Yeshua and his family stayed another day at Yohanna’s camp. As she sat on a makeshift bench beneath the tent canopy, Miri realized she had not drunk a single glass of wine since she had arrived in Shechem. The thought lightened her being, and at that moment, Yeshua entered the camp.
“We must return to Nazareth,” said Yeshua regretfully, “Both my mother and brother Yakov will send out a search party. “
“Of course,” said Miri, but the thought of Yeshua leaving filled her with apprehension. “Perhaps we could travel together,” she suggested.
“Well, if you are heading for Nazareth, I am going that way,” said Miri, “Or you can come to Tarichae with me and stay at my house! I have plenty of room! And that way you do not have to impose on your mother immediately!”
Again, the siblings exchanged silent glances.
“That would be nice,” said Yeshua finally, and the unease dissipated within their circle.
“We can leave as soon as I tell my sister!” said Miri, “Perhaps tomorrow or the next day.
There was a long silence.
“Well?” asked Miri.
“I would love to travel with you, Miri,” said Yeshua, “But I will have to ask Rebecca and-“
“Ask me what?” demanded Rebecca as she plunked herself between Yeshua and Miri on the bench.
“Miri has invited us to travel with her,” began Yeshua shyly.
“Wonderful!” cried Rebecca and hugged Miri.
“But we have no escort,” said Yeshua.
Rebecca pushed Yeshua playfully, “Sometimes you are such a stick in the mud, Yeshua. It is time someone pulled you out of the ruts!”
Yohanna was set against Miri leaving so soon.
“What are you going to do about tonight?” she asked testily.
“What do you mean?” asked Miri.
“You know exactly what I mean. It is the solstice, and we must be on the mountain for sunset. What are you going to tell your guests?”
“The truth?” asked Miri.
The room was silent.
Miri looked from each of her guests to the other. Rebecca was the first to recover. “So, you are all going to worship Astarte on the mountain?”
“Yes,” replied Miri.
Judith frowned, but her frown was more of doubt than disapproval.
“You are inviting us to go with you?” Rebecca asked.
“If you wish,” said Miri, “But there are some who will not welcome you there.”
“You will have to sit in the outer circle. It’s sort of our Court of Gentiles.”
“You may stay with me if you wish,” offered Sister Miriam, “I am not going! I follow the ten commandments and the Laws of Moses.”
“Yet you still remain with your family,” said Rebecca.
“They are my family,” she replied simply, “Do you think God would wish me to abandon them?”
“I will stay,” said Judith quietly.
“Me too,” said Yusef.
There was another long silence.
“I would like to go,” said Rebecca.
Both Judith and Yusef gasped.
“I shall go with you,” said Yeshua quietly.
“Yeshua!” said Judith in astonishment.
“You are a Nazorite!” said Yusef.
Yeshua turned his face to him. “Then I have nothing to fear.”
This night was different from the others for this was not the dark nights of a few women of the village, but a pagan ceremony for Spring Planting. Yeshua sat shrouded by a white wool cloak in the circle amongst the few men, all farmers, who had come to pray on the mountain. They sang the Song of the Prophetess Miriam in low tones, the men to the West singing lines in answer to the men sitting to the East.
It was a strange ceremony for the ancient ways and prayers had been changed for fear of offending Yahweh, El Shaddai or the Shema so that those who wavered between religions depending on the situation could maintain an attachment to their own beliefs. The men who attended were almost to a man, farmers, and had traveled from Sychar. From them, Yeshua learned most of the men in Shechem proper were ardent Samaritans and as stringent in their custom as the Essenes. He was surprised that they welcomed him as a brother, and each and every man made a point of greeting him.
The ceremony itself was typical of Galilean worship. As animal sacrifice had been outlawed by the templars in Yerushalayim, the farmers offered only fruits of the land for blessings. Naomi officiated as high priestess, and blessed the grain, then each and every attendee brought round loaves to be blessed and shared. So, the sacrament of blood and flesh was of bread and wine. It was a remarkable Passover Seder without the paschal lamb, and Yeshua did not feel out of place.
Miri sat in the inner circle and had been chosen to carry the wine from person to person. She carried the sacred of cup of wine from worshipper to worshipper, each one sipping from the cup as she proffered it. As the sacred cup approached, Yeshua felt a great trepidation, for he had sworn as a Nazorite to eschew the fruits of the vine. Miri could sense his tension well before they stood face to face. As she tilted the cup for Yeshua’s neighbour, she almost forgot the blessing, but the man’s look of panic for the heartbeat it took her to recover, jogged her into speech.
“May the Blood of the Shekhina bring Her Blessings upon You,” she said quickly. Only she and the supplicant noticed the heartbeat’s hesitation, but her smile reassured the poor man who had thought he might not have received the blessing of the goddess. Her mind was in turmoil as she moved from the farmer to Yeshua, for she knew if the man had a poor crop that year, he would remember her hesitation. She made a mental note to perform a ceremony for his field to counter any negative effect of her lack of concentration. Liturgies needed to be performed to perfection, for any deviance from the ritual could cause the worshippers to doubt the efficacy of their supplication.
She stepped to Yeshua, and lifted the cup to his lips. She was prepared not to tilt the sacrament cup to spill wine into his mouth for she knew of the Nazorite prohibition against wine, so she held the cup only a hairsbreadth from his lips. To her amazement, he moved forward and accepted the cup. She tilted it back and he touched his lips to the chalice.
