Apart from the crucifixion crowd, a group of women looked on from a distance. Miri stood among them with Mother Mary, Yohanna and Susanna, Martha and Sister Miriam.
Yeshua’s eyes locked with Miri’s. The pain was unbearable. She bit her lip and tears welled up in her eyes. Yeshua’s look softened with love for her, and Miri knew they could never be separated from each other, even now.
Without taking her eyes from his, she reached into her basket and moved forward, pushing into the jeering crowd in front of Yeshua. She confronted an army officer staring curiously up at Yeshua.
“Please,” she asked, “That man is my husband. Can’t you give him something for me?”
The soldier turned slowly, annoyed at the interruption, but as his eyes fell on Miri, he changed almost immediately.
“What do you wish to give him?”
“I can’t stand to see him suffer so, I have some belladonna on this sponge-” Miri pulled the drugged sponge from the basket. “No man should die so slowly,”
The soldier grunted and took the sponge. He soaked the sponge with some cheap wine from his wineskin, and put it on the end of his javelin. Miri gasped, but before she could do anything, he pushed it up to Yeshua’s lips. Yeshua’s mouth closed over the sponge and wine dribbled down his chest as he greedily sucked on the cooling liquid.
His eyes opened in shock as he realized he had again broken his vow as a Nazorite. He stared at Miri in anguish, and she looked away.
The soldier caught the look of panic on Yeshua’s face, and realized something wasn’t right. He turned to Miri, but she had slipped away. He craned his head to see if he could see her, but had to stay where he was; duty required him to see that the prisoners hung until they died.
Yeshua cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, my Power, why have you forsaken me?”
One of the Judeans heard him, but misunderstood his Northern accent, and said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!”
“Well, let’s see if Elijah will come and bring him down from the cross!” replied a companion, and the two men laughed.
Yeshua coughed sporadically and then after taking a large breath, he uttered a loud anguished cry and slumped forward.
“Josephus,” Pilatus grasped Yusef’s hand, “Come sit down”
“Thank you, Pontius. Forgive me, I cannot stay long, because the sun will set soon. I must ask of you a great favour.”
“Name it,” said Pontius expansively.
“I would ask that I could take the body of Yeshua the Nazorite down from the gallows. It is almost the Sabbath, and as is our Law, we must take down the body before sundown of the Sabbath.”
“Ananaius, is this true?” Pilatus asked his Jewish advisor suspiciously.
Ananaius cleared his throat uncomfortably. He looked at Caiaphas for help but received none, not from the young scribe Saul on his left. He had no desire to be seen to be abetting a suspected sympathizer to the Galilean rebels.
“It is true, Procurator-” he began.
“Praefectus!” interrupted Pilatus testliy, “If I were Greek,“ he said in an exasperated tone, “I would be Procurator, but as I am Roman, the correct word is Praefectus!”
Pilatus smiled contentedly.
“The Codex Deuteronimus Twenty-first Chapter, Verse Twenty-two states: ‘If a man has been put to death for a crime and his body is hung on a post, it is not to remain there overnight. It must be buried the same day because a dead body hanging from a post brings a curse on the land. Bury the body deep within a hole in the ground so that you may not defile the land the Lord your God gave you.’”
“Peculiar,” said Pilatus, “Well, Caiaphas, if that is so, I presume that your rabble insists on this custom? Why is it I never heard of this clause of Jewish Law before today?”
“I do not know, Praefectus” answered Caiaphas bowing imperceptibly in deference to Pilatus’s position. Pilatus focused attention on Yusef. the High Priest looked perceptibly relieved to step back into the background. His Pharisaic training had been a godsend in his position as advisor to the Prefect. He knew the delicacies of the Law and was skilled in standing on a fence without falling to one side or the other, but the exercise was always stressful when his decisions literally meant Life or Death, not only for others but himself as well.
“The man is dead?” asked Pilatus incredibly.
“He was weak from the interrogation,” stated Yusef.
Pilatus’s eyes narrowed and he stared intently at Yusef. “Well, I suppose a cross counts as a post” he said huffily, “Very well!”
Pilatus made his decision.
“Horatio!” he called to his lieutenant.
“Your Eminence,” replied the centurion.
“Send a squad of men to Golgotha, and determine if the one called Yeshua the Nazorite is dead, and return here with his body immediately.” Pilatus’s eyes relaxed their stare and he smiled.
“Now, Josephus,” he said, “We have time for a little wine. Imported from Greece. A little bitter, I think, but heated with a little cinnamon and honey, an elixir fit for Bacchus at any rate.”
Horatio left the atrium, and squeezed his massive bulk into the doorway of a small anteroom. A group of Pilatus’s personal guard sat around a low table, immersed in a game of chance, their voices lowered so as not to attract attention. They stood quickly in a clatter of metal and heavy leather.
Horatio’s eyes scanned the sheepish faces. “Who here remembers the Jew, Yeshua the Nazorite from this morning?”
“I do,” said one of the soldiers stepping forward.
“Longinius,” Horatio stated the name in a mildly deprecating tone. “Of course. You will lead a detail to Golgotha and ensure that the criminal Yeshua is dead, then return here with his body before the sun sets.”
