Shimeon burst into the room without knocking.
“The Master is gone!” he declared excitedly. Finding no one in the ante room he raced up the stairs and shouted from the balcony, “The Master is gone!”
Miri slept with Martha and Sister Miriam. Yohanna had returned home.
“The Master has gone!” he cried as he rushed into their bedroom. The women drew their covers about them, but he was consumed by his discovery. He had gone to the tomb to grieve and sit outside the tomb, but the stone had been rolled away and the body of Yeshua was missing.
“There is only the burial shroud!” he cried.
Eli, already up and about suggested excitedly perhaps he had risen from the dead. “After all,” he explained, “Did he not bring me back from the dead?”
Miri and Martha exchanged glances and they both knew they should keep quiet.
“That doesn’t seem possible,” said Miri, “How could you believe that?”
“Come and see!” said Shimeon, “The stone is rolled away!”
As much as she wanted to say no, she had no wish to be caught in the lie, and she had to go along with the events she had set in motion. As they hurried to the tomb, she fretted terribly about how to extricate herself from the situation. She walked as if in a dream. She knew Yeshua was dead, and as they passed the tomb where his body was hidden, as much as she wished she could avoid staring at the sepulchre, she could not.
“What are you looking at?” asked Eleazar.
Miri snapped quickly back to the path. “Nothing!” she said quietly, “Nothing at all!”
They reached Yusef’s tomb. Matitahu and Yohannes had already arrived and they stood outside the tomb, staring in. “He has gone!” said Yohannes excitedly, and Shimeon pushed past them and entered the tomb. He did not come back out and Yohannes looked in after him.
“Shimeon!” he called.
Shimeon sat forlornly on the ledge inside the tomb, holding the rags of Yeshua’s shroud, stained with blood from Yeshua’s wounds
“He is gone!” whispered Shimeon.
As they all sat about the garden, Miri wandered under a tree and standing there, was Yeshua.
“Miriam!” he said simply and held out his arms.
She froze to the spot. He was untouched by his crucifixion.
“Miriam!” he said again, “Don’t you recognize me?”
He smiled and shook his head.
“No,” he replied, It’s me! Yehuda!”
Miri’s knees suddenly gave out and she sank to the ground, but Yehuda caught her just before her knees. He lifted her up and walked her to a low stone wall, set her down and sat beside her.
“You can’t be here!” she said, “You will be mistaken for Yeshua!”
“I can tell them I’m his brother!” said Yehudi, “Mother Mary will vouch for it!”
“No one will believe you!”
“Why not, for Heaven’s sakes?” he asked.
She explained to Yehuda about them removing the body of Yeshua, and he suggested they simply tell everyone, but she ssaid she couldn’t do that because the followers of the Way would take the bones away from her. Yehuda knew his brother well enough to know she was right.
“Has anyone else seen you?” asked Miri.
“I spoke with a couple of Galileans near Emmaus,” said Yehuda, “on my way back from the coast, and they said that I looked like Yeshua, but that I couldn’t be as he had been crucified! I came here as quickly as possible!”
Yehuda’s eyes clouded.
“They say you and he are married!”
Miri cast her eyes down.
“Yes!” she said, but did not look up.
He placed his hand upon her shoulder.
“It’s alright!” he said softly, “I knew you would like him!”
She looked up. Yehuda was smiling.
“We need to get away from here!” he said.
“I’m so sorry, Yehuda!” said Miri, “It seems I am always putting you in harm’s way!”
“Where is the rest of the family?”
Miri shook her head. “I have no idea,” I think they may have fled to Galilee!”
“Then we shall go there and decide upon a plan!” said Yeshua.
“Do you know the town of Bethany?” asked Miri.
“A little,” said Yehuda, “I have been through there as a child.”
“My nephew has a house there! I will meet you there at sundown! We can pick up Yeshua after dark and head up through Samaria. It is governed by the Romans, and they will not think it strange for us to be carrying a corpse. They have no idea of our customs and it will be easier for us to deceive them. Meet me below the Lion’s Gate, at sunset, and I will bring a donkey down to carry Yeshua, and we will take him away to Galilee!”
“Yeshua!” Shimeon’s booming voice rang through the garden and everyone around him froze. Yehuda was at a loss for he did not know Shimeon. The great fisherman rushed and lifted Yehuda off his feet in a huge hug.
“It’s a miracle!” cried Shimeon, “I shall never leave you again!”
Yehuda and Miri exchanged glances. It was time for quick thinking.
“You cannot tell anyone of this!” said Yehuda.
“Why not?” asked Shimeon.
“I- I have to leave!” said Yehuda, “I have no time to explain, but I must return to my father!”
“In Heaven?” asked Shimeon.
“In Heaven!” declared Yehuda.
“But can’t I tell the Twelve?” asked Shimeon.
“No one!” commanded Yehuda.
Eleazar and Matiyahu stood aside and stared at Yehuda skeptically.
“You have no wounds!” said Matiyahu.
Yehuda was not sure of how to respond.
“Your arms!” said Eleazar, “They’re healed!” He grasped Yehuda by the wrists and turned his hands over., then touched Yehuda’s temple where he had seen a crown of thorns on Yeshua. “It’s a miracle!” he whispered, “You have returned from the dead!”
There was no keeping his return secret. The word that Yeshua had returned from the dead spread like wildfire through the Pesach Pilgrims. Mother Mary had returned to Galilee with the young Yusef, and Yakov and Yahn had fled to the Hiljah Ford with Adam. The only person who could identify Yehuda was Rebecca. She had steadfastly refused to leave until she had buried Yehudi. Martha had told Rebecca of seeing his body, but had actually embellished the story of the soldiers stoning Yehudi by setting their action pre rather than post mortem. Miri reacted to events unfolding around her as a leaf reacts to the autumn wind. She held on to the Tree as long as she could, but the force of the winds of change raged tugged at her.
She heard another person had said they had seen Yehudi hanging from the tree near Gethsemane and the rumour that he had hung himself persisted. But more than any other event, Yehuda’s sudden appearance had created a stir, and a great crowd gathered during the day in Bethany to witness yet another resurrection at the House of Eleazar.
