“Your patron Germanicus is dead!” announced Antipas.
The news shot through Miri like a thunderbolt.
He realized his announcement was overly blunt. “I am sorry. We shall all suffer from his loss!”
Miri could not answer. Though she had sensed he was not long for this world, the actual news still seemed unbelievable. “How did he die?” she asked weakly.
Antipas, obviously relishing the intrigue involved, leaned in closer. “This is just what I heard,” he whispered. “Calpurnius Piso hired a magician to destroy him! His wife Plancina is a dear friend of the Empress Livia, though I have not said that myself!”
He slid closer to her. “Though others have!” She leaned away from him, but her desire to hear the whole mystery was greater than her reluctance to come in contact with Herod.
“What else have you not said?” she asked nervously. She realized he enjoyed the depths of human depravity. Antipas had inherited more than land and wealth from his pater familias. He was at home in the morass of Imperial politics.
“Well, Plancina lost face several times in her intrigues to gain an advantage and influence over Agrippina. I have not said that Plancina had sworn to destroy Agrioppina, for she is extremely jealous of her Imperial family connections and considers Germanicus’ wife an effete snob. And…” he paused to add drama to his story, “I have heard, though I am not saying this myself, Plancina has a great friendship with a herbalist by the name of Martina, who is, it is said by those who know of such things, well known black witch, the most powerful in all of Syria. It is Martina who advised Plancina, and may have been hired by Agrippina unknowingly to protect Germanicus from the very charms she had herself planted!”
“How do you know all this?” asked Miri incredulously.
“I don’t!” he declared, “And you have not heard any of this from me!”
Phasaelis entered the room, dressed to the nines. Antipas immediately broadened the space between himself and Miri. Phasaelis seemed not to notice her husband and Miri were sitting in an intimate pose, and was gushing with pleasure over her recent trip to Yerushalayim.
“Well, I must take my leave, ladies,” announced Antipas, “I have work to do!”
Miri was left in a daze. Her journey to obtain an alibi from Antipas for Agrippina seemed useless, and she wondered if that was even the message that she had carried to the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. Her mind seemed to swirls without real thought and she hardly heard Phasaelis speaking to her.
“Miri, The temple is the most amazing place,” bubbled Phasaelis, “I have never seen the like anywhere! And you can see it for over a day’s journey away! Miri, you just can’t imagine the size of it! And Antipas’ father built it! Antipas is helping finish it! It’s amazing!”
Miri smiled for she remembered that Phasaelis was still young and had spent most of her life in the desert. Galilee and its richness, were lush and exotic lands for her. And the temple, from what she remembered of it, was actually one of the largest buildings she had seen, including Egypt.
“So, how did you enjoy the festival of Sukkot?” asked Miri.
Phasaelis laughed. “It was like being at home! The slaves had built a beautiful canopy for us to use, and it was decorated with palms and dates and all sorts of fruit! They were set into the ceiling in the shape of the star of David! And you could eat the ceiling!”
Miri herself had spent Sukkot in her own bier in the olive grove behind her villa.
All in all, life by the new city of Tiberias was not as bad as she had imagined. The construction of the city of Tiberias was considerably south of her land, around the corner of Mount Arbel. The road south to Tiberias ran along the bottom of her estate, flanked on her side by date palms, and on the lake side, wild oleander and jasmine. Willows flanked the edge of the lake, and, despite the dust and noise from traffic going to and fro from the main building site, her property was peaceful, and inside the walls of the compound, quiet.
More intrusion came from the town of Taricheae. The northern edge of her estates ran down toward the valley of Gennesaret and Taricheae, a really busy fish landing and processing village. It smelled strongly of fish and pickling sauce, and the aroma of the fish processors carried over her compound whenever the wind blew from the North. She could see why Antipas had forced her to take the place. The smell of fermenting garum was nauseating. Fortunately, the wind usually blew down the Valley of
She had a magnificent view to the east of Lake Kinneret. Though the buildings were just recently built, the farm had already established vines upon it planted neatly in the terraces in the hillside behind her residence. Though the fields were fallowed, her vines were bearing ripened grapes. Several goats and sheep, uncounted and unsupervised wandered within her winding walls and the villa seemed to be orderly, if a little unkempt. Her five donkeys, Ahat, Shatayim, Shalosh, Arba and Hamesh, named after their position in the procession from Rekkem were stabled in the low outbuildings, and, as she had no affinity for camels, she had insisted that Antipas and Phaesalis took hers.
