Despite the underlying feeling that the entire world would suddenly rip open beneath their feet and swallow them whole, the ride was pleasant. Martha, Miri both rode rather calm and sedate camels that knew their place in line and needed no rein or prodding. It was not lost on Miri that if she had acted like the camel beneath her, she probably would not just be safe, but also far happier. She thought back over all her adventures, and wondered if she had remained in Judea, if she would not have met Yeshua the carpenter anyway, and settled down and raised a family? She thought about Saul and wondered at the men she had drawn to her, and her heart wondered about Susanna. Which of her friends still lived? It seemed that the Angel of Death stalked her, but at each turn, missed taking her and swallowed her friends and lovers.
Such morbid musings kept her mute and unresponsive on the trip, and she moved through the world as if someone else were propelling her forward. At night she was visted often by Yeshua, but for the most part she awoke only with an aching loneliness and a terrible dark disappointment that he had not been returned to her. Such was her depression, she longed for sleep always that she could be reunited with her husband, for in her Dreams he comforted her, where when awake, he did not.
News reached them from other parts, at watering holes, wells, and caravanserai along the way. Israel was in an uproar. Pilatus and Antipas had raised a great army, and were massing along the border with Perea, and there was talk of war and of revolution. Finally, as they wound their way through the hills, the fortress of Machaerus stood above them, and they climbed the narrow path before they were swallowed by the stone fortress.
Phasaelis had returned to Rekkem as her father wanted her out of harm’s way, and the Nabatean forces were raising the walls of the city as well as the Citadel, and defense works were being dug. Despite the hectic preparations, the Nabateans treated Miri and her friends as members of their own family, and they were made welcome there. There were those who thought Yehuda to be Yeshua, and because of that, they were treated as man and wife, and though their lodgings were to accommodate a man and wife, they slept apart. Miri was tired and slept most of the day everyday. Martha fussed over her, but Miri couldn’t find the energy to lift herself from her bed which vexed Martha, but gave her also a focus around which she could arrange her day. She would allow no one else to serve food to her aunt. Yehuda brooded miserably. The life of a fugitive, no matter the cause, did not sit well upon his shoulders.
However, he helped Martha bring Miri to the roof on a tower of the Citadel, so she would be able to get fresh air each afternoon, and they would sit and watch the sun disappear to the West. Behind them, the moon rose, and was full. A month had passed since Yeshua’s death. They settled in together under a camel hari blanket theat prickled her skin.
“I missed my period!” Miri whispered.
“I’m not surprised!” Martha, whispered back, “What with everything that’s happened!”
“And did you miss as well?” asked Miri.
“Me?” asked Martha, “I’m regular as clockwork! Two days before the full moon, rain or shine!”
“But you don’t set yourself apart,” said Miri.
“A bunch of nonsense!” said Martha, “You think I should lay about for five days? There’s bread to be baked! Floors to be scrubbed! Beds to be made!”
“But what about your Soul?” asked Miri, “Have you know time for that?”
“Safe and sound!” said Martha, “My Soul is the least of my worries!”
“But have you no doubts?”
“Doubts?” Martha patted the stone upon which they sat. “The world is below me! The sky above! My belly is either full or empty! What more is there to know?”
Miri smiled and wished for Martha’s surety, but her words made sense. What more do we need? The rest is all just an illusion. It is only what we believe it to be. She was moved by the Great Mother, Yeshua by the Power in Heaven, Saul by Yahweh, others by Diana, and Zeus or Auset. What did any of that matter?
Her hand went to her stomach, and beneath her palm through the flesh, she sensed a growing light. She was sure of it.
“I’m pregnant!” she announced.
Martha looked at her in astonishment.
“You miss by one day, and you’re pregnant?” asked Martha.
“I’m sure of it!”
“We’ll see!” said Martha, confident her aunt’s blood would begin to flow within a day or two.
At dawn, the sound of a shofar brought everyone to their feet.
Around Machaerus heads popped up from their coverings everywhere. It had been a hot night and most people had slept on the roof. Antipas was nearing the gates, and the Romans under Pilatus were already securing a perimeter around the city.
A herald advanced to the city gates.
“We have come for the man named Yeshua the Nazorean! Surrender him and we shall be merciful!”
The Commander of the Nabateans, a man called Malichi, stood on the battlements.
“We have no one here of that name! Return to your homeland!”
“If you do not relinquish Yeshua the Nazorean and his mistress, the Magdalene, we shall consider it an Act of War!”
“Set the fires!” said Malichi.
A signalman near him touched a torch to a pile of branches in the sentinel hearth, and the fire burst quickly into flame. Inside the hearth were heated bowls of asphalt, and as the fire heated them, the tar began to bubble, then caught fire. Hot angry orange falme raged from the hearth and black smoke billowed skyward. On a distant hill south of the fortress, smoke puffed into the blue sky. Within less than the time it takes to eat a loaf of bread, Haritar in Rekkem, knew that war had begun.
“We must leave!” said Yehuda, “We can’t put you in such jeopardy!”
“You would not get far!” said Malachi, “The Romans will have set their men in a perimeter to make sure no one gets in or out! We stay put until Haritar gives word he is near! They will not charge the castle today. It will take some time for them to gain any intelligence as to our defences and our numbers. All we have to do is make sure no one gets out to tell them!”
Though almost everyone in Machaerus was involved in preparing the defenses, carrying stones to the walls, emptying the storehouses against the city walls, and filling them with sand to withstand the onslaught of siege engines, still, normal day to day trade carried on as if the war was on the far side of the Mediterranean.
“Stay in your lodgings! Haritar has ordered that nothing happen to you upon pain of Death! I will send Faisal and Ibenuzza with you!” Two Nabatean cavalry officers stepped forward at he mention of their names, and escorted Miri and Yehuda to their rooms. Non of them could stand not knowing what was happening, and they immediately went up on the roof. Miri and Martha set up a booth with a cloth roof over a large carpet, and they sat in the shade to watch the reinforcing of the city defenses. Faisal and Ibenuzza continually jumped up and paced as they watched the city transform itself into a fortress, and they pointed out the progress to their charges with great excitement. Miri had the impression their horses were probably stomping in frustration in a stable in sympathy. All over the town, the citizens were hiding their valuables, and making sure their children knew when to flee to the citadel.
A single arrow, burning from its head arced from the Roman camp, and fell far short of the city walls.
“They’re testing the range,” said Faisal, They will move up their lines!”
And a small group of Romans came forward, and fired another arrow. It too fell short of the walls.
“They will keep pushing until we return fire,” said Faisal, “they need to get as close as possible without our artillery reaching them. They have few siege engines, and there is no wood nearby that will serve them. They are at a great disadvantage here, as we control the valley. If we fire back, because it is downhill, our archers will have a further range than theirs. Malichi will not return fire until their arrows fall inside the walls!”
Miri watched the events unfolding, and thought how much the day was like Lag B’ Omer, and realized it must be close! She received a strange satisfaction in the sense that lag B’Omer was not just a day for bonfires and archery contests, but a deep and meaningful moment in her life and the lives of those around her. It was almost as if the year was unfolding as it should. Yeshua had been sacrificed at Pesach like the Paschal lamb, and with Martha below baking barley loaves, at Lag B’Omer, real bonfires were being lit and arrows testing the defenses of her citadel were being released.
In that moment, her depression lifted and she stood up.
“Where are you going?” asked Yehuda nervously.
“To help Martha!” she said and descended to the courtyard where her niece was preparing the evening meal.