It did not take long for the new to reach the ears of Antipas, and he was thrown into a terror he had never imagined possible.
“He will not die!” he cried out as he drained his wine. He had been drinking heavily since her heard the Galilean was alive!
“I have beheaded the monster! I have hung him from a cross and the Romans jammed a javelin into his ribs, and still he lives!”
“It’s the woman they call the Magdalene behind it!” said Herodias, “She is the one behind all this!”
“Aretas!” said Antipas suddenly, using Haritar’s Romanized name, “She is his agent here! He has hired a witch to haunt me!” He smashed his fist into his open palm.
“I will kill her!” he roared, “I will hunt them down and chop them into tiny little pieces and feed them to the fishes!”
He and Herodias immediately drew up plans to seize the Magdalene and her paramour. In the heat of their passion and lust for revenge, they at last found they had more in common than either imagined, and as they had to clear their hunt with Pilatus, they soon formed an unholy alliance and the three of them became fast friends. Pilatus released a full cohort to aid Antipas, and insisted upon leading them against the Nazoreans alongside Antipas, for he suddenly was seized by the notion a greater glory would befall them both, and carried away by the same passion, Herodias insisted upon being there when the Magdalene was brought before the court for treason.
And so, as Yehuda, Miri and Martha saddled up their donkeys, Yohanna arrived breathlessly to tell them Yusef had told her the troops were on the way to arrest them. A full cohort left Antonia, and Yehuda and Miri watched them emerge from the castle from the top of the Mount of Olives, and then swiftly set their faces to the East. Such was the faith of the people, their way was impeded by pilgrims who sought Yehuda out, thinking he was Yeshua the Messiah. There were many Greeks in the crowd and for the first time Miri could hear the cry of “Hosanna” and “Christus” upon a thousand lips.
Thankfully, the throng also delayed the soldiers, and delayed them more effectively, and Miri and Yehuda made their escape, and then turned back, and passed into Samaria. Because not many Jews traveled through the land of the Samaritans, they managed to give themselves almost a complete day’s head start, as the scouts for the cohort behind them passed the junction up through the hills from the Jordan Valley, and continued North. Unfortunately, Yehuda was not used to being a fugitive, and liked to stop and speak with passersby. He was, in many ways just like his brother. They shared the same sense of humour. He acted exactly as Yeshua, and unfortunately, there were some along the way who thought he was indeed Yeshua, and many asked for his blessing, and he was adverse to giving it. He often told them they had no need of his blessing, and should ask God instead. This only served to fuel the belief he was Yeshua. The news that he had been crucified had not yet reached the countryside, but the soldiers pursuing them still had a clear trail to follow, and they enlisted the young Saul and a number of Templars to act as their bloodhounds. Finally just south of Mount Gerizim, they came into sight of Miri, Martha and Yehuda. Fortunately, it was easier for the three fugitives to spot a full cohort, than the army to ferret out three travelers amongst the thousands of Pesach pilgrims. The trail was even harder due to the fact it was a Sabbatical Year, and the fields lay fallow and the farmhands, for most part, sat idle.
They sought out the old cave in which Martha and Miri had hidden after David became an outlaw. They had arranged to wait there as long as they could so that Yohanna could get word to them. With both Yusef And Chuza as spies within Antipas’ court, they stood a good chance of staying one step ahead of their pursuers. Although they were in hiding, it was difficult to persuade Yehuda to remain inside the cave. He constantly sat at the edge of the opening and if neither Miri nor Martha reminded him, he would gradually push the boundary further beyond the entrance than was prudent. However, he was fascinated by the mountain, and whether because of his desire, or the Hand of God, an elderly Samaritan shepherd happened upon the three, and he mistook Yehuda as Yeshua, for he had seen Yeshua preach in the Galilee. He waved to Yehuda.
“Hello! Hello, my friend!” he called out, and scrambled to Yehuda. “I am so glad you have come to the mountain! It is a great day for us all!”
“I am not who you think I am,” replied Yehuda, looking about for others.
The shepherd spied Miri who had been drawn out by his greeting.
“Splendid!” he said excitedly, “I had not expected to find here you and your wife!”
“She is not-“ began Yehuda, but the man’s excitement caused him to keep speaking without hearing Yehuda’s protest.
“Tomorrow is the day foretold that the Taheb is to reveal the secret hiding place of the sacred vessels of Moses! The secret chalice used by the Holy Prophet, himself, may Peace be upon Him!”
“The secret chalice?” asked Yehuda.
“They say it holds the Power of Life and resurrection and whosoever drinks of it shall be brought into Everlasting Life! It was used for the ceremonial sacraments of the Prophet Moses, Peace be upon Him! There is a man, here Simon who has predicted that a son of Yusef shall appear on Gerizim and reveal the chalice as well as the standard of the snakes of Moses!”
“But wasn’t it melted down by Hezekiah?” asked Yehuda, his studies coming back to him. It was strange how quickly his mind adjusted to his home country after so long in the lands of pagans, though as he thought of it, he realized his own upbringing was in the heart of the land of heretical teachings.
“Hah!” said the shepherd, “That is what the Templars in Yerushalayim would have you believe, but the healing staff of Moses is buried here! In Gerizim!”
“And the chalice will be revealed here? How do you know?”
“The stars have declared the day is nigh! Now that I have seen you here, I know it must be true! I have heard you have already raised the dead in Bethany! Who else could find the chalice? You are the Taheb!”
“I am not he!” said Yehuda, desperately.
“It is written that you shall deny the fact thrice, but that the Power will descend upon him after the third denial! Already you have denied it!”
“I am not he!” insisted Yehuda.
“Twice!” shouted the man triumphantly.
“Thrice!” The shepherd could no longer contain himself and he excitedly ran away down the hill toward Sychar.
“We’re in trouble!” murmured Miri.
“I told him I wasn’t the Taheb!” said Yeshua.
“Thrice!” said Miri. “And you fulfilled the prophecy! We shall have to move! There will be many coming back, once he spreads the word!”
