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Envy - The Seculary of a Wandering Jew (Book 1)
THE SECULARY OF A

  WANDERING JEW

  A History in Seven Sins

  − Book I −

  ENVY

  by

  Paulo Barata

  *****

  PUBLISHED BY:

  The Seculary of a Wandering Jew - Book 1 - ENVY

  Copyright 2012 by Paulo Jorge Barata Santos

  Contents

  PREFACE

  THE MAN

  THE MISCREANT

  THE MERCHANT

  THE PATRON

  THE COUNCILLOR

  THE PATRIOT

  THE FATHER

  THE PIOUS

  THE HUSBAND

  THE TRAVELLER

  THE DILIGENT

  THE POLITICIAN

  THE AMBASSADOR

  THE REPROBATE

  THE ENVIED

  LIST OF CHARACTERS

  GLOSSARY

  “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste

  death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

  Matthew - 16:28

  PREFACE

  The less sagacious will look on this book as a mere diary. A record of many and many days. Of too many days. Days that breed into weeks, multiply into months and years and spread through the centuries. And truthfully, this is a seculary — a word undefined until now, superfluous for human chronologies — an epic of happenings, illustrated with the reminiscences of a traveller in Time and History.

  Time, that fiend of all that is created, the ever lasting nemesis of all existence, be it man, animal, plant, planet or universe. And so it was that our ancestors, always insightful, knowing of its inexorable existence, deified it as Chronos, one of the many names of this unbegotten god, self-created and extant before all that became, an omniscient creator of the cosmos, of earth, of water, of fire and of heaven, incessantly devouring his own creation in perpetual anthropophagy.

  For many many years, I often pondered, uncertain of ever being able to tell what I now begin to write, and I hesitated because I wanted to recall stories with a beginning, a middle and an end.

  The beginning was not difficult, I must admit, but without an end in sight, I had to be particular about the middle. I needed a conducting thread, something identifiable to us all. And what could this illusive expedient be ? Aware by experience that morals, values and virtues were transient through the ages, I decided to use sins " and let us be frank, is there anything more recurrent, subconscious, instinctive and intrinsic to our humanity than the act of sinning ?

  It was thus that I devised these natural partitions to my seculary, to my stories. For each period its sin, each nothing more than the anathema of its own age.

  As with everything that is created, there will always be critics, convicted skeptics and the radical doubters " certainly an overwhelming majority, but I also believe that there will be some, guided by their imagination, will surpass logic, science and reason and come to accept these improbable stories.

  It is for these, heroes of such faith, that I now write.

  Ahasver ben Simon

  2012ce

  THE MAN

  Every beginning is significant, not because it defines a story or the plot and much less any ending, but it is in the beginning, in the overture, when all gets prepared for what it naturally follows. It is the clamor of the first chords, the initial soundings, the sheer tones and motions of creation.

  We begin this tale in Jerusalem, more than 20 centuries ago, more precisely in the year of the Consulates of Servius Sulpicius Galba — a future Emperor, no less — and Lucius Cornelius Felix — an unknown throughout the ages. The Romans, masters of the then known-world, were not keen in numbering years, and it was also the eighth year of the mandate of Pontius Pilate, our provincial Prefect, a mere 30 years after my own birth, and, to be more exact or even pedantic, 3793 years since the very beginning of all, the creation as recorded in the opening passages of the holiest of books.

  Year 33

  Jerusalem has always been a city of many and for many, and always will be a city of faith, a city of temples and religions, a city more enduring and belligerent than Rome itself, the capital-state of that pagan empire that ruled us all.

  The bustle, the confusion, the commotion of a thousand sounds in semitic languages. The dust, always the dust, the smells, the crowds. Imagine the disquiet of those who are by nature restless in their faith, in their creed, and in their rituals, and more so at a time of pesach, when, once again, there is talk of a new messiah. A messiah like so many before, risen from the aridity of forgotten fields, followed by the usual cadre of dusty and naive acolytes. Another believer, a pilgrim who had come to the festival, just one of the many thousands that arrived each day through barren roads with no beginning or ending.