Antipas and Phasaelis stayed at his military barracks at Sepphoris. The air was cooler around Sepphoris for it was higher and drier than the land about the inland lake, not to mention more defensible. Soon after Miri arrived, she unloaded her baggage and once the caravan departed and she was alone, she hunted for a place to hide the treasure Haritar had given her for the note from Aristophanes. As the weight of a talent of gold was considerably larger in silver, they came to an agreement to replace the silver with other more valuable commodities, and he had bankrolled a large cache of frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, pepper, and a number of other valuable spices, from the market in Rekkem, but there was still a considerable number of coins to secure.
On her first day, she discovered that her villa and terraces had once been a graveyard, and a number of tombs were scattered amongst the vines and olive trees on her plantation. In an empty tomb inscribed with the names of a local family, she found a large and heavy ossuary, bones removed. She carried her coins to the tomb and filled the stone coffin. Bag by bag. Afraid she might be seen, she hid the bags beneath her coat as she carried them to their hiding place. All together, she had one and a half times her own weight in silver and secreting the coins took the better part of the day. Once they were hidden in the stone bone box, she closed it with the two halves of the cracked lid to hide her cache of coins.
She set out to find servants for her residence and farm, but she discovered most of the locals would not work the land for fear of arousing the spirits of the dead, and of those who did not seem to care from the town of Taricheae, she had no liking for. She made several trips into Tiberias, but found for the most part it was filled only with masons and carpenters, and that many other few new landowners there had to advertise far and wide to find good help. The only person to come within several paces of her estate was a thin old man who sat at her gates wailed at her every time she passed.
“Woe unto you Miriam of Magadha! Woe unto you!”
One day, she answered his warning with a half shekel in his begging bowl.
“God bless you, Rabbat!” he said reflexively, then bit his lip.
“And peace be with you!” Miri said cheerfully, and left him in a quandary. He had been bringing the wrath of god down upon her and in a moment of thoughtlessness, he had called upon El Shaddai to bless the object of his ire. Day by day, Miri wore him down, and discovered her estate was built over the grave of his wife and children. She asked him to show her where they were buried.
“Beneath the olive grove” said he, as she helped him to his feet, and they walked through the estate gates. “They were set in the ground without a stone marker, and I can only know the spot by the tree that shades their resting place. They passed the household compound to the south and behind the villa where the ancient olive trees dotted the vineyard, offering welcome shade from the bright smiling face of Shammash.
“Here,” said the old man as they came beneath a beautiful old olive tree. He knelt and caressed the land where his kin were buried.
“What is your name?” asked Miri.
“Jonah of Bethsaida,” said the old man.
“Consider this your seat,” said Miri softly and pointed to the low retaining wall running behind the olive tree.
“Bless you, Rabbat,” said the old man with a smile and tears in his eyes. “May he smile upon you seventy times seven for your kindness!”
“And upon you, Jonah!” she said.
She had no domestic staff, but she contented herself with cooking for herself, and occasionally for Jonah.
Occasionally, Miri traveled to Sepphoris to visit Phasaelis who had settled happily into her new life as wife of a tetrarch. Antipas seemed to have a great affection for his young bride and treated her honourably, and but the visits were hardly necessary as the business and love of building kept Antipas in Tiberias for much of his time, Phasaelis traveled with him and invited Miri to join her at their encampment by the hot springs. Though her visits with Phasaelis were pleasant, Antipas had a habit of ruining Miri’s day with veiled references to the lack of income during the Sabbatical Year, and pressed her to make some form of payment for her residency on the estate. She presented him with some silver coins of Haritar, but he wasn’t satisfied, and she was pressed to exchange her sexual favours in lieu of the rent. She was now placed in a terrible position, but managed to deter Antipas from pressing his advantage by reminding him of her very close friendly relationship with Haritar, and that any act that dishonoured the daughter of the Nabatean king would surely break the agreement regarding the disputed lands of Perea. The thought of a dispute with the Nabatean king cooled his ardour, but Miri sensed Herod was galled by her rejection of his advances. At times, it took every ounce of her charm and intelligence to keep Antipas at arm’s length. She avoided being alone with him at all costs and made sure she was veiled when she was, but fortunately, he was a busy man and hundreds of people vied for his attention, and she learned he was easily distracted. And his favourite attraction was the building of his city.