They turned their back to the afternoon sun, and entered the larger cavern where Martha was baking barley loaves.
“We have to leave!” said Miri, gathering up her belongings.
“I’m not finished the bread!” protested Martha, “Can we at least wait until they’ve finished baking?”
Miri glanced down at the flat loaves on the baking stone over the fire. “They’re almost done!” she said, “We can pack as they’re cooking!”
And so they set to packing their goods. Yeshua’s body was still wrapped in its bandages, but she was sure it was decaying already. The smell of death was strong in the cave. Martha fretted about liquid pouring from the body, but so far none had become apparent. Because he was inside the basket, they had no need to touch him, but they had no appetite for the loaves after the loading, and Miri stashed them in her own pack. They were about to leave, when they heard voices!
Miri ran to the mouth of the cave. It slanted on an angle that was almost parallel to the mountain slope and was hidden from below. However, Miri could see the approaching crowd. It was not Samaritans, but the advance party of the Roman cohort, led by the priest Saul. They were trapped!
She rushed back to her companions.
“We have to hide!” she cried as she ran towards them. “Back into the cave!” she cried and grasped Jezebel’s reins, and tugged the poor donkey sharply. She complained loudly, and reflexively Miri smacked her on the nose! She brayed again, her voice echoing loudly inside the cave.
“Mother preserve us!” wailed Martha and gave Jezebel a shove. The donkey moved forward and they hurried into the darkness at the back of the cave, not knowing how deep it ran. Without a torch, the way was dangerous, and Miri’s stomach turned with every step, for she knew that at any moment, she could tumble into a bottomless pit, and her friends follow her into it. She kept her right hand against the wall to guide her and the others followed, keeping their hands firmly placed on Jezebel’s rump.
Behind them the voices of the Templars, suddenly echoed through the cave, and they pressed on, knowing their pursuers were only a hundred steps behind. Thank fully, the darkness kept Saul and the others from probing deeper into the cave. The party had to stop, for they had brought neither lamps nor torches with them, and as Miri and her friends hurried deeper into the cave, the voices, though always present became fainter and fainter. Once they realized they were no longer being pursued, they slowed their pace and finally stopped. The passageway had narrowed, and the baskets on Jezebel’s back now scraped the walls on both sides of the passageway.
“Now what?” asked Martha.
“We find another way out!” said Miri, but her words rang hollow, and she was overcome by a deep depression. She could smell Yeshua rotting through the aroma of the herbs and she began to sob. “We are lost!” she whispered, “We are lost!”
Saul had problems of his own. He and his party had outpaced the Roman cohort. He placed a watch at the entrance of the cave, but was unable to return to the Roman contingent, as below him, Samaritans were beginning to congregate at the foot of the mountain and were climbing toward him. He knew it would not be a safe place to be found, for the animosity between the Templars and the Samaritans would ensure he and his party would be attacked by the crowd. They would have to withdraw. He swore for it seemed that God was working against him that day.
The advancing Samaritans spotted the priestly group, and immediately a cry went up and the hunters became the hunted. Saul and his men scrambled up Gerizim as quickly as they could, abandoning their weapons and gear in favour of making a quicker exit. Luckily for Saul, the Samaritan’s need to find the Taheb was greater than their thirst for blood.
Deep within Gerizim, Martha, Miri and Yehuda slowly pushed deeper into the cave. They lost track of the direction in which they were travelling and there was little to tell them whether they were travelling higher or deeper. The passage was still wide enough for Jezebel to pass with the baskets on her back, but Miri had no energy to keep moving. Yehuda took the lead, and Martha placed herself firmly behind her, and her hands on Miri’s back propelled her forward. Miri felt empty, and her heart seemed to have been carved out with a shovel. The pain beneath her breast seemed almost unbeNabateanle, and her limbs ached terribly. The ceiling dropped, and they were forced to walk stooped over, and her back ached terribly from the effort of walking bent over. Then suddenly the ceiling disappeared and the walls fell away. No matter which direction she groped, nothing interfered with her movement.
“Stop!” she called out, “Can we please stop?”
Everyone came to a halt. Miri rested her face upon Jezebel’s rump. “I can’t go on!” she whispered. She thought she could see her companions, but it was so dark, she had lost track of whether her eyes were open or closed. Martha’s hand supported her, and Yehuda felt his way down Jezebel to her. In his attempt to avoid touching the basket holding Yeshua, he lost contact with the others, and he called out. Noth Miri and Martha called out to him, but the echoes reflecting from the cave walls, made it extremely difficult to find each other. They groped about for an interminably tense few moments that seemed to last a lifetime, and they all felt the panic rising until they regained contact. They removed some of the rope bound to Jezebel to connect themselves together.
“Nobody’s coming!” whispered Martha, “Perhaps we should rest!” She reached out to stroke Miri’s hair, but poked Miri in the eye instead.
Miri cried out in surprise.
“It was an accident!” apologized Martha.
“What happened?” asked Yeshua.
“Martha poked me in the eye!”
“It was an accident!” repeated Martha more emphatically.
They fell silent.
“So, do you think the chalice is in here somewhere?” asked Yehuda.
“You’re probably sitting right next to it!” said Martha.
“Where do you think everyone went?” asked Miri plaintively.
“Home,” said Yehuda, “Eventually! So, what was all that about the Taheb?”
“You don’t know?” asked Miri.
“Just what I heard from my childhood!” replied Yehuda, “But, no. Like everyone, I’ve heard of the Samaritans, but I don’t really know who they are. They’re an offshoot of Judaism.”
“That’s it?” asked Miri.
“Well, first of all, they’re not an offshoot! They were among the hill tribes that remained after the Assyrians emptied the cities of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and took the citizens into exile. In those days, they still had the high places, and they worshipped Yahweh in those places, including Gerizim by Shechem.