Time seemed to slow for a moment. Yeshua had a momentary impression that the wrath of Yahweh would descend upon him once he partook of the pagan wine. His vision of being struck down by a thunderbolt, or gagging upon the wine and collapsing in a fit that would betray his sacrilege. He was torn between his Nazorite vows and the love for this beautiful Nazarethanite. What was the worse that could happen if he broke his vows? His concern suddenly dissolved into a relieved and surprised sigh as he closed his eyes and drank deeply of her cup. The liquid was sweet and refreshing. And crystal clear. It was not wine, but water. His eyes snapped open and were met by the beautiful dark liquid pools of Miri’s beautiful dark brown eyes. She smiled sweetly.
Miri had shared his vision and she almost lost her voice, but the soul of Yeshua entered her being and spoke the words of the blessing for her.
“May the Blood of the Shekhinah bring her Blessings upon You,” she whispered breathlessly. The closeness of Yeshua’s spirit left her tingling. For the rest of the celebration, their souls were intertwined, and she knew that the Tree of Life planted for her was the same tree that had been planted for Yeshua.
Here on Mount Gerizim, the Altar of Adam, he was her Adam and she was his Eve. She had presented the fruit of the tree to him, and he had drunk of the vine. Adam and Eve were united in them and their love would transcend the love of all else.
She was nudged by Naomi, who had noticed her trance, and taken it upon herself to break it.
“He is the Taheb!” blurted Miri, surprising both Naomi and herself. Naomi almost choked as she poured more wine from the wineskin into the goblet. They continued the ceremony, but it was fast disintegrating. Yeshua’s presence had created a strange ripple effect within Miri and from her through the congregation, though not all were aware of it, the undercurrent passed just below the surface of the proceedings and a strange quickening spread within the congregation.
All hands rose to the sky and mouths began to sing as the sun touched the horizon. The sky turned a brilliant pink, then indigo, and the sun was slowly eaten up, and the star of Ishtar, the planet Venus appeared in the twilight where Shammash, the sun, had been.
Soon, all was dark. The New Year of the Planting had begun. A sudden explosion of clapping and laughter broke out at the exact moment the ceremony ended. The lamps that had been lit were placed within a huge stack of old hay and straw and vine trimmings from the previous harvest and a grand bonfire blossomed on the mountain. Drums and flute moved the people’s feet and they danced happily about the great fire.
Arm in arm, the circle danced about the fire, four steps to the left, then three to the right. The beat of the music was infectious and they united in a great Oneness, and it seemed that the flames of the great fire were brought forth from the very bowels of the Earth by the ecstasy of their spirit. All had brought old combustibles with them to add to the fire and people darted in and out of the circle to throw offerings into the fire to be consumed by the Goddess.
Many began to drink of their own wineskins, and when emptied, the wineskins were also thrown into the fire. Rebecca found Yeshua. She was glowing and consumed by the moment. She threw her arms about Yeshua and kissed him full on the lips, then slipped between him and his neighbour, throwing herself into the spirit of the dance completely, carrying him with her.
She dragged the reserve by which he had always conducted himself from him and he gave himself over to the dance. From the arm in arm circle, they changed to a right moving circle of men passing through a left circling line of women and they passed each other from hand to hand, and every seventh person they circled together, then back to passing hand over hand. After seven circuits of the fire, the dance reversed. Members of the congregation dropped in and out as their breath left them and was regained.
Miri desperately wanted to reach Yeshua to be swung in a circle with him, but the vagaries of the seven partners in the handing kept them apart. They passed each other several times, but never on the lucky seventh partner. There was the sixth and fifth a few times. Miri was vibrating in frustration and Yeshua gazed at her in an amused dismay as they passed, and they shared an apologetic smile each time they whirled by each other. Twice they nearly gained each other’s embrace and swirled with different partners side by side, their eyes only on each other.
Finally! Finally, they plowed into each other on the seventh pass and they swung about in glee, and Miri, seizing the advantage, twirled her man from the circle and to the edges of the clearing. She pinned him against a tree, and they leaned breathlessly against the bole together.
Neither spoke. His chest heaved against her breast, and though she was consumed by desire, the moment was too precious to move elsewhere. The closeness of their souls was enough to fill her senses and world. The fullness that she felt with Yeshua, and the beauty of his smile, the twinkling of his eyes and the way they crinkled at the edges were all so familiar, so right. She had found the man of her dreams and she knew it wholeheartedly in that moment.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“And I you,” said Yeshua, and within that moment, they were betrothed. As witness was the tree above them, the chalice they had shared, the pebbles at their feet, the Blood of the Shekhina, the Light of the Fire, and the Stones of the Altar of Adam, the stars above their heads, the owl in the branches of the sacred tree, and the Lord of the Sun and Daughter of the Moon.
Though Miri had not noticed him there, Chuza had been at the festival. From the way that he and Yohanna were cuddling the next morning, it was obvious their differences were settled. Miri and Yeshuah’s family packed their bundles, and set out for Nazareth with Miri, Martha and Sister Miriam. The day was mild and a cool breeze flowed from the northwest, her breath causing the Flowers to dance in the meadows and birds in flight to add to their efforts to stay aloft. Clouds scudded across the brilliantly blue sky, and as Shammash crossed the blue bowl above their heads, their passage prevented his glare from making anyone uncomfortable.
“Your wine turned to water on Mount Gerizim?” Miri asked Yeshua.
Yeshua simply smiled.
“So you didn’t break your vows as a Nazorite,” she added.
“Perhaps not,” he said softly.
“I am still thinking about it,” he replied.
“And the rites to Astarte?”
“I wished to see them,” he said.
“I do not believe that the sacrifices made at the Temple in Yerushalayim are sacred, and I wanted to see if there was a difference with the rituals on Gerizim.”
“They are no different. Only the names have been changed. I think that we must speak to god directly and not through a priest or an intercessionary.”