She found that if he became overly close, all she had to do was ask him a question regarding the latest model upon his tables. His dream of building a city on Lake Kinneret was fueled by his desire to not only match the splendour of his father’s city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean, but by a compulsion to outbuild his brother Philip’s construction at Caesara Philipi, at the foot of Mount Hermon by the spring of Pan. Miri was present during a visit to Tiberias by Herod Philip, and she quite liked him. Seeing the two of them together gave her an insight into Antipas’ personality. He was jealous of Philip, a feeling that was not reciprocated. Philip seemed to be at ease with his brother and was genuinely interested in Antipas’ projects. Occasionally, he would point out a flaw in the design or a better route for a road, and Antipas usually reacted sullenly, but his magical ability to mask his feelings would correct his attitude, and he would usually answer that he too, had thought of that and that his architects were working on the corrections.
Philip even came to visit her new home on his return trip to his lands in the Golan Heights. The arrival of his retinue was a shock to Miri as she had become used to her solitude in the mansion.
“I am sorry, I am not used to visitors,” she said, “Even Antipas will not set foot here for fear of antagonizing the locals.”
“I am not Jewish,” explained Philip, “My mother Cleopatra worshipped Astarte, and my father was, shall we say, distant.”
“I am sorry,” said Miri.
“My mother, quite rightly, I think, was of the opinion, that the less Herod saw me, the safer I was and the longer I would live! The Divine Augustus once said he would rather be my father’s pig than one of his sons. Our family is so large that I think he honestly lost track of his progeny.”
He waved away his retinue and asked Miri if she would show him her estate. As she gave him the grand tour, she was amazed by his knowledge of farming. He suggested improvements to help with natural drainage and advised her to increase the size of her cisterns. I would suggest you build a tower on the North East corner.”
“Why a tower?” she asked.
“Theft!” he said, “Though most will not visit in broad daylight, there are some who will come under cover of night to steal from the fields. Once the oats and wheat are planted, and the vines in order, you will need to keep a watch over your estate. The terraces are fine, and I would not raise the walls at all! It will only give thieves a place to hide from the watchmen.”
He paused for a moment and drank in the view of Lake Kinneret. “It is beautiful here! My own palace does not have as fine a view as this!”
“You may visit here as often as you wish,” said Miri generously.
He smiled and looked up at the sun. “I would like that very much, and will take you up on your invitation. You must come and visit me, but the time has come to take my leave!”
He took her hand and kissed it.
Miri flushed, and they returned to the courtyard where is courtiers awaited. Outside the gates, on either side, along the path to her estate from the main road, the soldiers of Philip’s military guard lolled either side of the road.
“I shall send you a masons and helpers to build your tower!” he said.
“Thank you!” said Miri, “You are too kind!”
He smiled, and waved to his retinue to ready themselves to resume the journey. He turned to leave, and as an afterthought turned back.
“If you do come,” he said, “be sure to give me some notice so that I may free up some time for you!”
“I shall!” she promised. And she waved as he began down the path to the road where his enclosed wagon was awaiting him.
She watched the procession depart, and as they grew smaller in their retreat, a melancholy descended upon her and she felt terribly alone.
Throughout her fields, barley grew as green and wild as weeds. Miri knew she could use the barley for her own needs once it ripened, but the feral crop that had sprung up in her fallowed fields was going to be more than she could manage. She mentioned the barley, and mentioned the surplus to Jonah.
“You have harvested barley in the storage jars?” the old man asked after he had mulled over her situation.
“Some, but the stores seemed to have been emptied for the most part before I moved in.”
“I would suggest harvesting enough to fill the storage jars and opening the rest of the fields to the poor and the righteous!”
“In that order?” asked Miri.
“That,” stated Jonah, “Is a question for a Pharisaic scholar, not an old man with only half his wits!”
Miri took Jonah’s advice, but she could not get a Pharisee to come to her residence, for none would enter the old gravesite for fear of contamination. The nearest scholar she could find lived in the town of Kefar Nahum, and she walked there from her villa. It was her first trip to Kefar Nahum, and as she approached, several people along the way avoided contact with her for fear of becoming unclean by contact with an unbeliever from Tiberias, for she was obviously a foreigner.