The next day, the Roman arrows had reached the walls of the city, but Malichi did not return fire to deter them. He waited. And the Romans, knowing that they had reached the city with their best archers, wondered why Malichi did not return fire to force them back, and they worried that he might actually have weapons more powerful that their own spies had missed, and he was luring them closer to ensure a total and massive destruction of the Roman Legion. The Romans were not prone to dashing madly into battle, and their commander decided he would wait to see what the Nabateans had up their sleeves.
Antipas was furious. He wanted to attack immediately. He knew the defenses of Machaerus intimately, and was sure they could take it easily from the north, and that the longer they waited the more prepared the defenses would be. Pilatus, faced with the imposing hill before him, put his faith in his commander and decided to wait would be the better part to undertake.
“This man Yahja, or Yeshua, whoever he is, for all his talk of peace, intends to depose me, and set himself up on the throne of Israel! You have seen he is no friend of Rome! Aretas is using this man to expand his own territory!”
Pilatus was concerned for he knew Yeshua had been crucified. His wife had warned him of a dream the night before not to condemn any to die the following day, as the dead would come back to haunt him, and now, her warning had come to pass, But he could not believe that this Galilean had come back to Life! It was impossible! He needed to get into the fortress to find out whether it was the same man or some other false Messiah! He worried that Antipas had become unstable, and began to consider recommending his removal to the Emperor.
The standoff lasted three days. On the morning of the fourth day, as the first rays of the sun pierced the purple shadows of the valley, a thunder arose that shook the very earth. Form out of nowhere, a vast cavalry of camels and horses charged into the Roman and Jewish army, and their camps were engulfed immediately in a great cloud of dust. They could see nothing from the Citadel, but Malichi’s archers found targets that crawled like insects up from the melee in search of safety, and all the fugitives found was a swift and terrible death. The shouts and clashes continued for the whole morning, but the frequency of cries slowly dropped and the dust cloud drifted away. By the time the afternoon was over, the land before Machaerus was red with Roman and Jewish blood.
Miri had never seen a rout on such a scale, and everyone who witnessed the avenging cloud consume the armies could not wonder that al Dushara himself had descended upon the enemy at the gates of Machaerus.
A herald arrived to escort Yehuda to the great hall, and Miri insisted on going with him. There, Haritar himself, greeted the. He did not sit upon the throne, for it had been cast down, and lay in pieces upon the floor, but on the dais, an exquisite rug had been laid and Haritar sat with his kinsmen and commanders.
“Yeshua the Nazorean, are you the Son of David?”
Yehuda held his palms out.
“I am neither Yeshua nor the Son of David,” he answered simply. The crowd broke into an astonished buzz. “I am his brother,” he continued, “His twin, the one they call Didymus!”
Haritar frowned. He had intended to back this man’s claim to the Herodian throne. With his blessing, the woman Miri, and an agreement with Rome, he had thought to expand his own influence to the Mediterranean. Now, he could be in deep trouble. Rome did not take kindly to having one of its Legions slaughtered, unless they could profit handsomely from it. Haritar commanded to be left alone with Yehuda and Miri.
“You have no royal blood?” asked Haritar in a whisper.
Yehuda shook his head.
“And even if he did,” said Miri, “Neither of us has ambitions on the throne of the Herods. To mount it would be suicide!”
Haritar admitted her point.
“Kings never seem to last as long as their subjects! Still, I need a legitimate excuse to present to the Emperor.”
Miri pressed closer. “From what I hear,” she said, “Vitellius has a great antipathy toward Pilatus and, as Pilatus attacked you, and then lost the legion, it would not take much convincing that you were the victim here! If you can do that and show you were acting in defence of your own realm, and yet still emerged victorious, you have a good chance of bending the ear of Vitellius. Pilatus will be removed, and perhaps even Antipas sent into exile! The Romans will side with the victor!”
“As long as it is profitable!” I have no wish to get into bed with the Roman Emporer. I have already gained the road from Damascus to Rekkem, and from the gold Vitellius has brought into the coffers of Rome through concessions would be enough to give me some influence. At the moment, I have an advantage for we have an agreement to hold the King’s Highway while he engages Artabanus of Parthia. I have agreed to remain neutral in the conflict, and I doubt if he will move upon us for the time being. I shall send someone to Vitellius immediately!”
“I shall send a special gift of silk bolts, incense for the temple of the Emporer, and gold dust.”
“Gold dust?” asked Miri.
“Apparently it is quite revered in Rome as both a medicant and cosmetic amongst the rich and famous! And he has recently wed a woman called Petroniana, a patrician of great ancestry, who I have heard has tastes for such things. I think he will be quite grateful for matrimonial bribes. It will tend to make his domestic life far easier!”
He leaned ans whispered in her ear. “For your services to Phasaelis, The coins I have left will be ground up to form the gift.” He raised his head and opened his arms to the others assembled there. He rested a hand on Miri’s shoulder.
“For all who have ears to hear!” he called out, “From this moment on, Miriam they call the Magdalene is my daughter, and you shall treat her as my kin! I extend the protection of blood bonds to her and her kin! I swear this before my own kinsmen and to Al Uzza, as Mithras is my witness!”
He turned to her.
“I think it would be best for you and your brother-in-law to move to Rekkem for the time being. I have no wish for you to come to harm, and I think it would be better for my position to deny that you were here! Phasaelis will be pleased to see you!”
The next morning, Yehuda, Miri and Martha awoke early and walked down to the main caravanserai and to ne introduced to the chief merchant who had hired the caravan. Miri was delighted to see her old friend Obodas.
“I can’t believe it’s you!” she said happily as they broke their embrace.
“I am here at the request of Haritar!” said Obodas, “He said you would be more comfortable with someone you knew!”
The ride was not as pleasant as the ride from Damascus to Machaerus. The air was drier and extremely hot, but there were, occasionally deep, shaded and waterfilled canyons, and the entire caravan would stop to bathe and water the animals, and rest for the day. At a Wadi Hasa, there were others already camped there. Though there was no official caravanserai there, a family that lived beside the waters charged a fee for an overnight stay and a smaller fee for use of the water. Half of the fee was then given to the Temple of Artagatis that stood upon a nearby hill. After eating alight meal of cucumbers, chick peas and unleavened bread, Miri and Martha decided they would go for a walk. Yehuda volunteered to escort them, and Obodas, ever the gracious host insisted upon accompanying them.
They followed the small river, and admired the foliage thereabout, and marveled that in the deep cracks of the earth, plant life could flourish, though above their heads the sun burned almost all life away. Up the river, they encountered a man sitting cross-legged, and dressed in white. He was attended by a number of disciples who cooled him with fans of peacock feathers. The dark wood handles were wound with gold wire, and an attendant fed the rabbi sweet melons.
“Who is this man?” Obodas asked a man who stood before the teacher, “That you treat as a king?”
“His name is Mandi, the Light of the World!” said the disciple enthusiastically, “We are returning to Parthia from Gomorrah!”
“Gomorrrah?” asked Yehudi, “Why on Earth would he visit such a place?”
“To face the darkness, and destroy it!”
“And he destroyed the darkness?”
“There was no need!” replied the disciple, “for Gomorrah was not there!”
“And the darkness?”
“It resides only within our own hearts’ desire!” replied the disciple, “This was the lesson to be learned from the pilgrimage, and now we are returning to our homes! All that exists in this earth is darkness, and only the Pure Heart can light it!”
Obodas and Miri exchanged glances, and they smiled at each other, for they both knew each other to be earth based.
“Will the Mandi speak with us?” asked Yehuda.