“What about the rituals?” asked Miri, “Do you think they have no effect?”
“If I ask something of my Father in Heaven, he hears me, so what need have I of a priest who knows nothing about me? The rituals are empty.”
“But thousands participate,” said Miri.
“For them, there must be some meaning.”
“That is why I am still thinking.”
“I love you!” said Miri suddenly. Her face flushed, for it seemed she had become momentarily possessed, and she couldn’t believe she had pledged herself to him.
Yeshua smiled, and Miri almost melted. He was a beautiful man. There was no doubt, but beyond her attraction was an incredibly powerful sense of familiarity about him she couldn’t explain. Indeed, he was the man of her dreams. The Gardener. But it was more than that. He seemed to be as familiar to her as her hands and feet.
“So is that why you think you were brought to the Well at Sychar?”
“My sister was possessed,” said Miri, “She left the man she loved to be at Shechem, and yet, the moment I met you, she was reunited with Chuza.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” said Yeshua.
“It had to be you we were sent to meet,” said Miri, “You are the Anointed One!”
Yehshua stopped suddenly and grasped Miri by the arms.
“You must never say that!” he said earnestly.
The others stopped in their tracks behind them.
Yeshua looked deep into Miri’s eyes. “I have no wish to be the Messiah! I am not the one you are looking for!”
“Yes you are!” declared Miri adamantly. She pointed to the crescent on her forehead. “Do you see this? I am to choose the Messiah, and I have chosen you! I know this!” She grasped his robe. “You know it as well!”
“You’re the Messiah?” asked Yusef, staring strangely at his brother Yeshua.
“Someone has to be!” said Rebecca, “Perhaps you could begin by leading your followers to Mother’s wedding!”
The wonderful morning was shattered by the time they reached Nazareth. Zebedee had come and claimed his bride, and they had returned to Tarichae early that morning.
“We’re in big trouble!” said Rebecca, “Who wants to take the blame?”
All eyes turned to Yeshua.
“So be it!” he said, “But don’t think I’m about to make it a habit!” He lead the animals to the well at Nazareth.
Rebecca turned to Miri. “He’d do anything for us!” She sat down in the shade on a bench set against the northern exposure of a southern wall. “When we were children, Yehuda helped himself to some grapes Father had brought home. Yehuda shared them with the rest of us, but when Father discovered the grapes missing, he demanded to know where they had gone. Yehuda admitted to taking them and was forced to bare his bottom in front of us, and suffer ten strokes of father’s belt. As he raised his hand against Yehuda, but Yeshua yelled for him to stop, and told Father it was he who had taken the grapes. Father was livid. He handed Yehuda the strap and ordered him to strap Yeshua. Yehuda refused to take the strap. Father lost his temper and began flailing about at us all, but no matter where he tried to strike us, he hit Yeshua! To this day, I have no idea how Yeshua managed to intercept each and every blow, but he did, and no one but him suffered our Father’s wrath!”
Rebecca smiled. “To this day he has never touched a grape or anything made from grapes!”
They quickly finished watering the animals and left Nazareth for Tarichae. The wedding party had a full morning’s head start on them, but, all being well, though they had missed joining the returning bridal procession, they all hoped they would make the ceremony.
They were definitely in the dog house. They arrived too late for the actual betrothal and the traditional consummation ceremony was limited to Zebedee and Mother Mary retiring behind the canopy long enough for a suitable consummation, but short enough to display that sex was not a proper occupation of sensible adults. Zebedee stepped out first and held his hands in a victorious clasp above his head, and he played to the hecklers, but dropped his smile and hands the moment Mother Mary emerged from the tent. That was the moment that Yeshua and his errant siblings arrived, and the first thing that Mother Mary saw as she raised her head as she stepped from the bridal bier.
Such was the coldness of her gaze, Miri decided it would be prudent to make her exit before she was identified as the cause for Mary’s children’s tardiness.
“Call on me, later,” she whispered in Yeshua’s ear, and she, Sister Miriam and Martha retired from the festivities. They walked back to the estate in silence. Susanna stood waiting for them beneath the tree at the bottom of their lane. As they approached, for the first time, Miri noticed how much the tree and the spring reminded her of her childhood dreams. Perhaps it was the freshness of her memories of Yeshua, or the part of him that seemed to stay within her, ever since they met at the well. She decided she would have stelae erected around the area. She would send word to Phillip the Mason and have him carve them.
Susanna was standing before two men in heated discussion. Between them a young girl lay on a litter lay. Behind Susanna an old man and a young woman cowered.
“I have every right to do whatever I wish!” declared Susanna.
Miri could not hear the low muttered response from the two portly men in priest’s robes. Miri’s defenses immediately went up and she moved swiftly to Susanna’s side.
“Who are you?” she demanded of the two bearded men, one older and one younger, before her charge.
“I might ask you the same thing?” answered the more aristocratic of the two.
“I am Miriam, and this girl is my daughter!” she said angrily, “What business you have with her is business of mine!”
“She is healing people without authority of God!”
“And healing is a crime?” asked Miri, “Since when is that?”
“She has no authority to do so,” replied the aristocrat.
“None at all!” declared the other indignantly.
“And who are you?”
“I am Saul, and this,” the man indicated the aristocrat, “This is
“You’re late for the wedding!” shouted Susanna.
“We are,” admitted Miri, “but why didn’t you go?”
“I thought I would wait for you!” replied Susanna.
Miri hugged her tightly, “I’m sorry you missed the wedding for us!”
“It’s alright!” replied Susanna, “I knew you would miss the wedding, and thought I would wait here instead!”