They hold similar beliefs to the rest of Israel, but they are guided by several basic articles of faith. One, God is unique and exists beyond the limits of time, space, and the material world. Two, Moses is the one true prophet of God. Three, the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, are the only inspired word of God, and all other books are fabrications of men! Four, Mount Gerizim at Shechem is the true Sacred Mountain of God, and it is here that Avrahim, Yakov, Yusef and Yehoshua all spoke with Yahweh, but though they speak of the Patriarchs, there is only one prophet, Moses Ben Omran, and he has given us one holy script, the Torah, the five books of Moses, and finally, that there shall be a Judgement Day, a final day of reward and punishment. That day shall come. at the end of time when the Taheb, a prophet like Moses descended from Yusef, shall appear at the one true holy place, here on Mount Gerizim!”
“And that shepherd thought I was the Taheb?” asked Yehuda in surprise.
“He thought you were Yeshua,” said Miri, “Even when I met him here, there were whisperings he was the Tahedb. The shepherd was not alone in thinking Yeshua was the Messiah.”
“I wish I had arrived before he…” Yehuda didn’t finish his sentence. “I only remember him as a brother!”
The silence closed in on them.
“They hold funerals on this mountain,” said Martha, “When I was a girl, I watched them carry a man to the top of the mountain.”
Yehuda shivered, “Do they bury their dead?”
Martha shrugged, though no one could see her. “I didn’t see that part!” she said.
Slowly, their conversation dwindled, and they drifted fitfully into sleep.
Miri awoke, but she was not completely sure of her wakefulness, for it was so dark, but there was a light shining in the distance. She suddenly became alert.
“Wake up!” she cried to the others, and as soon as they awoke, they too saw the light. They immediately scrambled to their feet and hurried toward the light. It as at the end of a very long passageway that was remarkably straight, though as they traversed it, it twisted a little here and there, but the light ahead grew stronger. Finally, they could feel a change in the air, the mustiness slowly was replaced by the smell of pastures, and they burst into a field. The morning sun greeted them, and the rays of the rising sin had shone directly into the cavern. However, as it rose, by the time they exited, the interior of the cave was once again dark.
They were free!
They quickly untied each other, and descended to the road below. As they headed north, they were taken up by a crush of people headed for Gerizim, and as they walked with the crowds, they realized the people were cutting across the fields and gathering about the cave in which they had been trapped by Saul.
“What’s happening?” Yehuda asked a man beside him.
“The Taheb!” gushed the man, pointing at the cave, “The Taheb will appear in the cave with the chalice of Moses!”
Martha, Miri and Yehuda exchanged unbelieving glances, and Yehuda covered his head with the hood of his cloak. Thankful Yehuda was beginning to understand the outlaw life, Miri, likewise, covered her head with her shawl, and Martha followed suit. People all around sang songs of joy and praise and men, women and children were calling out to Yahweh to send out the Taheb, but a sudden wave of concern swept through the crowd, as the Roman army appeared on the crest of the hill to the South. Saul and the legions were arrayed in full armour and advanced upon the crowd with determined purpose.
“Run!” whispered Miri and pushed Yehuda ahead of her. As Miri and her companions broke into a run, others nearby were drawn after them, and soon there was headlong panic. Screams arose and almost as if the cries for help were a signal, the army from Sepphoris appeared on the slopes to the North. They were trapped! The crowd swung downward toward the wadi below. A sudden flight of arrows whistled into the air and many looked up in horror as the angry cloud of missiles arced above their heads and then descended in a terrible rain upon the unarmed Samaritans. The screams now were of dead and dying, and another volley followed quickly upon the wings of the first. Escaping was now a matter of life or death for everyone around them. The arrows were taking out people indiscriminately, and the random nature of the death and havoc they wreaked imbued each and every person below them to greater heights of fear or greater depths of despair. Some dropped to their knees, some raised their hands to the sky, and others crashed through the crowd with no thought to others, but no matter their response, hundreds were impaled by the deadly rain of arrows.
Amidst the tangle of arms, legs and bodies blood seemed to hang in the air like a mist. With a mighty shout, the armies to the North and South clashed their shields, and with a deliberate step began their advance. Within moments they had closed on the edges of the crowd, and began to cut and chop up the crowd before them. Terror seemed to shut out the sun. Near the cave mouth, the priests gathered there called on the Taheb and Yahweh to protect the faithful, but it was apparent the troops were moving to cut the leaders of the movement away from the followers, and both arms of the Roman pincer, cut down men, women and children in their path, and closed in on the priests. Suddenly cavalry flanked the troops and swept down upon the fleeing masses, trampling horrified people before them. In the crush, Yehuda lost his grip on Jezebel and the poor donkey, as panicked as the people around her, bolted. Miri screamed, but Jezebel was out of her reach. Martha, was almost incapacitated, for all her life, she had remained as close to the hearth as she possibly could, and the carnage was more than she could bear. She grasped at Yehuda, who pulled her forward, and they tried desperately to follow Jezebel, but they were swept aling a different path. Though, in trying to follow Jezebel, they did manage to free themselves of the crowd. They fled amongst the scattered trees along the wadi, but Jezebel, with her baskets bouncing madly, had already risen above the melee and disappeared over the ridge to Mount Horeb.
“We have to catch her!” cried Miri, and they hurried after the wayward donkey, but never again caught sight of her. She had gone! They spent most of the day searching for her, but it soon became apparent the Romans were beginning a coordinated search for them, and after a night of arguing they decided they would search for the next day, but they could not fulfil their plan. As they sat eating a meager breakfast of the loaves Martha had cooked, a line of soldiers walking several cubits apart but abreast, was advancing toward them. They slipped away silently along a narrow wadi, and moved northwest toward Nazareth.
Miri could not help but search constantly for a sign of Jezebel. But it was to no avail. She wished she could die. She was tired of struggling. A dark cloud passed over her, but for a brief moment, she felt a twinkle of light. A sparkle twinkled in her mind as the reflection on a distant wave. She frowned as it disappeared, but for some reason, she had enough energy to continue toward Nazareth. Yehuda insisted they turn toward Bait Lehem, his old birthplace. It was a fortuitous move. As he led them to his old family home, sitting in front of the house in the morning sun, sat Mother Mary.
She turned toward them and covered her eyes with her hands. Though she didn’t smile, she was relieved at the sight of them.