“What if he is still alive?” asked Longinius.
“Regardless of what condition he is in when you find him, when you leave Golgotha, he must be dead. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir!” replied Longinius.
Horatio returned to his post at Pilatus’s side. Longinius smiled at his cohorts. “The game is over, citizens, duty calls!” The men tightened the buckles on their swords, checked their daggers and hoisted shields and lances, then taking quick stock of each other they filed into the hallway. The sentry at doorway pulled open the large brass covered door and, shields up, the small group of soldiers ventured out of the citadel into the winding streets of Yerushalayim.
The crowds parted fearfully as the Romans passed. Standing to one side, Eli turned shielding his face with the hood of his cloak. His body shielded Benjamin from the view of the soldiers. He stared grimly at them after they marched by. Eli then shouldered his pack and he and Benjamin followed furtively in the Romans’ footsteps.
Pilatus sat lazily on his divan. “So, Josephus, tell me, what interest do you have in the Galilean apostate? You are acquainted with him?”
Yusef looked down at his fingernails. “He is,” he started slowly, “For wont of a better word, my son-in-law.”
Pilatus snorted into his goblet. “And how did a man of your stature acquire such a son?”
“Miriam is very headstrong,” admitted Yusef, “and I have a fondness for her-”
“Ahh,” replied Pilatus knowingly, “Yes. Now I see. Is this the man she gave away her dowry for?”
Slightly unsteady from the wine, Pilatus grasped Yusef’s knee. He did not notice Yusef’s discomfort. “Well, all’s well that ends well!” he sniggered.
Pilatus sat up and recovered his composure. “He caused me a great deal of consternation today.”
“I heard.” said Yusef.
“If you take him I shall have to provide a guard. I have no wish to create a martyr of this man. The Galileans are a stubborn and will use this against us, I’m sure. I have no wish to create another disturbance over this-” Pilatus groped for a word, “This, incident.” Pilatus looked intensely at Yusef. “Herod Antipas refused to condemn him.”
“Antipas has a great many enemies in the Galilee,” stated Yusef. “Passover is an extremely volatile time of the year. There is a feeling among the people that the Messiah will arrive at the Passover.”
“Messiah, messiah,” repeated Pilatus sarcastically, “There is a Messiah under every rock in this country! Do you know how many Messiahs I have condemned since I arrived here?”
Yusef didn’t answer.
Pilatus took another sip of his wine, but the chalice was empty.
“Wine!” he shouted into the air, “Bring me some more wine!”
“Through here!” Miri whispered. Yohanna and Martha grunted as they helped Miri squeeze Yeshua’s body through the small opening.
“Careful!” Miri and her sisters struggled with Yeshua’s limp form in the narrow passageway. They had to move quickly to revive him.
Martha grimaced. Mixed with Yeshua’s blood, the sweat and tears streaked her face like a tiger’s. They entered a small room cut into the rock, occupied only by two copper oil lamps on bronze stands placed either side of a ledge carved into the wall. They gently laid Yeshua out on the flat altar stone offerings for the dead and quickly unwrapped the robe from the limp form. Miri knelt beside Yeshua, unwrapped her basket and laid the herbs and unguents from the market out on the ledge.
The four women carefully cut the linen wrap from Yeshua’s body with a small ornamental flint dagger, beginning at his thigh. Miri carefully pulled the ragged pieces away from Yeshua’s body. As she uncovered the wound in his side, she stopped. Her lip quivered, and she gently touched the opening. A single drop of blood hung from her index finger, and she touched the fingertip to her lips and kissed it. A tear ran across her cheek and she returned her kiss to the wound with her hand.
She resumed cutting, sawing along Yeshua’s chest to his neck. She pulled open the linen bandages, and placed her ear to his chest. “There’s still time!” she whispered. “Hold his head.” Martha grasped Yeshua’s head between her hands and Miri cut the cloth away from the face. She poured vinegar from a wineskin onto Yeshua’s brow and wiped the blood from his face with her hair. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and tilted her head back. Her breath collapsed in small jerks and she began to cry.
Yohanna glanced up at Martha, then bent to cutting away the bandages stuck to Yeshua’s legs by coagulated blood from his wounds.
Martha reached down to comfort her, but Miri spoke. “I’m all right” she opened her eyes and looked directly at her. “Thank you,” Miri said simply, and then stood up. Martha kissed Miri on the cheek.
Miri lowered her hand and looked down uncertainly, then gathered her robe around her and shivered.
Miri knelt before Yeshua again. As Yohanna carefully washed Yeshua with water from a small earthenware jug, Martha gently loosened the last remnants of cloth from Yeshua’s arms pausing only to wipe the tears from her eyes.
From her basket Miri pulled three terraphim, one, a Babylonian statuette molded in the shape of Ishtar holding a snake in each hand, another formed into the features of the Egyptian diva Nepthet, and the other piece modelled as Queen Au Set nursing her infant son Horus. After kissing the idol of Au Set she placed it to the left of Yeshua’s head. Ishtar, she kissed and placed at the right. Finally, the kiss for Nepthet, who she placed above his head. Susanna took the basket from her, and placed it at her side. And finally, she drew out the curved tube Nicodemus had fashioned for the Opening of the Mouth. She swabbed it with olive oil and menthol, and, taking a deep breath, slipped it into Yeshua’s mouth and with a small turn of her wrist, into his throat. The end clamped between his teeth, and Miri blew into the tube, and Yeshua’s chest rose.