“He speaks with no one,” replied the disciple, “He has taken a vow of silence, for others will only take his words and twist them to their own ends!”
“Then how do you know his wishes?”
“Where he walks, we follow in his footsteps,” replied the disciple, “There is no need to ask nor question his teachings, for he has none, other than his example!”
“I see!” said Yehuda.
“Well, good luck,” said Miri, picking up her skirts, and turning her back on Mandi and his followers. Martha sniffed disapprovingly for she had a very low opinion of anyone who spent their lives idly. They turned their faces from Mandi and retraced their way through the canyon.
“I have never met a teacher so laconic!” said Miri.
“Brevity is the soul of wit!” replied Obodas, and they laughed, but quickly stifled their laughter for their voices echoed loudly in the narrow canyon, and they had no desire for the followers of Mandi to feel they were making light of their faith.
When they were out of earshot, Obodas suddenly became extremely serious.
“I have something to say to you!” he said as his eyes looked about nervously.
Miri instantly knew that something was bothering her friend.
“Haritar is holding you as a hostage!”
“Why would he do that?” asked Miri, not quite believing Obodas.
“Insurance!” he said, “He knows Antipas would give anything to get his hands on you and your brother-in-law! You have become a bargaining tile! You will be held in Rekkem!”
“But Yehuda is not Yeshua!” said Miri.
“As long as he looks like Yeshua, what does that matter?: Antipas will string him up over the gates of Yerushalayim simply to show that Yeshua is once and for all dead!”
“What can I do?” asked Miri.
Before Obodas could answer, they encountered another group of adventurers on the return trip who rested on a wide, sloping boulder beside the waters of the wadi. One of their number jumped up excitedly upon seeing them, and shouted out “The Messiah!” and the others scrambled up and swarmed Miri and her friends.
It turned out they were Nazoreans who had fled Yerushalayim after the crucuifixion of Yeshua, as Pilatus, Antipas and the Templars had initiated a pogrom against Galilean supporters of Yeshua, and many, not even related to those who had though Yeshua to be the Messiah, had been seized, some tortured, and others sent to the slave markets in Ceasarea.
Though Yehuda and the others denied being Yeshua, the Galileans did not believe them. They simply assumed that they were denying their identity to avoid discovery, and they all declared their allegiance to him. All insisted upon examining Yehudah’s hands and feet and marveled he had no scars from the crucifixion. Yehuda was clearly becoming angered by their inability to listen to his denial, and Miri cautioned him with a single glance, and he maintained a barely civil response to the amazement of the Galileans. To make matters worse, they insisted upon walking with them back to the caravan camping site, where they were sorely taxed to keep their views to themselves.
Yehuda could not abide the adoration, and excused himself and slipped out alone into the desert. Miri, after a moment’s hesitation, followed him. The sun was setting and the pink sandstone turned purple. The Star Ishtar announced the coming of night, and the stars twinkled on one by one, until the entire black bowl above them was filled with their radiance. Darkness fell swiftly upon them. The rising moon rose and illuminated their faces enough for them to see each other. They beyond the Temple of Atrgatis, whose lamps burned in the dark night and cast shafts of light between the shadows of the temple’s columns.
“We can’t live like this!” said Yehuda, “Everywhere we go, I am called by my brother’s name, and defined by my brother’s wife!”
“Yudi,” said Miri softly, and touched his arm.
He pulled away.
“I am not Yeshua!” he said, “Do not touch me!”
Miri felt her anger bubble up, but suppressed it.
“It will pass!” Miri said, “But I am with child!”
Yehuda looked at her in shock. Though he was not the eldest, he was responsible for the lives of his brother’s children, and the knowledge that they were now due, changed his obligations intensely to his brother’s widow.
“You’re sure?” he asked, still in shock.
“I am!” said Miri.
“They will claim him,” he said to her, “Yeshua’s followers will look to his offspring as the inheritor’s of his Messianic legacy!”
Miri bit her lip nervously. Yehuda was right. She had somehow thought somewhere in the back of her head, she could raise the child and protect him from the insanity that had grown about Yeshua, but if any found out he was the child of Yeshua, his days would be numbered. They had already killed Yeshua by electing him Messiah, and now her child was threatened by their zeal.
“What can we do?” asked Miri.
“We must return to Yerushalayim!” said Yehuda, “We shall speak with Yakov and Yahn, and they will confirm that I am Yeshua’s twin. With my identity established, we shall declare the child as mine!”
Miri resisted the idea of declaring the father to be other than Yeshua, but she said nothing. She hoped there would be a better way. Lying about Yeshua just seemed to her to be wrong and a dishonour to his memory. And she had no desire to return to Yerushalayim. Putting herself into danger was one thing, but to place her child into jeopardy was an anathema to her.
But she knew Yakov would confirm Yehuda was not. It had to be done!
“We will leave immediately!” she said forcefully, “But we must leave now! Obodas will not let us go, for Haritar has commanded him to defend me on pain of death! And those Galileans will insist upon following in our footsteps!”
Martha was not happy at being woken, but she immediately saw the sense in Yehuda’s plan, and secretly, she was homesick for Bethany. The three crept from the camp and followed a path that would lead them to the shores of Lake Asphaltis. Having gained a fair distance, they stopped and rested. By the end of the day, they all regretted their decision. The sun beat heavily upon them and they were ill-prepared for wandering about in the desert. They struggled around the shore of the dead sea, faced with an expanse of water, but unable to drink from the lake. They decided the best approach would be to travel at night when the desert cooled and find shelter by day in the shadows of narrow wadis and suks.
They ran out of water on the second day, but towards dawn of the third day, they came upon a Bedouin family, and they were offered sustenance from them and were invited to travel with them, for they were seeking pastures in the Judean plains above the towering cliffs on the western shore of the dead sea.
As they passed Masada, the Bedouin patriarch, Faisal, pointed at the distinctive flat-topped mountain.
“Antipas has flown to his aerie!” he announced, “He is afraid of Haritar, and cowers there now!”
Miri stared at the curious stepped palace on the northern face of the mountain.
“There are stores there to last forty years!” said Faisal, “It was built by Yohannen the High Priest, to defend against the Romans, then Herod to defend against Cleopatra, and for all those who built it, more than anything, it is a protection against the people they ruled, and the friends that put them there!” He spat upon the ground. “May al-Uzza bring them down, and the winds of Kaws blow through their ruin!”
He spate upon the earth before the huge cliffs of Masada, then his brow wrinkled and he stared at his guests for he suddenly thought he may have offended them.
Yehuda saw his fear and replied, “Every citadel stands to remind us all that there are men who quake in fear of others! Would that we could build temples upon the high places upon their ruins!”
“Amen!” said Faisal, “The high places belong to the gods not men!”
Miri said nothing, and though she was curious about Masada, she kept her eyes upon the ground before her. She was afraid that Antipas might have some way of seeing her from on high, and as irrational as her thought was, she could not shake it. The dust below her feet brought her comfort, and her steps, one after the other with no horizon in her vision, brought her comfort.
“You are very quiet!” said Martha falling into step beside her.
Miri said nothing.
“It is not in your nature,” said Martha, “Are you ill?”
Miri smiled without looking up, but it was irony that curled her lips. “I feel the world closing in upon me!” she answered, “As though I no longer have a choice over my actions!”
“You always have a choice!” declared Martha confidently.
“Why have you no doubts?” asked Miri.
“What good would they do?” retorted Martha, and Miri fell silent. They were quite unalike she and her niece.
“Why do you stay with me?” asked Miri, “And not remain in Bethany?”