“Yehuda!” she said, “Better late than never!”
“Mother!” said Yehuda in response, “It’s good to see you!”
Miri was puzzled by the restraint from both Mary and Yehuda, but she knew Mother Mary was not the most affectionate of people.
“Miriam!” said Mother Mary in acknowledgment. Then: “Martha!”
“Mariamne,” replied Martha, who had a streak of stubbornness in her that was more than a match for Mother Mary’s imperious aloofness.
“Where is Yeshua?” asked Mother Mary.
“We lost him!” admitted Yehuda.
The corners of Mother Mary’s eyes and mouth flinched, but she said nothing.
“I shall prepare a meal for you!” she announced. She stood up and disappeared into the house without inviting the others inside. Yehuda motioned toward the bench that Mother Mary had occupied and the three of them sat upon it to await Mother Mary’s invitation to enter her house. While they were waiting, Yusef appeared on his way back from the well. He immediately dropped the jar he was carrying and ran toward Yehuda.
“Yeshua!” he cried and ran to his brother. They embraced, and when they finally broke from their hug, Yehuda told Yusef he was Yehuda and not Yeshua. Yusef was obviously disappointed for had believed his brother had been reincarnated, but he recovered quickly, and hugged Yehuda again. “A lost brother is always welcome!” he said. “I must return to the well, and fetch the water I have spilled!”
Yehuda slipped an arm about his younger brother. “I shall walk with you!” he said happily.
“He looks and acts so much like Yeshua!” said Martha, “It is so strange you met him in Hindustan!”
“Yes,” agreed Miri. Martha’s comment had struck a chord. She wondered at the vagaries of the Fates, and her heart ached. The picture of Yeshua squeezed into the basket on Jezebel’s back brought tears to her eyes. “Please bring him back!” she asked the Great mother aloud. Martha closed her hand over Miri’s.
The village was abuzz with the news of Yehuda’s return, but there was disagreement between them as to which of the twin boys was really in their midst. For some reason, Mother Mary would not affirm or deny either name. The night was extremely hot, and after eating, the family retired to the roof, and sat quietly as the sun set.
‘You are still a mason, Yehuda?” asked Mother Mary.
“Yes, I am.” Replied Yehuda.
“That is good!” declared Mother Mary, “Be sure to stay that way!” She turned to Miri. “And you, what will you do?”
Miri could not reply.
“You are welcome to remain here!” said Mother Mary, and Yehuda raised his eyebrows. Mother Mary caught his look. “You have a problem with that, Mister Prodigal?”
Yehuda shrugged. “Of course not!” he replied.
“And you too,” she said to Martha. “Zebedee would not leave his nets! I have disowned him!”
“Disowned?” asked Miri.
“There is no honour in divorce!” said Mother Mary, “and under the Law, I am not allowed to divorce my husband, only he, me!”
“But he loves you!” said Miri, “More than life itself!”
“Yet he will not leave his nets! Well, it is time for bed!” she announced, and everyone knew it was a command, not a suggestion. No one was adverse to bedding down, as they were all very tired and there was refuge in the velvet darkness of sleep.
They only had two days respite.
Hoofbeats thundered into the village. Rebecca leapt from her horse, and Simon Zelotes and a band of men reined up behind her.
“The Romans are coming!” she said, “There is a priest with them asking questions about Yeshua and the Magdalene!”
Miri was already packed. She had spent enough time as a fugitive to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.
An old villager wheezed up to them. “We don’t want any trouble here!” he said, but he was not confident of his authority with the militants. Rebecca put her hands on her hips.
“You must all leave!” she told the man, “They will raze the village to find Yeshua! You are all in danger!”
“They would not…” began the man, but in the same breath he realized the Romans were ruthless and efficient, and they would indeed raze the walls of the village to dig out the terrorists.
“Quickly!” commanded Rebecca. Her companions dismounted and went house to house to evacuate the inhabitants. They herded women and children from the houses, and villagers and zealots quickly dispersed into the hills, and the women, armed with brooms, wept the trail clean behind them. Hidden in the hills, they waited.
A century of the Roman army was not far behind, and the legionaries ransacked the empty village, turning over pots and throwing out baggage. They lit blankets from the ovens still cooking the mid day meals, and torched the village
The old village elder shook his head sadly. “Nothing changes!” he said sadly, “A new Herod, a new army, but it is always the poor who are crushed beneath their heels!”
. The centurion in charge of the century stood in the town square conferring with Saul. Their eyes scanned the hills around the village, but though they saw none of the villagers watching from the hillside, they knew they were there.
“Who is that man?” asked Yehudi.
“Saul of Tarsus!” whispered Rebecca, “He has sworn to kill us all!”
Rebecca stared for a moment at her brother.
“Yehuda?” she asked, suddenly recognizing him. “I thought you were Yeshua!”
He smiled apologetically.
His sister wrapped her arms about him and hugged him tightly. “I thought you were dead!”
“Yeshua is dead!” said Miri. “We lost him on Gerizim!”
“It’s a long story,” said Miri.
“We have to leave!” said Rebecca, “Simon says that Pilatus executed their priests, and the Samaritans have elected to send an envoy to complain to Vitellius in Damascus, as he is the governor of Syria and Pilate's superior, but more importantly, has no love for Pilatus. They have accused him of corruption, violence, robbery, torture, continuous executions without trial, and an endless litany of intolerable cruelties. If Vitellius deposes Pilatus, we can gain a pardon, but we must flee to Damascus! Neither Pilatus nor Antipas can touch us there, and if Vitellius removes Pilatus, we can petition for a pardon for the Nazoreans!”
“You’re going to Damascus?” asked Mother Mary, “and how will I survive?”
“You’re going with us!” said Rebecca.
“I am not!” said Mother Mary.
“Yes you are!” said everyone at once.
Saul picked up their trail at Kefar Nahum. He dismissed the fisherman Shimeon as a man ignores a dog, and determined to chase his quarry down no matter where the trail led. He spoke with the husband of Yeshua’s mother, but could obtain no information from him, but a neighbour pointed the way to Damascus. The Centurion refused to carry on the chase any further.