  I had not seen him or heard of him yet. After all, if he truly were a messiah, then someone forgot to sound the divine trumpets, to shake the city walls and rattle the colonnades of the temple. Was not that prophesied ? And his army ? The same that would liberate us from the tyranny of our enemies and punish the dammed and the unfaithful ? Nothing like that had been seen, and of the armies, only the ever indefatigable Romans were still parading the streets, to the beat of their marching orders.

  But, improbable as it was, his presence began to be felt. There were rumors of miracles, amazing tales of acts that were performed, dead that had risen and the infirm who were healed by his hand, his will and command. Benign speeches and unpretentious preaching, unusual with our customary messiahs. In the past, those others had arrived shouting imprecations and vociferous threats, invoking divine retribution to punish the sins of each and every one. And it only ended when they were consumed by the military ire or by the opprobrium and exhaustion of their own followers.

  This one preached love to each and every one, encouraged fraternity towards all, praised humility and poverty. Simple teachings for ordinary people and all so understood and accepted as is today.

  In my case, I admit that it had not caught my attention at first. I had always looked at religion as more of a habit than a blind devotion. But I profoundly believed in our Lord, attended the Temple, and, like most, I had been provided with sufficient tuition on the scriptures to understand and respect them. I always endeavored to obeyed the sacred laws, but in all, I could not claim to follow strictly and faithfully all the commandments, and there were many. I respected the Shabbat, followed the daily rituals of prayer, ate what was permitted. I had been circumcised in the age of infantile apathy, and above all else, I kept the Lord as my one only and true god. I was never an active defender of zealous convictions nor did I have the inclination to lose myself in profound religious discussions. I just accepted what was usual and normal in those days. I was not, nor did I aspire to be a Pharisee, a Saducee and much less an Essene.

  Since we are at that point of who I am and how I am, let me elucidate you. My name is Ahasver ben Simon, an unusual name even in those days. According to father, it was the name of an illustrious ancestor, one that came down from Babylon to the land of the Canaanites and rose through his own sapience and rectitude, remembered by all as the first in the family to rise to the councillorship of the Sanhedrin. Obviously, there was a time when father must have had high hopes and ambitious plans for me. The story goes that mother was not too pleased with this name for her firstborn, but came to accept it when father promised to choose more appropriate names for the remainder offspring, which ended up just being my brother Isaac, adequately named in honor of the illustrious prophet.

  But still speaking of religion, there were those in the family who were real devotees, and took a keen and too active
interest in such matters. My father Simon, son of Ezekiel, not only claimed to have been educated by the most distinguished sages and doctors of the Mosaic law, but also kept reasserting his extensive and inspired knowledge of all political and religious hues of the day — and considering the many and different ideological currents of the time, this was no easy task, and certainly not one for amateurs.

  Regrettably, the good fortune of the family was forfeited in the time of his late adolescence, when various relatives were implicated and condemned in a palatial plot, never satisfactorily explained to me. This marked the end of the abundance and also of the family’s ephemeral preeminence. Nevertheless, guided by his infallible instinct for survival, as he used to say when retelling his saga, he managed to rise once more and became a prosperous merchant, owner of a large cloth emporium and tannery. And although his reputation never again rose to the heights of yesteryears, he still managed to save enough for an early retirement from such an occupation, unworthy of his illustrious ancestry.

  Now, aloof from such mundane affairs, and also a widower, father filled his time with daily pilgrimages to the Temple, vigorously devoted himself to prayers and the nurture of friendships with scribes, some priests, and mostly with sages and interpreters of the law. Knowledge that he generously imparted to us during our vespertine conversations.

  The other keen observer of religious affairs and a devoted Zealot was my brother Isaac.

  Younger than I, Isaac was always a fervent practitioner of the rites. A moneychanger by profession, and more so by vocation, he was not much of a talker, unless the conversations were about religion, exchange rates or other topics where he could add his utter disdain for Romans, pagans and blasphemers. He was also a self-proclaimed Saducee, one of the two religious groups that had always run the Temple, the other being the Pharisees — these latter more agreeable to father. While the Pharisees were more lenient with the interpretations of the sacred books, the Saducees were too elitist and fanatical about the literary meaning of each and every word meticulously recorded by Moses, rejecting any and all human commentary to these.