The town itself was built of local bricks and relatively utilitarian in appearance. The houses were arranged in family compounds and, other than the synagogue, were all attached to each other, and crowded the narrow streets. She found the house of Yair the Pharisee scholar and he was waiting for her on the steps to his house. “We shall walk,” he said, “This way!”
Miri demurred to the Yair’s wishes, though she seethed a little that he had not invited her in because of her uncleanliness. She had bathed, but the contamination of the dead could never leave her as long as she lived in the ancient Jewish burial ground. He was not unfriendly, and was quite willing to walk with her. They reached the open square framed by palms where a number of elders were already settled in the square. The old men nodded at him in recognition, and frowned quizzically at the woman in his company. Miri and Yair sat on a stone bench beneath a shady tree opposite the magnificent cedar doors of the dark gray basalt synagogue.
“The synagogue was a gift from the centurion stationed here the Roman border guard,” explained Yair, “He donated a portion of the customs duties to erect the synagogue, though he thought we were building a temple, in the pagan style.”
“Is that kashrut?” asked Miri.
Yair smiled. “The doors were a donation from a son of Kefar Nahum in now living in Tyre, and he was not the most observant of Jews I have met. So, there it is!” he said, indicating the dark Hellenist-style synagogue. “It is not amiss for a proselyte to contribute to the Righteous!” he folded his hands in his lap. “So what can I do for you?”
“I have more barley on my land than I can use!”
Yair shrugged. “So, that is a problem?”
“I can only harvest enough for my own use.”
Yair nodded, “That is true.”
“This leftover crop should be used, shouldn’t it?”
Yair nodded. “But it is the Sabbatical Year,” he said thoughtfully.
“Exactly!” declared Miri. “How shall I manage the surplus?”
“How is it you have come to me?” asked Yair, “You are not bound by the Law.”
“Yet, I wish to respect it,” said Miri.
Yair gazed intently at her. Miri smiled.
He sighed and thought for a moment.
“It is written that in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for Mother Earth to be replenished by the Shekhina and you shall not plant your field in order that she not be disturbed. That which grows of it’s own accord of your harvest you shall not reap. And…,” he continued by rote, “…the produce of the Sabbath of the land shall be only for your food, and for your bondsmen and bondswomen, your field workers, as well as the stranger that sojourns with you. And for your cattle, all the wild-animals in your land, shall the fruit of the Sabbath be food.”
“And?” asked Miri after his recitation.
“That which remains is for the Poor and the Righteous!”
“Ah!” declared Yair, “The poor are the poor, but the Righteous are the righteous!”
I see,” said Miri, thinking it may have been better to have stopped in her inquiry with a half-witted old man.
“This is what I think!” said Yair, “If you announce to the Righteous, that they may receive that which has been produced on your land that is unclean due to the homes of the dead, you will tempt those who are least able to resist to break kashrut, and thus induce them to sin! The true Righteous will resist such temptation, but not all will be able…”
Miri patted Yair’s knee.
“Thank you, you have been most helpful!” She stood up.
Yair was in shock, for he had just been rendered unclean by Miri’s touch and the repercussions of all the ritual cleansing he had to go through suddenly overwhelmed him. It was his Shabbat to give a reading of the Torah. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the thought of overlooking Miri’s touch entered his mind, followed directly by the thought perhaps five days of cleansing were as about as good as seven.
Unaware that by patting Yair’s knee, she had condemned him to a perpetual turmoil of temptation and guilt for the rest of the year, Miri walked from the synagogue, and slipped her shawl from her head and allowed the sun to wash over her face. The walk across the Genossar Valley was uneventful. As she cut through the edge of Tarichae, the smell of fish drifted from the lake, and she wandered down to the beach where fishermen displayed their early morning catch. The newer houses were more Greek in style and built of a different stone than in Kefar Nahum, and on the whole, seemed more prosperous. A small group of men were relaxing along the wall of a synagogue beside the market forum, and a number of covered stalls shaded baskets of freshly caught fish. Shoppers crowded the market and children ran between the relatively sedate elders. Miri passed the stalls idly, wondering if she should purchase some fish for supper.
“Lovely tilapia fish?” asked a middle-aged woman eagerly.