“My jurisdiction extends only as far as Bethany!” he said, “and Kefar Nahum is the last post in Galilee, that my legion patrols! If you are hunting down this terrorist, you must do so on your own!”
“The whole family is involved!” said Saul, “Each and every one of them is a known terrorist and they seek to tear down the Temple!”
“Well, that’s your problem!” said the Centurion. “I’ll escort you and your own men as far as Bethany! Panias is Phillip’s tetrarchy!”
“Phillip is dead!” said Saul irritatedly.
“So I have heard,” replied the Centurion dryly, “And his brother and his wife are co-regents pending the appeal to Rome! Already we are on shaky ground carrying on in Antipas’ territory! He is supposed to be in command of this area, and our presence here won’t get any of us an invitation to the Emperor’s dinner!”
“You are here on his request!” said Saul, “I am sure Vitellius would not object to Romans entering his country!”
“He is very big on protocol,” replied the soldier, “Good luck!”
With that the centurion turned and walked away. He motioned to his Century to move out, and they wheeled about and headed back down the road to Sepphoris.
Damascus was a loud and busy city. Martha and Mother Mary tended to clump together as a defense against the loud pagan city. Yusef followed a respectful distance behind his mother with Yehuda and Miri and Rebecca led the others. Though it was no more crowded than Yerushalayim, Damascus did not have the aura of a scared city. Here, gold and commerce reigned supreme, and the marketplace was the temple wherein most people worshipped. Bargains were hawked from every direction. Rebecca led their family through the narrow streets, and searched for the Jewish Quarter, for that is where they knew they could find shelter. Finally, they reached the synagogue, and there they asked for Ananaias, a Nazorean follower of Yeshua.
Ananaias was overwhelmed when he saw Yehuda, for he was immediately convinced that Yehuda was actually Yeshua. He immediately called other to have Yehuda lay his hands upon them and bless them, but Yehuda instead told them that they should ask God for their blessing and not he, but the disciples there, unheeding, grasped his hands and placed them on their heads themselves and he gave up withholding his touch. Such was their faith, many claimed to be healed of their ailments. Yehuda was amazed by the changes he saw in them, and spoke in wonder of it to Miri.
She simply shrugged for she had seen it before, and took it for granted that Faith had the power to heal. They spent three days exploring the city, and Miri and Rebecca visited the Grand Suk, the great forum and marketplace of Damascus. They loved the hustle and bustle, and had enough coins to buy food there. Martha fretted until she had managed to insert herself into the household of Ananaias, and enforce her utility in their domestic affairs. But the numbers that wanted to see the Messiah increased. Yehuda did not have Yeshua’s gift, and he was not happy in his role as his brother. They retired to the roof.
“We have to leave!” he said, “I cannot be Yeshua! This is terrible! I left to separate myself from Yeshua, and now I come back, I am cast exactly as he was, not just like him, but as him! I can’t be Yeshua! They want me to preach to them!” he said in horror, “I am no prophet!”
“Give it a try!” prodded Rebecca, “I could use a few laughs!”
“They want something!” said Yusef. He was perturbed by their inability to speak with the Damascene Nazoreans. “There are even Essenes here! I heard one who thought I was the Teacher of Righteousness reincarnate!”
“They are desperate! Almost everyone wanted by Herod or the Temple live in this city!” said Martha. “Here, they are pagan and no one seems out of place! I have never seen such idolatry!”
Miri almost blurted out “fish out of water”, but held her tongue, for Martha was already feeling their uniqueness in this sea of pagan temples and shrines.
“I will speak to them!” she said, “I will tell them you are resting!” And with that, Miri descended the stairs from the roof, and stood on a landing facing the faithful in the courtyard. There she opened her arms to the Faithful and spoke.
“Go back to your homes!” she pleaded, “I know you have come to hear the Gospel of Yeshua, but his Word is already within your own hearts! It is there that you must seek your God. Ask yourself if you seek a Messiah for your own personal gain! Ask yourself if you seek a Messiah for you do not believe that the Power will give you the strength to carry on! It is not the Word of Yeshua that you should seek out, it is the shining example of his Deeds! Did he not give up his own possessions for those more needy? Did he not stoop to help the sick? Did he not tarry by the wayside to tend the wounded? Would he pass by the beggar in the street without a glance? Would he allow the widow to starve, when he himself had food in hand? Or in his home? All day, you toil to fill your coffers, yet Yeshua dedicated his Deeds to the betterment of others! Do you need to know the Word to know what is right? You are the Sons and Daughters of Enlightenment, and your children shall be the Children of Light. Set them an example of Grace and Charity! Go to your homes and begin your Acts of Kindness!”
“We would see the Anointed One!” called a woman, her arms stretching out to Miri.
“I have heard he was crucified and rose again!” called a bearded man, “I would see this man!”
Many nodded in agreement, and a wordless rumble passed through the crowd below. Miri gripped the railing with both hands.
“He is a fraud!” called out another, “If he is here, then we would see him!”
Yehuda descended the stairs and placed his hand over Miri’s.
“I am here!” he said “What would you want of me?”
“It is him!” cried a man, and the converted rushed forward crying out to him, but Yehuda could not bear their pleas, and cried out to them, “I am not he whom you seek!” he called out and fled down the stairs and out through the side door. A few followed, but only as far as the end of the alley.
Mother Mary appeared at Miri’s side and placed her hand on Miri’s shoulder.
“He will be back!” she whispered softly, “He always runs when the world becomes too loud! He and his brother are not that different!”
Miri turned to look at Mother Mary in wonder, for her words explained Yehuda, and she had not expected such understanding from the matriarch. “I know my children!” Mother Mary said softly. “There is no going back, anymore. I am going with Yusef to Ephesus. I have a sister there who will take me in, and Yusef is a strong boy! If I remain here, Herod and his henchmen will hunt us all down! He will not rest until all my children have been slaughtered!”
Miri said nothing.
“You are welcome to join us!”