  Unlike me, Isaac was of short stature and always wore a dense blackish beard, highlighting his dark eyes and his usual fixed gaze. A typical Syrian face, claimed some, but father preferred to call it Babylonian, distinctively Babylonian. A true virtuoso in accounts, he was the joy and pride of my father, who, notwithstanding his religiosity, had an almost sublime respect for certain metals. Drachmae, shekels, denarii or aurei, all these he exchanged with masterly confidence, and even his distaste for the Romans did not preclude him from having important clients amongst them, justifying this servitude to the heathen by charging them high rates. And I will not deny that sometimes, more often than I would have liked to, he came to my rescue with some shekels, in the more darker days of too few customers. But overall our relationship was not the most affectionate, and rightly or wrongly, I always detected some condescension from him with my mediocre aptitude for numbers and arithmetic.

  At this time, we all resided in father’s house, up in the heights of the city, not too distant from Herod’s grand palace. A house built on three levels, ascetically plain, without the frivolity of the new rich or the embellishments of the Hellenists. Not counting the servants and the few slaves, there were five of us in that house: father, Isaac, myself, my wife Ruth and my son Yeshua — still a toddler. In the lowest floor, we had the servant quarters as well as the stables, where two lazy mules and two old horses took residence, and a noisy dog, irritatingly keen to contribute to the early morning chores of the neighborly roosters.

  This we called the new house, since we had all lived before in another, located in the lower town, above the emporium, close to one of the main stairs that climbed towards the Temple in parallel to the west wall. The sale of father’s businesses had lifted us all to the hill of Zion, neighboring the elite, the oligarchs, the priestly families, prosperous functionaries and other notables of our walled-in society.

  Without the emporium, Isaac and I had to look for a profession of our own. Isaac, encouraged by father’s will and patronage, acquired a stand at the Temple and became a money changer, trading all sorts of coinage and goods for Tyrian shekels, the only currency accepted in the Temple itself. My part of the deal was barely enough to purchase a small shop in the newest part of town, close to the Roman fortress of Antonia, but far from home.

  As the eldest son and the least gifted, I ended up following on father’s footsteps, inheriting part of the stock of the tannery and a few of his former customers. To be frank, I was no artist. My products were robust, but the confection lacked the refinement and the details that some of our wealthier customers valued most, and this lack of talent and some personal apathy with my career reduced much of my work to repair and service footwear and other leathery goods. Not a very profitable business anywhere and heavily dependent on the religious festivals when the city filled up with pilgrims and potential clients.

  Pesach was now a few days away, and the city was exceedingly crowded, full of pilgrims, not only Judaean believers but also many Gentiles who came into the city for the festivities, usually arriving in the week before and using their time in Jerusalem for shopping. My workshop was well located, in the main decumanus north of the Temple that linked the city to the roads of Caesarea and Damascus, close to one of the main markets in town, also extremely active in those days when everybody bargained for lambs and doves for the sacrificial rites.

  It was also a time for family, and our house was usually filled with relatives from all over the province, all equally and magnanimously received by father who only demanded their faithful observance with the sacred rites of the festival to ensure their hospitality and a place at the seder. Close uncles and distant cousins came to us in those days, some sleeping in the yard under makeshift tents, and others laying about the atrium and other more quiet parts of the house. Some I recognized from previous years, but others were complete strangers. After all, to be lodged with us all they had to do was to invoke some known relative and father would take them in — I often had had serious doubts that some of them were even related to us. But, once again, these were happy and festive days when affinities grew around discussions and conversations on friends, Romans, politics and religion. And in those days of fervent religious feelings, I remember someone mentioning that a new messiah had arrived in the city. Not just any liberator this time, but a self-acclaimed son of the Lord. Truly, I was not at first too impressed with such news, after all we had had several messiahs in the recent past, but I could not think of one having claimed such divine ancestry. It was something new and too blasphemous for the Kohanim to tolerate.