“No thank you,” said Miri. A younger woman stood with the woman, but she was distracted by a toddler and a babe nursing in her arms.
“Fresh this morning! This fish is the best of the catch. Here!” the fishwife held up a spiny backed silvery fish.
Miri hesitated. “Perhaps one fish,” she said.
“One? Only one? A family needs more than one! I will give you three for nothing!”
“For nothing?” asked Miri in surprise. “I will give you five gerim!”
“I cannot take money from you!” replied the woman, “It is a gift!”
“Then take ten as a gift in return!”
The woman looked about. “I will take a half shekel and give nine gerim in return!”
“To what do I owe this windfall?” asked Miri.
“You are the foreign woman on the hill I have heard of?”
“You have heard of me?”
The woman smiled, “Of course! Everyone here knows of you! You are the woman who has given shelter to Jonah!”
“Shelter? I make him a lunch!” said Miri, “He sits out by my olives!”
“He is my son-in-law’s father!”
“What is your name?”
“I’m sorry,” said them woman, “My name is Tamar and this is my daughter, Rachel! We have a house in Kefar Nahum!”
Rachel smiled, but was pulled away by the toddler.
“Jonah is my son-in-law’s father.” Tamar glanced back at the men gathered by the wall. “That is my son-in-law, Adam.” She pointed at a well-built man, sitting beside a lit brazier with a large net upon his lap. As he worked, he spoke animatedly with the other fishermen, and entertained them while they inspected, prepared and repaired their nets.
“A fine man!” said Miri.
“Stubborn as an ox!” Tamar muttered as she deftly gutted the fish, “And as flighty as a meadowlark!” She sprinkled salt in and over the fish and wove a palm leaf about the tilapin and threw the fish head, bones and guts into a terra cotta pot, destined to be made into garum for export to Rome. A scrawny cat snatched at the offal before the guts landed, and Tamar shooed it away with her foot. The toddler ran after the cat, and realizing the nature of its pursuer, ran as though shot from a bow.
“My grandson, Joshua and baby Bar Adam!”
Tamar handed the fish to Miri. “A gerah for the tilapin!”
“Perhaps you and your family can come for a visit! I would love to have you at my home!”
Tamar’s eyes clouded. “I am afraid, as a family, that would not be possible!” She looked about conspiratorially, “But I shall call upon you on the Sabbath, for I will have no work!”
“Till then,” said Miri.
Rachel returned to the stall, and Tamar lowered her eyes.
“Peace be with you!” she said and turned her attention to her daughter and grandsons.
“I brought some fish,” said Tamar nervously.
She stood under the gateway of Miri’s estate. Miri realized her visitor may have been standing there for quite some time. She was polite enough not to say anything, for she did not wish to embarrass Tamar further.
“Please come in!” Miri said, taking Tamar by the arm. “Jonah will be pleased to see you!”
“I should not stay here!” said Tamar, pulling back.
“No, you must stay!” insisted Miri, “I was just preparing a snack!”
They walked to the kitchen. Tamar marveled at its size. “There is enough room here for the whole of Kefar Nahum!” she exclaimed.
“It does make me feel a little small,” admitted Miri with a smile, She placed a large wooden platter on a wide shelf beside the Roman style cooking bench where a thick and spicy lentil and chick pea soup simmered in the smallest of the built in terra cotta stew pots.
“You set a fire on the Sabbath?” asked Tamar, her eyes wide in disbelief.
Miri smiled. “Just a small one.”
Though her reply was lighthearted, Tamar could not take her eyes from the embers of the fire glowing in the oven below the cooking bench. Miri ladled some stew into a serving bowl and placed it on the wooden tray. She arranged dates, figs, a scoop of raisins and walnuts, a block of pungent goat cheese and flatbreads.
“Shall we eat outside?” asked Miri.
“That would be nice,” said Tamar, “Can I help you with anything?”
“The wine on the shelf there,” said Miri, pointing her head towards a low shelf where a water-soaked pitcher sat cooling. “The goblets are above it!”
Tamar gathered the pitcher and two goblets.
“Bring three!” said Miri cheerily and led the way outside.
They carried the food and wine to the wall where Jonah sat rocking, chanting prayers under his breath and sitting Shiva for the umpteenth day in a row.
The two women set the refreshments down on a large flat-topped stone under the gnarled olive.