Susanna’s prescience could be quite irritating. It was very difficult to carry on a conversation with someone who already knew what you were going to say.
“The Consummation was Immaculate?” asked Susanna.
“Intensely so,” replied Miri.
“Do you think they love each other?” asked Susanna.
Miri frowned. “I’m not sure. Perhaps in their way!”
“Zebedee will need help to reach her,” said Susanna. “She has a great shell about her, and her soul is shut up like a clam!”
“So what should we do?” asked Miri.
“Wait,” said Susanna. “Time will break her resolve!”
Miri ruffled Susanna’s hair.
“I love you!” Miri said happily. “Let’s get something to eat!”
Yeshua arrived before sunset.
“I brought nothing with me!” he said apologetically.
Miri sat with Sister Miriam and Susanna beside the spring at the bottom of the lane.
“You have brought all we need,” replied Miri, “Would you like to stay with us? I have a room prepared!”
“Thank you!” answered Yeshua, “I am able to offer my services in exchange for lodgings.”
“And what is it you do?” asked Miri coquettishly.
Sister Miriam exhaled in exaspiration.
Miri ignored her.
Susanna jumped from her seat and grasped Yeshua’s hand. “You are the one!” she said happily.
Yeshua squeezed her hand affectionately, and smiled.
“We all are the One!”
“I am glad you came,” said Susanna, “I was the one who passed the message to Miri to meet you!”
“How could you-” began Miri, but there was no sense in finishing her question. It was clear that Susanna was aware of far more than others she knew.
“Well, how can I thank you?” asked Yeshua.
“There is no need for thanks,” said Susanna, “But you must allow your destiny to be fulfilled! You cannot shirk from seeking the Power, for the Power will seek you out no matter where you hide.”
“I am not the Messiah,” he whispered to her.
“You are the stone the masons have rejected. You know who you are. Denial does not sit well upon your shoulders.”
“Everything you say is true,” answered Yeshua, “But I am not ready yet. I am not capable of such a task.”
“Perhaps it is not your ability we are discussing,” retorted Susanna, “But if it is the Will of God, then what need do you have of your own? You have ears to hear and eyes to see, as clear as my own. If the Power enters your Soul, then there is nothing you cannot accomplish!”
“Out of the mouth of babes!” he whispered in amazement.
“Through the mouth,” corrected Susanna, “Through the hands. Through the eyes.” She paused for a moment, and looked deep into his eyes. “From the Power!”
Yeshua fell silent.
His mood changed. Susanna had challenged him, and he knew she was right. He had always known he was connected terribly to the land of Israel. He knew also that the End of Times were near. The Equinox was passing from the age of Aries to the age of Pisces. From the Ram to the Fish. And here, he was drawn to a fishing town from his occupation as a shepherd. The signs were all there. But were they really meant for him?
He withdrew to think, and, giving his apologies to his hostesses, retired to the olive grove to meditate. Miri watched him from her sleeping place on the roof of the tower. Susanna slept happily beside her. Sister Miriam and Martha slept in their rooms above the stables. Crickets sang their quieting song in the dark. The world was calm, despite the distant sounds of celebration in Tarichae. But in the distance, somewhere beyond the horizon, a swirling distortion arose through the air. Miri realized it was not on the horizon, but within the very land upon which she lived. Everywhere, it seemed that unhappiness and anger was bubbling beneath the surface, and that at any moment it threatened to bubble up from the depths of Gehenna and burst upon the world. A small whirlwind picked up the dust in the courtyard, and danced to Yeshua, and he raised his head.
His eyes met Miri’s
He needed his loneliness to end.
She descended the staircase and silently joined him in the olive grove.
They wrapped about each other, and sometime in the night, fell asleep.
The next morning, Miri rose late and, after carried a small breakfast down to the tree. Susanna was already there, and engaged in a heated discussion with a couple of elder men. Their words reached Miri’s ears before the others were aware of her presence, but the words were enough to raise her hackles.
“You cannot cure the sick on the Sabbath!” declared one. Miri knew him from Antipas’ court, a rather pedantic and pretentious priest called Joachim. The other, a sychophant by the name of Boaz, simply added and supported Joachim’s words by nodding and occasionally adding the word, “Exactly!” to the end of Joachim’s statements.
They were more admonitions than statements, but Susanna was holding her own.
“Curing sick is not work, it’s a calling!” she countered.
“It is work!”
“I am not rolling a stone up a hill!” countered Susanna, pointing at a young girl shivering despite the heat. “I’m bringing down her fever by washing her head!”
“It’s still work!” said Joachim adamantly.
“Exactly!” declared Boaz on cue.
“Then it’s God’s work!” said the child’s mother. A number of heads nodded about them, and Joachim and his companion realized they would not win their arguments with the faithful gathered about the Tree of Life.
Prophets were the last thing the Templar priests wanted, primarily because prophets, as a general rule, very rarely gave priests a high rating, and more importantly, invariably touted the theory that there was no need for God to hire an intermediary, as He could hear prayers no matter the source. Their attempt to assert their legal authority by commanding Susanna to desist from “work”, had led to a humiliating defeat, and, trying to maintain as much of their dignity as they could, they they turned tail on the young woman who was fast becoming a prophet.
Miri was proud of her charge.
“Well done!” she said as she hugged the girl.
“All in a day’s work!” she replied, emphasizing the word “work”. Joachim and Boaz were still within earshot, and the emphasis was for their benefit. The straightening of their backs indicated the words had reached their ears.