  “Father,” I asked brusquely, “is this known to the priests?”

  The answer was not immediate. Father had this annoying habit of ignoring questions that were not entirely to his liking, withholding answers while he pondered on multiples responses, putting on airs of profound reflection.

  “There are stories… people speak of a prophet that has come to the city with a group of acolytes. But you know, it is not the first time that he is in Jerusalem. There are those who have seen him before, but with fewer followers. But the Kohanim know who he is.”

  “They accept that he calls himself the son of the Lord?”

  “They are just rumors for now. No one has yet proven that he actually said that, and besides, he seems harmless enough. Preaches peace. No one has heard him speak harshly of anyone, which is unusual with these preachers who always want to change everything and everyone. For now he is just another eccentric and no one is paying him much attention, besides, the priests are too busy with their duties these days.”

  “But is it known who are these followers?”

  “What I have heard is that they are simple people, fishermen, craftsmen, all from the north. There are some who claim that they are Essenes. Much of what he preaches is similar to what they follow, and the Essenes themselves are also called Nazarenes.”

&n
bsp; “But there are those who claim that this preacher has a sizable number of followers up north,” added Isaac, “they say he performs miracles, has cured illnesses and even raised the dead, here close to the city, in Bethany. At least, that is what I heard in the Temple.”

  “Just tales! The Essenes also claim that they heal by the laying of their hands.”

  “I wonder if he is here just for the pesach…”

  “Well, he is here, let us see if he does follow the rituals. The Essenes do not heed our sacred rites.”

  “Well, that should reveal his intentions. If he is in the city at this time, and does not go to sacrifice in the Temple, then what is he doing here? He would do well not to incite any mutiny. Pilate has already shown that he will not tolerate any sedition, much less at a time like this when the city is full of pilgrims.”

  At this point, it is not extraneous to recall that our city has always been targeted by greed, envy and rivalry among religious sects. It might have been a holy city, but its inhabitants were certainly too human. Even the Gentiles feared our intolerance in everything that had to do with our covenant with the Lord and the commandments. Not only with the personal ones — that ruled our every day behavior as individuals — but also with all the others that affected the collective life of the city. Through violent means and deeds. we had repeatedly shown the world our intolerance with idolatry and other practices that were offensive before the eyes of the Lord.

  Pontius Pilate had been Prefect of Judaea for almost eight years, and he was considered a stubborn, intemperate and belligerent man, but then again the same was said of most Romans, a most arrogant people. It was still fresh in our memories the sad episode with the ensigns and effigies of the legions that he had wanted to bring into the city. After several mutinies and too many deaths, only through the personal intercession of the Emperor did he desist with his intent. But even such a rebuke did not stop him from grabbing part of the korban of the Temple and to use it in public works. The result was inevitable, another mutiny in the marketplace and more than 100 dead protesters.

  Nevertheless, it was not just the Romans who governed the city at the time. As Prefect, Pilate had limited judicial power, and to enforce he had no more than 3000 legionnaires spread throughout the entire province. It was still up to the Sanhedrin to legislate, implement, and enforce the civic and religious laws of the day. But we all knew that our own Council was subject to the ultimate acquiescence of the Empire, and many decrees and rulings had to be approved by the Romans. But as long as the Publicans were sated and the pax romana unaffected, Rome preferred not to interfere.

  A few days before the start of the festival of that year, I went down to the city on my way to the workshop very early in the morning. I was hoping for a good day of good business. As I came to the hippodrome I saw that all the streets that led up to the Temple mount were already filled, and not wanting to get bogged down by the crowds, I took to the more sinuous alleys that lead to the gate of Ephraim. All accesses to the Temple were congested, and the sound of the crowds dampened the soundings of the horns that marked the hours in the Temple.

  Close to the Decumanus Maximus, I suddenly came across a quiet crowd following a man mounted on an ass going southwards towards the lower city. Strange, I thought, someone important would be going in a litter or a palanquin, but never in a donkey.

