sleepy lids, twinkled. Suddenly long sleek fingers flew, rings sparkling, his voice rang out, and oh, such merry melodies as now raced toward the stars. The little dog, lying at Jesus’ feet, would lift his head and howl.
“Listen, he’s singing too!” the children chanted.
“That pariah?” Cleophas teased. “That bobtailed wretch? He’s trying to tell us to take him back to the jackals.”
‘No, no, we love him, he’s beautiful!” They beat at Cleo with frantic fondness. “God sent him to us and healed him! His sores are all gone, see his shiny coat! Even his stumpy teeth grew in straight and strong!”
“He’s still limpy,” Cleo persisted, laughing as he fought them off. “He will always have a stubby tail.”
“At least he has a heart.” Joseph grinned. “Not like that cold-blooded hound of yours. Where did you get him, out of a tomb?”
They were always trading insults—Cleophas vehement, often outrageous, Joseph cool, composed, amused. It had been so since boyhood, this mocking affection between them. Joseph had worried about Cleo—his wild ways. Once he had even fought him to the ground over Mary, bloodying his best Sabbath robes. Yet they remained close. Their eyes met now over her head. How small and dainty she still was, after her day’s work. She wore a soft little blue garment, tied at her tiny waist; she had wound a ribbon through her dark hair. A few curly tendrils escaped as she moved about, gently but firmly quieting the children. So young, so small and virginal…for a moment it seemed incredible that she should be their mother.
Jubal was devoted to them all, especially Mary, but Jesus was his idol. The dog slept beside him at night, and followed him to school, where he would flop down on the synagogue steps and wait patiently until the boys came shouting from their studies. Then, with a yip of delight, he would leap to greet his master.
Toward midafternoon, in the courtyard of her house, Mary could hear him barking, a signal that her sons were coming. In a minute Jubal would hurtle through the heavy drapery at the doorway, eyes bright, tail frantically wagging. Mary hugged him and gave him his bite of the goat’s cheese or sweetmeats she had waiting. Meanwhile, her oldest daughter, Ann, helped her pour mugs of milk and portion out the treats.
The children swarmed in, Jesus tallest—nearly as tall as she was now—followed by young Joseph, whom they had taken to calling Josey, and James. Josey was a ruddy, noisy boy, very active and aggressive. He liked to climb, wrestle, throw things, grab things. He was inclined to be belligerent. He was always teasing James, who was more gentle, a shy child who had his aunt Salome’s way of looking up at you with a sudden charm from beneath lowered lids. James was often bewildered and frightened at Josey’s antics, running to Jesus for comfort or protection. How fast they were growing, Mary’s heart protested. Next year Simon would join them; Jude would be at her skirts a few more years. She was grateful for toddlers and daughters. (pp. 51-55, Chapter 3)
They had spoken of this endlessly, each time they saw each other, wondering, marveling. Yet those were the years when their sons were still precious and small, playing with other children, going to school. The future seemed mysterious and far away, surely as filled with promise as with threat. Just being together made it so, here where they had often sat working on mosaics, while their babes were safe in their wombs. The same little table was still there, the same little reed basket with his bright familiar tiles.
But now, suddenly, inexplicably—overnight, it seemed—their sons were twelve and thirteen years old! On the brink of manhood, Mary realized. The trip to Jerusalem this time—her mother, even Joseph, thought Mary’s exhaustion was due to having the children along. How could she explain to them the inner thing that had fastened itself upon her about midway, heavy, dark, anxious, so that every step was leaden? And the nearer they drew to their destination, the greater her dread. A kind of panic beset her, shameful, absurd. She had wanted to snatch Jesus and flee with him into the hills. And when at last the caravan ascended the final ridge and paused in awed excitement to gaze across the broad gorge of the Kidron to where the fabled city rose, Mary covered her eyes. She turned and sat beside the road, busying herself with a sandal. A strap was broken; she must fix it somehow before she could go on.
She blurted this out to Elizabeth now. “Am I strong enough to face…whatever it is God wills for him? To stand by Jesus and help him? I am so torn sometimes; God has also sent me other children. I mustn’t fail them either.” She was struggling to make it clear. “You have told me often what Zechariah prophesied about our sons. But what of us, their mothers? Did your husband and my uncle prophesy of us as well?”
Elizabeth sat considering, her fingers playing with the tiles. “No,” she said, regretful and yet resigned. “Nothing.” She rose then, arms folded, and walked to the parapet. She was wearing a dress of some soft light stuff, silver-threaded like her hair. The sky was hot and very blue. Plumes of smoke still rose from the Temple—a glimpse of gold in the distance—and drifted lazily toward Herod’s place, ironically darkening as they approached it, sometimes obscuring the palace face.
Pigeons still crooned and strutted on the ledge below. Absently, Elizabeth reached for a crust someone had left and began tossing crumbs to them. They swarmed up around her, luminous, begging. A small breeze had risen, stirring her hair, sharpening the faint ever-present odor. Suddenly, dusting her hands and fending off the pigeons, Elizabeth came swiftly, gracefully, back to the table. “Mary, listen to me,” she said, sitting down. “Every word that your uncle uttered is true; the Holy Spirit does not lie. John is the destined to be the forerunner of Jesus. The messenger warning people to listen. But what the Spirit did not tell us is that our sons will be rebels! Breakers of images. I can see it already in John. John is—difficult. Even you may have noticed. I am frightened by him sometimes—his ideas. I don’t know how to handle him.”
Elizabeth paused. Her rich throaty voice was troubled.
“Mary, I’m not surprised at your apprehension. To be chosen of God as you and I were, and as our sons are chosen, does not mean life will be easy for us. Any of us. Quite the contrary. Anyone who goes against tradition is persecuted, suffers terribly. There is jealousy, terrible jealousy between the Sadducees and Pharisees, even among the priests. The fight for honor and position is appalling. And the women don’t escape. How well I know that, as the wife of a high priest! For you there will be jealousy even in Nazareth, I’m afraid. Even among his brothers and sisters, his own family.”
“Oh, no!” Mary cried. “Not my children.”
“You must be prepared for it, Mary. And you must be prepared for danger. Actual danger. Anyone who threatens authority—” Elizabeth’s voice was not quite steady. She rose again and began searching about for something else to feed the birds. “I thought surely there was more bread lying about. No matter.” She drew a deep breath. With an effort she went on. “We both have seen the crosses, Mary. And I—pray God you never will—but I have seen beheadings.” She shuddered. “That old man who spoke to you in the Temple—Simeon—was right. A sword will indeed pierce your heart.” Unconsciously she touched her own breast. “Already I feel the sword in mine.”
Elizabeth turned then, and seeing Mary’s white, strained face, rushed to kneel beside her. “Forgive me, I’m just a foolish old woman saying wild and foolish things!”
“No, what you say is true. I’m a grown woman. I must know.”
“Yes. You’re no longer the little girl who first came to me—or so you seemed then.” Wistful but smiling, she lifted Mary’s chin—her niece, her dearest friend, the daughter she had never had. “We’re both grown women now, Mary, and we are strong. God would not choose weak women to bear and stand behind strong sons.
She gave Mary a fond little shake. Suddenly laughing as well as crying, they sprang up. For the pigeons had come pecking about their feet. And Hannah stood in the doorway, yawning and grimacing as she shielded her eyes to look for them. “Come, sister, join us,” Elizabeth called out in her usual rich sweet voice. “But first ask a maid to bring us some bread for our friends.” (pp. 85-88, Chapter 5)
Jesus strode ahead of the sheep, leading them through meadows still wet and sparkling with morning, uttering the familiar gurgling cries of the shepherd: “Hoo-hoo...hoo-hoo!” It was good to have them following him again, knowing him, his favorites responding to their names—Lisby, Coco, Imar. With his crook he pulled Imar over to walk beside him. Even Bezer, the king ram of the flock, a quarrelsome beast with immense curling horns, marched docilely at his heels, as if glad to have him back. Although Amos had warned him that the old devil had been attacking the young rams.
“He even went after me last week,” Amos fretted anxiously. “I had to beat him off. Be sure you have a stout staff.”
Birdsong and tinkling bells, the bleating, the pattering of little hooves, and Jubal bounding joyfully at the edges of the flock, nipping and yipping to establish his authority over any would-be strays. Jesus, nearly eighteen now, was glad when he got these calls from Amos for help with the sheep. A welcome change from the racket of saws and hammers and the ever-present haze of dust in the carpentry shop. Only the other day this urgent summons from Amos had come.
Joachim was ailing again, Amos said—grieving more than ever over Matthew, it seemed, and he, Amos, just could not manage everything. The crops had to be harvested, and Judith and Esau could not handle the sheep, however they tried. That wretched ram—it wasn’t safe for them. And most of the ewes were in lamb; they would have to be watched, some of them might drop. And they really should be led to farther pastures, kept out—if Joseph could spare Jesus—until the new moon.
And they must be well fed, Jesus was thinking, planning his route as Amos talked. He had inspected them all yesterday and found some of them too thin. He would lead them to distant pastures by way of a grove of pomegranates where they could feast their fill. There were wild grapes there too, although now toward summer’s end the pigeons would probably have robbed the rich purple clusters. Such gluttons! But weren’t all wild creatures mainly walking or flying stomachs to be filled? He grinned in affectionate amusement. The birds and animals were so totally brazen and unembarrassed by their incessant need, feeling no guilt whatever when they fought each other for a morsel or devoured each other to survive. Strange that the Father had made them so—innocent, incapable of blame. While man…
There were lush and verdant growths too in the hills beyond. Enough to last for weeks. He patted Imar, who seemed a bit too scrawny, trotting by his side. He would tend his sheep like a mother. Like David, son of Jesse, as the ancient writings said, he would “set tender grass before the lambs for food, to the old sheep give soft herbs and tender grass easy for them to chew; while to the middle sheep whose teeth were strong he could give the tougher, older grass, feeding each according to its wants and strengths.”
He had thought of David often, striding over the hills these past few years, calling or piping to his sheep. And on those nights when Jesus kept the flocks, he felt a special kinship with David lying under the stars on the hills of Judea—near Bethlehem, he marveled, where both of them were born. David, composing his psalms even as a youth. Jesus’ heart stirred. He felt a sense of familiarity and communion, as if he himself had known or even been that boy. With a thrill he remembered what had also been written: “And the Lord said, ‘David, who is able to care for the wants of the flocks entrusted to him, will be able to rule properly over my flock, the people of Israel.” (pp. 101-02, Chapter 7)
A week later, Salome received the letter. A young man who seemed embarrassed by his mission handed it to her father, then, kicking his donkey, rode quickly off. Bitterly Joachim broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. He could not bear to look at his daughter, huddled in the doorway. “Shall I read it to you?” he asked. Salome shook her head. But she reached out and snatched it from him. She could not believe this, she refused to. She had some kind of blind conviction that if no one ever told her what the message said, the words would vanish; that if she kept it close enough, warmed it with her blood, the whole thing would go away…
Salome went into hiding. She would go nowhere. She lay dry-eyed on her couch, or got up sometimes and disappeared, walking alone for hours in the hills. She would speak to no one except to Hannah and sometimes to her daughter, a pale frightened girl still unmarried at eighteen. Even Mary could not reach her sister, although she went to her parents’ house almost every day, knowing her presence was a comfort to all of them. Together the women would do the work—Mary, Judith, who lived just down the road, and Amos’ wife, Rebecca—laughing and chattering as if nothing were wrong, trying to make things brighter, especially for Hannah. Or they would lower their voices and sit discussing this grievous problem.
Something must be done. Salome was wasting away, literally dying of grief, and dragging Hannah and Joachim toward the grave with her. This terrible concern, together with their never-ending worry about Matthew, could soon be more than they could bear.
One fall day when Jesus was mending a fence with Amos, he saw his aunt in the distance, climbing a hill just beyond the olive grove. Alone, so alone—like a homeless animal, leaning into the wind with her shawl blowing. Jesus straightened, put down his heavy stone. “I must go to her,” he said.
Amos shrugged and said it would do no good. They all had tried to talk some sense into her; she wouldn’t listen.
Yet Jesus ran after her, caught up with her, and took her hand. She returned his pressure slightly. She did not draw away. They walked in silence through the sere dry grasses until they reached the crest of the hill. It overlooked a gulch where a stream was winding. The wind was blowing harder here; overhead dark clouds were sailing. Soon the rains would be falling. His heart was filled with compassion. He felt that if she did not revive before the autumn rains began she would be swept away in the torrent like a tossing stick—he could see her bones—or that she might dissolve, be obliterated in the storms of her anguish.
“Aunt Salome, please don’t grieve,” he said at last. “Human love isn’t everything. Think of the One in heaven who loves you. Human love is nothing compared with the love of God.”
She turned on him suddenly. “How do you know?” she demanded scornfully. “Have you ever loved a woman—other than your mother? Look at you: past twenty, way past twenty, and not yet even betrothed. What do you know about love that you should try to comfort me?”