“Hello Jonah,” said Tamar slowly in a loud voice.
Jonah almost jumped from his skin.
“My Lord!” he exclaimed and opened his eyes.
He gazed upon Tamar in what appeared to be abject terror. “What are you doing here?” he demanded in a shrill voice.
Tamar was at a loss of words, and Miri interposed.
“Tamar has come to visit,” she told him.
Jonah eyed Tamar warily.
“Your son misses you!” Tamar said sternly.
“My son?” asked Jonah, “My son and daughter are here!” He patted the stone beneath him. His tone softened. “My family is here! If I had a son, would he not visit me here?”
“Shimeon is a faithful follower of Path of the Righteous and does not have the sense to step beyond the literal letter of the Law!” said Tamar.
“And Adam,” countered Jonah, “Has he no mind of his own?”
“Shimeon is the elder,” said Tamar primly, “And as you have abdicated yourself of that position, we must do as Shimeon directs!”
“You allow him to possess your Soul, thus?” asked Jonah.
“What is the difference?” asked Tamar, her voice trembling, “Have you not been possessed by the dead?”
The meal was quite forgotten, and a long silence ensued. Jonah shut his eyes tightly and rocked in prayer. Tamar sat, her hands clenched in her lap, her eyes focused on the olive branches above her head. Miri stared down at the ground, unable to speak.
So absorbed in their silence, they ignored a black nanny goat that wandered under the tree. That is, until the goat decided the platter of food had been set out for her and helped herself to a piece of bread. She was joined by other members of her flock, both sheep and goats, and all three humans moved to prevent them from consuming the food. The members of the flock, as if of a single mind, jumped suddenly in all directions to avoid capture, and Miri, Tamar and Jonah were spun about in the melee. Bumped by a billy goat, Jonah lost his balance. Tamar lunged to save him, the billy goat became entangled in Miri’s robe and all four of them fell in a shouting and bleating knot of arms, limbs and horns, and the flock took the opportunity to return to raiding the food platter, and nibbling the robes of the three people on the ground. The billy goat licked Miri’s face apologetically and joined the others in the feast.
“Maybe we should eat inside,” suggested Miri.
It was the first time that Jonah had been inside Miri’s home. He marveled at its size and décor.
“This is very nice!’ he said appreciatively.
“Have some raisins and nuts!” said Miri.
Jonah pointed at his toothless smile. “No teeth!” he explained, “But I will have some more soup!” He broke piece of bread and dipped it into the lentil gumbo and popped the morsel into his mouth. “This is good!” he said happily.
Tamar shook her head in happiness. She had not seen him for some time and the wonder of the present overwhelmed all thought of the future.
“It’s a miracle!” she sighed.
“You think?” asked Jonah. “You tell Shimeon, I will meet him at the bottom of the hill, if he would like to accompany me to Yerushalayim.”
Tamar clapped her hands. “A miracle!”
“At the end of the next Sabbath, I shall be ready. Tell him come!”
For seven days, Jonah sat under the palms at the edge of the road where it was joined by the path from Miri’s estate. On the first morning she brought him food, he refused it. “I shall eat when he comes!” he told her. He accepted the water she brought in a goatskin, but nothing else. She stayed with him, and after a short interval ate the breakfast while she sat with him. The road was busy, for traders had business in Tiberius. Below the road, barges moved empty north to the quarry at Tabgha and came back loaded to the bulwarks with cut stone for Antipas new city. She had to attend to her sheep and goats and left him to take her charges to the higher wild pastures above her estate.
The routine of taking her flock to pasture was more than calming. From the hillside, it was as if she had never left Israel. Her sojourn in Kemet and the adventures in Meroway, her visit to the home of Tara on Socotra and her travels in Hindustan, were no less and no more than a distant dream. Yet, there on the mountain, she sat as if still within a different dream with no way out, and a sorrow as sweet and precious as any she had suffered. Melancholy descended from the heights of the mountainside and filled the Gennesseret Valley below her. It was time to find Yohanna. It was time to travel to Yerushalayim. She would leave with Jonah and Shimeon. The road led through Yericho and Bethany. No sooner had the thought formed, Miri suddenly realized she could not leave, as there would be no one to watch her estate and the eve of the grape harvest was only days away. She could not leave the goats untended in the compound for there was not enough feed for them, and if she allowed them to roam rampant, they would soon be members of someone else’s flock.