  As I arrived at the shop, some of the staff were already waiting for me, and I asked Jona, one of the apprentices, who was the man that had just passed by with the crowd.

  “Master, it was the prophet Yeshua and his followers.”

  “Who?”

  “Yeshua”, he repeated, “also known as the Nazarene. They were saying that they were on the way to the Temple.”

  “The Nazarene ? You know him?”

  “I do,” answered Asher, one of my older employees, “I have heard him speak in the olive grove on the other side of the valley of Cedron, close to my parents house. They have camped there for some days, him and his group of followers. They were few in the beginning, but now many other pilgrims have joined with them.”

  “Is this the one who calls himself the son of the Lord?”

  “That I don’t know, Master. But he has a lot of followers, that I know,” replied Asher conclusively.

  “Have you heard him preach?”

  “Yes, Master. I think he is a good preacher. He spoke of the kingdom of the Lord… he said that we all could be saved from the sheol. The kind and the pure of heart,” and he added, “and the generous and good…”

  “And not just the rich…” someone else added.

  “The good and the pure?” I asked as I opened the front door, “and are there a lot of those around?”

  “Master, according to him, all those who accept the divine truth and live by the holy rules…”

  "Whose rules? The Lord’s laws?”

  “I believe so, Master. But he also warned us not to blindly trust the priests. Many of them are corrupt and concerned only with their own well-being and worldly goods” and he went on, “Master, the prophet told us that when we die our spirit may rise to the heavens to join with the Lord. Only the spirits of the wicked and the false go down to the sheol, to the land of nothingness.”

  “And the souls of misers too…” someone else added.

  “All that was promised by this genuine son of the Lord?”, I asked sarcastically.

  “I heard that said, Master, but I am not sure if it was by him or by one of his disciples.”

  “Very well, Asher,” and finally getting the door opened, “Let us all get to work and follow my laws here.”

  But I could not relinquish the notion that the day would not be as calm as I had hoped for, despite the slow movement in the streets and the few customers who came into the shop. Regrettably, neither did the day seemed particularly auspicious for business.

  Towards the end of the morning I noticed a significant increase of people passing in the street, some hurriedly walking towards the city gate. Soon after, one could hear the cacophony of an approaching mob. Despite all the altercation, I could not perceive the nature of the turmoil. It did not seem that they were being persecuted by anyone, and many even stopped by the fountain to drink and wash the dust from their faces. Certainly, any sign of trouble would be heavily handed by the Romans, and they might even close all commerce in the area. Curious and hesitant with what to do, I sent Asher to find out what was coming our way.

  “Master, they are all talking about the Nazarene.”

  “Him again? What about it?”, I asked sourly.

  “The same one who passed here in the morning…”

  “Yes, Asher, I know !” interrupting him, as I knew all too well how Asher could be verbose if not contained.

  “… on the way to the Temple.”

  “And what happened? What’s all the noise about? Was there some trouble?”, if so, the Romans would certainly intervene. We all knew how truculent they were during the festivals.

  “They are saying, Master, that he rebelled against the moneychangers and the bird sellers that stay in the courtyard of the Temple. And a lot of those who followed him took to rioting and stole money too. They also freed a lot of doves when they broke the cages. They must have caused quite a loss to those merchants.”

  “All that and he was not arrested?”

  “No, Master. The Temple guards could not get to him because his followers barred the way. They are all on their way here, returning to their camp.”

  "And the Romans?”

  “I don’t know. No one mentioned them.”

  “Well, if the Romans didn’t intervene, maybe it will not affect us here.”

  At this point, all I hoped for was not to witness one of the usual profane rituals of the pesach, a riot, and suddenly, it occurred to me that Isaac could have been one of the victims of the violence in the Temple. Since I couldn’t just leave the shop, I sent one of the apprentices to enquire after him.