He was staggered; he could only gaze at her helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Yes, the love between a man and a woman is important. That much I have learned from my parents. All my life I have been blessed to live in a home where there is so much love. But I am a man now, as you say, I’ve seen other couples, and I know that the kind of love my mother and father have for each other is very rare in Israel.”
“My own parents,” she went on. “Your grandparents. They cleave to each other, now matter how they quarrel. Only death could ever separate them. While I—!” she gasped. “My husband has cut me away from him as surely as if he had meant to kill me. He has killed a part of me, chopped away this unwanted flesh and thrown it away to die...with this, with this!” To his amazement, she clawed into her bosom and pulled out a tightly rolled parchment.
Her bill of divorcement, Jesus realized.
“Read it to me,” she demanded. “Let me hear the words for myself. Perhaps I was wrong not to hear them. Perhaps this isn’t even true; perhaps there has been a mistake.”
Jesus unrolled the thing and saw them, the ugly words and accusations. He sickened. “No. No, Aunt Salome, no. This is a vile document. An abomination in the sight of God. It is a blessing you cannot read it, and you must not keep it further to torment you. Let me destroy it.”
“No, no, it’s mine,” she cried. “I want it, let me have it!”
“Then you can only want your own misery and what you consider your disgrace.”
Before she could stop him, he strode to a boulder on the ridge of the hill and began tearing the letter to shreds. Even as he did so, a few drops of rain began to fall, spattering the strips of parchment he was flinging into the wind. They writhed and circled like serpents on their way down into the gully and the little stream.
When he returned, Salome was sobbing violently, face in her hands. He held her against his strong young body, turning to shelter her from the wind. Her shawl had gone awry; he put it straight. “Good, good,” he soothed. “It is good for you to weep, good for you to talk.” He stroked her gently, and she quieted under his touch. Her convulsions stopped. She caught his hand and pressed it fervently against her we cheek. “Thank you, Jesus, you have helped me.”
“God has helped you,” he said. “Not even a sparrow falls that he doesn’t know—and care. He felt your pain; he didn’t want you to go on suffering as you have. You will be well now. Sometime, when all this is long past, you will find love again.”
“No, never,” Salome said vehemently, as they began to walk down the hill. “Love hurts too much when it’s gone. Even if another man would have me, I could not risk the pain of losing love again.”
“There are worse pains,” Jesus said. “The whole world is filled with terrible sin and suffering, Aunt Salome.”
“What has that to do with me?” she retorted. “All I know is what I am feeling. True, there are probably worse things, as I will discover as life goes on, and I will have to face them. But no suffering will ever surpass this one.”
“Then you are sorry you married Ephraim?”
They had reached the olive grove and halted there to take shelter; the rain was pattering down on the silvery leaves. “No!” Salome’s voice was shocked. “How can you say such a thing? My husband’s love was a treasure, it enriched my life for years, it gave me a daughter who will enrich my life for years more. How could I regret having had the treasure? No, no, only its loss.”
Salome was gazing at her nephew as if seeing him after a long absence. “You are very wise for your age, Jesus. You study, you are preparing yourself to help people, even more than you are helping now. I have sensed that for along time. But no matter how much you study, you will never know what human happiness or pain is until you have known that kind of love.” (pp. 131-34, Chapter
Jesus felt better once the flock was at his heels. Penned up for months during the rains, the sheep were like children on a holiday, blatting and bunting, bells tinkling, a few wanting to scamper and scatter. It was all his latest dog, Benjamin, could do to keep them together. Jubal had died quietly in his arms several years before. Jesus had wakened to feel the beloved body stiff and cold against him. “No, oh, no, don’t leave me!” Jesus had implored. “Wake up, I command you, come back to me—live!” For one long desperate moment he had believed: the eyes would surely open, the warm tongue lick his hand again. Then, berating himself for his delusion, Jesus wept.
Benjy appeared at the door a few days later, as if sensing that he too would find haven here: a yellow cur, starved and cruelly beaten. One eye was swollen nearly shut, he still bore whip marks on his nearly bald hide, and, like Jubal, one leg dragged. At first he snatched his food and ran, whimpering and cringing whenever they tried to approach, but soon he too lay docile before the family’s ministrations and leaped for joy at their love. Ben too was jubilant at once more bounding over the hills.
Spring had come early this year. Even in January, when the high mountain ranges were still white with snow, spring began to creep over the valleys and up the slopes on little green feet, as if eager to mate with winter. And the heart of winter was melted; dry creek beds became foaming torrents—Jesus had to take the sheep farther than ever to find still water—but their banks exploded with grass and flowers. Lilies of the field in colors of pink and white and gold; anemones and cyclamen, rock roses, asphodel, daisies and chrysanthemums, snapdragons of a dozen hues. The fingers of God had embroidered the earth like a tapestry and scented it with his headiest perfumes.
Jesus took out his pipe and played as he walked through these fields of beauty. His heart ached with a kind of tender wonder as he remembered his parents, so close last night, now parted for even a day... (pp. 152-53, Chapter 10)
Mary never slept that she did not reach for him, never woke that she did not feel the emptiness beside her, never prepared a meal that she did not listen for his step. These feelings she kept to herself. She did not want to burden her children. She was grateful for their ability to go on with their lives. Jesus, more than the others, was suffering. And so she was glad when he prepared to leave once again with the sheep. She knew that this was vital to him, now as never before, and so she did not restrain him, although she could scarcely bear to see him go. He was so much like Joseph—far more, it seemed to her, than any of her sons.
The day of his departure she arose while it was yet dark and kindled the fire that he might have hot bread. She set out a bowl of fresh figs and a mug of hot milk. She filled his knapsack with extra loaves and ran her fingers along the seams of his cloak; she had mended them only yesterday, but was it warm enough for cold nights in the hills?
“I wish you were going with me,” Jesus said from the table.
“So do I.” She was hugging the cloak against her. “I used to enjoy the times when my father would let me tend the sheep. Never overnight, of course, or far from home. There was little danger, although I did have to throw my rod once at a snake.”
“You, throwing a rod?” Jesus smiled. “It’s hard to believe.”
“I was quite strong. He had made me a little rod to carry—much like that first one your father made for you—and taught me to throw.”
“Did you hit the snake?”
“No, but I scared it away!” They both laughed, but their eyes were suddenly wet. Mary pressed a fist against her trembling lips. “Oh, Jesus, I miss them both so much!”
Jesus came to her and held her. “I can’t leave you, Mother, not yet. I will get someone else.”
“No, you need to go. I can see it in your eyes. You eat almost nothing. I hear you pacing sometimes, late at night. Jesus, you must not blame yourself.” She drew back to search his face. “It is not your fault that you were not with your father that day. Or that you were not—” Mary hesitated, groping for words— “prepared to do—what I was foolish enough to beg you to.”
“You mustn’t blame yourself either, Mother. That wasn’t foolish, that was your love pleading for him.”
“Yes,” she agreed, blinking fiercely. “I could do nothing else.” She busied herself with the knapsack. Did he have everything? His flute, his knife—wait, she had forgotten his raisins, and what about the book he had been reading? She scurried off to find it. Jesus waited, touched by her mothering but anxious to get started. Cocks were crowing, the sky was turning gray. He hoped to reach the first pasture while the dew was still wet on the grass; the sheep enjoyed it and it meant less watering. Yet it tore him to leave.
Mary followed him to the door. “Be careful. I won’t hold you back, but I worry about you too, out there alone.”
“Please don’t,” he said cheerfully. “I have many friends among the shepherds, as you know. I’m always welcome at their camps, the way those Bedouins once welcomed you.”
“No wonder you feel at home with them, for you were with us.” Mary smiled as she remembered, but her voice was urgent. ‘Yes, yes, take shelter with others whenever you can. Forgive me,” she quietly after a minute, “but I don’t think I could go on living if anything happened to you.”
The sheep were now his succor and salvation. God surely had been leading him all these years, the chief shepherd training the lesser to lead the sheep. But now, this summer after Joseph’s death, it was the sheep who seemed to be leading Jesus beside the still waters to restore his soul. And never before had his rod and staff so comforted him. For as he watched over his flocks by day and night, it was as if his father and grandfather were beside him. This tough club of a rod for his protection. This sturdy staff. They had provided both, from the beginning.
Mary’s reminiscence about her own first proud little rod brought it all back. Again he walked excitedly into the brush beside Joachim to choose a dig a young sapling. Smelled again the damp earth and felt the roots with their clods of dirt clinging to his fingers. Heard the whack of his grandfather’s hatchet cutting the root down to size. They carried it to the carpenter shop where Joseph carved and whittled it to exactly fit his hand. The thrill of that first small rod in his palm, and the clumsy zeal with which he hurled it when they took him onto a hillside to teach him.
Cleophas had gone along, for he was skilled in throwing, had even won contests with the Greeks. Cleo demonstrated first, then Joseph; it became a competition between them to see who could throw it farther. Jesus wanted to try his rod but was afraid to say so until Joachim stepped in. “Here, now, let the lad; I will show him.” And clutching Jesus’ wrist, he had pulled back and released the weapon with such force that lo, it flew so far and hard it broke a pitcher that was tipped against a tree.
“There, that’s how you throw a rod!” Joachim had grinned in triumph over the younger men... (pp. 162-64, Chapter 11)
It was a bright cool day of spring. John strode into the river rejoicing, shouting as he went, “Repent, repent!”
A raucous flock of crows, disturbed by the noise, thrummed swiftly up from the trees, cawing rudely back. “Repent, repent!” they retorted—or so it seemed. John threw back his shaggy head and laughed. Beautiful things, the crows. His first audience of the day, for it was still early; the banks of the Jordan would be crowded by noon.
Right now he was testing the water, seeing how deep and strong the current was here near Bethany after the winter rains. Once last year when he was preaching farther up, a repentant sinner had been swept out of his arms and almost drowned. John, an excellent swimmer, had had to dive for the man and haul him, still panicky and kicking, onto shore. A narrow escape, yet it did not stop the people; it only seemed to heighten their fervor for the vigorous Baptist, who could insult them so brashly, and yet was determined to save them.
The trees were mirrored on the water, striping it with their trunks, kissing their own lacy reflections, so green and lovely with little new leaves. The rushes swayed. The water, cold and sparkling, felt marvelous to John’s tough hard limbs. He would have hurled himself into it, if he had time, and enjoyed it. He always missed it during the winter months he spent with the Essenes, those stern but wonderful monks who lived at Qumran, a place south of here on the banks of the Dead Sea.
At first they had been skeptical of him, that the son of a high priest—however sunburned and shaggy after a summer in the wilderness—should come pounding at their door. For theirs was a priestly sect that had years ago rebelled at the excesses of their own priesthood in the Temple, and fled back to the desert. They set themselves apart, took no interest in politics, did not mingle with men, lived solely for the coming of the Messiah. Yet John had overcome them with his wild young enthusiasm and dedication. Literally he had hurled himself at their feet, begging them to take him in. He would wash and cook and clean for them, if only they would let him share their simple life with them.
He swore total obedience, gave the Community, as they called it, everything he owned: his bracelets and gold rings, the fine linens he had worn to please his mother whenever he returned to Jerusalem. What a joy it was to be unburdened. No more Temple ceremonies, no more polite charming of his mother’s friends. Just to pray and fast and study and serve them, these Sons of Light.
They were his kind of people; they ate no meat and would have nothing to do with blood sacrifice; their offerings were fruit, or the freshly ground flour of the golden wheat. When he had finished his period of probation they gave him work in the monastery library, carefully copying the sacred books and manual…Outside the rain beat down, streaking the walls from a leaky roof; the winds howled, tormenting the Dead Sea and dashing sand against the sills. John’s back ached from bending over the scrolls, yet he loved it—the sound of his pen scratching away through the storm, and his rising excitement as he approached the places that must be left blank for the Holy Name. Later another scribe, made pure by ritual ablutions, would be found worthy to inscribe it.
John had never been so happy. A kind of rhythmic bliss supplanted his usual restlessness. His natural ebullience and loquacity were tamed. Here he walked and spoke softly, pacing his cell with his hands behind him in the manner of the monks. He had trimmed his beard and his wild yellow mane. After the sweat and grime of living alone in the wilderness, there was something sublime about being so clean; several times a day he bathed as they did, every inch of his tough hairy flesh, even between his toes.
Yet after three years thus, when the rains stopped and spring burst forth across the hills in all its sweetness, when birds sang and flowers exploded even in the desert, something burst in John as well. He awoke one night in a cold sweat. He was like a caged animal. He knew his time had come to depart.
The next morning he rushed to tell the abbot, a man with a long skeletal face and that sweet, blank, yet loving look common to those who have lived apart from the world for a long time. The abbot was very disappointed but not surprised. He had sensed John’s intense and special qualities from the moment he first arrived, known that one day all John’s vigor and passion must again be released.
“What is it that would drive you from us, my son?” he asked.