She lifted her head, and Yohanna took her place and placed her lips to Yeshua’s mouth and began to pass her own breath into him.
“Mother of The Earth,” Miri called.
“And Mother of The Sky.” intoned Martha, reading from the scrolls.
Martha took a clay bowl from Yohanna and placed it on Yeshua’s stomach.
“Together, this night we are One.
I call on the One to make us whole.
I call on the One to fuse night to day
I call on the One to bring death to life.”
Martha took a skin bladder from Susanna and held it aloft.
“I call on the One to bring Yeshua to the circle”
Martha lowered the bladder and poured milk from the bladder into the bowl.
“To suckle from the breast of The Great Mother
So that our lives will become the Circle.”
She handed the bladder back to Yohanna.
“Join us, Nephthet, the One who is All.”
Miri then sliced her finger with the dagger. Her blood dripped into the milk. She passed the dagger to Yohanna who sliced her finger quickly and neatly and thrust it over the bowl touching Miri’s own bleeding finger. She passed the knife to Martha, who hesitated.
“Do it!” hissed Yohanna insistently. She glanced at Miri.
Martha drew a deep breath and closed her eyes tightly. She winced as she passed the blade over her finger. Yohanna grabbed Martha’s finger and held is with her own bloody hand. The blood of the three women mixed together and dripped into the small matching cup on Yeshua’s still belly.
“Join us Ishtar, Mother of Heaven” Miri called.
Miri opened the small white vial and Martha sprinkled a pinch of powder into the milk.
“The nipples of the breasts of Au Set have been given to thee”
Martha closed her eyes and lifted the cup with her right hand to her lips and took a deep draft of the contents.
“And thou have taken in thy mouth the breast of thy sister Au Set”, she intoned as she held out the bowl for Yohanna who took a sip.
Martha sipped from the cup and finally Miri and took a sip.
“And the milk flowing from thy mother I pour into thy mouth.” Miri said as Martha poured a small amount of milk between Yeshua’s lips.
Miri leaned over Yeshua and whispered:
“Breathe from the mouth of the Great Mother!”
Her lips closed slowly over his, and she blew firmly into his mouth. His chest rose...
Miri had descended far on The Road of No Return, and stood before the gate tower of The Great City of Cuta, the city of her ancestors. Beneath the gigantic archway in the centre of the tower, the Gates of Aral, carved in the images of the skulls and bones of The Dead, rose above her. Imbedded within the right gate, locked and barred, was The Eye of The Camel. It was through this smaller door that she would have to pass. A thick carpet of dust, undisturbed for centuries lay upon the lintel of the door, and the lock and the bolts thereof.
Miri stepped backwards to analyze the gates for weaknesses, then she shouted, “Open thy Gates, O Keeper, and deny me not, or I shall stretch forth my Hand against thee!
“For if thou neither openest nor givest entrance to Me, I will shatter the door, I will break the lock, and I will destroy the threshold.
“In the Power of my Strength, I shall pass beyond the Door. Then I will loose the bonds of the Dead and they shall rise again upon the Earth to eat and live. And the Realm of Allat shall be destroyed forever!”
From within the darkness behind the door, came the muffled sound of keys jangling and cracked with age, a voice grumbling as it grew louder. A small peephole door materialized at head height, and a nattering, wizened, nearly toothless face peered through the opening, talking as the eyes searched the space before the doorway.
“Who is it, who demands entrance to The Realm of Alla-”
The face froze with a shock of recognition and the small door abruptly slammed shut.
Miri stepped forward.
Miri turned. The Gate Keeper stood in the shadows of the portico. As her gaze fell upon him, he clutched his Keys to his sunken chest in fear. Recovering, the Gate Keeper stepped forward cautiously, using the gnarled and knobbed handle of a large scythe as a walking stick. His hair was sparse and white and the old man’s eyes narrowed with suspicion under his shaggy white eyebrows.
His brow wrinkled in thought, he spoke respectfully as if from fear, but his voice was tinged with the sarcasm and surety of a cat playing with a mouse. “I am Nergal, Keeper of The Gate. There is no need to speak loudly. I see and hear All.’
He smiled a nearly toothless smile, touching his fingers respectfully to his forehead.
“You must be patient, Dear Lady, and refuse not my requests. Suffer me rather to carry your Name to Allat the Queen that I might state Your Business to Her.”
“I am Miriam of Migdol, and I come to claim the life of Yeshua the Nazorite!” replied Miri.
Nergal smiled and rubbed his chin with his bony hand, “You call yourself Miriam of Migdol?” he asked slyly, “Yet I see you as Ishtar, Queen of Heaven. Princess of The Earth and Mother of Man. Daughter of the Moon, She Who -”
“Enough!” commanded Miri impatiently, “I am who I am! You will open the Gate immediately!”