  Meanwhile, the street was now pac
ked with the inquisitive and the curious. Some would stop, looking behind them for the source of the noise, and eventually continued their way. Others looked for refuge from the noonday sun beneath the porches of the various shops, breathing in the dusty hot air, and waited for the outcome of the commotion. With the shop now empty of customers, I too went out into the street and met with some of the neighbors who were standing by the sidewalk watching the crowds. In the marketplace, on the other side of the decumanus, one could also see the various merchants emptying their stalls in anticipation of possible pillages from the unruly crowd. Following their example, I also stored the merchandise that I usually kept exposed in the porch, and with nothing else to do, we all waited for the multitude to pass by.

  Suddenly, there he was, the preacher.

  He came on foot amidst his followers, and his apparent tranquility was a stark contrast with the exuberance of the surrounding crowd. Wearing a plain beige tunic, he was of medium height with long disheveled hair, and an erratic short beard on a face marked with the hue of too many days under the relentless sun. Dark and inquisitive eyes flowed over the crowd, and a hidden smile was broken by short conversations directed to those nearest to him. Very strange, nothing more than an ascetic. Nothing in his bearing distinguished him from most of the others. He surely must have had some hidden talents, or be a highly persuasive speaker, to captivate so many followers. And, given my professional interest, I even noticed the state of his sandals. Used, very used.

  “He looks just like one of those Essenes that live in the desert” I heard someone comment.

  The Essenes, another of our religious groups, like the Pharisees and Saducees, lead isolated lives in small groupings, where they shared all they had amongst themselves. But it was unlikely that he belonged to such a group. They did not pay much interest to the Temple, nor to moneychangers, but I must admit that I did not know much about their ways either.

  “I don’t think he is an Essene,” replied Eloy, one of my neighbors and the owner of the pottery works located next to the fountain, “I have met a few of them, and they would never do this. Especially now that they have stopped going to the Temple. For some time they have considered it unclean, and do not believe that the Lord still keeps His presence there.”

  Someone else added.

  “They are heretics, of course. What else?”

  As the crowd passed, other comments could be heard, all in the same tone of indignation. It was known to all that our covenant with the Lord left no ambiguity for heresies, and those who placed themselves above the laws, so clearly enumerated and repeated in our scriptures, would be subject to punishment by human will or by the ire of the Lord himself.

  “I have also heard him acclaimed as the messiah!”

  “Another messiah?" someone added with obvious scorn.

  “There are those who say that he is a descendent of King David!”

  “Such nonsense! How can a peasant, born up country, be a member of our royal house?”

  “I was told he was a carpenter!”

  “No, no. His father is a carpenter.”

  And Asher still added. “I heard him speak. He claims to be a fisherman, and so do most of those that came with him from Galilee.”

  I was surprised! Everyone seemed to have an opinion about this preacher, until yesterday a perfect stranger to me, and I remembered father's words.

  “I’ve heard it said that he performs miracles” I contributed.

  “I have heard that too.”

  "I would like to see that” someone else added wistfully.

  “The scriptures do mention miracles,” explained another one in our group, “but let us be aware and not forget what Moses had to say about the heathen priests of Egypt who also performed miracles before their King. Miracles alone are not a sign of divine grace when heathens can also perform them at will.”

  “That is true” someone added judiciously.

  Eventually we lost sight of that noble Messianic fisher and miracle worker, who totally unaware of all these opinions, continued placidly down the cardo towards the East Gate, enshrouded in his cortege of sound and dust. I was positive that he was leaving the city for good. After all the commotion he had caused, it was doubtful that the Romans or the city guards would allow him back into the city.

  Gradually, the street returned to normalcy, but still too few stopped by the store to enquire after our merchandise and even less bought anything.

  I was frustrated! The festivals were extremely important to me. The only time in the year when I could do a bit more business than the usual, and such disturbances so close to the pesach were not a pleasant augury for the coming days. Even more so when I still had to contribute for the seder, pay my part of the sacrificial lamb and leave an adequate contribution in the Temple. I sincerely hoped that nothing serious had happened to Isaac. It seemed that I would have to borrow some shekels from him, necessary to pay for these festive days.