But at the very instant it arose, her problem was solved, for far below, on the road that was just out of sight, a dog barked, and, though, she did not know it until she returned to the compound, that was the signal the Great Mother was still on her side. When she carried a prepared evening meal and a warm robe out to Jonah for the night, three men sat with Jonah. The tallest proffered a string of dried figs to Jonah and the old man helped himself to three figs from bundle. Curious, Miri closed the gate behind her ovine charges, who had followed her down to the roadway, and approached the group. A dog unrolled from its position at the men’s feet and began barking at her. The scrawny blonde mongrel advanced toward her, but one of the men called it back.
“May I help you?” she asked.
“My name is Philip born in Bethsaida, and these fine fellows are Zak and Zebulon, from Dan by Panias!” He set down the jar of figs and handed her a scroll, “We are here to build your tower!”
“My?” Miri took the scroll. The ribbon was bound by wax and impressed with the seal of Herod Philip. She broke the seal and read the note written in a very formal Greek script.
“The bearers of this scroll are three in number, Philip of Bethsaida, Zacharias and his brother Zebulon of Dan, all resident in Caesara Philippi. They have been commissioned to build the Watchtower for Miriam of Gadhara, resident of Tiberias. Their wages have been paid in full for the period of two months. Do not pay them for their work. It is already done. This order commissioned and sealed by Herod Philip, Tetrach of Gaulanitis.”
A short note was written in another hand below the work order. “These men are extremely trustworthy. Please acknowledge receipt of this note. My brother’s courier will call in on his passage back from Tiberias to Panias.” The name “Panias” was crossed out and the “Caesara Philipi” written in its stead.
She rolled up the scroll and tucked it into her sleeve.
“Well, Philip, have you eaten?” she asked.
“A fig or two,” he replied, but we have not broken bread since this morning,” he answered. “Other than that, we have room for more!”
The men all looked at each other, and their looks agreed upon Philip’s answer.
“Come, I will show you to your quarters!” said Miri, “And I shall prepare a meal for you!”
She led them up to the compound. Jonah walked with them as far as the tomb of his wife and stillborn child. Philip said goodnight to Jonah and caught up to Miri and Zebediah and Zachariah.
“My cousin Rachel is married to Jonah’s son, Adam,” he said.
“I have met her,” said Miri.
“It has been some time since I came by here,” said Philip, “I should like to visit Adam and his brother Shimeon, if there is time.”
“There is some difficulty in that,” replied Miri, “This farm is on a sacred burial site!”
Philip covered his heart. “May the Lord Protect Thee!” he said. “Jonah told me as much!”
“You have no problem with that?” asked Miri in surprise.
“We are all a little superstitious in our own way!” He smiled and pointed at his companions. “Zak carries a piece of wood to rub every time something worries him, and Zeb wears an snake amulet to protect from the evil eye! But we have no need to spend seven days to cleanse ourselves. The dead have not been a problem here?”
The question caught Miri off guard and thoughts of Setem bubbled rapidly to the surface and she caught her breath, expecting to see him at any moment. Her hand went to her throat, and Philip stared at her quizzically. Even his dog looked at her with the same question in his eyes.
“I….” began Miri. She gulped for air. Setem had not appeared since she had arrived at her estate, and she had only just realized it. “No!” she said suddenly, “Not any more!”
Her answer perplexed her visitors.
“Would you like some wine?” she asked with a smile that belied her wrinkled brow.
The day for Shimeon’s arrival finally came. Miri had packed some goods and packed some goods in baskets that she tied to her donkey Arba. She covered Hamisha with a blanket and a special saddle to carry Jonah. He protested at her offer and declared that he would crawl to Yerushalayim if he had to, but he would get there under his own power. Miri held her tongue, but did not put Hamisha back in the kraal. Miri ahd also selected two young lambs as offerings at the Temple, and tied them to Arba. Philip stood with them to wait.
“The stone should arrive today,” he said as he stared down the road.
Miri did not answer. She too, was watching the road from Kefar Nahum. Each traveller from the North filled the watchers with anticipation that turned to disappointment when it was apparent they were not Adam. As it turned out, they did not recognize him until Adam was almost on top of them, for he traveled with a group. He was accompanied by Tamar, Rachel and her sons, and another swarthy Galilean.