“Perhaps.” Nergal pointed a bony finger at Miri. “Heed my words, Miriam of Migdol, if you have ears to listen! Whether you are mortal or not, I can open this gate only if it be the will of My Mistress, Queen Allat!”
“Then tell her I am here!”
“As you wish,” Nergal replied obsequiously, bowing as he disappeared into the darkness of the portico.
His keys jingled as Nergal hobbled through the inky blackness. He grumbled to himself about the inconvenience of Miri’s appearance. He passed through an archway into a room awash with crimson light. Seated on a throne of skulls sat the white-haired Queen Allat. She was dressed in black robes, embroidered with red and gold. Her nails were long and red, her lips crimson, and her face was as cruel as it was magnificent. She was not amused by Nergal’s appearance for she had witnessed the exchange at the Gates of Aral.
Nergal stood before Allat, and said, “Behold Mistress, Ishtar, thy sister, disguised in mortal form, stands even now at the Gate seeking one which is here. The Great Denial withholds her not, neither has it terrors for her the more.”
Allat growled and cried aloud, “What woe does she bear in her heart against me that she comes here again in her wrath?”
Nergal opened his mouth to answer, but Allat waved him to silence.
“Never mind!” Allat said sharply, “Depart now. Let the Gates be Unlocked before Ishtar, let the Doors be Opened before The Daughter of The Moon. The Princess of the Earth shall enter The House of The Dead. Such is My Will.”
Nergal backed away from his mistress.
“Mistress?” Nergal paused.
“Let Her be dealt with according to The Ancient Commands.”
Nergal smiled at his queen’s guile and departed.
Miri stood waiting impatiently before the First Gate of Aral. From nowhere, Nergal appeared and slipped one of his many keys into the lock of the small door, The Eye of The Camel, and turned it, smiling his toothless smile. He shot back the bolt and grasped the handle with both hands.
“Enter, O Rabat Miriam Ishtar, for now shall the City of Cutha greet thee, the Palace of the Land of No Return shall rejoice in Thy Presence”
Stepping aside, his arms outstretched, he yielded the entrance through the First Gate. Miri had to stoop to pass through. Nergal laid his hand upon her, taking the High Crown from her head.
Miri asked “Nergal, why have you taken the High Crown from my head?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, none may enter with their head covered for their thoughts must be known to Allat. Thus, She may judge their Fate accordingly. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
Nergal yielded the entrance to The Second Gate. As Miri squeezed through opening, Nergal reached out and deftly took the earrings from her ears.
Miri asked “Nergal, why have you taken the earrings from my ears?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, your Earrings are as a sign that you should hear the prayers of Man and give heed to him. Allat has taken them for none but those chosen may reach you here. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
And he yielded the entrance to her through The Third Gate, and placing his hand upon her, took the necklace from her neck
Miri asked “Nergal, why have you taken the Necklace from My Neck?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, your necklace was a sign that you should answer the prayers of Man and bring help to him, but here no prayers can be answered unless they be known to Allat. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
And he yielded the entrance to her through The Fourth Gate, and placing his hand upon her, removed the bodice covering her breast.
Miri asked, “Nergal, why have you taken the ornaments from my breast?”
And Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, none may enter that their heart is covered, as their passions must be known to Allat. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
And he yielded the entrance to her through The Second Gate, and placing his hand upon her, slipped the band of jewels from her waist.
Miri asked “Nergal, why have you taken the Circlet of Gems from my waist?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, The Circlet of Gems are an Emblem of the Mother of The World, a sign of fertility and have no place in The City of The Dead. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
And he yielded the entrance through The Sixth Gate, and placing his hand upon her, took the bracelets from her hands and feet.
Miri asked “Nergal, why have you taken the Bracelets from My Hands and Feet?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, the bracelets were as a sign of The Hand and The Foot that they should reward and chastise, give and deny, but the rewards and the chastisements unused in Life have no place amongst the Dead. Here, only Allat may judge Fate accordingly. Such is the Will of Allat, and even so it is with all who dwell here.”
And he yielded the entrance through The Seventh Gate, and placed his hand upon her, taking the dress from her body.
Miri asked, “Why Nergal, have you taken my garments?”
Nergal answered, “Rabat Miriam, none may enter except as they were born. You brought only your true self to The Upper World, and all that was acquired in The Upper World must remain in The Upper World. So it is with all who dwell here. You may enter, Rabat Miriam Ishtar, for now all the Gates are passed and the will of Allat fulfilled.”
Nergal lifted his arm and pointed. Naked, Miriam stood before Queen Allat enthroned on her chair of skulls.
Allat arose and descended the steps from the throne.
She addressed Miri as she approached, “Well, Ishtar, Daughter of The Moon, why come disguised as a mortal? Behold we are clay and You are as Bronze. We grass cut by the sickle and withered; yet You are a Strong Tree, Forever Green. Yours is the Life of The World, and we are the Dead. Why trouble us, O Queen of Heaven and Mother of Man? Turn back now to Your Home above the Stars!”