  Soon enough, it was time to close shop and go home. The apprentice that I had sent that afternoon to enquire after Isaac had not yet returned, but I was not surprised. He would return in the morning, complaining about the crowds in the town, how much he had struggled, and that he had finally arrived when the workshop was already closed, or such similar excuses. But there was nothing I could do, so the best thing was to get on the way. The night was not the most propitious time to walk around town, especially in such days, when the religious fervor of some did not contain the cupidity of many others.

  The streets were now quite empty, and one could easily see the flickering lights of the evening through open doors and windows, illuminating the all too normal routines of a day’s end — shops being closed, the women tending to the fires where meals were to be cooked, and the bawls of the children reluctantly dragged into their homes. All the usual and comforting sounds and sights of normalcy, and soon enough I got home almost breathless after rushing up the hill, concerned about Isaac. But even there, all seemed peaceful and calm. The servants at their tasks, the fresh straw laid on the courtyard, the smells and the aroma of food being prepared, and even some of our guests already laying in their usual postings.

  With Ruth waiting for me, I took a quick bath, changed my clothes and went up to the roof terrace, where father usually laid resting on his divan, or busy himself with small talk with one of his guests.

  “May peace be unto you, father.”

  “With you too, Ahasver. How was the day?”

  “Not good, father. Turmoil and confusion, and what about Isaac? Is he home? I did hear about the riot in the Temple.”

  “Yes, he is home, in his room. But he will soon join us here.”

  “Do you know what happened at the Temple, father?”

  “Yes, Isaac told me. That preacher Yeshua went this morning into the courtyard and started to yell imprecations against the sellers and the moneychangers. While he was shouting to any and all, he toppled some of the stands with a shepherd’s crook, and even hit some of the merchants with it. Naturally, when the crowd saw what was going on, they rushed in and knocked down more tables and cages and stole a lot of coin.”

  “Was Isaac attacked? Is he hurt?”

  “No, no, but in all that confusion his table was also knocked down, and quite a bit of money was stolen.”

  “A lot?”

  “Well, so he claims, but the worst part was that some of his journals and notes were lost in the turmoil, so it will be hard for him to collect some loans.”

  “And still they claim to be believers and fearful to the Lord, stealing in the Temple itself. What will happen to this preacher? Are they going to arrest him?”

  “I am sure that the moneychangers would like that. And also the priests. There are those who want him arrested for sedition and blasphemy, but with so many people in the city it will be hard to find him.”

  “Maybe not so difficult. Asher told me today that they are camped on the other side of the Cedron valley, in an olive grove.”

 
Out of the walls, even more difficult, and with so many followers and pilgrims thereabouts, it won’t be easy. But I think he won’t come back to the city. Do you know that he once more claimed to be the son of the Lord ? He said so before the crowd, and that the Temple was the house of his father.”

  “Well, not as harmless as you thought, father. So typical of these messiahs. They start by preaching peace and lofty promises and soon enough they turn to violence.”

  Isaac arrived, announced by his heavy footsteps echoing through the stairs.

  “Good day to you, Ahasver” he greeted.

  “And to you too, Isaac. I have heard of the day’s incidents.”

  “Yes, most unfortunate,” Isaac was never a man of deep and profound words, “and how was your day at the shop?”

  “Not particularly good, either,” I complained, “unfortunately that same preacher went by the cardo at the most inconvenient time, dragging an unruly mob behind him.”

  But Isaac was not paying too much attention, nor did he enquire further.

  “Father, later I am expecting some of my colleagues to call here. We are planning to draft a petition to the Council so that this man may be punished for his actions, and some of the priests will also want to accuse him of heresy. This fanaticism must be curbed and quickly too, otherwise, who knows what he may be planning to do next.”

  “Well, the problem will be to find him. I was just now talking about that with father.”

  “His followers know where he is staying. All we need is to find one or two, and they will talk, even if we have to pay for such information.”

  “You are right, Isaac. Now let us go and eat, I want to get to bed early. These festive days are extremely tiresome.”

  “Yes, father, lets.”

  But we still had to wait for the meal to be finished, and for some of our relatives who had not yet arrived.