There was no time to answer. The door crashed in, and armed men poured into the house. People shrieked as they were seized, and a man who resisted was struck down with a cudgel. There was no time to react. Within a few short breaths, the intruders had secured the house of Ananaias, and the male inhabitants, all dedicated men of Peace, were thrown face down on the floor, and the women herded together in the courtyard. Once the entire house had been searched and ransacked, Saul stepped into the courtyard.
“Cover your face!” Miri whispered to Mother Mary, and she pulled her own veil across her own face. Saul, meanwhile, stepped over the prone men, and turned them over one by one. “He is not here!” he said angrily, and he turned to the group of women and stared intently at them. He strode over to where they had been sequestered. Saul was immediately drawn to Miri and he reached out and pulled her veil away.
“The Magdalene!” he said triumphantly. “Where is Yeshua?” he demanded.
“He has ascended to Heaven!” she said with a smile.
Saul slapped her across the face.
“Where is he?”
“You will never find him!” she growled back and spat in his face.
“You are wrong!” sneered Saul, “I will find him! Even if I have to travel to the ends of the Earth!”
The thugs threw a bag over her head. It smelled of urine, and she was sure that her captors probably had pissed on it just to amplify the humiliation of being a prisoner. Her arms were bound painfully behind her, and, though she could not see, she was sure they were taking turns squeezing and pinching her breasts and her ass. They pushed her about roughly and any contact was accompanied with laughter and rude comments in Aramaic, and she knew she was in the hands of the Templars. But the rude comments and sexual proddings did not stop, and her anger boiled inside her. The anger was her last refuge, and she drew upon the lioness within her, and her body repelled the advances, and each and every touch fueled her desire for revenge. She was thrown into a cart and the cart bounced uncomfortably on the cobblestones, and they made several turns, but she could not remember their order. At some point, the ride stopped, and she was lifted from the cart and carried inside. Finally she was thrown to the ground, and after a final bolt slid closed, she was left alone.
She was still bound, and struggled to lift her head from the stench and filth of the floor. It was an upper room, for she could smell the dry mustiness of bird droppings, and pigeons shuffling and cooing. She sat up and inched her way to a wall, and sat up against it. Her bonds cut into her arms, and she could feel the pins and needles stabbing into every pore, but she needed to set herself upright. For the first time in her life, she felt that she would soon die. No matter what had happened before, she did not feel such heaviness upon her spirit. She knew the loss of Yeshua had wounded her, and without him, she could not go on. She saw only the lightness of her being crushed beneath the dark oppressive heaviness. She called out his name, and she thought she could hear him answer.
But there was no one there. She drew comfort from the presence of the cooing of the pigeons. It was a sound so familiar, and it reminded her she was not alone. She spoke to them, imitating their calls, but soon, it seemed she understood them and they her. Unfortunately, pigeons had no words for “peck at my ropes and get me out of here”, and she fell into a deeper depression. The prison was a makeshift one, and she could hear the noise from the streets below, so she knew she had been kidnapped by the Templars and that they were operating without the authority of Rome. She lost track of how much time she had been incarcerated, but she woke and fell asleep many times before she heard someone call her. At first she though it was Yeshua.
But it was not.
Her hood was removed and a shaft of bright sunlight form a window blinded her. She could not cover her eyes. A man stood silhouetted within the light but she could not see his face.
It was Saul.
“Where is Yeshua?” he asked.
“You should know,” replied Miri angrily, “You were the one who had him crucified!”
“I am only an agent of God,” he replied patronizingly.
“No more than the dogs in the street! You are not worthy to lay before Yeshua to serve as his footstool!”
“Where is he?” asked Saul.
“He is dead!” replied Miri.
“Yet, he has risen from the dead!”
“So you say, Saul!” responded Miri, “and if that is true, then why do you pursue him? Do you think you can kill him again?”
“I don’t know how you managed to commit such fraud, but I know you have! You are the key to his Resurrection! You were seen buying herbs and drugs in the marketplace!”
“I could not bring him back!” wailed Miri, and her passion and angst was palpable enough, that Saul believed her for a moment.
“Then where are his remains?”
Miri smiled despite herself. “No one knows!”
Saul raised his hand to strike her, but his hand, for some reason was stayed.
He lowered his arm and changed his direction.
“They say you are an agent of Haritar! You are to be returned to Yerushalayim to stand trial for treason! You betrayed Machaerus to Haritar!”
“Antipas lost Machaerus from his own lust and stupidity!” said Miri.
“You used Yahja and Yeshua to foment insurrection!” snapped Saul, “You funded the rebels inside Galilee, to open a way for Haritar to seize the Land of Antipas!”
“Who told you that?” asked Miri.
“It is well known!” said Saul, “You laundered money from Haritar and distributed it to the rebels in the guise of charity!”
“You aided Yahja the Baptist!”
“I gave him shelter!”
“Then you admit funding him?”
“Not at all!”
“You used your wantonness to influence Yeshua the Nazorean!”
“You aided the rebel, Nathaniel!”
“I did not choose his path!” said Miri indignantly.
“You bribed him along with other members of Antipas’ body guard!” accused Saul, “Then you secured his escape when he was condemned to die!”
“So you have spent years studying the Torah to be a hunting dog for Antipas?” asked Miri. “You do not deserve to be called a Son of God!”
Saul slapped her instantly, but it was reflexive, and she could see he regretted his action.
“Where is Yeshua?” he demanded.
“You are not cut out for this job, Saul,” she said softly, “You are a man of God! How can you do this?”
“Your friends seek to destroy the Temple!”
“It will fall!” said Miri. “It is no longer houses a cult of God, but of Wealth and Power! Will a thousand bullocks turn the ear of God even for a moment? Should every living being give half a shekel to its upkeep, will God love you any the more?”
Saul placed his hands over his ears.
“You are trying to bewitch me!” he shouted, “Get thee behind me!”
“You know I’m right!” Miri shouted at him, and he began to sing a hymn to drown her out. “You know in your heart I’m right!”
A sudden commotion came from below. Shouts and cries of men echoed in the room. Saul rushed to the door.