Miri answered, “Queen Allat, I am not Ishtar, but Miriam the Magdalene. I come not in anger, but in sorrow. With tears, I search your Realm for lost love. I come to weep for the wife whose husband is left desolate, whose hand is no more upon the cradle. I come for the infant that lifts up her voice, and there is none shall say: ‘Peace now, thy mother hears thee.’
I come to weep for warriors slain in battle whose wives are comfortless, their children fatherless.
I come to let my tears run down for infants untimely perished.
I come to mourn for the only Son who has been taken away before his Time.”
Allat sneered. “So, you seek the one you love! How pathetic! You have lowered your sights, Sister.” Allat turned aside. “Nergal!”
The gatekeeper glided to his mistress’ side.
“Read for Rabat Miriam Ishtar, The Seventh Tablet of The Great Deluge.”
“As You Will, Mistress,” replied Nergal, lifting a clay tablet from a row of twelve. Having placed the tablet on an ancient copper frame designed to hold the tablet, Nergal cleared his throat importantly, making a show of readying to read, focusing and refocusing his eyes on the cuneiform script on the tablet.
Both scrawny hands grasped the edges of the reading stand and he stood as a priest on the altar podium.
“O, that Ishtar might hear me!” He intoned. His voice echoed within the darkness. He continued, and it was obvious that he knew the verses well and recited from memory.
”That to The Land of No Return,
The Land of My Exile, The City of Cutha
She might direct Her Steps.
O Ishtar, seek out the secret ways
And deliver me from Evil!’
Nergal paused until the echoing of his voice died down, relishing the drama.
“And Ishtar,” he continued, “hearkened to the Voice of The Shepherd of The White Sheep of The Stars, and gave heed to the Cry of Tammuz. And The Daughter of The Moon inclined Her Ear, and set forth Her Foot to come down from the High Place among the Thrones; for She said:
“‘I will open My Wings like a bird. I will descend to the House of Corruption, the seat of Irkalla, the Realm of Erishkigal, in the House of The Dead’
“And The Princess of The Earth descended to that place in which Light is not, and in the Darkness of whose Shadows dwell those who are, as birds are, vestured in wings.
“Where hunger is fed on clay, and bitter waters are given to them that are athirst.
“And to that Road did She direct Her Steps, whose way is Dark and whence no man returneth:
“For She would enter the Abode where dwell The Mighty Ones from the Stars who had ruled the world, even those Mighty before whom the Great Gods, Anu and Bel, have bowed the knee and yielded praise, trembling. There Etanna dwells, there dwells Ner, and in the midst of the silence are gathered together the Spirits of The Abyss; with them also dwell the Gods Which Are Past. Before whom do they bow the head and to whom are they subject? Is it not to Allat, The Queen Erishkigal? Her Hand is upon them and there is none dare stand before her face.
But with Ishtar there is no Fear, for She will look upon the Woman of the Desert, the Mother, The Queen. She will lift up Her Head, She will raise Her Eyes, and She will stand in The Presence of Allat that she may behold Her.
The Daughter of The Moon will seek out Tammuz, the husband of Her Youth, to deliver him; for he hath cried to Her from out of the tomb, and besought Her from out of The Darkness, saying:
‘Come now! Lest I perish utterly!’”
Nergal looked up, his gaze directed at Miri.
“Here,” Allat proffered an ornamental goblet to Miri. The liquid within bubbled and frothed from the heat of Allat’s hand. “Drink this, and all will be explained.”
Miri took the goblet and sniffed its rim gingerly, then put it to her lips. The first sip was warm and spicy, and thirst pulled at Miri. She drank it greedily, tilting the goblet back, emptying it rapidly in large gulps. She licked her lips. Allat took the goblet from her and passed it to Nergal, who disappeared with it into the gloom.
Miri faltered as she became slightly dizzy. She lifted her hand to her head, and Allat grasped Miri’s elbow to steady her. As Miri gazed groggily into Allat’s face, slowly Miri’s face reflected a growing enlightenment as she became Ishtar.
“Allat!” she cried in surprise.
“Ishtar!” replied Allat, her eyes gleaming, “Sister!”
Allat stepped back and released her grip on Miri.
“Where now is Your Strength, O Queen?” Allat asked spitefully, “And where now is Your Power? Behold, in my hand is the Evil of The World.” Allat held up the jewels Nergal had removed from Miri as she entered the seven gates to The Underworld. “Your Defenses have departed from you, and the man you seek, you will not find.”
Miri lifted up her Voice and cursed Allat, and said:
“Though I stand before You now, O Allat, darkened and shamed, I shall prevail against you, for it is written that in this Place is reserved to Me a Crown.”
Allat’s face kindled with a fierce fire, then dwindled. “So you say, Sister. But is it also written that I must relinquish it to you?”
“No, but neither can you stand in my way. You have taken the Seven Mei from me, the Seven Powers I have relinquished to you, yet I stand before you unharmed.”
“We shall see.” Allat’s eyes glinted in the Reddened darkness and she cried out to her servant Namtar, The Lord of Pestilence.
In a flash of smoke, fire and brimstone, Namtar, appeared, a reptilian jiin twice the size of a man.