They spent the rest of the day down by the lake. It had been a long time since Miri had gone to the shores of Galilee. She recognized the boys, for they had been fast friends of Susanna since they had been tots. And, though growing, they still enjoyed skipping stones and poking for clams and frogs. Miri was surprised to see Shimeon and Andrew walking with Yeshua and she waved to them. They waved back, but their discussion kept them distant. She watched idly. Yeshua seemed to be keeping his companions rapt, and he often rested his hands upon their shoulders, and they seemed as brothers, which both Shimeon and Andrew were. Shore birds scuttled across the beach in search of sustenance, and for a beautifully long time each and everything she saw, moved in harmony with the Cosmos. It was as though the beach had become the one place in the entire world that was at peace.
She fell asleep, and was woken from her nap by Yeshua, Susanna and her friend from the beach. They returned to the house together, but the tree was a mass of confusion, for as the Sabbath sun set, a crowd had gathered to receive their blessing from Susanna. Their outstretched arms reached for the girl, and though she didn’t shirk from their grasp, the need became overwhelming and she swooned. Yeshua picked her up and passed her to Miri.
“Take her home,” he said, “I will speak to these people.”
The young man, Ishmael, hovered about and assisted as best he could.
After she put Susanna to bed and sent Ishmael home with one of the farm hands, and she walked with them to the end of the lane. The crowd was still there, and lights had been lit., and sitting inside the circle, Yeshua was speaking to the crowd.
“Listen, if you have ears to hear,” he said, “For there was a man named Elias whose fortune seemed to him to be less than his fellows. His son died, and his wife took to her bed, and the rains had not come that year. And it came to pass that a holy man was wandering past his barren fields, and Elias called out to the holy man.
“Help me!” he cried, “Can you return my son to me? If only I could bring him back to life, my wife would regain her will, and I am sure that the rains would return!”
“Indeed?” asked the holy man, “And if I returned your son to life, what would you do for me?”
“Anything!” declared Elias, “Name it and it shall be done!”
“Bring to me a mustard seed!” said the holy man.
“That is all?” asked Elias, “”I shall give you a shekel of mustard seed. Seven shekels! Seventy times seven!”
“I require only one,” replied the holy man, “But it must be given to you from a household untouched by tragedy. Only then will you know your son again!”
Elias was ecstatic. He immediately went to his neighbour and asked for a mustard seed. This he received, but when he asked if the household had been visited by tragedy, the head of the house replied sadly, “Yes! Only two weeks ago, my daughter was taken by sickness and died!”
Elias placed the seed in his bag and proceeded to the next house. And though he received another mustard seed, that house too had experienced tragedy. And the next and the next. His quest seemed impossible, but so great was his love for his son, he persevered. And indeed he gathered mustard seeds everywhere he went, and each seed carried the story of loss and sadness. Soon his burden of seeds weighed him down, and he returned home.
There the holy man met him.
“It seems you have brought me at least seven shekels of seed!”
Elias sat down, and stared into his bag full of seeds, and every single seed carried a story of loss and sadness as strong as his own, and he no longer felt alone in his grief. There were so many others who had gone through such heartache, and he realized that sadness was as much a part of everyone’s life as his own.
From that day,” said Yeshua, “the burden of grief seemed lighter, and he grew in love and understanding for everyone he met! He understood that the Power of Heaven had not singled him out, nor punished him more or less than his neighbours.”
“Look about you now,” he said, spreading his arms to encompass the crowd, “Which among you is in the most need?”
None who waited there was willing to declare they were the most in need, and none could really say they were the most cursed amongst the crowd. “Only you can cure yourself!” he said, “But if you help alleviate the suffering in you neighbours, so shall your burden be lightened!”
They slept together that night but Yeshua rose early and went out for a walk above Arbel. He was conflicted, for lying with a woman was not part of his Nazorite vows, and it seemed that Miri had been sent to him to test his dedication to God. He had heard the phrase, “Man cannot serve two Masters.” And indeed, had quoted it himself, and it seemed he would have to decide upon one over the other. He came upon a small acacia on the cliff top overlooking the Kinneret lake, and sat down to pray.
A shadow passed over him.
It was Miri.
They sat for a long time not speaking. Their fingertips touched and their hands entwined, and they were drawn inexorably into a tight and close embrace. They wrapped about each other in the warm shade of the acacia, and their love caused them to tingle happily as it grew to unbearable ecstasy.
The commotion down at the gate caught Miri’s attention. She had been in the fields all day, for she had taken to growing a fairly large herb garden in the center of the barley field. It had taken a deal of collecting seeds and cuttings over the years, and finding the best way to cultivate the wild plants and shrubs to create a useable pharmacy. Normally Susanna came with her to assist, but that day Susanna had been a little under the weather and had stayed behind to take bathe.
Suddenly Hulpa came running and called her.
“Mistress Miri! You must come quickly! Come at once!”
Miri gathered up her skirts and concern growing, strode from the field and as she stepped over the wall of field stones, she could see a large crowd had gathered down by the Sacred Tree at the end of the lane. She picked up the pace, and pushed through the crowd to its centre, and there, Susanna lay, head down, holding only a white towel around her. Standing above her, his finger pointing at the poor girl was Joachim. Beside him and nodding, he was attended by Boaz.
“What’s going on here?” demanded Miri. She stepped between Joachim and Suzanna. She removed her own shawl and, lifting Susanna to he feet wrapped her tight.
“This girl was caught in an act of adultery!” roared Joachim.
“With this boy!” added Boaz, he had a hold of poor Ishmael, Suzanna’s friend.
“And who says that?” demanded Miri, “They are just children! And neither has been betrothed!”
“She has indeed!” shouted Joachim, holding up a small piece of parchment. “Her father has given her in marriage to Levi, son of Alpheus!”