“You need me,” said Martha.
“And you?” asked Miri, “Are your needs being met by me?”
“I have not thought about that!” replied Martha. “It is not important!”
As members of a small tribe of Bedouin shepherds, they were ignored by the sentries along the road. They simply wrapped their turbans and shawls about their heads and eyes downcast, passed the military posts along the way, and for their part, the sentries felt safer having the Bedou pass at a distance. They turned from the main road and followed a trail up through the escarpment and into the desert beyond. They stopped at a roofless abandoned stone hut, corralled their sheep within it and set camp at the open end of the building, then after a great deal of effort, set a fire of dried camel dung to cook an evening meal of bread, cheese and dates.
Fasial’s wife, a pleasant woman called Zahara, sat beside Miri, and looked up at the stars. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” she asked softly.
Miri was silent Yehuda and Martha sat huddled together.
“You see how the stars are tonight?” Zahara asked, “There is a great change coming about, to the world and to the people upon her. Out here, everything remains the same, and the fate of others is of no consqeuence! The stars revolve about us, but they do not change their course for us. No matter what our beliefs, in the end, it is only the kindness between you and I that matters. All else is an illusion!”
“I wish we could stay here forever!” whispered Miri as she stared up at the stars.
“Say the word and you can make it so!” said Zahara.
“There is something I must do first!” said Miri.
“Always!” said Zahara, “Always one more thing!”
The colt was no longer tied to the tree by the house in Bethany.
“Do you think Eli stills uses the colt as a signal?” asked Miri.
“Just go up and check!” whispered Martha impatiently, but before Miri could answer, Martha marched over to the house and knocked on the gate. No one challenged her, and she waved the others over.
“Now what?” she asked.
Miri looked about, but no one seemed pay any attention to them.
“Let’s go see Eli!”
They led the colt to Bait Eleazar, and knocked on the gate. They heard nothing from within, and tested the door. It gave immediately, and opened. Though no one was in the courtyard, and leaves covered the ground. It seemed empty and uninhabited.
Matrtha grunted. “The bread should have been done! Look at this place! Is no one sweeping the floor?”
They searched the rooms. The place had been ransacked and Martha fretted terribly. Though her comments were all directed to the condition of the house, Miri knew that her niece fretted over the absence of her brother and sister.
They returned to the courtyard and Martha was close to tears. Yehuda set up an overturned bench and set it against the wall, and they sat on it.
“I will go to Mother!” said Martha, “Perhaps they are staying with her!”
Miri and Yeshua offered to walk down with her, but she insisted they would draw attention to her. “Your faces are too well known!” she said, “I will be safer alone!”
Yehuda and Miri waited. Evening fell and they eventually went to sleep. The next morning, Martha returned.
“Chuza says every authority in the land has eyes open for you!” she told them, “I spoke with Yusef, and he will bring those who knew Yeshua here!” She frowned at Yehuda, and examined him critically. “You can explain you are the twin brother of Yeshua!” She lifted the cover from a basket. “I have brought food for you!”
“Did you see Eli?” asked Miri.
Martha tensed. “He has left Israel!”
“Where has he gone?” asked Miri, instantly concerned for her nephew.
“He joined Annobal and is travelling as a crew member!” said Martha, “Antipas and Caiaphas ordered his arrest! The others claimed he was proof Yeshua was the Messiah for he had been restored to life by him! Yusef spirited him to Gaza and he boarded Annobal’s ship there!”
“Thank goodness!” Miri had a weight lifted from her shoulders.
“Sister Miriam is with Yohanna and Chuza, and wants to see you right away!”
“And I her!” said Miri.
“She will arrive tomorrow, I think. She wanted to come with me, but we did not wish to draw attention to the house. Yohanna will visit as well, I think. Under the pretext of readying the house for sale, we can bring several people here under guise of cleaning and repairing the house!”
“Gone!” said Martha, “We think Caiaphas may have known of his involvement and he fled! Chuza warned him of the suspicions, and is sure he was not arrested. Yakov is not here!”
Miri was disappointed. Yakov would have been believed when presented with Yehuda. “What about Yahn?”
“They are both in Galilee!”
“So we have no family here?”
“Not of Yeshua’s!” said Martha. “It will be a tough row to hoe!”
“Who is left?”
“Phillip the Mason, I think. Levi the tax collector. None who knew Yeshua well! Thaddeus has returned with Judith to Cana. Rebecca and Simon are both in the highlands!”
“This is hopeless!” he cried, “How can I convince these people I am not Yeshua if none have known him! Neither Rebecca nor Yusef knew me at first! How can I convince others less familiar?”
“Still we have to try!” said Miri.
More than they had expected showed up for the meeting. Though they had asked that the disciples keep Yeshua’s return a secret, it was impossible to keep under covers. Miri had known secrecy was not something that could be enforced, for Yeshua had time and time again implored his followers not to call him the Messiah, and yet they had shouted his name from the rooftops, but she hoped that none would tell any but the select few followers. She had not though, guessed at the effect of their being hunted would have on the meeting. Fear of arrest had mitigated the numbers. Only a handful showed up at Bethany. Bethany. Miri, Yohanna and her daughters prepared a meal for the congregation, and but no one ate. It was apparent that suspicion was so strong, that the fear of poison kept the strangers from sharing the meal.
When Miri appeared, the faithful whispered excitedly amongst themselves. And Miri herself was excited as she saw Shimeon and Adam amongst the others, standing with Levi, son of Alpheus. The sight of them warmed her heart, but at the same instant, their presence reminded her terribly of Yeshua. When Yehuda appeared on the balcony, many fell to their knees, and others cried out aloud, for they mistook him as Yeshua.
Yehuda raised his arms up, and spoke to quiet them.
“I come to you as you have been faithful to my brother’s words!”
And they immediately began to asked amongst themselves “Who is the brother whereof he speaks?” and did not understand his words.
“We are assembled together, that we should not depart from Yerushalayim, but spread the Word of Yeshua, and wait for the promise of the Power to be fulfilled!” and a man stood up and asked immediately, “Then are you restoring to us the kingdom of Israel?”
“It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, but when you receive the Power into your hearts, and the Shekhina shall fill your soul! You may not know, but there are those who have seen me in Yerushalayim and in all Judaea, and as well as Samaria, and other parts! And they shall testify to seeing me, but I am not Yeshua!”
A stream of protests erupted, but Yehuda held his hands for silence. His face set sternly, and a change came over him.
“Can you not understand I am not Yeshua? I am not the the Anointed One! Is it not enough that Yeshua was crucified? Are you not satisfied with that? He died because of you! He asked you not to speak of him as the Messiah, and yet you did! Your very words convicted him in the eyes of the Kittim! Their eyes do not see the world as your eyes see the world! It is impossible for them to see that a world without their Empire is not a world set against them, but a world free of them!”
Even Miri could not separate Yehuda from his brother for that moment. Her heart was torn asunder, and she wondered at her own life and could not imagine that it all was a strange dream, and that at some moment she would awaken. She passed her hand across her slightly distended belly, and felt a movement within, and she was carried away by the sense of the Life growing within her while Yehuda spoke.
“The Kittim cannot see that the world is the world of illusion!” he said, “It is manifest from our desire, and manifest from our fear! And now you have a choice! You can run from the enemy that oppresses you, or you can stand against them! But it is not the stance of the warrior that you must perform, but the bravery of a Prince of Peace. For though the warrior speaks of courage, he stands behind his shield, and threatens the enemy with his spear, and the fellows at his back! That is not the stand of a truly courageous man! You have seen Yeshua’s example! Stand naked before your enemies! Hold out your hands to show you mean no harm and offer your heart to the Evil before you! It is by the light that shines within you that you set an example for the heathens!