Allat commanded him, “Go, Namtar, take hence this Ishtar, whose Words pierce me as Sharp Thorns. Thou shalt afflict Her with the Malady of The Eyes, and with The Malady of The Heart thou shalt afflict Her. Thou shalt afflict Her also in the Members of Her Body, and Her Beauty shall be departed from Her.”
Namtar turned on Miri and, filled with a pestilent vapour, his breath blasted Ishtar with the force of a winter storm. Miri gasped under the pressure, and was blown back against a rough stone pillar. As she fought against the wind, her skin erupted in boils which broke open and oozed with blood and pus. She moaned and cried out from the pain.
Namtar’s onslaught slackened, and Miri collapsed to the floor, writhing in pain. Allat stood triumphantly over her.
“Now that Ishtar, The Lady, has descended far into the Realm of Allat, She dwells in the midst of Darkness. The Light of Her Presence no longer shines upon the Earth, and the days are become as an Heaviness to it, and dwindle without Her.’
Miri’s struggles slackened, and her eyes closed, as Life drifted away from her. And a voice from afar, reached her ears.
“The cradle shall stand empty in the house and the voice of the child that rejoices in its play will no more be heard in the street. Neither will any lamb be born among the flocks. Rabat Ishtar, has departed, and is no more seen. Love dwells not upon the Earth, and Life renews not.
The Heart of Woman is silent. Man, in his ignorance, says each to his neighbour: ‘Why should we toil and take heed of many things? How should the work of our hands profit us when none coms after? Who shall say: ‘Behold that which our Fathers did was good?’
‘Surely the Gods have forsaken us. They are dead or asleep. Peradventure, the Gods shall fashion a New World, wherein we have neither part nor lot. And now, forsaken by God, shall we light a fire that warms us not, and make a Sweet Sacrifice that is not received?’
They will rest from their Labours, and plowed not the ground to till it and to sow therein; for they shall say to one another: ‘Who is there that shall reap?’”
Miri’s eyes flickered open. She put the palms of her hands to the floor, and rested on her elbows. She could feel Life flowing back through her veins again. She shook the grogginess from her head and fought against the lethargy of the spell of the jiin, Namtar. A light dawned within her, and the boils and pustules inflicted by the breath of the jiin, faded.
Allat gasped and stepped backwards, biting her knuckles in vexation.
Miri gingerly testing her footing, then with the strength of a goddess, planted her feet firmly on the ground, and, whole again, smiled at Allat.
“Sister Allat, do you wish the Universe to become again as it was in The Beginning and You and I Perish? Give heed I pray You and remember why We Live and never Die.
You have done Me a Great Service by summoning a jiin to afflict me. Dear Sister Allat, Namtar is but a magician and his power illusion. Do You forget We Gods are Masters of The Grand Illusion?”
Allat growled impatiently.
“Observe, Sister” said Miri. She raised her arms to the Upper World and cried out, “Out of the Mysterious Depth of Wisdom, I call the Sphynx Uddususanamir, whose name is, being interpreted: “Go-Forth-Let-There-Be-Light’.”
A brilliant white light filled the throne room of Allat. A rush of wind eddied and scurried about the two goddesses, tugging at the robes of Allat and playing with their hair. The Sphynx Uddususanamir fluttered lightly from above. Its form was more lion than any other creature, its wings more gold than any other element, and Uddu shone with the brilliance of the sun reflected upon a mirror. The sparkles of light transformed the gloom of Allat’s throne room into a magnificent glittering green and golden palace. Namtar the jiin, growled at Udusuanamir and leaped suddenly forward. Udususanamir roared, and the jiin was transformed to stone.
Blinded, Allat hid her eyes and cursed.
The sphynx grew in stature as it spoke.
“I am Uddususanamir. A far journey have I undertaken, even to The Land of No Return. The Seven Gates of the Arralu opened before me, and I now stand in the presence of Allat and to Her I have been commanded to speak.’
“Thou hast Thy Kingdom of The Dead, given to Thee, O Allat, and it is no little thing to Thee that Men should Perish. But who shall light the fires, whereby they live, upon the Altars of the Gods, and who shall make the sweet savour of Sacrifice, that Your Soul loves, when the people are not?’
“Therefore it is the will of Humanity, from whom Thou hold Thy Power, that Thou should release The Light Thou holdest in The Darkness, that The Princess of The Earth may again return to Her children. Without Her, they cannot live for none may live that worship Death alone. You are sisters created by the will of Humanity. There can be no Life without Death and no Death without Life. Therefore You are as One. We are as One. None may have Dominion over the Other.’
“Accordingly, Thou shalt relinquish to Ishtar of The Waters of Life, that She may drink The Waters and be made whole.”
Allat beat her breast and tore her robes and raged with a bitter cry, “Depart from me, Uddususanamir, Thou accursed Messenger of The Most High! May the Great Jailer imprison thee! May hunger and thirst persecute thy race! May the filth of the city sewers be thy food, and the turbid waters of the city ditches, thy drink! May Darkness be thy dwelling, and a sharp stake thy seat, O thou servant of an Unjust God!
Return now to the Upper World and tell the people: ‘You have overthrown the Palace of Justice I set up in Our Midst. And shall not scorn, the very bitter scorn of Allat, pursue Those Who make a Kingdom they do not uphold and give it a Law they do not keep? For have they not said: ‘Whosoever enters this place in no wise shall come forth?’