“The words of Isaiah,” John told him, striding excitedly around the narrow room in the old way. “The same words that are heard so often within these walls: ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ I am that voice, Father. I can keep silent no longer. I have to go out now and proclaim the coming of the Lord!”
The abbot stared at him, heart suddenly pounding. He rose abruptly and came to place his bony hands on John’s shoulders, fixing him with his pale blue eyes. Was it for this then that John had been sent to their door? The son of a priest. “Are you—?” he whispered, his dry lips scarcely able to form the words. “John, tell me, can it be you? Are you the One we have all expected so long?”
“No!” John gasped, shocked. “How can you suggest such a thing?”
“But you are of the line of Aaron. We know our priest is coming—the Messiah, the final and perfect priest.”
“Yes, yes, the Messiah is coming. But he will be so much better than I am—” for once John groped for words— “I am not fit to take off his shoes. But he will be no priest.”
“No priest? Then who? Why are you so sure?’
John took a deep breath. “Because he is my cousin,” he announced with proud conviction. “Jesus of Nazareth!”
“Nazareth?” The old man looked startled, almost amused. “Why, nobody of any importance ever came from Nazareth.”
“My cousin was born in Bethlehem, as the prophets predicted. I haven’t seen him for several years, yet his message has been burning in my heart—ever since we first met when we were both boys. Jesus will soon be thirty, the age when at last a man’s word means something in Israel. He will soon be ready to reveal himself. I must go out and warn the multitudes; I must prepare the way.”
The abbot had released him reluctantly, for John had been light a bright breeze blowing through the monastery. And though it was against their rules and they thought John mistaken, they had not only welcome back to Qumran each winter, but sometimes on summer nights when, hoarse and exhausted from his preaching, he came limping in.
And now, this spring, how good it was to hear his own voice shouting once again, and to see the crowds beginning to gather. Word of his preaching had spread. His outrageous insults, his zeal and fire and incredible charm. This was his third summer to storm up and down the riverbanks while the people stood astounded but enthralled. At first only a trickle of farmers, shepherds, laborers from neighboring villages. But the ranks quickly swelled to include bankers, merchants, Sadducees and Pharisees, tax collectors, soldiers. From all over the land they were flocking now, attracted by this wild-eyed man dressed like Elijah, in a garment of camel’s hair, with a leather girdle about his waist. Listen to him, come see and hear him for yourself—only a true prophet would dare to speak to us like this!
He exulted at his audience, for he was a born actor, like the Greeks most alive when commanding a stage. But not for himself all this attention, no, no, only his passion to warn them of the wrath and the blessing to come. “You scorpions, you brood of vipers! Why are you such hypocrites, you Pharisees? Why do you cheat the widows and steal bread from the mouths of their children? And you scum, you tax collectors—!” Though some stalked away in anger, even many of those he condemned so savagely stood shaken and humbled before his scathing attacks.
And when he had scolded and exhorted them for hours, when at last, wearied yet exalted by his own words, he only wanted to hurl himself into the water and swim away, they poured down the banks just as they were, fully dressed, arms outstretched to where he stood, clad only in his loincloth now, his legs tough and hairy, with the Jordan kissing his knees. And he held them with all his fierce young strength, loving them with passion and speaking to them tenderly as he plunged them into the water to be cleansed and forgiven. (pp. 206-10, Chapter 14)
Copyright © 1987 by Marjorie Holmes
Hardback dust jacket cover:
With The Messiah, beloved inspirational writer Marjorie Holmes completes the novelistic retelling of the life of Christ that she began with the best-selling Two From Galilee and Three From Galilee: The Young Man from Nazareth. In these novels, Ms. Holmes does what no other author has ever done: she recreates the stories of the Bible in full human dimension, breathing life into 2,000-year-old characters and making Jesus, his family and friends seem like real people with real-life emotional struggles. Using a framework of “common sense, God-given imagination and respect for Scripture,” and writing with great reverence and conviction, Ms. Holmes has vividly recreated Biblical people, times and customs for countless readers. In Two from Galilee she told the story of Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus. In Three from Galilee: The Young Man from Nazareth she dared to recreate the “lost years” of Jesus’ life, between 12 and 30, not mentioned in the Gospels. In The Messiah, she deals, lovingly and vibrantly, with the culminating events of his life, from the beginning of his ministry to its well-known conclusion. Again, we see Jesus as a member of a large, extended family and as a man of many friends. Now we see him also as a rabbi, healer and martyr, as Ms. Holmes tells of the first Apostles, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, the miracles and sermons, the trial and Crucifixion. Beautifully written and extensively researched, The Messiah is a rich historical and spiritual experience.
Mary tiptoed to the doorway, pulled back the drapery, and gazed in on her sleeping son. How beautiful he looked, lying there breathing so deeply, face down, one long arm flung over his curly head. Though it was shocking to see him so thin. His usually strapping body barely rippled the bedclothes. But oh, to have him home at last! Mary gripped the cloth, almost faint with this flood of thanksgiving. There had been times when she wondered if she would ever see Jesus again. For never had he been gone so long, without a word. Never had she been so worried. Night after night she had awakened from troubled dreams about him. Dreams that haunted her till morning and tormented her by day.
As always, she had done her best to hide her worry from the rest of the family, especially Josey and Simon—those two were so quick to criticize their brother anyway. Not Jude so much; nor James—he and Jesus had always been close; nor his sisters—to Ann and little Leah, their oldest brother could do no wrong. But Mary knew that they in turn were only trying to spare her; that all of them shared her growing alarm.
True, some people from Capernaum, passing through Nazareth on their way back from their own trip to hear John the Baptist, had said they had seen Jesus. But they had disagreed about just when, some insisting it was three or four weeks ago, others less, they couldn’t be sure, they’d gone on to Jerusalem. In any case, his mother had never been so relieved and overjoyed to see anyone as when at last, yesterday afternoon, Jesus came trudging up the steps. Sun-blackened—his smile was a white flash in his gaunt face, eyes burning from their deep sockets—but holding out his arm.
He hugged her in the old way, half lifting her off her feet. He crouched to wrestle about with Benjamin, who was in a mad frenzy of welcome; the dog, mourning, had eaten so little these past weeks, he was almost as thin as his master. But in a flash of awareness, Mary realized that Jesus had changed. There was something different about him, beyond the fact that he was so haggard, weary and travel-stained. Some startling, inexpressible difference.
He was followed by three young men. Rough, husky, sun-bronzed young men, very pleasant and enthusiastic, also on their way north to Capernaum. Their names were Andrew and Philip—fishermen there, she believed. She wasn’t so sure about the other one—Nathaniel Bartholomew—but then she had been so excited, and they had stayed only long enough to refresh themselves with milk and some of her cakes. They said they must press on—they would spend the night in Cana.
They embraced Jesus with fervor as they left. Especially the long-limbed, sandy-haired man, named Andrew. “Join us as soon as you can, Master,” he said eagerly. “I must tell my brother about you. We both will count the days until you come!”
As they stood together, waving to the men, Mary looked up to study her son. And again it came over her—the overwhelming sense of something different about him. He seemed taller than ever, towered above her there on the step. His shoulders even stronger, somehow, no matter how thin. And his eyes—the look in his eyes as they watched the men go down the hill. Those dark, liquid eyes had always shone with a special light. Now they wore an expression she had never seen.
Mary caught her breath. She knew—every sense told her—that Jesus had suffered, and triumphed over, some bitter but profound experience. She could feel it, as poignantly as if she had been with him. Whatever it was, it had prepared him. He was ready now. His time had come. And it would take him away from her many times again.
She patted his arm, over and over, simply rejoicing in her son’s return. She would ask no questions. In time, perhaps he would tell her. It didn’t matter. Right now he was so tired. All that mattered was getting him to bed.
In all the confusion Mary had quite forgotten Cana. Suddenly, gathering up the linens, she halted, stricken to remember. The men were heading for Cana, where cousin Deborah’s daughter had been married only yesterday. If only she’d thought to tell them about it; assure them they’d be welcome. The festivities were still going on. Half of Jesus’ own family was still there; the rest were coming shortly to take Mary along. She’d even forgotten to tell Jesus! Mary hesitated, torn. Lydia was so fond of her cousin, she reproached herself: the girl had been asking for weeks when he would be home. But it was so late now. And Jesus needed reset.
Reluctantly, his mother made up his couch. It would be unthinkable even to suggest that he journey any farther tonight, no matter how important the celebration. (pp. 1-3, Chapter 1)
And now Capernaum.
Andrew had rented a small whitewashed house for him, not far from the synagogue, beside the sea. It was furnished only with a mat for sleeping, an outdoor oven, and a cupboard for his few utensils and his scrolls. Here Jesus cooked and cleaned for himself, and washed his garments in the water. The house was perched on a shelf of rock. From here he could watch the fishermen casting their nets—graceful as dancers as their burly arms whirled the broad weighted circles, vigorously hurled them and then carefully drew them in. Or seining—the boat drawing close to shore, where most of the crew sprang into the water to pay out the ropes as it drew away. Then gently, gently, while the boat glided in semicircles, the vast weighted net was lowered, to be pulled to shore by the men there, until the boat was once again beside them.
Often, unable to restrain himself, Jesus ran down the path, Ben barking wildly behind him, and waded in to help, as with jubilant shouts and singing the catch was harvested.
At night he could hear the waves lapping or sometimes lashing at the banks. For this beautiful body of water had as many moods as its names: Lake of Gennesaret…Lake Galiel…Sea of Chinnereth…Sea of Tiberias. Or, more poetically, it was known as the Jewel, the Silver Woman, the Blue Harp. This last it most resembled, seen from the hills behind the city. The elegant white limestone pillars of the synagogue quivered in reflection on its glassy breast. Morning and evening, the trees were mirrored there, and the endless pageantry of the encircling hills—ribboned and prancing with color during the flowering of spring: yellow and scarlet and blue; then a brief bright green, which the fierce suns of summer burned to the golden brown of a lion’s skin.
Along the northern shore, when Jesus climbed to his rooftop, he could see the city of Tiberias, which Herod Antipas had been rebuilding on the site of an ancient cemetery, to the horror and disgust of the Jews. Famous rabbis were buried there; it was not only unlawful it was a desecration. Yet the king had made this unclean place his capital. And now, to add to the insult, he was erecting another lavish colonnaded place, to honor Herodius, the wife he had taken from his brother. Jesus winced at the sight, remembering that John was still in prison. It brought back the terrible pain of John.
Yet even this could not destroy his fascination and delight in the lake. He loved it, whatever the hour—ablaze under the merciless noonday sun, paved with jewels at sunset, or lying like a polished silver platter under the full moon. He loved it best just before daybreak, when he and Ben would rise and run down the narrow path to plunge in.
Often a white mist blanketed sea and sky, so that to merge with it was like swimming through a dream. Sometimes a pale shell of moon still hovered, even as the first pink light began to bloom. The water was usually bitterly cold, despite the merciless heat that would come later in the day. A fiery baptism, making his blood tingle, his spirits soar: comforting, cleansing, refreshing, giving him courage for the day.
At times Philip, Andrew, or Bartholomew joined him; sometimes all three, clambering over the rocks and hallooing as they spotted Jesus far from the shore, with his dog chuffing along beside him. They were all strong, tough swimmers, as fishermen had to be. The lake was treacherous, they warned him. Smooth as a sail one minute, the next, a sudden squall could churn up waves as savage as those of a mighty ocean, whirling and sucking like a pack of demons. “Be careful,” they pleaded. “They can whip a boat over and drag a man down in a second!” Until he knew it better, they worried that he should swim out so far alone. It was one reason they went out to find him.
Yet they also came for the pleasure of his company. Reaching him, they would wrestle and dive and cavort as youths on the street. Then, racing each other, they would all strike for shore, to take up again the serious business of making a living, or serving him—their master, their teacher and their friend.
They were proud of him, and basked a little in his glory. For were they not the first to know him? This remarkable man who soon packed the synagogue, and whom crowds left their work to listen to whenever word went out that Jesus would speak beside the sea. He could drive out evil spirits—it had happened that first Sabbath right in the place of worship! He could heal. Word had spread. Now crowds followed him wherever he went, pressing so close to him at times he almost fell. (pp. 35-37, Chapter 3)
It was later afternoon when the six gathered, to perch uneasily on the rocks that surrounded Jesus’ house. There had been much to tell their families, and many things to attend to; they were also very tired. Rested now, they were bursting with curiosity. Peter, unable to keep his counsel, had warned them, and like him they were taken about at the news. They had come to feel possessive of Jesus. To share him with newcomers was one thing, but to share their intimate circle with newcomers seemed somehow an invasion.
Arms folded, Jesus stood before them, his hair blowing about his shoulders from the wind across the lake. He sensed their expectancy and their apprehension, and as he spoke, his heart went out to them. “I have chosen our new fellow workers,” he told them. “From now on there will be twelve of you.”
“Twelve!” Philip gasped. He exchanged astonished glances with Andrew and Bartholomew. “But why so many? We, here”—he made a dismayed little gesture that included the twins and Peter—“have we not served you well?”