  After a too prolonged dinner, where everyone had something to say about the day’s events, some of Isaac’s colleagues started to arrive, and the conversation livened up with promises of retaliation and justice.

  I also ended staying with them, curious to know what they were planning to do, although I had no intention of getting too deeply involved. Eventually we all moved up to the terrace, when the room where we were turned out to be too small to accommodate the latest arrivals.

  After a brief and heated discussion, it was agreed that one of them, a scribe by profession, would draft a formal petition.

  “How long will it take for you to prepare it, Menahem?”

  “Well, if we can agree on all the relevant facts tonight I believe that by the end of tomorrow morning I will have it ready.”

  “Menahem, it is urgent, you know! Tomorrow he might not even be in Jerusalem anymore. I am sure that he wont be staying around knowing that he could be arrested anytime for his deeds. We have to be quick and act now!”

  Isaac suggested. “I do have some parchment in my room. We could start writing it now.”

  “Well, we could.” answered Menahem, “I will need some more lamps here. There’s not enough light.”

  “But why such a rush?” someone asked, “we can only deliver the petition to the Council officer in the morning. Then we still have to wait for a gathering of the Council, and that is unlikely to happen so close to the pesach.”

  “We certainly cannot let that happen. If the Council acts after the festival we will never see him again.”

  “Isaac, aren’t we close to the house of Joseph Caiaphas? The High Priest?”

  “Yes, it’s not far.”

  “Well then, let us write this petition now, and we can leave it with one of his secretaries tonight. By tomorrow morning it will be in his hands.”

  “You think so? They will accept a petition at this hour?”

  “I believe so, especially if we write it up in the name of the guild, and I suggest that we add to this document our most profound indignation that these barbaric acts were committed by a heretic who claims to be the son of the Lord. That will certainly fire him up!”

  “What an excellent idea!”

  It certainly was. One thing is to accuse someone of sedition and violence, but a much more serious accusation for the priests would be to lay on top of it some heretical deeds. Since I had not yet contributed with any ideas, I suggested also that they pay the secretary to ensure that Caiaphas would receive the petition in that same evening or at the earliest time possible in the morning, and so give him time to call for a meeting of the Council. This was also unanimously accepted.

  After all, everyone knew too well the power of the shining metal. In regards to the persuasive powers of their own guild, it was too well known the weight they carried in the actual Sanhedrin. Even the Romans respected them, all too aware of how much tax revenue they generated, and many of the Publicans, employed by the empire, were also members.

  When I finally retired, I left them in lively conversation. I went down to my room, where Ruth and Yeshua were already fast asleep, despite all the noise that percolated through the window panes.

  Ruth was two years younger than I, and we had been married for almost nine years. Slightly shorter than myself, she was not fat nor slim, but a rounded figure, very matriarchal, I had always thought. She was a merry and lively person with bright gray eyes, long silky hair, a comely smile, and a devoted mother to our only child. A difficult and hazardous pregnancy had ended our hopes for further progeny.

  Yeshua, the only child in the house, was too spoilt by everyone, but even more by his doting grandfather, totally committed to providing the very best education possible for his grandson. He wanted him to become an illustrious man, worthy of his ancestors. A fabled doctor of the law, maybe a just politician, a fair judge, or even a well-loved member of the Sanhedrin.

  Ruth, however, came from a humbler background — or so she usually claimed with a rueful smile — but not inferior in wealth, having being born in Jericho to a family of rich traders in balsam goods. We had met during one of her family trips to the holy city, and a few years later we got married, both very happy and very much in love. To quote father, the most judicious act that I ever made or would ever make. I totally agreed although, at the time, I had thought that her dowry could have been more generous, but I also understood, after all she had two brothers and three sisters!

  What I most appreciated in Ruth was her disposition. Always happy, always content with everything and everyone, be it friends, relatives or even servants. The only woman in the house, since mother’s death, she had been a mother, a daughter and a sister, to everyone’s delight and contentment.

  THE MISCREANT

  Year 33

 
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