Take heed now they provokest me to Wrath, O Udususanamir, lest I do even as The Woman has said. For what prevents Me to loose My Hand that The Dead I hold therein may return again upon the Earth to make it desolate?
And who then shall light the Sacrifice wherein The Gods delight, and who shall make to Them the burnt offering that Their Souls Love?”
“Enough!” commanded Miri. “You rant at Udususanamir, and fail to see past the illusion. Your power is only by consent of those who worship you!”
Miri waved her hand and Udususanamir disappeared.
In the descending gloom, Allat lowered her arm. Her eyes glowed with hatred at her sister. “Your lies are not welcome here, Sister Ishtar!”
Miri smiled at Allat. “Allat, Sister Erishkigal, you yourself have succumbed to the Greatest Lie of All. Your perception of Yourself has been corrupted by the Power that Humanity has given to you. In many minds you are the Goddess of Death, Queen of The Underworld, but for those who do not believe in you, you have no power. You cannot hold me any more than you can hold anyone who does not hold you in their heart. Because for them You do not exist.’
“Behold!” Miri waved her arm, and Nergal, The Gate Keeper appeared between them, quite perturbed at his sudden incorporation.
“Oh my!” he nattered, “This is most unusual!” He spied Allat. “Mistress, please forgive me, I had no wish to-”
Miri waved her hand again and Nergal became Namtar, who roared menacingly. Miri waved her hand and Nergal stood in the jiin’s place.
“Goodness!” declared Nergal, “This is most peculiar!”
“You see, Sister,” Miri said quietly, “I can command any of Your Servants simply because they consent to My Rule.”
Allat turned on Nergal. “Is this true, you Spineless Worm? Have You betrayed Me also?”
Nergal cowered before the wrath of his Mistress. “I... I would rather not answer that, Rabat”
“What!” Allat was infuriated. “I Command You to Answer Me!” she roared.
Nergal pulled at the cloth around his neck, and looked down at his feet. “It is true, Mistress.” he admitted, “I obey you of my own free will. Had I not chosen to serve you, then Fear alone would not be enough to compel me to do Your Bidding. I serve You out of Love.”
Allat sighed in frustration. She turned on Miri. “Who are You, to come and turn my Realm upside down!”
“Do you not see?” asked Miri, “I am Miriam of Migdol, a Mortal. It is we Mortals who hold the power of Life and Death over The Gods, not the other way around. You are a part of me and can be whatever I want you to be!”
“You can deny me nothing, Allat. I wish to speak to Yeshua The Nazorite, the One You call Tammuz.”
Allat, spoke bitterly to the cringing Nergal, “Let Her Wish be Fulfilled. She shall speak to Tammuz.” She smiled slyly as she turned to face Miri.
“Release now this Ishtar who was given into My Hand since it is the will of Earth to make a mockery of Me and My Laws. Lead Her forth and set Her before the Tammuz that She may give Her Paramour to drink of the Waters of Life, that Her Beauty may comfort Him and He may be made Whole.’
“But first” she added, “Veil the Tablets of Destiny, which are the Keystone of the Arch, for the Wisdom that She brought not hither shall she not take hence. And you shall return to Her moreover the Jewels which I have made to burn with a seven fold radiance.
“Thou shalt cause Her to depart through the First Gate, and shall surrender to Her the Last Veil of Her Body.
“Through the Second Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the Bracelets of Her Hands and Feet.
“Through the Third Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the Circlet of Gems from Her Waist.
“Through the Fourth Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the Sumptuous Ornaments from Her Breast.
“Through the Fifth Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the Necklace from Her Neck.
“Through the Sixth Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the Earrings from Her Ears.
“Through the Seventh Gate thou shalt cause Her to depart, and shall surrender to Her the High Crown from Her Head, and thou shalt say to Her: ‘Return now, O Queen, to the Children of The Earth. But he, for whom Thou came, even Tammuz, departs not again,’
“For behold, he lies in the Right Hand of Allat and beneath Her Foot shall be his Resting Place, and Her Word shall be His Law. As such is the will of Allat fulfilled, and even so it shall be with all who dwell here.”
Nergal bowed, and extended his arm to the right. “This way, Rabat Miriam.” As Miri stepped forward, Allat returned moodily to her throne and seated herself imperiously upon it. As she settled into position, Allat turned to stone.
“Mistress,” spoke Nergal softly. Miri turned and the Gate Keeper held out a heavy black cape. Miri slipped into it gratefully. “It is cold,” Nergal said simply.
Nergal lifted an unlit torch from its place on the wall. It flared and sputtered, then popped into flame, and he held it aloft, “This way, My Lady, it is not far.”
Yeshua’s face betrayed the suffering and pain of disillusion. Blood dripped from his forehead where the cruel crown of thorns had pierced his scalp. His head was slumped forward as if he were sleeping. His eyes fluttered weakly at Miri’s approach.
High on a barren hilltop, he hung from the twisted centuries-old tree, his hands pierced by the iron nails which held him fast to the cross branches. He did not hang as he was crucified: through the wrists; and his legs were not folded up beneath him, but hung straight down, nailed through the foot, not his ankles. Miri stood before the tree, and her eyes filled with tears of compassion.