“None could have served me better. Or will ever become as dear to me. But the fields are ripe and we must have enough laborers for the harvest. All night I have prayed, and the Father has revealed them to me. Soon I will tell you who they are. But first I have called you here to thank you.” Jesus turned to each one then, addressing him by name, to reassure him.
“You, Andrew, my friend, my first disciple: Except for you, Peter and the twins would not be here…Philip, Bartholomew, Andrew—I will never forget our first journey to Jerusalem together. How bravely you baptized for me after the arrest of John. You even risked coming home through Samaria with me. And you won the hearts of the Samaritans on the way!”
Andrew’s heart raced. He was trying to keep his composure, pleased, yet with a wistful sense of envy and loss. Yet it is my brother Peter you most often walk with, he thought as Jesus praised him, whom you confer with at night as you once conferred with me. And it’s those scalawags, the twins, that seem to give you the most delight. He harbored no resentment, however; his long, pleasantly homely face was resigned.
“And what a treasure you brought me in your brother Simon Peter,” Jesus continued. “Peter, you live up to your name: You are truly a rock. And James and John”—Jesus was smiling—“you have brightened every mile we have taken together. But now we must have help. The message I have been sent to bring the world is too important to be confined to so few. You will be twelve in number, like the twelve tribes of Israel. And, like the patriarchs before us, you will be empowered to establish the new kingdom of God on earth.”
Jesus paused. “I know this sounds awesome, and it is. But you will suffer many hardships,” he told them, “and your responsibilities will be great. From now on, you will be called apostles—messengers. For in time you will be sent forth, in pairs, to carry the word. By then you too will be given the power of healing.”
There was a moment of stunned silence.
“All of us?” John exclaimed. He felt suddenly young and vulnerable, unworthy, almost alarmed. “Even the newcomers like James and me?”
“With faith you will be able to do all I have done, and more. All of you,” Jesus said firmly. “It is a power that cannot be given lightly. That is why my Father and I have chosen so carefully those who will join us. So that you, all of you, will be worthy of such a gift. And strong enough,” he reminded them, “to meet its demands.”
The men were staggered. They stared at him, incredulous—suddenly ashamed of their selfish misgivings. Healing? Had Jesus actually said they, too, might one day have such power? To be able to perform miracles, such as they had witnessed! Shaken, they exchanged astonished glances.
Now, slowly, Jesus gave them the promised names. Some they would recognize. He invited their honest reactions. “We will discuss them together, for you are my family, and there must be no secrets among us.”
Thomas. Peter, Andrew and Philip all could vouch for him; they had played and fished together along the wharves as boys. Thomas was careful, took nothing for granted. “Like Bartholomew,” Peter said, grinning. “But once he’s convinced, you won’t find anyone braver or more loyal.”
Thaddeus. A musician, born in Edessa but living in Jerusalem when he was first attracted to John. Andrew remembered seeing him among the crowd along the Jordan the day Jesus was baptized. And now that John was in prison, he had followed Jesus to Capernaum. He was merry, fluent and fervent; some of them had heard him playing his lute and singing in the inn. His songs would enliven their journeys.
Simon the Zealot. Simon Peter was troubled at first. The Zealots were a radical bunch. “Anyone who would join them could get us in trouble.” And there was the problem of having a similar name. “Hereafter we will always call you Peter,” Jesus said. “As for having a Zealot among us—we are zealots, too, in our own way. We can profit by his experience.”
James, the younger son of Alpheus, a greatly respected town official. Of James there could be no question. His reputation was above reproach. He was fair and slight of build with a kind of eternal innocence in his rosy cheeks. He could be identified as James the younger; it was fitting, and it would avoid confusion with the other James. Like his parents, James was very devout. And like them, he was deeply ashamed that his older brother Matthew should have become a despised tax collector.
Matthew, sometimes known as Levi, the publican. And Judas Iscariot. These were the only two who roused their actual concern.
“But, Master, a tax collector?” There was a mass gasp, a long, horrified silence. “Would you ask us to eat at the same table with such a vulture?” Peter finally blurted. “A Jew who robs his own people to work for Rome?’
“Matthew has repented,” Jesus said gently. “He has closed his booth at the customs, and is even now preparing to make amends before he comes with us.”
“But to be seen with such a sinner,” Andrew protested. “To make him one of us!” He couldn’t believe it. Dismayed, feeling responsible, he looked about at his friends, at his own brother—so willing to follow this man, give up so much. Jesus was right; except for him, they probably wouldn’t be here. It seemed imperative that no mistakes be made now. For their sakes, as well as that of the Master, he must speak up, hard as this was for him. “Forgive me, I know we’re not perfect, any of us. But if we are to preach,” he faltered, “if—if we are actually even to heal! surely we must set a good example. How—forgive me, but I must ask—how can we afford to consort with sinners?”
Jesus listened, nodding his understanding. He couldn’t blame them. Yet his voice, however compassionate, was firm. “Pray heaven many sinners will follow us. Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…We must not shun them, we must make them feel welcome, no matter how we are criticized. Remember, it is not the righteous we are called to save. Matthew needs us,” he went on. “We can help him. And Matthew can help us.”
But of all the names, it was that of Judas Iscariot that caused the most consternation. Especially to James and John. They had known Judas in synagogue school. A brilliant scholar, yes; but vain, aggressive, determined to surpass everyone else. And sly, very sly, always trying to ingratiate himself with the teacher. He was also very handsome, with a quick, sharp wit that charmed people; yet his very greed to excel, be praised, put a kind of torment in his long dark eyes. He did not deserve this honor; he could only cause trouble.
Both brothers felt apprehensive, threatened, almost stunned. How could Jesus be so blind? And Jesus was theirs. They had found him first. Their claim had been established. Ever since that night they first heard him speaking with such fiery affection and wisdom to the crowds from Peter’s boat. And later, during the mad hours of fishing—to find him singing and whooping as joyously as Peter, helping to throw the nets and haul them in. How they had admired him even then.
And to have him seek them out the next day! The two would always marvel at this. The instant rapport between them, the sense of some deep recognition of spirit that went beyond mind or body, anything they had ever dreamed. They knew, with a kind of blind finality, that they would follow him through hell if he asked. For they loved one another, these three. True, Jesus loved them all, and was particularly close to Peter. But the brothers knew they were special to him.
And the sense of some sublime communion was keenest between Jesus and John.
In the heat of their discussion, the men had gotten up from their rocky perches, or the places where they had been squatting on the sand, and were meandering about the little yard. James had braced himself against one of the few palm trees, gesturing with one hand. The sun was going down, the breeze was stronger. Behind his words the palm trees clashed their patient rhythms. As usual, John stood back, wearing his enigmatic little smile, and let James do the talking. But a nameless fear clutched his heart. Some strange, chill sense of foreboding.
And when the others began to trudge down the hill toward their homes, he told James to go on without him. “I want to speak with him alone.”
He went to crouch beside Jesus, who had gone to sit on the big rock Peter had occupied. He was gazing out upon the water. It was blue-gray but sparkling, and ruffled with white as the waves rolled in. The dog lay alert at his feet.
“Master, I beg you to reconsider.” Absently, to relieve his anxiety, John stroked Ben’s smooth brown coat. “I have a strange fear for you. I know Judas too well; I really don’t think he’s to be trusted.”
Jesus roused, turned to regard him, but it was a moment before he replied. “I am well aware of Judas’ faults,” he said. “But he needs us. We can help him, as we will help Matthew...And we need him. Both Matthew and Judas can help us, John. Both of them are good writers, and skilled with figures. They can help us manage what little money we have.”
“It’s only because we love you so much,” John said wretchedly. “We feel we must warn you.”
“I already know,” Jesus said quietly. A dark pain clutched his heart. He, too, bent to pet the dog. “Judas is still my choice, and for me he is the right one.” (pp. 55-59, Chapter 4)
Peter’s wife, Adah, was childless, to her sorrow, but not to her disgrace. Adah was independent; she refused to accept blame for that which the Lord had willed. She loved Simon Peter, and he seemed to love her non the less for her barren state. In a way that was unusual to most couples, they were very close. They “matched,” she sometimes thought, to her own amusement. Both very large people, both forthright, a trifle impetuous, yet with their feet on the ground.
This thing now—this incredible thing that had gotten her husband so aroused…The Messiah? The true Deliverer at last? That thought was too staggering; she dismissed it. Never mind, no matter really; Jesus had captured the heart of her husband, and that was enough. She would follow them both—what choice did she have? To live alone with her mother? No, no, she could not bear the thought of having Peter’s great body apart from hers another night. She had let him go thus far, not willingly but unable to voice the terrible pain that tore her.
Now that Peter had proposed it himself, she would simply go with them. Wherever the strange path led.
“Mother, I’m leaving,” she announced one morning. “They are setting forth again tomorrow. I must be with them.”
Her mother, Esther, looked up from threading her loom—a surprisingly dainty, fine-featured little woman, compared to her husky daughter. “Is it your husband you are following?” she asked sharply. “Or—that man?”
“Both,” Adah told her. “Men!” She laughed, on a note of disdainful good humor. “I will cook and mend for them. His garments—did you notice the tears?—and those broken sandals. And him a rabbi! He’s like a child—worse than Andrew was. No, no, I cannot have it.”
“Ha! He’s as old as Simon Peter.”
“He needs me. They all need me. Yes, you need me too, but like this. You’re well now, stronger than ever, thanks to Jesus. Better than I’ve ever seen you. It’s the least I can do for him and Peter.”
“But you—alone with all those men?”
“I won’t be alone, Mother. Mary, the mother of one of the new men—James the younger, they call him—will join us in Magdala. And soon, if all goes well, the twins’ mother.”
“Not Zebedee’s wife? Not Salome! No, no, I can’t believe it. Zebedee would never stand for it. Who will cook for him?”
“The servants. Zebedee...you’d be surprised: He’s concerned about his sons, actually relieved that their mother will be along from time to time to look after them. And there is talk about a woman named Joanna. She has money, I think; she wants to help. There are sure to be others.”
“I don’t like it. Decent women don’t go traveling around the country with men.”
“Times have changed. The old order is passing, Mother. Jesus is bringing about a new order. Peter is convinced of it. He doesn’t think things will ever be the same.”
“How will you eat?” Esther worried. “Where will you sleep?”
“Mostly in the homes of believers. Peter tells me people beg for their company, wherever they go. It’s an honor to associate with such a prophet. Mostly common people like ourselves, yes, but some of the rich people, too, sometimes even the Pharisees.”
Adah’s mother was shaking her head. “I don’t know, I still just don’t know.”
“But Jesus healed you, Mother. I don’t believe you realize how sick you were, even now. You had a terrible fever, you hardly knew us, you were out of your head! He had only to kneel beside your couch...I can still see him, how he took your hand—oh, it was so hot, your whole body was like an oven; I’ll never forget. Yet he had only to say a few words to you, and in a few moments you sat up! You were smiling, your brow was cool—I felt it. We all did. And then—surely you remember what happened?”
“Yes, yes, I remember. I got out of bed. I even got dressed and cooked your supper.”
“We tried to restrain you, all of us. Even Jesus urged you to rest—but now, you were determined. It was good to see you so spirited again.” She laughed. “That alone proved you were well. You insisted on showing us you could. And what a supper that was.”
Her mother sat, arms folded, nodding in reluctant agreement. “Yes, yes, yes, it happened, it must have happened—look at me now,” she exclaimed, amazed but frowning. “How do we know where such powers come from?” she fretted. “The evil one—it is said that Satan has strange powers too.”
Adah was shocked. “No, no, no! How can you say such things?” she gasped. “That beautiful man. ‘By their fruits you shall know them,’ he has said. His fruits are good. He must be...such a man can only be...” Words failed her. What did she really think? What was she trying to express? Adah took a deep breath. “A very gifted prophet,” she managed.
“Well, I can’t stop you. And if I were younger—” Her mother sprang up, smiling brightly, in a sudden change of mood. She even held out her arms: “I think if I were younger I might go with you!” (pp. 73-75, Chapter 6)
He was home, he was back home in Nazareth once more. And it seemed to his grandmother Hannah almost more joy than she could bear that he had chosen to spend those first few days in seclusion with her at the farm.
Mary slipped up too, of course, to be near him. Hannah smiled to hear their voices in fervent or quiet discussion, sometimes far into the night. A cozy peace enveloped Hannah as she drifted into sleep. A sense of some ultimate in her life achieved. If only his grandfather could be here to see it. Dear blunt, stoical Joachim, who had never once doubted, even in the beginning. Her husband had studied the scriptures, and he almost worshipped their daughter, to a point that angered her sometimes, leaving her out. Stubbornly, saying little, she knew Joachim had lived for the day when his adored grandson would fulfill every prophecy. While she…not that she was cynical, rather that her dry, cryptic, practical nature neither comprehended nor cared much about spiritual things. Leave that to the men. No, no, her passion for Mary and this blessed child was more one of blood, pride, possession.