Do not hide beneath your beds for under the covers, none will hear of your goodness! A woman does not place a cloth over the lamp in the window for none will see it! She exposes it for all the world to see her commitment! For all your piety, there is only doing and not doing! In between each, every and any moment, we must decide upon one over the other, so we must always ask, ‘Am I acting from Love, or an I choosing from Fear?’
And I can see in your hearts that Fear is choosing for you! Are the words of our brother, Yeshua, to come to no end? Shall you seal his Word into your hearts and keep it secreted there? For then, would the crucifixion of your Messiah be in vain! He has set you an example to see! It is not of this world that you should concern yourselves! It consists only of matter! All that makes it real is the Spirit within it. As within your Soul resides the Power, so to does the Spirit lie within all you see about you!”
He reached down and lifted a table an handswidth above the floor.
“This table does not eat, nor sleep, nor dance, but it contains within it a purpose! It stands as a table upon which you can place your food, or a spot to keep your chalice from defilement, and its purpose has been built into it by the carpenter who cut the tree and shaped its form! And so too, have you!
Then be the table. Stand and hold up the sacred meal for others to eat! Does it matter that others will use you for their own purpose? That they carve their names into your flesh? Did Yeshua renounce his Words and Deeds in face of the Kittim? Did he recant his determination to follow the Way of the Righteous? Of course not! And why?
Yehuda’s eyes swept the room as an eagle scans the horizon.
“Because he knew that the flesh that wraps out bones is merely matter. What truly makes a man, is his Soul! What truly defines a woman is her Spirit! A child is the projection of the Power! All else is only matter that is of no consequence. If the Kittim cut or burn away or destroy your flesh, they cannot crush your Soul! Your body without the Soul is just a corpse. Matter of no consequence, though it holds you up from the ground. What then does it matter whether matter be destroyed or not? ”
Yehuda smiled, and he opened his arms to the brethren gathered in the courtyard in Bethany. “All nature,” he said, “All formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots in the Power. For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of the Power alone. You have ears to hear, then think upon these words.”
Shimeon said to him, “But if the Power resides in all things, as you explained to us, then where does the sin of the world exist?”
“There is no sin!” said Yehuda and all attendant muttered amongst themselves, for everywhere they looked they saw Sin. “It is you who bring sin into the world!” and the audience erupted in anger. Yehuda had to shout above their protests. “You bring Sin into the World whenever your go against your beliefs, when you betray trust in the nature of adultery, which is called a Sin. That is why Yeshua came into your midst; so the essence of every nature be restored it to its true Spirit.”
“Matter is not of any consequence to the Followers of the Way! That is why you become sick and die, when you are deprived of the Power that can heal you. Those who have a heart to understand, let them understand. You cannot deny that the flesh gives birth to a passion that has no equal, which seems to proceed from something contrary to nature. A disturbance rages within your whole body. But even that passion that arises from matter is not of any more consequence than the matter itself! That is why I tell you to be brave in the face of worldly needs. If you are of true courage, and you will no longer be discouraged or encouraged in the presence of the different forms of nature!”
There were many among them that now were more convinced that Yehuda was Yeshua, and he shook his head as he realized he had not taken enough time to comvincve them of his true identity. And they shouted that he should lead them to victory over the Romans.
Yehuda shook his head sadly, and he stared down at his feet. “Have you heard nothing?” he held out his hands “Do you see the mark of the nails upon my flesh?” He pulled aside his robe, “Do you se the wound in my side? The wounds in my feet?”
A man fell to his feet. “It is a miracle!” he cried, “You have overcome the flesh!” Others cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Hallelujah” and the commotion that ensued drowned out his words. He turned from the gathering, and retired to the roof. Miri followed him as quickly as she could.
He turned to her. “I cannot go on like this!” he said, “I am not Yeshua, and they insist upon it!”
Miri reached to embrace him but he removed her hands and slipped from her arms. “Miri, I cannot continue!’ he said hopelessly, “I cannot be with you as I would wish until my brother is dead! These people will not let him die!”
“He has told me as much!” said Miri.
Yehuda frowned, but his own predicament clouded his curiosity. He did not question that Miri has spoken with his brother after his death.
“I am going to find Yeshua’s body!” he said grimly, “Only then will they believe!”
“No!” said Miri fiercely, “They will take his bones and use them for their own purposes! Do you think Yeshua would want his remains to be worshipped as the rest of the world worships blocks of stone?”
“But I cannot live in his shadow!” said Yehuda, “I shall seek his corpse! I know you cannot stand wondering where his remains could have come to rest!”
“How can you say that after everything you just said?” asked Miri.
“What are you talking about?” asked Yehuda.
“Just now as you spoke to the disciples!” said Miri, “You told them to renounce the flesh and feed the spirit!”
“I did?” asked Yehuda, “I have no recollection of any words on matter! All I told them was that I am not my brother, nor my brother’s keeper!”
“That is not what I heard!” answered Miri in astonishment, “You must have been overcome by Yeshua’s spirit!”
“I did no such thing!” denied Yehuda angrily, “This is is intolerable!” He grasped Miri’s arms tightly, “Miri, I love you! But I cannot be my brother! I must find him, and then will I find peace of mind, contentment of heart and harmony of Spirit! I must go!”
“No!” said Miri, “Stay with me!”
I..” Yehuda stopped for Yusef had mounted the roof.
“They are calling for Yeshua!” he said.
“Let them find him then!” said Yehuda bitterly, “for they see him where he is not!”
“Yehuda is leaving!” said Miri. “He is going to seek Yeshua in Samaria!”
“The country is crawling with spies!” said Yusef, “Antipas and the Templars won’t rest until they track the both of you down!” He stared grimly toward Yerushalayim. “You are not ordinary fugitives! Of all the leaders to have been executed, you are the only Messiah to have been resurrected! I had to spirit Eleazar away so they would not subject him to their torturous tests! They wanted to kille him to see if he would remain alive! And they will do worse to you if they think you are the Messiah!”
“How can I be the Messiah?” cried Yehuda in frustration.
“You can never convince them of you are not!” said Yusef, wrapping his arm about Yehuda. “You are worth as much to your enemies as your friends! They need you as much as Yeshua’s followers need you! As long as you are alive, they have a target to point towards that will distract the people from their differences. You are the glue that binds them all together! Do you think for a moment, the Messiah will bring Peace and Harmony! Yeshua himself denied it! He denied he had come to bring Peace on Earth, for he knew his Word would cause division. From this time he said, henceforth, of five in a house would be divided, three against two, and two against three. The sire shall set against his son, the son against his sire, mother against daughter, daughter against mother! Your brother was a true Teacher of Righteousness, and though his light has laid bare to all, the Evil of the Sons of Darkness, But still, I found comfort in his Word!”
He looked deeply into Yehuda’s eyes.
“I am your brother, Yehuda!”
Tearfully, Yehuda shook Yusef’s hand, and then embraced him.
“Thank you,” he said to Yusef, “I am forever in your debt. Take care of my nephew.”
“We are tied by blood now, Yehuda,” replied Yusef. “Wherever you may be, I will be with you.”
“And I with you, brother,” answered Yehuda, “But I must leave! I cannot step into my brother’s footsteps! As long as I remain with Miri, we will all be exposed to the evil of Men of Power, and as long as the Kings of the Earth crave more power, there will be those who will try to destroy us!” he sighed and hugged Miri. “I wish the world was not so cruel!”