“Leave us, Nergal,” she said to the Gate Keeper.
Nergal backed away into the darkness.
“Miriam,” Yeshua greeted her.
“Yeshua,” she replied.
The silence of the lonely place came between them, and joined them together.
“I have come for you, Yeshua,” said Miri.
“Dear, sweet Miri,” He smiled weakly. “I love you more than Life itself. You, alone amongst all the others believed in me. You were the only one who had ears to hear all that I said. I have betrayed You.”
“No!” Miri protested, “You have not betrayed me. You followed the Path you had chosen. You were true to yourself, and never once lied to me. What more could one person ask of another? I have always known that you would never be mine Forever.”
“I worshipped you,” Yeshua admitted.
“And I, you.” Miri moved forward and caressed Yeshauh’s feet. Her hands passed over the iron nail, and she winced. “You are not coming back to me.” she said flatly.
“I will come back to you whenever you need me, just as you have always been there for me.” he answered. “But the life I have given has passed. I have done what I can. One day, they will have ears to heed my words.
“Now, I am The Word. No more. No less. It is they who keep me nailed to this cross, and it is they who will call me down.”
“I cannot bear to see you suffer, Yeshua. Please, come with me!”
“I cannot. I am no longer just a man. They have turned me into a god. I am Prometheus. I am Bacchus, and Adonis. And for that I must stay here. If you wish to release me, then you must return alone to the Upper World, and teach them what you have taught me. The Word, Miri. Above all else is the Word.”
“Then Allat was right,” Miri said sadly, “You cannot return with me to the Upper World.”
“No. I am merely a son of God, as we all are, but now, I have been anointed The Son of God. I am God. And so, I must remain Forever nailed to this cross until the People set me free. It is they alone who can bring me down and allow me to join The World again.”
Miri clutched the branches and climbed the tree, so that her body lay along the trunk beside Yeshua.
“I love You, Yeshua,” she whispered, and kissed him deeply.
A hand closed over her shoulder. It was Yohanna.
“It’s too late, Sister!”
Yeshua’s lips were cold and unresisting.
“They have killed him!” she cried.
“We must prepare his body!” whispered Martha.
“No!” said Miri, “If we leave him here, they will revere his bones as if they were the Power incarnate. I could not see a cult center built around his remains! He would not wish such a thing! We have to take him back to Galilee and bury him there!”
Yohanna and Martha looked at each other doubtfully. Neither wanted to lug Yeshua’s corpse through Yerushalayim. Wordlessly the three women prepared Yeshua’s body with spices and wrapped his body in fresh linen. Once they had finished, Miri poked her head from the tomb. There was no one near, and she ducked back inside and the three of them quickly squeezed past the stone rolled halfway across the tomb with Yeshua’s body.
Jezebel, Yohanna’s favourite donkey stood patiently waiting, two large reed baskets balanced on her back. They stuffed Yeshua’s body into one of the baskets. The load was really unbalanced Jezebel staggered under the shift in weight. They gathered stones from the ground and weighed the opposite basket to balance the weight of Yeshua, and closed the pannier lids. With a quick look around, they left the garden and followed the road around the city walls to the North. It was the Sabbath and very little traffic moved about. A group of Greeks laughed loudly from nearby, and an old woman passed them with only a nervous glance in their direction.
“You will have to leave for Galilee right away,” said Yohanna, “before the others find the tomb, for no matter where you hide the corpse, the smell will give you away.”
They rounded the city and descended the Valley toward Gethsemane
The sun rose over the crest of the Mount of Olives, its brilliant rays illuminated the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount and the cries of the priests began to call the first of the faithful to the worship. Fires were lit one by one as the city of Jerusalem began to wake.
As they passed Gethsemane before turning east for Bethany, Miri suddenly clutched at her breast.
“What is it?” asked Martha.
“Look!” said Miri, and pointed at the corpse sitting under the tree before them.
He was sliced wide open, his bowels spilled into his lap. His eyes were open, and the lifeless eyes stared upwards, as if in supplication to the gods. Miri was about to climb over the low stone wall to reach him, when they heard Roman voices. They froze, as a contubernium, a squad of eight men, passed by them. The soldiers noticed Yehudi’s corpse and one threw a stone at it, and it bounced off Yehudi’s head and they laughed and congratulated the marksman on his aim. Others began to throw stones to match their companions feat, and Miri, Yohanna and Martha could not stand to watch and hurried away.
“Poor Rebecca!” whispered Martha, as they turned the corner to the lane up the hill and away from Yerushalayim.
Miri, Yohanna and Martha climbed the west slope of the Mount of Olives in silence, leading Jezebel, carrying their precious cargo on her back. The twilight of the morning faded rapidly.
“We must stop before we reach Bethany,” said Martha. “We will be seen along the way.”
“You’re right,” agreed Miri, “We will have to hide the body until nightfall. But where?”
The women all stared at the graves spread along the Mount of Olives, then at each other. Their eyes lighted upon the tomb that had been Elezar’s resting place.