They had vied for the boy’s affection, she was ashamed to remember, quarreled and quibbled over many things. But oh, how they had loved each other, and how she missed him, and now if only...if only Joachim could be alive to see their grandson in his triumph, and herself—how much she had changed, how blindly she, too, now believed. But no—Hannah cut herself off sharply from futile grieving and regrets. Some things could never be corrected. On the other hand—Hannah blinked rapidly into the darkness one night, jaws tight with the old pain—sometimes, some things could.
The family had joined in a conspiracy to protect Jesus. Once Nazareth got word that its famous son was here, he would have no peace. James and his uncles Matthew and Amos had met him after dark on a little-used road, and led him directly to the farm. Jesus needed rest; he would be too conspicuous in town. They would say nothing. They would try to hide his whereabouts, at least until the Sabbath, when he would have to appear, of course. Perhaps to speak in the synagogue.
Hannah was torn. She could hardly wait for that victorious hour; yet she clung jealously to every minute this special grandson could be with her. Hers once more to pet and scold and spoil. To sleep on her fragrant linens, and devour the tiny raisin and nut studded cakes he had loved as a little boy.
“Stop now, you’ll be sick—remember how your mother used to berate us both?”
Grinning, Jesus reached for more: one to pop into his own mouth, the other to feed to Ben, who lay eagerly watching.
Quickly, smartly, Hannah’s little claw slapped his big brown hand. “How darer you feed that creature at my table?”
“Hannah, dear Grandmother Hannah—“ Jesus pulled her onto his lap—that spindly body so shrunken and brittle with age he almost fear to crush it, those mischievous, fretful, loving eyes burning ever deeper in those sockets. “Live forever,” he cried. “Don’t ever change!”
Some days he slept late; others he rose before daybreak and went off to spend the day in the hills with his uncle’s children and the sheep. Mary and her mother drew together while he was gone, speaking of him as they worked. (pp. 123-24, Chapter 10)
“Jesus...my son. Tinoki, tinoki—my little one!” Mary heard herself crooning an endearment she hadn’t used in years. “Wake up. You are home—it is all right!”
He sat up, in a cold sweat, a boy again smelling breakfast, afraid he had overslept—he would be late for school! But no, he had been fleeing through a great city, a tangle of dark streets…His pursuers were waving crutches, armed with stones, some brandishing whips, others marching ponderously along consulting their scrolls...The ill and the dying were reaching out to clutch him before he escaped, some of them shouting hosannas, others sneering...There he is! Take him!...He was about to be caught, dragged before the Sanhedrin...
“Hush now, my darling.” He felt his mother’s hand, cool on his wet brow. “You were crying out. Go back to sleep now; you are so tired.”
She began to pull the covers about his shoulders, but he restrained her. “No, it’s time I gave a better answer to my brothers. How long have I slept?”
“Around the clock, I’m afraid. They left for the festival yesterday.” Mary hesitated. “At least Josey and Simon and their families. I’m not sure about Jude. James isn’t going—his wife is ill again.”
Jesus nodded wretchedly, and plunged his face into his hands. Two of his brothers had arrived in Capernaum a few days before on a pretext of business, but actually to persuade him to come home once more. Simon and Josey were waiting for him one night on his stoop. They were here, they admitted, at their mother’s imploring. She was very uneasy about him—his health, his rest; she often had nightmares that he was in deep trouble, even danger.
Jesus had grinned faintly. “Would I be any safer in Nazareth?”
“You will be as long as we’re there!” Josey blustered. He flexed his burly arm, and so did Simon. Suddenly they were all laughing and embracing each other, fighting playfully, as they had as boys.
This was true, Jesus thought in a rush of grateful affection. They had not hesitated in that time of near disaster. Despite all that had happened—the embarrassment and failure of his visit, the outright public rejection—his family still missed him, wanted the best for him, stood ready to defend him.
“And why waste any more time here?” Simon glanced around the barren room, finding it hard to hide his distaste. His once cowlicky red hair was now subdued, his beard trimmed and curled in the Persian fashion. He had married a slightly older woman, a widow of refinement and means. At her persuasion he was limiting his carpentry to making cabinets for the better homes. He’d had no idea his supposedly successful brother lived so poorly. “You’ve been around Galilee long enough,” he advised flatly. “You’ll never get anywhere out in the provinces. These people already know what you can do,” he condescended. “Besides, they’re not important.”
No, wait—Jesus had quite a number of important followers here, too, Josey had hastily tried to correct. Lawyers, judges, doctors...”You weren’t with us, so you didn’t see them. But Simon’s right,” he assured Jesus. “The really important people are in Judea. You have disciples there too. Why hide yourself out here? Go to Jerusalem if you want to become well known.”
“Come with us,” Simon said—it was both an invitation and a challenge. “We’re going to the feast soon. If you can really do these things, show them to the world.”
Jesus had turned from the cupboard, where he was crushing food for Ben. “Have you forgotten what happened the last time I went to a feast in Jerusalem? The Feast of Weeks. Or maybe you didn’t hear. I nearly got myself killed.”
They regarded him uncomfortably. “Of course we heard,” said Josey. “Everything you do comes back to us.”
Simon’s mouth tightened. “And reflects on us.”
“And if you did perform this miracle on the Sabbath?” Josey protested, sounding doubtful. “You know that’s considered against the Law.”
“God does not close the pool at Bethesda on the Sabbath,” Jesus said quietly. “Or prevent the sun from shining, or babies from being born. The man was suffering; he had been ill for years. He’d been lying by the pool for days. He was on the point of death.”
“But did you have to encourage him to take up his bed and carry it through the streets?” Simon reminded, sounding judicial. “That, too, is an outright affront to the Law.”
“What would you have had him do with it? Leave it behind? He needed it.”
“Well, it was foolish. No wonder the authorities were after you. Sometimes it seems you’re deliberately out to provoke them.”
It was useless. They didn’t understand. And whatever their motives—to bait or to encourage—they didn’t actually believe. More vehemently than he meant to, Jesus put down the food for his dog.
“I will call attention to these tyrannies whenever I can. People must be freed from this stupid enslavement to the Sabbath simply because the priests say so. It is not sinning to take care of normal human needs. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath!”
The other two shook their heads. They had not meant their mission to go like this. But now that they were into it, there seemed no turning back. Jesus had done worse than that, they’d heard—that’s what really upset the Sanhedrin. “The man actually believed you’d forgiven his sins—or so he told the Jews,” Josey plunged on, incredulous. His color was high. “It’s said that you stood on the Temple steps, claiming you had this power and authority, straight from the Father. That the Father loves you and wants you to be honored with him—that he has shared all knowledge with you because you are—you refer to yourself as—” Josey choked, unable to say the words.
Coolly, almost objectively, Simon took over. “As God’s own son. That you promised eternal life to all those who believe in you. This is preposterous. Personally, I refuse to accept such rumors. You are not mad, and I refuse to think you’re a heretic. Making yourself equal to God! You would never say such a thing. Forgive us—we’re your brothers and we love you,” he insisted. “But you must be more careful.”
“You have your answer,” Jesus said abruptly. “Go to the feast yourselves.” He was very tired and deeply discouraged. It had not been a good time for them to appear. “Frankly, I can’t see why you would even suggest that I go back again to ‘prove what I can do,’ as you say. I would only embarrass you and stir up more trouble before my time has come. You have all the time in the world—I don’t.”
“Then you’re not coming?”
“To the Feast of Tabernacles—no, I don’t think so. But since our mother is worried—yes, for her sake, of course I’ll come home for a little while.”
Now, with Mary sitting there beside his bed, Jesus was infinitely glad to be home. He had roused up in his concern. He lay back again, eyes closed for a moment, one arm flung over his curly head. When he opened them, she was gazing steadily at him. (pp. 153-56, Chapter 12)
In wonder, the two men stood for a second there on Solomon’s Porch, where each had taken shelter from the unexpected snow. Then with shouts of joy, they embraced, drew back a little and stood gazing at each other, hands still on each other’s shoulders.
“I was looking for you,” the older man explained. “But the last place I expected to find you was here in the Temple. Not after what happened this afternoon.” His lean distinguished face was both relieved and dismayed. “Word reached me at my bank; I left as soon as I could. Oh, Jesus, my so, thank heaven you are all right! Is it true they were about to stone you?”
“A few. They didn’t succeed. Some of the crowd were unruly, not many.” Jesus looked serious but unperturbed. “It was not hard to dissuade them—the rest wanted to hear what I had to say.”
“But I do worry,” cried Nicodemus. He wiped his wet brow with his sleeve. Their garments were blowing. The snow that glittered and wheeled on the lighted steps was drifting in here, too. They moved with one accord to the deeper shelter of the arcade. “Things seem to be getting worse every time you come to a feast. The Sanhedrin out to get you—and now this!”
“The Sanhedrin hasn’t succeeded either,” Jesus reminded him. “Thank you for your help, Nicodemus,” he said, gratefully. “But as a Pharisee in good standing, you can’t go on defending me.”
Nicodemus shook his head. “I have to speak out, just as you do. Yes, Caiaphas is furious—and he will do what he pleases, no matter what anybody says. But the high priest isn’t the only one, or the Sanhedrin either. For every Jew that loves you there are a hundred who would kill you—look at what happened today! Why do you keep returning to Jerusalem,” he begged, “knowing the hostility here? Much as I love you and long to see you, it frightens me, for one day they will succeed. I had hoped you were still safely preaching somewhere in Galilee.”
“This is my city, too, it is sacred to me.”
“Very well, yes, come if you must.” Nicodemus sighed and pressed his arm. “But where are your bodyguards?” He looked anxiously around. “Are they not with you this time?”
“The twelve are not my bodyguards,” Jesus corrected, “but my apostles. They have more important things to do.”
“What could be more important than protecting you?”
“Healing, teaching, carrying on my work for me.”
“Well, whoever they are, they should be with you!”
“I don’t ask them to go everywhere with me,” Jesus told him. “Especially to Jerusalem right now. It might provoke an uprising. There’s no use in subjecting them to unnecessary risk—some of them have families.” He was shivering, hugging himself in his threadbare cloak, stamping his feet to keep warm—they were almost naked, Nicodemus noticed. But his face was cheerful. (pp. 172-73, Chapter 13)
Time was running out, Jesus realized. Calvary drawing nearer. The weight of his own cross had been constant on his shoulders for months, its shadow hovering, growing darker, dogging his every step. And no matter what direction he took, all roads led back to that inevitable hill.
It was not to escape this that he had fled with his apostles after the raising of Lazarus, but only to avoid the frenzied excitement of the crowds. “Go quickly,” Lazarus himself had urged that very night. “Once word of this spreads you will be besieged, you will have no peace.”
Jesus nodded. He had already chosen Ephraim, a forested area in the mountains, with a few scattered stone houses. They would rest there and pray. And he must prepare his men; there was still no much they didn’t understand. “Tell no one.” He held his friend almost fiercely in a brief farewell. “We will be back a few days before the Passover.”
He began rounding up the apostles, who had joined in the celebration. “No, no, we must leave,” he warned. “Hurry, don’t linger, even to say good-bye.”
Once again he must deal the blow he dreaded. Again he must face their shock and disappointment. “Why, Master, why?” He didn’t blame them. To have arrived here so weary, worried and confused—until the relief and jubilation of what happened at the tomb! Now was the time to rejoice with the others. People were swarming around them, embracing them, bombarding them with questions; the food and wine would soon be served. They had earned the right to stay, not to flee back into the night like thieves.
“It’s for your own safety,” he had to tell them. “Scatter, hide your faces lest we be recognized and questioned. Take the back roads to Ephraim. We will meet there tomorrow.”
The place was so small and so far into the desert that nobody knew or cared. Here the exhausted apostles slept, or say trying to listen to what Jesus was teaching. But their minds were still preoccupied with the miracle of Lazarus, jubilant over his return, confident now of coming triumphs. The Passover was coming; surely some wonderful thing would happen. In spite of—even because of—what Jesus had done! Those who had wives would send word by special messenger: Come, come join us! They had been away from home a long time.
Jesus, too, wrote a letter, one night of terrible loneliness, long after the others slept. Concern for his mother was an agony almost equal to the specter of the cross. Spare her, keep her safe, don’t let have to suffer this with me. Yet he knew she would come, she must come; that, too, was written...
And the apostles. There was no way, of course, to spare them. He had already tried to warn them, attempted to prepare them, but it was evident they were not ready. It seemed heartless to trouble them just yet. Let them rejoice a little longer. Soon, very soon, he would make it clear. On the way back to Jerusalem, he would make sure they understood. It would happen at Passover. And they must be strong. They had been chosen for this because they were strong, tough men, used to hardships, and loyal. They must be strong enough to face the ordeal.