Philip was the first to recognize them.
“Shimeon,” he called out, “Welcome, dear cousin!”
The man named Shimeon was a darkly scowling wooley giant of a man. But he smiled as Philip stood up and walked to meet him. He greeted Shimeon first as the elder, then his cousin Rachel, and her husband Adam. The greetings between Adam, Sarah and Philip were loud and boisterous, and finally settled down to an excited chatter. Shimeon, slightly apart, caught sight of his father, still seated. Jonah did not return his gaze and stared out at the lake.
“You’ll not see signs of fish this far out,” said Shimeon, following his father’s gaze.
“I am not looking for fish!” declared Jonah, “I am looking for my son!”
“Father,” said Shimeon, his voice choking on the rejection he heard in Jonah’s voice. “I am here!”
Jonah looked Shimeon in the eye for a moment. “So you are!” There was no love in his answer, nor hatred, but the lack of emotion stung Shimeon. “You are late!” said Jonah. impatiently.
“I am!” declared the big fisherman, his anger tight under his collar “But I am here!”
“You are coming to Yerushalayim with us?” asked Jonah.
“Us?” said Shimeon in surprise.
“Miriam is coming with us as far as Bethany, east of Yerushalayim,” said Jonah.
Shimeon looked at Miri as if seeing her for the first time, and she recognized the look of a man smitten by beauty in his eyes, and the turmoil that it caused in a man of righteous proclivities. To any man interested in preserving his fidelity, Miri was the kind of woman who could only jeopardize his resolve to remain pure in thought or deed. He gulped and his mind buzzed as loud as a swarm of locusts while he recovered his senses.
“Peace be with you, Miriam,” he said at last.
“And with you, Shimeon of Kefar Nahum,” she answered as demurely as she could.
“Tamar and Rachel will be pleased to have you join us,” he said somewhat stiffly. “My brother Adam,” he said as the other man in their party stepped forward. Adam greeted Miri enthusiastically.
“So, you are the shepherdess responsible for bringing dear father Jonah back to the fold!” declared Adam, “I can see now it was your beauty that charmed the demons out from that thick bony skull!”
Jonah snorted indignantly, and Adam laughed. He bent down and hugged the old man, “Welcome back, you old curmudgeon!”
Jonah growled. “Get off me, you big oaf!”
Adam lifted the old man to his feet as easily as a mother lifts a child. “Say, that’s no way to greet your most loving son! You’ve lost your manners, Father!”
“Ah!” grumbled Jonah, “Don’t make such a fuss!”
“Come!” said Adam, “I think you should greet your oldest oaf with a little grace!” Adam placed a hand on Jonah’s back and guided him to face his brother Shimeon. “This is eldest Shimeon! Look how he’s grown!”
Jonah squinted at Simon.
“Peace be with you, Father!” said Shimeon. He stepped forward to hug Jonah, but the old man held him at bay. Taking a deep anger managed breath, Shimeon placed his huge hands on his father’s shoulders, and squeezed gently. Jonah’s eyes were tearing up, and that was enough for Shimeon, and he introduced the others.
“Father, you remember Tamar?” he asked
“We’ve met already!” snapped Jonah.
Shimeon brought Rachel and the children forward.
“Adam’s wife, Rachel,” he said fondly. “You daughter-in-law!”
“I know who she is!” he said querously, but, at the sight of the babe in Rachel’s arms, Jonah’s heart melted.
“And who is this?” he asked softly, and shuffled forward to touch the young child.
Rachel gently pulled back the protective cotton wrap about the sleeping baby. “This is Baradama!” she whispered.
Jonah spit onto his finger and gently touched the baby’s head.
“Blessed are you, Adonai, ruler of the Universe. Look kindly upon this child, Jacob Bar Adama Vay Rachel. If the angels ever call upon him, take me, your servant Jonah in his stead. So be it, Lord, and remember my pledge!”
Jonah looked about, and for the first time a light twinkled in his eyes and he smiled broadly. “To Yerushalayim!” he commanded and took the first step toward the holy city. Miri offered Hamisha as a mount for Rachel, which she gladly accepted, and Philip, joined by Zak and Zeb, waved goodbye to Miri and the family of Jonah of Kefar Nahum.