“That’s impossible!” said Miri.
“Read it yourself!” said Joachim, and held out the document.
“This is the deed to property in Kefar Nahum!” said Miri as she quickly scanned the text.
“Read the other side!” suggested Boaz.
Miri’s heart stopped. On the back of the property deed was a marriage contract signed by Alphaeus and Susanna’s father. His signature was the same scrawled “x” she had seen on the bondage of his family to Gaius of Caesarea. She was now in a fix. Any woman betrothed or married proper could be accused of adultery for just lying with a man. The proof of actual fornication was not deemed necessary under the Law.
“We caught them in the act!” declared Joachim. “They were lying together in your garden!”
“And exactly what were you doing in my garden?” asked Miri. “Why did you not ask to see me?”
“We had no need!”
“You had no need?” cried Miri, “This is my house! This is my land! How can you say you had no need?”
“This woman had carnal knowledge of this man!”
“Man!” cried Miri in disbelief, “Woman? She is just a girl!”
“A girl?” asked Boaz, “Does she not bleed?”
“What business is it of yours?” countered Miri.
“She was caught in carnal knowledge of this young man! You and your ilk cannot spread this evil amongst us! A woman cannot be admitted as a witness without a male to corroborate her story! Step aside! This act must be punished!”
A number of heads, most greyed and all male, nodded in agreement.
“And who witnessed this act?” Miri whirled at the sound of the voice.
It was Yeshua. For some inexplicable reason, seeing him drained her anger and filled her with relief.
“And who are you?” demanded Joachim.
“I am Yeshua. I am speaking for the virtue of this girl, I was wondering if it is only on your word that she is to be convicted. You cannot punish her on the word of a single witness.”
“I saw it also!” declared Boaz.
Heads nodded again.
“Then in that case we should hear your testimonies,” said Yeshua.
“I saw that girl-“ began Joachim, but Yeshua held up his hand. “No! No, you cannot speak of this testimony until we place the other witness beyond earshot!”
“That’s preposterous!” declared Joachim indignantly.
“How do we know that he is not just repeating the words he hears from you?” asked Yeshua.
A buzz erupted in the crowd.
“I am a man of honour!” protested Joachim, “My word is above reproach!”
“You know that!” said Yeshua, “But how do these others gathered here know that? Are we to take the chance of inflicting punishment on these children?”
Joachim silently conceded Yeshua’s point and waved Boaz away. Two bystanders took it upon themselves to accompany him to ensure he was removed at far enough distance to be beyond earshot of the testimony of Joachim.
“So tell us what happened,” said Yeshua.
“I entered the garden..”
“With the other man?” asked Yeshua.
“Of course,” snapped Joachim in irritation, “We entered the garden alone, and this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us.”
“And the youth in your custody?” asked Yeshua.
“We found him later, under the acacia,” replied Joachim.
“And in the garden?” asked Yeshua, “Under which tree were the two lying?”
“Why, I…” Joachim hesitated, and feet began to shuffle in the crowd.
“Which tree?” asked Yeshua again.
Joachim’s eyes fluttered up the hill towards Miri’s house, then settled on the dark green tree. “The jasmine!” he said, “In the south west corner!”
“Let those who have ears remember what we hear,” said Yeshua, and all about were wondering upon the testimony and to what Yeshua might be leading, and Boaz was brought quickly into the circle.
“We have heard from Joachim,” said Yeshua, “We would like to hear from you as well.”
Boaz glanced quickly to Joachim for assurance, and the man who had escorted him noticed the glance.
“Perhaps Joachim the Priest should also be removed,” said the man, “So that he cannot signal to the other!”
More nods. Joachim was removed.
“So,” began Yeshua, “Tell us what you saw.”
Boaz was nervous, and licked his lips. He was used to acting as Joachim’s foil, and not used to speaking on his own. “I, uh, saw that girl and that boy together.”
“In the garden?” asked Yeshua.
“Yes,” he replied finally.
“Under a tree?”
“What sort of a tree?”
Boaz did not have Joachim’s view of the garden wall.
“What sort of tree?” he asked Yeshua, not sure of Yeshua’s direction.
“Yes,” prompted Yeshua, “Under what sort of a tree did you see them together? An acacia? A willow?”
“Acacia, I think,” said Boaz finally.
“You’re sure?” asked Yeshua, “It wasn’t a hemlock?”
The crowd murmured for he had described the wrong tree, and it was dawning on them that Joachim and Boaz had almost talked them into killing an innocent child.
Boaz was drowning in the hot air.
Yes,” he said, “I am sure. It was an acacia!”
Joachim was brought back, and Yeshua explained their testimonies conflicted. He protested but the crowd had gone against him.
“What difference what kind of a tree it was?” he asked, “I saw what I saw!”
“These men have done me great disservice!” cried out Susanna from Miri’s arms. She pushed Miri away and stood defiantly, wrapped in Miri’s shawl. Miri stared at her in pride, for Susanna was now a young woman. She wondered for a brief moment why she had not noticed.
“They were hidden behind the jasmine tree,” said Susanna, “But I didn’t know that when I went in with Yotapa and Hulpa, to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot, and I was not feeling well.”
I told them to bring me oil and ointments. This they did, and and shut the garden doors as they left so that I could bathe alone. And those men had hid themselves and were watching me naked, but I did not see them, because they were hidden. After Yotapa and Hulda left, the two elders rose and ran to me, and said to me,
“Look, the garden doors are shut, no one can see us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us.”
I told them to leave, and they told me about the betrothal contract and said, “If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and you sent your maids away to be with him. I was hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it was death for me; and if I do not, I would not escape their hands. “
She placed her hands on her hips.