And they would have to carry on. (pp. 218-19, Chapter 16)
The shady road sloped down between the green hills. They hurried along, hearts pounding from the pace, but glad to hear the music and shouting still rising, even louder from the hollow below, where a throng of excited people swarmed about, clutching their palms, or boughs from the flowering trees. They were laughing and singing, clapping their hands in rhythm to the music and the psalms. There was the shrill, sweet sound of pipes and flutes, the clashing and flashing of cymbals. On the sunny pasture hillside a circle of girls had clasped hands and were skipping about in a spontaneous little dance; small boys were turning somersaults or rolling ecstatically on the grass. Other people perched patiently on rocks, or the embankment beside a sparkling stream.
On the road, at the center of this welter of color and commotion, they glimpsed two white donkeys, a mother and her colt. Both were draped in scarlet shawls, and as they watched, a woman scurried forth to fasten wild roses to their bridles. Two others, a man and a woman, ran down the road a little way to spread garments in their path. The apostles seemed to be milling around, anxious to get started, but the three couldn’t see Jesus at first, for he was surrounded.
Then the crowds parted, and they caught a glimpse of Jesus, kneeling. And they knew that Ben had found him, for they heard the dog barking, and coming closer, they saw that Jesus was hugging him, while Ben frantically tried to lick his face. Jesus stood up then, laughing and crying as Benjy lunged at him joyfully again and again.
The dog spied them then and came galloping to meet them. Jesus followed, tears still wet on his cheeks as he made his way to them through the excited people, who were dazzled anew at sight of the horse Cleo was leading. Murmuring endearments, Jesus kissed and held each one, while the dog waited, tail wagging in triumph.
“I knew you were coming,” Jesus said with emotion. “It’s late; we must go, but I couldn’t bear to leave without first seeing you.”
Several of his followers also hastened up to greet them. Peter, James and John, eager to begin the triumphal procession, but happy to see them, and full of questions. Where would they stay? Had they encountered Adah or Salome on the way? It had been some time since Peter had heard from his wife, but he felt sure she and some of the other women were coming. Yes, Magdalene told them, the women might already be in Jerusalem.
The conversation was interrupted by Judas, who rushed up in his long, officious stride. “Master, we dare not wait any longer,” he warned. “The people are getting impatient. We must not let their enthusiasm wane.”
“That’s right,” said Peter. He mopped his big ruddy face, proud but concerned. “Word has gone on ahead, they say people are lining up for miles.” The din of voices increased even as he spoke. “We must start soon if we aren’t to disappoint them.”
Mary stood hugging the robe. “Yes, you mustn’t keep them waiting,” she said to Jesus, eyes shining. “But you can’t go without this! It’s a gift from your grandmother,” she explained, unfolding it, with the help of Magdalene, who again sprang forward to keep it from brushing the ground. “Hannah had it made for you—the best she could order from Cleo and his father. She says to tell you she would have made it herself, but her fingers are too stiff to sew now.”
“Oh, no!” Jesus protested, with a little moan. “She can’t afford it—she shouldn’t have done such a thing.”
“Thank Cleo,” Mary said, glancing toward him gratefully. “He knows how much such things matter to Hannah. And she’s right!” Mary thrust the robe upon Jesus, wanting to weep at the one he was wearing. It was not only old and threadbare, but soiled where the dog had jumped on him. “You can’t ride into Jerusalem looking like that. Put this on,” Mary ordered her son. “Hurry! Now—right now; never mind the audience. Take off that old thing,” she insisted, “and give it to me. Cleo will hold the new one.”
She reached out to help him, and there before his men and his frenzied admirers, who were laughing and shouting with delight, Jesus obeyed. He unfastened his old familiar garment and handed it to her, while swiftly, expertly, Cleophas wrapped the splendid new one around him.
Magdalene, watching, caught her breath. The robe became him; never had she seen him so beautiful—his sun-dark cheeks so pink, his eyes so bright, his lips so red. At the last minute she remembered the girdle, and stepped forward to present it to him, and he fastened it around his waist, its gems dazzling in the sun.
“If only your grandmother could see you,” she said, her rich voice throbbing. “She is so proud of you. We were there, your mother and I, when she first saw the robe. It is a garment fit for a king!”
“Our king, our king, let us follow our king!” the people were shouting with renewed enthusiasm. “Hosannas to our king!”
Judas, who had witnessed the whole performance, grasped Cleophas by the arm and drew him aside. He had noticed the horse, now tied to a tree by the roadside, cropping grass. He also recognized Cleophas as the wealthy family friend he’d heard about. “My name is Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,” he introduced himself, and kissed Cleophas on both cheeks as an equal. “Forgive my haste, but I must speak to you. Surely you feel as I do—” Lowering his voice, Judas jerked his head toward the sleepily waiting donkeys. “A man like Jesus can scarcely command much respect in Jerusalem if he rides in on the back of a common [donkey].”
“Our king, our king!” The chant was growing louder.
“These people don’t mind,” Judas patronized, rushing on. “They’re common people. But I do, and I’m sure you do. Jesus needs the attention of a better class of people if he’s to succeed.”
Cleo drew back, trying to hide his distaste for this presumptuous man. “What are you trying to tell me?”
“Jesus is dressed like a king; he should make his entrance like a king, riding a fine steed like yours.”
Cleophas gave a brusque laugh. The sheer effrontery! “You seem to have forgotten the prophecy every schoolboy knows: When the Messiah comes, he will choose to ride to victory on the back of a [donkey]!”
Judas’ face darkened. The words stung. He could feel his scar twitching in his embarrassment. “I still think I’m right,” he declared, as coolly as possible. But his anger was evident as he stalked off.
Andrew and Philip were already leading the donkeys up to Jesus, who stood in conversation with his mother and Magdalene. “Don’t try to follow,” Jesus was telling them. “I can see you are very tired. Go back to Bethany and rest.’
“I want to go to Ein Karem,” Mary told him. “I’m anxious to see Elizabeth.”
“Yes, go there, she needs you,” Jesus said. “I will come to see you there.”
“We will stay in Bethany most nights. It’s the best place for my men. Don’t worry; I will be with you every moment I can.”
As he spoke he was stroking the nose of the colt. It was uneasy, for it had never been ridden, and the dog sniffing around added to its nervousness. Hooves rattled the stones as the colt shied, striving to nuzzle its mother. With his hands and his voice Jesus gentled them both. “Hush now, be still; there is nothing to fear,” he murmured. “You must go now, Ben.” He knelt to hug the hot, quivering body once more. “No, no, you can’t come with us. Go to Mary.”
Mary’s eyes were shining. She was holding the collar of the whimpering, straining dog. “You must start,” she told Jesus. “We have already detained you too long. You will ride before the people in glory, as the prophet Zechariah proclaimed. Don’t worry about us. We will wait for you in Ein Karem.”
“Hosanna, hosanna!” The shouts grew louder as the donkeys began to move. For seeing him thus, attired in radiance, with the gems like a rainbow at his waist, the people intensified their fervor. “Hail to the son of David, praise him! Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” (pp. 265-68, Chapter 1
Elizabeth had kept supper warm, and Mary made a pretense of eating. They were waiting on the roof when Jesus finally joined them. “I was talking with Cleophas,” he said. “Forgive us for taking so long.”
“No, it was very important that you did,” Mary said.
Jesus sat between the two women, holding their hands in his big strong ones. For a long time they sat thus, under the stars, surprised at the sudden sense of peace and tranquility that filled them. The moon was growing smaller and paler now, an opal, but the stars were fields of diamonds. The glow of distant bonfires had faded from the horizon, and most of the lights of Jerusalem had vanished; the city, weary from merriment, slept. Yet they sat on, murmuring quietly together, as Jesus spoke of all that was to come.
They were not to lose faith or grieve, he told them; what had been designed from the beginning of time was about to be fulfilled. As they already realized, they were both a part of it, chosen by the Father himself for their sweetness and goodness, their courage, and their strength.
“You have already suffered much, and you will suffer more. But your reward will be very real, and greater than it is within your power to imagine. Elizabeth...” Taking her chin in his hands, Jesus lifted her face. “I have seen John in a vision, and you, too, will see him again.”
Elizabeth caught her breath, and for a second closed her eyes. Reading her thoughts, Jesus bent to kiss them. “He is whole and beautiful, Elizabeth, even more beautiful than before. And I have seen his father with him. He and Zecharias are together in this new dimension of absolute purity and love. They love you so much, Aunt Elizabeth,” he said fervently, squeezing her hand. “They are waiting for you.”
Jesus turned to his mother. “And Joachim…and Joseph—” Jesus bit his lips; he could not go on. He could only hold her tightly against him, cradling her as she wept.
Elizabeth kissed them and crept off to bed. The two sat alone together then and spoke as mother and son, of all they remembered of their life in Nazareth: his father, his grandparents, the other children, their cousins, the sheep, their dogs. “I’m so glad Benjy is with you,” Mary said. “Cleo and I were both worried when he ran off again, after following us so far.”
Jesus was smiling. “Yes, I’m glad he found me. Each day he shows up at the Temple and flops down to listen, as near as he can get.”
“Oh, dear, the way people feel about dogs! Aren’t your apostles embarrassed?”
“Only Judas,” Jesus said.
They spoke again of the family. “We had good times together,” Jesus said. “No man could have had a better home. God could not have chosen a better father for us. And you—” He lifted Mary’s hand and pressed it to his lips. “I know how hard all this has been for you. Loving all your children so much, trying to keep peace in the family…and the things people have said.”
“It was my honor, Jesus,” Mary said softly. “What mother on earth has ever been so honored?”
Again they sat for a time in silence, almost fearing to speak, knowing that time was running out.
“You must be brave,” Jesus said at last. “The next days will be hard for you.” He spoke of some of the things he had told Cleo. “Spare yourself. I beg you, stay here with Elizabeth. Don’t follow me. Brave and strong as you are, it is too much to ask of any woman.” He hesitated. His voice, when he spoke again, was firm. “But no matter what happens, remember this: I will come back. Whatever they do, I will rise up and return again!”
Mary’s hands were locked across her breast; her heart was in her eyes. “Of course you will,” she said quietly. “I have always known it. For you are the Messiah sent to save the world. Nothing can destroy you, ever!” She gazed at him questioningly for a second. “And you will stay on with us?” she pleaded.
Jesus couldn’t bear it. He plunged his face into his hands. It was late, he must go; there was much to do tomorrow. He could hear Ben barking, and the clicking of the dog’s nails as he came seeking them across the tiles.
Jesus lifted his eyes. “No, Mother,” he had to tell her. “I will come again, but only for a little while. Only long enough to prove the truth of all I have said. Long enough to reassure those who have believed in me and worked for me.” Reluctantly he got to his feet. Even this he must tell her. “My time will be short,” he said. “And it must be spent with my apostles, Mother, that I may give them the courage to continue. For they will have to go on preaching and teaching and healing without me. And spreading the good news of eternal life.”
“Dear son, my beloved son,” Mary said brokenly, reaching out her arms. And they stood for a time holding each other, struggling not to cry.’
“When will I see you again?” She held him a little away from her and searched his face. ‘Will you eat the Passover supper with us?”
“Oh, Mother, if only I could. To be with you and Elizabeth in this house where we shared so many celebrations when my father was alive. But my men need me. I must be with my men.”
So this was it! Mary thought wildly. It had begun with his words a moment ago, the first sword piercing her heart…now another, swifter, sharper, deeper...His apostles, instead of his mother? His men, when he had so few hours left on earth?...Then she recovered. All that was wise and courageous and loving rose up in her to hide and vanquish her terrible disappointment.
“Of course you should be with them,” Mary agreed. “Those dear men, how much they have given up to follow you. This won’t be easy for them either—and their sacrifice is only beginning. I am proud of them, as I am proud of you!”
“You will not be alone tomorrow night, Mother,” Jesus said. “Cleo and I have already spoken of this. He has already chosen a fine lamb, which he will bring you tomorrow. He will carve it for you, as my father used to do. And if it’s all right with Elizabeth, I will ask the other women to join you.”
Jesus kissed her again and stroked her hair. “Try not to be troubled about me, Mother. Though I am not here, I will be with you in spirit, as I always am.” (pp. 316-19, Chapter 21)
Cleo did not go to Mary till midmorning. And when he arrived, it was all he could do to drag himself up those long steps. He had been awake all night, sleepless for some eternity that stretched to a vague point he could scarcely remember. The trials, all those trial...incessant trials, five at least—maybe more.
Cleo tied his horse and stood for a moment, making absent gestures—efforts to straighten his beard and hair. He realized he was red-eyed, unkempt. Incredible. He seemed to remember standing at a mirror in the house where Adah and the other women were waiting and pouring water over himself. Yet it was vague now, he wasn’t sure—only that the women were greatly agitated and anxious, not only about Jesus but about their men.
Yes, he had seen Peter, he told Adah—Peter would surely be there soon. And the twins—don’t worry, he told their mother. Well, he had seen John, at least—encountered him at the hearing before Caiaphas, been with him most of the night. Around the Temple, the Hall of Hewn Stones. The Praetorium. Herod’s palace...And Jesus?