He panicked at what he saw. Nabateans, better armed than Saul’s henchmen had raided his safe house. He turned angrily to Miri. “Agents of Haritar!” he shouted, “You traitor!” He came at her with a knife drawn.
“Stop!” she shouted at him, and such was her authority, he did. “You will die if you kill me! Untie me and I will help you escape!”
Saul glanced behind him at the door. He hesitated.
“Quickly!” she commanded, “You have no time left!”
He suddenly ran to her, and cut away the knot binding her, and unwrapped the ropes binding her. She pushed him toward the window.
“Jump!” she said, and he stopped and stared at her in shock.
“I will be killed!” he cried. The fighting downstairs was still raging, and they could see the defenders mounting a rearguard action on the stairs
Miri cast about and spied a large basket with side handles, she grabbed it and tied the other end of the rope to the handles in a way that only a sailor could. The battle had reached the landing outside the door, and Saul made up his mind. He climbed onto the ledge and Miri hung the basket over the edge
“Stand on this and hold the rope!” said Miri, “I will lower you!”
Saul placed his feet into the basket. Miri looped the rope about a metal bar set in the window and she pushed Saul from the window. The ledge slanted downwards and he slid over the edge and screamed. He grasped the rope desperately, and dangled perilously above the street. Miri pulled the rope in and stopped his spinning. They were face to face.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
“It is what Yeshua would have done!” she said and let the rope out. But as she lowered him, and she watched Saul dangling in the basket, she was suddenly reminded of Yeshua’s corpse bundled into another basket. The horror of not knowing what had happened to the man she loved overcame her and she deliberately let go of the rope, and Saul descended the last few cubit in free fall, just as tribesmen of Haritar burst into the room. They had come to take her back to Machaerus. She told them she needed to find Yehuda and his family, and they delegated four of their number to escort her to the House of Ananaias. The rest were determined to hunt down the priest from Yerushalayim for he had overstepped his authority.
Miri arrived to find the house in disarray. The House of Ananaias had no servants and the members of the household shared their chores, and decisions were made in a general meeting held whenever it was needed. It was a time for such a meeting in order to decide upon who should repair what, but the meeting was an uproar. She could hear the arguments from the street, but all discussion stopped as she and her escort entered.
Breaking the silence, Rebecca cried out and rushed to Miri and swept her up in her arms. Yeshua stood aside for a moment, and Miri hugged him and waved to Mother Mary, Martha and Yusef.
“I’m sorry I’m late!” said Miri as if nothing had taken place. She had no taste for a difficult and prolonged discussion.
“Who are those people?” demanded Ananaias of the Nabateans.
“They were the men who rescued me from the Templars!”
“Those were Templars?” asked Ananaias, “They seemed more like Herodian thugs!”
“Perhaps, but they were acting for the Templars under direction of a priest named Saul of Tarsus. He believes we are plotting the destruction of the Temple!”
“But that is preposterous!” said Ananaias, “We are Men of Peace! All we want is to worship God without slaughtering innocent animals!”
“And that would be the end of the Temple!” said Miri, “To them, the end of sacrifice means the end of the Temple! Their main income is from the sale of carcasses and skins. The half a shekel is nothing in the face of the abbatoir the Temple has become!”
“But it is a pagan ritual!” argued Ananaias, “It is not a commandment of God!”
“It is in the Five Books!” declared another, and an argument broke out that completely missed the point of the meeting which was how to deal with the attack of the Templars, and deteriorated into a number of side discussions. Yehuda glanced over at Miri and smiled. Their look was caught by Mother Mary, and she frowned which caused Yusef to look at Miri who met his gaze, and turned to Martha and Rebecca. Ananaias stood up and held his arms high and roared “Silence!” and the discussions stopped.
“It is apparent that the Messiah and the Magdalene are wanted by Herod and the Templars. We must find a safe haven to hide them!”
“There is no need!” stated Miri. “I have been offered sanctuary by Haritar, and I will join his daughter Phasaelis in Machaerus, then make my way to Rekkem! The invitation is extended to members of my husband’s family, and I have accepted. I am sorry for the attention I have brought to you here, for I know you have lived here in harmony for some time. Though ripples will pass across the sanctuary here, they will subside with my passing just as the waters still after the stone sinks from sight!”
“Mother has decided to travel elsewhere, and I shall travel with her,” said Yusef, “Though it would be best I think for none to reveal our destination to others.”
“I shall travel with Miri!” said Martha.
“And I,” said Yehuda.
Only Rebecca remained undeclared. She was conflicted, but he pressure to decide on a course finally led her to a decision. “I am returning to the Galilee,” she announced, “I am used to living in the hills, and I would miss them!”
“You cannot travel alone!” blurted Yusef.
Rebecca smiled and shook her head. “I can do whatever I wish, Yusef!” and her younger brother looked away. He knew there was no point in arguing with Rebecca. He knew he would lose.
“We shall give you whatever you need!” said Ananaias, and the others nodded in agreement.
“I have no need for anything!” said Miri, “Whatever you may have for me, should be donated to Mother Mary.”
“Done!” declared Ananaias, “I think we need to have a feast today, to honour our guests and in the morning we shall escort them beyond the walls of Damascas and send our prayers after them!”
Miri, Yehuda and Martha were headed South toward Nabatea along the King’s Highway, and Rebecca headed West, Mother Mary and Yusef to the North.
Mother Mary sat sedately upon a donkey given to him by the Nazoreans of Damascus, led by her youngest son, Yusef. Miri, Yehuda and Rebecca had walked to the gate to see her off, and their tears mingled for they did not expect to meet again. Miri and Rebecca, eyes filled with tears and hearts of aching sadness watched Yusef and Mother Mary trudge forlornly to the North until they were obscured by the dust of other travelers along the road. Rebecca took a deep breath, and hugged Yehuda quickly, mounted her chestnut mare and reached down to grasp Miri’s hand. “We’ll meet again, sister!” she promised, then wheeled Boanarges about and the clattered away to the Western Gate.
Miri, Yehuda and her Nabatean escorts stopped at the House of Ananaias to pick up Martha, and they joined a column of irregular troops escorting a caravan to Rekkem.