“It is not the world!” she whispered back. Miri was in shock. She had not expected Yehuda to turn tail.
“It is not enough!” said Yehuda despondently. “Whenever they see me, they will see Yeshua. Even I could not live that lie! I am leaving!”
“No!” cried Miri, clutching at Yehuda.
“I cannot stay here, neither can you!”
“Where will you go?” asked Miri.
“I am going to Syria, beyond Damascus, to the East! I cannot go west for there will be too many who will know me!”
“I will go with you!” said Miri.
“We cannot stay together!” he said bitterly, “It is you and I together that sew up the minds of those who see us!”
Miri sank to the ground. She could not believe that Yehuda would leave her, and her will drained from her and soaked into the ground beneath her. Darkness clouded her heart.
“I have lost Yeshua and now I shall lose you!”
“It is for your child!” said Yehuda, “Not for you or for me! If we remain together, there are those who will see the child of the Messiah and they will not rest until he too is sacrificed to their cause! You know that as well as I! It has always been so, and always shall!”
“No!” declared Miri, but she knew he was right. It was for the same reason she had removed Yeshua’s body from the tomb.
“I must give the people what they want!” He broke their embrace. “Goodbye!” he said and descended the steps and the faithful below fell silent.
“Peace be with you!” he said in greeting, “Take the peace of my Soul and make it yours. I have returned to tell you to beware that no one leads you astray by pointing here and there, saying ‘Lo here or lo there!’ for the Son of Man is within you. Follow after Him! Those who seek Him will find Him within their own Soul! Go forth from here and preach the Gospel of Righteousness! Do not proclaim any rule beyond that I have already appointed to you, and do not pronounce a law as if you were Moses, lest you become constrained by it yourselves! I am preparing a place,” he told them, “but for now, you cannot follow me! For those who have heard my Words, transform them into Deeds, and your reward shall be found in the Power of Heaven!
For a short while I lived amongst you, but now I am called to the Power that sent me! Those that seek me, will not find me, for whither I go, thither you can not follow.
“Where will you go, that I cannot find you?” asked Shimeon, “Even if you dwell amongst the Diasporayim among the Gentiles, then I shall also teach the Gentiles! Though I have denied you as you foretold, I will not fail you again!”
Yehuda shook his head and descended the stairs. He placed his hands upon Shimeon’s broad shoulders, “You do not know me, Shimeon, but you have never been a disappointment to me, but I tell you this: you shall seek me, and not find me, and I tell you again where I go, there you cannot follow!”
When Yehuda said this he moved to leave, but the entire community implored him to stay, and Miri knew that if Yehuda was Yeshua, he would have remained, but he did not. Some followed as he fled Bethany, setting his face to \ the North, and the sound of their entreaties faded into the distance, but all fell by the wayside until he was completely alone by the time he reached Mount Scopus.
Those who remained, including Shimeon, in the courtyard were instantly grieved, and wept greatly, and bemoaned his departure. And they asked themselves how could they speak to the Gentiles on the Gospel of the Son of Man. “If they did not spare Yeshua,” they cried, “Why would they spare us?” Such was the cacophony,Miri was afraid they would give themselves away and she stood up, greeted them all
“Do not weep so!” she said to her brethren, “There is no need to grieve nor lose your resolve, for his grace is still entirely with you and will protect you.” She descended the stairs. “Instead, praise Yeshua’s greatness, for he has prepared you and made you into men and women whole!”
Miri could feel their hearts turn to the Power, and they began to discuss the words of Yeshua. Many remembered this saying and that, amd they all wondered at Yeshua’s wisdom.
Shimeonm inspired, asked of Miri, “Sister, we know that Yeshua loved you more than all other women. Tell us about the words of Yeshua which you remember which you have heard, that we have not!”
“I,” she said, and thought for a moment, “I saw Yeshua in a vision and he answered, “Blessed that you did not quake before me at the sight of me. For where your thoughts dwell, there is true treasure!”
And I asked him, ‘Yeshua, how can I see you in a vision , through my Soul or through the Spirit?’ For I was not sure that I beheld him.
‘You do not see me through your Soul nor through the Spirit, but your thoughts between the two create the vision and it is so for all that know me! And in your heart you feel the reaction to your thoughts! Your Truth is not my Truth, and my Path is not your Path, but my example can serve as a light to others that have wandered from the straight and narrow! By my example shall they regain their ground and step upon firm ground! Think on me and you shall know that your Path to Righteousness is your own. Your Soul shall be your soul. Your desire shall be your desire. Your struggle shall be your struggle!’
And I asked him how it was I could see him after he had died, and he spoke about his journey from the Underworld. The gates of Nergal could not hold me, for the Power called me to the world, and none can resist. And the gates were sevenfold!”
Through the first the Soul, my Soul ascended, but at that gate the Soul was challenged. There the power of everlasting darkness did enfold the Soul, and despite the blindness of the Soul in the darkness, did my Faith in the Great Power of Heaven release me from the bondage of darkness.
And so I passed to the second gate which on the way to the Great Below is the sixth, and there was the Soul embraced by the power of Desire. And so great was the influence of worldly desire upon the Soul that beseeched the Soul to remain there, but the Soul could not face it and the Soul did not listen to it.
And desire said, ‘I did not see you descending, but now I see you ascending. Why do you lie since you belong to me?’
The Soul answered thus, ‘Though I saw you, you did not see me nor recognize me. I served you as a garment and you did not know me.’ When it said this, the Soul came away rejoicing greatly for it was free of Desire! And it came to the third power, which is called Ignorance. The power of Ignorance questioned the Soul, saying, ‘Where are you going? In wickedness are you bound, and so bound, you cannot judge any act whether Right or Wrong!”
And the Soul said, ‘Then,why do you judge me, although I have not judged? I was bound, though I am not bound. I was not recognized. But I have recognized that the All is being assimilated and rendered One, both things earthly and things heavenly!” And thus freed of Ignorance, the Soul overcame the third power, and rose upwards to the fourth power of the seven forms.
The first form is Darkness, the second Desire, the third Ignorance, the fourth, the power of Death. The fifth is the Realm of Flesh, the sixth is the folly of the Knowledge born of flesh, the seventh is wrathful Wisdom gone astray. These are the seven powers of Death.
And the seven mei of Death demanded of the Soul that was my own Soul, ‘Whence do you go now from the slayer of men, and where are you going, conqueror of space?’
And I answered thus, ‘What binds me has been laid low, and what turns me about has been overcome, and my desire has been o’erthrown, and ignorance dispelled. In an aeon that is to me an instant, I am released from your world, and from the fetters of oblivion released. From this time on will I no longer be bound by Time, or the seasons of the year!”
Miri fell silent, since it was to this point that Yeshua had spoken with her many times while she slept, but until that very moment she had not known it.
But Adam stood up angrily and addressed the brethren, “You can say what you wish to say about what she has said! I at least don’t believe that Yeshua said any of this! For certainly these teachings are alien ideas to everything we have been taught!”
Shimeon sided with his brother. “I have known Yeshua and questioned him often, and I cannot believe he said these things either! Did he really speak privately with a woman thus and not openly to us? Are we to turn about now and all listen to her? Did he proffer her to us? Did he once say, ‘After I am gone, Miri the Magdalene shall speak for me? Are there not others more worthy of the Life?”
His words stung Miri, and her tears flowed at Shimeon’s distrust, and she held back her tears as best she could and said to Shimeon, “Shimeon, you call me Sister, yet now I wonder what you truly think of me? Do you really beleive I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about Yeshua?”