Yes, he had seen Jesus, too. Sitting on a bench.
Cleo had bitten his lips, unable to go on. He could not, would not, torture them—or himself—with the scene. Jesus huddled in chains, jeered, spat upon, mocked by the soldiers as they played their favorite game, Basileus—the king. They had stripped him and robed him in scarlet (an old faded rag of Herod’s). Blood ran down his face from a crown of thorns. (The thorn bushes were in bloom now; a few blood-drenched flowers were ludicrously entangled with the prongs—blades sharp enough to cut a finger in two. The soldiers whose jest this was had had to wear gloves of steel.) Untying one hand before dragging him away, they placed in it a reed for a scepter. And with other reeds they struck him.
No, Cleo could not tell the women that. Nor Mary. No woman could stand it—he could not stand it. “Stop this!” Cleo remembered bawling, like a mad bull as he broke through the ranks. “Don’t, don’t! Please don’t hurt him any more!”
For he knew this was only the beginning. The whip would be next, he was thinking wildly, the flagellums. Those whips weighted with stones and pieces of metal to tear the flesh. Wielded by men with the strongest arms. Thirty-nine lashes with the flagellums, that was usually it—no more than that by law. He’d passed the prison sometimes and heard men screaming.
“Don’t beat him, promise you won’t beat him,” he wheedled. “Here—” He remembered fumbling for the pouch in his girdle, beginning desperately. “I will pay you—see, I have money—only promise not to beat him!”
They had regarded him patiently, as if he were a little mad—as he was.
“It will be better,” a sober, obviously distressed young Roman soldier tried to reassure him. “Really, they tell me it helps. Sometimes they die from the beatings, so they are spared hours on the cross. Or by then they are senseless, later they don’t suffer so much.”
Cleo had burst from the scene and been very sick, violently sick, unmanly and ill before the whole mob, there on the grass. When at last he turned his reeling head, his son—Mary’s son—had vanished...
Crucifixion. Death by crucifixion. Jesus had tried to prepare him for that one night, standing here on this very spot. “I must be lifted up...to draw men to me.” But nobody is ever prepared for such a brutal death. Not those who are left, at least. No, no, it isn’t worth it. Jesus, son of my friend Joseph, and his Mary—my Mary—stop this. You can, you can, you must. If you are also truly the son of God, call upon your Father, call upon your merciful God himself to stop this.
It isn’t worth it. Nothing is worth it!
He was startled to realize that Magdalene had come swiftly to him, down the steps. They regarded each other a minute in silence. She was quite pale, dry-eyed. “It’s true then?” she asked.
Cleophas stiffened his jaw, struggling in vain to answer. In her quick, passionate way, Magdalene responded, embracing him, cradling his neck against her breast. “Come, we must go up to Mary. She is expecting you.”
“Does she know?”
“Yes. All night long we have walked the roof, Mary and I, and Elizabeth, too, for a time, and prayed...though we knew. All night, until dawning, we saw the lights blazing, and somehow we knew. And this morning a servant who used to work here brought us the news. Mary is dressed and waiting. Both of us are ready.”
Cleo had been leaning abruptly against her as they started up the steps. He straightened, halted abruptly. “Ready for what?” he gasped. He realized from her expression that the thing he had dreaded most was upon him. “Listen, you can’t be there,” he cried. “Either of you! I can’t let you. He wouldn’t want it. I’ve already seen more than I can bear. If I, a man, can bear no more...”
Magdalene gazed steadily down on him from the upper step. “Then we will go without you.” (pp. 359-61, Chapter 26)
How many lashes?
Two strong wrestlers were taking turns…At last, panting, they paused to confer. Jesus could hear the rumble of their voices. Far short of the thirty-nine allowed, but: “Better stop now, while he can still walk.” The prisoner had to be able to carry his own cross—all the way to Golgotha, beyond the city gates. He was already half gone...One of them came to prod Jesus with his foot, where they had hung him against the wall for the beatings. Up all night, no rest, no water, no food, savagely beaten before they even got to him...time to stop. He could expire before he ever got to the hill. People were disappointed when this happened. The authorities would demand an explanation.
There was the heavy thud of their whips being thrown to the floor. Wiping their hands on their thighs, the athletes departed. Two more legionaries, much younger, came to take Jesus down. They laid him on the cold stone floor; he had collapsed in their arms. They had brought wet towels with which to sponge him off. It was less an act of mercy than of need. He might bleed to death unless they staunched the flow of blood. They must also somehow get him dressed. The two thieves, still yelling in another part of the fortress, would be paraded naked. This one was more important; their orders were to see that he was clothed.
The thick towels were quickly drenched; they had to keep wringing them out, red and dripping. The younger man’s face was pale—it was the same soldier who had spoken to Cleo earlier. Seeing that his touch was gentle, Jesus asked him to bathe his face as well. His nose was bashed and several teeth were broken; one eye was swollen almost shut. During the torture, his tongue had been bitten through. “”Your...father,” Jesus mumbled with difficulty, “the...centurion...Capernaum?”
“He was,” the youth choked. “He has gone back to Rome. But he loves your people; he built your synagogue there.” He stared at the victim, incredulous, caught his breath. “I remember now—it must have been you! I was about seventeen; his servant then, and deathly ill. My master heard of you and had great faith in you. He was sure you could heal me, though he felt unworthy to have you enter his door. And you did. Though you never saw me, you made me well. Because of you I am here!”
“You have...shown mercy,” Jesus managed.
The youth was shaken, almost overcome. “I was his slave, but he loved me; after you saved my life he adopted me. I owe you that too!”
They got Jesus to his feet. Covered his naked loins. But when they would have robed him again in Herod’s filthy royal castoff, Jesus struggled, and the soldiers threw it away, agreeing. The stench was too disgusting even for them. “My own...robe.” With his eyes he indicated his one last symbol of dignity, which someone had brought into the dungeon. That once beautiful garment was also dirty now, already bloodstained, and quickly soaked with fresh blood as they pulled it over his head and about his mangled shoulders. Dazedly Jesus remembered the jeweled girdle-when had he lost it? Maybe somebody had found it? But they were tying a piece of frayed rope about his waist instead. His fingers touched the place lovingly even so, remembering the tiny grandmother who had been so proud of her gift to him. But the pain was too great, and he could think of her no more.
Supporting him from above and below, they led him up the narrow iron stairs, and out onto the parade grounds, where the sun beat down, a blinding assault after the dungeon’s cold black hole. Soldiers were swarming about, gaily caparisoned, their lances flashing, but sweating in the heat and resentful. This morning’s usual brisk parade had been canceled in favor of this grisly march to Golgotha. Their mouths were sour with the wine they’d been drinking to fortify themselves. Their hands were rough and unsteady, trying to lash beams onto the back of two other victims; one was screaming and fighting like a wild beast trying to escape, the other kept begging piteously.
Hurry, get the procession started! The commander was insisting, it was already almost noon, and a long walk ahead. These men had to be dead before sunset. Beginning of the Sabbath. Jews were very particular about their Sabbath, didn’t want men still alive on their crosses after sunset, when it was unlawful either to guard them, kill them outright or cut them down.
They had shoved Jesus to his hands and knees. He felt the sudden crushing weight of the huge beam upon his lacerated shoulders, the bind of ropes and leather being lashed under his armpits and across his chest to keep it in place. It was hard to breathe. When he made feeble croaking sounds to indicate the problem, they loosened the straps a bit. Two men grabbed his arms, stretching them out as far as they could, so that his wrists could be bound tightly to the beam, cutting off the circulation.
At last, his back breaking, half crucified already, he was hauled upright, the massive patibulum swaying, so that he was like a great bird with wings outspread. A monstrous wounded bird, struggling to fly under the burden it carried.
The beam tipped dangerously at first, striking one of the soldiers, who jumped back, cursing. Jesus could only rock and stagger. To keep his balance, he must bend over as his bare feet fumbled slowly forward upon the burning stones, following the mounted legionaries.
Two officers on horseback were to lead the way. The frantic horses tossed their heads and whipped their tails, trying to drive away the gnats and flies. Hooves clattered on the pavement. Screeching and clanging, the gates of the Antonia Fortress swung open. Outside, a noisy crowd was waiting.
This was the last day of the Passover festival. Tired from drinking, dancing, and celebrating, many people had slept late. But now most were out in force, swarming the bazaars and cafés, enjoying themselves before the Sabbath forced them back into their homes or tents or inns to rest and wait out the following holy day. News had spread, rumors were flying: The Sanhedrin had been up all night; a crucifixion might be added to the sights of Jerusalem today. Even a triple crucifixion!
While many people snatched their children and hurried off in horror, others had rushed to the fortress hoping to see the execution party emerge; more of the curious were lining the streets... (pp. 366-68, Chapter 27)
A little way beyond, Jesus fell again. For the third time. The crowds were growing more sympathetic. There were hoots of derision for the soldiers, cheers for the fiercely protective dog. Cries of “Help him, help him!” More women were weeping. The commander in charge was growing impatient—and concerned. He pulled his horse to a stop, to discuss the situation with the officer beside him.
These delays were getting serious—past noon and not yet even to the Ephraim Gate. These men had to be crucified within the hour or there would be trouble to pay with the Jews. Probably trouble already. The priests and other dignitaries who were to observe the execution had left for the site long ago. It was hot out there, very hot and stinking—they would be fuming.
And if their prize was dead before they even nailed him up for an example—! Or if they got him up so late he wasn’t dead by sunset—
Gaius, the legate, dismounted to inquire of the soldiers who were both coping with the dog and trying to get Jesus back onto his feet.
“What do you think?”
“Very weak, sir,” said the one kneeling beside him. “He can’t carry this load much longer.”
“Untie him, give him a drink of water. We’ll have to get someone else.” Pushing back his helmet, Gaius surveyed the crowd, quickly spotted a candidate, and beckoned with an imperious wave.
The man who strode forward in response was husky, tall, bull-necked. His face was grim. His name was Simon. He had come all the way from Cyrene in Libya, bringing his two small sons for their first Passover. This was their final day of the happy week. He had taken them out this morning for another glimpse of the Temple, shining like a jewel in the sun. A procession was just turning the corner, heading toward the city gates. The crowds were so great they had run toward it jubilant, never expecting anything like this. He had tried to shield his sons’ eyes, had hurried the boys back to their mother, yet returned himself, drawn by some compulsion he could not explain.
Simon nodded at the Roman’s request. Without a word, he went to the prostrate man, helped loosen his bonds, and picked up the heavy crossbeam. He was a very strong man, a woodcutter; he had eaten well and slept all night; he had not been beaten, had lost no blood. With only a few grunts, he shouldered the beam, and gripping it firmly with his big hairy hands, stalked ahead with it through the gate and on up the sloping path toward Calvary.
The place was a deserted field just outside Jerusalem: rocky, weed-grown, its lower levels used for the burning of refuse; its broad upper area for crucifixion, for the knoll on which the crosses stood could be seen by travelers passing along the highway to the west. A grisly warning.
Toward its top, a grotesque, empty-eyed rock formation gave it also the Aramaic name Golgotha—“The Skull.” Vultures and buzzards circled endlessly overhead, or plummeted suddenly to snatch at scraps of flesh. Hopeful, half-starved dogs prowled the heaps of smoldering garbage, which gave off an acrid blue haze. On days of execution the dogs lay in wait, panting, their yellow eyes on the dying. On these days, too, from a clump of trees not far from the knoll, the witches hovered. Very old women, or sometimes young ones, secretly clutching small vessels in which they might catch a few drops of the victims’ blood for their rites.
Striping the sky like a bleak and barren forest were the permanent vertical stipites to which the crossbars would be fastened, shorter stakes for petty criminals, taller ones for the more important—any person should be lifted up plainly for all to see and revile. The three supports chosen for today would be perfect: a high central pole, flanked by two shorter ones. (It would be easy to hoist the thieves. They would have to use a ladder for the Galilean.) All provided an excellent view for the court of observers, who would be watching from the hillock, and all were highly visible from the road.
The soldiers who had been sent out early to make preparations were pleased with their choice, but hot, half drunk, and growing nervous at the delay. It was a relief when at last they saw the procession coming toiling up the hill, but something of a shock. For a few paces in the lead, ahead of even the horses, a big man was stalking, carrying the crosspiece for one of the accused.
Simon flung the huge beam down. It landed with an explosion of dust at the soldiers’ feet. He was very hot, breathing hard, angry, very angry, consumed with some helpless rage. He could smell the tarred wood on his hands, the rank wild sweetness of spring weeds. He saw the huge mallets lying in the dirt or propped against the posts. He saw the buckets of sharp, glittering three-cornered nails. Saw also a pail of the slop called posca, made of vinegar and beaten eggs, with which the guards refreshed themselves while waiting for the victim to die.