“I chose not to lie with them and they lay their hands on me, and pulled away my towel. I cried out, and then the men began shouting as well.
When Yotapa and Hulpa heard me shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to me. Then the elders accused me of lying with Ishmael, which I did not for he was waiting without. He had come in later, and our servants were greatly ashamed of me for they did not know what to believe!”
“The boy was with us!” shouted Yotapa.
“A woman may not testify against a man!” snapped Boaz.
“Then shall I make her as a man, so that you may believe her?” demanded Yeshua. “There are others that do!”
Heads nodded but the crowd was still not unanimously convinced.
“She must be stoned!” cried a voice.
“Stoned?” asked Yeshua anrily and picked up a large sharp rock, and strode toward the man. “Here!” he said, placing the rock in the man’s hand.
He stared deep into the man’s eyes.
“Let the first man amongst you that is free of sin, be the first to throw the stone!”
The man allowed the stone to fall to the ground, and turned away. Yeshua snatched up the stone and another, and whirled about him.
“Who amongst you is free of guilt?” he demanded.
One by one, the members of the crowd walked away in shame and betrayal until only Boaz and Joachim were left standing. Yeshua had taken to scratching the ground with stick. He drew a symbol Miri could not quite see, and then he looked up almost idly at Joachim and Boaz.
“Are you still here?” he asked in surprise, “Return to your homes and sin no more!” He continued his drawing a line in the sand.
The Templars left. Miri, Yeshua and Susanna finally linked arms and walked back out up the lane to the house.
Word of the incident spread far and wide, and people came in greater numbers, and now they were coming not so much to bring supplications to Susanna for her healing, but to hear Yeshua speak. Though he had no wish to speak with them, their questions always brought him out from his shell, and once out, the words simply poured from him as a fountain spews water. It was clear to most people that God had given Yeshua to them as a prophet.
The whispers about him were suggesting he was Daniel reincarnated, for was this not the legnd of Daniel come to life before their very eyes? Were they not in the End of Days? Were not the prophecies of Isaiah, now coming to pass? Andrew and Shimeon were convinced, but Andrew was dedicated to serving Yahja the Baptist, but whenever he could, he visited Miri’s estate.
Shortly after, Yeshua’s sisters Judith and Rebecca joined their brother and became part of Miri’s household. They enjoyed each other’s company, and soon Miri’s compound grew. Miri sent word to Phillip the Mason to begin building new buildings. Yeshua was an accomplished carpenter, and helped set the doorposts and roof beams, but he was at heart a shepherd, and preferred the peace and quiet of the Arbel.
Miri did not begrudge his absence, for she always knew he would return, and his demeanour was such that no matter whether she came to him in the hills, or he to her tower, he was always welcomed her with a contented smile, and a warm embrace. And he demanded nothing of her. More than anything, that was the trait she treasured above all others. It was not that he ever indicated he did not need her, but she had become an anchor which kept him focused in the present. She had a sense that she gave him a sanctuary to which he could always return, and for her, she suddenly felt rooted in the Earth beneath her feet. It was a sense of belonging. Neither had really felt that they had been properly secured to the source from which their Souls emanated. A great contentment filled her being.
Yet about them, the world was in turmoil. Bandits still roamed the wilderness and barred the highways. Pilatus had increased the number of Imperial agents on the streets. They were primarily ensconced in the larger towns, for it was hard for the Kittim to infiltrate the smaller villages where everyone knew everyone else, and an outsider was always an outsider no matter how long they remained in the community. In those tiny communities, birth was the only way to enter the closed intimate civic circles. That is not to say that greed and avarice could not be relied upon to secure a set of ears and eyes that could be employed by Herod’s ministers and, indirectly, agents of Pilatus. No Roman entourage could travel without a contingent of local collaborators to help them negotiate the pitfalls of the trails and pratfalls of the society in which they were stationed.
And the crowds at her gate grew. Tents sprang up and the people around her estate formed their own community. Through Yeshua’s words, they shared their belongings, and many arrived and added their own wealth to the community. Miri herself, soon began to pour more and more of her wealth into the communal pot, but she had no regret, for all in the encampment knew that something special was growing on her doorstep.
Sister Miriam was enchanted. She became an apostle of Yeshua immediately and followed him wherever he would let her. Miri could detect a streak of jealousy in her niece whenever Miri and Yeshua found a private moment together. Rebecca, though, adored Susanna and her straightforward approach to life was refreshing. However, trouble was brewing with Yeshua’s mother. Mother Mary did not approve of the communal living that was erupting on Miri’s estate. She shared that view with a number of her generation. There was another faction that watched the young people gathered there as an interesting phase that their children were attracted to. It seemed that many of the orphaned were drawn to the welcoming arms of the commune members . The Poor gathered for sustenance. The Sick gathered for the healing from Miri, Yeshua and Susanna performed. The Lost gathered for there they felt found. All were welcomed to the Community and none were turned away.
Such was the numbers that gathered there. They soon came under the scrutiny of Antipas, and the attention of Pilatus. Pilatus, however, did not see the community as a threat for his agents reported they seemed to be harmless. But Antipas, on the other hand, was always leery of any gathering crowds upon his horizon. His agents, knowing the culture more intimately than the Imperial spies, reported the word was that the commune was yet another cult that expected the Messiah to arrive at any moment.
Not that this was the only other community that expected the Anointed One to arrive and depose Antipas and slay him upon the steps of his palace with the thrust of a flaming sword of vengeance. However, he had bigger fish to fry. Crowds in the hundreds daily gathered along the Jordan to witness the baptism on the banks of the Jordan by Yahja and his followers. Antipas was decidedly nervous.