Levi, son of Alphaeus, stood up and challenged Shimeon, “Shimeon you have always had a hot temper. But even for you, I can’t believe I see you contending against the Magdalene like the adversaries. But, think you, if Yeshua made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely Yeshua knows her very well. We all have seen how much regard He had for Miri! It was he who called her his Watchtower, even as he named you his Rock! We know He loved her more than us, though he did not think lesser of any man, woman or child amongst us! Rather let us be ashamed and put on the Magdalene the rank of the perfect Man so that the honour he accorded shall be preserved, that we may go our separate ways as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what Yeshua has said!”
And others agreed that they begin to go forth to proclaim the Word and to preach it to others, but from that day, some of the followers of Yeshua never again spoke of the Magdalene, though she was the Most Beloved of the Apostles of Yeshua.
When she awoke, she could not believe Yehuda had gone.
Yohanna was at her side.
“You must leave!” she said, “Word has got out you have returned, and Caiaphas has sent for Saul to arrest you!”
“Saul?” Miri asked uncomprehendingly, “Why is he still seeking me? I saved his life!”
“Martha is waiting!”
“Where will I go?” asked Miri.
“To Yusef’s family home! There are those there who will not betray you! Once the hue and cry dies down, we shall arrange for Annobal to carry you to Alexandria!”
Miri did not relish the thought of returning to Alexandria. For some reason she wanted to stay in Israel. The soil of the Holy Land was in her blood and it’s clay in her flesh. Her heart ached, and the energy drained completely from her.
Martha guided her to the waiting donkey and lifted her onto the back of the beast. They were escorted along the way by a kinsman of Yusef. He was taciturn and not at all given to idle chatter much to Martha’s chagrin, for, though she was practical enough, she did like to gossip, and she chafed and bridled for neither Matthai, their escort, or Miri responded to her attempts at conversation. She then resorted to speaking to the donkey carrying her aunt. The donkey, for his part, though he was not given to reply, was a good listener.
As they journeyed north, the road led them through the small village of Sappho, and within the town, Miri raised her head and asked Martha to stop.
“What is it?” asked Martha.
Miri gazed about her, feeling that she was being called from afar. For a moment, she thought she could make out a voice calling, but the wind carried the sound away, and then she was under the impression she had imagined it. The feeling she was being watched continued to dog her even as they approached the town of Ramathaim.
“The birthplace of Samuel the Prophet!” declared Matthai, in an unexpected outburst. “Who delivered us from the hands of the Philistines, and set King David upon his throne.”
Yusef’s farm was outside the town of Ramathaim, and it was an estate of some antiquity. It had been in Yusef’s family since Alexander had swept the Persians from the land, rebuilt through a number of wars and earthquakes, and retained it’s old worldliness and simplicity that resonated with Miri’s soul. The very stones of the walls seemed to greet her, and as she passed through the main gates to the farm compound, a voice echoed within her head with words of welcome. For a moment, she sensed old souls swirling about her, and was comforted by their presence, and within her womb, life stirred noticeably and she placed her hand upon her belly.
Their stay went unnoticed within the town. They were isolated enough at the farm, no disturbances occurred in the local life. They waited. Martha fretted, for she was not enamoured of leaving her birthplace, but she pressed Miri for tales of Alexandria, and clucked in concern at every story, for the pagan ways of the Egyptian sea port seemed as sinful as any she could have imagined in Sodom or Gomorrrah. Days became weeks, and as the weeks passed, Miri’s belly distended and ripened. She could not believe the size of her breasts and belly, and marveled at the growth. Martha commented daily on the growth.
Sukkot approached, and Miri was full with child, but she insisted upon setting out a booth in the wilderness, and she and Martha walked about the farm searching for a perfect spot. At the rise of a jumbled pile of stones, they skirted the boulders and came upon a small stream that led to a beautiful pool that resonated with Miri’s soul more than any other.
“Here!” she announced.
Old Joshua, still head of the household, perhaps the only man at the farm who knew Miri’s past argued against her choice. So adamantine was his fear, Miri called him to task.
‘Why do you oppose me?” she demanded, “This place is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever known!”
“You do not know?” he asked in amazement.
“Know what?” asked Miri.
“Forgive me!” he cried and bowed down before her, “It is there we murdered your mother!”
Miri was flabbergasted. The air left her and for a moment, she could not breathe.
“My mother?” she asked breathlessly, “She was killed by the Romans!”
“No, no!” he wailed, “We killed her! We thought she had eaten Yusef’s son!”
Miri felt her world shift sideways, for something about his confession stirred the child within her, and she palced her hand over her belly and felt the child shift.
“What are you talking about?” asked Miri. Under a great deal of persuasion, Joshua told her of how, so many years before, he and Yusef and the others came upon the leopard and the child they found in her lair.
“That child was you!” he said.
Miri was torn between disbelief and the strange sense she was relayed to the leopard. “Is the cave still there?” she asked finally.
“I have never returned!” he admitted, “It is haunted!”
“Take me there!” she commanded.
Joshua pleaded with her not to ask him such a task, but she prevailed upon him to take her there the next day. Martha of course, insisted upon coming as well, for she knew no good could come of the expedition, especially when she hear Joshua’s story.
“Do you think it’s true?” asked Miri excitedly.
“That you’re a goddess?” asked Martha skeptically.
“No!” exclaimed Miri, “That my mother was a leopard!”
Martha raised her eyebrows.
“More likely a jackass!” she retorted indignantly.
The closer they came to the small rift where the waters flowed, the more nervous Joshua became. Finally he stopped. “I can’t go any further!” he announced. “You must cross the river to reach the leopard’s lair!”
He handed her a javelin. “Take this!” he said.
Miri grasped the javelin, but did not want to take it with her. Joshua insisted and she gave it back.
“I can’t let you go in their without it!” he declared.
“Then bring it with you!” Miri said impatiently. “Help me down!”
Joshua followed Miri with great reluctance, but he was sandwiched between two women who acted as thought they had no fear at all. Strangely, once he began the descent to the stream, he felt safer, and was not sure whether it was the confidence of his Amazonian companions, or that fear itself dissipates before the facing of it. The dialogue was rendered moot, for as they crossed the shallows, he felt dread rising from the pit of his bowels.
Miri pushed aside the foliage at the place indicated by Joshua, and held her hand up to stop the others. The cave was occupied. Two yellow glared back out her. Her heart stopped for a moment. The eyes disappeared, and there was nothing there.
“What is it?” asked Martha.
“Nothing!” said Miri, “Just my imagination!”
Joshua pushed past her. “This is it!” he declared. Bent over, he came to a spot by the wall and pointed. “This is where we found you! In a basket!”
Martha squeezed into the cave.
“But that’s not possible!” said Martha, “Miri is my aunt! My mother’s sister!”
“Yohanna?” asked Joshua. “But she came later! She had no idea you were here!”
“I think I should still like to camp here for Sukkot!” said Miri. “Will you come with us?”
Joshua took a deep breath.
“I think my grandchildren would enjoy this place!” he said, “It will be our little Jordan! Perhaps we should call it the Spring of Miriam! That way it will tie nicely into the Feast of Booths! Alright! Count me in!”
Erev Sukkot occurred on the eve of Shabbat, and the first day of Sukkot fell upon the Sabbath. Yet because they were so far removed from any synagogue, and by tradition, Joshua read the Haftarah. They all settled around the trilith upon which they had baked bread and roasted almonds the afternoon before, to listen to his reading. The scroll had been in the family of Yusef for generations, and Joshua handled it carefully. His voice was deep and sepulchural and had a delicious ominous ring to it.