He felt sick to his stomach. He knew he could not witness the brutality to come. The air was sultry, leaden; it was hard to breathe. An ominous rumbling came from the mountains, the sky was overcast, a few dark clouds were forming. A storm could be brewing. Rare for this time of year. Could be a bad one. Good thing though—might wash things clean. This filthy place! He had to get out of here fast, get back to the decency of his wife and sons. But he could not leave without another look at that poor wretch. Glad he had helped him, spared him at least that much more torture.
Jesus was standing upright now, and Simon was astonished to see how tall he was, shocked to discover his dignity and beauty. The hair and beard, blood-matted though they were, the bruised and battered face—yet this was a man of unusual beauty. A nobleman perhaps; it was evident in the way he strove to bear himself even now, in the sheer power of personality that still poured from him, jolting Simon.
His robe, too, dirty and bloodstained, yet it still glistened faintly, white and silver—an excellent robe, a robe without seams. Two soldiers had leapt forward and were beginning to strip it from him. Simon shuddered; a little cry of protest escaped him. They had recognized its value—he would not be allowed to die in it. They would probably roll the dice for it as he hung above them. This was the way of soldiers, to be expected...But no more, Simon thought ferociously. No more!
The other prisoners, naked from the beginning, and no longer shielded by the crowds, were being paraded across the field. Simon could hear the roars of laughter, the shouting and jeering, along with a few shrill screams from horrified women.
Simon’s jaw tightened; he clenched his fists. Gaius, who was overseeing the preparation of Jesus, was draping his robe, with some distaste because of the blood, over his arm. They were ripping Jesus’ tunic off now and casting it on the ground. But when they reached for his last remaining cover, that piece of linen which was wrapped around his loins, Simon heard himself uttering one curt command.
“Stop. No more!” His voice was not loud, only hard with the authority born of outrage.
Astounded, the soldiers halted, turned to regard him. “Who are you?” the officer asked.
“Simon of Cyrene. The one who carried his cross. Have the decency not to expose this innocent man. His mother may be in the crowd.”
Gaius’ cheeks burned; he was affronted, defensive, yet ashamed. We are not monsters, he though. We, too, have wives and mothers. And now he remembered Simon. “Very well. You did me a favor. I owe you one.” He made a reluctant but restraining gesture to the guards. “No more,” he ordered. “That’s enough.”
Simon plunged through the surrounding confusion of men, horses, and equipment—ladders, ropes, pulleys—tripping and nearly falling over one of the ugly black crossbeams lying on the ground. ‘Stand back, stand back!” soldiers were warning people who were trying to get close enough to watch the nailing, sometimes adding they’d actually get a better view from higher ground. Dogs barked, flies buzzed, vultures circled, acrid smoke drifted from the incessant fires. Excited or grieving spectators were still trailing up the path, though not as many as might have been expected; some had already seen enough, and the day was so hot and sultry, a storm threatening. (pp. 370-374, ibid)
The violent muscle contractions had set in. Unbearable cramps that traveled from the arms down through the back, belly, legs, the clawing nailed feet, set the victims mad with pain. This was the best time to offer the balm; it stupefied them somewhat, and sometimes hastened their asphyxiation. Which was an act of mercy for everybody; otherwise the thing could go on for hours. They were anxious to get out of here, catch the games at the coliseum, if it didn’t storm—the skies looked threatening.
The writhing, moaning criminals were sucking the sponge greedily and begging for more. Jesus, elevated between them, only shook his head; though his face was contorted and his lips nearly bitten through...He must keep his senses as long as he could. In his own agony he must try to comfort the two who were suffering with him: the thief who was reviling and cursing him for not performing a miracle that would save them all; and the other one, pleading piteously, “Remember me, please remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Jesus must utter such words as he could from his tortured mouth, to help them.
But he couldn’t help himself; he sagged and rose, sagged and rose, strangling, fighting for breath. Fighting to remain conscious. He could not die without seeing Mary once more, and she was coming, she was coming...Through Jesus’ anguish he sensed their approach—his precious mother, with Magdalene, the women he loved above all others except his blessed lost Tamara. And John, the apostle dearest to his heart.
Ben, lying forlornly at the foot of the cross, confirmed it. Suddenly raising his head, he began to bark and darted out to meet them. The soldiers had given up trying to drive him off with the other dogs. Let him stay, he was obviously attached to his master. Let him lie there, head on his paws, grieving. He would keep away the scavengers that were sure to come prowling.
Jesus strove to lift his head as the three figures swam dimly into focus. Though moaning now, he could not greet them, he could only form the shape of their names with his broken lips. He could not gesture: His crossed feet were nailed to the post; huge spikes had been driven through his wrists. He could only hang there helpless, while the blood ran down his arms. He could move only his head and his great, loving, pleading eyes. But the shadow of a smile flickered. And at last, with an effort, he managed to speak:
Mary clutched her aching throat, but her chin was high, as thus at last she beheld him—as she had always known that one day she would: The baby she had borne and suckled at her breast. The beautiful boy she had raised. The youth, beloved of all who knew him, who would be tempted as other men are tempted, that he might be totally one wit man. But overcoming temptation, to walk the earth as shepherd, teacher, prophet, healer. Above all, as the fulfillment of God’s promise—Messiah, Son of God.
Again and again the sword had pierced her heart, or so she had thought. But now that he hung before her, dirty, bruised and beaten, naked except fro the blood scrap that barely covered his loins, pinioned to those stakes like some massive bird that can no longer fly—sagging and rising in order to breathe, to sustain itself—Mary knew the sword had only scratched the surface of her heart: perhaps to test the true depth to which it could finally be plunged. Savagely, blindly, with a pain too intense for tears or sound, she suffered it now. Every lash that had torn his flesh, every blow that struck, every nail that had been driven through gristle and vein, Mary felt them now...she hung on the cross with her son. But for his sake she could not, would not, cry.
Mary nodded. Setting her teeth, summoning all her strength, her own lips smiled faintly back. “I am proud of you,” she cried softly. “Oh, my darling, no mother on earth will ever be prouder of her son.”
Deeply moved, Jesus turned his head to John. “Behold...your...mother!” he panted.
John gripped Mary’s hand. “I will take care of her,” he promised brokenly. “From this day on she will be as my own.”
On a great shudder of love, Jesus became aware of Magdalene who had come forward, and taking the hem of her gown, was wiping the blood from his feet. Her shoulders were shaking, her dark head was bent. There was no basin with which to wash them, but leaning her cheek against them as she had once long ago, she bathed his feet with her tears and kissed them. She looked up then, and stood gazing at him, desolate in her adoration, drinking in the sight of him, the sweet and terrible sight of him. Helpless, bereft, she could only stare at him, while the things she longed to say to him seemed almost to burst her heart. (pp. 378-80, ibid)
Magdalene lay in torment, listening for the first crowing of the cocks. All night, it seemed to her, she had lain thus listening, in the house to which she had returned with the other women.
From time to time she had gone to the window and scanned the skies, praying for the first gray signs of morning. Only then would she dare rise and slip away, back out to the garden. She knew she must go, yet she could never find her way in the dark. She knew only that she must see Jesus once more. Make her way somehow into the place where they had lain him. Untie the napkin from his face and gaze upon him; touch him, anoint his body with the spices and oils there had been so little time for during that frantic and devastating hour when the men—with all those women following, wailing and weeping—had carried his poor tortured body to the grave.
It had all been so rushed, so confusing. What to do about Jesus’ mother? Mary had been unable to stand, once they took her son from her; she could only cling desperately to her sister. John, running up from where they were wrapping the Lord, had told the two to wait; litters were being summoned to take both of them to Ein Karem. He, John, would stay with them and see them safely there.
Magdalene had realized she was no longer needed. She had hurried to join the others; but the precious body was already being wrapped; curious people stood about watching—the soldiers, one or two officials, servants, and all the distraught women. No time to embrace him, to tell him goodbye; too late to say the things she had longed to while there was still time. What had locked her lips? Why hadn’t she had the courage to cry out to him the true depth and breadth of her love while he hung above them on the cross? The presence of his mother—of John?
Magdalene bit her fingers, tormented by frustration and regret. She had been last in the procession. She wanted to be the first to go to him now. Mad as it might seem, she would make her way alone to the garden, and be alone with him at least a few minutes, in tenderness and caring. How she would roll away the stone she didn’t know. Although it occurred to her that by sunrise a gardener might be about and willing to help her. Or one of the guards. There would be guards before the entrance.
Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had spoken of the guards before they left the tomb. Turning to regard the immense wheel now rolled before its door, they had remarked that the place would be safe. Dusk was falling, jackals howling, the awful ordeal of night’s loneliness descending; yet they agreed there would surely be soldiers arriving soon. Pilate, Herod, the high priest—if necessary the whole Sanhedrin—would be sure to send armed men to guard the tomb, lest the body disappear.
“They can’t risk having the apostles break in and steal it,” said Nicodemus. “As they might try—and you know what they’d claim.”
Joseph of Arimethea had snorted. “I wouldn’t worry about that. By now that loyal band of his is probably back home safe in Galilee!” Sardonic, grieving, he motioned to the dog that now lay, head on his paws, before the stone. Joseph’s thick lips quivered. “Jesus has his own guard,” he muttered brokenly, and bent to pet him. ‘Well, Benjamin, you followed him this far. Now stay and guard him well.”
Magdalene was concerned about the dog. She prayed that the guards, exasperated by his stubborn vigil, had not killed him. Or even succeeded in driving him away. She must remember to somehow get him back to Mary. She would carry him, if necessary... (pp. 385-86, Chapter 2
And now for a little while Jesus lived and moved on his beautiful earth again. This body he occupied now as real as the one before, able to feel all he had ever known and enjoyed on earth. But transcendent, moving about without effort, at will.
Three times he appeared to his apostles in the upper room, asking them why they were troubled. Letting them examine his hands and feet, that they might believe and turn their anguish into rejoicing. And when they went briefly back to Galilee, twice he joined them there, eating and drinking with them, even the newly-caught fish broiled over a charcoal fire. And commissioning them to carry on after his departure.
“Feed my sheep,” he told them—Peter especially, over and over. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
He walked beside Cleophas on the road to Emmaus, and broke bread with him, comforting him, and assuring him that he had not failed…And he visited his mother and Elizabeth, holding their hands and telling them many things as they sat together on the roof, with his dog Ben resting against his knee. Loving and praising them—two selfless women whom God honored above all women.
And when the apostles returned to Jerusalem, he instructed them further, opening their minds to an even greater understanding of all that had been written concerning his own birth, death and resurrection. “Stay on in the city, and when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about all this with great effect.”
No longer must he attack the priests and scribes and Pharisees for the cruel and selfish hypocrisy of selling and sacrifice at the Temple: That had been done. Never again would he be on trial for preaching the truth as God’s son: That had been done. No more would he be tortured in prison, or on the cross. That, too, had been accomplished. He had been in hell and risen; he had been with the Father and returned. Soon now he would go back to the Father.
Finally, when forty days had passed, he led them out as far as Bethany—his mother and his two brothers with them, for they, too, had stayed on in the city, and all of them believed. And Cleo, too, was with them, holding fast to Jesus’ dog. And Martha and Mary and Lazarus were there, too, near their house where the little group gathered, and the beautiful Magdalene. And although they had anticipated why they had come, that he was once more going to leave them, their hearts were not sad. Though they were weeping as he bade each of them goodbye and lifted his hands to bless them, they were comforted. For he also promised that within a few days they would have a remarkable experience: The power of the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be his witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the world.
And even as he spoke, in that rich sweet musical voice they would remember forever, Ben began to bark and strain, lifting his head like the others to watch as his master disappeared. For before their eyes Jesus was being lifted up to heaven, and a cloud received them out of their sight.
And behold, two men in white clothing appeared before them, asking, “Why are you gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has just been taken up from you, will come again in the same way as you have watched him depart.”
And they returned to Jerusalem, rejoicing.
Ten days later, during the Feast of Pentecost, they were all assembled at the Temple Mount when suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing wind, filling all the house where they were sitting. And they were filled with the Power of his Holy Spirit, as he had promised! A power that transformed them, molding them, this first small band of followers, into a great army that would move from Jerusalem into all the world, to conquer it, not by the sword but by the victorious news of his kingdom.
And from that day to this, all who love and follow him anxiously await his return. (pp. 395-96, epilogue)
In honor of Good Friday, I think I'll bump this back to the top.
Since the Christmas season is starting, I think I'll bump this thread back up.
And while I'm at it, I'll add this disclaimer:
"Fair Use for Information & Discussion Purposes"
Bump for another Christmas!
Bump in time for Christmas Day!
Bump for another Christmas!
Another Christmas, another bump! =)
Bump in time for Christmas Day!
Bump in time for the Rapture!
Bump for Christmas Eve!
Since this is the Easter weekend, I think I'll bump this one again.
Bump for Christmas!
Now to bump for Easter!
Bump for Christmas 2019! You know, these great books are available on Amazon.
Is this the last Easter that I will bump this thread before the Rapture? We will see!
I've decided to bump this up for Christmas, 2022.