But not as nervous as Yeshua and his siblings. Or to be more specific, Rebecca, Judith and Yusef, for they were in the plot to tell their elder brother and Mother Mary about Yeshua’s betrothal to Miri.
There was to be a wedding.
But though they wanted a special ceremony at the commune, they had to fulfill the legal requirements to ask permisson of Yeshua’s elder brother and his mother. They decided the best approach was to begin a carefully worded propaganda campaign that would put Miri in the best light.
It was not easy, for Yakov spent a great deal of time fishing, and when he took the Sabbath, if he heard that Yahja the Baptist was preaching nearby, he would forgo his Sabbatical Injunctions and walk to hear him speak, for their other brother Yahn had abandoned his work to follow Yahja. Still, the moment did finally come when the actual subject of the betrothal was breached.
“That whore!” roared Yakov, “Why are you mentioning her to me?”
No one answered.
“How can you release Yeshua into the clutches of such a woman! He is a babe and she a witch!”
“Well, she’s not a witch really…” said Judith.
“I absolutely, categorically, and undeniably refuse it!” he declared, “No one in my family shall marry a daughter of Baal!”
“Well, that was the easy part,” said Rebecca, as she and Judith and Yusef left Yakov’s house.
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” said Yusef hopefully, “he may be in a better mood!”
Yeshua was at his wits end. Yakov, as the elder was adamantly opposed to any union between Yeshua and Miriam the pagan from Tiberias. That the two of them had already spent a night together alone had turned Yakov apoplectic.
“On your first day?” he demanded, “You lay with her on the first day you met? What about your vows?”
Yeshua had no answer.
“This will kill your mother!”
“How will you provide for such a woman?”
Yeshua had a brief thought of answering that God would provide, but knew such a statement might just send his older brother over the edge.
Rebecca opened her mouth, but Yakov pointed a warning finger at her. “Not a word!” he growled.
“I have waited long enough to wed,” said Yeshua quietly.
“You have driven away every woman I have arranged for you to meet!” shouted Yakov, “And now you tell me you’re marrying a harlot from Tiberias?”
“She is not a -“ objected Yeshua, but Yakov did not let him finish.
“She is not a virgin from what I have heard!”
“Neither am I!” interrupted Rebecca, unable to contain herself any more, “Yet you offered me to that abominable creature from Bethsaida!”
“You are not a -?” Yakov was speechless.
“Yakov, for Heaven’s Sake! Surely you knew that?”
He sat down and dropped his head in his hands. “You two will be the death of me!”
Swift as an arrow Rebecca saw her opening and went straight to it. “Then you’ll give your permission?” she asked.
“Do whatever you want!” replied Yakov in utter despair.
Rebecca squealed in delight and jumped on Yeshua, hugging him tight. “Congratulations!” she cried and planted a great kiss on Yeshua’s cheek.
Yakov groaned for he realized he had just given in to his younger siblings, and the road to respect had just taken a sharp turn to the left.
“Who?” asked Mother Mary.
“She is a merchant from Kefar Nahum,” replied Yeshua meekly.
“A princess!” said Rebecca enthusiastically.
“A princes from Kefar Nahum?” asked Mary, “I have never heard of such a thing? So is she Jewish at least?”
“Ah…” began Yeshua.
“She comes from a Jewish family,” interrupted Rebecca.
“So, is she a friend of yours that you answer Yeshua’s questions for him?” demanded Mary.
“Yes!” answered Rebecca and realized that wasn’t such a great recommendation, for her mother did not have such a high regard for her own lifestyle. “I mean, no.”
Mother Mary was now extremely doubtful of Miri’s pedigree.
“After Yeshua introduced me, we became friends, I mean!” she added after a silence two heartbeats past uncomfortable.
The silence now was so thick, no one could move through it.
“And Yakov has given his blessing?” Mother Mary asked finally.
“Yes!” declared both Rebecca and Yeshua in unison.
“So be it!” declared Mother Mary. “So, when do I meet this Jewish Princess from Kefar Nahum?”
“So what did you think?” Rebecca asked Miri as they walked from the house of Zebedee after their meeting with Mother Mary.
“You told her I was from Kefar Nahum?” asked Miri.
I thought it best,” said Rebecca slowly, “I have time to move you from there to Tarichae before you are married to Yeshua, but she will not take it well!”
“I understand,” said Miri. “The fact that my house is built upon a burial ground doesn’t exactly endear it to me either. How long do you think Yeshua will be?”
“You’ll be lucky to see him before you marry him!” said Rebecca with a smile, “My family is Traditional with gold letters on it!” Rebecca squeezed Miri’s arm. “Don’t worry, if they hold him, I’ll find a way to get you two together!”
As it turned out, Miri had no problem spending time with Yeshua, for he was very often alone in the hills above the Arbel. He tended the sheep Yakov had given his mother when she moved to Kefar Nahum, and, in order to make a little money, he often took woodwork with him. He was an adept carver and he took pieces of furniture with him, an arm or leg, sometimes a back and whittled and carved beautiful floral designs into them. The furniture he assembled was exquisite.
“What are you thinking?” he asked, looking up from his carving.
Miri, lying on her back, her eyes closed, wind blowing through her hair, had been thinking she would have to visit Yohanna in Yerushalayim.
Perhaps later, she thought.
At that very moment Judith appeared on the brow of the hill. She had been crying>
“I have been betrothed!” she wailed, “My life is over!”
“To whom?” asked Yeshua.
“Some merchant from Cana!” she replied despondently.
“What is his name?”asked Miri.
“Name?” asked Judith, and they all burst out laughing.