“Lo,” he intoned, “A day of the Lord is coming when your lot shall be divided in your very midst! I will gather every nation to Yerushalayim for war! The sacred city shall be captured, the houses plundered, and the women violated1 And a part of the city shall be sent into exile. But some shall not be uprooted from the city.
On that day, shall the Lord come forth and make war on those nations who have waged war against Israel as He is wont to make war! On that day, He will set His feet upon the Mount of Olives, near Yerushalayim on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall split across from east to west, and one part of the Mount shall shift to the north and the other to the south, a huge canyon. And the Valley in the Hills shall be stopped up, for the Valley of the Hills shall reach only to Azal. It shall be dammed as it was blocked by an earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah!
And the Lord our God, with the host of his angels, will come to your aid! In that day, there shall be neither sunlight nor cold moonlight, but there shall be a day, of neither day nor night, set by the Lord’s will, when light shall remain at eventide.
In that day, fresh water shall flow everlasting, from Yerushalayim, part of it to the east and part to the west, throughout both summer and winter, for every season shall the holy living waters flow! And the Lord shall establish his dominion over all the earth and on that day there shall be one god with only one name!
Then the whole country shall become like the Arabah, from Geba to Rimmon south of Yerushalayim. The Holy City, however, shall perch high up where it is, and shall be inhabited from the Gate of Benyamin to the site of the Old Gate, down to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. Never again shall her destruction be decreed, and the people of Yerushalayim shall dwell secure.
The Lord will smite all those people that warred against Jerusalem, with plague, and their flesh shall rot away while they stand on their feet; their eyes rot in their sockets; and their tongues in their mouths. And they shall be consumed by a great fear of God, and each shall snatch at the hand of another, and each shall raise his hand against the hand of others. Judah shall join the fighting in Jerusalem, and the wealth of all the nations roundabout, vast quantities of gold, silver, and clothing, shall be gathered to the city.
And the same plague shall strike their horses, their mules, their camels, and their asses! And the plague will take all the animals in their camps. Those who survive from those nations that raged against Yerushalayim shall bow down and pledge a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King Lord of Hosts and to observe with us, the Feast of Booths. Of those communities that will not make the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim to bow low to The Lord of Heaven shall receive no rain.
If the community of Egypt makes this pilgrimage, it shall not be visited by the same affliction with which the Lord will strike the other nations. But all who come up to observe the Feast of Booths shall be blessed. And on that day, even the bells on the horses shall be inscribed ‘Holy to the Lord.’ The metal pots in the Temple shall be like the basins before the altar, and, indeed, every metal pot in Yerushalayim and in Judah shall be holy to the Lord of Hosts. And all those who sacrifice shall come and take of these to boil their korban within, and in that day there shall be no more traders in the House of the Lord of Hosts!”
“Amen!” called the listeners, and when the sun set, and the Sabbath was over, they lit a fire and drank of their wine and ate fruit and bread, and sang songs. The day was idyllic and they bedded down happily that evening.
Sometime in the night, Miri awoke, and as she stared up at the stars, She froze suddenly. Sillhouetted against the sky a leopard sat staring out towards the North. At the very moment Miri saw the animal, the large cat turned, glanced back at her for a moment, and dropped from sight. The baby in her womb turned, and pushed against her stomach and she barely managed to roll away from her sleeping area to throw up. The leopard had returned and watched her patiently.
As their eyes met, the leopard turned away and Miri followed. It was a natural act, as though she and the leopard were two extensions of her own desire. She followed as best she could, but the child withing her shortedned her breath and energy.
“Stop!” she called, and the leopard stopped and sat back on its haunches to await her mistress.
“It’s not far now!” said the leopard, and Miri started.
“Who are you?” asked Miri.
“There is no need for me to answer that question!” replied the leopard, “I am what I am!”
The leopard flicked her tail.
“That would be ridiculous!” replied the leopard. Miri was crestfallen, for she realized she wanted the cat to be her mother. “Your mother was murdered by the Romans in Sappho! If you need me to be your mother, then I can be her! There is nothing that is impossible! We create the possible by creating rules for the world about us. That it does not conform to the rules you or I set, is a deficiency in our rules, and they should be changed to suit the events around us! Impossibility is created when we do not reset the laws to match the events that occur around us!”
The leopard stood up.
“Follow me!” she purred and Miri struggled ungainly to her feet.
The path turned upwards, and became stairs. Finally they arrived at a mountaintop, and a large trilithic altar dominated the open space. The place had been a temple, but was now in ruins. Beneath the crumbled stone was the foundation of an older temple, and withing the soil were the remnants of the ash of a burned cedar crove that had been sacred to Asherah for millennia before that. Miri knew the place though she had never seen it until that moment, and for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she was content and at peace. All this within the moment, she spied Yeshua laid upon the altar. His body was perfectly preserved and she found his skin soft and supple. She reached out and stroked his chest, and gently, she leaned over and kissed him on the lips. As their skin touched, the breath was sucked from her own lungs and Yeshua’s chest rose, and his eyes opened.
Miri started, but within a heartbeat, she was elated.
“Yeshua!” she cried.
“Why do you seek me here?” he asked.
“I want you back!” she said desperately.
“But I have never left you!” replied Yeshua.
“Yes you did!” said Miri angrily, “I called you back and you refused to return!”
“I have never left!” said Yeshua. He looked down at his naked body. “Is this what you were seeking? Do you think it is my flesh and bone that you seek?”
“Why did you run away?” asked Miri, but as she asked she knew he had not run from her.
“You seek my flesh, when it is my spirit you crave? How little you know me! I have already spoken with Yehuda!”
“Yehuda?” asked Miri, her heart pounding, and she realized she was speaking to yehuda and not Yeshua.
“Why did you come back?” asked Miri.
Yehuda smiled. “I had set my face to Damascus, and I stopped in Galilee with a thought I would find Yakov or Yahn, but I had missed then and they had gone up to Yerushalayim. But as I passed through Tarichae, a young woman standing by a tree called out to me!”
“Susanna!” said Miri, “She must have thought you were Yeshua!”
“Well, that was the strange thing,” said Yehuda, “She called me by my name. Yehuda!”
“But she has never seen you!” said Miri.
“Nonetheless, she knew me!” said Yehuda, “And she told me my brother wished to speak to me!”
“Yeshua?” asked Miri.
“She held my hand and I spoke with him!” said Yehuda, “We walked by the Kinneret!”
“And what did he say to you?” asked Miri.
Yehuda tapped his nose. “We spoke and he said to be good to others!”
“More or less!” said Yehuda.
“So what brought you here?” asked Miri.
He lowered his eyes.
“I returned to Samaria to find been his body!”
“Did you find him?” asked Miri excitedly.
He shook his head. “I returned to Mount Horeb, and walked around the mountain. But everywhere I went, always there was someone who thought I was Yeshua. I couldn’t travel in the open any more, and I wandered about asking if anyone had found a donkey with a basket on its back.”
And?” asked Miri.
Yehuda shook his head.
“He is gone!”
And with that Yehuda passed into Yeshua, and he held a knife in his hand. Before Miri could stop him, he plunged the knife into his chest and held out his heart to her. Blood dripped through his fingers, and in his left hand he held the cup of the Taheb. The chalice filled with his lifeblood, and he held it out to her.
“Drink my blood, and you shall join me in Everlasting Life!”
And Miri screamed in horror and awoke to the first pink dawn of the morning sun.